Ashish Vaswani
The last few weeks have been blissfully satisfying as regards my foodie adventures, the triple fasting bonanza of Shravan, Ramadan and Paryushan notwithstanding. Unplanned outings with friends to strange places ensured I got a fair share of delectable delights.

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Ashish Vaswani
I’m sure most of us know at least someone who has undergone cardiac surgery. My family is particularly prone to heart trouble, considering our penchant for desi ghee. So it wasn’t very unusual when my uncle was recently suggested to get his mitral valve replaced owing to calcification that was diagnosed through an angiography. Though going under the knife is nothing extraordinary these days, it still is a cause of concern for the family of a patient who’s been advised getting operated upon. But having gone through the ordeal of preparing for the same over the last few years, the mayhem in the family was far more organized this time round.

It all began with consulting a bunch of doctors, friends and family, who could provide the critical ‘second opinion’, possibly ruling out the need for surgery altogether, but more importantly, saving my uncle from burning a huge hole in his pocket. This only resulted in even more confusion since each one had their own two-bit to provide: yoga, ayurveda, and God knows what else. Then, came the jaago-grahak-jaago phase, with endless hours spent viewing articles and videos that explained the entire procedure in graphic detail. All this, in the name of consumer awareness!

After all the research, we finally zeroed in on Asian Heart Hospital since it claimed to be specialized in cardiac care. An appointment with Dr. Ramakant Panda was fixed and my uncle was excited that he’d be operated upon by someone who was entrusted of fixing even the PM’s heart. The doc turned up at 11 pm for an appointment that was scheduled for 9pm. Nevermind, doctors are busy people, you know. He skimmed through the reports and said that my uncle would have to undergo another operative procedure called the Minimaze procedure, in addition to the mitral valve replacement. This is performed on people suffering from atrial fibrillation. Estimated cost for both was mentioned as Rs. 5 lakhs, including 70k for the Minimaze procedure. This five minute interaction with Dr. Panda cost Rs. 2500.

A battery of tests was prescribed by Dr. Panda’s assistant. These included blood, dental, ENT tests, etc. When my uncle returned to Asian Heart with the reports, he was told there was an 8-day waiting period to book a slot for the operation theatre, by which time these reports would be void and the same tests would be performed again by them. This meant the previous set of reports would be redundant, and that spending 10,000+ on these tests was a mere waste, since they weren’t even looked at. Reluctantly, my uncle booked a slot for a week later.

He was now told that we’d have to arrange for ten units of blood matching my uncle’s blood group, at which we suggested that we could get these units from a blood banks ourselves. But this idea was turned down by the assistant, saying that the hospital would accept only live donations from walk-in donors arranged by us. Now strangely, there is a window period of three months before the HIV virus can be detected in blood, so live blood cannot be confidently claimed to be HIV-free. When made aware of this fact, the assistant was stumped and merely responded with a chuckle to display his ignorance. By now, the estimated budget for the entire procedure had reached Rs. 7 lakhs. This included pre-operative tests, blood transfusion and testing charges and the operation itself.

We weren’t very pleased with the kind of service being offered at Asian Heart. The lack of transparency and repeated faltering on the finances seemed absurd, coming from a hospital of this repute. It failed to convince my uncle, who’s now scheduled to be operated at Lilavati next week, for half the amount he’d have to shell out at Asian Heart.
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Ashish Vaswani
Engineers at Japan’s Saitama University have devised a wheelchair capable of following a caretaker accompanying the patient, eliminating the need for manually carting the wheelchair.

The person accompanying the wheelchair wears a radio beacon that transmits a continuous pulse of signals that are detected by motion sensors on the wheelchair. Using these sensors, the wheelchair follows behind or besides the person guiding it.

Applications are abundant in highly congested healthcare installments where caretakers are required to handle more than one wheelchair simultaneously. The technology can be used to program multiple wheelchairs that can follow a single person guiding them with ease.

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Ashish Vaswani
A new Android app claims to transform your phone into a heart rate monitor on the go, using only the built-in camera and flash on your phone.

Instant Heart Rate is an innovative app available on the Android Market that uses minute colour changes on your fingertip to measure your heart rate. It measures the oxygen saturation changes in your blood. On every heart beat, your blood becomes more oxygen rich which causes a slight change in the colour of your skin. The camera in your mobile tracks those changes and calculates your heart rate. Its functioning is similar to a pulse oximeter, though without a dedicated light source.

The app is currently available only for Android phones, but could be designed for a wider range of platforms in the future.

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Ashish Vaswani
रविवार का दिन आया तो सोचा करें आराम,

हफ्ते में इक दिन छुट्टी का, वह भी हुआ हराम!

भक्तिगीतों ने जब कर दी मेरी सुबह बरबाद,

तब पता चला कि इसी दिन हुआ था देश आज़ाद.

ऐसा भला क्या हुआ जो हर कोई झूमे-गाए?

रिश्वत लेने वाली जेब पर आज तिरंगा लहराए?

क्या मतलब इस आज़ादी का, हम तो अब भी हैं गुलाम,

अँग्रेज़ चले गये, तो बड़े बाबू को मिला सलाम.

कहने को तो आज़ादी को हो गये तिरसठ साल,

फिर भी मन में उमड़ रहे हैं कई अनसुलझे सवाल.

आज भी क्यों करती हैं नज़रें जन्म-जात का अंतर?

क्यों रह-रहकर उठता है प्रश्न-'यह कैसा परजा तन्तर?'

क्या मजबूरी है कि भाई है भाई के खून का प्यासा?

'चलता है!' कहकर क्यों हम खुद को दें दिलासा?

भूख, बीमारी, भ्रष्टाचार के कीड़े जब तक है यहाँ आबाद,

कैसे कह दूँ मैं कि भैया, देश मेरा आज़ाद?
Ashish Vaswani
‘Tel laga’ is one expression that features amongst the most frequently used words in my limited vocabulary. It’s a milder alternative of asking someone to mind themselves or simply get lost, that I prefer over fancier cuss words. Plus I feel it sounds a lot cooler too!

I wish I could say the same about the gory images that I woke up to this morning:

Here’s what’s happened: two Panamanian vessels collided with each other near JNPT, Nhava Sheva, around 10km from Mumbai harbour last Saturday. The impact was so disastrous that it’s now resulted in one of those ships, MSC Chitra tilting at an angle of almost 80 degrees.

What’s even more horrifying is that almost 50 tonnes of oil from the ship has spilled into the sea, along with toxic chemicals from its 300 containers that tumbled out as well. Though authorities are claiming that the leak has been plugged and no more oil is flowing out, the ground reality could possibly be that there’s none left.

Fishermen and locals in the entire Konkan belt have already started experiencing the after effects of the catastrophe. And it is common sense that marine life in the region is going to bear the brunt. The precious few numbered mangroves around Mumbai are under an imminent threat.

But what’s interesting to note is that our netalog are least bothered about the issue. As usual, an ‘inquiry into the matter’ has been ordered. Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, paid his share of lip service in Parliament today by saying that ‘suitable action will be taken’. Salvage operations are not going to begin before 13th August even as the Mumbai Port Trust loses crores in revenue since all functioning has been suspended indefinitely. All because we’re waiting for Dutch and Singaporean help to arrive.

Earlier this year, a major oil spill of an even larger magnitude had occurred around the Gulf of Mexico. British Petroleum (BP), which was found responsible for the spill was made to pay damages to the tune of billions of dollars by the US government. And though clean-up operations have still not been completed, the quick response of all authorities involved must be lauded. I wonder if we can expect the same in India. It’s not the lack of infrastructure, but the mere lack of intent that impedes our path to global supremacy. Until such a will to achieve this goal finds its place in the Indian psyche, there’s not much we can do other than enjoying the paradox of the rainbow below our feet...

Ashish Vaswani
Here’s a hilarious forward I got this morning about the future of UIDAI's UID program. For those of you not in the know, it’s a plan to have a centralized database of Indian IDs, something of the sort of a Social Security Number in the US…

Nandan Nilekani's dream - how the National ID card will work :

Operator : "Thank you for calling Pizza Hut . May I have your..."

Customer: "Heloo, can I order.."

Operator : "Can I have your multi purpose ID card number first, Sir?"

Customer: "It's...hold on...889861356102049998-45-54610"

Operator : "OK... You're... Mr Singh and you're calling from 17 Jal Vayu.....Your home number is 2x26xxxx, your office 250xxxxx and your mobile is 09xxxxxxxx. Which number are you calling from now Sir?"

Customer: "Home! How did you get all my phone numbers?

Operator : "We are connected to the system Sir"

Customer: "May I order your Seafood Pizza..."

Operator : "That's not a good idea Sir"

Customer: "How come?"

Operator : "According to your medical records, you have high blood pressure and even higher cholesterol level Sir"

Customer: "What?... What do you recommend then?"

Operator : "Try our Low Fat Pizza. You'll like it"

Customer: "How do you know for sure?"

Operator : "You borrowed a book entitled "Popular Dishes" from the National Library last week Sir"

Customer: "OK I give up... Give me three family size ones then, how much will that cost?"

Operator : "That should be enough for your family of 05, Sir. The total is Rs 500.00"

Customer: "Can I pay by! Credit card?"

Operator : "I'm afraid you have to pay us cash, Sir. Your credit card is over the limit and you owe your bank Rs 23,000.75 since October last year. That's not including the late payment charges on your housing loan, Sir.."

Customer: "I guess I have to run to the neighbourhood ATM and withdraw some cash before your guy arrives"

Operator : "You can't Sir. Based on the records, you've reached your daily limit on machine withdrawal today"

Customer: "Never mind just send the pizzas, I'll have the cash ready. How long is it gonna take anyway?"

Operator : "About 45 minutes Sir, but if you can't wait you can always come and collect it on your Nano Car..."

Customer: " What!"

Operator : "According to the details in system ,you own a Nano car,...registration number GZ-05-AB-1107.."

Customer: " ?"

Operator : "Is there anything else Sir?"

Customer: "Nothing... By the way... Aren't you giving me that 3 free bottles of cola as advertised?"

Operator : "We normally would Sir, but based on your records you're also diabetic....... "

Customer: #$$^%&$@$% ^

Operator : "Better watch your language Sir.. Remember on 15th July 2010 you were convicted of using abusive language on a policeman...?"

