Friday, December 28, 2007

Imran on Benazir

From a press conference that Imran Khan addressed in Mumbai while Benazir Bhutto's funeral was on in Larkana:

It's not just me saying this...we all hold General Musharraf responsible for Benazir Bhutto's death. When she arrived in Pakistan, from that moment onwards she was under threat. The people targeting Musharraf would eventually target her.

If he moved with the highest security around himself...on land, in air...he would not move without an aerial cover or a cordon around him...why did he not ensure the same level of protection for Benazir?

Why is there no proper inquiry into the matter? Now there are talks of a judicial inquiry. Of what use is a judicial inquiry when 60 per cent of our judges have been sent home? I say, reinstate the judiciary. We have no faith in these puppets that Musharraf has installed to take care of our courts.

There is no point in going ahead with these sham elections. Benazir kept insisting that the elections would be rigged. What the country needs right now is a process of free and fair elections...a caretaker government elected by consensus. Rather than keep digging further into the hole that Musharraf has plunged our country into, it is time to step out. Musharraf needs to step down now.

This, particularly because he has not succeeded in ending the terrorist threat in the last six years. If Benazir was not safe, if people attending Nawaz Sharif's rally were not safe, who in Pakistan is safe? What will fight terrorism right now is a democratic government, because a democratic setup is the only thing that will isolate terrorists. In trying to protect the US from Al Qaeda, Pakistan has only created troubles for itself.

It makes no sense to have elections right now. Who will step out to campaign, who will attend these rallies?

Who is to know what really happened to Benazir Bhutto?

No, I don't personally feel threatened. But anyone can be bumped off in Pakistan and then you can say Al Qaeda did it. If a man like me can be called a terrorist and sent to jail, anything can happen in Pakistan.

Pakistan is not going to be held ransom by terrorist forces but by anarchical ones. Musharraf had vowed to crush terrorism, now we find that terrorism is crushing us.

This blatant interference in other people's affairs (from the US) has to be condemned. The US backed Benazir as they would a horse, in a bid to have democracy in Pakistan, and that has led to this tragedy. The one mistake she made...she should have come with us (the democrats) and not have allowed the backing of the US.

What the US did in Iraq did not work. The same model cannot work in Pakistan. It cannot work anywhere. You can't win the war on terror in conventional ways. Let me tell you that terrorism is an idea; it's not an army you're fighting, you're not fighting the Al Qaeda or the Taliban or anyone in isolation. You (Pakistan) are now being targeted by those who had nothing to do with terrorism but who are now fighting in reaction to Pakistan's actions across the North west frontier and other places.

There is no military solution to terrorism, just a political one. We (his party) are ready to speak with anyone on this, except for Musharraf, because he is the problem now. He is not part of the solution.

I spoke to her April. I met her in Dubai. Memories I have of her? One, that she was braver than most men I know. Another one...the Benazir after her father's death was a very different Benazir than the one before. She was deeply affected by her father's death.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Something, least pretend to do it

December 19, 2007

H/l: Coming soon: Parking lots, ring roads, monorail
Intro: First meeting to solve Pune’s traffic problems lists out possible solutions

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: This is great news for a fast-expanding city grappling with the seemingly-unsourmountable problem of growing vehicular density and lack of road planning.
The state Urban Development (UD) department yesterday promised many more parking lots for Pune and 1,500 additional traffic personnel, as a first step towards solving the city’s traffic woes.

If really lucky, the city’s traffic issues could be eased by other modes of transport such as monorails, trams, metro rail and bus transport which functions with the kind of efficiency that the BEST does in neighbouring Mumbai, feels the government. Pune is also set to have a ring road network after feasibility studies are conducted for the same.

In the first high-level meeting held at the Mantralaya yesterday after these promises had been enumerated by CM Vilasrao Deshmukh during the monsoon session this year, Principal Secretary (UD) Ramanand Tiwari listed many solutions that the city’s governing bodies need to consider to ease the burgeoning traffic and allied problems such as lack of heavy and light traffic diversion, additional manpower to monitor road traffic and also the reduction in numbers of labourers who are working on the outskirts of Pune on various construction works.

The meeting was chaired by Tiwari and was attended by Pune mayor Rajlakhsmi Bhosale, civic chief Pravinsinh Pardeshi, Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) chief Dilip Band, and MLAs Chandrakant Chhajed, Girish Bapat, Sharad Dhamale, Chandrakant Shivarkar, Vilas Lande and Kamlatai Dhole Patil.

Bhosale pointed out, “In the coming days, Pune will attract a lot of foreign investment, following which, there will be a host of projects underway in and around the city. It is important to provide the labourers working in these projects an incentive so that they will use the trains to enter and exit Pune, instead of using the roads.”

She also suggested a solution to phase heavy traffic out of the city. “The incomplete road works on the Katraj-Undri-Pisoli-Phursungi stretch, as well as the Phursungi-Theur-Fulgaon-Markhol-Dhanori-Chakan stretch, followed by the Wagholi-Bhavdi-Talapur stretch must be speedily finished to avoid bottlenecks and traffic jams,” she said.

A major proposal deliberated yesterday was the earmarking of parking lots at Sambhaji udyan, Pune station, the ST stand, Ambedkar road and Hamalwadi. The report on this is to come within a month.

“Whichever vacant spaces are lying with the government could be freed to construct two tiered parking lots, apart from setting aside one floor for parking in under-construction buildings, as well as allotting some space near the airport,” said Pardeshi.

Additionally, the PMC, PCMC and the public works department are to form a committee that will present a proposal to implement a workable ring road system for the city. “The proposal should function on the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) principle, and must also look into the issue of long-pending road works in the city,” Tiwari advised.

What’s up with the city:
50 lakhs population of Pune this year
20 lakhs own/use vehicles
535 new vehicles registered everyday
825 new licenses given everyday
2 to 6 times vehicles as compared to road capacity

Friday, December 14, 2007

Helen ke Sholay

Saw Sholay for the umpteenth time recently, and like most films which are known for directorial and technical brilliance, I think Sholay is completely overrated in the latter aspect. Though I really like the film, I can say with complete candour that the following elements could easily have been avoided:
- Basanti. Not only was Hema Malini at her irritating best before Himesh Reshammiya took over that title, the character itself could have been avoided altogether. To give her some credibility, three lengthy songs and at least 20 unnecessary scenes had to be pushed in somehow.

- The long chases on horseback. The Gabbar aagey-Thakur peechhe- Thakur aagey- Gabbar peechhe sequences over hilly terrain to the accompaniment of some really kickass violins that sounded like squirrels being tickled hard, was not really what the doctor ordered.

- Most of the dialogues. Case in point: Saanp ko haathon se nahin maara jaata, pairon se kuchla jaata hai.

- Thakur kicking the crap out of Gabbar at the end. I mean, who does that? It's Gabbar, for chrissakes, not some retard football waiting for a good kick to the solar plexus. Also, Thakur was wearing a kurta two sizes too small.

Ah, but some elements were there for no other reason than to remain in my mind forever. Helen, for example. Close to her forties by then, (0kay, 36 years exactly), the woman is sexy enough to turn even a straight woman completely on and remain on for about two hours later. Oh, those swaying hips and that light spring all over the dance floor, as Gabbar openly leers at her. Watching her Mehbooba Mehbooba act for about the 100th time in my life, I just wondered what it exactly was about Helen that was 100% seductive and 0% unobscene all at the same time, and how it is that for all our Fuckiras, there is not a single woman who can do a sexy number with the same fire and appeal as Helen aunty.

And oh, Jaya Bhaduri...

Sholay could have been technically stronger, and in some places, the script begs for a complete rewrite. But you still end up liking it. There's plenty of scope to poke fun at many points, especially when you have witty parents such as mine who like the movie but who can reduce it to nothing with a few choice comments...but you take back a lot from a film that made over $ 60 million after release and which still runs to packed houses anywhere. And Gabbar Singh has lots to do with it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I feel sick.

December 6, 2007

H/l: India is world sickness capital, says WHO
Intro: Highest numbers for polio, diphtheria, measles and tetanus from 1980 onwards

Mumbai: At a time when the country is marching ahead in medical research and patient care, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has come out with some statistics that should shake us out of our rosy dreams. In a list outlining the health scene of the world, WHO’s figures for India put the country firmly at the number one spot for polio, tetanus, measles and diphtheria for a whopping 26 years.

As per data recently made public from year 1980 onwards, year 2006 has shown that numbers of patients for these diseases is lower than in 2005. However, when compared to the global statistics, in 2006, India has consistently shown the highest numbers of patients for diphtheria (2,472), measles (60,751), polio (676) and Tetanus (2,587) and pertussis or whooping cough (22,616).

Sample these: from 1980 to 2006, India has had the highest figures for tetanus (4,99,536), polio (2,91,474), diphtheria (2,68,613) and pertussis (27,64,253).

In terms of India alone, comparisons made between numbers from 1980 to 2006 show that there has been a steady or, in some cases, relatively sharp decline in recorded cases across all diseases. But again, there is not a single year when India has reported zero cases for any of these diseases, as is the case with some countries like China, which has shown only three cases of polio after 1995 when the country had 165 cases.

China, at 67,74,967, has the highest numbers of reported cases of measles in the world.

A study of the global figures for all the diseases listed shows a few noteworthy trends. Developed nations such as the US and China have shown a drastic drop in reported cases after 1996, with these nations showing zero cases in such diseases as polio and diphtheria.

In fact, except for pertussis, the developed countries show zero reported cases for ten years between 1996 to 2006. wherever cases are reported, the maximum are to be found in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh (see box).

Pertussis, on the other hand, seems to be the bane of many countries, including the developed ones, which show consistent three-figure or higher cases in all 26 years. Only some countries, like Antigua and Barboda, Bahamas, Egypt, Gambia, Grenada, Mauritius, Maldives and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines registering almost zero cases in the study period.

