Ganesha in our lives

2011 Ganesheshotsav in Pune was marked by heavy rains and a river in spate for over 3 days in a row. That is not something fresh in our memories. Inflation, security issues, poor roads not withstanding people celebrated with gusto either by bringing home the Ganesh idol or in a community celebration in their neighbourhood.

While the Mutha River is a trickle for the best part of the year, environmental activists cry themselves hoarse about pollution and disregard for whatever water does flow there. This reaches a cresendo in this festival as tradition requires the idol to be immersed. The debate begins right from the type of idol rather the material from which it is made- idols made from ‘shadu chi mati‘ (a type of river mud) are said to be the appropriate ones and they are supposed to dissolve easily when immersed. The other popular material is Plaster of Paris and idols made of this may not dissolve. This not only creates a religious issue of semi dissolved and water soaked idols that have to disposed off later but the water is said to get polluted. The ‘nirmalya‘ or floral offerings have to disposed off as well.
Most people have accepted the idea of recycling and do give the nirmalya at special collection boxes kept for the purpose. But idols is another story. We noticed an interesting phenomenon at one visarjan ghat today:
The approach to the river was lined on both sides with placard bearing activists: those on my right urged people to immerse idols in the specially built ‘howd‘ (water tanks) and those on the left urged immersion in the river. Personnel from the Fire Brigade were at hand to actually immerse the idols in water.
While official figures will be known later, for the half hour that we spent, most people chose to opt for the River. The two photos below speak for themselves.
Most immersions ther were of small idols (usually of individuals or families) or slightly bigger ones (probably a community celebration) and probably the situation may have been different later, we were there quite early at around 3PM.
I know of families who immerse the idol at home itself (the ones made of shadu chi mati). They claim it dissolves in a couple of hours and they use the water in their plants and for neighbourhood trees. The nirmalya is recycled at home itself.
Ganesha is the Sukhkarta, Dukhaharta,Vighnaharta .
After 11 days, we miss him at home.
Ganapati Bappa Moraya, Pudhachya varshi lavkar ya!

Corruption in our daily lives…

Any newspaper, TV channel that we currently turn to is in an reporting -overdrive about Anna Hazare’s fast and the youth ‘involvement’ that is sweeping the country. I am not qualified to comment about the Jan Lokpal or its government version. However as an ordinary citizen I have faced situations that demanded ‘Laxmi darshan’ or similar to expedite any work I may have.

Let me elaborate.
The commonest one that each one of us probably is guilty of is ‘making deals with God’ when our wish is fulfilled. This may mean a visit to the particular place of worship, offerings (in the form of cash in the hundi/coconut etc), lighting candles/offering a ‘chadar’, some people walk (for several kilometers) to the temple and so on. The offerings vary subject to the ‘size’ of the wish granted and deep pockets of the recipient!
We had offered a pooja at small temple (the residing deity was claimed to fulfill devotees wishes) outside our base in Assam when we finally received our luggage after two months. The truck was delayed and its owner simply could not trace it. It had all our earthy possessions and their loss would have set us back by a princely sum. Besides spending huge amounts on STD (this was way before the current telecom revolution) we really could not do anything. More about that another time..
Coming back to my point, what are we to consider such offerings as? Or is this to be excused as its not made to a living person?
We often pay a few hundred rupees at government offices to ‘hasten’ our work. Pay a couple of hundred to avoid the ‘test’ prior to a learning (driving) license, add a few blue/green/ red notes to the designated amount to ‘facilitate’ easy registration of property, avoid paying a fine when driving through a red signal and so on… We justify these as saying that the agent makes some money and we are actually helping provide a livelihood to someone. Sounds a bit far fetched but yes, I have heard these arguments.
Come election day (either for state or central or local level) many people (this includes those other than in the ‘youth’ category) take off for a weekend break or holiday and do not vote. ‘What difference does it make?’, ‘Will my vote make any difference?’ are some reasons to justify this flight from exercising their duty. Some claim that we need electoral reforms. When a particular doctor’s treatment fails to provide relief to our complaints, we change the doctor. Politically, voting is one way to make a change.
Anna’s fast has driven India’s youth and middle class away from their AC offices/ homes furnished with newly gained affluence onto the street to raise a voice against the corruption menace. I hope it forces them to think and think hard about corruption. I would like to see this ‘josh’ sustained into the future, much after the current matter is resolved.
The new law (in whatever form) will work on larger issues but what about our daily lives. Are we ready to make sacrifices, face hardships just so we don’t pay anything under the table? Are we ready to pay the fine for our vehicle not having a valid PUC certificate? Are we ready to stand in queues for a domicile certificate and ready for it being rejected?
My apprehensions about corruption were totally unjustified when we re-entered civil life after our stint in the Services. We could get whatever licenses, agreements we needed without greasing any palms. Of course it meant repeated trips, standing in queues but we received our documents before our Patience snapped. That experience only restored my faith in the system.
Those following global developments will agree that foreign and western ‘rich’ nations face corruption as well (it may take different forms). While many readily point accusatory fingers at India and our systems, its for us, to repair any faults. If we don’t do so, who will?
Its when each one of us (ok let me not be ambitious- lets keep that most of us) vows not to grease palms, not to use money to expedite our work that Anna’s agitation will have long lasting meaning and make a fundamental change in our though processes.