Customer: [Faints]
Ashish Vaswani
Last week, I was in Borivali with a couple of friends. All I knew about this place then was that it's a major terminus on the north Mumbai suburban rail network. But having spent half a day there has left me amazed by the diversity of Mumbai’s landscape.

I’ve spent most of my life between Andheri and Dadar. Occasional visits to So-Bo hotspots are restricted to old-world cravings with family. So I found it embarrassing to realize that I didn’t even know the order of the stations after Jogeshwari. Nonetheless, the work that took us to Borivali wasn’t meant to be, so when we saw a board that read ‘Sanjay Gandhi National Park’.

Voila! The last time I’d seen Borivali National Park, it was in my school textbook. It was a shame I hadn’t been here inspite of being a Mumbaikar for the past twenty years. Not having anything better to do, we decided to walk in.

We were not even 10 kms from Borivali station and this is what the place looked like…

It was unbelievable to be amidst nature in this form, right in the middle of a city buzzing with activity. And though I saw a few boards warning me about wild cats on the prowl, I was lucky to get away with spotting only a random bunch of monkeys on my impromptu expedition. A major attraction inside the National Park, is a group of 108 caves collectively known as the Kanheri caves. On my hike to Kanheri, the raingods were kind enough to let me enjoy the magical journey in all its glory.

I was at the highest point above sea level in Mumbai. The view was magical. But even at this height, people don’t cease to give up their charlatan ways. At the only canteen available there, I was being charged Rs. 18 for a bottle of mineral water whose MRP was Rs. 14. That sort of turned out to be the dampener and I decided against giving in.

But at the end of the day, what mattered was that an unplanned outing turned out to be the perfect adrenaline rush for the rest of the week. I returned home with even more love for a city that hides within its monotonous shell, a landscape that is so similar, yet so different...

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Ashish Vaswani
A heartwarming poem by Govinda Ahuja that captures the essence of most students' lives.
Click here to visit his LinkedIn profile
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Weeks pass by without attending a single lecture,
Where we go to sleep & mark the attendance register,
I just couldn't study for marks and grades,
Memorize theorems for degrees and certificates.

The defaulter's meeting was often a delight,
Seldom did it cause my friends a worrisome plight,
I knew where my time had gone but they did not,
Though everyone had an excuse to handle this plot.

I can't promise next sem, that I would attend,
To sit in the lecture and seem to pretend.
I know what you taught was archaic and out-dated, 
Inspite hiking the fees on branding the institution as top-rated.

We all had dreams of becoming good engineers,
Dreams being an expression of EEG and neurotransmitters,
''It has a lot of scope!'' was heard loud and clear,
But for many, the end turned to be a carcinogenic pap smear.

I could not accept software engineering as my future,
And it’s not that I am inferior or superior ,
It's just because I am a Biomedical Engineer.

They wake up every morning hearing shrill audible shock, (They=software engineers)
Disturbing and working against their circadian clock,
They curse their day and long hours at work,
Still continuing it regularly, for a huge perk.

Finance was always my last resort,
Something as easy as a blind-folded shot,
But then came a process of cardiac re-engineering,
Where my heart clearly said "Finance: You are not winning!"

I can't do something that I don't love,
In a field where I don’t want my cognizance to serve,
And not that I am inferior or superior,
It’s just because I am a Biomedical engineer.

A faulty conscience can kill you faster,
Than the phenomenon of gradually getting older,
As life continues to last, till you will,
It’s unfortunate to see people; who eventually kill.

I believe self-killing could be mechanical or mental,
And living your life without your family is insubstantial,
And not that I am inferior or superior,
It’s just because I am not a mechanical but a Biomedical Engineer.

People end up doing things mechanically,
Achievements are always classified superficially,
Passion is over -written by materialistic goals,
Evoking artificial neural signals into their souls.

I just can't write this poem any further.
And Its not that I am inferior or superior,

It’s just because I am a Biomedical Engineer.

                                                -Govinda Ahuja

Ashish Vaswani

Friendship. When I first learnt this word as a kid, I thought it meant ‘a boatride with a friend’. Coming to think of it today, I don’t see any reason to believe it means otherwise. To me, it still means sharing your journey with someone very dear- only now, it’s a journey called life.

I guess we were in school when quite suddenly, Friendship Day-the way we know it today, was born. Weirdly enough, it became just another occasion when the Archies and the Hallmarks were assured of brisk business, thanks to youngsters’ implicit competition to flaunt the most number of friendship bands on the said day. I frankly never realized how or when it gained cult status in the Indian academic year until junior college, when I witnessed ‘Friendship Week’ being celebrated with elaborate functions and meticulous planning that began months before D-day. There was no escaping the truth of the growing popularity of Friendship Day. So much so that telecom companies began counting Friendships’ Day as the only other day of the year except New Year, Diwali and Dussehra, when subscribers of free messaging plans would also be charged for SMSs they sent.

Cut to 31st July, 2010, 11 pm. I started getting the first few Friendship Day forwards. Perhaps because they’d cost their senders dearly, if they’d be sent later. ‘What the hell, it’s not even Sunday yet, and my inbox is already spam-ridden!’ I thought to myself. There were some messages that spoke of colours and crayons, and others that filled the screen with ASCII art, but one of them really takes the cake. It read thus:

‘In 1935, the American government had killed a man on the first Saturday of August. The next day, his friend committed suicide. In his memory, the American government declared the first Sunday of every August as Friendship Day.’

