Monday, March 29, 2010

Stupidity at its bottom!

On 23 March 2010, exactly a week ago, the Stephen's Court, a heritage building which had two floors illegally built on its top, in Kolkata caught fire at noon. And as of today, as the debris is being cleared, still dead bodies are being unearthed! And today, 29 March 2010, it stands at 43. The State Government has announced a 11 member inquiry committee. Who are all in it? The Fire Department, the Public Works department (PWD), the Electricity department, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the Police Department...... and the list goes long. The list looks good. But it has an inherent problem. How did the fire department give clearance to an illegal building, with only wooden staircases, which caught fire quickly, and so, people could not climb down at all! How did the electricity department give electrical connections to Stephen's Court, and it continues to give connection to thousands and thousands across the state, who live on illegal land, including on the land of many municipalities and panchayats? How is that the PWD department give facilities for water, and other facilities, including accepting to live with the illegal construction? The Kolkata Municipal Corporation seem to have had over 9 million rupees in due from this building alone as unpaid taxes. Who was bribing them? What was the police doing in all this? Now, you get my point! The people who are charged with are the ones who are going to probe it! Making a laughing stock of the government and the people. This is stupidity at its rock bottom.

This is a government that never learns. The people haven't learned it either.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Breaking Free

I was walking through the Convent Lane. It was already 8.00 p.m. I was returning after a meeting at the Disaster Management Department of the government. As I was nearing suddenly an event brought me to a halt. I saw a man in his late thirties sitting on a stopped motorcycle, with another man of his age, standing and talking to a woman, and then hugging her. In normal circumstances I would have just passed by. But, this time I had to stop. Because, the man on motorcycle was well dressed, clean, and looked as if he was from a moderately affluent family, and the woman was dark, dirty, almost in rags, with a bunch of clothes and few other things, and is certainly a street dweller. And they both spoke to each other briefly. And then the man drove away.

There could only be three reasons why this man should have hugged that lady. 1) Probably, this man regularly meets the lady, helps her in whatever way he can, and gives her a hug as a sign of love, respect and attention, which she truly misses. 2) May be that, this woman is doing some favor for him, like carrying drugs, or doing some work that people normally would not do, often illegal. So, he hugs her, as a sign of ensuring that the woman does not spill the beans. 3) May be that this woman is his own mother! Or a close relative!

Alas! When will the world wake up? When will all humans be set free? Join this battle. Join me.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Human Violence

I always thought highly of Siliguri, although several times I have heard that a mafia operates that trades in human persons. It was 6.30 p.m. on 6 March 2010. I was sitting in a middle class restaurant just next to Marina (opposite of the Tenzing-Norgey Bus Terminus) for early dinner, so that I would not have to pick it up before I catch a train to Kolkata. As I sat two other young men walked in and started talking to one of the bearers. Initially, I did not pay attention, as he said, "...I saw the two girls with .....'s driver.... (At this point I thought they are speaking about the children of one of the big guy's children in the city. The talk continued...) One of them is about 8 or 9 years old, and another is about 13 years old. (I still thought the same way.) Both are really cute. You know they will fetch around 20 lakhs! (about 2 million rupees)!" Got a shock! What are they talking about?! My goodness....! And is it such an ordinary talk? Selling of children? The whispers from them were short, and soon the electricity went off. I had to quickly move out. And I took a shared auto to the railway station. When I reached there it was just 8.05 p.m. Since I had plenty of time, as my train was at 9.00 p.m, I went to a barber's shop for hair cut, which I needed badly.

The man who was giving me the haircut was normal in voice whenever he spoke to me or others. I saw another young man in his twenties entering, and came nearer to this man. Then the man started speaking in a broken voice as if he had some pebbles in his mouth. And he said, "Give .... him a call.... tell him to see the girl at the (railway) station.... if he is satisfied or not... if not, tell that we have one.... in Shibmandir. Little costly.... If it is okay with him... Check first the railway station." I nauseated. It is terrible. And Shibmandir is the area where most girls studying in the North Bengal University stay ! It looks like everyone is into the business! Normal? I couldn't believe my ears. Water swelled up in my eyes, thinking of the condition of these girls. Can I help? How? Will someone show me the way how to do it?

Geo-Hazards in Sub-Himalayan West Bengal

On 5 March evening I traveled to Siliguri and reached there on 6th morning. Attended a whole day of workshop on Geo-Hazards in Sub-Himalayan West Bengal at the North Bengal University. The program had been organized by the Department of Geography and Applied Geography. The meeting was well attended by scholars and students. I gave a talk on "Role of Humanitarian Organizations in Geo-Hazards: Prospects and Challenges". (Download the talk) Most speakers dwelt on landslides as the key geo-hazard and they focused their talks on technical aspects of containing the disaster. By the time my turn came in the afternoon, almost everyone was tired. I tried to make it as interactive as possible to ensure that at least four students got opportunity to speak up. With too many people to speak there was no time for interaction or learning from one another. The journey back was full of fun (and no sleep) as a whole group of senior women and men (some of them barely had teeth) from the State of Bihar kept singing all along... throughout the night, in the train.

A friend of mine whose origins are in Bihar told me that it is a sign that the people were going for a marriage ceremony!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Power of Consumption

I am really wondering over the years on some of the signs of consumerism as it is developing in India. I am of the new age. I can see consumerism happening....developing in this great new India. It must have taken decades elsewhere for building a market economy and create a consumerist world. But it has all happened in 20 years' time, here, down in India. So, I can tell it from experience. Besides the huge malls, snazzy cars, and flaunting parties, there is a tendency that is becoming more and more visible. It is a tendency to monetize or add monetary value to everything that we destroy! Just as we have a value for what we buy or own, we are beginning to add value to what we destroy. This is something extremely dangerous. I'll give you an example. If 20 years ago I were to break a glass, I would have felt bad, and been hurt by remorse. But today, most people don't feel it. They say, "Okay, I am sorry. I shall pay it". This happens with things, utensils, consumables, electricity, water....and with almost anything. A sort of nonchalant attitude. "If my act has done something bad, okay, so what. I shall pay for it, let me know how much does it cost?"

This attitude has two dangers: firstly, it increases the desire to spend, waste and destroy; secondly, it creates a tendency in human persons that anything that is destroyed can be recreated. It is not true! You cannot recreate most things that we have destroyed. Carbon credits may pay you, but they cannot bring back the lives of millions of trees. You may pay for the electricity, but you cannot bring back the spent energy. You may break something that is "valuable" to someone else. You may pay for it, but you cannot bring back the valuable.

It is easier to have plenty and enjoy plenty. But it is difficult to say no to have more even if you have plenty with you. The result of the virtue of contentment is joy. Chasing achievements is stress.