Monday, August 13, 2012

My Olympic Experience

The Olympics is over. In spite of the seemingly outrageous magenta/purple color scheme, very un-British sunny summer weather, and even more un-British like "aMoozing" success of team-GB, this was an out and out British games.

And I never thought I would say this (after all we are programed from childhood to hate anything English), but this is perhaps the first time I enjoyed all of that Britishness, and loved that I could be a part of the games. I dont know how many times in my lifetime I will be residing in a host country - never before I even was in in the timezone of one. That brought its own benefits, getting tickets was possible, and I could follow all the events via BBC webcast and extremely efficient games website, where the results were being updated realtime.

All I wanted to watch live was NBA stars in action - and after getting a ticket of US against Argentina game, I shopped around for some "minor" events during that weekend, and ended up with "cheap" women's volleyball and boxing tickets. Little did I know that the volleyball session would feature the US team against Turkey, and the boxing would have India's own Mary Kom winning her quarter-final bout to assure herself of her eventual bronze. They did not sell Indian flags or shirts, but how I wished I had one!

But the Olympic games is barely about just the results. Defying all the dooms-day predictions, London lived up to its role of the host city magnificently. As the city was over-run with thousand of athletes, and many more non-athletes, there was not even a hint of chaos anywhere, rather the festive spirit was all-pervasive. The arrangements to avoid crowd congestion at all venues (like staggered starting times of events at the gigantic ExCel arena, which hosted a multitude of indoor events, different entry and exit routes) worked brilliantly, and even though a lot of planning went into it, obviously they could not have held a stage-rehearsal. There were Wenlock statues in every corner for people to pose and take pictures, and public viewing arenas with large screens. I was at the one just under the tower bridge, and British athletes captured three golds on that magical Saturday evening, the crowd roared and screamed, and the tower bridge was lit up first in UK colors, then in stunning golden hue.

The tube ran frequently, till very late. Droves of volunteers in their bright garbs were everywhere to politely but firmly point people to the right directions. Sure, there were queues at security checkpoints, food-stalls in the venues but none seemed overwhelming. When the major complain of the people were unavailability of tickets online, driven by an order of magnitude more demand than supply, Lord Coe and co. undoubtably will feel great.

The spread-out Olympic park, which contained the main stadium apart from the aquatic center, waterpolo stadium, hockey stadium, cycling arenas, basketball venue, and the ugly but adorable orbit, was like the cauldron of Olympic experience. The athletes, officials and the spectators from different countries milled freely - and the folks with badges hanging around their necks were having as much fun soaking in the ambience. Thats what makes the olympics unique - the athletes from nondescript countries can share the same stage with the superstars, basking in the collective glory.

The olympic is overtly commercialized - it seemed like trademark mafia will pounce on anyone saying London and 2012 in the same sentence. The beeb was irritatingly patriotic - hailing the great performance of team-GB was fine and expected, but often focussed on the 5th place British athlete while the battle for the gold was fought upfront. Apparently central London turned into a ghost-town devoid of usual tourists in the first few days, but normalcy was restored soon. These minor distractions seemed irrelevant when so many folks could enjoy the games up, close and personal. Luckily I could be one of them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Please say it ain't so

Facebook and its friends are wonderful, they really are. They help us to know who is dating (or breaking up) with whom, who secretly always wanted to be a farmer or mafia warlord, and who likes cats. However, they also bred the mindless urge to "like" and comment on anything and everything. While "liking" stuff can lead from hilarious moments ("My girlfriend broke up with me"; you liked it? I always knew you liked her) to irritating situations ("Flight delayed for 6 hours, feel like punching someone"; "what is there to like about my flight being delayed?) to potentially offensive ones ("sad day: my dog drowned and died"; like? you insensitive bastard!), my beef is more with the comments, which are sometimes so awesomely stupid, that I really feel those should be considered a crime against humanity and banned.

Consider the ubiquitous situation of seeing a friend's wedding pictures. It is another matter that I got to know that (s)he is getting married only via facebook, and when I asked how long (s)he knows his/her to be soul-mate, I realized they have barely met. Well, nothing wrong in that, people are busy, and have no time to look for partners, and parents obligingly did the needful. So far so good. The wedding happens, with all pomp and pageantry, and in this ultra-connected world, it does not take long before unofficial and "official" wedding pictures start populating our newsfeed. Those who knew congratulate, those had no in-linking that a wedding is at the works, express surprise, and then congratulate the couple nevertheless.

Fair enough.

