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Posts tagged ‘India & the world’

What are India’s biggest challenges in our quest to become a vibrant, rich, progressive, and powerful nation?

There have been multiple inspirations to study in detail, where India stands in the world, and which direction it should head in. At some level you could say, it is an enduring fascination throughout my life. Self –assessment, benchmarking with peers, and identification of improvement areas is something I am obsessed with doing for myself. I extend that to other things I am passionate about, from the silly to the critical. As a natural extension to my relentless quest for personal and social improvement and change for the better, India’s growth and challenges is a perennial topic of interest to me

In fact, even on this blog, I have made multiple straw man lists, of issues that we face, and must improve on, individually, and collectively as a society. But like indicated in my previous blog, I have decided to structure, consolidate, and synthesize in a far more detailed way, and hence this attempt.

But perhaps the biggest inspiration, as well as catalyst to structure these thoughts, was Ramachandra Guha, an author whom I tremendously admire, though not always accepting his views (For that matter, I very rarely agree with anyone without a hard debate, so I guess for most parts, Guha convinces me as well as any one can). In addition to having reading most of his columns, and his book “India after Gandhi”, I stumbled upon his lecture in Canada, here on

YouTube:

The topic is “10 reasons why India cannot, and must not become a superpower”
If you are left-wing, or anyone looking for an excuse to bash India, here is a clarification: This is not India bashing, but a pragmatic analysis of India’s significant challenges, some well-known, and some not so well-known
If you are ultra patriotic / jingoistic / right-wing, here is another clarification: The authors of this blog, as well as Guha, are declared patriots, and love our country. But sometimes, it makes sense to be realistic in assessment of our flaws, so we can truly succeed. I love India tremendously, but like Guha, I am not blind to our gaping weaknesses.

So, I urge anyone reading this blog without vested interests, and anyone who is understanding India well, to spend good time listening to, and studying this speech. It’s an hour well spent, and would definitely lead you a bit more cognizant of understanding India.

Here is the list of 10 topics, which Guha broadly categorizes as significant challenges India faces:
1. Left wing extremism / Maoism violence in tribal belt
2. Right wing religious fundamentalism, that is presently under control, but may raise its head any time
3. Dynastic politics
4. Failure / corruption of public institutions
5. Growing gap between the rich and the poor
6. Degradation of natural / environment / resources
7. Media apathy
8. Political fragmentation and the consequent incoherence in policy
9. Un reconciled borderlands
10. Unstable neighborhoods

But why does he say “India should not” aspire to be a super power. I leave it to his articulation of the same, and it’s a brilliant analogy. It’s not something I agree 100% with, because as an individual, I am full of audacity, hope, and optimism. But I do, agree to a large extent that in the minds people in the world, “super power” has multiple negative connotations. I am personally of the view, that the world should NOT HAVE any super powers at all, rather a broad mix of strong countries with common values that manage the world and I would definitely like to see Indian in that club.

I broadly agree with Guha’s list, though my attempt is to structure it differently, and add a few points of my own. For example, I think we have all found it easy to use phrases like “India & Bharat”, or Rahul Gandhi’s naive, lame attempt of “There are two Indias,…”. It is too simplistic to use left-wing extremism / Maoism in tribal areas, and classify it as a rich India / vs. poor India debate. We are an extremely fragmented and diverse country, and that’s the beauty of the Indian experiment, which to me is still a dream. Hence, my list and future blogs would refer to the multitudes of India’s that live within one geographical mass that is the Indian sub-continent.

Before I go into my list, I would urge you to read about me, in order to make a valid comment. In most societies, it is possible to dissociate the identity of the author from his / her view, because my understanding of India and experience with social media and blogging suggests that it is better to have an upfront disclaimer of who I am

Here is how I would classify, India’s biggest challenges from becoming a superpower. Kindly note: 1. The list is not in any specific order of importance, 2. For each of the topics in the list, I would like to dedicate my time to develop my understanding significantly, so as to assess what potential solutions are the most pragmatic. As and when I have the level of knowledge of the topic I am confident about, I would dedicate a detailed blog to that and link it here, and 3. I have not included multiple challenges, where I have felt that the society, and polity is well aware and has made progress on addressing them:

1. The mess with our main stream media, and the far-reaching consequences :

Let me state this in categorical terms here: India’s main stream media is collectively un ethical, too light on substance, does not have the ability to look at itself critically and improve, is full of shallow journalists who sensationalize news in their attempt to become celebrities, panders easily to those with power and money and is far short of world standards when it comes to credibility and substance. All this and more I would be covering in very great detail, in my next blog, and this topic has risen to #1 in my priority list, based on the ongoing revelations of the 2G Telecom scam, Radia tapes leak, and the issue referred to as “Barkhagate”. The mess goes far beyond 1 or 2 people under great scrutiny now, yet there is a need to be empathetic to our mainstream media on the unique challenges their profession faces in India. As a society, we need to take this problem fare more seriously than we do, as we are completely unaware of how it affects decisions in life , that range from the trivial to the strategic: Be it investing in the market, or deciding which food to eat, or which party / leader to elect, our media has collectively clouded our judgment, and this has to be rectified soon.

