Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Whomsoever It May Concern

A few days back, I received this letter:

My dear Arjun,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirit. Sadly, that is not my state. My life is in danger.
How do I start? How I wish I had the comfort of saying the innocuous, ‘Trouble started on a dark stormy night.’ Albeit a cliché, fact is always stranger than fiction.
Trouble started when I took my mother-in-law on a honeymoon trip.
Every year, around February, my in-laws separate, for two weeks or so, ‘to revitalize their souls and bodies’, leaving behind damaged, ravaged hosts in their ghostly, ghastly wake. This year, my father-in-law went to the east. My guess is that he is now comfortably numb amongst Naga sadhus in the Himalayas or in an old world house of a kind, podgy Bengali nymph stuffing himself to the gills with sweets and fish. My wife’s mother was supposed to go to the west, around the Thar desert, in search of gods.
We too, my wife and I, had planned a honeymoon getaway from the Mumbai madness to serene Goa. There was supposed to be only a minor overlap in these plans.
We were supposed to collect my mother-in-law at the airport at eight, keep her amused for four hours or so, dispatch her on the midnight flight to Jaipur, and then catch forty winks before setting off on our merry road trip. She did land. We did our best to keep her amused. But we just could not pack her off. At about ten that night, one of her fellow-pilgrims phoned to inform her that their pilgrimage had been called off because of some epidemic of bowel irritability. I tried to argue that the bowels have nothing to do with the higher realms of spirituality. When that failed, I even found a rare seat on a cargo flight to take her back to our hometown, away from us in Mumbai. But my efforts gave me naught. I heard my wife’s mother say, ‘Oh here I am, for you, for you!’ to which my wife replied with a treacherously joyful, ‘Oh Ma Ma!’ and my ‘Oh No No!’ received only a brutal kick from my better, fairer half.
So, at five that morning, there she was, my mother-in-law, parked in the middle of the backseat filling up the rearview mirror. Two hours into the drive, she enquired about her accommodation. My efficient wife informed her that she had managed, that night, to book a room, for her mother, in the same resort. Her mother replied to that with, ‘Oh, you should not have bothered. Won’t they allow an extra bed in your room for a nominal cost?’ I hit the brakes involuntarily and the car swerved wildly. I nearly caused a pile-up on the highway and received an extended tirade of threats and expletives from without. I stopped the car, speechless and breathless, and turned to my wife. My wife gave an unperturbed, flippant and only vaguely reassuring remark, ‘She is joking.’ I looked in the rearview mirror. The reflection seemed blurred and shaky with mirth. I too laughed the laugh of a death row inmate in the company of a jolly, jocular executioner.
For the rest of that day’s road-trip, I thought deeply about fate, destiny, karma and in-laws. Let me share with you the salient points of my musing because it is relevant to understand why my destiny could not turn out to be anything but my fate.
The fathers-in-law can be skipped because they are not really worth mentioning. In fact, the men are usually so in any role, aren’t they? As for my wife and her in-laws, they are like nations fighting over some inhospitable terrain. They need the fight and not the land. After all, which sister really cares for a brother that much? For that matter, which wife loves her man senselessly to wage a war? For her social position she might, but never for her man. Look at history – men have done every foolish act possible for women but have women done anything like that for men? Even a mother’s love for her son, it is a myth or at least a paradox - once he is an adult, that love is there only if she sees very little of him. That is because she enters one of the best phases in her life. All she wants then is the acceptable, alas manageable and lovable, company of a spouse fast approaching dotage. The daughters and their mother have few problems being together because a lifetime together have somehow made them immune to each other’s chatter and petty demands. When a woman enters that golden era, the only bee in her bonnet is her son-in-law. She hates it when he visits expecting a free meal. She prefers to be the visitor, messing up his life, constantly monitoring him in his role as her daughter’s main impregnator-cum-security guard.