Does this sound too simplistic? Probably yes. But small wins will add up to huge gains. Else it will be like having beautiful house thats being eaten up from inside by white ants. Or a lovely attractive physical body being eaten up by diabetes and heart disease.

Before I end, this is a good time to recap the inspiring timeless ad by Times of India:
Tum Chalo Toh Hindustan Chale. Watch it here (at:
Jai Hind!

And the Sun will shine…

Difficult as it is to say this, one has to accept that the present governance situation in India seems to have reached its nadir. What with one scam after another, soaring prices (to name just a few problems) the only people who seem to be doing well are politicians irrespective of which cap they don.

Yes, the media may go overboard about some issues but can they be blamed for the price rise? (read this: Some ministers have reportedly said the government lacks tools to control price rises (read this:
Corruption, legal violation cases by big wigs languish in our courts.
So where does the common man go? Is this the pits? Do we as honest tax payers deserve this? Should we pay taxes at all? Do we really have democratic processes that represent ‘majority’ opinion or are some influential voters’ blocks taking the rest for a ride? The central government, and every state, municipal corporation and gram panchayat government represent not more than 35% of votes polled. So are our electoral systems truly giving the majority opinion the right to govern? We need to introspect and rethink.
Being the eternal optimist I would like to point to the 2010 Bihar elections. Bihar, the first among the so called BIMARU states, yet its people made a dramatic choice in their 2010. Fed up with corruption, absence of law and order they voted for progress. (read this:
Surely if some people in India can use the ballot to make an emphatic verdict about their preferences, the rest of us can follow? Agreed that there is still a while for elections but we must be sure to make an informed choice based on past performance and not promised results when we vote. We must sort wheat from chaff and learn to take ‘claims’ of so called administrative successes with tons of salt.
This is what people power and power of the ballot is all about.
Don’t despair people. Raise your voice. Think. Act.
And the Sun will shine…

The Son Rise

While political analysts may have felt slightly deprived at the speed with which our new government was formed- they had a field day in speculating and counter speculating strategies, names and potential situations if the Congress ‘allies’ had decided to support the government from outside.

The dust has finally settled. With the second round of  swearing in India can now get back to business. 
While the exclusion of Rahul Gandhi in the cabinet did raise some questions, the Cabinet is well sprinkled with scions of political families. Sons, daughters and all manner of relatives that were political heirs have come into their own and landed ministerial appointments. 
In a country with a huge youth population, there are high hopes from the young ministers. They need to set the bar high and work towards it despite political, social or other pressures. This article talks of performance being the criteria. 
Many have questioned if we are a dynastic society. Does a constituency vote blindly for the progeny of the previous popular leader? Is pedigree all that matters? What about performance by the next gen?
Results across India would suggest as much which will explain why every such politician makes an extra effort to ‘nurse’ that region towards more growth. 
A sociologist would give us a better perspective on this. In the meantime,
the son has risen
there is hope on the horizon
a new day
a new beginning
time to start afresh…
Jai Hind!