2. Socio political challenges, mapped with our ethnic identities:

a. Why are we such suckers for a monarchy / dictatorship?
Our very deeply ingrained respect for authority, stemming from our idol worship / Bhakti culture, has had many positive effects in shaping modern India, but is it good in the long run? In present context, we have become a country of hero-worship, making and destroying celebrity heroes out of undeserving people. To me, we are perennially a few weeks away from becoming a fully functional dictatorship, which Indira Gandhi came very close to achieving, and which Guha only mildly refers to as Dynastic politics. While the Gandhi family, lives in a perennial dream of ruling the country forever as kings & queens, the last few decades have seen the cancerous spread of hero-worship to other political parties, corporate, god men / swamis, and even media personalities

b. Sustainability of our “confused democracy”:
For any political analyst, India is a rich country to study with its diverse range of political ideologies and parties. Yet, I am of the strong opinion that each of the political spectrums in our country has a sham of a party representing it
Left-liberal / Centrist: I am clubbing the Congress, the multiple Communist / Socialistic parties in this. Collectively they are a massive failure on the ground in the last 60 years, yet have the right media, muscle, and money power to portray otherwise. Nehruvian policies of international neutrality, socialism, were valid at that time, and while some in the Congress have moved on (driven by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is the best congress leader post Nehru), the left is still stuck in the 19th century. The biggest areas of Maoist / Naxalite problems are regions dominated by left-wing politics for 6 decades; Congress has won votes in the name of the poor, without doing any up liftment for the poor masses; and the Congress likes to play a good cop / bad cop game with us: If any populist scheme / governance mechanism is implemented successful it is due to the benevolence of the Gandhi family, if there is any failure, it is indirectly passed onto the Prime Minister, and the royal family is protected at any cost. The Congress also practices a Centrism of no – action: we will wait, wait, and wait forever and not take a stance lest it may affect our votes from a particular group, and finally we will make a small wound into a cancerous growth.
Right-wing: BJP is a party which has some ideological view points I agree with (national security, uniform civil law, a certain amount of pride and patriotism for the country, free market based economy, and meritocracy). And the last time I voted, I voted for Vajpayee, who was right-of center, and able to control the far right voices in the Sangh Parivar. Like it or not, the RSS is a non constitutional authority just like the Gandhi dynasty when not holding power, or Russians / Chinese dictating Communist in India (Ironically I have always light-heartedly maintained to my RSS friends, that if you split from BJP and have your extreme right-wing party, I would not mind that compared to sitting in Nagpur and bullying the BJP leadership in Delhi). BJP’s biggest emerging leader is Modi, and post Godhra he has constantly referred only to Gujarat’s development and infrastructure in his speeches. Has he shed the hard-line Hindutva agenda, or is this an illusion? If Modi never raises the communal issues, and Muslims vote Modi and BJP in Gujarat, Bihar, why does the media keep raising it – who is right, and who is wrong, or is there a grey area? What are the ideological views and governance experiences of the others in the BJP? There are many un answered questions to me, and the sooner these are addressed, and the sooner the internal leadership tussle in the right wingers is settled one way or another, the better it is for India., The next few years in Indian politics are absolutely crucial to our democracy, as we wait and watch if the right BJP would turn up. An extreme right-wing / tea party kind of party would be extremely divisive and polarizing, while a right of center, pro development party would be strongly welcomed to most in the public, yet under constant scrutiny of the media that is by and large strongly biased to the left liberals. If the right BJP does emerge, will they engage pro actively with the masses, minorities, and media to remove their present political untouchables / pariah status?

The parties that focus on specific ethnic / caste / linguistics identity, at best serve a short-term purpose of achieving social parity, but in the long run, unless they can reach out beyond their specific identity, they would not do any good for India. Without an exception, ALL political parties in India have a confused understanding of secularism, and purely use the word for getting votes.

Thus, a few parties that represent each valid aspect of the spectrum, is important for any democracy to thrive. Whether in power, or in the opposition, the BJP and Congress have a lot of internal cleansing to do, and do it quickly while the country loses its patience with its major parties.

The other key to making our present confused democracy into a thriving democracy, rather than a banana republic, lies with the citizens. Why is the urban middle class that is so quick to blog, tweet, and gossip about national politics, reluctant to take part actively in public protests, democratic, movements, or vote? When was the last time you discussed any political issue when hanging out with friends, and did not get a gentle suggestion to change the topic? How many more “Rang De Basanti” or “Swades”, do you need to watch before you stop criticizing the system, and did your bit to improve any one small part of the system?

3. Lack of concrete state, and efforts to reduce the polarization in our cultural / religious / ethnic identities
Here, I seek to rebut the simplistic, “two India’s” theory. Actually, we are a motley crew of extreme diversity. While “Unity in diversity” is a fantastic theme, it is a glorified dream, which we have somehow remarkably managed to sustain for 6 decades. The sharp differences go beyond Rich Vs. Poor: Marathis Vs Non Marathis in Mumbai, Tamil Vs. Hindi in Chennai, Economically progressive Southern & Western states vs. poor BIMARU states, Aryan Vs. Dravidian in the south, upper caste vs. lower caste vs. dalits vs tribals, the India that builds 50 storey buildings in Mumbai Vs. the India that is shockingly exploited in Chattisgarh, Kashmiri Pandits Vs. Kashmiri separatists, conservative and ultra religious vs. liberal and agnostic, urban vs. rural, patricidal men vs. increasingly empowered women, urban women who run companies vs. rural women married at 5 and serve as slaves to their families, and most critically Hindu Vs Muslim across India.

At any given points of time, there are massive separatist discussions and activism that happens, and we shy away from engaging with those on the other side of the fence. There are some issues we are aware of, and have solved in the past, but many of us live in total bliss, un aware that it could all fall apart quite quickly. While I am proud of this diversity, of late I am surprised that in this information age, our differences are becoming highly polarized, rather than blurring out and co-existing peacefully.

There are no easy answers, or short-term solutions, and I am yet to hear 1 Indian leader that can articulate a vision to bridge the multiple Indias. But at the personal level, a lot of us can open out and reach out to those people who have Indian passports, but look, talk, eat, and behave very differently from us. Since this is a complicated theme, I would need a dedicated blog that focuses on specific topics

4. Development & economy
Here are the broad problems that I see with the long-term sustainability of our economic progress:
A. Highly service and export oriented, without having enough focus on investing in bleeding edge technology
B. If the big global economies weren’t in recession, and the time right for exports, would Indian have seen such growth in the last few years? I am no economist, so i would take an expert who would challenge me, but if the answer is no, what happens to us when the other countries pick up steam
C. What is the next big economic idea to come out of India, that has not been adopted elsewhere already?
D. Is the “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” being exploited by the rich to become richer, or used judiciously to foster inclusive growth?
E. Whether you buy a cell phone, pizza, or SUV, is the service quality or sales skills anywhere on par with international standards? (On a lighter but related note, my dad bought a Volkswagen recently in India, and was shocked at the service. He felt a roadside hawker selling Bhel Puri, would have done a better customer relations job, and that if not for the big brand and the actual car being good, none of these people would be in business!)
F. What are our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of progress: To many people, it is the number of Indians that feature in Forbes lists, and that’s total BS. Do we pro actively measure ourselves on measures that range from rural development, success of our schemes such as NREGA, infant mortality rates, health and hygiene numbers, number of graduates in India, etc? A lot of people could find this bit a little harshly critical, because in reality there are millions of intelligent people in the country that work at the grass-roots, but I still state it here, because when you sit in your 3 room central Mumbai house, and open your news paper, or switch on your T.V, or invite your business partner for lunch, I bet these topics don’t feature.
G. How many average Indians understand basics of money management, cash flow, investment & returns?

5. Our volatile neighborhood
On this topic, I am 100% in sync with Guha, so there is no need to repeat. Except to add that, in spite of having the misfortune of having Pakistan as our neighbors, we have to pro actively engage with our neighbors, while at the same time strengthening our security and military capabilities. If India shines spectacularly, while the rest of the sub continent is in shambles, it is not a recipe for long-term good.

Cheers!
Vasu

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The winter writing season begins…

A big hello to regular readers and those who stumbled on this blog by chance!
Many thanks to all of you who have read, commented, and shared your views on my blog all these days. And some old faithful who checked in from time to time, noticed I haven’t written anything at all for a long time, and dropped a kind note to check if I am doing fine. I have had a challenging, yet fruitful year and doing rather fine!

Here is why I haven’t written as often as before, and why I woke up from the slumber to start blogging again now:

To start with, it was a very demanding and significant phase of my career and life in Switzerland, and I was fully occupied on excelling at that! Also, I had this strange feeling mid 2010, that in 6 months or so I am going to hit 30. That’s right, I am hanging on to my last days as a 20 something, and I was mentally making too much of a fuss of this 20s to 30s jump. I did an informal audit on the targets I set myself when I moved from 19 to 20, and figured out I did pretty well, but there were some very important personal things to finish. There was very mind space for serious writing

Perhaps the more important reason was the success of my last blog entry on my life in Switzerland. So, many of you had written such appreciative comments, that it got me thinking very hard about my communication style. I figured out that I have the ability to look at every topic / subject in great detail, and in many layers, but I was capable of making a mess while trying to explain that. And I also have this strong desire somewhere to be understood in the correct way, even if you don’t agree with what I say.

So, for most of this year, I have conducted an experimentation on all forms of communication. Instead of rushing out to talk, write, or blog, I have held back my thoughts but making a note some where. I have listened more, and studying each an every topic I have a view on in greater depth. So, I have enforced this discipline of silent observation for a long time and its been quite rewarding.
I’ve also used mechanisms such as Face book / Twitter to vent out my instant 2 minute solution to all world problems, and far more aware of the responses than before. It has been a very interesting experiment, and perhaps this is why the concept of “Mouna Vrath” or a vow of silence has been so popular in India. Well, I haven’t been totally silent, but listening much more than speaking has made me see the world in a very different way. You should all try it some day!

Having done all that, and earning myself a mini vacation during the winter, I would get back to active blogging shortly. The fact that I have scribbled random things on paper, or bookmarked interesting links on the net, leaves me with a wealth of material to write about. So many wonderful changes have happened in my life, and while I do not go into details of my personal life on my blogs as a rule, it does influence my way of thinking as a person.

Here are the things outside of my personal life, which I have thought actively about this year. This is just a brief synopsis of what I am going to write about:

God & Religion: I read and watched a fair bit of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking this year, and have been fascincated at the tremendous progress science has made in explaining our world’s mysteries. Yet there is a feeling that the more you discover, the more there is to discover! At the same time I ahve experienced a fascinating phase of personal life, bordering on magical. Thus, after close to 3 decades of wondering now and then, if there is a god up there, or if he / she made the rules of the world as we know it, and studying all the far right and far left view points, I have one simple, profound conclusion that has mad eme feel very light and relieved: it doesn’t matter, at all, one damn bit. It could sound like a bizarre theory to some, it could sound like a simplistic definition of agnosticism to some, but I have to write in detail about why it doesn’t matter.

“Multi culturalism” is dead, says Angela Merkel, and that simple statement violates everything I have believed in all my life. In spite of all the tensions & challenges the world faces as globalization and movement of people grows at a rapid face, the only way forward for the human race is multi culturalism, movement of people across the world, and blurring of all the artificial borders we have erected around us. Most large countries have failed to adapt to a multi cultural population, but the failure to carry out the idea correctly should not lead to killing the idea in the first place. I have always believed, and live every day of my life with the view that the entire world is my home, and I am capable of building a bond with any damn person, anywhere, irrespective of color, faith, sex, age, or even language. It is not so easy for every one to reach where I have in life, but once you are there and see the truth, you’d like to stay in this beautiful place where I am.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” Charles Dickens. These wonderful words of Dickens’s are so relevant today. I have no doubt, that we live in one of the most exciting times in human history, and we have a golden chance to correct many wrongs.

Can / should / Would India be a super power, or the leading nation in the world?. My one line answer is no, at least for the next few decades, but I need to lay it out with more specifics. I don’t think any form of super power is good for the world, i have no doubts India would make tremendous progress on multiple fronts, and I also think the dynamics of the world as we have historically known it would be tremendously altered in the next few years. But how should India handle its massive problems, and what place should it have in the world. My views, though not unique, are not quite mainstream, and it’s a collection of thoughts on my mind all my life.

An underlying theme to all the topics above is that of balance. The word is far more relevant today in our age of instant communication, than ever before. If somebody says something that’s blasphemous to my faith, I shoot him down immediately, or write some blog attacking the person. If somebody has a problem with the way the government handles a situation, you get a mike and call for a revolution, and attract a few thousand people on the streets and the T.V cameras. You don’t like a mosque being built somewhere, and over night you spread a story of how Obama is a Muslim, and does not have his heart in the right place.
We live in the information age, where there is one simple truth: A good view spreads fast, but a ridiculous and dangerous view travels faster. Everybody starts to think and communicate in extremes, knowing that your online views are quite different from what you would say in real person. In many ways, the internet age has highlighted to us, the extremist side in each and every one of us. And this leads me to lay out the need for being balanced, well researched, and sensible in our view-point.

As a way of cheering myself from the weight of all these topics I have taken up, I would also write some light-hearted notes about what I look forward to in my 30s. Laughing about it is probably the only way I’ll escape this feeling of growing old!

So, that’s broadly the agenda, so to say.
Cheers!
Vasu

A good year spent in the land of cheese and chocolates!

Last week, I completed a year’s stay in the land of Alps, cheese and chocolates – Switzerland!          

It’s been the longest I have stayed away from India, even though I have done crazy relocations to different parts of the world earlier. I have no clue where life will take me next, if I do move again, but I do know that this last year has been a very significant one in my life.          

Not everything about my life in Basel, Switzerland is rosy, but the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.  I truly believe that our lives in any place are a function of our attitude to embracing the change, and the people around us. I have moved cities, countries and continents, and have always found wonderful people where I went.  With some of the friends I value, I could live in some godforsaken desert and still be happy 🙂    

I was also very lucky to be born in such a wonderful country like India. I think Indians are inherently capable of appreciating any new place, making a social circle there and adapt to their new environment.          

That said, it is a good time to look back at all the things I like, nay love about Switzerland and Basel (some may apply to most European countries as well).   

I would move from general observations to personal experiences. I would also draw a comparison to India from time to time, and this is not meant to suggest that life in India sucks. Switzerland is hardly the size of Goa, and it is not possible to replicate anything and everything that is good in a European country with far less complexities than India. I could write a book on what I love about India, but it would feel so much better to hear an outsider’s appreciation.          

This is just to have a light-hearted banter,  and to appreciate the good things a foreign county has offered me so far.          

A study in tourism       

The first thing that struck me upon arrival in Zurich, and once I got into a shuttle train that connects the airport to the station, is a sound. It is a sound that I found weird for a nano second, and then broke into a laugh; thankfully it was pretty much the same reaction for other first time Swiss visitors in the train.          

It is the loud moooooooooo sound of a cow, with the sounds of bells to boot! The Swiss let you know without wasting any time, that they are going to play up to the image of the land of cows, cheese, and chocolate 🙂 . It happens only in Switzerland!          

To state that the Swiss are among the most tourist friendly in the world, would be an understatement. This is a country that knows how to market its splendid natural beauty and culture well, but also knows how to expect, plan for, and meet every potential need of every kind of traveler. And do that in a friendly way.          

It is possible to take a train to some random town, land up at the tourist office without a clue on what to do and where to stay, and put your trust in the friendly and well-informed staff at the tourist office.          

