Jan 5, 2009

Are we ready for taking responsibilities?

The initial shock over, after the war waged against us, most of us are now seething with anger and taking various routes to show our new-found zeal and solidarity. These vigils and rallies have a common thread – down with politicians & war with Pakistan.

While, these rallies & gatherings were necessary, what we saw then was a reactive emotional response wherein we vomited our anger out in an easy way by criticizing. But after the initial anger gets dissipated, & it boils down to taking harsher steps, it would also amount to disciplining self, most of us shy away! And that’s where I feel we always let ourselves down because on one hand, we the middle educated class is ready to ask for its right, we do not own up to our responsibilities.

It is essential that we make the politicians, bureaucrats & opinion-makers accountable. But in order to make someone accountable, we need to be responsible ourselves & that needs to start from local level. Most of us do not even participate in managing our own housing societies. Each annual election in most of the societies, one gets to hear the general cribbing & dissatisfaction from the residents present in the meetings (normally not more than 40% of the total numbers) but when it comes to taking a responsibility, we all claim we are too busy in our life.

When it comes to corporation election we do not bother to meet the local candidates to spell their agenda to us. As if this was not enough, using the excuse that all politicians are same, most of us do not even bother to vote. In fact, if one really taken 60% as the normal voting trend, most of those who have not voted are from the middle & upper middle class. And then we wonder why no government bothers about middle class.
For tackling local issues, we do not bother to visit the local BMC offices & hold BMC officers accountable. If at all, we visit a BMC office or meet an officer, it is because we intend to bribe him to get certain things out-of-turn or get some irregularity overlooked.

Except the salaried class, most of us try to evade taxes. In case of salaried class also, we try to convince employers to distribute part of the amount on vouchers.
We are ready to buy products like gold jewellery in cash as we do not need to pay VAT on that. But do we ever think that this cash is thus becoming un-accounted money in the hands of the seller.
We buy flats in high-priced residential localities in order to enjoy better amenities but do nothing when the same locality gets further exploited by builders & developers for their own profit.

We jump a signal or are caught talking on cell while driving, our initial reaction is to bribe the traffic police. Even as a pedestrian, we are not ready to stop at the red signal & wait for the green signal to cross the road.

I travel through Aarey every day & notice that people in expensive vehicles are bribing the toll attendant by paying him Rs. 5 less than the normal toll without collecting the receipt.

We do not mind, as a motor-biker, to use footpaths, to get ahead in the rush hour, without bothering it may lead to an accident & hurt someone innocent.

We go to big temples in order to pray & then try to jump the queue by either paying officially or unofficially.

We all criticise politicians like Raj Thackeray etc. for dividing people. We see numbers of people in their rally & smirk saying all these were brought in by paying cash. But when a few NGOs hold a rally at Shivaji Park against such divisive politics, we do not bother to even think about making to such rallies.

We criticise politicians for amassing wealth and becoming arrogant, but are we not doing the same? Just look at the road outside any school catering to upper middle class and you would see vehicles wanting to drop the kids right at the doorstep of the school, without bothering a bit about the traffic snarls they are creating.

The business class always blames CAs & advocates for breeding corruption in various government departments but refuses to pay actual taxes. They would rather bribe the officials then be honest themselves.

While we have been talking about Deshmukhs. Patils, Modis, Singhs, Naqvis etc about making wrong statements at such tragic moments, our opinion makers were no different:

  • We hear Simi Grewal generalising that all slums that can be seen next to high-rise building have allegience to Pakistan.

  • A well known developer is quoted as calling the entire system rotten. No one better then such people to know this. After all, this rotten system has allowed people like him to flout rules & still stay unpunished, despite allegation against him of major irregularities including, PF evasion, or selling flats which he was supposed to have built for Middle Income Group but actually are affordable only by billionaires.

  • We have Tendulkar, darling of the masses (and deservingly so) who gets a ferrari as a gift, requests government to waive the custom duty, and succeeds. This is from a person who earns in crores every year through Brand endorsements alone.
Essentially, we have become a nation of large mass, bereft of ideology, being led at all level by small minded people who may make right noise when required but do not want us to take any action. This lack of ideology helps any politician to defect from one party to another because he knows his constituency has no loyalty to an ideology but is loyal to him alone.

We talk about developing our own agency akin to FBI. If having an FBI means having an agency like FBI, we have our IB & RAW etc. But if we really want all of them, including our state police, to function like FBI, we need to invest in professional equipments & pay these guys an amount equivalent to professionals from any other field, and not allow the politicians to use them based on their whims & fancies.

I am glad though that not everything is in despairs. We still have people who are ready to take a hard way to arrive a solution rather than taking easy way out. That’s where a cricketer like M S Dhoni would count who is ready to donate part of his fees for the martyrs of 26/11. That’s where Shailesh Gandhi, an ex-IITian, would count who gives up his successful business & become part of the Right to Information initiative. This is where the Juhu’s ALM would count which decides to elect a candidate with no affiliation to the political parties but who is ready to work for his constituency. This is where people participating in Teach India movement would be counted.
What I am arriving at is that if we want the world to be better, less corrupt & more efficient, we should start that from ourselves. In Mahatma Gandhi's words - be the change that you want world to be.

