Thursday, July 22, 2010

Priceless lessons learnt on the streets of Calcutta.

Image Source.

If I had to put it very mildly, the driving experience in the streets of Calcutta is a f****g nightmare. I wouldn’t wish this even on any Manchester United player.

I am not joking. It’s in our genes to drive like mad. I know a lot of people would say nothing beats Bombay traffic and all, yeah ok. Whatever. It can’t be this bad. Here is an example.

It was December 2007. I was with a very close friend of mine from Calcutta, Vivek. I had a bike and we met, roamed, and had a good time all day. On our way back to Malad from town side, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam in the highway around the airport area. Now there must have been a long line of around 20 cars each, in all the 3-4 lanes those were standing still. Imagine the length of the jam. The advantage of having a bike is of course, you can slip into the gap between two lanes and make some ground. We found, to our delight, that enough space was left in between two very well mannered lanes for us to really travel quite some distance until we encountered a car that, neither was in one lane, nor the other. Like a fool, his front was in one lane and his rear in the next. And hence he blocked our merry ride.

Yes, that car had a WB (West Bengal) number plate. I and Vivek could only exchange that ‘we know these people’ look.

Let's be positive. Let us look for positive points. Let us learn from all this. Following are the various invaluable lessons I have learnt from the streets of Calcutta.

01. History

Image Source.

Instead of calling Calcutta a metro, you can call it a retro.

The Government which has been in power in Calcutta since pre historical times wants the kids to not only read their history, but also feel it. Total awesomeness!!! What an idea! Hence, we got trams in the city. And hand held rickshaws. Even in times of modernization, we don’t forget our roots.

Trams are funny. They are 2 compartments long. And still manages a first class and second class area. Even though they look like little trains, they are absolutely not. Because as a friend recently told me, they stop right away if you show them a stop signal with your hands.

Hand held rickshaws. Yeah the name says it all.

Where else in the world would you see, in the year 2010, a tram, an Ambassador taxi, Mini bus a hand held rickshaw, and a new Honda Civic, all side by side in a traffic signal. Its like the Calcutta of 1950s has been superimposed on the present day Calcutta. Impressive. Superb and unique.
(I think the dude who bought a Civic in Calcutta was high when he decided to buy it).

02. Who the God of Calcutta is?
I always thought Saurav Ganguly is the God of Kolkata. No. The bus drivers are. They drive these little (yes little, called mini) buses which have wooden floor through which you can easily see all the road beneath you. Oh that’s not the point. These bus drivers are really the rulers of the city. When you are on the road, remember they can do anything. So be prepared. They can stop, start, stop again, swerve, accelerate, scare, entertain, drift anywhere anytime.

The second* best characteristics these people have is their enormous amount of skill. Look, I know bus accidents happen so much in cities like Delhi. But my point is in Calcutta, even though they drive in the craziest possible way, the fatal accident frequency is much less. There are two reasons for this apart from the obvious skill these drivers possess. One : Everyone drives like them. Even the taxis, cars, autos try their best. So everything gets cancelled out. This is to Delhi’s disadvantage. And reason number Two : The people of Calcutta are not dumb. If they are in Calcutta, they know what to expect. So I guess they take the necessary precautions.

*(the best characteristic by the way is having strong political backing).

03. The stuff that are written on the rear of buses and trucks are to be taken seriously.
We have all seen all kinds of crap written at the rear end of buses and trucks all over the country. Have we ever thought about the good intentions of the driver to warn us beforehand? No we never have. But in Calcutta, you must read them in all seriousness.

Many buses have ‘Danger’ written. Self Explanatory.
Some buses write ‘Stop.’ Yes, please stop if you don’t want your life to stop.
Some write stuff like ‘blow horn’ and ‘awaz karo’. Please.
Some have religious lines written. Like ‘Om namah Shivay’ or ‘Joy Ma Kali’. This means they are telling us to pray. Pray for our lives. Simple and direct. I like that.

04. Increases Current affairs and Political Awareness

Image Source.

True. The fear of the scary Calcutta roads and the even scary political players in the city makes you forcibly keep up to date with the political scene of the state. So that you know when and where a massive rally or march has been planned on the roads(monthly), or when they have called a bandh(4 times a year) , or when the taxis are on strike (4 times a month) and so on. All this for your benefit. That’s why Calcutta kids know their politics well.