It is possible to land up on some trekking trail somewhere, lose your map, and still find your way in  a short while without any fuss.          

If you have more time to plan, you could use a plethora of resource, my favorite being Myswitzerland.com, an excellent portal to plan your Swiss travels . We have these very good “Incredible India” ads, but how good is our tourist infrastructure? It is worth pondering.         

Convenient transportation          

It was’nt that long ago, when daily commutes to office meant a good 1.5 to 2 hours jostling for space in a bus, soaked in sweat and dirt and bearing the noise of honking vehicles. This could apply to most Indians, but to Bangaloreans I can only say Hosur Road, and you know what I mean!          

These days I have a 10 minutes’ walk to work, and a few tram stops covered in 10 minutes to get to the city center. It is a luxury beyond my wildest imagination! Most Swiss cities are fairly small by Indian standards and are incredibly well-connected by train, tram and bus. They almost always run on time, and you could plan your journey online using the SBB website, and be assured of a convenient and comfortable ride to your destination.The trams themselves are fairly old and rickety, but that only adds to the sense of the charm.        

The Number 11 tram at Marktplatz

 

The trains are excellently maintained, spacious, and the wide windows ensure a lovely view of the scenery.          

Train entering Locarno station

 

They have a range of passes and offer cards (called Abonements, or simply abo), that make sure that you don’t spend a fortune. The day I landed in Switzerland, I took my friend Vineet’s advice and got a half fare card, which ensures that all public travel in Switzerland is half price for me. Almost everybody here has it, in addition to other Abos, depending on your frequency of travel.   This public transportation is the backbone of their tourism industry, and as somebody who has always relied on public transportation, Swiss life is a dream come true. (For the record I rate the Delhi Metro, and the BMTC Volvo services in Bangalore as close to international standards among cities I have visited, and the Tokyo metro as the best metropolitan transport system I have ever seen, but Switzerland is the most incredibly well-connected country I have been to!)       

Appreciation of the nature and environment          

I wake up every morning to watch a series of programs on HD Suisse, which I would never get bored of watching.   They have a program called “Swiss View”, which is a view from a camera on a plane or helicopter that just moves slowly across the Swiss mountains, lakes, rivers and villages.  There is another program called “Sunrise Earth” which takes you to a farm or a pasture, in the wee early morning hours. There is no music, but the chirping of birds, or mooing of the cows, as you watch the crimson sun rise.          

As I get ready for a big day at work, I listen to a mild and soothing music, or the chirping of birds, and watch breathtaking images of places that are hardly an hour away. It reminds me every day that I am incredibly lucky to live in one of the better looking corners of our incredible planet.  It also brings back very fond memories, of watching the short “Vande Mataram”, or the slightly longer “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” clips on Doordarshan, way back in the 80s.   

We seem to have very few such clippings on our T.V now that show case our natural beauty. There are few places on earth that can compare to the barren landscape of Ladakh, backwaters of Kerala, colorful desert life of Rajasthan, or the un spoilt beaches on the Konkan Coast.   

How many of us watch the visuals and images on a daily basis, let alone go there?      

This is just one of the many examples to show the appreciation the Swiss have for the land they are blessed with.  

There is very little pollution, garbage littering, cutting down on trees for the sake of industrial expansion.  The lakes and rivers are squeaky clean and the water so sweet to taste.   There is a lot of socializing and partying that happens on the river fronts, or the shores of the lakes. In Basel, we are lucky to have a large and winding Rhine that divides the city into two, interspersed with quaint old bridges. Sitting by the many parks and establishments on the Rhine is a big part of life here, at least in the spring / summer. People take a swim, or wade the waters, but nobody throws junk into the river, or abuses it in any other way.    

They live with a sense of pride for their land, and admiration for its natural resources.        

HD Suisse Swiss view, Wallis:          

Sporty and outdoorsy life         

The Swiss come in various sizes and shapes, but almost all of them get involved with some sort of sports / work out. Most expats here are also bound to do something outdoors / sports oriented, just to fit it, even if you are a lazy bum like me!    

Spring / Summer is usually  a time some for water sports such as swimming / diving, and mountain sports such as trekking / Nordic walking. I am not into water sports, but love the mountains. I did quite a few treks last year, and have started this trekking season last week.          

But the most enjoyable time of my life here was at my tennis club last year (Casino tennis club). Most courts here are clay courts and shut down during the winter, add   most clubs re  – open   around May. It is quite difficult to get into a club, find partners and get slots to play. But once I put in the time, effort and money, and showed some level of skill, I found that people were willing to play with me quite regularly.  

My doubles partner Alex and I , bonded well, and did pretty well at a fun tournament we had at the season end. We even had a poker tournament  and a party to close the season, and by then I knew most members of the club and it was fun. I learnt the rules of Poker that night, and by the time we finished playing the next morning, I won the entire lot of plastic coins. If only that was real money, I would be a millionaire now 🙂  

 I also plan to stay on one of the many mountain huts that are run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).          