As per the figures, it is obvious that either India’s expenditure on health and overall healthcare is not on the right track, or that there is some lacunae in reporting of cases in other countries.

Others keeping India company:
- Polio: Nigeria (18,948), Pakistan (26,905) and Egypt (12,455)
- Diphtheria: Russian Federation (1,21,660), Phillipines (21,548), Bangladesh (17,136)
- Tetanus: Nigeria (57,135), Bangladesh (60,085), Egypt (1,10,088), Cambodia (16,966), Brazil (37,028), Bangladesh (60,085)
- Pertussis: Bangladesh (3,51,146), Italy (2,54,756), Nigeria (8,73,343), USA (1,35,650), Vietnam (5,53,592), Australia (89,973),

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Is there something on Kareena?"

So I was, for the first time ever, going to office at the absurdly early time of 11.30 a.m. And after browsing through my mandatory train reading - Mumbai Mirror and DNA - I was sitting quietly and thinking of cheese pizza, when the lady seated opposite me tapped my knee and said,
"Could I see your paper?"
Thinking that this was a middle-aged, expensively dressed woman who probably wanted to see a broadsheet at that time of the morning, I handed her the DNA. She said,
"Is there something on Kareena in there?"


I silently handed her the Mumbai Mirror, which carried back-to-back 'news' items on the Kapoor woman, wondering all the while...There's Modi on the front page of MM...DNA's got a fair share of political and crime reporting...both papers are actually full of newsy stuff today, something that both papers are not in the habit of doing...and she wants to read Kareena Kapoor?

Once she was done devouring both the pages, which carried news of such national importance as a) Both Kapoor sisters have been offered a film together but they haven't selected a script yet, and b) Kareena is finally cyber-savvy after Saif Ali Khan gifted her a laptop (!), I asked her, "Are you a Kareena fan, then?"

She smiled and said, "Not much, but I like to look at her pictures. She's lost so much weight, na? And I actually liked her in her newest movie. I really think she did a good job by splitting with that good-for-nothing bugger, that Shahid...see Saif, he matches her personality, na?"

I asked her what she did, thinking in my stereotypical way that this woman must be a) A bored housewife, or b) Just bored in general. Conceive my emotion when she said, "I'm a professor of political science at ___ College." Continue conceiving my emotion when she calmly informed me that she only picks up papers for the entertainment news. "The other news is so depressing, ya," she chuckled. "Who wants to read that?"

So after all the maara-mari we idiots are doing here about delivering news that is interesting to the reader and factually accurate, there are actually some people who don't want to read it. After trawling through pages of reports to understand what the IAEA fuss is about, what our cities have to show for their pollution-controlling efforts and other such items of general interest that concern us all, there are educated subscribers for whom the front page of the newspaper begins with the entertainment section.

My story for the day is to find out if Kareena has learnt how to download wallpapers yet, and if her current screensaver has pics of Saif (though only somebody with the brains of a retarded, stillborn monkey would actually do that). If that's what some of my public wants, okay, they'll get it.

Moral of the story: The current age of internet illiteracy is pegged at somewhere about 55 years worldwide. Of these, about 40 per cent do not read books, nor do they play games. Has Kareena considered being Brand Ambassador of the 'I Don't Do Anything Useful And I'm Just A Jackass' Contingent? I'm sure you'd read that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hackers, ahoy!

Yeah well, Pune is cool too...

December 7, 2007

H/l: Hackers descending at city's ICC on Sunday
Intro: Country’s first computer hackers’ convention happens this week at Pune

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: Reinforcing the city’s IT status, the country’s first ever convention for computer hackers – Club Hack – is all set to roll this Sunday at the International Convention Centre. Sadly, only computer systems geeks are invited and if you couldn’t make it this year, you can try in 2008.

Speaking to The Herald yesterday, founder of Club Hack, Rohit Srivastava said, “We got a great response to the convention, and from the papers we received since we opened entry in August this year, we have finalised 13 speakers. Of these, two are coming from overseas.”

The biggest boost to the endeavour, he said, was that of the 200 attendees pencilled in for the event, nearly 150 are Puneites. “We received a phenomenal response from techies in the city, as also other places like Bangalore and Hyderabad. We are hopeful that the one-day convention would be fruitful.”

Since the convention centers around the highly-sensitive area of computer system expertise – hacking, which is normally associated with cyber crime – the city’s police force will also be present in some number to “prevent any untoward incidents”.

Hackers are an exclusive band of people that are difficult to trace because they are not officially affiliated with any organisation. Said Rohit, who provides consultancy and training in information security, penetration testing and cyber crime investigation, “Some of the attendees are CEOs of top IT companies, while others are security researchers or even virus research analysts. We will have talks of one hour each on two parallel tracks.”

In today's tech-savvy world, hackers are in great demand by companies who hire them specifically for hacking purposes. "Through our convention, we would not be promoting the illegal aspects of hacking, but would be focussing on the technical and skills aspect. We are looking at presentations on Information Security," explained Tarun Chandel, Mumbai coordinator for the event.

What to expect at the convention:
- Amish Shah – The future of automated web application testing
- Ajit Hatti – Legiment techniques of IPS/ IDS evasion
- Chetan Gupta – Mining digital evidence in MS windows
- David Hulton – Faster PwninG assured: cracking crypto with FPGAs
- Dror Shalev – Crazy toaster: can home devices turn against us?
- Gaurav Saha – Vulnerabilities in VoIP products and services
- Rahul Mohandas – Analysis of adversarial code: the role of Malware kits
- Rohas Nagpal – 7 years of Indian IT Act: best cases
- Shreeraj Shah – Hacking web 2.0: Art and Science of vulnerability detection
- Sunil Arora – Backdoor 2.0: hacking Firefox to steal his web secrets
- Varun Sharma – Subtle security flaws: why you must follow basic principles of software security
Umesh Nagori – the future of automated web application testing
Visit for more details

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Unmeritorious, technically deficient...phoooeeey!

December 5, 2007

H/l: State gets 5/13 on lake conservation proposals
Intro: Centre approves only five proposals; terms remaining as ‘technically deficient’

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: The state will not be too happy with scoring just five out of 13 on the polluted lakes front. Looking to include 13 of its prominent polluted lakes under the National Lake Conservation Project (NCLP), Maharashtra has got approval on only five lakes.

The NCLP is a centre-initiated project for conservation and management of polluted lakes in the country, and under the project, funds are released in a phase-wise manner for the cleaning and upkeep of polluted lakes, as also the monitoring of pollution and closing down of polluting industrial units if any.

In the last approval phase during 2004-2005, 31 lake proposals received sanction under NCLP and funds of Rs 400 lakhs were approved. However, of the 13 proposals submitted by the government of Maharashtra to the Ministry of Environment and Forests earlier this year, only five have been approved for Rs 24.25 crores funding.

Minister for Environment and Forests, Namo Narain Meena informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply yesterday, that of the 13 proposals received, eight were rejected on grounds of being technically deficient or not falling within the mandate of the NLCP.
“However, five proposals for conservation have already been approved at a total estimated cost of Rs 24.25 crores.

The state government has been asked to scrutinise the remaining proposals at their level, keeping the NLCP guidelines in view and also to explore the possibilities of inclusion of some of these lakes in the State Conservation Plan through the state budget available for the purpose,” Meena informed the Sabha in the reply.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ah, yes. We never thought of this one.

December 4, 2007

H/l: Airhostesses new conduits in passport scams?
Intro: 72 airhostesses under scanner; 1 arrested for attempting illegal passage of businessman to US

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: Airline hostesses looking to transport relatives to the US and UK, for pleasure or for business, will be a worried lot from now on. A Jet Airways airhostess working in Mumbai was nabbed last week by crime branch officials for attempting an illegal passage of Ahmedabad businessman Rajesh Trivedi (32) to the US.

Trivedi, a computer professional, reportedly paid Rs 20 lakhs for a passport and visa, and was to pose as airline hostess Alia Rizvi’s (24) husband. Alia received some part of the money, and her role was to help in processing a fake marriage document and apply to the US Consulate for a visa.

Following this arrest, and after the US Consulate in Mumbai alerted cops since they “thought something was amiss” with Rizvi’s application to take her “husband” to the US on a “business trip”, crime branch officials have brought all such applications pending with the Consulate and made by airhostesses under its scanner.

As per figures furnished by the Consulate, said a senior official, 72 airline hostesses working with various reputed airlines have applied for the passage of their relatives to the US. “We are not saying that all these applications are fraudulent, but we are investigating each application for credibility,” he said.

However, quipped Rakesh Maria, joint police commissioner (crime), “The airlines are not to be blamed for their staff’s misdemeanours. That airhostesses are the middlemen for such scams shows individual entrepreneurial spirit.”

In this scam, Maria said, the crime branch has already arrested the main culprit, one Altaf Sayyad, an agent functioning out of a suburban office, apart from two other agents, one in Mira Road and the other in Ahmedabad. “We are still ascertaining if there more agents and middlemen involved,” he said yesterday.

Eight passports have been seized in this connection, apart from fake stamps and visas. “This same group has sent three people in this year to the US,” Maria added. In a related case, the crime branch has cracked down on one Aslam Panchal who is responsible for making 45 fake passports and for sending as many people to the UK in two years.

You STILL without a voters' card? Join the gang.

December 3, 2007

H/l: 3 crore voters still without ID cards
Intro: Electoral office hopes to finish the process by January 2008

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: In a state with exactly 6,90,66,242 eligible electors, as per the office of the Chief Electoral Office, it is a bit unfortunate that only three crore voters have got their ID cards for the Assembly elections in 2009.

“But this is an ongoing programme, and we hope that by January 1, 2008, all assembly constituencies would be covered,” said Debashish Chakrabarty, newly-appointed chief electoral officer, Maharashtra state.

Chakrabarty was speaking to media persons at Mantralaya yesterday, and announced that throughout December 2007, his office would be involved in the summary revision of electoral rolls. “This year, the process was a bit delayed but we are confident of finishing on the appointed date,” he assured.

