Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saudi King grands voting rights to women - An analysis

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Forty eight years are over after Martin Luther King Jr first delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech. Unfortunately, we are still struggling to find a solution for this problem. More or less inequality still prevails across the world - based on gender, birth, religion, caste, race etc.

I am not saying that all the people in the world are equal - its not and it should not be; after all we are not machines!!! Moreover, nature itself doesn’t like equality, that’s why we can't see any nature made coffee or tea plantations. Nature prefers diversity - that why deer, monkey, snake, crocodile are living in the same jungle where lion, tiger, hyena lives.

Each and every one of us are different, everyone has different interests, choices, targets etc. Some people may be able force their choice on an entire community for some time, they may even be able to force their choice a small group for ever but nobody will be able to force their choice on an entire community forever. If they are forcing their wishes on an entire section [for example 'banning women from work'], it will not only bring down the productivity but also results in resentment. That’s exactly what the principle of comparative advantage says - even if one country is more efficient in the production of all goods it can still gain by trading with another country - which is relatively more efficient in one particular good.

We all know this, we know about equality and its significance in society. But, when it comes to caste, race, religion, gender etc, somewhere we are losing thoughts. There is a sea of difference between a person who is superior to another because of his knowledge and a person who is superior to other due to his/her caste, religion, race etc. In the former situation he/she acquired the qualities due to his hard work and dedication, in the later case he/she got his position because of mere chance of birth - which is not at all in our control!!! After all we can't decide in which race, country, caste and religion we need to born.

So what is the point of differentiating a person based on criteria which doesn't has anything to do with his/her character, intellect, thoughts etc?

It is in this background we have to think about the recent declaration of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to grant women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections. A great leap forward, considering Saudi's conservative credentials. King said that, women would also be appointed to the Majlis Al-Shura, a consultative council that advises the monarchy on matters of public policy.

Right to vote and participate in elections are fundamental rights of citizen in a democratic environment. This will increase the leverage of common man [or woman] in the administration and government will be more responsible for the welfare of the people. After all the administration has to consider the views of people who elected them. In this way King's decision to give more opportunities to women is certainly an admirable move.

Recent Arab spring showed the power of women, they came and participated in large numbers (Although no one is sure about what will happen, if fundamentalists hijacked the movement) - an indicator that they can swim through the middle east politics if fundamentalists are kept at bay. As far as Shura council is considered, it will give an additional platform to express their views (not more than that unless some woman member from royal family come forward and decides to participate).

But it raises many more questions too - Is it enough? The two main characteristics of most of the Middle East countries are - 1. Run by monarchies 2. Dependent on Oil Revenue (In another way independent of tax revenue from common man).

Consider the first case - as the countries are not democratic, people's opinion will have less effect on policy making and governance. Administration doesn’t have to go back to the people - asking one more term - in every four or five years. Even if monarchy created some sort of democratic institution, election process will have little effect unless the elected government has some significant role in decision making process.

The second case is related to oil revenue. Enormous foreign currency reserves coming through oil routes will erase the dependency of administration on taxation. We may think that it is good as they don't have to pay tax. Unfortunately there is darker side for this problem.

If I reversed the famous slogan 'No taxation without representation' of American Revolution, it will read like this - 'No representation without Taxation'. Isn't it equally true? If the government is not depend on the tax revenue from the public, people will have less say on how administration uses it.

According to Aristotle - "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost."

Yet the long standing demand for the right to drive is yet to be solved and so as the percentage of women in workforce and judiciary.

According to DW-World report - "Saudi women are currently required either to hire male chauffeurs or rely on male family members for transportation and are not allowed to travel unaccompanied if they are under 45 years old."

In conclusion, I can say that King Abdulla's decision to grant some more rights to women is certainly a great step. This will bring more women to the political stage. But will it create any big difference in the grass root level? Will the women from the lower end of society be able to come forward and join with the women from elites to participate in various discussions in the councils? Will the fundamentalists allow all these to be implemented as intended? I have serious doubts regarding to the first and third questions. Even if answer to all the questions are positive, little will change if the council doesn't have a say in nation's budget, policy making and oil revenue.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

On the shores of Mahabalipuram

It was the fourth time I was planning a journey to Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram. In all the previous cases I had to cancel the enterprise in the final moment. The unexpected holiday of six days - including weekends, Ramadan and Ganesh festival gave me another opportunity to explore the Coromandal Coast of India; first time to a Union Territory and second journey to Tamilnadu in the past one month.

Unfortunately there was no online booking facility for SETC buses; we had to go to Shanti Nagar TTMC to reserve the ticket. Unlike their counterparts in Karnataka, Tamilnadu buses have a route number pasted in front of it for easy identification. You can verify this route number against the one in the reservation ticket - a very helpful for people like me who can't read Tamil. Bus came late, but I got my favorite window seat (even though it is not so useful in the night)!!!

I was not in a mood to talk to anyone, so just looked outside to the innumerable lamps tearing apart the Bangalore’s night cover. But the guy who sat next to me was in a good mood to speak and so we started the conversation by asking some trivial questions. Basically from Cuddalore my newly found friend had a very good knowledge on Tamilnadu coastal area. He told me the numerous stories and history of his native district – Cuddalore - former HQ of British Territories in Coromandal Coast, Pondicherry, Neiveli etc.  Time moved too fast? Suddenly bus stopped for midnight refreshment!!!

We spent some time under the cover of night sky; cold wind was slowly patting us. After everyone’s dinner was over we again went to our respective seats; I told good night to him went for sleep. As my friend warned Krishnagiri – Pondicherry route will be the last one you can think about sleeping that too in a normal bus. There was no other option as I had to wake up early in the next day morning to saw the 
Mahabalipuram world heritage site. Finally I slept for some time; when the bus stopped at Cuddalore town in the next morning he told goodbye to me and disappeared in the night. I decided to sleep for some more time and by the time sun rises reached my face, we were moving through the busy Pondicherry roads. After taking some tired breaths for some time my six tired chariot finally got some rest at Pondicherry bus stand.
Binesh (my friend staying in Pondicherry) already informed me about the astronomical auto charges.

