December 31, 2008

How mega brands cope with these changing times

Changing times require corporations to make suitable changes to stay afloat and to live upto investor expectations. While some resort to job cuts, others go overboard in cost control. However the really large global corporations revise their business plans drastically, sometimes it means taking a new look at all their properties to see if they can be put to some alternate use.


December 26, 2008

2008 - The year of amazing highs and painful lows

2008 would go down in Indian public memory as a year of extremes, the highs of the year were exhilaratingly higher and more glorious than those of past many decades while the lows were so horrendously painful that we may not forget this year for a long, long time.

The year that was saw India achieve many notable milestones - the most outsatnding being the landing of a probe Chandrayaan on the moon with pinpoint precision and accuracy and at a cost that was a fraction of what the western world spent on similar projects. This one achievement can establish India as the world's leading satellite launch agent. It can help us garner billions of dollars of global business both in terms of the launch itself as also the satellite time that we can sell.

The second major feat was in the arena of sport. Something that no Indian sportsman had achieved, since the beginning of the modern Olympics over a century ago, was achieved by Abhinav Bindra when he won the shooting gold at Beijing. The gold also demonstrated to other sportspersons that one has options all the time : the option to curse the officialdom or the option to get up and do something about the way things are.

Of course there was the added joy of Vijender Kumar and Sushil Kumar, our boxers from Bhiwani, picking up India's first boxing medals at the Olympics. It was equally heart-warming to see Vishwanathan Anand emerge stronger and claim the undisputed World Championship in chess.

The impossible was achieved by our boys in cricket when they beat team Australia in their own backyard to emerge as a force to reckon with. The test series and ODI victory over Australia was followed by beating England in a test and ODI series comprehensively in India by Dhoni and his boys. The emergence of a galaxy of new, younger, fitter and hungrier stars in a variety of sporting discipines gives us tremendous hope for the future.

The salience that the first T-20 Indian Premier League (IPL) championship achieved has catapaulted India to a global leadership role in cricket. India is a major moneyspinner for world cricket, thanks in no small measure to our billion plus cricket crazy population. Today when India speaks, the cricketing world listens. In the earlier era Indians went to faraway lands to pursue careers, today cricket brings many international cricket stars to Indian shores to seek fame and fortune.

These were all moments that would be etched in our collective memory for long.
2008 also saw the horrying terror attacks on the Indian state and its hapless citizens in Mumbai, Jaipur, New Delhi and at countless other places. The patience of a giant is time and again being tested by a pygmy amongst nations. Pakistan doesn't realise that the state of Pakistan could easily get crushed should this gentle giant merely wipe the irritating sweat off it's brow. The only solace in this entire episode was the emergence of a national feeling against terror, with people rising up in arms agains Islamist jihadis, irrespective of their religious beliefs unlike the past when people responded to such extreme provocations based on whether they were Hindu or muslim. That India manged to gather world opinion in its favour and organized a UN Security Council resolution against the LeT (or JuD, as it is now known) speaks volumes about not only the fairness of our claims but also the victory of our diplomacy and our economic policies.

The global financial meltdown which has already caused tremendous hardship to many by erosion in net worth and loss of jobs and employment would be the catastrophe of the century. It is variously estimated to be graver and more severe than the great depression of 1930s. Many iconic centuries old financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae just wilted in the aftershocks of this grave crisis. Analysts anticipate this crisis to last over 3-5 years in the west. However China and India appear to be somewhat better-placed to cope, considering their large populations and growing, domestic consumption-driven economies.

So I feel 2008 would go down as a highly forgettable year in our collective memory. A year which need not have been.

December 25, 2008

Pakistan - A state of denial

The events of the last month have amazed the global community. Post 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, when ten armed terrorists of Pakistani origin, the intelligence agencies of the countries whose nationals were targetted agreed that these ten Pakistani men were trained, armed and provided technical and logistical support by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or the Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD) as it is now called. They were aided and abetted by the ISI and to a limited extent by the Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, who virtually operates as a Guest of the Pakistani establishment, residing a few hundred meters from the President's bungalow in Clifton area of Karachi.

The Pakistani media is largely irrelevant in the current scenario since we can not be sure of its objectivity. The establishment has reduced the once independent media to a mere propaganda arm of the state apparatus. Some good stories do emerge from time to time that provide a ray of hope like the story on the surviving terrorist's home, family and village elders etc and the Nawaz Sharif interview where he accepted that the surviving terrorist, Ajmal Kasav was a Pakistani national and his family was in isolation and their village cordoned off and out of bounds of world media.

One has just to see the glaring anomalies in the state's positions which have shifted faster than sand dunes in a desert storm. Any self-respecting and truly patriotic Pakistani must be hanging his head in shame at the brazenness of the Pakistani establishment.

One day the Pakistan government wants evidence of Pakistani nationals' involvement from India. The evidence that results in the JuD being branded a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and banned worldwide also forces Pakistan government to claim arrest of the JuD leader, sealing of their offices and freezing of their bank accounts. But to them that is still not evidence enough.

When Ajmal's father acknowledges to the media that Ajmal is indeed his son even that is not evidence enough. Zardari and Gilani and their assorted lackeys go to extremely untenable positions saying one thing one day and contradicting themselves, and many times other spokesmen, the next day.

No sensible observer of world events has any doubt whatsoever that the ISI is deeply involved in the affairs of LeT / JuD and its personnel are manning these organisations to wage a low cost war on India while the Pakistan government continues to hide behind the fig leag of non-state actors may be involved.

I think the time has come to call Pakistan's bluff. If India does not act decisively now this menace would not die. The Indian politician must stop playing the Muslim card. I sincerely hope the likes of A.R.Antulay get a well deserved kick on the back. Such guys need to understand that this is the time to play the India card.

Uncle Sam needs to ensure that denial does not become an instrument of foreign policy of the Pakistan state. If that happens, then the government of Pakistan would be responsible for the ensuing destruction and for denying its citizens the right to life and liberty since they would be pitted against the might of the civilized forces of the world who at this juncture seem well and truly behind India.

Information post ....

I have transferred 17 posts today from alok-sud.blogspot.com (Radical Thoughts) to aloksud.blogspot.com (my main blog). The purpose is to provide access to all visitors of my blog to all my documented thoughts.

December 8, 2008

The aftermath of terrorism

The events of the last ten days since the terror attacks in prime south Mumbai locations, which left the nation dazed and extremely angry, have seen a huge amount of writing in the print media and blogosphere. A vast amount of air time has also been spent in discussions on various aspects of the issue on TV and radio.
However the following thoughts emerge after having religiously followed the discussions:
  1. That ten terrorists arrived unhindered and managed to land at the Gateway of India shows without any doubt that somewhere someone who was supposed to guard our shores goofed up. We need to identify and hold accountable the people concerned and if there is an iota of doubt about their motives they should be penalized.
  2. The Taj & Oberoi Trident staff have shown remarkable courage in extremely trying times. We must appreciate that they were not trained to handle this kind of a situation and hence must be recognized and suitably rewarded.
  3. This attack and its aftermath have shown to us the true character of our politicians. Some of the placards which one has seen at various rallies in Mumbai and around the country show the utter contempt that a vast majority of the Indian people have for this class. It should goad the political parties to introspect. They must try to make amends in the general elections that are fast approaching by fielding men of a nationalistic fibre who would rise above partisan politics in times of national crisis and refrain from politiking in calamities.
  4. Some renowned columnists have written about their childhood memories of the grandeur of The Taj. Many have gone to great lengths bragging about how they discovered the joys of 'The Wasabi', 'The Tiffin', 'The Ocean Bar', 'The Zodiac Grill' and so on. One columnist went on to write about an unsubstantiated story of a waiter offering the appropriate wine glasses to a white guest who when hostage inside the hotel whisked away some rare wine for consumption when the hotel was burning. Can one say anything to these trivia mongers disguised as celebrity columnists who I guess are just trying to earn some brownie points with the owners of the two hotels so that they can wrangle some invites when these hotels re-open. All of this so that these celebrity trivial writers can get sloshed on some expensive and prized spirits and wines for free.
  5. That we lost our top cops just as the battle of Mumbai started shows we need to ask serious questions about hierarchy and line of command in our armed forces. It is akin to losing the army chief in the first half hour of a war. Why should they have visited the site so soon. That the inferior equipment used by them offered no protection is a national shame. It is a sin that we can not wash away in a million years.
  6. There are technologies, such as 'Snifex' available, that can detect even a millionth of a gram of almost all known types of explosives. Why were these systems not in place in The Taj & The Oberoi hotels should be investigated? These hotels are known to charge upwards of Rs. 25,000 per room night and over Rs. 2,000 per head for a meal sans liquor. If they can't afford it for their top customers it is unreasonable to expect the Government of India to install it in public places ?