There are 25,46,527 new electors in the state, with 3,54,557 deletions. “There has been a net addition of 21,91,970 electors,” Chakrabarty said, explaining that these additions have taken the number of electors in the state to over six crores. “182 constituencies have already received the photo Ids,” he said.

During this month, citizens are advised to get enrolled if their names are missing from the list, make objections or bring to notice any mistakes in ID cards issued or even apply for inclusion online (see box).

So far, the office has partly completed the draft publication of electoral rolls containing photographs of each elector. “So far, of the 288 assembly constituencies, we have finished this particular work in 108 constituencies. We will complete this part of the process by June 2008,” Chakrabarty said.

“I advise that wherever these draft rolls have already been published, electors must check if their photograph is correctly used,” he added. Of the 108, the process has been completed in three Pune districts - Indapur, Baramati and Junnar.

- December 4, 2007: Publication of draft roll
- December 4 to 19, 2007: Dates for receiving claims and objections at designated locations
- December 8 and 9, 2007: Special campaign dates
- January 31, 2008: Final publication of rolls
In case of any discrepancies, contact your Electoral Registration Officer or Designated officer. Online applications are accepted only in constituencies with municipal corporations.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mohalle mein kaisi maara maar hai...

I refuse.
Yes, I got your point.
I still refuse.
That makes you unhappy? Shucks, that's bad.
Look, don't tell me what to do. I'm not telling you not to protest or effect a ban.
Yeah well, bite me. I'm still here.
So just because I said 'mochi' you thought I was talking about you? Why didn't you think I was referring to you when I said 'sonar'?
Oh, though. I wonder what the sonars are thinking.
Or, for that matter, the halwais.
Or even those who set up stalls in the village bazaars. One more protest coming up, if not two or three.
I think my dalit brethren are more educated now than they used to be. More skilled, with access to more opportunity in education and in the workplace.
I know a lot of the supposed dalits, who are making more money than I am, are more talented, are richer and who're going places with the sheer force of their personality. Or karma, if you prefer it.
So why the intolerance?
And why go out of your way to take offense?
Especially when none was meant? I'm sure none was meant.
At least the Censor Board didn't spot it.
I mean, seriously.
I could take offense to the song, too. It's basically about a girl who's up to no good.
So by your yardstick, all of womanhood's dignity is at stake.
Which would be set right if the song itself was deleted.
The way your dignity was restored when two lines of a song, which is at best a mediocre song, were deleted.
Makes me wonder why your dignity, standing in life and basic existence are threatened by one word here, another line there.
Hate to say this, but now I probably understand how some of the 'oppression' happened.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dip in HIV+ numbers, eh?

November 30, 2007

H/l: State anything but protected from AIDS threat
Intro: Drop in HIV prevalence among pregnant women; but rise in numbers among CSWs and male homosexuals. Fresh HIV+ infection every 20 seconds

Mumbai: Probably due to wide publicity and free distribution of contraceptives such as condoms, people in Maharashtra are at least more aware of HIV and AIDS, and there is a discernable drop in HIV prevalence among pregnant women as compared to year 2004-2005.

However, what is alarming is that the state registers a fresh HIV infection every 20 seconds, and is still ranked second, along with Karnataka, in the numbers of HIV-infected persons found. As per the 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update issued by the UN and WHO, “Data from extended sentinel surveillance for 2006 shows declined HIV prevalence among pregnant women in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, but a higher prevalence among sex workers, and rising numbers of cases among injecting drug users and men having sex with men in these states.”

Even more worryingly, evidence points to higher figures of HIV prevalence in the western belt of Maharashtra, and also in areas of high industrial activity. The Health Education To Villages (HVET), an initiative in collaboration with the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI), states that apart from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra state shows the fastest transmission numbers for the virus.

The HVET’s explanation for the high numbers of HIV-positive persons in the state is that Maharashtra experiences a high 41 per cent of migrations annually, especially to the cities. Due to this or otherwise, the state has one of the highest numbers of HIV-infected commercial sex workers (50 to 60 per cent) and a huge 24 to 40 per cent hospital bed occupancy by HIV positive persons.

Maharashtra has registered higher numbers for adult HIV prevalence for the ages 15 to 49 for both sexes, at 0.62 per cent, higher than the national average of 0.36 per cent, as outlined in the National Family Health Survey 3 (NFHS 3). In this respect, the state has outranked Uttar Pradesh (0.07%) and Tamil Nadu (0.34%).

On the upside however, more people are now aware of the AIDS menace, as compared to previous years. As per NFHS 3, a high 89 per cent of urban women and 70 per cent of rural women are aware of HIV/AIDS, while 97 per cent urban men and 80 per cent rural men are aware of these. Condom use has also shot up in the state, and the primary sources of information are mass media.

- First HIV positive case in India reported in 1986
- Predominant route is hetero-sex
- 30 to 40% males above 16 years of age sexually active
- Most well established sex industry in state (brothel to non brothel)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fat. So?

Weighty jump for state
intro: The state is fatter this year, with men, women and children causing a jump in overall weights, say doctors
From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: Wake up before your child crosses the great obesity divide on World Obesity Day today. As per a study initiated by Mumbai and Pune-based specialist Dr Shashank Shah in four schools in Pune this year, a huge 13 per cent of students surveyed for basal weight showed a tendency towards moderate obesity.

“The findings were stunning. After a 3 ½ month Body Mass Index (BMI) study, we found that these children, who came from well known schools in Pune and from upper middle class and rich families, were doing everything wrong. They had faulty eating habits to sedentary lifestyles, which were pushing them towards obesity,” Dr Shah told The Herald.

Dr Shah, who practices at Ruby Hall Clinic in Pune and Wockhardt Hospital in Mumbai, even spoke about an eight-year-old boy he operated on this year in Mumbai. “The child weighed 115 kgs and we had to operate to get his weight down to a normal 50 kgs,” he said.

Nowadays, say city doctors, schools are more interested in providing computers than playgrounds to children. Also, our kids are being pinned down to a life of little or no exercise due to tuition classes, piles of homework and a string of TV serials to watch.

Overall, there is a 25 per cent jump in numbers of obese children in the country.

And while you worry about the health of your fattening kid, the National Family Health Survey 3 (NFHS 3) has some scary news for the state’s women. Out of the 8,315 households studied in Maharashtra, for adults aged 15 to 49, 27.4 per cent urban women are obese while 24.4 per cent urban men are obese. In the rural areas, eight per cent women and 8.3 per cent men are obese.
So why are obesity levels for working adults increasing?

In Mumbai, a huge 34.6 per cent women are said to be obese, while men come a distant second at 25.1 per cent. “The rise of the IT industries and BPOs ensured that apart from longer working hours and lack of sleep, people would opt for off-the-counter junk food to save the time of packing lunches. More and more working people are having both meals out of the house, leading to more calories being consumed and no exercise to combat the spreading waistline, says Dr Shah.

On the other end of the spectrum, are men, women and children who are underweight and anaemic. As per NFHS 3, women with BMI lower than normal are 20.7 per cent in the urban areas, while their rural counterparts clock in a staggering 43 per cent. As for the men, 17.3 per cent urban men and 31.8 per cent rural men show low BMI. Of the state’s children, a huge 71.9 per cent are anaemic, while 39.7 per cent kids are underweight.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

December is upon us

On the first day of December this year, yours truly completes 365 days of working for this organisation. Don't mind admitting this is a milestone for us, since I lasted precisely a) Six months at Times Response, my first job and b) 10 months at Mid Day, my second job when I quit the very same month they were doling out increments.

Oh well. Instead of things getting tougher, they actually got softer when I quit Job 2 to take up Job 3. One common thread is that I quit both my earlier jobs without having the next job in place, so that should indicate I am a bit of a risk taker. A useful quality in a reporter.

Also, contrary to what my bosses or colleagues or anyone else might think, I actually like working. And I love researching, even if it takes me two days to figure out a story and even if it eventually comes out as a single-column-no-byline thingy. What I don't like is people around me being useless and ending up wasting my time because they can't be arsed to work.

And also contrary to those who think they know me, think, I am seriously not that bothered about not having found a house yet, after umpteen tries and disappointments. I do not panic. I do not tear my hair. I keep looking. Yes, but I do inwardly swear at the prick who has a house near the one I live in with my parents and who decided, belatedly, not to sell. I hope he fries in oil.

But this year, I have generally been quite chuffed about life. Life's been good, life's been very exciting and harrowing and on an upwards, then downward spiral, but it has never been boring. Work is good most of the times, so is the family, and certainly so is the hubby. In fact, this year flashed by so quickly and so pleasantly, I am almost led into a sense of complacency that prompts me to think, My life will always be great because I am a great person born in great circumstances.

And with that Shiv Khera attitude to life, I shall now begin work for the day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Intermediate enthusiast

Or rather, borderline maniac. That's me.

After a hard day's work, I returned to a silent home, an absent family, and a feeling somewhere that I would really like a hot cup of tea. After a mind-numbingly slow ride from Churchgate in a second class ladies' compartment (after ages, that), I took one look at the house, and instead of sighing miserably, changed into my tramp clothes and started working.

And as I hit the first key on the keyboard, all my boredom and fatigue just went away. And I had the most startling realisation - I can't stop working!

It's not like I'm too surprised, because having no work makes a grumpy bear out of me. But to actually feel happy having two stories to file for the next day, after filing a gazillion stories in office (and giving up on the remaining ones because I was tired) is surely not normal.

So that's me, people. I'm about to begin my first story already. A hot cuppa will get me started on the next one. Smokin'!

p.s.: Methinks the family should go away more often. The complete silence is actually helping me think.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


(Note: This post is dedicated to Poombashri, since she invented the word that is the title of this post. And also because this one word, to my mind, correctly sums up what I feel when I want to say 'Effing ___' but can't be arsed to.)

