Saturday, July 29, 2017

दिल की अधूरी

दिल की अधूरी कितना, यह साखिया ही जाने
बेखुदी का मक़्सत क्या, यह बादिया ही जाने। 
रोकर दिल को हल्का ज़रूर कर देता हूँ, पर
अश्कों की भारी क्या है, यह तकिया ही जाने। 

Who is this run for?

Today morning, I encountered something that I am not used to. During my morning bike ride along the beach, more than a thousand people were seeing running, in the walking track. The cause was " 2017 race against cancer". I could see the young and the old alike, trying to complete what looked like a half marathon. I stopped on my biking track, to take snaps. But also set me musing.

Those unfortunate bodies that are afflicted, are unlikely to be part of the event, barring those motley few who may watch it later on TV. For many more, they may not be alive to witness this, having been victims of cancer.

That reminded me of a couplet that I have included part of a ghazal collection that I am creating myself. It goes as follows:

 मेरी मक़बरा को जितना भी फ़ूलों से सजा लें
क्या करूँ , मैं क़ब्र के अन्दर ही रहना चाहता हूँ ।

(Roughly translated, " it does not matter how much you decorate my tombstone with flowers from the outside. I prefer to stay deep inside my grave, oblivious to the happenings above").

It is possible that some of the participants may be "survivors". But the vast majority of the others are likely to be people who are either lucky to be " unaffected" personally, though it is still possible that some near and dear ones may have been.

It struck me that for these vast majority, it appeared to be more of reminder for themselves, to be on the guard against the disease, rather than a show of solidarity with the afflicted. Almost like the "Raam Naam Satya Hai" chants during funeral processions in North India, which are essentially meant to be sounded out as a stark reminder to the walkers-along, not for the deceased.

As for me, I just put my phone back into my pocket, stared meaningfully at the blue skies, just for a moment, and literally started pressing the pedal again.

Friday, July 28, 2017

கவிஞனின் ஜீவநதி

கவிஞனின் ஜீவநதி


ஒர்நிலையும் நிலைத்திராமல்
மனவுளைச்சல் வாட்டிவிடும்
நேர்மதியோ வேலைசெய்து
நின்றுபல நாளிருக்கும்.

உடைத்துணரும் பகுத்தறிவும்
உண்டோ என வியக்கவைக்கும்
மடைதிறந்த வெள்ளமென
மனப்புனலில் நீர்ச்சொரியும்

மையலுக்குக் கோயில்கட்ட
ஆகமமோ அடுத்துவரும்
அய்யனவன் அருளுக்காக
பாக்கள்பல எடுத்துத்தரும்

உலகமிதை மடமையென
ஒதுக்கிவிடத் துணிந்துவிடும்
உலகமொதுக்கிய மையலெனைக்
கவிஞனாக ஆக்கிவிடும்

Fidgety, as I am,
The internal strife is
Too much to handle.
Has been eons since
Since the grey cells
Thought with clarity.

Far too often,
Rationality takes
The back seat.
Far too many emotions
Flow, unchecked
Down the mind.

Gets to work, getting
The blueprint ready
For the temple of love.
Verses of poems compete
With each other to pick
The words of praise,
That could please
The presiding diety.

The world tends to
Ignore these overtures
As mindless madness.
But this sheer madness
Takes over, and moulds me
Into the poet that I am.

Khalbali, makhmali,raseeli, naveli

Ravayya, nazariya, suraiyya, dil sariyaa, sawariyaa, hazaariya, ghatiya,

Rihaayi, aashnaayi
Ruswaai, tanhaayi, judaayi,

Khayal, missal, sawaal, hawaal,piyaal

Raaz, naaz, awaaz, sartaaz, andaaz, naraaz, aagaaz ho

காத்சி,மாட்சி, சாட்சி,ஆட்சி, வேட்சி

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Nitish in poetry

लालू को महाघठबंधन पर हमेशा नाज़ है
पर तेजस्विनी के रूप में भ्रष्ट का सर्ताज है
नितीश के हर इशारा एक नयी अंदाज़ है 
 बचा क्या, तालिम-ए-चुनाव की आवाज़ है!