Utter rubbish. Yes, Americans do have a fascination for such ‘days’ throughout the year. Did you know there’s a day called ‘Ask a stupid question day?’ Don’t believe me? Here’s the entire list. But most of these days are not date-specific, they’re rather assigned to certain Sundays of the month, maybe because if they fell in the middle of the week, they’d hit productivity levels big time. So the first Sunday of August is reserved for Friendship. But there’s no authentic proof to explain its origin.

So the next time you decide to barge into someone’s inbox or tie a ‘dosti ki rakhi’ on your friends’ wrists, ask yourself whether we really need a day to celebrate this sacred bond. And in all likelihood, you’ll get a reply that’ll set you thinking. In the meanwhile, let me leave you with this beautiful image, without having to pay Airtel to convey my love for my friends!

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Ashish Vaswani
Inspite of being a Mumbaikar, it’d been years since I paid any of the local beaches a proper visit. My most recent outings to the beach were either limited to dumping ritualistic garbage into the Arabian Sea or were cut-short by sudden cravings for a gola (kala khatta masala maarke!) at Juhu beach. So when my family decided to spend the weekend at Madh Island, I jumped at the prospect of revisiting the good old days. Spending Sunday evenings with my toy spade and plastic bucket, making sand castles by the sea, admiring the beautiful sunset is one of the most beautiful memories associated with my childhood.

My walk by the beach began quite as expected. I was enjoying the wind blowing my hair away as dark skies brought in a slight drizzle, just to add a dash of spice to an already blissful evening. But the pleasure soon turned to horror. As I walked farther away from The Retreat, all I saw was sewage lines running right through the middle of the very same beach that used to be one of the most pristine locations around (now officially in) the city till less than a decade back...

 It made for a really sorry sight and all I could do was just stand and stare in disbelief as endless streams of polythene flowed past me. Like all other beaches in the city, Madh also serves as a free public toilet for the locals who still don’t have any sanitation facilities whatsoever.

I know blogging about issues like this is not the solution. But here are a few questions that we must ask ourselves:

How long will it take us to start caring for our city in particular and our country at large?

Can’t the educated few of us do absolutely nothing to find a way out of this mess?

How long will it take us to understand that the boundaries of our houses do not end at our backyards?

Can we afford to spray our paan pichkaari on the roads in Singapore or litter in the bylanes of Dubai?

Will we ever learn or we’re always going to find the easy way out by saying, “Oh Darling, yeh India hai, yahaan sab chalta hai!”

It’s soon going to be that time of the year again, when the city will be bustling with activity at Ganpati pandals, each one trying to outweigh the other by claiming to be bigger (and supposedly)better than the others. And God will be laughing from Heaven up above, wondering what has come up to be of his beautiful creation.

But it’s still up to us to decide whether this is the way we want to wish our beloved elephant-headed God adieu...

...or rather use eco-friendly techniques to ring in the celebrations. The choice is entirely ours...

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Ashish Vaswani

The rupee has finally got its very own symbol and is touted to have joined the so called 'elite' club of currencies like the dollar, the pound and the yen by the media. So much so that sites claiming to have designed the rupee font in ASCII code are getting record hits. The rupee font made by Foradian Technologies was downloaded more than 10,000 in the first hour of release. Makes me wonder why everyone's suddenly going gaga over the entire issue.  

Okay. Your currency's got a new symbol. So?
Does it buy you more sabzi at the sabziwala?

And you've also promised the inclusion of the symbol on the next batch of made-in-China keyboards. Big deal! Some over ambitious patriots have gone on to declare that the rupee will now replace the dollar on the keyboard. I'd love to see that happen!

On a more serious note, I don't understand the hue and cry over introducing a symbol that's merely a rip off of the euro and the pound. In times of rising inflation, shouldn't we be looking at giving a makeover to the economy than the currency symbol?
Ashish Vaswani
It's been a week since the so called 'Bharat Bandh' was called for by the opposition parties to protest against rising inflation. I wonder if it did anything but prolong the weekend for lazy bums who needed just another reason to skip work and stay home.

Some sources peg the total loss to the country at a staggering Rs. 2735 crores on bandh day. And while political parties such as the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are going around proclaiming how successful their band-o-bust was, a few serious questions need to be asked.

Why did the aam aadmi decide to blindly follow the diktat of a numbered few power hungry men who were doing nothing but salvaging their votebank with cheap publicity for political mileage? Why weren't the authorities stricter with mobs and anti-social elements when bandhs have been declared illegal by the Supreme Court? According to these strike-o-philic parties, how does calling for bandhs help the country to fight against rising prices which is actually a global phenomenon? 

There sure were better ways to protest if that is really what these parties wanted to do. But who cares, when in India you can giftwrap your extended weekend and call it a bandh, all in the name of the great Indian political tamasha!
Ashish Vaswani
‘Zaalim Saas ka atyaachar - dekhiye kuch hee palon mein’ blared the over-expressive female on Aaj Tak, as I flipped channels on a boring Sunday afternoon. It’s difficult to digest how news channels today stoop to unimaginable levels to pass off Rakhi Sawant’s swayamwar as ‘Breaking News’ and infringe on people’s privacy in the name of sting operations.

I am not a news person. Watching the daily news bulletin on TV every night was a habit my father had inculcated in me as a school kid. But with the advent of the internet and 24/7 online connectivity, the charm of watching the sari-clad news reader dole out the biggest headlines of the day was replaced by visiting various news and blog sites that offered custom made news and updates as we liked them to be. Soon, reading The Times of India from end to end was also given up for the spicier and saucier Mumbai Mirror, with zingy columns that offered more masala and gossip than news.

There are many reasons for my declining interest in the news. In the early 90s, when ‘Breaking News’ and ‘Live Feed’ were words that we heard once in a blue moon, NDTV was the only private news company that had to relay its pre-recorded bulletins on Star News. The alternating Hindi and English bulletins were a treat to watch, with the stalwarts of journalism displaying their professional best. The likes of Pranoy Roy, Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai infused an enigmatic fervor to news presentation that’s hard to find in the dozens of news manufacturing factories today.

With the advent of dedicated monolingual news channels specializing in local, global or business news in the late 90s, the fight for viewership and TRPs overtook the passion and zest for responsible journalism. Coming to think of recent times, full page advertisements on the front page of India’s leading dailies is nothing but a money-making proposition. I don’t know which other international papers allow such horrendous hijacking of the front page to big advertising brands, but for a common man like me, the front page of a newspaper is supposed to give me the highlights of what’s happening the world over and not be a mere publicity campaign of the latest movie that’s nearing release.

Newspapers today are churning out news at production line speeds. It’s hard to forget the scene from Page 3 where Boman Irani, the editor of a newspaper asks his colleagues to ‘create’ new celebrities and issues if they’re running short of news to cover. On TV, the latest drama of a Mumbai girl being harassed for dowry is still fresh in my mind. Though the girl and her family did manage to get justice in the end, there sure were better ways of handling a sensitive issue such as this one, rather than repeatedly playing hidden camera footage for days on end. In more than a handful of crucial cases, the media is quick to pronounce a verdict, often jumping the gun in the process.

But the picture is not as grim as it may seem. In the swarm of mass-news making channels, there are still a handful of reputed names that have managed to keep the spirit of true journalism alive. NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan is one such face that I’ve been in awe of ever since I was a kid. Her subtle handling of the biggest names in politics on Left, Right and Centre and the crisp coverage of global affairs that she brings to news presentation is a treat to watch. NDTV has managed to strike a good balance of news and infotainment with an array of shows like Gadget Guru where the suave Rajiv Makhni unravels the latest technological marvels. Times Now has also managed to carve out a niche for itself inspite of being a late entrant in the field of TV news.

At times, the media continues to play the intended watchdog role too. The Jessica Lal case, the Nithari killings and more recently, DGP Rathore’s conviction in the Ruchika Girhotra case, are instances of where the media took the lead in righting the wrong. The Right to Information Act has empowered the common man to be counted as one of the participants in scripting the formation of a new, aware and well informed India. The growing impact of Public Interest Litigations is proof of this. Successful print campaigns such as Lead India and Teach India have proved that if channelized in the right direction, the media can continue to play its formative role in society.

Armed with a little more sense of responsibility, the Indian media is sure to propel India’s growth even further and fuel its claim to be one of the global superpowers. Until then, I’ll make do with watching reruns of laughter and dance shows on news channels and catch up with micronews on Twitter!
Ashish Vaswani

The final report of investigations into Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘assassination bid’ made for a really amusing read this morning. For those of you who’re not in the know, here’s a quick recapitulation. The end of last week saw a strange nation-wide drama unfold itself in front of millions of eyeballs looking for some off-beat prime time entertainment. No, it wasn’t a new sex scandal featuring a tinsel town starlet, nor was it a twist to the ever elongating saga of ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi’s debauch tactics. What caught the media’s attention this time round, was a misfired bullet after one of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s public meetings (aka satsangs). What was interesting to see, was that even till after a couple of days of the ‘incident’, Sri Sri (can someone please tell me why this gentleman needs two Sris prefixed to his name?) continued to appear on most news channels explaining to saas-bahu-drama-deprived aunties and IPL hungry uncles how he escaped a bid to his life by ‘a whisker’.

Before I even begin debating, let me first inform you (if you don’t already know) that Guruji (that’s how Sri Sri’s addressed by his followers) was leaving in his vehicle after the satsang, when all he heard was a loud thud. Now, though this thud happened be a bullet gone astray, what is interesting to know is that, it was shot so far away from the Guru that it was evident right from the start that the actual target being him was highly unlikely. This can be corroborated by the fact that Guruji was actually informed of the thud being one that of bullet almost an hour after the incident. Even if what the Guru claimed hitherto were to be true, and the attack been a real threat to his life, what I can’t digest is the unnecessary limelight that was garnered over a man who already has a strong enough public relations mechanism to keep cash registers ringing in Ashrams around the world. (A 6-day basic course in ‘The Art Of Living’ could cost as much as Rs. 2000). Call me a cynic if you want to, but it’s strange to see a spiritual guru who’s under the shock of having escaped an ‘attempt to his life’, give live interviews to masala-hungry news channels back to back. At one point last Monday, there were as many as four channels showing LIVE footage of Swamiji’s reply to the attacker!

Now the twist in the tale came this morning, when newspapers carried reports of what had actually ‘conspired’. The owner of a farm located close to the Ashram was fed up with the nuisance of stray dogs who had mauled his sheep. The only problem is that the farm owner chose a really bizarre way to put an end to this menace. He used his licensed revolver to shoot three rounds at these dogs, one of which incidentally landed in the Ashram! Now that Guruji has been made aware of this, he wants Karan Johar to make a movie on the incident titled, ‘I Am Swamy, But I Am Innocent’!  

Serious questions need to be asked here- Why was such a hue and cry made about a bullet being fired ‘specifically’ at Sri Sri when it missed him by yards? With the exception of a few reports on the actual victim who was injured, (a deveotee of Ravi Shankar) why wasn’t anybody interested in getting his side of the story? Why was the media giving so much attention to an incident without gathering enough information about the real sequence of events?

It’s really nice that our country has so many spiritual gurus to lead our way in our quest for eternal peace and enlightenment- what’s with channels like Aastha, Sanskar and Jagran giving birth to new godmen every other day. And though all gurus can’t be typecast as being ‘unholy’, I personally have serious doubts over the authenticity of most, if not all of them. The recently unearthed scandals of Swami Nithyananda and Asaram Bapu are cases in point. There are acres of land all over India, and even abroad, dedicated to ashrams, yagnashalas and gurukuls. Most gurus have enough clout amongst the netalog as well. What is even more amusing is that most hi-fi gurus spend their time serving their firang devotees abroad under the pretext of global ‘uddhar’.

I don’t have a problem with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar per se. In fact, I felt hugely satisfied after attending an Art Of Living YES+ (stands for Youth Empowerment and Skills) workshop last year. The Sudarshan Kriya which is the USP of any Art Of Living (AOL) course does have scientifically proven health benefits. And the gyaan that you get on a course is, in every way, aimed at helping you strike a chord with your inner self. But that’s that. The tactics that die-hard AOL followers use to get you on the course are really annoying. If you have friends involved with the Art Of Living Foundation, may be you know what I mean. Most participants on my course agreed that they were either coerced or sweet talked into attending it by AOL friends. Same was the case for me. I understand that any kind of event does need a fair bit of publicity, but sometimes it just crosses the tipping point. The director of WAYE (World Alliance of Youth Empowerment) which introduced YES+, Khurshed Batliwala (I am in awe of his persona!) himself asks participants to try and find as many people to register for the course and persist till they give in. He does mean it in a very funny sort of a way and does so for the eventual upliftment of society, but I fail to understand why people should be ‘forced’ into joining a beautiful course like this in the first place. If the course does have the benefits that it claims to have, (which I also believe) people will register for it themselves, you don’t need the AOL brigade to go scouting for participants, catch them by the neck and then smilingly ask them to deep breathe their way out of it. I doubt if any one thing, person or incident could teach anyone the ‘Art Of Living’. It’s the daily struggles with ourselves and the world around us and worthwhile experiences over the years, that teach us small but meaningful lessons, which ultimately help us to ace this mammoth of a test called Life.

As for last week’s bullet firing drama, all I can say is that maybe Guruji’s ardent bhakts advised him to cash in on some media attention and make hay while the sun was still shining. With Guruji’s security now being beefed up a few notches higher than before, it is the taxpayer who will pay dearly to protect a public figure- who preaches the ‘Art Of Living’ to the world, from fellow Living Beings!
Ashish Vaswani

To be really honest, I hate movie reviews. Be it the overrated Nikhat Kazmi and Mayank Shekhar articles that make or break the fate of the biggest masterpieces by trying to scale them on their ‘star’ meters, or the paid-for TV reviews that news channels like Aaj Tak usually air in the weeks preceeding the hype of a big release, they mostly if not always, are a mirror of what I feel about a movie. Latest in this league are internet sites like indiafm (aka bollywoodhungama) where people who call themselves trade analysts (a new epithet given to the same old movie critic) give you indepth analysis of why YOU should or should not watch a movie which THEY may or may not like. And I thought we lived in a democracy!

But I’m going to make an exception here. Today I want to tell you about my first day first show experience of watching Raajneeti. But before I begin to tell you about it, first a note of caution- I’ve liked the biggest of ‘flops’ (personally I don’t like this word, I’m using it only for the lack of a better one). I loved Kites that I saw last week and I thought Rann (hope you’ve heard of it- it stars Amitabh Bachchan and Ritiesh Deshmukh) was pretty okay too. The last film I really hated (and I can’t say that for more than a handful of them) was DevD. So if you’re the kind who’s looking for authentic star-meter dependent material, this piece is not for you to swear by, but you can still read it anyway, you’re most welcome!

Throughout this piece, I’ll try and not give you the plot away, but one thing I’d like to do is mention a few dialogues or scenes I liked in the movie, so that you can look out for them if you happen to watch it. I think that’s fair enough.