If a serious effort is made to find answers which have so far evaded public eye, I am sure we may be able to prepare better and see terrorism being thwarted in future.

December 2, 2008

Delhi state assembly elections

It is evident from the general anti-politician mood, and more so anti-incumbent party mood prevailing in the country today that ruling parties are not expected to do well in whichever state goes to the polls.

Delhi state assembly elections happened in the midst of the Mumbai terror attacks. The jihadi elements who caused so much devastation and death at The Taj Hotel were still engaged in a fierce battle with the NSG Commandos and a fight to the finish was underway when polling started on Saturday 29th Nov 2008 at 8:00 AM.

Delhities were out in large numbers to vote. The voter turnout was over 60% which was almost 6% higher than the last assembly elections.

Coupled with the anti-incumbency mood arising out of the Mumbai terror attacks and the insensitive effort to exploit the death and destruction of Mumbai in the fag end of the Congress media campaign was the huge daily distress caused to hundreds of thousand commuters, by the hare-brained BRT traffic management system. These are sure to lead the Shiela Dixit led Congress government in Delhi out of office. Psephologists predict a keen contest with the BJP but I feel BJP will romp home with some help from the independents.

I hope the expected rout of Congress in Delhi would be a lesson to the likely new BJP led dispensation that you can not afford to ignore the public sentiment.

Let it be known that the people want career politicians and not dynastic politics. We deserve accountability and transparency in public life. We alos need a just and fair civic society that believes in live and let live. Divisive politics must end. We do not want another basket case of a failed state like Pakistan ruled by feudal families who continue with mindsets of the 16th century in the 21st century.

In this information age, we the people of India would not allow that.

December 1, 2008

Yeh Jo Desh Hai Mera !!

(This country of mine, this line is inspired by the famous song of the hindi film 'Swades' by Ashutosh Gowarikar starring Shahrukh Khan)
India is a land of culture and strong democratic traditions. Since times immemorial it has been recognized as a land of learning and wisdom. But the events of the last few days in Mumbai when hundreds of innocent people were massacred by islamist jihadis with links to Pakistan-based outfit Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT ; army of the pure) force me to abandon my cosmopolitan and democratic heritage and values and seek vengeance.

The memory of the dead is not served well by our politicians. Mouthing platitudinous comments like ‘we have provided incontrovertible evidence of LeT’s involvement to the government of Pakistan’ is of little significance. In the past too, India has provided the international community with ample evidence of the involvement of LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the like in similar terror strikes. It is naïve, rather stupid of us to believe that the rogue elements within the fast-Talibanizing society in Pakistan, spearheaded by the demonic ISI will call a halt to their nefarious designs to destabilize India.

It is high time we wake up and smell the coffee. We need to first understand what we are up against before we can declare a war on terror. We are up against a failed state, which under the garb of democracy propagates feudalism, which in the last 60 years of its independence has failed on all parameters of development, which is woefully devoid of industry and economically so weak that it can not even pay for two weeks of its imports and now seeks to confuse its citizens with the ultimate opiate “even India is no better” so that they do not revolt and the ruling elite continues its dynastic rule for generations to come.

It is time we decided enough is enough and gave hot pursuit to the rogues who cause death and destruction in Indian cities including those behind the recent Mumbai attacks. We need to show that the benign sleeping giant has awakened. That India of today is a mighty and self-respecting nation, who refuses to allow the likes of ISI, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed to kill even one Indian and all efforts of disrupting our lives will be dealt with firmly. They would only understand strong and decisive action, not mild and veiled threats. Only a strong adversary gets respect in present times and we need to show we are strong and capable. If we do not act decisively now we would forever be consigned to living our lives in fear.

The political leadership knows all that needs to be done. Any more advice is meaningless. Any effort by them of obfuscating matters by appointing empowered teams of experts to help in deciding the government’s response will meet with a terrible backlash from Indian society. Rahul Gandhi was spot on when he said he did not want India to be seen as a nation of Wimps.

Sh. Man Mohan Singh should disregard the advice of Sh. Pranab Mukherjee, India’s External Affairs Minister who said a war between two nuclear states can be catastrophic. It just goes to show how out of sync with India of today he is. The youth of India would be willing to die in a do-or-die nuclear war with Pakistan if need be but hate to die meaningless death at the hands of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.

The message of the youth of India is clear. Either carry the battle to Pakistan’s backyard or make way for a leadership that understands the youth of today. The ruling party needs to pick up the signals fast or else the young people of India would speak in a deafening roar at the next elections.

That politicians like Shiv Raj Patil, India’s Home Minister and R. R. Patil, Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, who tried to pretend that the Mumbai attacks were ‘one of those things that happen in a big city’ have been shown the door are good omens. Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh must also be cashiered for his insensitivity in trivializing this national calamity and taking his family and friends on a conducted tour of The Taj Mahal Hotel and The Oberoi on Saturday. You cannot trample on the society’s sentiments so ruthlessly and hope to remain in a seat of power. It would be suicidal for Congress in Maharashtra if he is allowed to stay even for a day.

Mumbai must be the last Indian city to be attacked by terrorists backed by Pakistani authorities. My motherland must never be held to ransom by these or similar elements. Anyone who tramples on my fellow countrymen must never go free. He must be made to pay dearly. I am sure the whole world would stand by India should such an act recur.

November 27, 2008

5-0 brownwash for Pietersen and his boys

The 6 wicket defeat inflicted last night by Dhoni and team at Barabati Stadium upon Kevin Pitersen and his boys was sweet, rather extremely sweet. Actually Viru, Sachin, Suresh and Mahi ensured we went without dessert yesterday. A 5-0 win over England in an ODI series, unbelievable doesn't even begin to describe the superlative feeling.

The whole nation went into celebration mode last night. One began wondering aloud if it was destined to be a 7-0 series win and if such a win has ever been recorded by any team against any opponent in a 7 game ODI series. I am sure the statisticians must have spent the night researching historical statistics. The bookies must be calculating what odds to offer on such an outcome.

The whole nation was aghast today morning when they got to know of the Mumbai terror attacks and that brought an abrupt end to the celebrations of last night.

While we would like to celebrate & felicitate Dhoni's boys for a job well done, we must stop and shed a few tears for those who met an untimely death at the hands of a band of misguided youths calling themslves the "Deccan Mujaihideen".

It is about time someone told these guys that no houris await them in heaven after their martyrdom. What awaits them in an unglorious end on the other side of the barrel of highly motivated police and armymen who would ensure no terrorist escapes alive.

That the English team has called off their tour in these circumstances is totally understandable.

Mumbai under siege


The dastardly terrorist attacks on innocent civilians by an organisation that calls itself "Deccan Mujahideen" at 12 or so crowded locations in Mumbai that started last night and continues as I write must be condemned by all right thinking Indians.

This is the time for all political parties to take a non-partisan view and rally behind the Maharashtra and Central Governmental agencies who are engaged in fighting the radicals. A large number of high-profile foreign visitors are hapless victims to this scrouge. The Governments of the countries whose citizens are affected have reposed their trust in our security agencies. As per latest reports from the TV and media, 14 brave policemen have laid down their lives in this valiant battle and more are even at present fighting the battle at grave personal risk.

I continue to hold my belief that guns don't resolve issues and that all weapons must necesarily be in governmental control. Civilians must be emboldened to never need a weapon and our policing and intelligence gathering systems must be strengthened.

We must not fall victim to the usual civil liberties groups who are quiet today but once the heat and dust settle will come out clamouring for the rights of the radicals and their supporters. However the authorities must also make a conscious effort not to give them any reason to, by not picking up and detaining people without and strong evidence etc. This is the time when civil rights can be foresaken in larger public interest. I would be more than willing to foresake mine. What does the average Indian think ? I invite comments.

Official media briefings suggest that nearly 130 people have died in these attacks. May God grant peace to the departed souls and courage to those they leave in mourning to bear the irreparable loss. This loss of precious human lives was totally unjustified and deserves to be condemned. Such reprehensible action can not have sanction of any faith or religion.

I am sure my countrymen would conduct themselves in an orderly fashion and not fall prey to the nefarious designs of the terrorists. I am certain those killed were killed because they were where they were and not because of their faith.
image courtesy : www.Reutersindia.com

November 20, 2008

3 up .. 4 to go

Mahi and the boys have shown that if you try hard enough even fate conspires to make you succeed. Fortune truly favors the brave.

At the Green Park in Kanpur today India lost the toss. England elected to bat first, a decision anybody in Pietersen's place would take given that the pitch was expected to help the batsmen. And a big score on the board never fails to put the other team under tremendous stress.