I feel, we need to fight back but in a manner that ensures that there is no chaos that allows the corrupt & inefficient people to bounce back. My suggestions are:
a. It has to be a fight right from the grass root level, wherein we need to participate in an active manner. It means not only making people accountable, but wherever required taking on responsibilities. Call your local councilor to brief you about his performance since the time he was elected, set an agenda for him for next 6 months and review it at the end of 6 months. Similar exercises need to be coductde (though through a different mechanism) for MLAs & MPs too.
b. Say no to corruption at all levels, irrespective of the facts that other may be indulging into it or irrespective of the fact that it may take us longer to do something. Let us make a beginning ourselves first. So either do not break the rules, or if you have broken one intentionally or unintentionally, do not bribe the authorities to regularise it.
c. Ask the judiciary to clear the backlogs by waiving away long vacations that a court enjoys. After all, the tradition of these long vacations was from colonial times when the british judges needed to go back to their own country every few months. The faster the system delivers justice, more legally compliant people would be.
d. Decide to teach at least 5 lesser privileged kids / adults so as to imbibe among them the right values. After all, the change needs to be carried to all levels of the societies, and unless educated, the lesser privileged sections of the society can never be a catalyst for such changes.
e. Rather then keeping quite, reject all divisive politics in a vocal & active manner.
f. Assert our right but also respect someone else's right.

Jan 4, 2009

There is something about Talawa……

My each visit to Talawa has been a last moment decision – mostly because no other birding plan has materialized. And every time, like a true friend, despite being the last choice, Talawa has not disappointed. In fact, this Christmas, it really poured its offerings like Santa Claus.

As stated earlier, the visit to Talawa was a last moment decision, the proverbial eleventh hour literally, by myself & Amit Gupta. Minoo was intending to join but decided to attend to the chores as we were also setting out to travel to Rajasthan to spend the year end.

Keeping in mind the winter mornings and last nights festivities, we decided to start a bit late & reached Talawa at about 8 in the morning. While the days were hotter till 24th, the morning of 25th was definitely crisper & colder. It being the high tide time, we decided to take a slow stroll towards the shore. The pond was calm with very little bird activity around. The trees at the far end from the road & closer to the shore, wearing different hues & colours ranging from Green to dried-up brown to Rust, looked like aloof watchers.

As we started walking, a Greater Coucal flew in from the road into the bushes and the sight of the goodluck bird itself seemed to be a good omen for our walk. Soon a pair of very curious & alert common stonechat came closer to scrutinise us. Also seen flying across hunting for pastures to settle down was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, a few egrets, cormorants & lapwings and a very swift Peregrine Falcon.

Closer to us, but at a distance from each other, was a lone Red Shank & a slightly injured Green Shank, the distinction between whom was very patiently explained to me by Amit. As if to underline whatever Amit was explaining, both the birds decided to get together and allowed us to click them in one frame.

Also hovering around were a pair of Blue Throats, a few stonechats, a few red munias and plain prinias. While black-winged stilts were rummaging through water, and very patiently biding its time to catch its grub were a white Breasted Kingfisher and a common Kingfisher, a Marsh Harrier was eagerly patrolling the area for the same purpose. A White Stork flew over us while black drongos & long-tailed shrike kept watching a black kite being chased away by a crow.

Closer to the trees, we noticed a shroud of mist moving rapidly in from right of the shore and soon realised that it was a flock of what seemed to be common sandpipers or stints who were frolicking and waiting for tide to recede before settling down. Closer to the shore our friend Coucal once again decided to make its presence felt before disappearing among the mangroves. The shore was teeming with waders including common sandpipers, Curlews, Stints and Plovers. At a distance, few large & median egrets could be seen alongwith a couple of Black headed Ibis using the receding water to find their food, while a Caspian tern was hovering around. As the water receded & the day started getting warmer, the flock of flying waders also settled down at a distance indicating to us probably that it was time to move on and we started our walk back to the shore thinking about the absence of the raptors – apart from black kite & marsh harrier.

But as the phrase goes now-a-days “picture abhi baki hai mere dost”. Little were we aware of the treat that was in store for us. Within next 10-15 minutes, one after the other, we could see Common Kestrel, Shikra & Osprey from very close quarters. Also, while we were busy taking their pictures, a couple of raptors started hovering above us, which latter were identified as Juvenile Brahmny Kites.

Most interesting part about clicking the pictures of Kestrel was the boundary line that it had determined for us. It seemed okay till the time we were about 35-40 feet away but the moment we would overstep that boundary, it would fly away to another tree close by and would remain there allowing us to approach only till we overstep another such boundary. On the other hand The Shikra, after initially maintaining a similar line-of-control, decided to waive it away.

In all, it turned out to be a very fruitful morning, just a perfect way to begin the holidays, wherein we could see about 40 odd species within about 2 and a half hour. No wonder, there is something about Talawa which makes me return to it again & again.
For all those interested in seeing the pictures clicked during this walk can use the following link: