Blog on a break

So here I go again. Some urgent travel just came up, which puts me out of town, and mostly out of connectivity, for the entire week. Will likely be back Sunday. Be well, people, and if you see stories that deserve comment/thought/questions, please post to comments and I’ll get back to you after I am back online.

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Beggars, losers

The image above is about a story dated October 2009. It could have been done today, about this story.

As Ivanka Trump’s visit to India nears, the south Indian city of Hyderabad is getting ready to dazzle its foreign guests — by locking its homeless and destitute people out of sight in prison rehabilitation centers.

I wrote this in October 2009. It could be written today.

That’s more thought and effort — and money — going into hiding poverty than ever went into alleviating it. While on which, I really really loved the ‘bushes’ idea. Take a leaf from Macbeth, do — get the slum dwellers and beggars to squat in front of the unsightly huts; Delhi turned Dunsinane. Solves two problems in one shot, by hiding the slums and their unsightly inhabitants in one shot.

The story of our life — governments come and go, but the sores on our social fabric continue to fester. Our poor are not human beings, they are merely an optics problem; their homes are to hidden from the august gaze, as happened earlier this year when Modi took Shinzo Abe to Ahmedabad for a road show, the poor themselves are to be locked out of sight when august personages come visiting, only to be freed and left to their own devices once the photo-op is over.

We live in a world where “looking poor” is a crime. These are the things that should shame us as a society. These are also the things we never speak of as a society.

 

Ab ki baar, afterthought sarkar

The GST is working perfectly fine. The citizens are happy. The money is pouring into the treasury. A New India is dawning. Except, this from just now:

The GST Council today decided to keep only 50 items, mostly demerit, sin and luxury goods in top 28 per cent tax bracket. “Lower 18 per cent GST will be levied on chewing gums, chocolates, after shave, deodorant, washing power, detergent, marble,” Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said. The all-powerful council pruned the list of items attracting the top 28 per cent tax rate to just 50 from 227 previously, Modi told reporters here. In effect, the council cut rates on 177 goods.

Why does the “well thought out” GST law require revisions at almost the rate of one per day? And while we are on questions, how does this change the financial projects of the ministry?

Now waiting for the official spin, about how this is a sign of a “responsive government” that listens to its people.

 

 

WTF Just Happened: November 10

#1. Pune University just announced that gold medals will be given only to those students who are completely vegetarian. How do you even comment? What do you say?

#2. In Kerala, an RSS worker inadvertently blew up the roof of his home — one of those innocent accidents that happen when you are trying to make bombs, presumably for purely peaceful purposes. Remember this post?

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Of demonetization. And magic. And Modi

Demonetisation__The_Greatest_Magic_Act_Ever_Performed

Image courtesy BuzzFeed

(NB: This is the uncut version of an article originally published on BuzzFeed on November 7)

At 8 PM on the 8th of November 2016, the curtain rose on the greatest magic act of all time.

That evening, one man stepped onstage in front of the largest captive audience ever assembled for a performance and, in a speech spanning 2423 words that took 25:04 minutes to deliver, converted most of the currency of one of the largest economies in the world into so much worthless paper.

It was intended, he said, to usher in a Swachch economic Bharat. It was audacious in concept and ambitious in scale, even as it flew in the face of received wisdom that you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The ace mentalist Nakul Shenoy told me that a magician can, and often does, stumble during a performance. Modi’s stumble came four days into his essay in mass hypnotism when, in a November 12 speech to the NRI community in Kobe, Japan, he laughed at the hapless victims of his newest trick. “Ghar pe shaadi hai,” he smirked at one point, “lekin paisa nahin hai.” (There’s a wedding at home, but there’s no money.)

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Odds and ends. Mostly odds.

The “objectives of demonetization” — an ongoing game of hunt-the-slipper being played with the economy — received its newest and shiniest entry courtesy IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who informs us that prostitution has declined as a result of the note-ban. It is reassuring when ministers pay such close attention to such niche businesses — it tells you that they are thoroughly on top of things.

The minister also displayed his capacity for empathy when he said that only those people who could not enhance their skill sets had lost their jobs in the wake of demonetization. With that one blanket statement, the minister brushed off the estimated 1.5 million people who lost their jobs just between January and April this year as a bunch of losers. If it was a reflection on his own ministry, which back in January this year was busy signing MoUs to upskill people, the low-profile minister modestly allowed that fact to pass unsaid.

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On magic, and Modi, and demonetization

Here is my second essay for BuzzFeed: On why demonetization is the greatest magic act of all time.

Here are the magic backgrounders I used as the spine of my piece:

A first-person piece by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo, where he explains the basic principles of magic

An interview with Teller in Smithsonian, where the master speaks of why magic has such timeless appeal, and what goes into the making of a trick

A lecture-demonstration by Teller for the Mind Science Foundation that deconstructs the basics of magic:

Tommy Wonder performing a basic cups-and-balls routine up close:

Jason Latimer performs the cups-and-balls, only he uses see-through cups so you know, or think you know, exactly what he is doing:

And finally, Penn and Teller again: they do the cups and balls, show you how it’s done, then they do it all over again with clear cups and balls and you still don’t get it:

As always, appreciate your thoughts and comments in the feedback section.