05. Impossible is nothing.
There is this Russell Peters joke when he says in Vietnam, he saw a whole family of 6-7 people on a scooter. If you have seen this and got shocked, you haven’t seen Calcutta. Or rather Russell hasn’t seen Cal. 8 people in an auto rickshaw. In Pune, only 3 used to sit in these ricks. Illegally 4. Here openly, in the main street at 10am in the morning. I was in one rick with 7 other people. 4 at the back. 4 at the front. Perfect balance.

Imagine a situation where you are in the left most lane in a 4 lane road. And say 10 metres from the crossing and you have to take a right turn. Problem? No problem. Just cut lanes, everyone here does that in their sleep. Distance doesn’t matter. Just cut lanes and go wherever you want to. It also gives a sense of confidence. And confidence is such a good thing.

I sincerely believe that the person in Adidas who came up with the tagline ‘Impossible is nothing’ did so while travelling in this city.

06. Increases faith in God.
Even the strongest of atheists have had their moments of fear and faith in this jungle. To be fair to them, it is not their fault. Anyway, we all must have noticed how Bengali mothers are extra attentive towards what religious lockets and stones their children are wearing (eg Ganguly). That can also be related to this I think.

It is not only in the madness and congestion do Calcuttans remember God. We also express gratefulness whenever we see an open stretch of road with no pedestrian taking a jolly walk on the road while talking on the cell phone. We also take His name whenever we are leaving or entering home.

07. One should never curse the police. Sympathize with them.
A common site in Calcutta is policemen resting in the nearby paan/cigarette shop. And not be on duty in the crossing. Think about it. Isn’t he doing the right thing by caring for his life more than ours? We all are selfish.

Also, it is terribly difficult to catch drunk drivers in the city. Because everyone drives like that.

08. Anger management.
No you don’t need to spend those thousands of rupees for enrolment in an anger management course. Just drive and ride for a reasonable duration here, and you will learn you lessons pretty well. And practicals are way more effective that theoretical lectures anyway.

09. Video Game practice.
Pretty obvious. NFS etc can stop brainstorming on how to make their locations more realistic and all, because in Calcutta, people drive cars like they play video games. Nothing can be more realistic than this. Have introduced buses already, but a lot of cars too, do the same. Here, there, fast slow, turn, stop, maneuver, crash, reset and the loop repeats.

10. Miscellaneous Lessons
Calcuttans love their chats. We call it adda. In these times of modern communication, adda has spread to mediums like mobile phones in the middle of the roads.

New swear words can be learnt. Mostly directed to people who break the rules, and since so many do so, more words can be heard and added to the vocab.

People realize getting up early is not only good for general health, but also essential for reaching places on time. Emptier streets in the mornings. Sense of punctuality sets in too.

If you have just banged your car or met with a small accident, you can always blame the buses and taxis in your explanation to the parents back home. They would believe you 100 percent.

A two lane road means a one lane road actually. Because one lane would always have parked cars. A one-lane stretch basically means go to lesson no. 06.

Image Source.


For fellow Calcuttans reading this, May God bless us all. For everyone else, this is like a warning really, and you are welcome.

If someone thinks I am bluffing or exaggerating, please scroll up and see the subtitle of my blog. Moreover, frustrated minds , like drunkards, don’t tend to lie.

Most of the stuff my parents said to me in my childhood like Studying s good, and that drinking is bad etc have all come out to be rather dubious. But one thing they said truly stands out. Well proven in due course of time. “If you learn to drive in the streets of Kolkata, you can drive anywhere in the world”. I dont know how much i have learnt to drive but i sure have learnt so many other important things.

P.S. I love Calcutta.
And Sorry for the longish post. Just couldn't stop rambling.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stories to tell, or stories to sell?

** Is the Indian media biased, irresponsible and like a wild animal out of control?

SMS Y to 54321 to vote Yes.
SMS N to 54321 if you are from Star News.

In a subject such as media, the terms quality and responsibility are interlinked. Often one would find that irresponsible matter, complete with all the masala is after-all of poor quality. That is the reality of Indian media today according to me.

Like so many of us, when I was in school, I used to be a TV addict. Because I was very lazy and dint have much else to do. Then I moved out of home and for the past four years of college, I stayed either in a hostel or a rented room, with no access to television. The only times I did watch TV, at friends’ places, were on the weekends when the football was on or during the IPL. Did I really miss much?

India is massive. What you and I think, might not find agreement with a majority of citizens. We must keep in mind the varying tastes, requirements and wishes of an entire country while attempting to answer a question like this, or rather dismissing it as a stupid question.

Which divides media into two categories. One : the entertainment media. Who should provide what the larger Indian audiences want like mentioned above. Responsible or not, they need people to watch their stuff. Two : The media we trust for the truth : For important current affairs that affect our lives. Like news channels. Unlike the previous category this form of media, before looking at what the audiences like, ought to focus primarily on the truth. The important stuff. Most probably the non glamorous stuff. But who are we kidding?

The entertainment section of the media by the way, also doesn’t find appreciation from me. Especially the dumb serials. But then again, the channels and the shows have their priority in addressing what the consumer needs. Imagine people from across the land wanting a break from their daily monotonous routines and wishing to see such dramas. Fair Play. Irresponsible yes. Due to the quality. But then they are in a genre where they can get away with it. The other category cant.

Saas Bahu serials actually target the best audience possible in my opinion. Awesome marketing strategies. You see, the boss of the house is often the ladies. :P So in the evenings, when a mom puts her foot down and says I want to watch my favorite serial, the others in the household have no choice. So the kids who have nothing to do then, and the tired dad from office would settle down on the sofa and watch what the boss is watching. So basically the serial that targeted one set of eyeballs from that particular house now has four. Genius. Haha. Such silly reasoning i had used before when i wroteabout the misplaced priorities of the Indian media in an earlier blogpost. On the same lines.

Jokes apart the average quality is actually way below average.

Our media is not as sad as in some countries of the world. Its 'free'. Yes. But haven't we taken it too far. After a certain point, doesn't it resemble a biscuit or soap (sorry for bad examples, please get the point) industry with new players entering everyday with crap. Atleast their biscuit counterparts might have a quality product. Obviously, the freedom is there to be exploited. The regulators perhaps are busy removing adult content from channels and not even interested in what other sub-standard products are shown.

Coming to the favorite whipping boy of this debate. News Channels. 24 hours mind you. Or scripted news. #Youprefer. I won’t be surprised if one day I logged onto this ’ No.1 Indian News Channel’s website’ and found an advert of a political party. Because few months back I actually saw a reporter blog about how the Youth Congress is the best organization to sign up for, on the same website. I wouldn’t be surprised if Manish Tewary disclosed his current address to be ‘CNN-IBN / NDTV studios.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if Rajiv Pratap Rudi is officially given the post of ‘Prime time National TV debater’ of his party, instead of the spokesperson tag he now has. Maybe we will also have a dedicated twitter correspondent reporting live from twitter in the future. New job profiles, new posts created, good for the country I guess.

I love debates, but 17 debates on 17 channels at the same time are more like an obsession now, rather than a necessity. Its like if you have a 24/7 news channel, you will have to compulsorily keep aside one hour for live debates. Some are thoroughly enjoyable and interesting, the rest are just time-wasting. Yellow Card please.

Less said about the hindi 'NEWS' channels, the better. 30 minute special show for Dhoni dyeing his hair black, or Shah Rukh Khan tweeting about his meeting with Shakira. Mockery of the free media? Responsible? Enough said.

I do not intend to go on a media bashing zone, even though personally I am shocked by them. But in a country we live in, I believe that hoping for a 100 percent free media, or even 100 percent independent ‘sections’ of media is difficult to achieve. The channels won’t come up if someone was not watching. Sections of the masses want such masala. Even in their news.

These channels, to their credit, have launched various initiatives that are significant. They have dug up important issues. And brought about action too. The election analysis, not having to wait for next day’s newspaper to find who won in the remotest corner of the country. Getting reports throughout the day of important issues. We just cannot do without it. Credit to them for all their good work. But then again, aren’t those their duty? Responsibility. Hence in such a world, the negatives would just overshadow the good work they might be doing. I feel too bored to even mention how these channels, in an attempt to go one up on the other cover real life tragedies and stick microphones up the faces of victims. Responsible and ethical coverage? We know the answer.

I wish the shocking content on shows, especially hindi news shows could be declared as criminal offense. How i wish The channels would be sentenced to 100 hours of community service, or in this case 100 hours of no-nonsense content. Wouldn't that be an impossible sentence to carry out for them? Haha. If another miracle was possible and we could don Pakistani hats for a day or so in this regard and then proceed on a banning spree, that would be nice too. :P

How about the other major forms of media?

During my initial college years in Pune, often I used to read some 'important' report and attempt to discuss it with my best friend there, who was a localite. She would simply dismiss anything I would say the moment I uttered that it was from a certain XYZ or ‘T’YZ newspaper. The feeling among the localites were so strong, I was amazed. Later on, I understood why. I found out that the paper in question had a 4-6 page supplementary edition celebrating Sharad Pawar’s birthday. Celebrating anyone’s birthday that had their loyalties towards the Congress or NCP.