So anyway. There is nothing that takes the piss out of me faster than having no story to file on a Sunday. God knows there's nothing to file on a Sunday as it is, but this is crazy.

Also another thing to take the piss out of me is when I've been working/ goofing off/ sleeping with mouth open/ doing nothing internet-related and when I come back to check my Gmail, it very snootily tells me, 'You have been out of Gmail. You must log back in to enable services.' I swear if this was my kid hankering for constant attention and making me go out of the house and come back with a bucketful of candy just to get him talking to me again, I would hang him from the ceiling by his thumbs and whack his tush with a thin stick.

As it is, I punish Gmail by signing out entirely and logging onto Yahoo! with a :p directed at my fast-disappearing Gmail window. That generally fixes it.

Suffice it to say that Sunday takes the piss out of me. Why? Because nothing to do and no one to talk to in office have reduced me to playing Solitaire till my mouse finger hurts and I start being rude to my Gmail.

And also because there is no water in the loo because there's no one to start the motor. So it's actually great that there are other means to get the piss out of me, hyuk hyuk.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wonderful world we live in...

It is probably a reflection of our culture that:
- Shahrukh Khan's six-pack is more famous this year than his role in Chak De! India.
- Chak De! India became a hit purely through relentless marketing and parading the girls all over the country for all sorts of events.
- News desks in many major newspapers are filled to overflowing with freshers who have no experience of reporting or editing or indeed, journalism.
- People take professional advice on switching jobs or careers from me. Why is that so strange? Because I am only two years old in the profession.
- One error of judgement, one politically incorrect move with your deskie, and your copies are screwed for no apparent reason.
- People fear committing mistakes more for the impending memos instead of the fact that making mistakes in a newspaper is just plain stupid.
- The words of such characters as Bal Thackeray, Dr Vijay Mallya, the Ambanis and even the Shobhaa Des is the truth.
- Editors either love looking foolish or are so used to it that they've accepted it internally, that they are, well...foolish most of the time.
- You enjoy a sudden break more than the weekly off.
- You look for more sudden breaks in the week.
- The higher-ups, in any organisation, can generally be trusted to scamp work and leave all the important work to you.
- They can also be trusted to suddenly reappear when the praise is being doled out. And then you realise you were not praised at all, the higher-up was.
- Most people in this industry don't have just an Achilles' Heel, they have his entire body. Which is why most people survive purely on the basis of emotional blackmail.
- Working in newspapers makes you sick of newspapers at the end of the day. Ditto for channels, I suppose.
- Every journalist looks for a second career in writing. At least there you have the right to breathe down the editor's neck when you want to without feeling guilty.
- The most knowledge is to be found not from Google or Wikipedia or even your colleagues, but senior journalists who have been around since the time they would typewrite their copies or go on junkets with portable fax machines.
- You can be a competent court reporter by being glued to your press reporter's chair from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm everyday.
- You can also be a reasonably good political, defense, crime and environment correspondent without moving out of your office.
- About 98 per cent reporters crowd press conferences for the food and oh yes, the drink.
- Most people would come up and speak to me when I was still with Mid Day. Now most of them turn up their noses and wait for me to acknowledge them since I come from some LS paper based in Pune. So much for individual reputation.
- A nobody like me gets to cover the Legislative proceedings while others more deserving have to wait their turn 10 years or more. MB is a case in point.
- Your rise to the top is judged not by the work you did through the years but by how much ass you licked. It's almost a KRA requirement.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What fun comes!

August and September have been good months as far as display, Page 1 coverage and overall news reporting went. Was a very profitable time, if it comes to that.

Today I sent a story on a Mumbai-based bicycle designer who can make a cycle for you based on whatever you want. If you want a double seat, you'll get it. If you want a lazy riding experience that doesn't tax you, you'll get that as well. Or if you're one of those freaks who actually use their cycles more for working out than fun, you'll get that, too.

I was charmed by the high potential this venture has for physically challenged persons. And the fact that Zubair Lodi (25), the owner and designer, actually believes that a vehicle for the physically challenged must make a fashion statement. "Everybody wants a happening end product," he told me this morning. "Why not have a cycle that is trendy, eye-catching and works best only for you?"

Why not indeed? Now if we only had office colleagues and relatives made-to-order.

That's Zubair in the pic, astride one of his designs. The 25-year-old former car designer speaks of cycles the way a film director would speak of his leading lady - he is charmed and seduced, and fully confident in its ability. "Cycles are the only 'green vehicle' for our cities," he says. Probably one factor that would leave customers reluctant to invest in these cycles, though, is the cost. The bike may cost Rs 7,000 or more. But who said custom-made stuff was cheap? Besides, Zubair uses MS tubes and PUC pipes in the design, and the customer has full control over the weight, colour and accessories of the end product. Good idea? You bet. Zubair says he is looking to target the physically challenged sector big time.
So while the rest of us are choking our city in swanky cars, here's somebody who's thinking Green, and so what if he's doing it as a business?

Sunday, September 30, 2007


And once again Jaan has lived up to his reputation of speaking to kids of all ages and sizes. But this time, he helped save an innocent boy from what would probably have thrown him into a murky future.

I must confess that ordinarily, I find the hubby's penchant for speaking to street urchins and giving them food and water (but mercifully, not shelter, yet) and sometimes unasked-for advice really irritating. Like most people, I like to think I'm practical, not petty. So when he called me and said he was with a kid from Pune, who had run away and was the son of a bigshot, I thought, "Here we go again..."

Meeting the boy and trying to extract one truthful answer out of it of him was not on the list of 'How I spend my Saturday evenings'. The child lied about everything - his address, what made him decamp from home, his father's phone number, his residential phone number, that he had a brother who was coming to Mumbai on a trip, everything. Mercifully he didn't lie about his father and the area he lived in. If not for the correct numbers supplied later on, goodness knows what the future of the child would be.

Finally, the parents arrived in the wee hours this morning. Hubby gave a statement to the police and everything. Bless his heart, he's still thinking about the boy and how to help him. I was so proud that he had the goodness of nature to help out and save one runaway from the horrors of this splendid city. And I am prouder still because he sincerely believes that he only did his duty as a citizen.

Though I cannot promise that I will not be irritated by Jaan's overenthusiasm in helping misguided little kids in seeing the light, at least this incident might take the edge off my irritation. Here's wishing all the best to Ms Practical.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Urban Development boo hoo hooo!

You have no idea how embarrassing it is to sit there anticipating, nay simply waiting, for your name to be called out for the grand prize and then when the prizes are called out, not only did you not win but you were so unceremoniously ignored that all you could do was scuttle out of there.

Jaan and I attended the first day of an urban development expo at Goregaon, and the organisers decided to liven things up by having awards given out for 'best examples of innovation and excellence in implement of projects related to urban infrastructure'. The awards are meant to reward the efforts of city governments and agencies.

So obviously Mumbai has to be a clear winner, right? Quite apart from all that tosh about being the financial capital of the country, we're just the BEST there is. They would have done better to just give us all three awards and be done with it.

Then they called out the three winners - Suryapet, Rampur and Indore.

Like Bridget Jones says, "Oh my bloody god and fuck."

Jaan and I paused for a split second, then collapsed into silent, sheepish giggles. Dunno about him, but I seriously thought we would win at least half a prize. And apparently our Municipal Commissioner and two of his sidekicks (read: additional municipal commissioners) also felt the same thing, because a moment after the assembly broke up, all three had scuttled out. Probably to look for three chullus.

So anyway. Point of the matter is, do not take for granted your own greatness, or the lack of it. Do not expect accolades to just walk into your lap without having earned them first. We have to learn that sincere effort reaps rewards. If we want to be rewarded, we must work hard and tenaciously and with good planning.

In other words, next year we're going to bribe our way into winning.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Reading a match

Never thought I would ever watch a cricket match, or indeed any sporting activity, in text form.

Today, as India and Pakistan took turns to alternatively clobber each other and then play badly, we didn't have the match running in office. Some technical glitch and non-payment of dues resulted in all our pay channels being unceremoniously cut off at the mains. Hope still hung about though as we thought DD Sports or DD National would telecast the match. But DD turned traitor as well.

Everybody took it to heart. The bosses, the minions, the chai-wallah, everybody. So much so that MB thundered, "Pawar kaka ke office mein cricket match nahin dekh sakte? This is a crime punishable under IPC."

Then Dixit sir came across which very ingeniously gives text updates in real time. So we 'watched' the match thus, to cite an example: Gambhir takes on Gul, and it's a FOUR! Gambhir slices away with a very clever gap between ______ and ______. That should take the pressure off India a bit."

Dixit sir, MB, Umakant sir, Ajay and I actually imagined our way through the match. Since we couldn't see the visuals, we actually mapped out the field mentally, and helped on by cricbuzz' instructions, knew roughly how people played and why. Besides, the shouts from the neighbouring building signalled a wicket a split second before our virtual scoreboard flashed the same thing. And of course, the groans confirmed that the Indians were sometimes being silly or that the Pakistanis were playing really well.

Funnily enough, watching the fall of all the Pak wickets one after another on Aaj Tak later made me curiously disoriented. After having watched the match in a different medium with silence (save for the click of the mouse or our own ceaseless chatter), the sudden presence of visuals and commentary does tend to jar on the nerves.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday sucks so she won't work

It's just not the same, is it, with a head cold and an aching throat, and sitting in office alone on a Sunday? Nothing's changed in office or even at home, but even the slightest difference in how I kept my papers yesterday and how I find them today is something I take as a personal insult.

Like all other Sundays, this one is also one of those slow, lazy kinds. Maybe three Sundays ago I worked my ass off on the Hyderabad package, but it's too morbid to hope for terror strikes to happen just so that you could keep yourself occupied on a Sunday. There's nothing on the ticker, nothing on other websites, nothing on my mind. One story down and the craving for tea continues, though, with my nose blocked I don't know if it's tea or coffee or something else I'm drinking.