I was wondering how the auto charges in Pondicherry could be so high. After all it’s a union territory and because of the absence of state tax the expenditure for petrol, diesel and of course for alcohol were low. 
Unfortunately it didn’t reflect in the auto charge. Absence of a proper city bus service only aggravated the problem. As the options are limited I took an auto to reach Binesh’s room. After sleeping there for some time we went for breakfast - poori-sabji; the whitish dense coconut chatni was good. Later we went to the bus stand for our historical Mahabalipuram journey!!!

After searching for some time we got an ECR Express - connecting Pondicherry and Chennai - from the stand. As the bus slowly started moving the new city of Pondicherry unraveled in front of my eyes. East Coast Road or ECR (as it is popularly known) is a two lane road (without a divider) connecting Chennai and Toothukudi (690km). The stretch from Pondicherry to Chennai is very much close to Bay of Bengal - I can saw the bluish waters of the ocean many times during the journey. Even though Binesh was a regular in ECR road he was not ventured out to the semantics of Pallava architecture in Mahabalipuram till then. So we both were quite excited about the journey; he explained me a lot about Pondicherry, about the old town, Sea Bridge, beach, Duplex statue, about his work and recent experiences.

Because of the closeness to the sea, geography on both sides of ECR was very much different from other Tamilnadu roads. After crossing salt fields and Kalpakkam we finally reached Mamallapuram. After getting down from the bus, took a right turn to reach the heritage site. An ASI officer explained about the temple and route in his office - after saying a big thanks to him we started our expedition to the first destination - Mamallapuram (also known as Mahabalipuram) Shore Temples. Located around sixty kilometers from Chennai, Mahabalipuram was the second capital of Pallava kings of Kanchipuram.  Here we can saw various types of structures - shore temple, Rathas carved out of big boulders, manmade caves and an open air- bas relief. These temples were built during the time of Narashimhavarman and his successor Rajasimhavarman.

It was really hot, without cold water in hand it was difficult to walk. After crossing Mamallapuram bus stand we took a left turn to reach the temple. It was good scenery - a stone pyramid like structure across a bluish ocean and clear sky. We can approach the temple from the left; a group of Nandi statues looking towards us welcomed us to the shore temple. After standing in the salty wind for a long time most of the carvings on the sides of temples were either gone or in the last stage of the decay. The interesting fact was – the main shrine faces the sea on the east while other structures – gate, assembly hall etc, lies behind the sanctum. The temple has a shrine to both Shiva and Vishnu. The main sanctum and one of the two lesser one on the left are dedicated to Shiva.

We slowly entered the temple from the back and moved through various stone works in the walls then took a round around the temple. After spending some more time there we slowly moved to beach. As the time passed we found ourselves in a furnace like situation – hot sun in the top and hot sand under the feet. After spending some time on the beach we came back, in fact the combined heat of sun and the sands forced us to run for cover. Even the cold ice creams and juices didn’t offer much comfort from the heat outside. We slowly moved to see the pancha rathas by following the sign boards, but end up in Mahishasuramardini temple. This temple is on the top of a small hill; from here the Bay of Bengal looks very nice. 

After leaving the temple we started searching for Arjuna Penance and gravity stone but reached some other monuments. Finally after moving here and there for a long time under the September sun we finally saw the gravity stone [also known Krishna butterball] – a big oval shaped stone sitting in the slope of a hill. You will wonder why it is not coming down – but it’s still obeying the rules of Physics!!! By this time atmosphere was so hot that it was so difficult to sit/stand in open areas.

After seeing almost all the monuments near to it, we finally dropped the search for Arjuna penance and started moving towards Panch Rathas. On the way, we saw Ganesha mandapa and then so many carvings on a huge rock face on the right side of the road. Near to the carvings, we saw a pillared hall carved in to the rock, these columns shows the hard work of Pallava stone masons.

September sun left us very much tired, but we decided to go and saw rathas. The2RS water packet available all over the place are somewhat helpful to escape from the hot climate. Finally we reached Pancharathas a structure close to Bay of Bengal; the entire complex contains five rathas, big sculpture of Nandi, Lion and elephant. I had to wait for a long time to get this elephant alone for a photo as all most all the people come there want the same.

After seeing pancharathas we decided to say good bye to Mahabalipuram and took an auto to reach ECR road. It was easy to get a bus from Mahabalipuram to Chennai but to Pondicherry it was difficult. Even with the small number of buses coming from Chennai there were problems, either it wouldn’t stop or there may not be any space left for us. Many buses came and went, but we remained there. Finally sun started setting in the west. As any improvement in our condition was not visible in the pipeline we decided to try the next one, but Binesh got a gut feeling that the next bus might have some free seats. Unfortunately it was not necessary that the gut feelings would always gave you positive results. Anyway after viewing some more express buses, travelling in ‘normal speeds’, we finally got an ECR express (as they call it) and we were on our journey back to Pondicherry (of course not place to sit).

As we didn’t have much to speak, I put forward the issue of Anna Hazare's fast. From Mahabalipuram to Pondicherry we argued, counter argued so much so that even the snacks (I prefer to call it as mini meal) were not enough for us. Arguments didn’t change his or my opinion, at the end we were standing more or less at the same point where we begin but better equipped for a counter attack. 

When we reached Pondicherry we were still hanging on the same topic. By late evening we reached Pondicherry bus stand; from there we took an auto to room. Auto driver charged us 60, after bargaining it became 50. The interesting thing was in the morning when we travelled the same distance they charged me 60 and when we came back to the bus stand the rate was 40. In the next day evening when I tried an auto they asked me 70 (later it reduced to 60). Binesh was right, they are charging according to their moods. Unfortunately most of the time, their mood was not in favour of me.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Exploring Odisha - Day Three : Paradeep port and beach, Mahanadi Estuary

Entrance - Paradeep
Paradeep, is one of the important ports in the eastern shores of India. With a good numbers of investment proposals in pipeline, expectations are very high regarding to the further growth of port and associated infrastructure.

