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Saturday, August 28

Smile please

Do not open a shop if you don't know how to smile.   -Chinese proverb

"Our apartment price starts at 90 lakhs; would you be able to afford that?",asks a scurrilous sales-agent to one of my friends who 'dared' to ask him about the residential project details.

"Make up your mind if you want to buy half-sleeves or full!", asks bluntly a very disinterested, impatient and rude salesman when I asked him to open a few shirt pieces so that I can compare both before buying. This happened in a leading Menswear store in Trivandrum a couple of years back.

"It will be easier for you to pay the EMI. Also the Insurance will cover your repayments even if you default", the answer given to me by my previous Bank Manager on questioning about some radical, uninformed changes to my home loan agreement. I had requested for a loan term of 10 years (which was increased to 15) and had an surprise 1.5 lakh addendum in the name of a policy (which I hadn't asked for or previously discussed with me). 

"Listen, it can only be that much cold, this is not Himalayam", utters a sarcastic fruit juice vendor in Kumarakam when we complained about the Soda being room temperature. We were on a pleasure trip from college and had specifically requested for 'chilled' lemon-soda.

"If you don't know where Lissie Hospital is then don't travel", the response given to a nun by a KSRTC conductor when she asked if the bus had a halt near Lissie Hospital, Cochin. The conductor's initial response was an abrupt "Dont know!!" in the face of the reverent lady, and received the above response when she said she was asking because she didn't know where the hospital was. The incident happened in Trichur.

"We don't have Woodland but have Parkland and Bootland", says a shopkeeper in Trivandrum when asked if he had Woodland shoes in stock.

Agreed, the last one is an outrageous comedy! It happened in mid 2000s when yours truly and pals were on a shoe-hunt. The poor guy wasn't ignorant but surely didn't know what he was saying. The incident attained epic proportions, produced instantly enjoyable variants and still lightens our moments everytime we get together. Sad, that shop wasn't there in Pulimoodu when I checked this summer :(

The above scripted half-a-dozen instances are real-life, all-too-common occurrences if you're a customer. Ok, the KSRTC conductor personifies a typical government employee who infests on the helpless common public. The term 'public servant' is a terrible misnomer; perhaps 'public dictator/tyrant'  would be a good replacement word for Indian babus. Let's not talk about them more.

But seriously, what the heck is wrong with the folks in some of our business establishments? Why is there an overwhelming and persistent unwelcome feeling? Not everywhere, but I bet all of us have been subjected to such acrimonious conducts as customers on a not-so-rare basis. I don't know, perhaps they all hate their bosses or had a tiff with their wives or may be constipated.

The guy in the first story anyway succeeded in his mission. The builder, who apparently sold (or wanted to sell) his apartments from 90 lakhs up has gone bust. My friend, who enquired about it and got laughed at can consider himself  very lucky, I must say. Perhaps his modest looks and unorthodox way of enquiry may have prompted the sales dude to laugh him off but is that the way a sales guy is supposed to talk? No, you needn't be an IIM graduate to learn basic manners and politeness.

Same goes with the shirt-tale. I felt many times I was doing a great injustice and unfavour to some people by walking into their shops. The first eye contact itself sends me a "why the heck have you come here now" signal. And the salesman in the 'shirt-story' was in so much hurry that he appeared to be on the verge of a climax after a very long, exhaustive masturbatory effort when I interrupted him. No other reason why he wanted to piss me off and go back to firing blanks.

Lack of education? May be. Attitude? hmmm yes. Ignorance? More like it! But what about the Bank Manager who should be more than well-qualified for the high-profile job? She didn't have the courtesy to ask me before adding on an extra heavy component to my loan and committed the serious injustice of extending my loan tenure at her will. All these alterations were done at the last moment just before I put the pen to paper!

Now this is arrogance, or plain ignorance. She is in no way better than the Bus conductor who treated that nun like shite.

Keralites are not well known entrepreneurship, except in certain pockets. May be the political and social climate of the state may have created that psyche but the 'I don't care' attitude is everywhere to be seen. With Kerala relying heavily on tourism, we've acquired the ways to respect and treat our guests with dignity, but we still got a long way to go.