My man, I thought a lot during that trip about my predicament but if I had known how precarious it would turn out to be, I would have driven that car off a high cliff, along with that backseat content, happily singing on its way down to a quick painless death.
Anyway, we reached the resort in Goa without any other hitch. The rest of the day went by calmly. The ladies had no dearth of energy. I pretended to be tired after the driving and got some quality ‘me-time’ with a bottle of beer, snacks and the TV remote. Much later, my wife and I had a slow loving dinner in our room. She mentioned rather vaguely that her mother had found new company. Life did not seem bad then.
Next morning, my wife wanted an extended lie-in. I tiptoed past my mother-in-law’s room and then raced to the dining room hoping to tackle a full English breakfast, unsupervised by pesky women. Why are the most simple desires the most difficult to get? With heaven so close, I tripped at the gates of hell. There, near the entrance to heaven, at the dosa-cum-omelette counter, I found my mother-in-law. She was giving careful instructions to two diffident, thoroughly vanquished cooks. And, there was a parakeet near her.
He looked a few decades older than her. His wig, trying to emulate some young fashion, looked like a pickelhaube worn backwards. My migraine was triggered by his yellow-blue shirt with dazzling floral print, and Bermuda shorts a foot too short with an unappetizing, unhealthy green-brown hue. His mouth reminded me of old badly dubbed Chinese kung-fu movies with his lips and false teeth totally out of sync. His hands seemed fidgety, desperately gearing up for a grope and a feel. And, my mother-in-law seemed to be reciprocating to his hideous flirting. Tell me, my man, which will upset you more – catching your wife or your wife’s mother in flagrante delicto?
She noticed me then. She and the parakeet approached my table. The much-variegated being perched uncomfortably close, gave me a wink, showered her with effusive, embarrassing praises and sensibly flew away before I could put in a word. I raised an eyebrow at my relative. She raised hers even further and said to me, ‘You look as attractive as those bulldogs who try to be the nation’s moral whatever in Parliament.’ She was, of course, trying to say something nice to me. She knew that I despised that lot. She herself claims to be left-leaning but like most commies from my state, political ideology only applied to others and not to oneself.
Then, quickly back on personal sphere, she asked me, ‘Why are you here alone?’ ‘Your daughter wanted it.’ That seemed to be the right answer. She subjected me to her customary head to toe survey, probably ticking off some mental checklist, pondering if I remained the right choice for her sleeping dotty. I had lost my appetite long before then. Still, under the influence of that parakeet, I nibbled at idlis soaked in chutney-sambhar mix, pecked at a limp omelette and munched fruits under that watchful eye, all washed down with tepid coffee and memories of a full English breakfast. My wife joined us as I was nearly through with the muck. She and her mother aggravated my system further by detailing their plans for me that day.
Modern man has much grief, my man. When I married at a late age, I hoped for a life of leisure, quite fed up of a bachelor’s life of hectic partying and mindless activity. I wanted to be a Garfield. But what do I get? Not even rest during a vacation. Haven’t you noticed these armies of husbands, wives and kids at a beach or a hill resort - forever on the move, all dressed in uniform, with the same low-slung half-pants over high-slung underpants, flaunting flabby pectorals, imitation six-packs, bellies like jelly, shapeless breasts stretching sports bras, vests, t-shirts, jackets, and of course, the ubiquitous big sunglasses to cover the whole face? It is a highly competitive world, my man. So, I had a full day of shopping, sightseeing, water-sports and other virile activities. The only bright spot was that we rarely crossed paths with my mother-in-law who graciously opted out of that busy schedule. I still worried about the parakeet’s intentions and wondered about who would have an upper hand as a bad influence. I could not, of course, discuss such matters with my wife. It was just a terribly tiring day. And the terrifying day was still waiting to happen.
The next morning, I tried my luck once again and raced for a decent meal, praying for peace and solitude. But once again, I found my mother-in-law near the finishing line, though the parakeet was nowhere around. She approached me with a worried look and said, ‘I have a problem.’