Bleeaarrrghh. Nobody should work on a Sunday, especially us poor souls in the media. It's a holiday everywhere, for Chrissakes', what is the most that can happen in the city? I can confidently say that nothing of note has happened anywhere so far - probably some minister has given off a fart in his sleep or a pavement dweller has his head bashed in with a slab collapse. Either way, nothing worth reporting, unless of course there is a Pune angle to things. Like, you know, the dead pavement dweller was the second cousin of a Pune resident. Or the farting minister actually farted in a "Poo--nay..." refrain.

Sheesh, see what I mean? Working on Sundays is not good for my mental health. Bleeaarrrghhh.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Something's going on

And as always, it involves me.

As each day passes in this profession, when we're counting off the days we've spent working for one organisation and the minutes we spend actually working, when we're dragging ourselves out of bed despite the body rebelling against any movement and when we're so pumped up about a story that we just can't sit still, when we're picking ourselves up after seeing a well-written story being ass-fucked or not being used at all till the time that we're quietly taking in the praise for a job well done...we're forgetting one basic fact:

You're never going to grow up if you're never going to learn.

See, it's easy being a reporter. At least, easier than it was, say 10 years ago, when you didn't have the Internet doing all your researching for you. Easier than the time when there were no mobile phones and no two ways of sending an urgent copy. It's easy because now everyone's looking for newsspace. And because packaging is a bigger factor than content.

But it's tough being a reporter. Tougher now, because of so much mediocrity around you, you actually have to slap yourself hard if you get congratulated for a story, which in hindsight, wasn't such a big deal after all. Tougher also because the guys up there are older and jumpier, so they sit on you that much faster if you strut your stuff around much. And tough, oh yeah, because though we have everything - Convergence, big news reporting teams, satellite technology - some important factors have become extinct. You know, the usual...imagination, enterprise, hard work, knowledge.

Yeah, we're making a lot of money, much more than we used to. But we're making very little headway elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The one that got away...

...was the one that should have been used a day after the Hyderabad blasts happened. Is not the greatest stories of all time, but still.

August 26, 2007

H/l: Easiest thing to make high intensity bombs
Intro: Metal scraps, ball bearings, nails, even discarded strips form the shrapnel outside a deadly chemical core. And the bomb is ready
Byline: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: The explosives used in the twin blasts in Hyderabad city on Saturday evening were part of the ‘newly fashionable’ high explosives meant to cause maximum damage and loss of life, said retired army explosives expert Colonel M P Choudhary yesterday.

Speaking to The Herald, Col Choudhary said, “It is the terrorists’ intention to wreck maximum havoc in a public place using easy-to-procure substances. At Hyderabad too, the bombs were made using a combination of steel balls used in cycle tyres with a chemical core of an ammonium nitrate derivative.”

He also said that state police in such places as Hyderabad, Mumbai and other metros in the country, barring Delhi, were sadly lacking in any pre-emptive measures to nip such terrorist acts in the bud before they are carried out. “The Hyderabad blasts are just one in a series of intelligence failures in recent times,” he alleged.

Reiterating that the high-intensity bombs, which come under the Neogel-90 or Slurry category, are generally used in mining explosions and are industrial explosives, Col Choudhary said, “These explosives have a huge destructive capability, more than bombs using gelatin sticks but lesser than that of RDX.” The Neogel-90 bombs are also high-speed bombs, he said, with speeds of six to 10 kms per second.

“These bombs have a destructive value more so because of the shrapnel used in them, besides the blast wave they give off on exploding. Anything or anyone in the path of the shrapnel would immediately be cut into pieces,” he said.

Interestingly, he explained, it is easy and cheap to assemble such high-intensity explosives at home as well. “There is a lacuna in monitoring the amounts of industrial explosives manufactured and sold, as against the licences and permissions that factories have from the central government,” he remarked.

However, the easiest bombs to assemble are those containing urea. “These are very deadly bombs, and quite easy to put together considering that urea can be purchased in quantities of tonnes at a time,” he said.

So just how easy it is for terrorists to get their hands on industrial explosives? Very easy, says Col Choudhary. “For example, if a manufacturer has the license for producing 1,000 kg of explosive, he might manufacture 1,500 kg and sell off the balance to terrorists. Or he can declare that he purchased 1,000 kg and that he used all of it. Then he can get off by selling some amount,” he explained.

He also mentioned that such places that are fast developing or are major contributors to the national economy are prime targets for terrorist attacks. “The idea behind attacking Hyderabad would be to deter foreign investment,” he said.

Know your bomb
- A bomb derives its name from its container. Hence, a bomb placed in a car would be a car bomb, and so on
- A bomb has a core of nitrate/ gelatin/ glycerine
- The core determines the force and speed of explosion
- The shrapnel comprises metal pieces, nails, ball bearings, or other scrap
- The bomb is triggered using a switch. Cell phones reportedly triggered the Hyderabad bombs
- The heat component at the blast site can reach up to 4,500 degree Celsius

Monday, August 27, 2007

This is how we package it...the Salman Khan story

H/l: Five years for Poacher Salman
Intro: Salman gets 5 years RI after Jodhpur court rejects appeal

From: Vrushali Lad

Mumbai: Bollywood’s proverbial bad boy Salman Khan is in deep trouble again, after a Jodhpur trial court rejected his appeal against a five-year imprisonment in connection with the chinkara poaching case of 1998.

However, the bad boy in question was nowhere to be found yesterday, though industry sources confirmed that Khan had arrived in Mumbai in the early morning hours. He remained untraceable till about 4.00 p.m., prompting speculation that he had decamped to avoid arrest, when news of his being at home but unreachable started trickling in.

Khan’s lawyer Dipesh Mehta gave a televised statement that, “Salman is not absconding, he is at home. We are considered the terms of the revision application that we will file tomorrow, and the reason he did not remain present in court yesterday was that he was not directed by the court to do so.”

The actor had been convicted and sentenced to a year's imprisonment on April 10 last year by chief judicial magistrate B K Jain, who had also slapped a Rs 25,000 fine on him.

Interestingly, if Khan had been present in court yesterday as Judge Singhvi read out the order rejecting the appeal, he would have been arrested and sent to jail immediately. The court would be closed today and tomorrow owing to weekly off, following which Khan would next appeal against the sentence on Monday. However, the court will be closed on Tuesday on account of Raksha Bandhan. This means that if Khan had been arrested yesterday, he would have faced a minimum of five days in jail before being granted bail. As it is, Khan only bought a day's freedom more by remaining untraceable yesterday.

Yesterday, the Jodhpur District and Sessions judge Kamalraj Singhvi issued a non-bailable warrant against the star, who had reportedly returned to Mumbai on Thursday night after a 10-day shooting schedule in Hyderabad.

The infamous chinkara-shooting incident – in which Khan had gunned down three chinkaras over two days while shooting was on for the Barjatya film 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' – had initially landed the actor in Jodhpur Central Jail on April 10 last year for three days before being released on bail.

After the sentence was upheld yesterday, police teams from Rajasthan were deployed to bring Khan from Mumbai. Meanwhile, the actor’s legal team said it would file a revision petition in the Rajasthan High Court, as well apply for suspending the sentence and hearing his case on a priority basis.

Box #1:
Hunting in Jodhpur:
From 1992 onwards, Jodhpur courts have registered 72 cases of animal hunting, of which only three have resulted in convictions. Of these, Khan accounts for two – he allegedly used his .32 bore revolver to kill three chinkaras and a .22 bore rifle to shoot two black bucks, all in 1998.

The other conviction to date, that of Bheel Singh from Oshiya village, had been sentenced to three years RI in 2000 for killing a black buck and also gunning down a villager who tried to save the deer. Singh was also awarded a lifer for the murder he committed, but is out on bail. Hence, Khan’s five-year sentence came as a something of a surprise when it was announced on April 10 last year.

Box #2:
Salman worth 100 crores in 2007
As in the case of the other Bollywood Bad Boy Sanjay Dutt, actor Salman Khan also has a lot of money, about Rs 100 crores, riding on his shoulders. Three important projects featuring Khan are under production – 'Saawariya', 'London Dreams' and 'God Tussi Great Ho' – all of which will release at the end of this year.

His recent releases, barring the Govinda starrer ‘Partner’, have not been hits. 'Baabul' (with Rani Mukherji), 'Salaam-e-Ishq' (a multi-starrer) and 'Marigold' (with Ali Larter and Khan’s first international project) were all big banner films that fared badly after a good initial opening.

Box #3:
The others got off
Interestingly, while Salman was given a one-year imprisonment term for shooting two black bucks on September 28, 1998, the others who accompanied him on the hunt were let off on grounds of insufficient evidence.

These included Khan’s co-stars on the then under-production 'Hum Saath Saath Hain', the Sooraj Barjatya multi-starrer that later tanked at the box office. Those on the hunt with Khan were Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam, Sonali Bendre and Satish Shah. Interestingly, actor Karisma Kapoor who was one of the lead actresses had reportedly declined going on the hunt since she was not on good terms with the other women.

Of these actors, Shah’s role was more prominent than the others, since he was actively involved in arranging for two jeeps and firearms for the shoot. Apart from the jeep carrying the actors, another jeep had been used to carry locals Kuldeep Singh, Mohd Hussain, Yashpal Singh, Mahendra Pal Singh, Dushyant Singh and M S Bhati. All of them were later acquitted for want of evidence.

From immediate boss: Good copy
From those who matter: Well done
From me: Can be better, but hee!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Alandi story...published as it is, yay!!

Indrayani kathi, devachi Alandi...
…and yet, the land of sant Dnyaneshwar has seen little or no progress for the last two decades. A new project to change the face of Alandi is also lying dormant for over two years. Vrushali Lad reports

If Alandi sees 10,000 or more visitors everyday, the 302 existing dharamshalas must adequately accommodate them. If, during festival time, over 1,00,000 people visit the place that Dnyaneshwar took a samadhi in at age 21, there should be enough roads that lead them there. And if Alandi is the place that Maharashtra identifies with for its purity and knowledge, it must be unfettered by corruption and neglect.

If only this were an ideal world.

The last Development Plans for Alandi were drawn up in 1988. The plans are currently being revised for release in 2008. "But the new plans are like the old ones, which accounted for a population of 17,000. We rejected the new plans thrice because even a simple feature like parking was not addressed," says Sanjeev Ovhal, Chief Officer at the Alandi Municipal Council (AMC). "I fail to understand why there is a concerted effort to trap Alandi in a time warp, with no vision for the future," he says.

Alandi now has a 25,000-plus resident population, and large-scale construction is taking place, probably from the simple belief that having a house in a holy land keeps you in god's hands. Yet, the ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims visiting every day, month and year are taxing the already non-existent infrastructure and manpower to the utmost.

Frozen in time
…laagli samadhi, Dynaneshachi…

Speak to the residents here, and they will proudly tell you that Alandi has remained unchanged ever since they can remember. "Other places have become modern – even Shirdi, Ganpatipule, Shegaon are different today than they used to be," says Gauri Holkar (34). "But after all these years, the basic character of Alandi is unchanged."

Probably this attitude stands in the way of any change, even a good one. And Alandi needs a good change, fast. Like other religious places, Alandi is hit hard by the water and air pollution, poor roads and a rising percentage of ecologically harmful substances (such as plastics) in the environment. Says Ovhal, "Sadly, the people here have no desire to improve their living conditions. They are content to live with bad roads, contaminated water, no police security, unplanned growth and no political intervention for the good of the place."

By municipal authorities' own admission, Alandi is plagued the most by law and order problems and the mushrooming of encroachments in the form of shops. Says a senior official from AMC, "Everything from thefts to prostitution takes place here. The temple trusts possess huge tracts of land that can be used for constructing pilgrim shelters, but they won't release them. Due to a lack of dialogue between the authorities and the citizens, key decisions are taken by a handful of powerful people, who make money under the guise of serving God."

At present, accommodating the heavy influx of people, lack of public toilets, no bypass roads, not enough safe drinking water sources, only 30 per cent sewerage collection facility, no regulation over vehicles plying the pilgrim pathways, not enough street lighting and road maintenance, a severely polluted Indrayani waterfront, lack of security guards and presence of midstream structures are big problems ruining Alandi and all that it stands for.

But, believe residents, the gods will take care of Alandi the way they always have.

The Gods will smile…
Dnyaniyancha raja, bhogto raneev,
naachti vaishnav, magey pudhe…

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) is about to give Alandi's appalling lack of infrastructure the much-required shot in the arm. On January 22, 2004, the MPCB finalised projects to modernise and replan, wherever necessary, the state's holy destinations. In keeping with this aim, the Board zeroed in on Alandi, Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur as the places that they would develop with participation from the relevant local administrative bodies.

Accordingly, the MPCB conducted yearlong pilot studies in Alandi from 2004-2005 and drew up plans to revamp it based on the 'ecocity' concept. The AMC was ecstatic. "The town will get the infrastructure it needs. It is time to plan Alandi as per present-day conditions," says Ovhal.

The MPCB plans are fantastic, calling for a complete overhaul of the town's 76-year-old water supply system, the almost non-existent sewerage network, the insufficient parking facilities and the problem of accommodating a huge floating population during festival time. "The pilot studies showed us that every area requires a revamp in Alandi," says Dr A R Supate, project leader who has been involved with the Alandi plan from the start.

"The top priority is to upgrade the existing sanitary systems. During festival time, the place becomes an open toilet and the release of untreated sewage directly into the river Indrayani poses health hazards," he says.

As per the plans, the work is to take place in two phases up to the year 2031, and both phases are to be financed separately. For both phases, the MPCB will provide 90 per cent of funding while the main beneficiary, the AMC, will pay the balance. For the first phase, a high-priority one which was expected to start in 2005 and finish in 2011, the MPCB is to provide Rs 281.12 lakhs, while the AMC will chip in with Rs 31.23 lakhs.

"We are very concerned with Alandi and will do everything to ensure that it is completed to everybody's satisfaction," says Dr Supate.

He adds that the work will begin soon. "We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Pune district collector in 2006. It will be a wonderful makeover for a wonderful town," says Dr Supate.

Trapped in official lethargy
Magey pudhe daate, Dnyanacha ujed
Anganat zhaad kaiwalyache…

So if everything's ready, why the two-year delay in starting the work? As is the case with any development ideas associated with Alandi, this one's stuck because the MPCB has not issued the funds yet. "We have not met on the issue for over a year," Dr Supate admits. "Maybe we will set a definite date in the Board meeting in August," he says.

Worryingly, he says 'maybe'. Ovhal is more forthcoming on the subject. "Since 2005, the MPCB has had 18 meetings with Collector Prabhakar Deshmukh which we also attended, but without results. In fact, the AMC has spent lakhs on these meetings by way of thousands of photocopies, publishing and republishing progress reports, even arranging transportation for officials. We have also kept our share of the Phase I contribution ready. Now if only the MPCB issues the funds, we can start work and finish in 2011," he says.

Alandi does not have a police station, just a police outpost with three people in it. "During festival times, there are no traffic constables to coordinate the flow of people and vehicles. The problem becomes acute during VIP visits. We don't have teams to check illegal encroachments by people who set up shops wherever they please. Things are spiralling out of control," Ovhal says.

Additionally, the AMC does not have a designated sanitary inspector, water supply inspector or building engineer. "That is why basic problems such as sanitation and untreated sewage polluting the river are not addressed. Epidemics causing health hazards are rampant. How can we, with a staff of just 33 in the AMC, keep everybody under check? Once the project is complete, at least the existing sanitary and vehicular problems would be dealt with," Ovhal says.

He adds that the AMC got the All India Institute of Local Self Government in Pune to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) imaging of Alandi done last year at a cost of Rs 10,00,000 last year. "The AMC is the first municipal council in the state to have a GIS study. The maps have helped us identify land use patterns and how we need to utilise land and for which purposes," Ovhal says, drawing out one such map and indicating the areas that need to be addressed first.

He draws a circle outside the six square km municipal limits. "This is where a ring road would connect Pune, Dehu, Markal and Chakan with Alandi and with each other. Additionally, one main bypass road leading from the outer boundary to the Gaothan area is being considered," he explains. He indicates vacant plots of land that could be reserved specifically for parking and a bus depot outside the main town so as not to impede on the functioning inside.

Tell Dr Supate these ideas and he says, "We have already envisaged these proposals. Our plans will take care of all these and more." Ovhal counters, "Then they (MPCB) should stop sitting on the plans and sanction the funds so that we can start the work fast." He adds that everything is in place from the AMC's side, right down to the manpower and day-wise work completion schedule.

Interestingly, the 2006 MoU mentions, "Any grant amount (from the MPCB) unspent as on April 1, 2008 would revert to MPCB."

What's in the pipeline?
…ujedi rahile, ujed houn…

Apart from the MPCB plans, there is not a single treatise or DP that identifies activity patterns and seeks to rectify problems associated with them. Hence it has become doubly important for the MPCB to sanction funds immediately, since their plans take the same into account and will give Alandi the kind of land usage that slots every activity in its proper place'.

After both phases are complete, the second in 2031, "the redevelopment would comfortably accommodate regular pilgrims and bring in those people who have so far stayed away due to lack of amenities," says Ovhal.
The most ambitious proposal in this project is the redevelopment of the Indrayani riverfront. Once complete, slated in the second phase of the project, it would be a modern riverfront with walkways, boating facilities, landscaped grounds and street furniture to give it an international ambience.

Along with this is the plan to draw a religious tourism master plan covering Pune, Satara, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Solapur. Most importantly, the plan envisages the division of Alandi into two zones – a pilgrim zone and a resident one – in which both work independently of each other.

"Under this, we are looking at widening the Vadgaon junction, improving parking facilities at Chakan chowk, providing boating facilities at the river, constructing a new step bridge to Alandi weir and walkways. These are required not just for beautification but for generating revenue for maintaining the improvements done and will bring some order to Alandi," says Dr Supate.

Facelift like no other
Probably these improvements would change the character of the now-sleepy and idyllic town forever. "Hence, the Gaothan area which is the actual pilgrim magnet would be given a heritage status and would be unencumbered by traffic and construction," says Dr Supate. "The pradakshina path is around Gaothan with the temple at its apex, and this path will be developed and maintained well with nirmalya kalash placed at intervals, mobile toilets and taps being provided in the festival season," he says.

Says Dr Supate, "Wherever possible, the endeavour is to retain the character of the place but there is a need to bring an order to the scheme of things there. Such an important place in Maharashtra cannot be allowed to go to waste with filth and unplanned growth. When the project is finally complete, Alandi will be an ecologically superior tourist destination."

Phase I funding:
- Rs 179.85 lakhs: constructing sewerage treatment plant, pumping stations and pumping mains

- Rs 50 lakhs: municipal solid waste systems

- Rs 18 lakhs: Constructing diesel crematorium

- Rs 35 lakhs: constructing 8-seat public toilets (5 blocks), providing 5 seat mobile toilets (10 blocks)

- Rs 1.5 lakhs: preparing tourist maps and information brochure

- Rs 27 lakhs: road side plantation

Thursday, July 26, 2007

To Alandi and back

Was a strange and thought-provoking trip. Here's why.

- Spent Rs 1,200 on hiring a vehicle that would take me to Pune. Am unduly optimistic that they will reimburse me. And if they don't, I really don't think I care that much.

- Once we reached Aundh, the driver began to get a bit fidgety and asked me twice, at interval of five minutes between asking, "Madam, station hi jaana hai na?" When he asked me the third time, I snapped and asked him if he was learning my answer off by heart and would he ask another question please because that's not how you play 20 Questions?
To which he said that he had a stomach upset and that he wouldn't last out till Pune station arrived. "Main aapko auto mein bitha deta hoon, paise bhi bhar deta hun, please madam," he whined. Fearing a major stomach explosion, I agreed. Took an auto ride to Budhwar Peth on his money.