Mahi's boys managed to get the English boys out for a modest score of 240 in a match reduced to 49 overs each side. Dhoni managed to get four dismissals, 2 stumpings and 2 catches. Harbhajan was the best Indian bowler, getting 4 wickets in his quota of 10 overs, bowling 2 maidens and giving away only around 4 runs per over. In the home team's innings Virender Sehwag top scored with 68 while all others who came later also chipped in with useful knocks. When bad light forced play to be suspended after 40 overs, India was placed at 198 for 5. Since play could not be resumed due to bad light the Duckward Lewis rules were brought to bear and India was adjudged the winner. Harbhajan was adjudged the Man of the Match.

So India is 3-0 up and M S Dhoni and the boys must be on cloud nine. But guys don't let up. India needs a 7-0 brownwash for the whites. Give them an Indian Christmas gift they won't forget in their whole life.

November 18, 2008

Yuvraj Singh on fire

After licking the aussies in the recent test series 2-0 to reclaim the Gavaskar-Border trophy, the Indian cricket team is currently playing a seven match ODI series against the English team led by K Pieterson.

The Indian middle order was bolstered by the match winner from Chandigarh, Yuvraj Singh who in the first match at Rajkot on last friday hammered a wonderful 137 off just 78 balls, hitting exactly a 100 runs in boundaries and sixes. And yesterday at Indore he pummelled the English bowling attack to score 122 runs in 117 balls and also claimed 4 wickets. In both the matches he has been adjudged the man of the match.

Yuvi has shown he has not lost it yet. His deft touch was very evident in these two games. He was on fire and one wishes he goes on like this. If he goes on like this we are likely to give a 7-0 drubbing to the visitors. Indian supporters would be delighted with such an outcome which can lift the country's morale in these recessionary times and lift the pall of gloom which hangs across the entire Industrial and corporate landscape of India.


Modern day Vishwakarma deserves a Bharat Ratna

In the pantheon of Hindu gods, Vishwakarma, the celestial engineer holds pride of place. When Lord Brahma, the creator, wanted to create the universe he entrusted the task to Vishwakarma who completed the task to perfection in the stipulated time. It was therefore ordained that a day be set aside to offer special prayers to Vishwakarma and so Vishwakarma Puja is celebrated by all artisans to this day in all parts of the country.

When a resurgent India ushered in an era of liberalization in 1991 under the Prime Minister Sh. Man Mohan Singh, then Finance Minister of India, a modern day Vishwakarma was required to upgrade the inadequate railway infrastructure to one that was state of the art and futuristic on one hand and built in reasonable time and with less than abundant financial resources. The choice was narrowed down to Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, someone who was known to have always lived up to his word and honor the trust reposed in him. He had retired from the Indian Railways a year earlier.

Sreedharan was born on 12 July 1932 in Karukaputhoor in Palakkad district of Kerala. The surname Ellatuvalapil belongs to the famous Tharavad in this part of Kerala. He was a classmate of T. N. Seshan, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in school. He later studied at the Victoria College in Palghat and then graduated as an engineer from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada (now JNTU). After a short tenure as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Kerala Polytechnic in Kozhikode and a year at the Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice, he joined the Indian Railways in its Service of Engineers. This was through a nation-wide selection procedure and his first assignment was in the Southern Railways as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954.

In 1963, a huge tidal wave washed away parts of Pamban bridge that connected Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The Railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan's boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and he restored the bridge in 46 days. The Railway Minister's Award was given to him in recognition of this achievement.

In 1970 - 75, as the deputy chief engineer, he was in charge of implementation, planning and design of Calcutta Metro, the first ever metro in India. Anyone who is familiar with the topography of Calcutta would know how this entirely underground service was constructed without jeopardising any existing structure on the ground though it was terribly delayed due to the land acquisition issues in a communist regime.

There has been another first to his credit. It was during his tenure as Chairman and Managing Director of the country’s premier shipbuilding company Cochin Shipyards that their first ship, RANI PADMINI, was launched. He was General Manager, Western Railways during 1987-89 and was elevated to the post of Member Engineering, Railway Board and ex-officio Secretary to the Government of India. He retired from Indian Railways in 1990.

He was appointed the CMD of Konkan Railway on contract in 1990. Under his stewardship, the company executed its mandate in seven years. The project was unique in many respects. It was the first major project in India to be undertaken on a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) basis; the organisation structure was different from that of a typical Indian Railway set-up; the project had 93 tunnels along a length of 82 km and involved tunneling through soft soil. The total project covered 760 km and had over 150 bridges. Many new technologies were developed to overcome topographical limitations. That a public sector project could be completed without any significant cost or time overrun is no mean achievement.

He was made the Managing Director of Delhi Metro and by mid-2005. He had put in a condition of non-interference by politicians in his administrative decision-making which was granted with a view to meet tight deadlines and minimal disruption of civic life in Delhi. The first phase of the project covering three lines of a total length of about 70 kms was commissioned in 2005. Line 1 (a length of 23 kms over ground), Line 2 (a length of 11 kms underground) and Line 3 (a length of 36 kms over ground) are already operational and carry over 3 million passengers daily. All the scheduled sections were completed before their target date and well within their respective budgets.

Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh while inaugurating the underground section on December 19 2005 appreciated the efforts of the Delhi Metro and observed, "The time has come for all of us to think big and think into the future. The 21st century will be the Century of Asia and without doubt the Century of India but to hasten this journey, we have to create the required social and economic infrastructure." And think big, Sreedharan certainly did. The phase I is expected to generate substantial benefits. Not only would it bring down the number of buses on the roads by 2,600, it would increase the average speed of buses from 0.5 km per hour to 14 km per hour. Two million man-hours per day would be saved due to reduction in journey time. Fuel cost worth Rs 5 billion per year would also be saved.

"We had an able and experienced team leader in Sreedharan. He spelt out the mission statement and the corporate culture clearly to one and all. The idea was to make Delhi Metro a world class Metro, a vehicle to promote dignity and discipline in the city," recalls the chief public relations officer of the DMRC, Anuj Dayal. "Sreedharan’s personality was a crucial factor. He led by example."

The "corporate culture" accordingly lays out that integrity of executives and staff should be beyond doubt; punctuality is the key word; targets are most sacrosanct; organization must be lean but effective; corporation must project an image of efficiency, transparency, courtesy and "we-mean-business" attitude; and construction should not lead to ecological or environmental degradation.

What contributed in no small measure to DMRC’s success was the autonomy given to the managing director. "Sreedharan took up this task on the condition that he should be allowed to choose his own team. Furthermore, he came to enjoy a fair degree of autonomy. Financial powers were vested in the managing director. Also, the managing director was the last authority on tenders," explained Dayal.

Another precondition was the minimum interference of the government. The work culture was so designed as to reduce dependence on subsidies. Soon the message went down the line that there is nothing called a free lunch or freebies. The organization therefore was able to resist pressures from many quarters. Even the Prime Minister bought a ticket for enjoying a ride on the Metro.

What makes the DMRC a case study of management is the insertion of a clause into the contract with companies that they must have an Indian partner. Consequently, the DMRC is procuring the trains from Bharat Earth Movers Limited, Bangalore, and elevators are also being produced indigenously. Another feature is the punctuality with which the DMRC pays its contractors, who are called business associates.

The success of such a venture would have been impossible without divine intervention. Any other project of this magnitude might have got bogged down in litigation, but not so with the Delhi Metro. There are about 400 court cases pending in the courts, no court has given any stay order till date. This meant the Delhi Metro could go on executing its work without worrying too much about cost escalation or delay.

In the past nine years, the Delhi Metro has redefined public relations to a certain extent. It did not employ conventional methods, though. Instead, it chose alternate ways to generate goodwill for the organization. Fortunately, it did not need to look far. In ensuring minimum inconvenience to motorists and pedestrians alike, the Delhi Metro successfully converted a challenge into an opportunity. That paid rich dividends too. All utilities were diverted in advance to ensure that there was no disruption of water, electricity, sewerage and telephone connections during the construction of the area. Barricades were put up and an alternate traffic plan drawn up with the help of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and in collaboration with Delhi Police. Also, new roads were built or the existing roads widened to accommodate traffic.

The Delhi Metro organized community interaction programmes for redressing problems that arose among the local people. Every Monday, heads of department would meet and set new or review targets. "We have also devised a reverse clock," says Dayal.

Not only does Delhi Metro offer a more comfortable and safe travel for the commuters, it would help reduce atmospheric pollution levels by 50 per cent. Commending the Delhi Metro for paying due attention to environmental concerns, the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi recently said, "The construction had been undertaken in an eco-friendly manner and ten trees had been planted for each one felled."