லல்லூ காட்டினாரு டமாசு- ஆநா
தாங்கல அவரு பையன் ரவுசு!!
ஓவர் ஆயிருச்சு உடான்ன்சு- அப்பால 
நித்திஷ் போட்டாரு பட்டாசு!

Nitish's "Unexpected" move

Nitish's "unexpected" move!
To the naked eye, it would appear as if the gloves are off between Nitish Kumar and Lallo Yadav. And that it is a question of principles that Nitish bhai is standing for. And that he would not tolerate corruption, at any cost. But everyone knows Nitish as a wily politician, who keeps everyone guessing at all times; as a person, who believes that it is all about timing, when it comes to politics.

This incident is no different. Think of it this way. If Nitish had forced Tejaswini to resign, then Lalloo would have been quick to take poitical mileage out of it, and would have rallied the powerful Yadav lobby in Bihar. And, with horse trading being rampant, suitcases would have changed hands, and so would MLAs. Jaitley's help with Rs,2000 rupee denominated notes, cannot be under-estimated, after all !! Possible end result? Nitish could have found himself marginalized in Bihar politics, at least temporarily. No politician likes to stay away from power, after all, and Nitish is no different.

Nitish knew that the Lalloo clan would be a long-term liability for him, and yet got into the Maha-ghatbandhan, just to keep the Modi Juggernaut out. That having been achieved successfully, Nitish was giving the long rope to RJD to "hang themselves". RJD is now feeling the noose tightening, as it were.

So, what is Nitish perhaps calculating?

One, by resigning and getting "popular sympathy support", he may hope to get public and party backing to legitimately oust that "liability" called RJD.

Two, sending a strong signal that he is getting ready to head the anti-BJP gang, in prep for 2019. Nothing gives him that halo, better than this "holier than thou" posture.

Three, he had Madam Maino just a few days ago. By upping the ante now, he aims to relegate Congress to an also-ran in Bihari, and even Indian, politics.

Four, by showing a "soft corner" towards muslims by joining their Iftars parties during Ramadan, and posing for photos donning the skull cap, he may have already touched a chord with the Muslims. Now, with the anti-corruption tag firmly on his neck with this decisive move, he may be be aiming to position himself in the centre of centre... neitther right wing, nor left wing... something that would enable him to lean any which way, depending upon the tide in 2019.

Five, by uttering not a word against the BJP in the recent past, he has managed to keep Amit Shah guessing, too. And that confusion will only confund them further, with this move.

Last, but not the least, ignoring his short stint in 2000, Nitish's real first innings was marked by marked improvement in governance, law and order improvement and reduction of corruption. With the Lalloo clan holding the threads of the puppet show in the Nitish's second innings, his image certainly has taken a beating. This Vikramaditya now needs to act decisively and shake off this "betaal", else runs the real risk of losing Bihar in the next hustings. "Wolves" like Amit Shah are on the prowl to usurp Bihar, and the wily Nitish is only too well aware of it. Hence this "unexpected" resignation.

Haa!! Games politicians play!!

P.S: The coming weeks and months will vindicate me, or prove me wrong... I am up for the game!

Nitish Kumar Quits As Bihar Chief Minister, Says 'Conscience Pricked Me'
Nitish Kumar has quit as Chief Minister of Bihar, ending the two-year-long political experiment that was branded as a game-changing Maha-gathbandhan or Grand…

Saturday, July 15, 2017

பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu)- Language and Culture are inseparable

As someone who has delved a bit into various Indian languages, I am of the firm conviction that language is not just a few words of expression, but are a true reflection of the culture of the people.

A perfect example is the Tamil word பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) . This word, from a classical Tamil perspective, happens to be the fourth in a series of qualities that are unique to a woman- அச்சம் மடம் நாணம் பயிர்ப்பு ( fear, feigning ignorance even when in the know of things, blushing/ shyness and the fourth, PAYIRPPU, which, to me, is a word unique to Tamil, and which I do not know exists in any other language).