Three cheers for the Indian voter

A vast majority who had geared for a long suspense about our new government were pleasantly stunned. By us of course, the Indian voters! 

Experienced analysts and politicians could not gauge the mood of the people or even predict what was in store for them. Could it be that the voter finally will not be swayed by political gimmicks? Not fall prey to promises that he knows may never be fulfilled under the name of coalition politics? Developed the capacity to think independently? 
At least some of these must be true. That alone explains the clear mandate (opposed to the fractured one expected by a vast majority) and clipped wings of regional satraps. 
The voter does not always have to argue, protest, fight verbally. This is his power to tell the politicians that like all other jobs, delivery matters. Performance matters.  They would be evaluated continuously over five years. Instead of an annual report there is only one report at the end of five years. Illiterate and poor our masses may be, they are not dumb. 
The Election Commission of India did an excellent job of holding peaceful elections (barring a few incidents)- besides sheer numbers, extreme heat and security threats were issues they dealt with in a most satisfactory manner. Technology came to their aid in the form of EVMs. Obviously many would complain about the voter registration process, names going missing etc. 
There is a lot that needs to be done- infrastructure (roads, electricity, clean drinking water and food for starters) and employment come to my mind first. Womens issues still need to be looked into- female infanticide, dowry. Obviously every one has a wish list.
Those who missed out on casting their ballot this time, visit the offices of the Election Commission in your city this week itself. Start the enrollment process. 
Jai Hind!

Republic Day

This 26 January was marked by many of the highest peace time gallantry awards being awarded posthumously to Armed Forces or Police personnel. Their sole aim to defend the nation even at the cost of their lives. 

Their wives carried themselves with tremendous calm as the citations were read out. It spoke volumes about their personalities and strength as they adjust to this difficult change.
Every lady who marries into the armed forces or police or other defence forces is aware of and accepts the risks her husband faces. Far from stopping him, she is the source of his strength. It is her unquestioned taking charge of all domestic  management and issues that lets the soldier go forth with full concentration on the task on hand. That is how it should be.
Our salute to those who laid down their lives to keep us safe and the ladies who stand by them!
Jai Hind!


There have been several bravehearts in the operation to end last week’s attack and siege in Mumbai. 

Here are articles about some of them that are available on cyberspace.
Sub Inspector  Tukaram Omble was instrumental in the arrest of the sole terrorist who could be apprehended alive. Click here to read an account of that encounter. 
VD Zende an announcer at CST’s suburban hall, helped reduce casualty number at the railway station. His presence of mind in the suddenly evolving crisis speaks volumes for dedication to duty. Read about it here.
The fire brigade too chipped in. Read about it here.
It goes to show that before waiting for the authorities to arrive, its for the people who are actually caught in the situation to show courage and presence of mind.
Are you updated with first aid proceedures?
Do you know how to use a fire extinguisher?
Do you have the local police numbers stored for easy access?
Do you have the local hospital/ambulance number stored for easy access?
If your answer  to all above questions is not ‘Yes’ then you know what is the first item on your must-do list…
Take care all!

Touch the Sky with Glory

8th October
Air Force Day
An important period for us a few years back as it meant weeks of hectic activities and preparations for this week that usually had several events.
The big one usually was the Officers Mess function. Ladies were kept busy preparing an entertainment program, decorations, food etc. All our postings were in far flung regions so outsourcing food to some hotel was never an option.
Its our cooks who did the honours and always came out shining. Ladies too put in their bit with special recipes or decor.
An important effort during the party was to look after ‘veterans’ who were invited to this annual do.

Today we are on the other side of the fence….
From my experience last year, this party is still carried out with the same zest as before only I looked at it from a different lens.
We had lived in dilapidated ‘bashas’, read freshly delivered 2-day old newspapers, stayed connected via trunk calls then STD PCOs, accepted snakes, leeches and scorpions….

We lived in clean fresh air, our kids had plenty of space to play… The friends we made are for life. The lessons we learnt still stand by us. The skills we gained come in handy even today in the urban jungle that is now our home.

All the very best to the Indian Air Force.
Happy Landings to all the men in blue.

Kautilya to Chandragupta

Following is a letter to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya by Kautilya which is mentioned in the ‘Arthashastra’. This was part of the Joint Armed Forces Memorandum to the 5th Central Pay Commission, in 1995 but in an abridged form.

“The Mauryan soldier does not the Royal treasuries enrich nor the Royal granaries fill. He does not carry out trade and commerce nor produce scholars, littérateurs, artistes, artisans, sculptors, architects, craftsmen, doctors and administrators. He does not build roads and ramparts nor dig wells and reservoirs. He does not do any of this directly.

The soldier only and merely ensures that the tax, tribute and revenue collectors travel forth and return safely; that the farmer tills, harvests, stores and markets his produce unafraid of pillage; that the trader, merchant and financier function and travel across the length and breadth of the realm unmolested; that the savant, sculptor, maestro and mentor create works of art, literature, philosophy and astrology in quietitude; that the architect designs and builds his Vaastus without tension; that the tutor and the priest teach and preach in peace; that the rishis meditate in wordless silence; that the doctor invents cures and medicines undisturbed; that the mason and bricklayer work unhindered; that the mother and the wife go about their chores and bring up children in harmony and tranquility; that the cattle graze freely without being lifted or stolen.

Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort, O King, secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks only to the Mauryan Army standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action, day and night, in weather fair and foul, all eight praharas (round the clock), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, all through the year, year after year.

While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to EXIST as a State!To this man, O Rajadhiraja, you owe a debt: please, therefore, see to it, suo motu, that the soldier continuously gets his dues in every form and respect, be they his needs or his wants, for he is not likely to ask for them himself.

The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!”

Let us not forget the brave men and women who give us the luxury of security.

Indian news channels need to rise above economics

The topic for today is “Why are Indian news broadcast channels not as mature as their International counterparts?” My first thought is are international counterparts mature? Are they responsible? Is news not leaked out for ulterior motives outside our borders? Princess Diana died as the couple tried to evade paparazzi. Is this mature journalism?

In India, journalism has played an important role in our freedom movement and the profession is not new though the new media definitely are. Lokmanya Tilak founded the paper ‘Kesari‘ way back in 1880 to portray ground realities in the country. All India Radio (AIR) too has been around almost since the time we became independent. Television began in the form of ‘Didi’ Doordarshan around 1975. Being state run obviously meant there was some ‘filtering’ of news to suit the governing party. As economy opened up we got a taste of ‘private’ media and what was said to be ‘unbiased’ news. In reality market forces gradually took over and news could be ‘sponsored’ or used to influence stock markets.

Business news channels in India have recently asked begun asking their panelists for disclaimers. This clearly indicates some hidden interests existed earlier. This change is one for better.

Tragedy of any kind and our cameras are there like vultures to capture tears and grief. I can only compare our news channels to BBC or CNN that we can easily watch here. Compared to those channels our reporting is definitely mediocre and unnecessarily sensational. Body language and speech intonations of our news readers too are not up to these standards. More maturity is definitely required here.

Human minds and behavioural tendencies are the same globally. Just like westerners are fond of reading what celebrities do or eat or how and whom they live with, we too like that. That would explain increasing importance to Ash-Abhi or other similar invasions of celebrity lives or grief and tragedy.

As the number of players increase, money is pumped in and economics takes over, it is important for concerned news editors to remember what Lokmanya Tilak has reportedly said, “Be sure of your facts. Let your words be clear as day light.” That should be our standard. If news channels continue to focus on gaining advertisements, eyeballs (viewers) and playing one up over rival channels then we cannot expect much progress. Viewers and readers will definitely separate wheat from chaff sooner or later. Those who can rise above this will certainly emerge better and more mature journalists.

Archana Pande