My heart sank and I collapsed onto a chair, profusely cursing the parakeet. Every married man gets ready to hear those words but from his kids and that too about twenty years down the line. But when the marriage vows are still considerably fresh, which man is ready to hear those words from his mother-in-law?
I was cold and numb, as if rigor mortis was setting in fast. I think it was my mother-in-law who made me inhale a pinch of pepper like it was snuff and brought me back to a spluttering, sneezing consciousness. It took a while before there was a relative calm on that battlefield. I put on that old, indignant bulldog expression. I was nonplussed when she hardly seemed contrite or shamefaced with guilt.
She then said, ‘I have discovered a paedophile ring here.’ She did not seem too pleased when I gave out a huge sigh of relief. But I recovered fast. I know that a woman at her salacious worst is easier to manage than when she is at her social best with feelers out to correct the ills of society. I sat up wondering how I could slip a few tablets of Valium or Prozac into her coffee to make her more amenable and less troublesome. But I was curious too, and as promised by the adage, that curiosity brought with it the risk of an early demise.
My wife’s mother has never been a good actor, and she was quite deplorable there in that dining room when she tried to act the cool private eye. With painful twitches of her head and rather obvious jerky gestures of her hand, reminding me of new Tamil film songs I enjoyed watching without audio during my ‘me-time’, she pointed out two sets of people in that sparsely populated dining room. Her loud voice was suitable for a Mussolini raising fascist rhetoric rather than for a Marlowe muttering dark secrets about an ongoing investigation.
‘That young couple there, that shady man and that grim woman, yes, that one to the far left, yes, that one giving me dirty looks, I think they are the masterminds. I followed them the whole of yesterday. I smelt a rotten rat when I found them snooping near that nice couple there with those lovely kids, yes, that family in the middle, yes, those kids who are waving at us now.’
 I managed to hush her to tolerable audible levels. I promised to look into the sordid affair after finishing breakfast. She did not seem very convinced with my promise, as usual. Those two groups exited from the scene with rather unpleasant glares aimed at us. Fortunately, my wife turned up then.
My mother-in-law did not disturb her dotty with details of her latest investigation. Have you noticed how womenfolk can switch over in a jiffy from a highly agitated state to a bewildering calmness leaving their men lagging well behind with the appropriate and updated state of mind? We men seem like old PC’s busy crunching out old data while the program itself went through various revisions. Further, it seemed terribly unfair to me that she was guarding her own while she had no qualms in exposing me to danger.
Breakfast remained a sorry affair like the previous day. But a silver lining finally touched my cloudy life. The ladies decided to spare me that day. They planned to spend that morning in the spa and, of course, they did not want me around while they tried to relax. I was glad to have another extended session of ‘me-time’.
So, there I was in my room, barely settled deep under the covers, with a newspaper, a bottle of coke, a packet of crisps and the TV remote, when I heard knocking on the door. I tried to ignore that but it grew more insistent. I shuffled to the door and barely had I opened it, I was shoved back into the room. I tripped and landed rather heavily on my backside. It was the couple from the dining room, the duo of shady man and grim woman. They entered without invitation and closed the door. The man and the woman walked around me, giving my sides a regular kick as if to check whether the meat was fresh and prime.
Then, they bent towards me. The man asked, ‘What are you and that middle-aged lady up to?’ The woman asked, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be here with a lady old enough to be your mother?’ I managed to squeak, ‘Yes, I am ashamed to be here with my mother-in-law.’ They were taken aback. There was a noticeable change in that shady man’s attitude towards me though the grim woman remained as grim as ever. The woman continued with a harsh warning, ‘If she does not scoot from here, I will personally send her packing.’ I could not help blurting out with undisguised joy, ‘Will you?’ The shady man took pity on me and did some explaining.
My mother-in-law turned out to be not all wrong. Those two are undercover cops on a secret mission to capture a notorious criminal and con-man. The foreign family was just a harmless family. The notorious one turned out to be the parakeet. Those two undercover cops had been on his trail for nearly a year. They were about to nab him when my mother-in-law messed up their operation. First, her dalliance with the parakeet had made them wonder if she was the Bonnie to his Clyde. Second, according to those cops, there was some kind of fall-out between the parakeet and his moll, and the parakeet had ended in hospital with a groin injury. That would have been fine without her third action which involved tailing the duo around the place, drawing attention to them and jeopardizing the whole operation.
Those cops warned me to vanish from the scene ‘with your ladies’. They assured me that the villain was already on the prowl to seek vengeance for his bruised manhood. And they added for my benefit that, if she remained elusive, the easier target would probably bear the brunt of the retribution. For a moment, I did not get the identity of that easier target. The grim lady for once looked terribly pleased to inform me that they were talking about me. I asked them how I could convince the ladies, the mother-in-law or the wife, to interrupt their holiday. They were clueless about that.
So, that’s my situation. I know that my mother-in-law will stick to her own conclusions about the case. For her, my life is anyway meant for collateral damage. Even my wife will not be amenable to reason. She might expect chivalry from me so that she can continue with her break.
There is the slim chance that the villain would be sensible and target only my mother-in-law. It is a gamble worth dying for, is it not?
The mini-bar is empty now and the hotel stationery is over. I am shaken and rather well stirred. But this letter-writing has made me calm. Let me post it and wait for high noon. Please do pray for me.
Your friend forever however short that maybe,

I have tried hard but the signature is undecipherable and gives me no clue about the identity of this friend. I shall pray for you, dear friend, whoever you are. May you rest in peace as you desire.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thoughts of a man called I

Long ago, there was a man called I who lived in a world of thoughts. Voiceless, faceless, nameless speech bubbles followed him wherever he went – speech bubbles with thoughts in common print, without punctuation, without exclamation, without feeling. I was not handicapped in any other way. Thoughts just tried to crowd out everything else in his life, that’s all. I found it frustrating when the source and the background of these featureless messages seemed vague. Often, even the context or the tone remained elusive. I could guess, of course, but certainty would have helped; maybe, not always. There were also occasions when he could not be sure if a speech bubble with a thought that seemed to be his was actually his. When alone in a room and almost certain about his own thoughts, doubt usually followed close behind – maybe, there was someone standing outside the room, not really spying but still close enough for that external thought to creep in.
When he was young, he thought he would go crazy with the thoughts haunting his mind without respite, awake or asleep. With time, I learned to live with that constant company. He became quite adept in doing his daily tasks, though the thoughts in speech bubbles remained in the foreground. He wondered if he was a robot completing programmed background jobs externally while internally archiving the continuous flow of new data for unknown reasons.
Before his twenties, he realized that he should abide by two important rules to deal with his situation, his handicap. The first rule decided that I would not interfere with the thoughts. He knew that he could ruin himself, others and his relationships by just giving voice to some of those thoughts. The second rule dictated that I should not try to influence any action based on those thoughts. These rules helped him to live a rather normal life.
I had a wife and two kids. He could often guess their thoughts but he did not judge them or act any different with them. I gave gifts ready to accept whichever speech bubble that followed immediately, ‘awesome’ or ‘shit not that’. When he and his wife enjoyed an intimate moment of companionable silence, with the kids elsewhere, he remained unperturbed when a bubble floated around, ‘god i am so tired how i wish i could get away’. When they made love, he ignored the thoughts with apparently dissatisfied complaints along with those possibly connected to joyful ecstasy. He accepted with a studied sangfroid the thoughts about him and their home, about other homes and people, about other men and women. When they cuddled and said ‘I love you’ to each other, he took it at face value ignoring any negative thought that trailed behind those words, accepting only those thoughts that seemed positive and congenial to the situation. I accepted the fact that it was impossible to be perfectly correct with the rules all the time.