Its an open secret , here in Calcutta, about which Bengali daily writes in favour of the ruling party. And which paper admires ‘didi’ more than ‘dadu’. Which channels you must watch if the ruling party has erred. And which channels you must tune into when the opposition is embarrassing themselves. Its fun really. LOL. When I was a child, my mom used to tell me about these alleged allegiances. If I was born a few years later, trust me I wouldn’t need anyone to tell me all this, so obvious it has become now.

Again, hoping for 100 percent unbiased opinions and no-nonsense is an idealistic thought. But just doesn’t seem right here. In the small newsletters we bring out in college etc, we put in stuff we actually wouldn’t put in an ideal scenario, but have to so that we can attract some more students.

Thank God for internet, and faster broadband connections. The savior. One would rightly say, just like the world wide web, even in television and print media, you have the option of rejecting the ones you don’t feel are upto the mark. I agree. But then, a lot of Indian households don’t have that 2nd TV set. I feel even though it’s in our hands to see what we want and dismiss what we don’t, nothing compares to the internet in this context. It is bigger than everything else.

“** At this point, since we are running out of time, and the advertisements have to be shown, let’s see how the votes have come in. Slight majority saying YES, and we always poll only in the metros.”

What to do ? Clueless.

How can we improve? The problem is that if such standards are maintained or further lowered for a reasonable time frame, children grow up with them. I grew up with television. It influenced me. We obviously need better people heading media houses. I don't know what else really. Cut down on nonsense time fillers. Some regulation limiting the launch of channel after channel. Public debates are a good way to go deep into issues, but only when necessary. Not like a compulsion. The journalists on the field must not be under orders to get whatever you can. And that too before anyone else. They must be briefed to get stories that are relevant. That add value. Fun and games are always refreshing though, a good laugh is always welcome in serious media.

I love the way the movies are made in India nowadays. Atleast some of them. That is also a form of media. The Anurag Kashyaps use this vast platform constructively to tell beautiful stories. Movies influence and touch us so much. But cinema is misused too. Probably to write off black money or whatever. Haha. Jokes apart, I mean some movies try so hard to be good that they are awful. Especially the ones starring rich kids of filthy rich producers. So what matters is what kind of people are in the business. Who are leading these films. How much talent and honesty they have. That goes a long way indeed in determining what the quality of the end product is. This is comparable to our news media.

Like the name of my blog suggests, I am an inhabitant of Planet Media. And so are you. Good thing is, we got remote controls with us. Thank God for that.

The power of the media to influence minds and bring about changes are infinite. And we all know what comes with great power. One last thing, popular media also to an extent reflects the state of the nation. And its' people. India is no different. The popular media could be a mirror.

In mainstream media today, the only ‘news’ related things that are absolutely true to their name are FakingNews and The Week that Wasn’t. :) That's it.

Pringoo product.

Part of a Blogadda contest : Is Indian Media, misusing its freedom?

Image source :

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My 2nd report on Faking -- Bandh = Earth Hour

FakingNews, you are one hell of a saviour. A little rough time on, and this cheered me up a lot. :) Cant thank them enough.

Bandhs are nothing new for me. Growing up in Calcutta, the capital of such #(#%*# stuff, we feel odd if there isn't a bandh for around 3 months. One morning at around 4am, this idea struck and I wrote the spoof on it. Delighted it got selected. :)

Here is the link. Please have a read, those who haven't yet.

The last paragraph has been added by the team at FN. And some other minor editing. Adds a great touch to the piece. As always, great stuff FN. :) :)

This is my 2nd article to be selected by FakingNews. Click here to go to the first one.

Thanks once again FakingNews and all those who read and liked it. Means a lot to me.

Edit :
Just checked the stats on the FN site and Facebook page. Awesome response. Info from the site is 61 Retweets and 242 Shares on Facebook. Also 113 people have liked it on the facebook page of Faking news. :) :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

World Cup 2010 : What's Wrong with England???

Ok, Ok. The world cup is heating up. Business end. Quarter final and semi final and all that. But, personally, I am yet to get over England’s performance this time around. Really disappointed. And angry. And confused.

I tried hard to think how such a spectacularly assembled team filled with spectacular players can fail so spectacularly.