Payirppu பயிர்ப்பு denotes the instinctive ability of a woman to distinguish between the physical touch or intimacy of her husband, and that of any man other than her own. Classical Tamil holds that the nature has bestowed this unique ability to feel that difference, and resist that unwanted touch. I am not getting into a debate of whether these four qualities are relevant, in today's "modern world". I will reserve that for another day. I am just interested in what the language offers, and how this has driven a poet's imagination, and how the poet has dared to interpret an event in the Ramayanam, very differently from the original author, based on the uniqueness of the culture, and the associated language, and with special reference to the word பயிர்ப்பு. Yes, the poet in question is the immortal Kamban. The sub-story in reference is that of Ahalya, the virtuous one, in Ramayanam.  Before I jump into the topic, as a snippet, the word Halya in Sanskrit means " one without beauty" , so "A-halya" means connotes two negatives in one go, indicating that she was extremely beautiful.

Valmiki and Kamban have approached the same episode, from entirely different perspectives. In the Valmiki Ramayanam, Valmiki straightaway says, without any fear or favour, that Ahalya knew very well that Indra was desirous of her, and that she was excited to be enticed by him to bed, without her husband knowing. For someone who is considered to be one amongst the five most " virtuous women ever" in Indian Puranas and Ithihasas, this may come as a shocker. But then Valmiki is someone, who calls a spade a spade. And this is exactly how he does it, and I quote , verbatim, from Balakaandam of Srimad Ramayanam.

अथ अब्रवीत् सुरश्रेष्ठम् कृतार्थेन अंतरात्मना |
कृतार्था अस्मि सुरश्रेष्ठ गच्छ शीघ्रम् इतः प्रभो ||
आत्मानम् माम् च देवेश सर्वदा रक्ष गौतमात् |
"She felt fulfilled in her heart of hearts and then she said this to that best god Indra, 'I am gratified in complying with your wish, oh, best of gods, get going oh, lord, from here quickly, oh, ruler of gods, always safeguard yourself and me from Sage Gautama.' Thus, Ahalya said to Indra. [1-48-20, 21a]

इन्द्रः तु प्रहसन् वाक्यम् अहल्याम् इदम् अब्रवीत् || १-४८-२१
सुश्रोणि परितुष्टो अस्मि गमिष्यामि यथा आगतम् |
"Indra on his part smilingly said this word to Ahalya, 'oh, well-hipped lady, I am quite delighted, here I go as I have came.' [1-48-21b, 22a]

In short, according to Valmiki, the steamy affair was nothing lesser than that between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten!! And that, Ahalya indulged in it, knowing that it was Indra, and not her husband. And paid the price for it.

Kamban, on the other hand, approaches it from the பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) angle, totally different from Valmiki's.

I quote பால காண்டம்/அகலிகைப் படலம் verbatim, here, again.

'தையலாள் நயன வேலும், மன்மதன் சரமும், பாய,
உய்யலாம் உறுதி நாடி உழல்பவன், ஒரு நாள் உற்ற
மையலால் அறிவு நீங்கி, மா முனிக்கு அற்றம் செய்து,
பொய் இலா உள்ளத்தான் தன் உருவமே கொண்டு புக்கான். 18

'புக்கு, அவளோடும், காமப் புது மண மதுவின் தேறல்
ஒக்க உண்டு இருத்தலோடும், உணர்ந்தனள்; உணர்ந்த பின்னும்,
'தக்கது அன்று' என்ன ஓராள்; தாழ்ந்தனள் இருப்ப, தாழா
முக்கணான் அனைய ஆற்றல் முனிவனும், முடுகி வந்தான். 19

Kamban's version is that Ahalya did not "welcomed" "him" when "Gautama" returned to the hut. She simply agreed to copulate with him, not suspecting anything unusual. But பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) made her realize, when he touched her, that he might not be her husband, but she was disinclined to protest, fearing that she might be considered as "moving away from the conjugal duties of a wife" and therefore it might not be right for her to reject his advances  (" 'தக்கது அன்று' என்ன ஓராள்"). In other words, Kamban deftly uses the பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) concept that Ahalya was indeed innocent, and therefore deserved to belong to the elite five. Kamban goes on to explain that Ahalya was made to pay the price for a sin that she did not knowingly commit.

In this example, one can see how a single Tamil word is used as a prop, to differentiate approaches to the same story. கம்ப நயம் என்றால் இதுதான்!!

Pic Courtesy: the Internet

Friday, July 7, 2017


We live in a more westernized world, where the teacher is a "professional" who is paid to render specific " education services" to obtain either educational qualifications or specific skill-sets. Respecting the teacher is not necessary. In fact, to call the teacher by his/ her first name, is now perfectly acceptable, just as you would call anyone else. ( "What else is the name there for?") This the flow of the times, and we need to accept this, if we are to survive in this "modern" world. However, two things need to be looked into.

One - the quality of the teacher. In good old days, the teacher, under the guru shishya parampara, used to play multiple roles in the life of a student. The parent; the teacher; the coach; the mentor...   all rolled into one. For which he had to go through immense rigour and " earn his stripes" , as it were, before he climbed that altar. In other words, the guru's life was as much of a penance, as that of the shishya. The Guru had to make sure that he befitted the role of the Guru.

Two - the student. The Student had to look for the right guru. Had to make himself worthy of that guru. Was required to be humble. Was required to serve the guru and the guru-patni in all aspects of life. Was allowed to argue with the guru, with the sole purpose of vichaaram ( probing to further one's knowledge), within the ambit of the Tarka Shastrams ( rules for questioning/ debating). The guru himself used to usher the shishya to a "higher" guru, when he realized that the shishya was ready to take on larger vistas.

These were the ideal situations. The point is - we come from a culture that requires the guru to be of the highest calibre, and the student to surrender at the guru's feet in all humility, with the aim of learning as much as possible from the guru - and if possible - going on to better the guru at some stage, in an humble manner.

On Guru Purnima day, I am tempted to quote Adi Shankara's 6th Stanza in his treatise Guruvashtakam. Just as a reminder to all of us, that , no matter how high we fly, let us remind ourselves to be at the feet of our gurus.

यशो मे गतं दिक्षु दानप्रतापात्
जगद्वस्तु सर्वं करे सत्प्रसादात्
मनश्चेन्न लग्नं गुरोरंघ्रिपद्मे
ततः किं ततः किं ततः किं ततः किम्

yasho me gatam dikshu danapratapaj-
jagadvastu sarvam kare yatprasadat |
manashcenna lagnam guroranghripadme
tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim ||

"My repute has travelled in all directions through my philanthropy and prowess; all the things of this world are in my hands as rewards for my virtues; but if one’s mind be not centred upon the lotus feet of the Guru, what then, what then, what then?"


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Farm Loan Waivers

I am surprised, even shocked, by some of my learned friends shouting from their roof-tops, over the recent farm loan waivers by a few state governments. Some of them, clearly masquerading as economists,  express " concern" about "profligate spending" through these waivers. " As it is, the government's finances are not good. How can the government go on this spending binge? How will the budget support it? Where will the govt raise funds for this from?" ...   and some particularly relish adding " evil Modi!" to that. After all, anything and everything has to stop with " evil Modi!".  Otherwise one would never be able to establish that one is " balanced" in his views.   So much so, for modern day intellectuals.

Of course, even a nursery school kid will tell you that if you throw away your money into something that will not return the money, that money basically is written off, and it is not wise spending. We do not need economists to point that out. Economics 101 will tell you that such loan waivers will fall into the " unplanned expenditure" category, and will add to the already strained finances of the state governments. State governments, which announce such waivers, have to fund that through internal accruals, or go and beg the Central Government, which, at it's discretion, may budge partially. Who pays the bill? The hapless tax payer...   direct taxes, indirect taxes, borrowings... etc fund this...  so, it is amply evident that loan waivers are not good for the Income/ Expenditure statements of State Governments ( ultimately spilling over to the Centre). Governments may increase taxes, or borrow more to tide this over, and often results in their credit ratings getting lowered, increasing their cost of capital further. At the national level, exchange of the Rupee gets affected; companies cannot anymore borrow at favourable interest rates from abroad... etc etc.

So, if it is so apparent, why are the State Governments doing it? And why is the Central Government looking askance? Before we get into that, let us look at a few other areas of "leakage" of tax payer money, which these "Economists" and some of my intellectual friends are sweeping under the carpet.

First instance: Air-India. Accumulated losses more than Rs. 60,000 crores. All taxpayer money going down the drain. The more Air India flies, the more it loses. Strangely, all these Economists are against privatizing Air India. They play a pivotal role in form public opinion against it, and the Opposition parties are quick to seize on that, and instigate Trade Unions to go on indefinite strike against privatization.

Second Instance: Bad and Doubtful Debts of Private companies. Banks are saddled with up to 8 lakh crores, as per a recent estimate, and growing. Will any of these economists protest against writing off these assets? Other than crying " go and recover from business sharks" what else can they offer, as a meaningful solution? Is it as simple as raiding the biz houses and recovering sacks of money supposedly hidden away by biz magnates? How much more disingenuous can that be? If banks can somehow write off bad debts of business houses, why cant they write off bad debts of the poor farmer who has no collateral or no other means of supporting himself and his family? Remember, after banks write off the bad debts, their balance sheets are strained, and taxpayer money is used again, for recapitalizing it and getting the banks back to normal.

Third Instance: For decades, most state governments have been giving free electrical power to the farmers and downtrodden. None of these economists intellectuals ever protested other than the cliched " oh! this will spoil the finances!" , did they? Who foots the bill? Taxpayer. You and me. If this freebie can continue indefinitely, why not write off farm loans too?

Fourth Instance: Freebies by various state governments. Free TVs, laptops, mid day meals, sewing machines, bicycles, mobile phones, mixies...   you name it, they get it all....   all at taxpayer's expense. Was it ever stopped?

This list is endless. The point is - there are already a whole heap of direct and indirect write-offs and waivers that are draining the exchequer. Farm loans only add to it. And all these will most certainly exacerbate the fiscal balance of the State Governments and the Centre, alike.

Back to that question now. So, then, WHY are the state governments now doing it again, as had many of them done in the past? The answer lies in three successively failed monsoons. There is no water anywhere, except in the ocean. The hapless farmer is pushed to his limits, unable to support his family even for two square meals in a day. Not to mention private loan sharks  baying for his blood. Farmer suicides are not rhetorical. They are a harsh reality. A bitter reminder, that successive governments over the last 70 years at the centre and the state, have still left 55% of agriculture land TOTALLY dependent on the monsoon, and close to 70% of the working population are farmers.  Where did all the "development funds" to improve the lot of the farmer go all these years? No no, not to the Swiss banks!

Given this state of affairs, farm loan waivers, though undesirable and harm, are UNAVOIDABLE under the circumstances. Unless those economists and some of my dear friends are saying " it is OK if a few thousand farmers and their families end their lives in utter desperation, but the State's finances cannot be imprudently used for waivers". I view this waiver as an extreme emergency measure, whichever government, belonging to whichever political party does it. A necessary evil, as it were.

So then, what are the long term solutions to this problem of farm loan waiver? To me, part of the answer lies in the SKILL INDIA initiative, or whatever rhetorical name it is called by. It is utterly unacceptable that a progressive country ours, has 70% of its population dependent on agriculture. As a comparison, the USA with 300 million population, has less than 3% of it's population as farmers, and is still a nett exporter of Agriculture products. The government urgently needs a long term re-skilling strategy , to skill the "uneducated" farmer into in manufacturing and services sectors. That obvisouly will have to start at the classroom level, by dramatically recasting our outdated education system. And move on into vocational courses, where the individual is trained in a particular trade- be it working in a textile mill, a cloth manufacturing plant, a toy making plant.. or whatever...  train him in a particular, allow him to excel, and create an environment where he stands a reasonable chance of a skilled job , preferably in or near his own place ( rather than crowding the big cities which are already bursting at their seams).

Next, aggressively introduce modern agriculture equipment and push drip irrigation and other modern methods of increasing agri productivity. Repeal draconian labour laws which prevent collective farming and getting machines to work instead of man. This should be done progressively, while re-skilling happens, in order to minimize any social unrest.