His professional life was easier given the impersonal nature of office relationships. I was a conscientious worker. I joined that division as a young trainee, and in ten years gained two promotions and five increments in pay. The division worked in an airy room, on the second floor, with a single door and large windows on either side opening out onto the corridor. There were thirteen places, six on either side along the length of the room for the subordinates, and a large desk and a heavy big chair for the supervisor facing the twelve. The thirteen had little in common, and presented a rather cosmopolitan mixture of religion, region, caste, color and class. There were five women and eight men. The supervisor was a big fat woman who rarely talked and resembled a mastiff in appearance and composure. Her perpetual disgruntled expression made the man called I wonder if she too could read their thoughts.
The supervisor insisted on being the first to enter the office in the morning and the others had to queue up on either side of the door before her entry. She noted those present during that parade and marked the rest as absent with loss of pay. In the evening, the subordinates had to clear their table before leaving. The supervisor was always the last to leave, staying behind for fifteen or thirty minutes grading that day’s work and setting the next day’s target for each.
I focused on the work from nine to six and allowed the thoughts to intrude only during the brief legitimate breaks for the eleven o’clock coffee or the one o’clock lunch or the tea and biscuits at three. I found the thoughts that floated within the room amusing and appalling in equal measure. When he felt that a joke or an insult or thinly veiled barb was aimed at him, he took it in his stride. At times, I felt like shouting at them, ‘Hey, I know what goes on behind this charade of political correctness.’ But, I did not intrude into that free flow of thoughts.
The thoughts bordering on caste, religion and region were the worst. I was troubled a great deal by the contempt and the latent intolerance. At times, I was perplexed by the pains taken to differentiate or herd together. He liked to think that his own speech bubbles were immune to discrimination or prejudice though he was not totally sure. Further, he reasoned that his colleagues deserved the benefit of doubt because he could not be sure of the nuances in meaning. ‘my fine nose and light eyes are from a foreign visitor to my ancestral house’ – was that thought with pride or was that an attempt to do away with racism by ridiculing it, I thought.
Then, there were the personal thoughts about debts and loans, insecurities and worries, spouses and kids, money and money. There was sex too. I found it amusing that the prim and proper matronly colleague in her early forties received most of the lascivious thoughts. Strangely, the nubile twenty-something attracted only paternalistic and envious thoughts, probably from the men and the other women respectively, I conjectured. At times, he could not be certain about the object and the subject involved. A speech bubble with ‘that man/woman has such lovely lips’ could after all belong to any man or woman; maybe, even the supervisor, I slyly, silently guessed from behind an impassive face. From those thirteen heads studiously bent over dusty files and rickety keyboards came lewd, loving, disgusting and sweet thoughts that I tried to notice only during those brief moments of leisure.
Then, on a Wednesday that started unexceptional, I and the other eleven subordinates were taken unawares when the supervisor went on a rampage castigating. The events that followed that day changed his life forever. The supervisor called each subordinate to her desk, read out a carefully worded appraisal, those quiet words contrasted with the harsh reprimand and punishment that it contained - extended hours, increased number of tasks, reduced pay and even demotion for some. Though she allowed each one a chance to offer arguments in defense, none offered resistance faced with that silent, staring, malevolent, despising countenance. I too faced the same music and later tried to think. But his mind was crowded with speech bubbles filled with the collective sadness, despondence and hate. Then, one speech bubble crept in and stood out, ‘i will kill her’.
He checked if it was his thought and convinced himself that it could not be his. Then, he looked around and tried to find the right owner. But none of the faces seemed particularly hateful. Some were even remarkably calm. Outwardly, all twelve seemed to be in the same dissipated state. I took a deep breath and concentrated on the thoughts.
On that day, that lone thought stood like a dark, watchful stalker biding time. On Thursday, other thoughts joined its company. By Friday, the details were clear. The murder was scheduled for that evening. The victim was, of course, to be the supervisor. Each step of the murder plot came in separate speech bubbles. ‘it will be dark when she leaves the office in the evening’, ‘she will take the lift to the ground floor and then the stairs to the basement car park’, ‘the single bulb in that stairwell should be removed’.