Be it the notoriously slack Air India employees, the head clerk at the village office, the official at the Embassy and Consulates, the imbecilic boy who asks for your credit-card pin at the filling station, or the condescending militant labour unions who rip apart house-owners and business men like predators, it all points out to what the great man once told "Education means change in behaviour; he who doesn't exhibit a change in behaviour isn't educated."

Couldn't we easily estimate the virtues of education in some of the blissfully indifferent friends we see around us?

in the Immigration Officer at the Airport who throws the Passports and documents at your face and treats passengers like criminals...

in the petty rickshaw-walla who gives you the dirty look or act deaf when requesting a ride to a nearby point, or the ones who are out for daylight robbery...

in the receptionist at the hotel who doesn't bother to greet or smile at the guests...

in the supermarket girl who says "I don't know", instead of finding out where the item the customer has requested is placed...

The fact is that these ignorant little fools constitute only a minor fraction of our society but that's more than enough to leave a very sour taste in the mouth.

May you be selling a lemon-soda, a plastic toy, a candy, lettuce, cheese-burger, i-pod, a duplex or your state's natural beauty, before opening our doors to welcome our guests some of us are forgetting perhaps the most important lesson of all.

Smile please :=)

Sunday, August 15

Catalysts for progress

India celebrates 63 years of freedom today!

Every passing year such reverent public holidays usher in a sense of pride and a feeling of patriotism in being a citizen of democratic secular republic of India, doesn't it? That's the idea behind it. New India now blogs, tweets, checks in on Four Square, wield their smart phones and drive top notch wheelies, also acknowledge the political system, gives out about it (like you and me) and sits on our ass most of the spare time because we don't know how or what to give back to our homeland.

This young India is like compacted tri-nitro-toluene ready to unleash its power, constructive or destructive depending on how you use it.Youth or the hyper-productive age group constitute 42% of our population. They they have the thrust, vision, compassion and dedication to do something meaningful, all they need is support.

I'm happy to take this opportunity to look up at some of the lesser known but meritorious groups functioning in our cities, working selflessly towards the benefit of the society. I've picked four such organizations I know best about, specific to Kerala but obviously an example for every city and citizen in India.

Tidycity is one of the most respected youth movements who does jobs which isn't considered so glamorous. Taking up the social responsibility of keeping our public spaces clean and tidy, Tidycity currently functions within the city limits of Trivandrum.

 Initiated by a fairly well-known cyber-journo and blogger Cris Seetha, Tidycity has nearly 100 members upto date with over a dozen actively working citizens. One of the earlier members and co-blogger Srijith. V is enthusiastic about the humble initiative and finds time for it even in between his hectic work schedules.

Tidycity leads by example by voluntarily tidying up major public spaces in Trivandrum like the Museum, Veli, Kallar etc. They've also joined hands with various Residents Associations for local clean-up operations.The group finds the necessary funds within themselves and has plans to join hands with the local authorities to promote use of bins in public areas.

Tidycity has picked up public awareness and responses via organizing rallies and undertaking School Awareness programmes. With the motto "working towards a clean city", initiatives like Tidycity deserves more than a pat on the back for their efforts.

Contact Tidycity
Sreejith: (0091)  9895891445

When it comes to city-promotion and developmental activities, TDF has no predecessors or competitors. It is a group of professionals who have fierce motivation and dedication towards the single point agenda: economic development of Trivandrum. From fighting for Vizhinjam project, high court bench, promoting the city as an IT/ tourist destination or in luring investments into the city, TDF exemplifies the critical difference between armchair critics & activists from people ready to give their sweat and blood for their homeland, literally.

Founded in 2002, the works of TDF would put the much heralded Members of Parliament from Trivandrum to shame. No strings attached in its work, the organization through field work, blogs, forums, mail groups and meetings push forward for development of the city and has become one of the unneglectable voices of new Trivandrum.

TDF has cut no corners in its motives when it comes to chronicling and projecting the shining profile of the city on major investment meetings and B2B meets. The Intelligent Trivandrum presentation by TDF at the CII India IT summit 2009 is an example of how a non-profit, non-political citizen's movement has taken up the duty and responsibility adhered to out local Government bodies in promoting investment and creating jobs.

TDF has actively functioned in many crucial development projects including Trivandrum's dream project Vizhinjam, Technopark and Technocity, Road development projects and has also presented the strengths of the city to leading software development companies, Infrastructure developers and builders.

The group has over 2 dozen committed members working on the ground and handed out memberships to 150-odd Trivandrumites from all professional sectors.

Ramkumar Rajan (President)
Sreeram Iyer (Secretary)

A relatively new entity for urban development, KUDS is a Cochin based organisation created by local businessmen, NRIs and a few motivated youth interested in the development of Cochin in particular and Kerala in general.

KUDS has already made a name for itself in this short span of time by involving themselves in some crucial development projects. KUDS is managed by a governing council and offer membership in 3 ways. Any Indian Citizen, NRI’s, PIO’s, OCI’s, and other like-minded individuals etc can enroll themselves as a member of KUDS. The heads of the some of the similar minded organizations are given ex officio membership. KUDS keeps its door open for representatives from Corporate world too.

KUDS devises an elaborate and systematic plan of action for infrastructure development with the involvement of Public Private Partnership in Cochin. From city beautification to planning and design, ecotourism to heritage conservation, provision of Wi-max connectivity to integration of GPS technology in social lifestyle, KUDS possesses the expertise to machinate executable proposals for projects in association with various Governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Members of KUDS have been behind the screens for Vytilla Mobility Hub, MG Road walkway project, solar powering of the city and many more initiatives.

KASS (Kochi Arts & Science Space), AYPIC (Association of Yound and Progressive Indian Citizens) etc are associated wings of KUDS formed to engage with targeted sections of development.
Anup Jaochim. T (Secretary) Ph: (0091) 9544044440

Teaching is the most noble profession in the world. And teaching with pure service as the motive will be one of the most selfless jobs you could do. That's exactly what MAD (Make A Difference) does.

Make a difference initiative is an organization working at another level: development through social improvement. Founded in Cochin, MAD functions through volunteers who make use of their free time in providing English and computer education to grad students thereby increasing their effectiveness in attaining skilled labour.

With the motto "to bridge the inequality in society through education", MAD website explains their work philosophy:

We are an Organization of young people working amongst orphans and other underprivileged kids to provide them with quality education so that one day it shall empower them to stand on their own feet and when the times comes fly away. We try not to grill into their heads the tedious school syllabus but instead prepare them face life better by improving their communication skills, computer skills and their overall personality.

Winner of the Ashoka award in 2009, MAD has grown outside the state borders with branches in India's main cities. Currently nearly 2500 kids have benefited from the 800odd selfless MAD heroes.

Join MAD

In every Tidycity worker, in every MAD volunteer or in every TDF professional could be the one unsung hero our city is looking forward to. Some of these above mentioned organizations could definitely do well with your support because two hands are definitely better than one. So what have you decided to do for your city on this August 15?


Thursday, August 12

Prithviraj: stepping in

The graph of Malayalam Cinema has been on its steep slide down for a good while now. Off screen verbal duels, dogfights, real-life quotation gang action on sets, shooting blocks and bans, even car-bombs! No to mention the Himalayan heap of films which bombed at the box-office, including that of the Almighties. The only streak of light is from a lone star who could potentially reverse the heading of ailing malluland film industry- Prithviraj.

Let's face it: our film industry still is in tantrum toddler-hood. It dances to the strings of nothing more than a handful of individuals. The tried and tested approach of production houses finalising a script, deciding on the technical staff and cast and then thinking about the reels is still not the path we trod here. Mainstream commercial cinema starts at the two big Ms, proceed towards storyline, script and such insignificances, pass through filming formalities and dish out pure atrocities as end products.

I think there has been a consensus: hoping for Mr.Mammooty and Mr. Mohanlal to revive Malayalam Cinema is like asking Milkha Singh to win the 2012 Olympic dash. Hopeless... Dileep, Jayaram and co doesn't hold much promise either. About time we looked beyond the towering palisades...

