Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vaidik is no Amanpour!

This appeared in Sunday Times
                                 Errr… Ved Pratap Vaidik…. Who dat????
 Let’s be honest, Shri Ved Prakash Vaidik is no Christiane Amanpour. For all we know or care, he could well be just another cranky old man looking for instant publicity. Well, in that case, he got it. Ved Pratap Vaidek may fervently desire to position himself as a legend in his own lifetime. He may have pretty grandiose notions about himself. But chances are, the average Indian reader was clueless about this person’s identity or existence, till he shot into notoriety overnight, spewing fire across television channels, clad in a bright tangerine jacket. Perhaps that was the whole objective… the real game plan. And all of us fell for it! The man who recently broke bread with Hafiz Saeed ( one of the world’s most dreaded terrorists) in Pakistan, clearly fancies himself as an ace negotiator, a major international player, an ‘intermediary’… and  a journalist of repute. Let him! But to disrupt parliamentary proceedings because of him, to demand his arrest, and to invest hours and hours on decoding ‘that’ meeting, amounts to a national waste of time, money and energy. Is he a fake, a fraudster, a traitor, a conman, a spy, a double agent? At this point, nobody knows! Who the hell is Vaidik? Does it matter what he says and to whom in Pakistan? Frankly, it doesn’t. The only angle worth pursuing in this case is WHY Vaidik met Saeed? And in what capacity ? Saeed, has a bounty of 10 million US dollars on his head, making him as important a catch to America, as Osama Bin Laden . Vaidik claims it was nothing more than journalistic curiosity that led him to Saeed. Well, any other journo in Vaidik’s place would also have jumped at the chance to interview someone who is up there on the world’s most wanted list -  the  criminal known as the mastermind behind the 26/11Mumbai attacks of 2008. Vaidik himself has been annoyingly vague about  the mysterious ‘Track 2’ mission that kept him in Pakistan for weeks, long after other delegates to a one day seminar had come back. Panelists/ analysts drew their own dramatic conclusions. The important question is not whether Vaidik went to Pakistan as a Congress plant or a BJP emissary. He needs to tell us how the hell he got access to Saeed? And who arranged it for him? The ‘whys’ will become obvious once that is established.
Since India’s self- proclaimed ace journalist is playing coy about what exactly was discussed during his encounter with Saeed ( all we know is Vaidek was served tea and perhaps, sympathy). Two political parties are busy playing ‘passing-the-pillow’ with Vaidik  right now. No matter what tall claims he makes, Vaidik belongs to the Baba Ramdev School of Journalism .This much, however, is known - Vaidek  did not tape this crucial, once in a lifetime interview! Can you believe that? Nor has Vaidik filed this ‘world exclusive’ as any legit journo would have. Unless, there is no story in the first place and the whole thing is a monumental hoax .What we do know is that Vaidek offered the world’s most loathed murderer  some entirely gratuitous, brotherly advice, and aired his own nonsensical views on Kashmir. Frankly, what a waste of an opportunity! Any cub reporter in Vaidek’s place would have asked Saeed a few tough, pointed questions about the horrific Mumbai terror attacks and Saeed’s role in them. Vaidik preferred to lecture him instead (“You’ll be held accountable by Khuda…”) ! Or so he claims. Given the tight security around Saeed, how did Vaidik  manage to crack it, when even America’s top agents  have failed to do so? How?? Why was Vaidik  the Chosen One for this momentous ‘interview’? Who picked him? Anybody who has visited Pakistan will tell you it is impossible to move around  freely and meet  whosoever you wish. Yet,Vaidik managed to meet Pakistan’s most protected man!

 The whole thing is beginning to sound like a cock and bull story. A set up, intended to distract attention from something bigger… something more ominous. While Vaidik’s next move is worth monitoring, for now we should drop the drama. As a citizen of India, Vaidik is well within his democratic rights to meet anybody in the world – Hafiz Saeed included. Vaidik has not committed a crime. He has merely goofed up. As have Saeed’s handlers. If Hafiz wanted to make a noise in India, he should have picked a more competent journo. Someone with credibility and political astuteness ( no shortage of those here!).  But he picked a megalomaniac who boasts non-stop about his own achievements. Even those who are agitating and asking for Vaidik’s head, should know they are wasting their breath . He really has nothing of any value to share with us. Whether or not he belongs to the RSS , is hardly relevant. He calls himself a journalist. But he blew the biggest scoop of his career! Christiane Amanpour  would never have done that. And she would definitely have worn a different coloured jacket on camera!
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                     NDTV Blog 2               
                                     “I am 6… what does RAPE, mean?”
“ Mummy, mummy… I am not feeling well…. something is paining… please take me to doctor uncle…. I don’t want to go to school…. Mummy , pleeeeease… make the pain go! I hate school…”
This could well have been what the traumatized 6 year-old-girl from Bengaluru said to her mother, after her tiny body was brutally violated  by a sex-fiend she trusted in her school.The monster has finally been identified as skating instructor, 30- year-old Mustafa (Munna), married and a father of a 3- year-old daughter. More than 5000 outraged citizens registered their protest at a rally outside the prestigious school and demanded action from the Police Commissioner,Raghavendra Auradkar. Had that demonstration not taken place, Mustafa  would still have been at it with other defenseless victims, given his history (he was sacked from another school for inappropriate conduct). Mustafa’s deviant behavior has been disclosed by the police after seizing his mobile phone and laptop containing evidence of child pornography photos and videos.