The Delhi Metro has also secured ISO 14001 certification for adhering to environment protection norms and the OSHSAS 18001 certification for meeting world standards in protecting the health of workers and passengers alike. Another hallmark of its operations has been labor standards. It employs 45 persons per kilometer of work. This ratio is one-third of that of the organizations elsewhere.

Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of Metro Man by the media. In 2005, he was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the government of France. He had previously announced that he would like to retire by the end of 2005, but at the behest of Prime Minister Sh. Man Mohan Singh, he agreed to carry on for another three years to oversee the completion of the second phase of Delhi Metro. He has also been approached by Pakistan Government for the development of the Lahore Metro plan, an offer he politely declined.

He has never chased monetary reward. In a country with billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, a man of his abilities could have written his own paycheck but he chose to serve India and inspire teams of brilliant engineers to chase the same dream. That some of his junior team members were picked up by the corporate world at salaries that were 50-60 times higher than what the government jobs were fetching them would indicate what he would have been worth in the job market had he chosen to chase monetary compensation. In mid-2005 in an interview with The Indian Express, an Indian daily he admitted that he was drawing a salary of $ 1000 a month, what others in similar positions in Government jobs were drawing. A similar position in the developed world would have been worth million of dollars per year in bonuses alone. When asked how he managed to retain his team with such low salaries, he said he managed that by giving them a superior work ethic, by instilling pride of achievement and by job satisfaction.

In his illustrious career spanning over 45 years, he has been bestowed numerous awards and honours. The following list is representative and not exhaustive. I am sure many laurels await this great son of India. He has brought honour to these awards as much as they have to him.

· Railway Minister's Award (1963)
· Padma Shri by the Government of India (2001)
· Man of the Year by The Times of India (2002)
· Om Prakash Bhasin Award for professional excellence in engineering (2002)
· Juror's Award for leadership in infrastructure development by CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) (2002-03)
· One of Asia's Heroes by TIME (2003)
· AIMA (All India Management Association) award for Public Service Excellence (2003)
· Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) from IIT Delhi.
· Bharat Shiromani award from the Shiromani Institute, Chandigarh (2005)
· Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France (2005)
· CNN-IBN Indian Of the Year 2007: Public Service (2008)
· Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India (2008)

Sreedharan is also a Fellow of The Institution of Civil Engineers, U.K., The Chartered Institute of Transport, U.K., The Institute of Railway Transport, India and The National Academy of Engineering, India.

It appears that he would be there to oversee the Delhi Metro and many similar projects to completion, may be in a different capacity. He is a Vishwakarma who can not be allowed to rest since India is in a hurry and has a lot of catching up to do. One only prays that God grants him a very long life to leave his imprint on the stable foundations of the modern and fast developing India. The people of India need him to carry on so that they can move ahead fast.

Today's newspapers reported that he has tied with similar-minded senior people in public life to start an NGO to try and usher in systemic changes to eradicate corruption and improve transparency in public affairs and politics. I am sure our worthy PM Sh. Man Mohan Singh would also put his weight behind this endeavour.

It remains to be seen when the Government of India would bow to the wishes of the common man and bestows upon this worthy son of India the honour of Bharat Ratna, the gem of India, that would truly befit his immense contribution to the motherland.

images courtesy Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

November 11, 2008

New Delhi : BRT woes

The adjacent photograph of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system of traffic segregation and management is something the Shiela Dixit led Congress (I) government in Delhi would rightfully claim credit for in the forthcoming state assembly elections scheduled for end-November 2008.

An imported concept from the city of Bagota in Columbia which pioneered this idea, it is no doubt a beautiful visual message to send to the world at large to announce the coming of age of India.

During the construction of phase I of the BRT, a few young lives were lost in accidents due to haphazard construction and poor lighting. Residents of Delhi thought of it as an offering to appease the lords who would offer them some relief and 'Moksha' (salvation) from the eternal mess of road traffic in Delhi. What Delhi got after a patient wait was endless delays when the new traffic signals were instaled with timings that were faulty. To tide over the initial troubles the contractors were asked to provide a certain number of road marshals at every junction. Virtually one half of the traffic policeman descended on the 5 km route in the first 10-15 days when BRT stretch was opened to public.

When confronted with the situation on the ground, Mrs Shiela Dixit, Delhi Chief minister insisted that it was because the Delhites demonstrated poor road discipline. She said once they became accustomed to the BRT the commuting would become pleasant and shorter. She also explained that if the design was found to be faulty the whole BRT would be scrapped.

It has been over six months since I have been travelling on the BRT corridor twice or more per day. The 14 km ride to my office in Connaught Place that earlier took 35 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evenings has become a 60 minute ride in the morning and a 75-80 minute ride in the evenings.

I always thought I was good at analysing problems so I decided to ask myself why BRT was not working as designed and the commutes were taking longer than they ought to. I am no expert at road design but to my mind the following are the major reasons why it is in the current mess:

  • The trouble starts at the Chirag Delhi crossing itself. Now I have to wait for two if not three green lights before I can get on to the BRT. A loop over the flyover would have cost around 35 crores but given an uninterrupted flow-in to the traffic coming from Nehru Place / GK II. This would also make the movement of Shiek Sarai - Moolchand traffic smoother. All the resultant traffic chaos at Nehru Place / Savitri Cinema / Panchsheel side would disappear with the lop over the flyover for traffic wanting to turn right (which incidently would be atleast around 85% of the total traffic).
  • All right turns from the BRT corridor at the Archana Cinema crossing should be scrapped or mandated to go underground to lead to a smooth traffic flow. In future too all right hand turns on BRT must be done away with.
  • The road surface on any BRT corridor should be even and flat not undulating like one sees today. Such convoluted and undulating surfaces take longer to negotiate and also slow down all the vehicles.
  • Even if one person decides to go slow it slows down the entire traffic. Thus minimum speed must be stipulated.
  • Many Govt / Police vehicles are routinely seen flouting BRT discipline and driving in the Bus Lane since these are usually seen to be less crowded. The answer is CCTV cameras on the road, regular Police patrolling and Heavy fines for violators and not lowly paid Road Marshalls. I recommend a Rs. 10,000 rupee fine and a 5-year ban on driving in Delhi by someone violating BRT discipline.

The Congress (I) government of Mrs. Shiela Dixit deserves another term in office to rectify the mistakes made in the design and implementation of the BRT. I am sure the Delhites would show some more patience and oblige.

November 10, 2008

A time to celebrate

The Indian win over Australia in the fourth and final cricket match played at Nagpur, now playing under the dashing Mahendra Singh Dhoni, helped the home team win the 2008 India – Australia Test Cricket series and retrieve the Gavaskar – Border Trophy. More than the trophy this win helped India emerge from the shadows and regain its rightful place in the International cricketing arena.

A well-deserved win for India saw the entire team chip-in with their contributions. The match saw our batsman score runs aplenty. The highlight was the innings of Sachin Tendulkar (109 - his 40th century in tests and 12), Virender Sehwag (66 & 92), V. V. S Laxman (64 & 4), M. S. Dhoni (56 & 55), Saurav Ganguly (85 & 0) and Harbhajan Singh (18 & 52). All lead bowlers like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma were amongst the wickets.

This match also saw Gautam Gambhir sitting out because of a one-match ban and Murali Vijay of Chennai making a well-deserved last-minute appearance and he debuted well with 33 in the first innings and 41 in the second innings. He also affected the run out of Mathew Hayden and Michael Hussey in the Aussie first innings. His ground fielding was a treat to watch.

It was also the last test match for Saurav Ganguly the former India captain who had previously announced his intention to retire from cricket after this series and he did so in some style – scoring 85 in the first innings and a first ball duck in the second – joining the ranks of six former greats who started their careers with a century on debut and a duck in their last matches.

At one stage it appeared as if Ricky Ponting had the match under his belt. India in their second innings was 166 for 6 in the last over of the post-lunch session on the fourth day. For some odd reason, after tea he discontinued using his strike bowlers and brought in the part-time bowlers. That allowed Dhoni & Harbhajan to score 108 runs for the seventh wicket in under two hours. The hosts saw a chance to consolidate their score and the Aussies failed to press home the early advantage. Critics point out that this was to catch up with the over rate since inability to bowl the requisite number of overs would have meant a penalty for the Aussie captain.

History would judge whether a desire to avoid a one-match ban clouded Ricky Ponting’s judgment to such a level that he not only sacrificed the Nagpur test but also any hope of leveling the series and retaining the Gavaskar – Border Trophy.

Some cynics say this is the weakest test team ever to visit India but I feel that is a meaningless pursuit. A win is a win. The series win is celebration time for Dhoni and the team. So guys go out, get drunk and paint the town red. The whole country celebrates with you and waits for an opportune time to fete you.