What has Prithviraj Sukumaran in him which has captured the average malayalee's attention? Surely he doesn't have that innocent lovable naughtiness of yesteryear Mohanlal or the high and mighty roles portrayed superbly by Mammootty. Prithviraj is also living in a Kerala long abandoned by Padmarajan, Lohitadas and Bharathan,  legends who moulded those senile superstars into what they are today. Neither has he been long enough in the industry, with his first movie out in 2002, nor yet given life to even a couple unforgettable characters on celluloid.

You cannot just dance and sing into the Malayalee ventricles, like the new young Kapoors and Khans do up North, we yearn(ed) for genuine quality stuff. Well that's how it was until a good few years back.

So what is the charisma, his USP?

I'll speak for myself. I saw all his initial releases with a friend of mine in college, who happened to be a classmate and buddy of Prithviraj in Sainik School, Trivandrum. Nandanam was outright  impressive, while he was the lone relief in a badly made Stop Violence. And then Prithvi received a long 'casting-spell' from nemesis Vinayan which forced us all to stay away from the screens.

Perhaps Vinayan's ouster from Malayalam Cinema could probably be the turning point of Prithvi's career. Well, take it lightly. You know I'm half-joking :D

Sure, Prithviraj had a Godfather to introduce cinema to him. It isn't just an accident that the son of the sturdy rascal Sukumaran ended up in silverscreen. The Sukumaran factor surely helped Prithvi, but it was the chromosomal grit and improvidence that helped him take the elevator into Keralite's hearts, not an easy thing to do.

Or is it because of his this rebellious character, so easily identifiable in socialist Kerala?  Prithvi had no strings attached to take on anyone who crossed his path, a trait which appeared to have endangered his whole career for a while.

Another aspect could well be the depreciating quality of audience, which don't need an audition to create instant celebrities, courtesy the reality shows and stuff. If Malayalees can bestow the Superstar badge to Prithvi who hasn't yet played a Sethumadhavan, Chathiyan Chandu, Vincent Gomez or Bharatchandran IPS then there could be one glaring reason. We have that bar lowered too far down.

Not being mean or discreditive to the young actor but just pointing out a fact. In his Filmography spanning over 50 films, the characters in Nandanam & Vaasthavam are the only ones worth mentioning.

On an encouraging note, we see the rise of Prithvi as a sign that we're at last willing to displace the two home-trees, who've been consistantly accused of draining the sand from under our industry...They ALL can't be bitching, Sreenivasan the latest to join the long anti-superstar bandwagon.

Whatever be the reason, Malayalam film world desperately needs younger, stronger shoulders to carry it forward. Its about time Prithviraj or Vineeth Sreenivasan or Narain or Anoop Menon stepped in and the industry exhibits the courage to propel them. And God forbid, let's not let them go like we did with Vikram.

One good thing about Prithvi is that the man is as confident in himself as one could see. Hardly the adjective we could attribute to present day stars, Mohanlal especially. Prithvi is one guy who has lived upto the hype created around him. One snapshot of his career and its already inspiring!

  • Youngest to win Kerala State Best actor
  • Over 50 movies in 3 languages
  •  Lead roles in Tamil and Telugu mainstream movies
  •  Mani Ratnam's movie opposite Aishwarya Rai and Vikram

Keralaites are already willing to reciprocate the confidence Prithviraj has in them. Prithviraj movies open the same way as the Superstar ones but more importantly the collection figures do not come crashing down like the WTC from second day on. And the man knows what he is saying and doing, may be attributed to the education from pretty much reputed institutions. Sainik School, Kazhakkuttam seems to have fine tuned the ingrained determination and veracity and the stint at University of Tasmania sure has changed his perspective of the world. But Prithvi's biggest help might have come from the oldest institution in the world: the family.

Critics have taken note; they've been generous and ruthless.

He has been accused of being haughty, arrogant and disrespectful. Kindly note, these are pretty much ambiguous adjectives, not something you go to a Behaviour therapist to change 

"The entire media unanimously appreciated Prithviraj in Kana Kandaen, so it was with that confidence that I signed him" -Bhagyaraj

"Prithvi is one of the most macho stars in the new generation of actors. He also knows how to speak properly. And above everything else, he is Sukumaran's son. It is this boldness that has prompted Prithvi to speak in support of me." -Thilakan

The Thilakan comment was a surprise, and those kind words shook many including Prithvi. Even Sukumar Azheekode had a thing or two to say about the man, good things mind you, for a change! Do I need to say anything more?

Saying all these, there is one glaring misfortune for the man...The misfortune to be born in our times, when scripts and characters with heart and soul arrive like rain in Atacama. We're subjected to a Thanthonni or a Pokkiriraja more often than a Vaastavam. Not Prithvi's fault entirely but I'm hopeful that a Red Chillies or an Angel John won't ever happen with him.

Prithvi appears to be knowing exactly what path he needs to trod in the film industry. This series of interviews on Manorama Television caught my attention, not just because of the style and control in which the man speaks but also in having a vision for the future and how to select his movies.

Keralites must be thankful to Prithviraj for NOT lending his face and voice to all offered rubbishes, like our Superstar Mohanlal continuously does. We have developed sore throats shouting at Lal to avoid disasters like Alexander the Great but incredibly even after 3 decades of filmi-experience Lal fails to distinguish the chaff from the grains. Prithvi, even at this inexperienced juncture, exhibits that judiciousness more consistently, we've to give him that.

Hard work and exuberant self-confidence has resulted in him crossing the barriers of language, and region. To work in a central role alongside Abhishek Bacchan, Vikram and paired opposite Mrs. Rai! WOW! We can forgive Prithvi for becoming a touch too excited here; for not being the clam, composed man we know.

This, from the world premiere of Raavan at London, amongst the bigwigs of Indian Cinema! The boy from our neighbourhood has come of age! Yo!

Not just acting, Prithviraj has tried out his vocalistic abilities as well, with a fair bit of success. The kaane kaane (Puthiya Mugham) and kaattu paranjathum (Thanthonni) have been chart-toppers.

Perhaps Prithviraj is the break our industry needed, someone who could take our movies well beyond Parassala and Walayar, whose face and name personifies the rise of our cinema. No, he won't take us back to our 'golden years' but he has only just started, not a legend by any means. He is no saviour but could well be the one to defibrillate Malayalam cinema.

Whatever be the reason, Malayalam film arena needs Prithviraj and a few more like him who can pull the crowds back to the Talkies. Only hope is that he won't take a leaf out of his predecessors and force the industry to project a one-man-show. Time will tell.

Saturday, August 7

When will we learn?

Didn't you hear the news? It's been brewing, but Central Govt has at last cancelled the contracts awarded for the development of two stretches of National Highways passing through Kerala. Newsclip from Keralakaumudi (7 aug, 2010)

No need to ponder over the whys and hows, we all saw it coming. The frivolity going on in the state over the issues of width, toll and alignment has eventually and very expectedly comatosed the extremely crucial infrastructure development.

We are not born cynics or pessimists. Like in the Pandora's Box fable, 'hope' is the last thing we lose as a human being. In Kerala, you needn't look elsewhere to find out why people tend to lose hope in our system of administration. Cursed, we have some of the worst myopic, misplaced and uninspiring leaders unbecoming of a progressive society.

That is why when Mr. Nazuruddin, President of Kerala Vyapaari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi, (KVVES, Union of Traders) who've been at the forefront of sabotaging the NH Development, said that there will be bloodshed if Govt stuck to the 45m plan, we have a Chief Minister and an Opposition Leader echoing the same fears. 

Please take a look at some of the responses articles on the paradoxical Kerala has elicited on this blog and on other sites.

The one striking feature of Kerala is that it does not think it has a problem . This is like trying to treat a patient who does not accept that he is ill. It will take a crisis to let the people know that they have been doing all things wrong. Just the way the Balance of payment crisis of 1991 forced the central government realize that they must change.
Our state has been extraordinarily lucky so far . Our neighboring states have been insulating us from our crumbling agriculture system leading us to a massive food price inflation. Other states and countries have helped us from making our our unemployment problem spiraling into a civil riot. A global credit bubble artificially boosted the price of our assets (property) which made our people wallow in a sense of false pride . An unprecedented boom in international tourism led us to believe that Kerala can be sold to tourists at any price while our infrastructure investment is a joke compared to other tourism economies. Our lack of higher educational institutions is made good by our neighboring states. Huge remittances from expatriate Keralites have saved our government from a fiscal collapse. The state must thanking the whole world for helping it from drowning into a huge cesspool of poverty and unemployment.
We need a crisis which can really dry up the revenue streams of all political parties before they loosen their clutches on the state. We badly need a fiscal crisis which will make our state realize that we are not so important to dictate terms to everyone who deal with us. We need a crisis which can badly impact the rich and poor alike which make them realize the need of 'real growth' and production.
I hope it happens sooner than later. 
- Noble Paul in God's own terrorists, Save Kerala Initiative (This, I must say is a very very realistic statement of the situation in modern day Kerala)