That evening, I waited in the dark behind a pillar near the place of execution. Every pillar there seemed to hide silhouettes in its shadows. I waited and waited.
I heard the supervisor lock up the office upstairs. Then I heard her footsteps move towards the lift. The lift stopped at the ground floor. But instead of coming nearer, those footsteps moved away towards the front exit, away from the staircase leading to the basement car park. Breaking her regular habit, she did not go to the basement car park that day. I still waited and waited.
I saw a figure step out from behind a pillar, with a long, menacing dagger in hand. Then another stepped out, and another. I too stepped out and faced the others. The twelve colleagues looked at each other, some shamefaced, some smiling, some angry. I and the other eleven put away the daggers. They went their separate ways after wishing each other good night. I was quite surprised that there were no speech bubbles lingering around there then. Thoughtless and tired, the twelve went home.
That night, at home, I felt as if I was entering a new home. It seemed as if it had become a real home for the first time. I smiled, laughed and played with the kids with carefree abandon. He surprised his wife with uninhibited tenderness. I thought of asking her ‘how long have you shared this’ but then decided to go ahead with life without unnecessary words. The speech bubbles with thoughts still darted around freely like ghosts – familiar, sinister, inconvenient ghosts clashing and crashing as usual. But when the couple said ‘I love you’ to each other that night, it was different. I knew that it sounded true probably for the first time.
Long ago, the man called I lived in a world of thoughts. One day, he realized that everyone had his handicap. He lived happily ever after.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Juvenile Manifesto

The future of this country should be decided by the youth.
Where are they?
The recent protests of the young against sexual violence and corruption raised much hope. Do you remember their faces now? Have the young masses gone home happy with quick-fix solutions like fast-track courts, commissions, ordinances or Lokpal Bill?
The year is 2013 but it could be 1913 or 1813. Old faces rule with old principles and old systems. It is not clear if the youth of today want anything more than a good job, comfortable standard of living, sufficient security and half-decent governance. If that is all that they need, society can trudge forward with the system created by the old of yesteryears.
Instead, do they have new ideas to change the future of this country?
Do they have ideas that sound juvenile?
When Spartacus rose with an army of slaves, his purpose must have seemed juvenile even to the enslaved. When workers clashed with the bourgeois in class struggles, were they not dismissed at first as juvenile? A fine social reformer suggested about a century back that there is ‘one God, one religion and one caste for man’. He said that no two people could have the same God, but added that any faith and the underlying principles would be the same. People prefer to make such thinkers a god and use their thoughts for nothing but fine speeches. And, let the idea remain unaccepted. People prefer to be with little faith and few principles, ready to think that their God cannot bear criticism or insult from without. Most find the idea too disturbing, too simple and too juvenile to accept.
Every struggle and every change has its roots in some juvenile but logical thought which gained respectability only much later, sometimes never.
What is the Juvenile Manifesto of the youth of today?
I am too old to be young but I am young enough to be juvenile. I know that my thoughts are not profound and that they will not cause a paradigm shift. Even if it is a fool who starts a discussion, the discussion need not be foolish. So, let me voice some of my juvenile thoughts while I wait for the young to rise. 

·         Fact: There are too many old male politicians.
Let us change that.
·         50% of politicians at every level (the Center, the State and even the panchayats) should be reserved for those below the age of 55.
·         50% of politicians at every level should be women.
This has to be followed by every political party contesting elections. Hopefully, with time, it will get reflected in the final composition of elected bodies too. In due course, it might even cure society of the ills caused by excessive male chauvinism.
·         Fact: The current system of elections is mostly decided on the basis of religion, caste and class.
It is a pseudo-democracy if it seems like a fixed match. Democracy is supposed to be of the people, for the people and by the people; but, in a pseudo-democracy, we get something short of that: of some majority, for some majority and by some majority. How do we change that?