Then comes a comment, "nice couple". Well this is like saying "cute baby", when it is known that all babies have to be cute. Contains zero information, but I can see why people can get emotional seeing their dear friend finally getting married, after complaining for years about their single-hood. I'll let that pass. Next comes, "made for each other" or "perfect couple", or one of the variants, which makes me cringe. Well, first of all, these two individuals did not know each other a week back, and a series of (happy) coincides resulted in them being an official couple, so as an outsider, I can not see how another outsider can infer such message from that picture. May be they will live happily ever after, in that case that statement will make sense after twenty years, or may be they will call the cops next night, in that case the commenter should be lynched publicly.

At this point, someone can argue that it is not a big deal, and may be it is not intended to be a factual statement. Well, then why make it? You do not make such a hollow statement at your work, or anywhere else. Why leave your otherwise working mind at the kitchen when you login to facebook?

Then there are paranoia. A rabid African giraffe has kicked a guy in the butt because his tee-shirt that said "I have facebook, I dont need a life", so we need to share the post to all out thousand friend's wall, and tell them not to use facebook for 2 days, when all we should do is not wear such a tee-shirt. Even the kid who makes that tee shirt in a slum in Pakistan knows giraffes do not like that color. Get a clue, folks. No one is grabbing any information you have not provided, posting something on hundred others wall would not reveal the name of the secret crush (but if that person is one of those hundred, (s)he will know you are a retard).

There are ways to control how much information you share with whom. Not perfect probably, a tad inconvenient, but better than coming across as a "404", as they said in older days.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good job, Bengal.

For some background, please see this post.
I am euphoric that my prediction came true, and in what fashion!

Finally the mighty has fallen, the citadel has not only been breached, but demolished. And this is unlike any other election I have ever experienced, this is not just a mere change of regime, this is intensely personal, and no, I cant be magnanimous in victory. The pent up anger of years would not allow me to. I always hated you if you are a CPIM sympathizer, and now I will say it on your face. That is, if you still want to show your face.

Make no mistakes, I am never a communist sympathizer. But curiously, that has got very little to do with my intense dislike for CPIM. It is impossible to explain to anyone else who have not been through that: how we grew up seeing the systematic politicization of all spheres of society, and consequent victimization of those who were not supporting them. I do not believe this happened anywhere else - everywhere a strong opposition ensured that the ruling party was voted out if they did not live upto the promise. In Calcutta this was probably not so prominent, but in districts, fear and favor eliminated any sort of opposition presence. So either you were with them, or you were literally victimized in every possible way without any avenue to protest. This was way before Singur and Nadigram happened, when being anti-CPIM started becoming fashionable. Growing up in north Bengal in eighties and nineties, it was hard not to see this blatant abuse of power, and persecution of the non-followers. Of course if this was a relationship with benefit for you, you would keep quiet, no matter what your conscience would say. Otherwise, you just grew up bitter, with the party, with those shameless backbone-less people all around you.

Thankfully I never stayed in those villages, where people daring to support the non existent opposition were physically abused, tortured or killed, or if they were really lucky, made social outcasts. Thankfully I was never the homeowner, whose home was forcibly taken and made into a party office. Thankfully none did any horrible things to me, and I could escape Bengal. But being in close proximity to the education sector, I could also see how they completely controlled and destroyed it.

From primary school headmasters to University vice-chancellors, all the prime positions went to party supporters, qualifications no bar. People with awful academic record got appointed or promoted ignoring people with much better record. It does not seem a huge deal taken in isolation, but when this becomes all pervasive, the overall quality of education suffers. Already the outdated school curriculum and abolition of English in primary schools crippled an entire generation, and then meritocracy was several discouraged by handing over the higher education to a bunch of handpicked party followers. Student unions were the breeding ground of party cadres, so opposition were ruthlessly dealt with with local hoodlums roaming free on campus - so ruthlessly that in places like North Bengal University, no election was needed. I can go on all night long, and still would not cover the full spectrum of atrocities.

No escape from this made it suffocating. Seeing people close to you affected made this personal. For years, all we could do was dream, that such a day will come. I do not endorse violence, but when I feel this much hatred toward anyone remotely saying a good word for CPIM, I can also see people who suffered disastrously will try to get revenge. Payback time, folks!

I hope Mamata goes on to become a successful chief minister, but even if she is not it would not and should not demean this feat. Single-handedly she bought the regime down, even after being written off and derided repeatedly. Her methods were not always the most sophisticated, nor was she most media friendly (before making fun of her for English, remember that she is a product of the government education system), but hell, she got the job done. She deserves all the accolades and more. If you have a problem with her, then just step back and think why you never had a problem with how things were going so far, and you will realize what the term brainwashed means.

Hah, how I loved when they hoisted Trinamul flag in Alimuddin street.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Pilot for a day!

Those who know me, also know how obsessed I am about anything related to flying. I fly often, read airline blogs, visit frequent flier forums, listen to channel 9 on United (where you can hear the wonderful conversation between the pilots and the ATC), love looking for cheap airfares in my spare time. But I have always been a passive passenger, never got best seat on a bird. Well, until now.

To all fairness, it was this cute little two-seater aircraft, and the gentleman beside my did everything so that I could live to tell the tale. However, the thrill of seating at the control, observing the little details in action as the little bird took to the skies was itself an experience.I was even allowed to make a 180 degree turn once we were up there, of course under strict supervision. The light plane shook a bit as we took off, but otherwise it was a smooth, fun ride.

So what was this all about? I signed up for an half an hour flight simulator training, and half an hour flying lesson in Cleveland's lakeside Burke airport. It rained all week, but the weather was perfect, and after a little wait, I was adjusting my headphone and the seatbelts. And surprisingly, it did not look so complicated - the interactions with the controller sounded just like I am used to hearing on United's channel 9, the controls look familiar after the brief time at the simulator, and the cramped cockpit was not too uncomfortable either.

I wish I could say I learned a lot, or it gave me a better understanding of pilot;s job. Not really - nothing came as a surprise. Not that I would want to do this toy flight again. But like many things you want to do once in your lifetme, this was that type of an experience. Hard to describe why it was special, but it was indeed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Goodbye, faded red?

Failed governments get thrown out in the elections. Corrupt politicians go to prison. Dictators are forced to step down. Regimes change. Everywhere, except in West Bengal.

I am on the wrong side of thirty now. If I was a football player, I would probably consider retirement. And yet, I have not seen any other party in power in West Bengal except the party I prefer to term Communism redundancy advocacy party (henceforth will be referred to as crap). An entire generation of Bengali's grew up, went to school, went to college, found a job, started a family; while the same crap ruled. The remarkable part is, West Bengal is neither a heaven on earth as this kind of total allegiance to crap will indicate, nor it has a dictatorial system. Crap won democratic elections. So many of them, that I lost count.

The obvious question is why, and unfortunately there is not a clear non-partisan answer. Part of it is like how the reservation system is implemented in India - so called backward castes were treated terribly by your great great grandfather, so the dumb guy living a palatial house next door with a backward-caste-lastname will be picked ahead of you for admission to a college or for a job. The previous government did some unmentionable bad stuff, which our generation only heard about, but that meant they can never ever be voted back. To all fairness, crap did some good stuff for rural folks yeas back, but simultaneously they systematically politicized the whole society. People in high posts all over the state became political appointees. People needed to be crap-sympathizers to get jobs or promotions. Effectively west Bengal became crap monopoly. Fear and favor ruled. Opposition parties had no effective existence - their candidates could not enter their constituencies. In polling booth after booth in rural areas, crap got close to 100% of the votes, sometimes more.

One has to give credit where credit is due. I am sure it was no mean feat for them to control every aspect of the society so efficiently. But as they say, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They grew arrogant, and the pressure to keep their loyal followers happy was growing all the time. They needed low skill jobs, and crap also had to keep rural folks happy. Mediocrity ruled, teaching of English in schools were abolished, computers were shunned. That crippled an entire generation, who could not compete in national level. Exodus of students to engineering colleges down south became commonplace. Those who could afford, learned English anyway. The class difference was ironically used as a tool by crap to paint a picture of elites against us. The state which lead in education and innovation lost its aura, and those who succeeded did not because of the state policies, but in spite of them.

Imaginary enemies were invented and blamed for all ills. Amazingly people fell for it too, or pretended they did to keep crap happy. All the non-developments were blamed on the central government, all the dissidence on CIA and USA. Periodic strikes were organized against them, even when the central government was supported by crap, the ridiculousness of which was somehow drowned in mass hysteria. Unions and unionized workers became powerful, so powerful that they started dictating the terms to the factory managements. Those who tried to comply with the outrageous demands could not afford it long. Those who did not were termed as "America-r dalal" and violence ensued. Net result was the same though - closed factories. That militant unionism spread to all sectors. In universities, non teaching stuff proudly claimed "Aamrai to sob chalai", in government offices, there was no impetus to get work done, or even come on time. The whole mentality was turned into an "us versus them" scenario, where "them" were conveniently defined according to the situation. Anyone could block the road, burn buses, beat up the station-master, occupy or encroach on a land, and still claim to be a victim.

I do not know if the alternative will be any better. Honestly, I do not care, and that is not because I am living away. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I see a real chance of crap being cleaned in this election. A change is desperately needed to get rid of this well entrenched arrogance propagated and used in all these years. I hope that happens.

P.S - these are all intended to be factual statements.