Winter life is pretty harsh, and I ended up slouching and putting on a lot of weight. Winter is dominated by skiing and snowboarding. I learnt skiing for the first time, during the New Year holidays, by spending a week at Wengen, Interlaken. It was a bloody thrilling experience, and I did far better than I expected. But it is an expensive sport, and requires tremendous patience and perseverance. The rants of winter life, I would leave for another blog  🙂     

There is so much socializing and fun activities that are usually attached to these sports, such as the Apre skis, that ensure that you have to burn out some calories before you can have some fun. The drinks taste so much better after you have done a ski run, or a set of tennis.           

Trekking trails near Mount Tamara, Ticino

 

 The friendly and respectful Swiss people        

 Now, quite a few expats who might read this, would probably raise their eye brows. Most expats forums here have a section filled with cribs about how difficult it is to make local friends here.          

I would juxtapose that with experiences in other countries where people are more open to talk to you, but equally fast in being intrusive or abusive, or sometimes openly racial.   The Swiss, on the hand, do not come running to talk to you. If you do manage to strike up a conversation, they answer you politely. But it takes a lot of time, effort and perseverance to call a Swiss person a friend. And that is something I actually do not mind, because it’s my nature as well. I am quite open to conversations and interactions, but it takes me a long time to accept some one as a friend. And when I do, they are friends for life. I have made a few Swiss people like that who have been very friendly, helpful, and nice. These are people I would consider friends for life.    

By and large, they are very respectful to outsiders, whatever their private views on immigrations may be. I haven’t come across a single rude, or abusive Swiss person, and given my knack of getting into provocative conversations, that is an incredible record!         

Blending of urban and rural spaces         

Like I mentioned earlier, most Swiss cities are the size and population of small towns in India. So you can imagine how big the villages are! But there is a definitive sense of “Small is beautiful”. A person from a small Swiss village, would typically says he is from that village, and upon prodding mention it is near Zurich. Most Indians, would mention the name of the nearest big city as their place of origin.  Most of these villages have all the facilities you would expect in a big town anywhere: Kiosks or convenient stores, a bus / train / tram station, a few hotels and restaurants etc.          

The cities, towns, and villages blend rather seamlessly as you taken a train out of Basel or Zurich and cross a few stations. A big city is not necessarily an imposing entity, or a crowded and frenetic place. A village is not necessarily a poor place that is in accessible. In many ways, they are proud of their rural and agricultural connections, and it is quite fashionable to live in the country side.         

I would love to live in a Swiss country side, with  a farm, small brook, and some animals. But I can’t even afford that in my dreams now, and console myself with occasional weekend walks to such idyllic places!           

Lively street and public space culture       

There is a place in Basel called MessePlatz. It literally translates to a place for fairs / exhibitions.          

Across  every little town or city in the country, there is always something happening in such places. You have fairs, exhibitions, and shows for all kind of occasions such as celebrating Christmas, children’s day, day for some ethnic groups such as the Turks, or even a sports day. The Christmas and autumn markets and fairs are especially important. That is when the outdoor life drops, and these events that run for weeks together, keep the people on the streets. There is music, food, drinks (Gluhwein – a hot and spicy wine is a must try, if you want to survive the winter!), and people selling their produce.          

Each city / town has its show piece / landmark event. In Basel, it’s the Fasnacht in February. People plan for it for weeks, get up early in the morning with their outlandish costumes, and basically have a colorful street parade for days together. It’s also the time, when the Swiss shed all their reserved nature and go crazy! It has to be seen to believed!     

In addition to these big events, most city squares have some thing or the other going on  every other weekend. That keeps the people to the streets, and when you find yourself bored in spite of all that, it is possible to land up in some small pebble stoned quiet alley, and hear a young musician play his instrument. These are small pleasures in my Swiss life that I am so thankful for!        

Street music on some random carnical day in Neuchatel

 

  Basler Fasnacht:         

I hope I get to stay here a little longer, and I hope life also takes me to other wonderful places around the world. And I hope that till such time I am here, I always appreciate what a foreign country has to offer me, rather than get bogged down by a few minor rants.  

To me, one true test of globalization is when people can move freely from one country to another, and not just find a new house, but make a new home there. I think I have done that here, and Basel is my third home after Chennai & Bangalore.  

I would also encourage my Swiss friends to visit India and enjoy our sense of hospitality 🙂         

Cheers!        

Vasu        

Some further glimpses of my swiss life…         

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P.S: If you liked this post, you may also reading my other posts on life in Switzerland:       

1.  https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/friends-jazz-rain-bombay/      

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/light-up-your-cigars-but-not-on-my-face/      

3. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-singing-sensation-the-ultimate-bathroom-singing-list-the-band/

Bucket list entry # 6561: Indian man, German shepherd dog!

Have you seen the movie “The Bucket list”?

It’s not a great movie, or a classic; it’s pretty much candy floss Hollywood, but just happened to feature two stalwarts in Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, who made a very simple story line look good on-screen.

In fact, on a guys evening out at Prithvi’s place in Bangalore, when there wasn’t anything exciting to do, we hired the DVD almost as an afterthought. The only other notable event of the day was Akash’s ridiculous claim that “The Dark knight” wasn’t such a great movie, and all of us pouncing on him like a pack of wolves!

Back to the bucket list; without getting into a movie review, or storytelling, I would explain the central theme in brief: two old men, who know the end is near, exchange notes about a “bucket list”, or things to do in life, before you “kick the bucket”; and they set about doing just that in the last few days of their lives.