October 22, 2008

Good riddance

The recent events in Mumbai, when people of North Indian states, notably Bihar & Uttar Pradesh, who had come to Mumbai to appear for a written test for jobs in The Indian Railways, were beaten up leading to many being hospitalized was a law and order issue, plain and simple. The Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena (MNS) headed by Raj Thackeray claims to represent the ordinary Marathi people, ‘The Marathi Manoos’.

Did he actually speak on behalf of ‘The Marathi Manoos’ when he challenged the administration calling the Chief Minister and his deputy ‘spineless’? I am not so sure that the ordinary ‘Marathi Manoos’ has such contempt for the duly elected government. Raj Thackeray has found it profitable to speak the un-parliamentary language that he is so familiar with, only because he has been allowed to get away with it so far. Had his antics been nipped in the bud he would have remained a small-time wannabe politician. The Frankenstein called Raj Thackeray would not have developed had the Congress–NCP coalition in Maharashtra not worked with the ulterior motive of splitting the BJP-Shiv Sena vote bank with an eye on the upcoming assembly elections.

As we have seen so often in the past in many places, the politicians sow the seeds of hatred for their own narrow political considerations but the common man reaps the fruits of violence unleashed by these goons.

Raj Thackeray, the head of the ‘Goon Sena’ is at last behind bars thanks to the judicial system and the few individuals who found the courage to call his bluff. He has been arrested and in due course he would be held accountable for his utterances and his unlawful activities. It is my fervent desire to see the animal of hatred tamed.

Civil society owes it to itself to prune such weeds at the right time or else the beautiful garden that we so assiduously created on the soil of parliamentary democracy would become a jungle. And we all know jungles are full of wild animals. So the choice before 'The Marathi Manoos’ is the same as choice before the Indian people: ‘Jungle Raj’ or ‘Parliamentary Democracy’.

By making a valiant effort to tame Raj Thackeray the rest of India has shown what it stands for. It is time ‘The Marathi Manoos’ tells the rest of the country what he stands for.


image courtesy : www.gulf-times.com


Keep going giant killers


October 21 2008 will remain etched in my memory eternally, not only because this day was my daughter Sanya’s fifteenth birthday but also for the crushing 320 run defeat inflicted on the Ricky Ponting led Aussies by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his band of giant killers.

That the Mohali test would end in a result became apparent on day three of the match. One expected to see the Indian team coming under the relentless Aussie pace attack. The visitors were expected to make a match of it. In the end the Aussies wilted under the new found pace combination of the veteran Zaheer Khan and the longhaired heartthrob of Delhi, Ishant Sharma. The guile of Harbhajan Singh and the debutant Amit Mishra also proved to be too much to handle for the guys from down under.

The Mohali test match would also be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar achieving the distinction of becoming the first and only batsman to score 12,000 runs in test cricket. That he has lasted so long despite his various injuries is a testimony to his tremendous willpower and strong desire to represent India. He is an iconic star who has never been involved in any controversy whether on or off the field. He is humility personified and always willing to give credit to his team members where due. An excellent team man, he would remain a star as long as he lives. The people of India would remember his tremendous contributions to Indian cricket for all times to come.

In this moment of euphoria following the Mohali test victory and the celebrations surrounding Sachin’s achieving the rare feat of 12,000 test runs, we seem to have somehow missed out highlighting the contributions of another stalwart, The Wall of Indian cricket, ex-Indian skipper, Rahul Dravid. He has scored over 10,500 test runs at over 55 per innings, which ranks higher than Sachin and the original little master, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Rahul with his reserved persona and his unremitting cricketing style has somehow not become as popular with the Indian public as some of the flashier stars, however his contribution has been phenomenal and his success sweeter than most contemporary cricketers.

That his runs have resulted in more test wins than most other stars has also been overlooked. In my book he is as great a star and icon as Sachin, if not greater. May be history would be kinder to him and the Indian cricket fans evaluate his cricketing achievements better with the benefit of hindsight.

images courtesy : www.ndtv.com

October 15, 2008

Man on the moon, anyone ?

On 9th October, last Thursday, on the auspicious day of Dusserah when the whole of India erupts in rapturous joy to mark the victory of good over evil, at around 0945 hours, Sonu, a small child aged 22 months fell 70 feet deep in a pit dug to sink a borewell in a village near Agra, a north Indian city made famous globally by the Taj Mahal.

The civic authorities struggled to recover the child for two days, with the help of modern machines, under constant TV coverage. On the third day they called-in the army. Valiantly the armymen endeavoured and reached the child who by then had sunk even deeper. On the forenoon of Monday, 13th October, after struggling for over 100 hours, the child's body was pulled out.

'A tragic accident'is what the poor parents would say in consolation to each other. The politicians would rush to announce ex-gratia payments to the family to atone for the callousness of the engineers of the U.P.Jal Board in digging a 150 feet deep pit and leaving it uncovered for such an accident to happen.

This is not the first such case. One remembers vividly the case of 'Prince' in another village near the national capital in Haryana when fortunately the child had not sunk so deep and where the army was called in much earlier and the child was saved. Then in another such case in U.P. a girl child 'Vandana' had fallen into another borewell pit but was rescued in two days, thanks again to the valiant soldiers of The Indian Army.

In a recent programme on 'Times NOW', an English news channel, the anchor Arnab Goswami and media stalwarts like Vinod Mehta of Outlook fame, Anil Dharkar of Debonair fame and Nalini Singh, crusader sister of former union minister Anil Shourie and daughter of Common Cause founder H.D.Shourie discussed the matter. One thing that all of them agreed upon was the role of the media. It is time that some right thinking individuals file public interest litigation (PIL) under relevant laws for 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' against the engineers and other officials responsible for this monumental blunder and tragic loss of life. Only when a few people are put behind bars would those responsible for civic infrastructure wake up and take the steps necessary to avoid such tragedies.

It is a national shame that we have no respect for sanctity of human lives. Every year thousands of human lives are lost in needless accidents caused by the callousness of concerned officials or greed of the contractors.

While on the subject, the concrete sidewalls and railings on the Oberoi Hotel-Lodhi Hotel flyover in Lutyen's Delhi were dismantled nearly 6-8 months ago. One thought these were in preparation for erection of steel crach barriers like the ones seen on the Moolchand and Defence Colony flyovers nearby. But no such luck. Even after a long time no construction work is visible. I guess it would start a day after a drunk driver, in the dark, drives his car over the edge and a few lives are needlessly lost.

India aspires to soon launch Chandrayan, an ambitious mission to put an Indian on the moon. India which hankers for the tag of a Developed Nation, a recent opiate dished out to the poor masses by the politicians at regular frequencies, that can't put covers on its sewer manholes or on borewell pits, has no business in even attempting to conquer outer space.

Smell of the Earth !

Have you ever smelled the Earth ? If not I recommend that you listen to the creations of The Wadali Brothers. Their music is so close to the earth that you can actually smell the soil of The Punjab.

Music, created in moments, sometimes lasts a lifetime by transcending the limits of time and space. The most divine melodies reside in the treasure-chest of the Sufiana tradition, which draws inspiration from the sacred emotion of love and its power to transform the world. Wadali Brothers are the torchbearers of Sufiana music today. The Wadali Brothers are legends in their lifetime and their canvas is vast. Practising for decades, these unassuming brothers excel in all Sufi genres, from Sufiana Qalaam, Qawwali and Kaafi to Bhajans, Shabads and Ghazals.

Puranchand Wadali & Pyarelal Wadali are Sufi singers and musicians hailing from a small village called Guru-ki-Wadali in Amritsar District of Punjab, a village said to have been blessed by the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who himself was a great lover of music. They are the fifth generation of a musical tradition given to singing the messages of the great Sufi saints like Kabir, Rahim, Amir Khusro, Sultan Bahoo, Waris Shah, Ghulam Farid & Bulle Shah. They dabbled in the most unexpected of professions before music became their religion. While Puranchand, the elder brother, was a regular in a wrestling pit for over 25 years, Pyarelal, the younger one, contributed to the meager family earnings by playing the role of Krishna in the village Rasleela.

Their father Thakur Das forced Puranchand in to music and later Puranchand went on to take his music lessons from the celebrated masters like Pandit Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb of the Patiala Gharana of classical music. They also claim to have learnt the nuances of the sufi folk tradition from the musically inclined kanjaris (prostitutes) of their times, some of whom they visit till today. Payarelal was trained by his elder brother whom he considers his mentor and Guru even today.

Their first musical performance outside their village was at the Harballabh Temple in Jalandhar. The duo went to Jalandhar to perform at the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan but were not allowed to sing due to their rough appearance. Disappointed they decided to make a musical offering at the Harballabh Temple, where an officer of The All India Radio, Jalandhar spotted them and recorded their first musical rendition.