Maybe I found the answer. :P
(if the image texts are not readable, click on it for a bigger size)

What Xavi thinks when he gets the ball in midfield?

What an English midfielder thinks when he gets the ball anywhere in the pitch?

Ok that was meant to be a joke. But, shockingly, or rather more worrying is that it isn't too far from being accurate. :P

Quiz question : Who are the most skillful players in the world? Technically most gifted. I would think the Brazilians and Argentines. Wouldn’t you? Their past record would suggest so atleast. Have we ever seriously thought why these players, when moving to Europe always go to the clubs of Spain, Italy, Holland etc. And hardly ever to English clubs. I am not talking about now. Now a lot of them come to England, well we know money talks. But over the years, since my early days of following football, I have read loads of interviews of such players dismissing the English game and choosing to showcase their talent in the more skillful leagues of the continent.

I read this on an opinion piece on a site i cant remember right now.. Summed it up perfectly for me.

" ... problem lies in the belief that 'getting stuck in' is of overwhelming importance in England. An 'if in doubt, boot it out' culture has existed in England for too long and it is imperative for young footballers to be taught to be comfortable on the ball with more emphasis on playing their way out of trouble."

England crumbled. Had fear in them. In the eyes, in the legs, in the minds. Clint Dempsey and Fabio Capello agree. Please don’t think all this is an excuse for the loss against Germany. I don’t even want to bring the goal that was never given issue too (its importance doesn’t diminish though).I would have, but the awful football displayed by the team right from the first game tells me, this team dint deserve that rub of the green.

Apart from the fear factor, team selections by Capello, the 4-4-2 that never works nowadays etc etc are there. Those are the immediate problems.

And, the bigger picture has the long term solutions.

There is a striking similarity over the problems of English football on the international stage, and the condition of Olympics sport back in India. We all know the issues. The problems. They are clich├ęd beyond belief. We will take the formality steps. And forget it just about there.

Similarly, the English Premiership won’t have THAT smallish winter break. They will play an EXTRA league cup. They will think of a 39th game abroad. They will not have mandatory number of English players in a team rule. They will not have a watchdog on new owners taking over clubs, and going berserk. They will only look at the TV rights money. They will think about the fan base in Asia that includes me and you. And so on. English players in the Premiership constitute around just 40 percent. Need I say more? Compare that to any other league in the world.

Italy’s dismal performance in Euro 2008, and this world cup has seen the Serie A take drastic actions. And fast. Now there can be only one Non EU player in an Serie A team. Whether it is right or wrong, I don’t know, but I sure like the intent shown by them. Never gonna happen in England. Here, this linked piece shows what Ghana are doing with their kids. And, England, well they are STILL building their National Football Academy, and in the meantime giving Professional contracts to players from the age of 17, allowing clubs to entice a wave of young foreign kids and their families to England. And on and on.

Why then do the clubs do so well while the national team fail so consistently? From 2005-06 the clubs have gone on a rampage, while the national team have nosedived. Surely the clubs must be doing something different. Or are they? How many English players actually start in these big club teams? Also, English football is direct, that’s their tradition, and they are great players in that system. But at the world stage, they are woefully exposed by ‘better football players’. You can’t bulldoze past the opposition faced in world cups. In Europe club games, over two legs, you still can, but in international tournaments, I am sorry. You can’t. Plus you don’t have a Jose, Fergie, Rafa or Arsene.

Those who know me personally know that I am a big lover of the English Premiership. And the way the football is played. Physical. Tough. Referee allowing play to flow. No whistles at every fall. I love it. But there are issues in the English game that need to be solved. The superstars are probably not the super humans we are now accustomed to believe. It just doesn’t feel right.

Some startling facts now, well known. But not given significance. Since its inception in 1991, there has been only one FIFA World Player of the Year, who was from an English club. There have been just TWO English based players to have won the European Player of the Year in the last 41 years. 41 mind you. In the 2006 World Cup Final, 3 out of 22 players who started the game were based in England. In 2002 and 1998, that number was 2 out of 22. It was ZERO in 1994. And I dint bother going further back. Maybe I am just reading too much into it, but I just can’t resist doing so. It just doesn't feel right.

Lastly, England have exited major tournaments prematurely in the past. Just like this year’s world cup. Having seen some for myself, all I would say that just one thing was glaring in its absence when we compare this exit to the years gone by. Spirit!!

I wish I could show my frustrations in the following manner.

Or by swearing live on camera like this.

But unfortunately, I am no superstar. So I got to settle for letting it all out on my blog. :) :)