Why did a reputed school employ a paedophile in the first place?
Why was this person not thoroughly screened given that he’d been dismissed from another school after questions were raised over his character?
Why did this school take so long to react to such a serious charge by a parent?
Whose responsibility is it to ensure children are safe in schools?
 I would say, the buck stops with the school management. Our children are in their sole care once they enter the school gates. School authorities are obliged to ensure every child on the premises is safe and secure at all times – whatever it takes. Unconditional trust is what parents invest in when they pay those fat fees to get their kids into a ‘good school’. In this case, the 6- year- old allegedly suffered from a learning disability. Which means the school ought to have shown an even higher level of   responsibility/sensitivity towards her safety. If that has not happened, the school must be penalized. In other parts of the world, a school that is seen as being callous and negligent towards those in its care, would risk losing its license. In India, it works differently. Most ‘good’ schools behave like they are doing parents a favour by admitting their kids. Such schools become a law unto themselves and operate in such a high handed fashion, it’s virtually impossible to nail them for all the wrongs they get away with. Parents don’t have the guts to challenge school authorities. And those very authorities mock parents for their legitimate concerns, since very often such schools ‘accommodate’ children of politicians, police officers and bureaucrats.
It is time to demand complete transparency from our pampered private schools. They must disclose the antecedents of teachers and instructors on their payrolls. Background checks of  bus drivers  and other service providers must be made mandatory. The Principal has to be held accountable when a crime takes places on the premises.
Why should parents be compelled to take to the streets before cops respond when a child is abused? How is it possible that nobody but nobody noticed Mustafa’s perverse tendencies, considering there were other victims who have now come forward with similar charges against him ?
Let this be a landmark case. It takes one 6-year-old to break the ominous silence and nail a criminal. Well, this frightened little girl has done just that. Here’s hoping the Benguluru child rape incident opens society’s eyes to all that is abysmally wrong in the system . Schools are our children’s second homes. Principals and teachers, their foster parents. Protect our kids – that is not just your job, but a deep and abiding moral responsibility.
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This appeared in the Mumbai Mirror
We  really are the rudest people on earth!
Dateline: July 14th. Occasion : Bastille Day Celebrations. Venue: The Crystal Room at the Taj Palace Hotel. Guest list : Well-heeled invitees. Host : Monsieur Jean-Raphael Peytregnet, Consul General of France, and his wife, Madame Zhun. The invitation card carried the exact time of the formalities for the evening. These are an essential part of such celebrations. It said the two National anthems (India and France) will be played at 8 45 pm. And as is the standard drill during National Day celebrations of any country, short speeches by the host are mandatory, followed by the traditional toast. This protocol  is strictly adhered to not just in India, but across the world.  It doesn’t require more than  fifteen minutes to complete. Surely, invitees are aware of this before they accept? But the shenanigans that took place on the 14th night were so shameful, I am sure not just our hosts that night, but several other  diplomats present were left wondering about our complete lack of respect for the occasion and the shocking absence of basic etiquette we displayed. What an awful impression we created!And how brazenly we ruined the  brief ceremony . It was perhaps for the very first time that a foreign host ( the refined and erudite Consul General himself) had to repeatedly ask for silence, before finally losing his cool and reminding guests it was “not polite” to keep chattering loudly while the speeches were on. Even this direct slap on the face did not stop boisterous invitees  from carrying on with their noisy conversations! The poor woman in charge of announcements, kept ssssshhhing people over the microphone, and beseeching them to keep quiet for a few minutes. Nothing worked. Shri Sumit  Malik, the  Chief Protocol Officer, Government of Maharashtra, also tried valiantly ( but in vain!) to shut up the loudmouths in the audience. His appeals were not just ignored, but someone lustily booed him .
 What on earth is the matter with us?
I’ll tell you what the problem is. Our mentality still hasn’t changed from those distant days when access to imported alcohol was difficult and frightfully expensive. Invitations to diplomatic functions were most coveted as lucky ( and thirsty!) guests flocked to these events attracted by the bottles on the bar. They glugged glasses and glasses of fine Champagne ( Mumm, in this case), decent wines, and of course, good whiskey, vodka and beer, with the sole aim of doing full ‘paisa vasool’. Except, they weren’t paying! The main attraction was free and unlimited booze! Phoren ki daaru!  This cheap attitude has not changed, even though the best alcohol in the world is easily available in India today. But of course,it is not moofat! And our mindset is still in moofat mode…  this cuts across the income divide, let me tell you! After all, guests at these events can well afford to buy their own booze. But something  happens to them at the sight of a well stocked bar. Ditto for food. Invitees virtually hijack and attack passing serving staff to grab cocktail snacks off the trays.  We still behave like bhookey-pyaasey refugees.