Wadali Brothers sing in the Qawwali, Gurbani, Kaafi, Ghazal, Bhajan and Sufiana genres of music. They live in their ancestral house in village Guru Di Wadali and teach music to those who promise to preserve the genre. They do not charge their disciples and lead a very simple life devoted to the divine one.

They believe in the Sufi tradition deeply. They consider themselves as mediums through which the preaching of great saints has to be passed on to others. They have never indulged commercially and they have only a handful of recording to their name. They believe in singing freely as homage to the divine one. They do not feel comfortable in using electronic gadgets in their music and stress on Alaap and Taans. They believe that spiritual heights can only be attained if you sing unreservedly, in a free atmosphere.

Completely devoted to music, the brothers move on, rendering divine melodies. They have always remained partners in rhyme, except when in May 2007 Pyarelal contacted the deadly brain fever. The medical team attending to him laboured day and night to save him. Soon upon recuperation, a dedicated Pyarelal sat alongside his elder brother to give a performance at the Shimla summer festival. Little did he know, however, that the fatal fever would relapse. This time the doctors gave no hope. Puranchand took his brother home to Guru ki Wadali and abstained from food for four days. On the fifth day, a Sufi saint from Baba Mastan Shah’s mazaar came visiting. He touched the ailing Pyarelal, sang a few verses and declared, "Shamman nu bol payega"(he will come around by nightfall). Pyarelal virtually came back from the jaws of death. Ever since, both brothers have been offering music to the Almighty more ardently than before.

Recently they stepped into the world of films with hindi film ‘Pinjar’, written by celebrated punjabi novelist Amrita Pritam, in which they have added divine dimensions to the pain of Partition, by rendering Gulzar’s soulful lyrics in their "mystical" style. Also on cards is a documentary, which the Discovery Channel is planning to make on them.

The list of their musical albums released so far is small but their repertoire is vast. They have not released any albums of their numerous live concerts, which are at the rate of 3-5 per month for nearly four decades. All these were recorded and released by Music Today, a division of The India Today Media Group, after a great deal of persuasion. Their reluctance was overcome only after India Today agreed to their terms, which were definitely not mercenary in nature.

* Aa Mil Yaar
* Paigham-e-Ishq
* Ishq Musafir
* Folk Music of Punjab

While they have never lobbied for awards and patronage they have been bestowed a variety of honours by various private and Governmental agencies. The Union government chose them for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991. This was followed by the Tulsi Award, an award for Folk & Traditional Art instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1998. The Punjab Sangeet Natak Akademi Award came in 2003.

Puran Chand Wadali has also been honoured by the President of India by bestowing upon him the Padam Shri in 2005. He was celebrating the achievement, thinking it belonged both to him and his younger brother Pyare Lal who is as much indispensable for Puran Chand on stage as in life. But on 26th January 2005 the morning did not dawn bright and gay in the ancestral home of the singers.

The reason is evident to those who have followed the Wadali brothers’ journey from Punjab’s akharas to the prestigious spaces of performance across the world. They have never pursued any musical ambition singly nor have they ever been separated in life, except on the Padma Shri award list which mentions only Puran Chand’s name. This is for the first time that the “jugalbandi”(duo) of Wadalis has been disregarded in the matter of conference of awards.

In 2003, the President of India jointly conferred the brothers, who have excelled in all genres from Sufiana qalaam and kaafis to bhajans and shabads, with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. But this year, the joy of reward stands shadowed by its limitation, which Puran Chand terms as “painful.” Illiterate as he is, he could not read the Government of India communique mentioning only his name and not his brother’s in the list of this year’s awardees. But now the brothers have consented to write to the Government to award both of them.

Says Chetan Joshi, their manager “Puranji was shocked to learn that the award is only for him. First he refused to believe it, then he broke into tears.


The reluctant celebrities want only their music to speak for them. One has not seen them on TV or read about them in the newspapers. The only known interview given by them was ages ago to The Tribune, Chandigarh in 2003. Here are excerpts from an interview of the two maestros. Puranchand takes the lead in answering the queries, while Pyarelal occasionally chips in to supplement the information provided by his elder brother.

Do you think you were destined to learn music?
Our father Thakur Das was a famous musician in Guru ki Wadali, our ancestral village in Amritsar. But he was unhappy because he had no child. I came as a gift of a musical offering, which my father made at the famous mazaar of Data Ganj Baksh Saheb at Lahore before Partition. I was born 14 years after his marriage. I was an impetuous child, always interested in wrestling. I would go to school but bunk classes after collecting my share of sweets and ghee, which teachers offered us. But as a fakir at the mazaar had prophesised, I had to be a musician. My father would beat me up, sometimes brutally, to force me into music. I, however, kept resisting. Whenever I sat for a session with my father, I would end up crying for hours. I remember my father taking hold of my long hair and dragging me into the rehearsal room. I was so fed up that one day I got my hair chopped off. But even that did not keep me away from music, which was to be my destiny.

How and when did you start enjoying music?
As a 10-year-old I once went to attend a fair dedicated to Baba Sadiq Shah of the Chisti lineage. The air around me resonated with music and I was compelled to pay a full-throated musical homage to God, using Sufi music. When I sang, "Mitti diyaan murtaan ne dil sada moh leya; umraan di kitte nu pal vich kho leya", people showered me with praise, gifts and money. I realized that music was not such a bad deal after all. I asked my father to buy me a gramophone on which I started listening songs rendered by famous kanjaris of our times. I also picked up renderings of Baba Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Amir Khusro, Sant Kabir and other saints. Later I learnt music under the tutelage of Pt Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb of Patiala Gharana. I washed utensils at the houses of many blessed musician saints to earn their guidance.

When did Pyarelal join you?
We are four brothers, all musicians. While one of them is with a raagi jatha (a group of musicians who perform at Sikh shrines), the other is a dholi (percussionist). Pyarelal was destined to sing praises of God with me. He did not go to any guru. I am his mentor and guru. Those days it was a norm for brothers to sing in pairs. So I began signing with Pyarelal.

Pyarelal Wadali adds: As a youngster, I used to dance for Krishnaleela presentations. Das-das gaaon ekatthe ho jaate the (people from tens of villages would assemble to see me). Then one day Baba Mastan Shahji, a Sufi saint, told me to remove my ghungroos (anklets) and start singing Sufiana qalaam and qawwali. My father felt that by asking me to quit dance, he would be depriving me of a steady income. I, however, chose to devote myself to singing Sufi qalaam. Bade bhaiyya helped me. Together we made many musical offerings at the Durgiana temple, Amritsar. We even held jagratas (night long musical soirees at Temples of Goddess Durga).

When did people first take note of you outside your village?
Our admirers in the village told us of the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar. Ready to perform, we headed for the concert, where we were disallowed entry due to our appearance. We did not even remotely look like musicians, what with my handlebar moustache and all. We were attired in chadar kurta (rustic attire) and had no airs around us. When nothing worked for us, we decided to make a musical offering at the Harballabh temple, where N.M. Bhatia of All India Radio, Jalandhar, spotted us. He said that our voices ‘rang with an inner harmony.’ He took us to the radio station and recorded our first song.

Initially, you disliked the mike. Why?
We were used to paying full-throated homage to God. We thought the mike would suck away our voices. It was when Bhatiaji convinced us that the mike would only embellish our voice that we started using it. We are still not very comfortable with electronic gadgets. We feel spiritual heights can only be attained if you sing unreservedly, in a free atmosphere.

Tell us about your journey to success.
The AIR recording happened in 1975. After that we began performing across the country. Initially, our presentations were restricted to youth festivals in colleges and universities. Then we began frequenting the concert circuit with celebrated musicians. Despite several concerts, we never felt we had perfected the art of singing. Even the awards did not mean anything beyond being signs of recognition. The real blessing is the power to render divine verse. Hamara talluk to chashm-e-shahi se hai. Khuda ka sangeet behta rahe. Bas yehi dua hai. Aur yehi hamara inaam. (We draw from the eternal stream of music. We pray that divine melodies should keep flowing. That would be our real reward).

How would you describe Sufi music?
Sufi means virgin, pure, unadulterated. Sufi saints have sung verses in the praise of God. Sufi music is soaring, healing, and penetrating. It rips the sky open, revealing the radiant face of the Beloved. It elevates us to a totally different level and brings us closer to God. We consider ourselves as mediums through which the preaching of great saints has to be passed on to others, as Baba Shah Hussain said, ‘Man atkeya beparvah de naal, us deen dukhi de shah de naal.’ (Our mind is stuck on the almighty and we are one with the lord of the impoverished)

Your admirers rue the fact that there are very few records of your music. As of today, you have only about four music albums. Why have you stayed away from commercial recordings?
We were never interested in commercially exploiting our popularity. Our recent Music Today release Aa Mil Yaar was also agreed upon through friendly channels. The production company’s young staff persuaded us to leave something for posterity. We have other albums, including Paigham-e-Ishq, Ishq Musafir and Folk Music of Punjab, released by Music Today. In all these albums, the music is traditional and the orchestration minimal. Alaaps and taans dominate.