We started early in the morning and got a TATA Sumo to Paradeep, it moved so slow that the road side views were moving in a slow motion. Huge numbers of Lorries were waiting in the roadsides to enter to the port and so as the millions of dollars worth ores in it. Slowly we reached the port area; separated by a huge compound wall from the rest of the city it holds all the characteristics of a sensitive area. We got the idea of how much sensitive it is when a CISF constable came and warned as against the use of Camera near or inside the port. Indeed the CCTVs are working!!!

As private vehicles are not allowed for sightseeing inside the port (walking on foot too was not allowed for non-employees) we booked tickets in port authority’s sightseeing buses as it is the only option. These buses will come and pick up you in designated intervals. Finally our vehicle came and we moved in, as the content of coal were high in the atmosphere, driver asked us to pull down the glass shutters.

As we moved on, he explained about different areas of the port in Oriya. Its an interesting place - interesting not because of its natural beauty - but its represents the industrial development of our nation. Our ships are again sailing to other ports across the world. Unfortunately we are end up providing basic raw materials like iron ore to foreign countries and buying the manufactured goods made out of it from them. If I put it in another way, we are selling goods which lies lower in the value chain and end up buying goods from the higher levels of value chain. (Huge out flow of money from our valuable foreign reserves).

Even after having an entire ocean in our name - no other country has an Ocean named after her - and thousands of kms of shores, we are struggling for container transshipment. How long we can depend on foreign ports like - Salala, Colombo, Singapore etc for our transshipment? Newly opened ICTT terminal in Cochin port is an important step in this direction, but not enough for 1.2bn+ people(+ Landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan).

Huge amount of coal were accumulated in one side of the port, and the other side was decorated by various merchant ships in the sea channels. In some ships cranes are working with out any tiredness - the mammoth steel structures picked up huge amount of weight as simple as elephant taking water from river through his trunks. Soil become blackish because of the presence of Coal, and the people who were working there didn’t wear any masks to save themselves from inhaling the polluted air!!!
Mahanadi meets Bay of Bengal

Suddenly the journey was over, it was very short. If I can represent the port in the form of an elephant, I saw the food feeding it, his legs and a part of the head rest was still there. One part of it may represent the long conveyer belts carrying various products passing at a height of about 200m over my head, or the huge water body called Bay of Bengal. I don't know, but whatever I saw, combined with the prospects of a future POSCO steel plant, I can say that we are still in business.

From Paradeep port we went to Paradeep beach in an Auto. Marked with the sight of ships in a distance, this place was good one to spent some time in solitude. Next destination was Mahanadi estuary. Estuary is place where a (or more) river (or streams) meets with the open sea. As we became more and more close to estuary, buildings on both sides of the road gave way to trees. The presence of big stones on the sides, muddy water of great Mahanadhi and the waves moving in various directions coupled with the huge water body gave a distinct look to the place - yes Nirvana or salvation!!!
Mahanadi Estuary

This is how the rivers ends her journey. Started from the distant mountains, moving fast through the valleys and giving water to lakhs of people along her way Mahanadi finally reached her salvation. We sped a lot of time there, as I moved to the thin sand stretch waters to Mahanadi slowly touched my body before finally moving to become part of a bigger universe called Bay of Bengal.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Burhanuddin Rabbani's death and Afghan peace initiative

Finally one more person died in the old great game. This time it was the turn of former Afghanistan president and Current Chairman of High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani. Suicide bombers found their way to his home in the high security diplomatic area. The bad side is, he was the chief of current High Peace Council which is supposed to be in charge of finding a peaceful solution for Afghan problem inclusive of Taliban. It is entirely another matter that, Taliban who ruled Kabul for more than 5 years will be satisfied by any solution shorter than the one which will guarantee them power.

The death exposed the deadly situation in Afghanistan, there is no guarantee for any one's life. And the underflow is so strong that various groups are undercutting each other and bringing down the situation in the country. It is yet to see how the death of one more prominent leader will affect Karzai's initiative of reaching out the Taliban and the exit of US military forces. Certainly this is a blow to the peace initiative. 

According to Guardian report "Unconfirmed reports indicated that the two men were holding a meeting with a pair of insurgents to discuss peace plans. That raises the possibility that one of the insurgents could have been the bomber." 

This rise the another problem for both Americans and Afghan administration - Now the question is whom to trust? How one can trust the person coming to meet you? Recent Suicide blasts on CIA's forward post Khost was also carried out by a person who enjoyed the complete trust of CIA.

Even though Rabbani's - A Tajik and a former warlord from Northern Afghanistan - appointment as the chairman may not went down well with the Taliban ranks, he may be a good choice. As a northerner, if he was able to make deal with Taliban, he may be able to persuade other northern leaders to accept the same. Now what will happen to the so called peace initiative? Will a Northerner headed peace council be acceptable to Taliban? Will the old northern alliance will accept a formula in which they don't have much stakes?

As an immediate impact, Rabbani's death and recent attacks by Taliban may force USA to rethink her exit strategy. As decided earlier, US may start the process of withdrawal her forces as promised by Obama, but the numbers may not be significant. The interesting question which I am not yet able to answer fully is why Taliban is trying to attack now? Did they changed their plan of waiting for US to exit and then move in? After all it is the more safe for them.


Exploring Odisha - Day Two: Chilika, Alarnath and Nandankanan

Chilika from Satapada entrace point
I like to wake up early in the morning, but what to do? whenever I decided to wake up early, sun would come a little bit earlier. Same thing happened in that day also. But it was different - I was going to see Chilika Lake, one of the biggest in the world. Statistics says that more than 9 Lakh birds come here in the migratory season!!! Just imagine, this designated Ramsar wetland sustains more than 1.5 Lakh fisher folk and hosts more than 160 species of birds.

After waking up, I just opened the back door of our OTDC room. For a long distance I could see the light blue colour of Chilika Lake and some of the fishing boundaries here and there. Birds from Siberia, Central Asia travel thousands of Kilometer every year to spend some days in Chilika, some even fly more than 12,000 kms to reach here. I just wondered about the first bird which came from those distances and saw the vast Chilika and went back. How he/she persuaded others to come here? Even though it was for escaping the severe central Asian and Russian winter the migration of birds over these much kilometers is really an interesting thing too see. It may also be a declaration - 'hei Human do whatever you want to do with your borders, we simply don't care'.