- Once there, there was no room booked in my name at the tumbledown structure that masquerades as Basera Lodge at Budhwar Peth. Turns out the office thought I was arriving in the evening, not at the crack of dawn at 9.45 a.m.

- Was told to report to the old Sakal office, where they handed me keys to a new company flat they've purchased just across the street. Good flat and all, liveable but not too cosy.

- Washed my face, changed my shirt, walked 10 minutes to the PMC bus terminal and boarded a bus for Alandi. Took exactly an hour to get there. Spent over three hours there, got my story, spoke to this one and that, then took the one-hour bus back to the flat. All on an empty stomach.

- Got back, had lunch, went back to the flat, slept well till 7.00 p.m. Then the horrible homesickness that grips me every time I'm in Pune gripped me till I went back to zombie auto-standby. Snapped out of it only after I started frantically reading reports and books and whatever I could lay my hands on. Speaking to Sandy only made me lonelier but also a bit better.

- Office the next day. Spent the whole day filing the story, which was not really as complicated as all that but just couldn't get my act together. Then attended a presentation on infographics, got my story approved by the big boss, then took the bus home.

- Felt as pukey as dammit in the bus, on three separate occasions. But have such tremendous control over myself that I quelled the rising bile in my throat every time.

- Got back safe and in time, then took the lonely train back home. Was as tired as anything. Then once I got off at Borivli station, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to take my nightclothes off the rack on the back of the bathroom door. Which means the cleaning staff at Sakal are going to find a pair of new undies, an old green T-shirt and a pair of skimpy turquoise shorts in the bathroom, if they haven't already.

- Woke up this morning tired but otherwise okay. And now I find that getting out of bed this morning was not the best of ideas. The journey has left me feeling drained, befuddled and drowsy. Also, I am short of one cute pair of shorts.

Will post the story I filed after Sunday, which is when it appears as a full page Sunday Special Report. Yippity yay!!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Indrayani kaathi...

We are going on a special assignment (that we asked to do) to Alandi, land of Dnyaneshwar and Changdeo and all things holy, for two whole days. Expect to work out a good story once we're there. Will be posting the story once we're done.

And this is going to be good, baby, so watch this space.

Friday, July 13, 2007

We have graduated

The last time, in March and April 2007 to be precise, yours truly covered the proceedings in the Legislative Council and watched our learned legislators make total asses of themselves from the press gallery with an indulgent eye.

The Legislative Council, may I add, is the exalted Maharashtra state equivalent of the House of Lords. No swearing happens here, no picking up and hurling of furniture that is not nailed to the ground, and no major decisions are taken here. The most that happens by way of protest here is that legislators in the Opposition stage a walk out over points of mutual disagreement with the ruling combine.

There were only two bright spots in the Budget session as seen from the ringside in the Council. One was Nitin Gadkari make an impassioned and extremely witty (also well-researched) opening speech on the RR Patil - Tasgaon episode. The other was Siddharam Metre saying that the government had no information on whether any such site called Google Earth existed, which elicited some laughter from the press gallery and looks of amazement from the Opposition.

All throughout that one month of sitting there and getting my brains befuddled with things I knew nothing about, then racing to meet ministers to understand certain points in the break, writing at break-neck speed as the action unfolded below, I remember wondering, "What is MB doing in the Assembly?" Both MB and I attended the Session for the first time in our lives, and he was happier than I was at the opportunity. While at UNI, he hadn't ever been given the chance because wherever a political beat reporter exists, the others can hope to get in only via cold-blooded murder or some such subterfuge.

But the whole point of working in a bureau is that there are no beat reporters, so you end up doing all the big stuff and the small stuff and race miles ahead of your contemporaries in terms of knowledge and experience. And another point of working in a bureau (which I have recently unearthed) is that I will not be covering the Council this session.

Yes, me hearties, yours truly will be covering the Assembly this time. Yay to me.

So now its back to researching a lot of stuff in two days' time, learning new stuff about a new House (which has green carpeting while the upper House has red), learning to identify one legislator from the other, and filing stories after getting a daily research time of 10 minutes.
Good fun, if you're in a good mood. Bollocks, if you're not.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Best buds

So Bipasha Basu and Christiano Ronaldo are now 'best buddies'. And just because you were not invited to the Seven Wonders presentation party to show off your fake boobs in a barely-there 'Indian' outfit, and just because you didn't get the chance to 'bump into' Ronaldo at the post-presentation party, doesn't mean you grudge Ms Basu her opportune moment.

So Ms Basu just happened to meet Ronaldo and tell him how big a fan she was of his football skills, ever since boyfriend John Abraham introduced her to football five years ago. No matter that Christianobhai wasn't even playing professional football at the time, but must have been waiting on the sidelines thinking, "Five years hence, I'm going to dance with Bipasha Basu..."

And now the two of them hit it off instantly (don't ask hit off what), so much so that they danced all night and laughed all night and talked all night and struck smooching poses at an opportune moment. But the proudest moment of all for India came when Ronaldo told Bipasha that he was a big fan of Bollywood. By her own admission, she says she told him not to be nice just because she was from Bollywood. To which, he whipped out his cell phone and - this is going to get you good - played 'Tujhse naraz nahin...' from Masoom and told her that he loved the song.

Sigh. I am so teary-eyed knowing how far Hindi film music has gone. I'm sure Beckham is playing 'Apna Sapna Money Money' on his flight to L.A.

And to sign off, Bipasha madam says that she is now such good friends with Ronaldo, even without those opportune moments, that any time she wants to watch a football match live, all she has to do is call Ronaldo for tickets.

Hmm. And since I hit it off instantly when I met Aamir Khan at the premiere of Lagaan, that any time I want to watch a movie, all I have to do is SMS him. He brings the tickets home to me on a velvet cushion and begs to be taken along.

Monday, June 18, 2007

One more Thoo coming up

Met Shilpa yesterday for the first time after the Budget Session, when both she and I braved the entire charade for a few good stories. And she happened to mention (or rather, refresh my abysmal memory) that the Monsoon Session is soon upon us.

Bleeeaaarrrrggghhh, in my opinion.

And for those who are keeping score, the monstrosity is coming up in July. Keep you posted on it everyday. Why should only I suffer?

An Uddhav Thackeray conference

One thing is clear...and that is, our party position is still not clear.

We're still waiting for daddy to stand up and tell us whether we intend to support old what's-her-name for President or not. Or, on second thoughts, let daddy not stand. He's withering away by the day, so if he's hit by a stray gust of wind, that's the end of daddy. Let him call a press conference securely strapped to a sofa chair in our little home in Bandra and give his decision.

Will the decision come tomorrow? I don't know, depends on daddysaheb. You know how it is. At his age, he forgets his own decisions the very minute he makes them. Of course, we save the day by writing edits on how single-minded daddy is. What we omit to mention is that there's very little mind left there anymore, single or sunny side up. Still, we were brought up to be kind to senior citizens, so we're humouring him.

Anyway, the delay is working to our advantage. We had nothing else to talk about these days, and we've only just realised one thing about the press: that whatever we give you, you'll print it.

So I've called you here to request you to not rush daddy into making a decision. Heaven knows he needs half a day just to grasp what we're asking him to think over. Just yesterday, we messed things up a bit, Sanjay Raut and I. We got so frazzled with the media reports and questions that I seized daddy and shouted in one ear, "Aho baba, tya Pratibha Patilcha kay karaycha te sanga na!" and Raut bellowed in the other, "Aajach sangtay ka aajhi phone switch off karun thevu? Sagle mediawale amhala prashna vichartayt, ani tumcha ithe timepass challay!"

I really regret having done that to him yesterday. Not only did he panic initially and start shooting off his mouth at everyone (and everything) in sight, but he took my newest camera and beat me on the head with it (bang goes any chance of putting up an exhibition this year). After which he leapt out of bed and locked Raut in the bathroom. Then he calmed down a bit, had a sip of healing beer, and asked Neelamtai who was cowering in the corner, "What were these two jokers talking about? Pratibha who?"

See what I mean? Don't rush the guy, he gets nervous.

And anyway, we have to think about another complication which has just arisen: as usual, Sushma Swaraj has jumped all 21 guns by announcing that the NDA supports Shekhawat whole-heartedly. Hmph. As if we count for nothing. Bhale aadmi ki koi izzat hi nahi iss desh mein. So we've sent Manohar Joshi to Delhi to go and wring the bloody woman's neck before she makes any more bizarre statements.

What is he going to say there about our decision to support Pratibhatai or not? (Long pause) Only that daddysaheb has still not decided on the issue.

Please come and meet daddy tomorrow. It's our Foundation Day and we want you to come to the party. He may or may not talk about it tomorrow, you know how temperamental (read: loopy) he is. But there will be snacks and juice, and we can brief you on what you can go back to your offices and write.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hike hyuk hyuk

Consider the following:
- A University topper takes up the first job she sees and starts work just four days after her final exams end.

- She starts work at a salary much lower than what the rest of the department makes. Works alone on a bi-weekly supplement, heads a team of over 25 people, produces good issues consistently, doesn't take holidays and constantly learns. Her editor is happy with her, the department's VP says that DK+ is the best of all the Response supplements and that the editorial coordinator (me) is doing a commendable job. All this for Rs 8,000. And she still finds reasons to smile.

- Then she begins looking for jobs because sitting at the desk, rewriting others' copies and producing issues is not really what she's cut out for. So she quits the exalted Times Group and sits at home.

- A month later, she finds employment with Mid Day. She is assigned the medical beat at a salary of Rs 12,000. She has no clue what she's supposed to do, has a very bad self-image and thinks that she'll be asked to quit within a month.