 The only way to get around future disasters is for the hosts to fine tune and hone their guest list  so as to keep out ruffians who land up and spoil the evening for others. Bar service should also be suspended during the speeches and unruly guests can definitely be escorted out politely by alert security personnel. Mumbai’s notorious free loaders are known to all.Why invite these pests in the first place? Screening is a pre- requisite if  basic decorum is to be followed. It was shameful to note how disgusted other foreign diplomats  also were  by our atrocious behavior. Despite repeated requests to  maintain silence during the formal part of the evening, despite reminders  that this was a solemn occasion commemorating the Bastille Day that is celebrated by French citizens, wherever they are in the world, we rudely ignored the host and in the bargain, disgraced ourselves thoroughly. Such bad behavior in public shows the degeneration  that is taking place in our society. Conduct Unbecoming, whether in Parliament or at  private parties, has become the national norm. Hooliganism rules. People who ought to know better, behave like louts caught in bar brawls. I don’t know whether Monsieur Peytregnet and his wife have gotten over the fiasco on the 14th.  But, it certainly left me feeling awful and ashamed. If there’s one thing that never goes out of style, it’s good manners. It’s worth reminding those junglees that crass is crass – and has nothing to do with how much money you possess or which car you drive.Par  sikhaaneywalla kaun hai?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The saga of the missing suitcase...

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today....it tells its own story. Do look out for other, more positive stories about my recent trip. Am still figuring out how to upload pictures from my smartphone onto the blog! If some of you smart people know how, do let me know....TiE Retreat at Tenerife was super fun. And I have great pics to go with that narrative...
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                         The saga of the missing suitcase…
I am back. And so is the missing bag! This is nothing short of a mini-miracle. Here’s why: Instead of losing my cool, throwing purple fits and creating a hungama when there was no trace of my bag at the end of five days in London, I decided to channel my inner Gandhi and stage a peaceful satyagraha at the British Airways check-in counter, Terminal 5, Heathrow before taking the flight home. I calmly told William at counter D2, that I was not leaving the airport till my missing bag was located. My voice was calm and my gaze, steady. I  had tried everything but with zero success. Then, I said to myself, if Gandhiji could have chased the British out of India armed with nothing more than patience and a firm resolve, I would adopt the same tactic…and win. Well, it worked! William helpfully suggested a strategy that he said was a ‘little unusual’. Was I game for it? I was! I had nothing to lose  and everything to gain after hitting my head against a stone wall. I was willing to try any trick in the book. To cut a long story short, I was asked to go three levels down to where lost baggage is stored. It’s like a graveyard of abandoned suitcases from across the world.   In that gigantic pile of orphaned bags, I actually managed to spot mine! Bingo. Gandhiji had scored again.
There is a moral attached to this story: I discovered a lot about myself and more about life in general when I found out my bag had disappeared. I mentally kissed the contents of the suitcase goodbye -  my clothes, shoes, toiletries and a few sentimental items of jewellery. Once I did that, I was free! It really didn’t matter a damn after a point whether I was walking around London in flip flops and travel gear. It was such a liberating feeling . And to those I met who stared strangely at me, well, if they were going to judge me by my casual footwear and super casual clothes, it was their loss, not mine! I also knew there was no personal conspiracy against me. Thousands of  BA passengers were in the same boat and a massive technical glitch had led to this sorry situation. But here’s what BA could have done, should have done, but didn’t…
1.     Clearly there was a systems breakdown that had led to one of the worst failures in baggage delivery across time zones and continents. Whatever the nature of the technical glitch, BA should have been more forthright, apologized for the enormous inconvenience caused and immediately offered some relief to affected passengers. That didn’t happen. Worse, calls went unanswered, or entirely misleading assurances were jauntily given (“ the luggage courier is on the way to deliver your bag”). With zero transparency and no explanations, passengers were left frustrated and fuming, cursing BA all the way.Were the bags  in London at all, or were they floating around some distant airport at the other end of the world? A word of advice to BA : All it takes is one phone call, one sincere apology, one truthful statement to pacify distraught passengers. Systems do break down. We get it. But please have the basic courtesy to explain the problem, and then set it right.
2.     From a passenger’s point of view, here is what I learned : Keep your phone charger in your handbag for those emergency calls you may have to make and can’t because the battery  has died on you. Keep personal jewellery in a small pouch in your handbag. Better still, travel without the real thing. Faux is better than lost !
3.     Travel light. Stick to basics. Mix and match. Don’t pack too many options. Five days without my ‘things’ – stuff, I thought I couldn’t live without, made me realize how much junk I was lugging around.
4.     Keep all shopping receipts carefully. You’ll need them when you claim compensation on your return. I had to buy virtually everything from scratch…it was tedious, time consuming and expensive.
5.     Hang on to boarding cards, baggage tags and any paperwork that could help track the missing bag. Make sure to have your name and address prominently displayed on the bag, or else you may have to wade through a sea of identical looking bags before you find yours.
6.     Get to the airport well in advance leaving sufficient time to double check whether the bags have made it on the same flight. Maintain a comfortable two hour gap between connecting flights. Keep extra copies of all travel documents on your person.

7.     Happy travels. Remember : Mental baggage stays home. Asli baggage stays with you.