Unfortunately, I visited Chilika in the off-season, so no birds. After breakfast we slowly moved to Chilika Boat Jetty. From here we boarded one boat to see the endangered Irravady Dolphis at the Dolphin point. This Boat with its old Yamaha engine painted in blue colour slowly started her journey through this majestic water body, as it was moving forward waters of Chilika started hitting her sides patched with a combination of plastic, iron and wood. Its like a call to us, to reveal her secrets. We moved towards the dolphin point.
A view from the boat

With a catchment area of 3560km2 and a maximum surface area of 740km2 Chilika spreads over three districts (Puri, Khurda and Ganjam) of Orissa. Slowly we reached the dolphin point and waited for one to come up, I slowly looked towards the sky, beautiful clouds - looked like a group of sheeps walking in sphere formation - just smiled towards me. It looked like saying to me that - Hei man, are you ready to come with us? we will show you the beauty of nature? Suddenly a small head started moving around some 250 meters away from our boat - yes it was a dolphin or at least according to the driver it was a dolphin. After some time we saw this endangered species again - this time much closer. After spending some more time in the lake I said my parting words - leaving now, but only to come again. Afterall without, seeing the Chilika lake in the migratory season how can I say good bye?

From Satapada we went to Alarnath temple. From Satapada for a long distance you can see the lake on one side of the road. Unfortunately I fell in to sleep and woke up only after reaching Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri.

According to legend this is the place where people use to come in huge numbers when there is no public darshan in Puri temple as the deities fall sick after Snana Yatra and it is believed that Lord Jagannath manifests into Alarnath Dev during that period (this belief was first propounded by Sri Chaitanya when he visited this temple).It has a beautiful black granite statue with burn marks on hand as it is believed that the deity dipped his hand inside the bowl of very hot kheer and there is a small Mahalakshmi temple nearby with equally diligent statue of MahaLakshmi.

After Brahmagiri our next destination was NandanKanan National Park. We reached there just after the noon, and the hot weather almost made me drink whatever coming to my hand. We visited only the Zoological Park of the garden. This 400 hectre park also contains a 54 hactre Kanjia (After reading the lake name in the board I stopped and start thinking - somewhere I heared a similar word. Got it? yes, the Pangaea of Alfred Wegener) lake.

I don't like the procedure of caging animals and birds. Do we have the right to take (the correct word is rob) some thing from others which we ourselves are not ready to give up? Our courts are convicting criminals for years in prison, but it is for some verified crime. What are the crimes committed by these animals and birds - living at an age where the human beings themselves are considered as living in an advanced age? I saw the bears, tigers and other animals forced to live in the limited space allocated to them.

It is the sounds of the free birds flying over my head from here and there which gave me some moment of joy. I saw the animals the rare one and the abundant ones - people are calling them some names - but what i saw more was the helplessness in their eyes, sadness was overshadowing their face, their four feets are forced to explore only around 100-200 times of their size. Just imagine the case of Cheetah which can cover long distances in a single jump.

Views from Nandan Kanan
We reached Kanjia - a silent lake, may be the cries for freedom from her shores made her life sad and silent. Some people were pedelling their boats others  were simply enjoying the company of their loved ones. And in the cages the animals were crying for some company, at least someone to speak. We slowly moved through the paved roads on the shores, in search of the sounds coming from that end.And finally we reached there, a lot of birds but here also their movements are restricted. Suddenly it rained as if the combined tears of animals and birds are coming out from the afternoon sky. But it was a refreshment, after the hot whether, fast dehydration, humidity it was really a blessing from the forest. It removed all the tiredness and pain in the leg, and yes I was ready to run again!!!

We slowly moved towards the place where Safari buses were parked. As I was the first one to enter, got the first seat - next to the driver in the other end. Guards opened the gates for the first Safari, as our bus moved in, they closed another gate from behind. We moved through the mud road and saw a white tiger sleeping at a little distance, after that we didn't see any other animal - probably other than a peacock, till we cam back to the iron door. With frustration, the person sitting back to me used non-parliamentary language.

I didn't understand, yes really I didn't understand, what was the need for him to use such type of words in the first place? If you were not able to see any animals, during your safari, it's your bad luck. These animals don't take the pledge to appear in front of you whenever you come to a forest area. After coming out from that area we went to another forest area designated for lion safari. Again the big iron door closed in our backside - This iron door remembered me Spielberg's Jurassic Park series.

A view during Safari
Within no time, a lion was in front of our vehicle. King of the forest, as typical to the characteristics of the king, didn't show any anxiety. It simply turned his head and looked towards the mammoth white box slowly approaching towards him by spitting black smokes. But we forced this half sleepy animal to move towards the side. After hearing the polluting sound from the vehicle he slowly started moving to one side, but only after correcting his beared. Later there was a group of lions on one side of the road but as the safari time was limited, we slowly moved towards the gate and reached the dropping point.After looking the artificial fountains close to the ticket counter we slowly came out of the park.

After the rains, afternoon sky took a new avatar, all the gloominess was removed from the atmosphere. And we hitted Bubaneshwar roads. After crossing Mahanadi we reached High Court complex IN Cuttack, forget to say Milon's father is a lawyer and he took all the pains to explain me the importance of the places we were visiting - no matter whether it is Chilika, Nandan Kanan, Orissa HighCourt, Barabati fort complex or stadium.

Suddenly rain came, even though it started with light showers didn't took much time to attain critical mass. This unraveled a naked truth in front of our eyes. Cuttack roads are good, but not good enough to have a proper drainage system, forget about 'proper' there is no place for the water to go. Its fast accumulated in the road - with in minutes our vehicle's tyre was suffocating under the water. People started shutting down their stores, but as each vehicle passes through these narrow streets water found her way to the shops.

As the darkness was slowly tearing apart the remaining lights from the screen, we call it as a day and went back to Home.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Telangana Agitation - Hyderabad going to boil again?

Indefinite strike for separate Telangana begins - The Hindu

There was a time, when the unbelievable rise of Hyderabad mesmerized everyone. The City of Pearls, which is also the sixth most populous city in India, quickly became one of the major IT Hub and Pharmaceutical capital of India. Indeed Hyderabad was in a dream run. Unfortunately, now the issue of Telengana looms over the prospectus of her future and growth.

Telengana movement was started long time back, it may be one of the oldest running movement in India for the creation of a separate state. Over the course of time Telangana movement saw many ebb and flows. But last time time continued for a long time, which resulted in Central Home Minister P Chidambaram announcement in December 2009. According to which the central Government would start the process of creating a separate state after the introduction and passage of a resolution in Andra state Assembly. After Chidambaram's  promise K Chandrashekhar Rao ended his 11 day old fast. As it was opposed by Seema- Andra region this promise didn't materialized other than the creation of Srikrishna Committee. Anyway Srikrishna Commission helped government to buy some time and there by pacify the people.

Srikrishna commission report too didn't help the problem to move in the direction of a solution. Agitation, strikes, rallies, bandh etc, continued with more or less strength and paralyzed the city which eventually resulted in the loss of crores of rupees in revenue. If things are going on this way - without any definite action either from Andra assembly or from the central government - it will not take much time for the business to relocate to other cities. After all who want to shut down their business every now and then?

This is the time for the political parties to think and act above their individual likes and dislikes. As both the state and centre are headed by the same party - Congress is in a better position to take a definite step to end the stalemate. There is no doubt that the MLA's from the coastal region will face difficulties in supporting the demand for separate Telangana. At the same time Central government may not want to see themselves as imposing their own will. But this is the time for a someone to take a decisive action.

Here comes the idea of a political consensus and cooperating with the opposition. If the government is waiting for everyone to arrive at a common point - it is not going to happen. So maximum they can do is to  create a political consensus with in the state and act accordingly. Now almost two years are over after the promise of P Chidambaram. We spent too much time on simply ignoring or playing down the seriousness of the issue. It is possible that after sometime the popularity of the agitation may go down, people may go back to normal condition, but under suitable environment it will again come to the surface and start hunting the city.

Ending the agitation is very much important for Hyderabad too. Uncertainty may force the investors to search for another city. Prolonged agitations may cause disturbances even among the enterprises which have long time relationship with the city. Considering the gravity of the situation, its important for the central government to give more attention towards the problem stop it from becoming a hot potato. I don't want to see the book title 'The rise and fall of Hyderabad' in the stands. 


Sunday, September 11, 2011

The wistleblower - An eyeopener for the UN?

It was an accident.I was searching for another topic and suddenly the review of 'The Wistleblower' came up. Curiocity forced me to read it full, check out the issue in newspapers and later watch the movie itself. Contrary to my expectation, the story was not about some sting sting operation to reveal the sex secets of top leaders or the corruption scandal. The issue was more serious - its about human trafficking and sex trade involving minors. What was shocking is the name of accused agency - The United Nations.

Movie started with the posting of Kathryn Bolkovac - a US Policwoman - to the disturbed Bosia. Here she finds out that the peacekeepers who are supposed to help the common citizens, are involded in the dirty trade. In the end, when her senior offices refused to act, she blow up the Wistle and for this action removed from the service.

You can read the news related to sexual assult accusation against UN peacekeepers at, Guardian, NewYorkTimes and The Hindu.

Accustions against UN peacekeeping missions in Bosnia is not an isolated incident. UN is running into problems, in other places like Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast etc. This week, issue of sexual assult on an 18 year old girl in Haiti resulted in furious protests in that country. Accoring to UN, cases related to sexual exploitation and abuse reduced from 108 in 2007 to just 5 in this year(so far) - 85 in 2008, 63 in 2009, 33 in 2010.

But these type of incidents are affecting the image of UN. Sending peacekeeping missions to various problematic areas around the world is to help the people - who were already suffering heavily because of furious nature or ethnic violence. Aim is to make the affected people feel safe under the UN flag. In such a situation, if UN peacekeeping force itself is engaging such activities? Nowhere in the civilized world, sexual assult is considered as a counter terrorism method. These types of actions are gross violations of basic human rights. Moreover, if such type of activities are done by foreign armies, then for the affected people its not only a personal humiliation but humiliation of their national pride. If the guilty people are not properly prosecuted, it will only aggrevate the wounds.

In this case the member countries too have to cooperate with UN, as the peacekeers are enjoying diplomatic immunity it is important for the member countries to take necessary actions against the guilty ones. Zero tolerance policy should come out form the files to the grounds.


Exploring Odisha - Day One

It was my wish to see Orissa - the land of Konark, Puri, Lingaraj, Chilika etc - but because of the distance from Bangalore, cost and other difficulties related to transport and language; I never thought that the dream will realize anytime soon. But thanks to my friend and roommate Milon, finally I got an opportunity to visit Orissa. Yes the same place, which witnessed the Kalinga war...

Finally, on a calm Friday evening we left Bangalore to Bubaneshwar in Guwahati Express. For the next 1500 km eastern coastline of India unraveled many mysteries before me. Its looks like nature is going to stand on the next elections in AP - only two colours are visible on both sides of the track - green on the ground and blue on the sky. Vast paddy fields are spread on both sides of the railway track, unlike the heavily populated Kerala - where you can see a lot of houses in both sides of the tracks, both in AP and in Orissa it’s very difficult to see houses or people (other than those working on paddy fields) near to the railway tracks.

It was for the first time I am spending one full day in train, but the window seat was more than a replacement for all other forms of entertainment.  On the way, we can saw the mighty Krishna and then the famous Godavari and numerous other rivers flows across the Eastern Ghats to reach the sea – after giving water to various adventures of humans and animals. After covering Vijayawada, Vizag etc we finally reached the outskirts of Bubaneshwar in the early morning. Just like sun, people are also in deep sleep, straight and wide roads of the city is empty, other than the noises coming from railway station I am unable to hear any other noise. After spending the rest of the night with one friend, we started our journey towards Cuttak and then to Milon's home in the early morning. After getting in to the bus I slowly looked outside through the glass window in the sides - Bubaneshwar to Cuttuck road is slowly coming alive in front of my eyes. Yes, finally I reached Orissa and according to the plan we will start our official journey from tomorrow.

Khandagiri – Udayagiri caves

Hathigumba Inscription
In the next day, we started early in the morning, I can't say 'early' as sun already came out from the eastern mountain. Our first stop was at Khandagiri-Udayagiri Jain caves complex located near to Bubanshwar airport. After viewing the caves in Udayagiri we moved to Khandagiri - located on other side of the road. After visiting some of the caves like - sarpagumba etc with its all excitement we reached the famous Hathigumba caves. Famous Hatigumba inscription of Kharavela is in the entrance of this cave. I just looked at the two millennia old scripts for some time, as my friend Binesh pointed out after seeing the inscriptions in Mahabalipuram - "If we could read this!!!"

These caves unfurl a mysterious world in front of me. The smell of the stone caves, which have a lot to tell about their famous occupiers, really took me two millennia back. How they lived in these caves? The experience of standing in the same place where emperor Kharewala once stood (probably) will give satisfaction for any of the traveler. Apart from Hatigumpha here you can see Sarpagumpha, Byaghragumpha, Ganeshagumpa, Ranigumpha etc.

Lingaraja Temple

From the Jain cave complex we went straight to the iconic Lingaraja temple of Bubaneshwer. This temple, located in old city, is visible from a distance. More than 1100 years old Lingraja temple, the biggest (55m in Height) of all Bubaneshwara temples, is dedicated to lord Harihara. We took a round around the temple and reached very close to garbhagriha, I just looked to the top from here. With carving from bottom to top this temple reveals the excellence and hard work of ancient Oriyan temple builders. Apart from the main temple structure there are lot of small shrines (according to some sources numbered close to 150) covered by a laterite wall (520 * 465ft) in this complex. After visiting many of them and praying in front of Lord Lingaraj (Harihara) we slowly came outside.

Mukteshwara-Siddheswara Temple Complex

These two are not working temples and located close to Lingaraja Temple. Here to you can see a lot of stone works in the walls.

While we are about to leave one person suddenly appeared from nowhere and give us a parking ticket. What more surprising was, we parked on the side of the road. In fact, wherever we stopped - it doesn’t matter if it was in road side or parking area - someone would approach us with a receipt book and start asking for the parking fee. We faced this in almost all part of Orissa - I don’t why everyone is so obsessed with collecting parking fee. Even in Sapthasajya - a temple located in the forest we had to pay fee for using the road as well as for parking. So keep your tyre in running mode while you are in Orissa, otherwise you would end up in paying parking fee every now and then, and don't think it’s a nominal amount!!!

From here we went straight to the location of famous Kalinga war (Daya river plains and Dhauligiri)


Before going to Dhauligiri, I have to say something about Orissa. Unlike the situation in Kerala, roads of Orissa are very wide (at least National Highways) and so as the median. In some places from median itself you can construct two lanes. Instead of houses, both sides of the road are covered with vast paddy fields with small hills acting as a frontier. Lorries  - whether working or not - are a constant view. My friend described Bubaneshwar as Temple City of India - I must say it can be described as the 'Lorry City' too and soon it may become the city of dead Lorries.

Young girls, in huge numbers, riding on the school uniform was another interesting view on this otherwise hot roads of Orissa. Almost all traffic policemen and women standing in each and every junction of the city are very much young - looks like Orissa government just completed a massive recruitment drive!!! Unfortunately I was not able to see much public bus network in the city. Other than some DTS bus services I saw here and there in Bubaneshwar city much of the short and medium journeys are depended on shared taxies.   

We reached Dhauligiri after some time. The first mark of Ashoka we saw in Dhauli was his pillar erected at that time on the side of the road. Smell of an old empire and Kalinga was very much alive on Dhauli's atmosphere. Soon we reached Shanti Stupa at the top of the hill, elected later by Japanese. Hope that, as the name implies, Buddha's messages will create sense of happiness and peace of mind to the people living across the world.

Daya River plains - location of Kalinga war
From here you can see the zig-zag path of Daya and her plains - yes the same places where Asoka's Mauryan forces fought the famous battle of Kalinga with the then Oriyan Army. The same place, which according to the history turned Asoka’s mind and become 'Asoka the great'.

"Namo buddham sharanam gacchami. 
 Namo dharmam sharanam gacchami. 
 Namo sangham sharanam gacchami"

After seeing Daya once again we reached in front of the famous Rock Edict of Asoka. Although I can’t read it - written in old scripts - the sense of owe and respect that will generate in the mind of the reader is not explainable in words. I am standing in front of the remains of an old empire, in its glorious period, which spread from Afghanistan in the west to Assam in the east and Himalaya in the north to almost the end of Deccan in the south. One of the largest empires in the history of humanity with one of the largest standing army in the then world - which later become of the biggest propagators of peace. It’s really unfortunate that regions coming under such an empire,  is now considered as one of the most unstable part - especially the Af-Pak border areas - in the modern world. After seeing the edicts for some more time I slowly moved to our next destination, the famous sun temple of Orissa - Konark.

Konark Sun temple

Konark - a UNESCO world heritage site - is an ambassador to the mineral rich Orissa and India's heritage. What Konark to Orissa is exactly same as what TajMahal to India; this temple dedicated to sun is in form of a giant chariot. In Konark's garbhagriha no longer exists, over the passage of time we lost it. What you see now is the remains of an old temple. The path to the temple is dotted with so many shops in both sides, from here you can buy the replicas of temple and its famous chariot wheels.

Konarka Temple
In Koanark, a magnificent mandapa will welcome you. The foundation of this mandapa is very high and the pillars are heavily decorated. Two big stone lions will welcome you to the mandapa. I spend a lot of time just to see the beautiful carvings in the stone. From this foundation you will get a beautiful view of Konaka with its granites entrance - memory for a life time. Before going to the structure of the main temple, I took the left path to see the outer sides of the main temple. These temples are heavily decorated with giant stone wheels (not movable) fixed to the sides. I slowly moved forward and more and more carvings become visible. 

There is two small temple in one side, one of that is constructed using bricks. These bricks are a little bit shorter that the current bricks we are using. After taking a round I went back to the main sun temple. Ancient stone masons of Kalinga made a beautiful theme in the stone - such a theme which caught the eyes of not only Indian but also the world. After seeing the sides of this beautiful, gaint platform I started climbing the platform for to see the Jagmohan (structure in front of Garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum). Here you can see many more stone works on the sides, I spend considerable amount of time to see and understand these sculptors and themes. Apart from the carvings in the walls there are three full statues of Sun in Black Granite. In total this temple located very close to Bay of Bengal is one of the excellent examples of stone work in the ancient world. There is Navagraha temple and Museum close to the main temple, don’t forgets to visit there. 

Here I have to add something about the nature of carvings in the outer structure. Many of these carvings are erotic and represent various sexual acts. After seeing the photos some of my friends criticized the presence of such things in a temple wall. According to my opinion there is nothing working in it, people of that time army tried to represent all parts of their life in the temple walls and in that time sex was not a taboo word in India as it is now. The same case is applicable for the Khajuraho temples of Orissa. When you are seeing these figures don’t look it with the current superficial moral values, which gives so much powers to khap Panchayats. Please see this according to the centuries old living style (of course the current living style) - when you are in Konark remove your 21st century senses and absorb the 11th century atmosphere which is in sync with the place. 

Chandrabhaga Temple and Ramchandi Temple

Chandrabhaga Beach
The famous Chandrabhaga Beach is not so much away from the temple. As a matter of fact here is the first time I am seeing a see beach and sea and of course touching the roaring waves of Bay of Bengal. I was so close to Arabian Sea for a number of times in Kerala, Karnataka and Mahe (part of Puducherry UT) but didn’t see it or touch it. As the sun is slowly moving to the other side of the western mountains, darkness is slowly filling in the vacuum from the eastern mountains. Looking to the beach is certainly a different experience, you can spend hours and hours then also you will not feel exhausted, its natures poem which you can hear with ears as well as eyes. After Chandrabhaga out next point was Ramchandi Temple, after praying in this famous temple we went to the see the Bay of Bengal again from a view point close to temple.

Now we are in Konark wildlife sanctuary, for a good number of kilometers you can see the trees on both sides of the road and if you are lucky you can see some animals too. Because of travelling under the hot rays of the sun, slowly tiredness set in which automatically closed my eyes and I slept in the vehicle till it reach the temple town Puri.

Puri Beach

First we went to the Beach; Orissa Rajbhavan is also located in this road. Its almost evening, but still we went to the Puri Beach. Salty wind slowly touched my face and removed some of the tiredness. Unlike Chandrabhaga Beach Puri beach is very crowded but for Bay of Bengal there is no difference, with its n numbers of facilities it is still calling the brave men to go in and explore it. Asking for them to come and enjoy the wilderness of the ocean. By now sun completely sent in the western mountain.

Puri Beach is crowded with hawkers and small temporary stalls selling a numbers of items and chaats. I curiously went in to one of the shops and noticed a lady bargaining with a shop owner. It’s really interesting, both sides are giving two very much different prices for the same thing and started bargaining. Finally they reached a price close the initial one suggests by the seller - in most of the cases. I remembered one of my friend back in Mysore, in that case the hawker put a price tag of 120 rupees for some work on wood and she said 20 or 40 - the interesting thing is that after so much bargaining she was not even ready to review her price for more than 5-10 rupees and finally he sold her that product at that price. Now just think about a person who is not good in bargaining!!! After having some chaat we went to Puri Temple. 

Puri Jagannath Temple

Puri Beach
Puri Jagannath temple is one of the very famous temple in India. Located in Puri district of Orissa this temple is considered as one of the four temples - along with Rameshwaram - which a Hindu should visit in his life time. After washing hands, legs and removing sandals we went inside. Temple was very much crowded, still we were able to reach the sanctum sanctorum very fast and able to see the deities form close. I stand in front of the deity and prayed for some time and then took a round of the temple, like Lingaraja this temple is also very tall. With so many carvings in the outer wall and the numerous small temples in the compound there is no doubt that Puri represents one of the glorious periods in the Kalinga temple building era. 

Slowly we came out, and walked towards the Temple bus which will drop you at the vehicle parking area. As we were approaching close to the bus people shouting support to Anna Hazare's campaign came in the opposite direction. Parliamentarians have to take a close look at these people who are showing their opposition to the corruption. After all if a person is paying an Income tax - say 1000 Rs/ Year - and one of the government project - say a tarred road - is constructed using minimum possible amount foundation and metal, which is as thin as a paper, who else don’t want to show an opposition to corruption? But representatives have to make sure that they are spending less time of creating chaos in the house and more time on discussion, debate and other parliamentary proceedings. We inherited a parliamentary system and democracy, which other countries are unable to create even after getting independence along or close to ours. So we have to make sure that the house up, discussing and implementing the solutions for the problems they are supposed to work out.

To Satapada

After crossing Anti Corruption rally we are on the vehicle again - now to Satapada (a place close to the Irrawady dolphin point of Chilika). The trip to Satapada was interesting, from Puri to Satapada the entire stretch of the road except some portions and there are full of cows. Every now and then cow groups will block our way. Majority of the cows are white in colour, some are in brownish white and rarely here and there you can see some brown or black cow. It looks like, it doesn’t matter to them, whether it is car or bus, they are not ready to move from their positions. We have to find out our own way in between them. It was really a surprising experience to see so much fearless cows in a long stretch of road. After cris-crossing among the various groups of cows we finally reached OTDC guest house close to Chilika Lake. After eating the Mahaprasadam from Puri we call it as as a day and went for sleeping.


Monday, September 5, 2011

In Temple town Guruvayoor

Guruvayoor temple - located in Thrissur district of Kerala - has an important place among Keralities as well as in bhakti literature. You can sill hear the lines from Poonthanam's Njanappana, Melpattur's Narayaneeam etc in the morning from various temples across the state.

“Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janaaradana , Krishna Govinda Naaraayana Hare
Achyuthaananda Govinda Maadhava, Sachithaananda Naarayana hare

Gurunaadhan thuna cheyka santhatham, Thirunaamangal naavinmeleppozhum
Piriyaatheyirikkanam nammude, Nara janmam saphalamaakkeduvaan

Innaleyolam enthenn arinjeela, Ini naaleyum enthenn arinjeela
Innikkanda thadikku vinaasavu- Minna neram ennethumarinjeela

Kandukandangirikkum janangale, Kandillennu varuthunnathum bhavaan
Randu naalu dinam kondoruthane, Thandiletti nadathunnathum bhavaan...”

Who can forget these magnificent opening lines from Poonthanam's Njanappana?

According to legend, when port city Dwaraka submerged in the sea at the end of Mahabharata time, Guru Brihaspati located the idol worshipped by Lord Krishna in Dwaraka. He, along with Vayu Deva started searching for an ideal place to install the idol. At this time Lord Shiva was performing penance at the present day Rudrateertham (located on the northern side of Guruvayoor Srikrishna Temple). They approached Lord Shiva, and asked for a place to install the idol. Lord Shiva and devi Parvathy told them that, this would be an ideal place and they relocated to the other end of Rudrateertham known as Mammiyoor.

Views from Punnathur fort
Guru and Vayu performed the consecration rites at the place suggested by Shiva and it later become famous in the name of Guruvayoor (Guru + Vayu). Because of the attachment between two places (Guruvayoor temple and Mammiyoor Shiva temple), pilgrimage to Guruvayoor is not complete without a visit to Mammiyoor (one of the 108 famous Shiva temples in Kerala).

The presiding deity in the Garbhagraha (central shrine) is Mahavishnu, worshiped according to the pooja routines laid down by Adi Sankaracharya and later written in to the Tantrasamuchaya by Chennas Narayanan Namboodiri. For knowing more about temple history visit -

This temple had a special place in the social reform movements also. Gandhians led by K Kelappan started Guruvayoor Satyagraha in 1931 in order to open the temple for all Hindus including dalits and started a fast unto death. AK Gopalan - the famous AKG of communist movements - was the volunteer captain. Soon MK Gandhi intervened and the fast was called off. During this time Poojas were suspended and temple remained closed for 12 days. Later through the 'Temple Entry Proclamation' Maharaja of Travancore granted the right to enter the temples to all the untouchable Hindus.
Elephant stables
I reached the temple town on a wet Friday morning. Rain, started along with the monsoon in June, was still in love with Kerala shores. As usual after booking the room close to the temple we went inside. If you are going to Guruvayoor, it is always better to stay there overnight. So that you can reach all part of the temple without standing much time in the queue. Please note that the customs in Kerala temples are very strict. Men have to wear mundu without any dress covering chest - other than a small piece of cloth known as veshti. Girls and women are not allowed to wear pants or short skirts. Now-a-days women are allowed to wear Salwar Kameez/Churidar in Guruvayoor. Unlike the temples in North India, in Kerala and other South Indian states, Hindu women don't cover their heads. Mobile phones, cameras and other electronic equipments strictly prohibited in the temple.

Once you are inside the atmosphere is completely different, people from all sections of life are chanting various shlokas waiting patiently in queue for entering the inner circle of the temple. The queue was so long that it was not possible to enter the temple at that time. So after having one round around the temple we went to Mammiyoor Shiva temple, which is located at a walkable distance from Guruvayoor Temple.  After spending some time there we came back to our room.

Punnathur Fort

Next destination was Punnathur fort. After lunch from the temple we took an auto from temple's western gate and reached Aanakotta (as Punnathur Place is popularly known) within some 10-15 minutes. This place - home to 63 elephants - is owned by Guruvayoor Devaswam.

Earlier Punnathur fort was a palace, later government turned it to a stable for elephants. Currently a mahout training center is also located there. Apart from a old Kerala style palace in the middle this area also have two temples - one Devi temple and another Shiva and Devi temple - and one pond. There is a tarred road around the palace through which you can walk to see all the elephants. For each elephant there will be a small water tank, enough palm leaves and one concrete pillar - to firmly tie the elephant - in front of it.

Guruvayoor Devaswam is taking proper care of these elephants in captivity. Still I like to have a minimum three month window period per year for these elephants to go to the forests and enjoy the freedom. Their mating time may be an appropriate one for that. After spending some more time with the biggest animal in the land we retraced our path to the temple.

Palayoor St. Thomas Church

Palayoor church
Palayoor Church is some kilometers away from the temple; you can reach there by auto or bus. In case of bus you can take one going to Chavakkad stand and then take an auto/bus to reach the church. This is considered as the first church built - by St. Thomas in AD 52 - in Indian Subcontinent. Here you can see the site, where St Thomas performed the first conversion to Christianity in India.

There is small museum associated with the church, where you can see the old instruments (Indian and foreign) used in various church rituals and festivals.

Thriprayaar Temple

View from Sriramaswamy temple
Thriprayaar Sriramaswamy Temple was our next destination. Located on the sides of NH 17 this temple is well connected with other cities in Central Kerala.  This famous Sriramaswamy temple also has beautiful mural paintings in its walls. These are beautiful and archaeologically important too.

If you have enough time, don't forget to visit some of the sea beaches like ‘Snehateeram’ near to Thriprayaar temple. On your way back you can enjoy the sun set at Chavakkad beach.

By the time we reached Guruvayoor it was almost night, after visiting the temple once again we went back to our room.


Checkout the photos of Guruvayoor Journey

Thrissur city is around 1-1.5 hours away from Guruvayoor temple. You can visit - Vadakkunnatha Shiva temple, Paramekkavu Devi Temple, Tiruvampadi Srikrishna Temple, Shakthan tampuram palace and museum, The Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours (Puthan Pally -  Asia's highest church), Thrissur Zoo etc