The list itself is a combination of some very simple personal desires that they yearned for, to the extravagant, such as skydiving, tattoos, climbing the pyramids, the French Riviera, the Great Wall of China, a lion safari in Africa etc.

Many random things to do, and places to visit, capture my imagination every once in a while. I think that’s the case for most of us. The only cue I took from the movie was to actually write it down and make a list. However silly the list may sound!

This particular item in my bucket list is a very old fascination: of owning a pet, a dog in particular, and a German shepherd to be precise. Of all dog breeds, I dig the German shepherd the most, the Labrador comes next. To me that’s the best choice for a man, and though many other dogs look much cuter, in terms of intelligence, utility, versatility, and ease of training, the GSD / Alsatian is the king of the canine world! I don’t have too many friends who own a GSD. My cousin Vaish has a terribly cute Pug, but I haven’t played with him 😦

It may not sound like a big deal, and a relatively easy item to tick of the list, but trust me, it’s been a bloody difficult wish to fulfill all these years, and will possibly stay that way for a few more.

To start with, I have to grapple with this huge contradiction that I love animals, but I am scared of being very close to them. Dogs in particular! I am the guy that ticks “Like animals, but at a distance” box in any questionnaire. My pet theory (pun intended) is that if I happen to have my dog starting from the days when it’s a small puppy, I would eventually overcome my fear.

It all started with my neighborhood in Chennai. As little kids, my sister (Poorni) and I were taking a walk around the streets when a friend of mine, who used to have this Alsatian, lost control of the leash and the dog. The dog ran wild and bit my sister, and I was helpless nearby. Poor girl is still petrified of dogs, and I am just 1% less afraid than her! She would hold my hands when there was a dog anywhere in the near vicinity, and I used to act brave. There was no way I could tell her I am equally scared, as having me around was her only source of comfort against any dog!

The problem of stray, street dogs is massive in many Indian cities, most notably Bangalore.  There were these incidents last few years when street dogs attacked people in packs (children in particular) and remains a source of huge debate between animal lovers and the regular people on the roads. Despite being a massive animal lover, in this context, I would place the interests of people above dogs. It may be sad, but that’s the pecking order.

Even if Bangalore evolves an effective mechanism for tackling the stray dog menace, it still doesn’t address the problem of irresponsible owners. Like my friend whose dog bit my sister.

Trust me; this is a massive problem in our country. And it felt even more massive to me when I have traveled abroad. Pets are so well-behaved, and owners are so mature here. I have never heard a dog bark and scare a stranger, or appear intimidating in any way. I have seen that in US, Japan and in Switzerland. I figured out the laws for keeping are very stringent, and well-regulated. Along with pet insurance, regular medical checkups, there are mandatory classes for pets, and owners.  The system pretty much ensures that if at all you have to keep a pet, you have to be extremely sensitive to the animal and fellow human beings.

So that comes to another reason I haven’t had a pet so far. The challenge of keeping a pet to the standard I would like to maintain is difficult in India. There are millions of pet owners in India, but from what I know, not too many of them are sensitive to the pet’s psyche, and its behavior in a public place. What would be easier in India though is to take care of my dog when I am working late, or travelling for e few days. I would find it relatively easier to find a neighbor or friend who takes care in my absence. There are dog walkers in Switzerland, but they come at a price and have their own schedules! Bottom line is, I would like to be a very responsible pet owner, or not have one at all.

On a lighter note, one of the most enjoyable sights from my apartment in Tokyo was a regular “owner – pet – pet – owner” routine I would see from my balcony every evening. The dogs are so well-behaved, (and bloody cute as with anything Japanese) that on the rare occasion when a dog barks at another on the street, the masters stop, apologize profusely  in the long tradition of Japanese manners, exchange pleasantries and become friends. God knows how many business alliances, and love stories have come about that way!

But, by far my biggest challenge has been living in one city long enough to keep a pet. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through relocating cities / countries, and flight journeys! There is no way any dog can live off a suitcase like I do! I remember pleading with Amma to keep a lab, when I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have a place of my own.  Her decisive statement was “If you insist on getting a dog, fine. I can only feed so many people in this house, so it’s either you or the dog. Your choice!”  Appa, and Poorni were eagerly waiting for my response. ..in one of the most decisive moments in my life, I chose myself over the lab instinctively 🙂

 I can thankfully laugh about it today, but on that day I was an angry young man!

So perhaps one day when I know I am going to stay in one city for years together, I would finally knock this long pending item off my bucket list.

Till such day when you visit my house and play with my dog, enjoy the amazing videos here!

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: Since I have made, chopped, and changed such lists  for so long, that it doesn’t make sense to start this series with #1. Those who know me know my fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers. So I would number this series with my favorite numbers rather than 1, 2, 3…6561 is one such number. I was born on a terrific day for a number lover: 8th January, 1981, or 8-1-8-1. 81 * 81 =6561. Also, 8+1=9, and 9*9*9*9 =6561. There you go!