First things first, with a starcast like this, you’ve seriously got to have a pretty strong reason to avoid Raajneeti. Though Naseeruddin Shah is the only one who has an itsy-bitsy appearance in the beginning, more or less all others have a considerable screen presence. It was a pleasant surprise to see Arjun Rampal act, which can be taken as a fitting reply to silence critics who thought he didn’t deserve the National Award for Rock On. Nana Patekar’s role in the movie made me stand up and take notice of his acting prowess, something that I’d overlooked in the past. Even, Manoj Bajpai is sure to get a fresh lease of life after this one. Latest import Sarah Thompson also does a convincing job in the tiny role that she’s landed.

The promos do a great job of keeping the storyline hard to guess, since Katrina’s role is not entirely centred around what’s being highlighted. The flow of ideas is sewn well together and is capable of gripping the average movie-goer’s attention, making him/her wonder what new twist the next scene will bring. Raajneeti is the story of a family, it’s about power and politics and how these take a lead over everything else in life for that family. I personally liked a lesson which Nana gives Ranbir when he asks “गढ़े मुर्दों को खोदने  से क्या फायदा?”, the reply being, “राजनीति में मुर्दों को गाढ़ा नहीं जाता, उन्हें संभालकर रखा जाता है ताकि समय आने पर उनका मूह  खुलवाकर उनका इस्तमाल किया जा सके!"

A couple of really funny lines that I can’t stop myself from mentioning-

The driver is gifted an expensive watch by his sahib and is really elated to know that he’s so special to him. That’s when Ajay Devgn (it’s not a typo, that’s how he spells his name now!) comes up to him and retorts, “घड़ी दी है ताकि समय पर उनकी गाडी पहुंचा सको!" to spoil his party!

In a really serious scene, the depiction of Arjun Rampal singing Ankhiyan Churayun kabhi ankhiyaan milaaon kabhi….(from the 90’s Madhuri starrer Raja) is sure to evoke a chuckle.

Some events in the movie are highly dramaticized, as is the case with all Hindi movies. For example, there’s somebody getting murdered every few scenes and a few dramatic turns become slightly difficult to believe. Though after watching this movie, I didn’t feel it’s inspired by any individual or family in particular, chances are that you may find a few of the characters being based on a combination of real life personalities.

Prakash Jha has done a flawless job of narrating a kind of story that has always been his forte. Once again, he has succeeded in depicting the goonda raaj based politics of central India with perfection. The rustic UPwaala ‘hum’ instead of ‘main’, the execution of the huge crowd scenes and even the tiniest of nitty-gritties have been taken care of really well. Again, there are a few dialogues that I’d like to draw reference to, to make a point:

In one scene, Manoj Bajpai reminds his detractors, “आसमान पर थूंकने वाला यह भूल जाता है कि मूह तो उसी का गन्दा होने वाला है!  "

In another one, when the pesky paparazzi reminds Ranbir that the freedom of press obligates him to reply to their questions, his impressive reply is “हाँ, लेकिन आपकी आज़ादी को आप हमारा आतंक नहीं बना सकते!"

You’ll surely like this movie if you even remotely liked the Sarkar dilogy. And to those numbered few who happened to watch Rann like me, Jha has done exactly what Ram Gopal Verma tried to do in his movie, though this time, it’s with the perfection of a skilled craftsman who does an awesome job of storytelling with finesse and élan.

To sum it up, I’ll just say, be prepared for a heavy dose of action and drama and a full-too three hour paisa vasool blockbuster. After all, for me being a Sindhi, it feels much better spending three hours in an air-conditioned theatre watching a stretched out sensible movie for the same price that I pay for a one and a half hour no brainer!
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Ashish Vaswani
Recently, I happened to have eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple.

Wife: “Aji suniye, yeh rat race kis bala ka naam hai bhala?”
Husband: “Bhaagwaan, tere aur tere bachhon ke pet mein jo choohein duadte hain, woh naa daudein is liye jo race main har din daudta hoon, use rat race kehte hain!”

Clearly, one couldn’t have asked for a better definition of the rat race in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Right from the day we’re born, we’re (or at least most of us are) knowingly or unknowingly enslaved by this race to be better than the best. You know what I mean by the rat race if you can even remotely relate the reel life example of Prof. Viru Sahastrabuddhe in 3 Idiots to someone you know personally or worst still, meet every morning when you face the mirror. Come on, how many of us can cross our hearts and claim to have never acted ‘under the influence’ to outdo the closest competitor, not because we wanted to, but because we feared that if we didn’t, someone else would beat us to the finish line?

In this day and age of sky-rocketing cut-offs and ever increasing cut throat competition, our daily life has been reduced to a mere rat race- a race which has turned us all into lifeless maniacs striving hard to achieve the unachievable. In our efforts to do so, we may sometimes even
end up getting what we were yearning for, but the hunger to be
the best just keeps multiplying like a parasitic virus.

‘Sky is the limit’, I was taught in school. But, for our generation that thrives on plastic money and highly priced technological marvels, even sky does not seem to be the limit. In our so called ‘pursuit for excellence’, we start compromising and adjusting with stuff we’re least comfortable doing. Be it the average school classroom or the boardroom of a multinational corporation, everyone just has one aim in mind- to lead the rest. Never do we even think twice before stooping to cheap tactics to achieve this mindless goal. And after all the corner cutting and ego thwarting, we begin to forego the basic pleasures of life. Forecasting the losses in business due to the weather becomes more important than getting drenched in the season’s first showers and smelling the aroma of the freshly quenched earth. Googling your competitor’s new business strategy takes the lead over sipping a cup of piping hot coffee with friends.