·         Let each political party decide its candidates and their own political manifesto. But, let the Election Commission decide the candidate’s constituency by a lottery system.
Politicians are after all supposed to be true leaders and not just leaders of a particular segment of society. Even with the current system, politicians once elected represent all and they work as MPs or Ministers for all. Then, it seems logical that politicians should be ready to represent any group even before election. Wouldn’t it be lovely if communist leaders have to seek votes in traditionally non-communist states; or if Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi and the Thackerays have to stand for election in Trivandrum, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai and Patna respectively? Brahmin, Tamilian, forward caste/class, Jat, OBC, Bengali, Dalit, Bihari, Muslim, Punjabi, Christian, the middle-class, Marathi and every other section of society will then have to vote for a leader from outside their own comfort group. This might make the disenchanted and the ignored curious enough to cast their vote for change. Then, politicians might talk about what society needs rather than what society likes to hear, if they hear at all.

·         Fact: We still hang on to the stupid policy of considering some to be more important than others, even though this is the twenty-first century.
·         Fact: Politicians and government officials seem to need police escort and diesel-guzzling SUVs. It seems that they cannot go to office like others. When their job demands travel, small and fuel-efficient cars do not seem to be sufficient.
·         Fact: Some need wasteful and terribly expensive security. The death of a common hawker does not seem to be as important as the death of a famous personality. In a country with more than a billion people, there seems to be a dearth of politicians or public figures. It does not seem sufficient if equal and ample security is given to every citizen.
The way forward and the solutions seem clear. But even the common masses seem to be stuck in some time-warp, ever-willing to line streets, wave flags and cheer their elected representatives as if they are royalty of some bygone era.

·         Fact: In ancient days, rulers were allowed to collect taxes to live luxuriously and to rule the land and people according to their whim and fancy. In modern society, every penny of tax collected should be for the benefit of the country and not select individuals.
·         Fact: It is not clear how much of tax collected is properly utilized for the benefit of the taxpayer or allowed to trickle down to the poor and the needy. There is corruption. There is wasteful spending. There are people misusing subsidies.
In countries like India, with a high proportion of disgruntled taxpayers and happy crooks, the government should plug the holes in the piggybank before putting in more coins.
·         Before increasing tax on any segment of society, reduce unnecessary spending.
Though it might seem like being penny-wise and pound-foolish, it should be the duty of every modern government to reduce unnecessary and wasteful expenditure before increasing taxes. Consider the developed European country which plans to impose 75% tax on the rich. It is rather ironic that taxpayers pay about two billion dollars (if my Google search can be believed) to cover the expenses of that country’s socialist President’s office. The President of India takes home a monthly salary of hundred and fifty thousand rupees. The actual expenditure in keeping that official position is many times that amount. It is the same story with every politician and most high-ranking government officials. It is even considered improper to question the system within the armed services even though it might resemble some colonial era rather than a modern egalitarian society.
·         These days, it is fashionable and even proper to talk about higher tax rates for the rich.
A respected Indian businessman has recently supported the plan to increase taxes on the rich. He says that the spending of the rich is appalling and that it would be better if they are taxed to bridge the divide between the rich and the poor. That suits that businessman because it does not affect his frugal ways. But he has no right to impose his frugal ways on others. The right to choose one’s living and expenditure is more important than any saintly penitence.
·         Before increasing taxes on the rich, explore all other avenues to increase revenue.
Sell lottery tickets to collect cash for welfare schemes (Kerala government does that); encourage gambling industry for foreigners and the rich (if I am not mistaken, Sri Lanka promotes gambling industry for foreign passport holders); encourage the trade of exotic derivative products amongst the rich (like clever investment banks that survive well, the government should facilitate such trades and collect fees without taking risky bets themselves); encourage consumer spending of the rich; and, the list can go on with even better schemes to increase revenue.
·         In modern societies, high tax rates are effective only where people are happy to pay high taxes. For example, northern European countries seem to be happy with high tax rates because the available benefits are visible and the expenditure by the state is transparent.