- 11 months later, she quits because she's sick of always looking at the small stuff. She quits in the same month that she may have got a pay hike in. But she quits with some solid reporting experience and finds that investing in the right people at the right time reaps good dividends. She makes some good friends who love her unconditionally. She finds the love of her life, who she loves unconditionally.

- Two months after sitting pretty at home, she lands a job at a Pune-based paper. After four months of mounting frustration, she suddenly finds her rhythm. She is signed on at a salary of Rs 19,000.

- Six months of working later, her probation period ends in a blaze of glory. She is given a hike of 2k and is officially recognised as a good reporter by those who matter. So she now has a happy editor and a great senior to work with. The great senior, by the way, is a fount of information on everything and also keeps her amused from time to time with spirited mimicry of all and sundry.

- 2005 to 2007, from Rs 8k to Rs 20k, from shy and reticent to confident and reasonably talented, from angry little girl to spirited fighter with a sense of humour, from a girl who scoffed true love to the girl who eventually found it...this is the story of my life.

June 12, 2007. I love me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

This is what crossroads look like...

...and to tell you the truth, I'm not too impressed with any of them.

On the one hand, common sense dictates that I stick on in this job and hope that the situation improves. (Hah! Say that again, this time with a straight face.)

While on the other hand, logic dictates that the work you do only adds up to a decent total that helps you in the future. (As if.)

A third possibility is that this job can be used as a springboard for better opportunities in another newspaper.

And a fourth possibility says that, as always, I'm bored way too quickly and that I'm possibly being an ass all over again.

But how do I quell that small voice in me that says, time and time again, It's your life. Hang on tight and do with it what you will.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Wanted: One good job

Dear Sir/ Madam/ Whatever,
I wish to apply to your organisation in the capacity of News Correspondent. I am currently working in this god-awful organisation called Sakaal Papers that is extracting every inch of blood from me without paying me adequately for my troubles.

Be that as it may, however, I have decided to up my market rate not in terms of the salary I expect, but in terms of designation. I am positively appalled by the numerous ghouls and silly-billies who are strutting around as Senior Correspondents and Special Correspondents without doing a single thing to prove that they deserve the designation.

Hence, if they can be promoted to an exalted Senior status, I believe so can I. Not only have I been doing stories to prove that I have some modicum of brains, I have the attitude and airs that can match a hike in position. Think about it.

Besides, if you're looking for biting sarcasm, a decent ability to not mince words, a halfway-there news sense and the brains to spot a news story from a distance of 100 metres or more of it happening, I'm your man.

And oh yes, the salary. I am not willing to negotiate with you on this. What I ask is what I expect to get. Not that it matters to you much, but I have a million plans that are not being fulfilled with the money I'm making right now.

Thanking you,
Yours faithfully and all that.

p.s.: No, you're not sitting on my application, as you are guys are wont to do. If you're reading this right now, call me the next minute.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Please forgive me

It's the most difficult thing in the world to write your own friend's obituary, but it's even worse to report it in a clinical fashion as befitting a news correspondent.

For nothing I write will ever do justice to the Minal Panchal I knew but lost touch with a few years ago...but whenever I think of her, what comes to mind is an exceptionally sharp sense of humour and a keen sense of observation...and both helped the two of us as we worked all night and sweated over drawing sheets and architectural models.

I can see Minal slumped over our morning tea and breakfast in the Rizvi College canteen where we both studied architecture (but she completed it successfully, I didn't), the wry look on her face that proved her skepticism about all things unscientific, her curiously high pitched laughter at trivial things, the way she dreamed and sketched silently even in the middle of a noisy classroom...

A science student from Mithibai College (batch of 1996) who hated Mathematics with a passion ("because I can't figure out permutations and trigonometry, yaar") and who carried her dislike for the subject into structural mechanics in our graduation years...the only times she would really perk up was when anyone suggested a break when she was bored, or when she spoke of her older sister Kavita. To this day, I wonder at how much the two sisters were more like one soul in two bodies; each knew exactly what the other was up to during the day. Or night.

I quit architecture in 2002 and lost touch with her completely. Her and everyone else in class. Which is why there's nobody I can call and ask for her whereabouts. Her home in Borivli is locked; it turns out her mum has been staying with her ever since she went to Blacksburg to pursue a masters in September last year.

And because I wasn't talking to her lately, I hesitated a hundred times over when I pondered getting in touch with her on Orkut. I'd looked for her and found her immediately, but a foolish sense of pride over bygone fights and the kind of reluctance that doesn't want you to make a fool of yourself, stopped me even from scrapping her.

I realise now that it was a huge mistake. I should have at least scribbled a line. At the most, she wouldn't have replied. But the silence of a rebuff kind of takes the edge off the silence of an unasked question...

Now it's too late and illogical to mourn the death of an attractive, tall and ambitious architect who had unspecified dreams which she shared with nobody but only the closest of pals...I don't know how much, if at all, she'd changed after graduating, but I get the feeling that she was too mature, too well-formed in character to change much. Oh yes, she loved the good things in life - calorie-rich sandwiches, enough money to buy whatever she wanted to, intelligent and good looking boys...but this same girl also liked to keep life simple and uncomplicated.

I'm still trying to figure out why I'm so shattered by the death of a girl who was non-existent in my life for the last four years. Maybe it's true what they say about some connections being forever. How else do I explain why random thoughts pass through my mind at this moment when I'm writing about her...the colour blue...8B sketching pencils...her lovely parents...the many nights of laughing and falling asleep over unfinished architectural homework at her place or mine...

Minal will always remain in my mind from now on...she who loved Frank Lloyd Wright and hence The Fountainhead...she who always spoke her mind impartially, about anyone...she who liked all things weird. I don't know if I'm more sorry for the mother who would grieve for her younger daughter in a foreign country, or the scores of friends who have been scrapping her incessantly for news of her whereabouts. Her phone is unreachable, she's still on the missing persons list, but everyone knows she's gone.

Damn. I don't even have the nerve to leave a condolence scrap for her. I'm so sorry, Minal...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Somebody...anybody. Just help.

So it was that by the time I reached office this morning, I knew this was to be one of those days. You know, the kind of day when there are a gazillion stories on every beat and you can't afford to miss a single one because it's just too hot to be roasted by the boss.

Anyway. So we started the day's work with a mountain of stories piling up and the mind already putting them all into different filing cabinets ("Okay, first the Assembly reports. No, first, the TADA proceedings. But wait, even the Mahajan trial is on...but wait, first the Assembly reports") and then just about to sit down to put the day in some kind of order, when Jaan messages me with the very cheerful news that 7/11 accused Rizwan Dawre has the Interpol breathing down his neck with a Red Corner notice.

Phooeey. I really think filing cabinets suck.

So back it was to finding out what the bloody man did in the first place, to getting an irate K P Raghuvanshi to give me details over the phone ("Arre madam, I am addressing media persons in a few minutes...", "Ji sir, but I won't be there so could I know what you're telling them anyway?") and then piecing together the happy news that Dawre was the chap with the hawala transactions and a big donation for a chunk of the operation. Tsk tsk, bad boy, Rizwan.

And was just getting that in order and sending it when MB decides to make his presence felt by messaging me to keep a tab on Dilip Walse Patil who was to make earth-shattering announcements over the ULCA affair. Yeah, like I'm like some Grade A chutiya who knows nothing. Okay fine, I'm a Grade A chutiya who knows very little, but there's no need to rub my face in it.

But that was not to happen for some time, so I spent some moments making sense of the May 9 date for the Sanjay Dutt verdict. The other 69 who raised a ruckus over parity with Dutt and so on, would also have their orders passed that day. So that means nobody's playing till May 9. In which case, MB will be out gallivanting on this Friday, April 20 ("It's my anniversary", blush blush) so that should indicate that yours truly will be the Friday scapegoat floundering while all the news beats get together and discuss strategies to beat me over the head for one complete day.

And by the end of today, 10 bucks says I will be out of this place with a very pronounced 'sutta na mila' expression on my face and thinking longingly of Saturday when the stupidity is suspended for one whole day. But today is just Monday and the entire week is still to go...


Friday, April 6, 2007

Jaalim ka jod de makaan...

One of the strangest things to happen after I started work in such a volatile profession, is that instead of getting jumpier than I already was, I settled down.

And also from being the kind of person who gets bored to bits with any person after about 30 minutes of his company (30 minutes is a highly optimistic and conservative estimate), I am actually looking forward to more and more time with one person alone. One person with the dimpled smiles and the puppy noises and the declarations of "I'm not Cleopatra, alright!"

Talk about contradiction in terms.

Okay, so maybe there is such a thing as destiny. And maybe there is such a thing as fate that dictates whose paths will cross yours and when. Maybe if I had continued with the architecture madness, I may have been around a different set of people and circumstances. Maybe I would have still been single, or worse, hitched to some silly boy (not that I'm not hitched to one right now, hyuk hyuk!).

Or maybe I wouldn't ever have known that an entirely different world exists out there - that people are actually not as complex as they seem, or that it's okay if you can't change the world and that hard work not always leads to positive results.

And I would have definitely passed by the many tests of resilience and patience and discoveries and loud laughter and the feeling that for once, there is something I can actually do passably. Architecture only made me feel stupid and like I was two-year-old autistic child.

And I would have never met this dufus (read duphoos) who needs to mentally prepare himself for an hour before each bath, or who keeps me waiting at every railway station he can think of and have a novel excuse ready, or who tries every trick in the book to get me to spill the beans on something I don't want to talk about.

And this is also the same boy who buys me half of Inorbit because it's my birthday and tells me to 'Ja Mar!' every time I rag him about going to another boy. What he doesn't get is there is no other boy, man or beast I would ever go to.

Not because I love him a lot, because I don't. Not because I think he's the best boy in the world, because he's okay-types. It's because my every thought and action starts and ends with him, but curiously, not to the extent that I can't think without him around.

Okay, so maybe I love him a lot and he's not just okay-types. Just don't tell him I said that or I wouldn't hear the end of it.