Many music directors wanted you to sing for their films. You had also been roped in for 'Ek Chadar Maili Si'. Why were you finally not heard in the film?
Believe it or not, we never watched any films, until recently. Hum to bas rab se ley lagate hain. Fakiron ki bani ko sur dete hain. Isi mein hume sukh milta hai (We just interact with God. We just give a voice to the words written by the saints. That makes us happy). The films you mentioned did not offer enough scope to sing the way we wanted to. After years, we have found something divine in the music of 'Pinjar', for which we have recorded two songs. We have also recorded for another film called 'Dhoop'.

How did you agree to sing for Uttam Singh in 'Pinjar'? How would you describe his film?
The film explores the tragedies that occurred on our own land. It dwells on Punjab before and after Partition. The music is inspired by pain, so are the lyrics by Gulzar saheb (a famous Punjabi and urdu poet and film lyricist, screenplay writer and Hindi film director). We accepted the offer because the music director did not interfere with our style of rendering. Rather, he used my technique and Pyarelal’s vivaciousness to weave scores that are hauntingly beautiful.

Tell us something about your repertoire, your children and your disciples.
Trained as we are in Hindustani music under Pt Durga Das and the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, our repertoire encompasses our guru’s exclusive compositions. Otherwise we sing all forms of music – qawwali, gurbani, kaafi, ghazal, bhajans and Sufiana. My eldest son is in the Army, the younger one sings pop music in Canada. Pyarelal’s son Satpal is picking up our style well. We have many other disciples, from whom we never charge money. We would be happy to pass on our legacy to those who promise to preserve it. We have some very gifted students back home in Guru ki Wadali, where we still live in the same ancestral house where we were born.

How would you describe your journey till today?
Jab tak bika na tha koi puchhta na tha; tune mujhe kharid kar anmol kar diya. (no one cared till I was sold, you bought me and made me priceless)

It is our good fortune that we live in times when such artistes are around for whom music is merely a form of worship and who bring such glory to the art form. May their tribe increase.

You can obtain free downloads of their musical offerrings from 'You tube'.

The image of the family photograph is courtesy Mr. Rajesh Sharma of The Tribune, Chandigarh. The collage of album covers is made by me from images courtesy Music Today, a division of the India Today Group.

October 6, 2008

Interesting bits

I am writing a story on the conspiracy theory surrounding the 9/11 attacks. This research started after I chanced to see 'Loose Change' a 90 minute documentary on the subject. In the meantime a few amazing details to mull over.
  • The size of the entire universe is estimated at around 150 billion LYs
  • The observable universe is only 15 billion LYs in size
  • There are over 40 billion galaxies in the universe
  • Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 50,000 LYs in size
  • There are almost 100 billion stars in the Milky Way
  • One LY = 9.385 trillion kilometers

Thank the Lord for he allows man to think and believe that the universe revolves around him and he is the centre on this universe.

Burn your demons this Dusserah

The last few days have witnessed hectic festivities across the whole country. The Muslim community celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr with lavish feasts after fasting during the month of Ramadan. The whole of India is currently celebrating Durga Puja and Navratri, which will culminate in the grand festivities around Dusserah. Diwali is also around the corner. I sincerely hope the farmers bring home bumper harvests so that they can celebrate in style. I also fervently desire that nothing mar these celebrations across India.

In the last week one saw a few newspaper stories that brought out India’s truly secular ethos like no amount of bombastic speeches by politicians can ever hope to achieve. Three stories stand out which I found very motivating:

The first was about a small hamlet with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population called ‘Bakshi-ka-talab’ on the Lucknow-Sitapur highway, about 15 kilometers from Lucknow. In 1972, a local Muslim trader started a Ram Lila, an enactment of the life and accomplishments of the Hindu Lord Rama using locally available talent. The Ram Lila usually lasts three weeks leading up to Dusserah when Lord Rama slays the evil king Ravana. This Muslim trader played the part of Lord Rama while he was alive. After his demise, the family continued to organize the Ram Lila with family members playing key characters. This year the month of Ramzaan coincided with the Ram Lila.

On a particular day last week the audience of the Ram Lila grew restive when there was an unscheduled break in the proceedings. The audience was unaware and thus started shouting and booing. In a bid to control sentiments the organizers had to announce that the break was needed because Lord Rama had to break his fast and was partaking of the Iftaar, the ritualistic evening meal. The audience was immediately silenced and waited patiently for Lord Rama to finish Iftaar before Ram Lila resumed.

The Second story is about the Muslim community in Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the eastern coastal state of Orissa. In one colony of the city every year a Durga Puja is arranged by the Muslim residents since last over 40 years. This Puja celebration has witnessed increasing number of mostly Hindu visitors each year to make their offerings to Goddess Durga over five days of festivities with no untoward incident ever reported.

Most of the artisans who create idols of Goddess Durga for these festivities in Orissa and Chattisgarh states are Muslim.

The third story is about the Muslim artisans from a village near Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh who come to Delhi each year to make the simulacrums of King Ravana, His son Indrajit also called Meghnad and his brother the mighty Kumbhkarana. An actor playing Lord Rama in the local Ram Lila destroys the effigies on the day of Dusserah to epitomize the victory of good over evil. On Dusserah Goddess Durga also slayed the demon Mahishasur after nine days of battle.

All the above stories symbolize the secular culture of India. India has over centuries built it so as to make communities inter-dependent and thus avoid skirmishes of any sort. Let no shortsighted political force ever destroy this cherished secular fabric of our society. Let every Indian pledge to burn the demons of communal hatred as we burn the effigies of Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhakaran and immerse ourselves in love and fellow feeling as we immerse the idols of Goddess Durga so that India can awaken to a new dawn of harmony and peace.


I am sure there must be many more stories of this kind that need to be told. Any reader who knows some similar story, which highlights the secular tradition of our great country, can write in his comments.

October 1, 2008

Just another Tuesday

The 30th of September 2008 marked the first Navarati. It was just another Tuesday in the lives of the 10,000 or so people who had lined up to seek the blessings of the Hindu Goddess Chamunda Devi at the temple inside the historic Mehrangarh Fort near Jodhpur. A rumor of a bomb planted somewhere in the temple complex started a stampede that killed over 147 people and injured many more. Many are struggling for their lives in hospitals that are ill equipped to handle such a rush of patients. It would be a miracle if more people were not killed by lack of medical facilities and proper treatment.

A study that Times of India, a highly credible newspaper in India, published today shows that in the last ten years 4341 people lost their lives in 14 incidents of stampedes. It is no solace that 690 deaths occurred in India and the rest overseas since precious human lives were lost needlessly, which I think is criminal. In contrast the World Trade Center strikes on 11th September 2001 killed around 2792 people according to CNN.com.

It is not my brief that what the attackers did in New York was in any way justifiable. It definitely was an attack on the United States and the American way of life. It was certainly a criminal act that needs to be condemned vociferously and the culprits, whoever they may be and wherever they may be hiding, need to be brought to justice and punished severely after due process of law. I am certain the American people and their judicial system ensured a fair trial to all accused.

Consider for a moment the amount of media space spent in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If one tracks column centimeters, 9/11 would have generated more than a few million pages in the American newspapers indicating the angst of the American people. Simultaneously security in public places was beefed up and systems put in place to prevent any such incident. In almost seven years since 9/11 those systems seem to be delivering expected results.

In contrast we see lop-sided media coverage of incidents in India. Twenty dead people in a bomb blast in Delhi get extensive coverage lasting for weeks. Readers are given news, background stories, expert views and political statements, opinion polls etc. on various aspects of the incident. Seven times more people died in the Jodhpur stampede. The story made the front page today. But there were no screaming banner headlines like September 14 2008, the day after the recent bomb blasts in Delhi. The story will in all probability go cold in 2-3 days and a week later Indians would be hard pressed to recall where the Chamunda Devi temple is.

It is ironic that a few people killed in a bomb blast triggered by a terrorist outfit gets so much attention and media space & time. The politicians get hyperactive and are seen baying for blood, but such incidents of stampedes in congregations at places of worship that happen with alarming regularity evoke nothing more than tokenisms. It must evoke a strong sense of outrage and collective anger. No sincere and visible effort is made to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Till such time that we continue to be fooled by tokenisms by the ruling elite, human life will continue to be lost. Only when the administration is held accountable and made to pay for their lapses would such avoidable deaths end.