Tax should be the last resort of a government in need of money. Before taxing citizens, try every legal way to increase revenue and reduce spending. In fact, leaving money untaxed in the hands of citizens might encourage entrepreneurial spirit and increased revenues. (Disclaimer: I used to be part of the middle class but with recent inflation, I am steadily moving towards the non-taxpaying lower class. Taxes bother me mainly as a matter of principle.)

Free choice & Standard of Life:
What type of world will the youth inherit? What type of future will they build for their children? Going by current trends, they will not be able to do much.
·         Smoking, drinking, parties, junk food and such activities will have to go.
·         Sex will once again be a dirty word and rationed conservatively.
·         Creative artists will not be able to offend anyone. Ideas that disturb others will be banned. Can you write a book or make a movie or sing a song without disturbing someone?
·         Freedom of speech and expression will be a very subjective issue. It will be fine for political organizations to shut down cities as and when they feel like it. The taxpayer will have to pay for the damage they cause.
·         There will be wooly-headed swamis to follow. Religious leaders will continue to educate masses that religion is not just a personal affair but a first class public exhibit.
·         Water, fuel and power will be scarce. Smoking and alcohol will be considered bad and face discriminatory tax but not congestion causing traffic. Cities will have highways and high-rises but remain without trees or waste-disposal plants. Traffic rules will become stringent and illegal parking will receive hefty fines but there will not be any car-parking centers.
·         Internet will be for very correct social networking rather than be a platform for largely anonymous free exchange of ideas. Loose friendships, connections and links and meaningless updates will have more meaning than ideas.
·         News will continue to be just conjecture and fanciful opinion rather than a report of events. It will be fine to take matter out of context and blow an issue out of proportion.
·         And, of course, Big Brother will scan and monitor every action, every byte and every thought.  
Is that the future the youth want? If they do not rise against censorship and thought control, they will soon be brain-dead.

Reforms & King makers:
·         Recently, the Planning Commission put forward a proposal to offer lucrative stints for top Indian scientists working abroad. A scientist correctly pointed out that it was a flawed plan, “The selection would be dictated by a clique controlling the operations. What happens here is that there are king makers who consider themselves experts in everything.” (
Have these king makers done enough to make education and research institutions in the country capable of creating teachers and producing world-class research on their own? My Ph.D. supervisor referred to these king makers as ‘old goofies’.
·         India loves panels with ‘old goofies’.
When there is talk of corruption, what is usually put forward as the best suggestion? A retired judge in placed in charge of the investigation; or, a new office is created with supposedly eminent, retired people.
·         Retired people deserve respect for what they have done but they should not have any role in government institutions after retirement. Exceptions should be made only for those with a caliber that is rarest of the rare.
·         If their expertise and know-how are to be utilized properly and profitably, let it be in the private sector which is less likely to mollycoddle them.
Apart from being past their prime, there are other reasons not to involve them in matters involving taxpayers’ money. Three obvious reasons are: most often they have a false sense of infallibility; most live with the dangerous belief that they have nothing much to lose in the time left; and, they usually have a dangerous sycophantic following or coterie or feudal system around them. That is less likely with the youth.
·         Currently, reforms are decided by panels of experts with a clear conflict of interest. Most sensible reforms would reduce their importance and increase their workload.
How can scientific institutions be reformed if the panel involves mainly the king makers in science? How can we believe in judicial reforms formulated by a panel of legal practitioners, that is, judges and lawyers? Will judges and lawyers allow an impartial external system look into grievances about judicial officers and cases?
·         Panels should have sufficient multidisciplinary representation so as to break down any nexus of king makers in that field.
Panels and councils of ministers might function better if they had a proper mixture of the young and the old, of men and women…I am back to square one, I think. My list of juvenile thoughts can go on. What are yours? Till the youth of this country come out with their Juvenile Manifesto, I can only ask:
who cares?