Our daily lives are nothing short of a ruthless melee, getting in and out of trains and buses to try and shave off those precious seconds, that we think could make the difference between the next appraisal and the next round of lay-offs. What we unintentionally begin doing, is sacrificing personal happiness to stay ‘IN THE RACE’. And we’re paying a really heavy price to be a part of it. Every other day, we hear of young ambitious professionals falling prey to the stress, thereby inviting heath complications like hypertension and heart trouble. It’s high time we slowed down a bit to pause and ponder over our priorities and set them straight before the race gets the better of us.

Want to end with this beautiful piece that I came across:

When I was born, I was dying to go to school
In school, I was dying to experience college life
Once in college, I was dying to graduate and find a job
At work, I was dying to retire
And then, when I was dying, I realized I’d forgotten something
Maybe I’d forgotten to live.
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Ashish Vaswani
Wrote this piece for my college magazine last year...

As I sit down to write this article, frantic journalists are busy interviewing a paanwala who served the beetle-leaf wrapped savoury to guests at Sania Mirza’s engagement. And there’s one channel that’s been endlessly publicizing about its hour long special report on ‘Sania ki sagaai ka menu’, which makes me realize that we live in a country where a sportstar’s personal life is bigger ‘Breaking News’ than his/her achievements in the sport itself. And this is just a case in point. Recently, when Vinod Kambli appeared on a desi rip-off of ‘Moment of Truth’, he ended up creating a whole new controversy about his relations with Sachin Tendulkar, which was really uncalled for.

In its 100 years of Olympic history, India has managed to bag a total of just 20 medals. On the other hand, just one Michael Phelps belonging to a country with a population of only 300 million people has managed to garner more golds than one whole country of 1.1 billion people put together. The progress of China at the Olympics has been phenomenal- right from being awarded the privilege of hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics to consistently finishing in the top rung of the medal tally. Then what is it that has been holding us behind in the sports arena for so long? Are we waiting for sports like kabaddi, kho-kho or even cricket, for that matter, to be introduced at the Olympics?

Cricket is a religion in India, and a very priestly one, I say. But why do other sports have an ‘OBC status’ in our country? Just because no soft drink brand ropes in hockey players to endorse their products? Or because when Vijender Kumar is in the boxing ring, there are no cheerleaders to inflate the number of curious eyeballs witnessing the match? Why are cricketers given a demigod status in this country? When the Indian Cricket Team returned to India after winning the T20 World Cup in 2007, thousands took to the streets to welcome them. The government showered taxpayers’ money on players from the squad who didn’t even face a single ball in the entire tournament. On the other hand, when the Indian Women’s Hockey Team returned victorious after winning the Asia Cup in Hong Kong in 2009, there was nobody to receive them at the airport. Moreover, they turned up for their own felicitation ceremony in auto rickshaws, much like the few players of the Men’s Hockey Team who faced a similar experience when they were invited to collect their Arjuna Awards.

All this, when the ‘Indian’ Premier League had to be shifted outside India just because it coincided with something as common in a democracy as KTs in the life of an engineering student- general elections. Maybe Indians are so obsessed with outsourcing that they decided to outsource a sporting grand slam out of its originating country. The whole ‘league’ idea was commendable in a day and age belonging to fanaticism towards Manchester United and Arsenal. But we made a global mockery of ourselves by publicly displaying our incapability to continue to handle what was our own brainchild.

It is not that India is not faring well in sports other than cricket. We have a talented bunch of youngsters in the form of Armaan Ebrahim, Saina Nehwal and Somdev Devvarman. It’s just that we need many more such players to make us proud. And for that to happen, we have to change our mentality. We have to be more open towards the idea of sport as a profession. If a youngster gets up and says that he wants to become a professional javelin thrower, it is most likely that he will be made a subject of scoff and ridicule by his friends, family, even his own parents. In all eventuality, he may be forced to take up a career that is more socially acceptable and in the bargain, India could lose out on a potential gold medalist. So, it is important to inject the Indian psyche with the idea that sport is as important a profession as medicine or engineering, or law or architecture. And that cannot be done overnight. The media will have a strong role to play if this transformation must occur. Making movies like Chak De! India and Iqbal are a step in that direction.

We need to understand that a nation’s progress in sport is an impression of its infrastructure, economy and social standing. Perhaps we do not have the large scale infrastructure required to establish and maintain an environment conducive to high maintenance sports like shooting, swimming and gymnastics. That explains why even Abhinav Bindra was forced to practice in his private shooting range before becoming the first Indian to win an individual gold at the Olympics. He was lucky enough to be able to have access to the kind of resources he needed. But what about the thousands of budding Abhinav Bindras and Saina Nehwals who are languishing in some remote corner of the country waiting for their talent to be tapped? Why is it that we are giving away our precious open maidans to make way for tall towers and residential complexes? Why isn’t a comprehensive selection scheme charted out for sports other than cricket? The solution to our problem lies in the answer to these questions. If we only channelize enough funds and guarantee better infrastructure towards sports, will we be able to uplift our sporting status on the world map. If we do not realize the importance of sports soon enough, it won’t be long before we lose whatever little glory we boast about now.
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