On closer and rational analysis this kind of incidents can be easily avoided. A study of the practices adopted at some places of worship like the shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirupathi, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the shrine of Khwaja Chisti at Ajmer Sharif and Mata Vaishno Devi temple amongst many others will show that a few simple practices can lead to orderly conduct of large congregations.

The religious shrines are managed by boards, which have local eminent persons as their members. These are mostly local merchants who work voluntarily, part-time and with an aim to gain social acceptance. Most of them are also patrons and fund many projects undertaken by these shrines and they want to do an honest job. It is equally true they are not trained administrators. In public interest the government should bring an ordinance that mandates the following acts in such shrines:

1) All shrines must record the daily count of all visitors to the shrine with a view to proper planning of facilities and operating procedures.

2) All shrine boards must have a member who has served at least at the rank of Inspector of Police to advise the shrine boards about crowd management. They must be registered with the central government and made to undergo periodic training on these skills.

3) All shrines must seek permission of the local administration for organizing such congregations after they have demonstrated compliance with crowd management systems as indicated by the ex-police officer member of the board.

4) All shrine boards must be permitted to charge a nominal amount for entry to finance crowd management systems. Public address systems must be installed at all shrines. Shrines must permit entry of a small batch of people only. Proper barricading and fencing must be installed to ensure stampedes are arrested at the outset. All structures must be periodically tested.

5) All shrines must arrange suitable number of volunteers to assist the police in managing and guiding devotees. Adequate number of ambulances and doctors should be on call as per established norms whenever permission is granted to arrange such large congregations.

6) In the event the shrine board defies norms the board must be superseded and the administration should takeover the shrine. Any board that is in charge of a shrine at any time must be held accountable for the safety and security of the devotees. A board that is not able to cope with the sudden surge in number of visitors should be allowed to temporarily close down the shrine.

Many multinational corporations these days devote a large amount of money and time to meet Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) concerns. At Castrol BP, my previous employers, no meeting would start before the HSSE Manager had briefed the assembled people about the safety procedures to follow in case of a fire and the location of exit points. When the practice first started we would mock the company’s paranoia about safety but once the realization sank-in we became the torchbearers for the cause of health and safety.

Making schoolchildren study HSSE would ensure that we have a crop of young men and women who as they step into adulthood are aware of the steps to be taken and avoid the safety pitfalls and ensure precious lives are preserved. I feel any amount spent in this effort would be more than recovered even if one human life can be saved.

September 29, 2008

India over the weekend

Sanya, my daughter’s mathematics examination on Monday, September 29 2008 ensured that we were at home over the weekend. More so with the recent serial bomb blasts in Delhi, venturing out wasn’t such a bright idea unless one genuinely needed to get something.

So one spent a large part of Sunday reading an array of newspapers. The themes for my weekend reading and TV viewing was set by ‘The Big Fight’, a current affairs debate on NDTV, hosted by the dashing Vikram Chandra, on Saturday night. The discussion this time was on the findings of Justice G T Nanavati on the Godhra and post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and role of Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi & his ministers in the same. While the overall debate was along expected partisan lines with both Congress and the BJP well represented at the program by their respective spokesmen, one felt that the BJP guys were clearly lacking in conviction and it soon became apparent that lung power would take over since their brief was to defend the indefensible.

In this debate, when confronted with startling facts by media stalwart Ms. Harinder Baweja of Tehelka fame, the BJP team led by Prakash Javdekar and including media person Mr. Swapan Dasgupta, decided to shout her down. Mr. Swapan Dasgupta cut a sorry figure giving such outrageous arguments that he did, and on a debate that was telecast nation-wide. Ms. Baweja’s final remark that a Muslim youth in India today has very little choice but to pick up the gun was a bit over the top and designed to grab attention. Ms. Baweja, the total population of Muslim youth in the ages of 15-35 in India can be safely estimated at over 25 million. Surely if all of them had picked up the gun every street corner of India would be burning. You need to moderate your speech, Harinder, or else your utterances would be rated ‘Hyperbole’.

Even if one was to give credence to what BJP and their followers have been saying about a Muslim mob burning 59 innocent kar-sevaks alive in coach number S-5 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, it still eludes me how 59 dead kar-sevaks equals 2500 innocent Muslims killed in the aftermath of Godhra? I guess India is yet to learn modern Gujarat Maths.

Saturday’s bomb blast at a Mehrauli market, which is otherwise known for ‘Phoolwalon-Ki-Sair’ a procession taken out by flower sellers of all faiths to lay a ‘floral chaddar’at a nearby Sufi shrine, was the second theme of my weekend reading and TV watching. The death of nine-year old Santosh Kumar, who innocently picked up the plastic bag containing the bomb dropped by the motor-cycle borne bombers and chased them shouting ‘you have dropped your packet’ that left me thinking seriously about where we as a civil society are headed. This little child could not have been the target of the hate of those who plotted the bombing. I would like to believe they were targeting to bomb the deep-rooted bias that we all unknowingly harbor against the Muslims.

Ms. Rakshanda Jalil’s piece on Ghettoisation of Muslims in Urban India and different types of bias that they are subject to is illustrative of the above. Hindu parents are reluctant to send their children to a birthday party of a Muslim classmate in a Muslim dominated area. She talks about Pizza Home delivery firms sending Pizzas four kilometers away but refusing to deliver to her home though they are located less than a kilometer away from the outlet giving some excuse or the other. Her contention that there is no Mothers Dairy milk outlet or Safal vegetable outlet in ‘Zakir Nagar’ because these are Muslim dominated areas appears a bit stretched but I would like to believe that these decisions were influenced by commercial considerations of viability. Since the lady raised the issue in a national daily, it would be appropriate for the Government to order an inquiry and make amends. Punishing a few guilty junior officers of bias against Muslims would not solve the problem, opening these outlets would go a long way to assuage feelings of hurt and neglect. I am sure Ms. Rakshanda Jalil would agree.

There is one recurring thought that just refuses to go away. In the 1940s and 1950s, a Muslim actor aspiring for success in the Bombay Film Industry was given a Hindu name since it would increase his appeal. Thus we had stalwarts like Dilip Kumar and many others resorting to this tested formula. Not only that, they would never be seen publicly celebrating any Muslim festival. The fact that today a Shah Rukh Khan or an Aamir Khan or a Salman Khan feels no such need would have one believe that times have indeed changed. But have they? Have the underlying prejudices vanished?

I am sure that if the Khans start speaking or behaving as Muslims rather than as actors their popularity would begin to wane. We must remember that president A.P.J.Abdul Kalaam was loved by the whole country, not because he was a Muslim or a Hindu but because he was a good man with a clean soul and a gifted scientist. And a good soul by definition means he would have been a good Muslim first. But a good Muslim as defined by the prophet not by some Imam or Ayatollah.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that it all started with the concept of the partition of India to create a Muslim state of Pakistan and a Secular state of India. Had India been declared a Hindu state the issues would not have arisen since then the various governments would not have resorted to using Muslims as a vote bank, which the Imams willingly allowed in exchange for a few pieces of silver. All policies then would have been created with a Hindu mindset and Muslims given a second grade citizenship with few rights as we see happening in most of the Arab world. But since we cannot yet travel back in time, erase and re-write History, we need to live with what we have been given and make the best of the situation.

In this I feel the Hindu community has to show a spirit of accommodation but at the same time the Muslims too have a responsibility. They need to shun visible symbols of their being ‘different’ because if they keep harping on their being ‘different’, the Hindus would keep seeing them as such and it would assume an air of ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Muslims must ask themselves why the Muslims in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerela etc are so integrated with the local culture and ethos that one only gets to know their faith upon asking. They participate with equal fervor in Puja, Pongal and Onam Festivities. Even nature shows that animals and plants that adapt to their surroundings by suitable change in color or texture etc. manage to win the battle of survival.

I keep citing this example every time this subject comes up. Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahib started his day with his musical offering at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Was he a lesser Muslim for it? Some of the best Hindi film bhajans have been written by lyricists like Jaaved Akhtar, Hasrat Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi etc. and composed by the likes of Naushad, A R Rehman etc and sung by the doyens of playback singing like Mohammed Rafi, Suraiya etc and filmed on Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan etc. Visualize the evergreen hit film bhajans like ‘Madhuban mein radhika nache re’, ‘Ram Chandra keh gaye siya se’, ‘Madhuban mein jo kanhaiyya kisi gopi se mile’ or ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’ and you would agree that while the people behind these works were Muslims they were able to create masterpiece bhajans since their own faith was strong.

It is indeed such an India I would like to leave for my children. An India that is Secular and Independent and truly free of all kinds of prejudice.
image courtesy www.boston.com