Kerala model has significantly suffered because of militant politics practiced by the political parties and religious right(?). The political parties and religious leaders are a mirror of the society. So I put the blame on common man. The common man in Kerala is much more aware of her/his rights than his counterpart in rest of India. But she or he is seldom aware of ones responsibilities. Kerala has achieved a great deal in obtaining the rights to common man, while it degraded in making sure of the fulfillment of the responsibilities by the common man.
 - Meera. J on The Kerala Model, Sepia Mutiny

Honestly, i have no sympathy for a population that votes for communists. Maybe the people of Kerala deserve the kind of pathetic govt they have got.
- Philip in Land of no returns, No Man's Land?

Reached back Trivandrum aftr a long 6 hrs travel through NH 47 with about 3659 holes.
- Janeesh. J from Twitter after his drive back from Cochin (220km away)

Earlier last month when IBM and Oracle was reported to be opening units in Technopark, Trivandrum, I happily tweeted the news to our MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor, enquiring if he would be able to use this scoop as a track to mull in similar companies to the city. Dr. Tharoor was kind enough to respond.

@scorpiogenius good to hear from u after a long time! Am trying indeed, with a variety of world-class firms. Not easy with Kerala's reputation  
- Shashi Tharoor from Twitter

'Kerala's reputation' which Dr. Tharoor has mentioned here is pretty much known to everyone. Our militant trade unions and their leaders, political parties and fringe groups which breed and thrive on archaic, discarded ideologies; a society which is insular, hypocritical, dogmatic and suspicious to even beneficial changes and which views businessmen and entrepreneurs as being evil and sinister; population who can't yet think beyond PSUs and Government Offices when it comes to jobs and expects roads, hospitals, airports and everything to be 'free' and ready at hand. With virtually no employment avenues been created except very minimally in the IT sector, and the perpetual media sidelining and nullifying whatever trickle of positive news coming out and rather more focused on trivia, Page 3 gossip and bluffs, there are clear, disturbing signs of the jobless, educated youth being attracted to anti-social and criminal groups and vulnerable to anti-national terrorist outfits.

Our society endorse organizations like the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi and fail to respond even if these fringe groups flex their muscles against the will of majority. We are over enthusiastic in killing off projects like Smart City, Vizhinjam and lately the NHDP through flimsy excuses and rotten political philosophies and foulplay for the vested interests of chosen few. We still allow ourselves to be tortured in the name of price rise, when 3 different political groups shut us down for 3 separate days for the same reason. We conveniently avoid looking at Singapore, Switzerland and Malaysia as a source to improve ourselves but pat ourselves on the back by looking down at the condition of Bihar, Orissa or Kashmir.

Coming back on the IBM/ Oracle news, a Technopark official went on record stating that Oracle was more interested in assessing the roads and other infrastructure around Technopark than any other parameters. That'd give me a scare when you consider the options you have to reach Technopark from the city: a 2-laned congested Bypass Road and the old Highway via Sreekaryam which boasts of Delhi-esque traffic snarls.

The traffic situation at the other IT hub, Cochin, better not be looked into.

Its the same old tale. There are very clear signs and symptoms Kerala... very clear signs that we are slowly being strangulated. The cyanosis in the peripheries will soon lead to a complete cardiac arrest.

Even with all these shortcomings we do hope that one day our state which boasts about being #1 in India numerically, reaches there realistically, and will be able to sustain the development.Only thing that we're begging to be taught the one lesson we miss badly.

The million dollar question is: When will we learn?