Us and them

Over the last many years, I have had some opportunities to travel to far away lands. Though I have only been to a few countries and had fairly short stays, it was eye opening in many ways. In every conversation, interaction, or moment of solitude on a snow clad peak, I would constantly reflect on how much more cultures can grow stronger by increased exposure to a different way of life. As the Indian Diaspora expands into every nook and corner of the world, (yes I mean it – I have seen Indians in the least expected places!), all of us would notice a few changes in the world around us and how we respond. Even if you have never stepped outside the shores, you would find yourself reacting to people in your family such as a Gelf settled engineer, the IT geek from South who propagates consumption of Thayir Saadham in a Tex- Mex place, or the Punjabi dhaba owner in Cannedda or UK.  Whether you like and accept some of the changes or not, you cannot ignore the fact that it influences you.

I guess some of my plans worked well in life, and I was lucky enough to lead a “best of both worlds” life. I have seen India grow, change and evolve significantly and I have been privileged to have been at the core of this fascinating part our history. I feel a lot of 2nd generation Indians, NRIs, and people who moved out a while back for studies or work, have missed being a part of this. As a result, a large section of these people tend to be fairly surprised at the “development and change”, when they visit folks and friends back home. On the other extreme, we have people who have rarely travelled abroad, which is not a sin at all, but are blind to the country’s problems and live in a false sense of  a superior culture, and strongly believe that  “we are like this only”. I guess I can take a middle path and comment on where we can change for the better, where we should not change, and where we should lead the way. 

So the narrative I attempt to build, and get your views on, is a personalized account, in 3 parts on:

  1. What are the changes in society, I would wish India (US) embraces from other countries (THEM – refers to the few parts of US, Europe, Far East that I have visited, could be extrapolated to denote the “developed world”)
  2. Where we should stop aping them, and pursue what we have been doing all along instead, and
  3. What are the areas, where we can lead the way

 For the sake of a focused discussion, I wanted to restrict the number of I topics to specific number. I went for the number eight – for no random reason. I want to stress again that this is highly personalized, and I am not expecting everybody to agree with my list. There are some topics I care about, and there are some that I don’t care so much about. For example, I do not have a very strong personal feeling or opinion on the topic of homosexuality in India. I have nothing against homosexuals, and I think its okay, but I would not be holding up a banner and marching for gay rights either. But if there is a need to make a protest march on some of the topics below, then I would gladly do so!

If you are reading this, chances are that I sent you this link, and hence I think you can contribute from your experiences. I am fairly curious to find out what people’s opinion is on the topics I listed, and what the #1 topic you personally feel should be added. 

So after a really long introduction, let’s get right to the core of the blog:

  1. Have a life beyond the office cubicle, the laptop, and the blackberries
  2. Dress smart
  3. Take a vacation
  4. Public display of affection (PDA)
  5. Know your country / history
  6. If there are some rules & processes, follow them, or don’t bother having them in the first place
  7. Can we have some genuinely funny TV show please?
  8. KISS – Keep it short and sweet!
  9. Show creativity in “creative” fields (cinemas, literature, and music) and stop ripping off!

I’ll soon publish detailed views on each of the topics above.

Cheers!

Vasu

Hello world!

Hello world!

This is not my first blog, but it’s my first at word press. After irrationally switching blogs from different sites just to see if I am more active with it, I am here!

Sounds fairly stupid, but what is a life without any stupidity or silly acts?

My “About me” section is not going to tell you anything, and most probably a few good friends would be the only people to read his blog to start with, so I thought I would start with a short intro and a long list of topics I want to write about.

I am an Indian man, in late twenties, single, working in business consulting, and living in Europe after seeing a few snippets of other countries. The rest, you either know if you are a friend, or would know if and when you read my blogs.

So without further ado, here is a very ambitious list of topics close to my heart that I have strong views on, and where I wish to write, and get critical feedback on: 

  1. The story of my experiments with charting my own path to life:
  2. Role models:
  3. Indian politics and social issues
  4. Religion & faith
    • Religious, ideological and cultural dogmas that ail the world
    • Can you be rational, liberal and not a communist
    • Can you be a believer, spiritual, and not religious?
    • The supremely powerful entity called I
  5. Globalization: the Good, the bad, and the Ugly
  6. Us and them: Impact of globalization on India:
  7. Relationships
    • Why do we complicate, essentially simple things?
    • Inter cultural relationships: why I find the concept so exciting!
    • From an Indian perspective: why are most Indian men jeans wearing patriarchs?  Family system and feudal mindset vs. western inspired romantic and sexual awakening: where is this clash going?
  8. Travelogues from planned and spontaneous, long, and short trips, to faraway lands, or nearby villages
  9. Funny / light hearted tales from everyday life
  10. The life of an expat
  11. Movies I have loved and watched over and over again
  12. My bucket list of whims and fancies that posses me, what I managed to do, and what are still pipe dreams: Ranging from owning  a German Shepherd, to making a film,  to climbing Everest
  13. Epics and mythologies: what we can learn from them, and what should be taken with a pinch of salt
  14. The big, bad, virtual world: How a lot of us have learnt a lot using the internet vs. how stunted our social skills could become due to / in spite of social networking
  15. Links to interesting blogs / articles / videos  that I have an opinion on, or that I find just plain funny
  16. Quotes and statements that resonate with me 

That’s it for the lofty plan! 

I have started at this website by sharing links to a few select blogs I wrote earlier, and are dated pretty much mid 2007

Cheers!

Vasu

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