Also, aggressively invest long term reduction of dependence on the skies. Increase water bodies. Prevent lakes and ponds from being closed down. Deepen them wherever possible. Involve local population in that effort. Build more dams. (Damn the environmentalists, who are the biggest stumbling block in economic development).  Create more check-dams, which are much smaller in size than the conventional dams, but which play a very important role in last-mile water storage and release. Seriously work on interlinking of rivers. At least within the  state, to start with, if riparian issues crop up. Chandrababu Naidu has shown the way in Andhra, by interlinking the Krishna and Godavari within the state, in a span of just 11 months, bring in tens of thousands of hectares of land into additional cultivation. If the government will, there certainly is a way.

All the above, be it education reforms, free electricity bans, interlinking of rivers, etc...  are unfortunately either in the State List or in the Concurrent List. Which means that the Centre cannot act suo moto, and need state governments to display the kind of political will that is needed to push these reforms. Sadly none of them are displaying that, at the moment.

Until these reforms happen, and until the over-reliance on agriculture and the rain-gods is reduced, we will continue to witness such loan waivers in the future too. And until then, some of these Economists and some of my esteemed friends, can continue to score brownie points.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The GST Conundrum

I see a lot of doomsayers, coming down on GST, and it's implementation, effective first July. Knives are already being sharpened, metaphorically speaking, to be driven into the Govt., by the Opposition, Media and "Economic pundits", and wannabe's alike. Mr. Arun Jaitley's team is not helping matters, by taking a hard stand on the implementation. Confusion, and even panic, reigns supreme.

I have been on the ground, in at least two countries, when their respective GST's were implemented, replacing the then existing VAT structure. Australia in the late nineties and early 2000s, and in Singapore. These are relatively more "established" economies, with clear tax structure, and much greater tax compliance than in India today. But even these found it more than a handful, to manage the onerous task of cut-over to the GST regime. Even there, there were naysayers, denouncing the moves to transition into GST. My ears are still ringing with the Aussie shrills of " this will destroy the economy', in the Capital Hill of Canberra. But transition, they did. And successfully, too. With just two categories of GST . Everything has either one uniform GST rate ( 10% and 7%, respectively for the two countries), or none ( applicable only to the "essential goods and services"). Remember, Australia is politically a loose federal structure of states, owing allegiance to the Queen, and yet, some of them itching to secede from the union, time and again. I recollect the GST was one of the hot topics for the failed secession attempt of Western Australia from the Union, a few years ago. Singapore managed it very well, politically, and the transition was smooth. They initially were happy with 5% and then moved on to 7%.

Other countries have still not moved into a GST regime. China, for example, has a peak VAT rate of 17% plus local taxes. There is no official plan to move to GST there. One may then wonder " if China can do without GST, then why impose on us? You, evil Modi!". Firstly, this is not a political debate about GST. It is an economic one. In fact, if at all, this could impact Modi electorally, if the implementation goes awry. After all, his major constituency of voters in 2014 had been traders, who are , generally speaking, so used to pocketing tax meant for the exchequer, by various dubious means. GST is expected to put an end to their " incremental income" , by forcing compliance, and making sure that the money that is meant to go to the govt , does so. Yes, there could be the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, for some time, but I do expect that to be ironed out over time. Modi has bitten the bullet, and a hard decision has been taken to implement. Even fi electorally damaging for his party, this GST will be prove better for the country over the long term. Perhaps, Modi's hunch is, that going by the example of DeMon, where it was widely expected to trounce the BJP in U.P., but instead, give him a handsome mandate, he may fancy taking electoral chances too, in 2019.

Secondly, why GST? All countries that have implemented GST have witnessed increased compliance, at stable prices, over time. GST will be , broadly speaking, more like the musical chair game, where the onus is on the last person in the chain, to collect evidence of compliance earlier, and claim relief, failing which he will lose out. Hence it is in his interest to comply. Failing which , the end consumer will end up paying through his nose. Thirdly, the state governments hitherto had been playing with tax rates in every tax budget, to shore up their regimes of freebies ( remember those farm loan waivers, free TVs, free fridges, free bicycles, free laptops, sewing machines and what not?) . No, the state Govts lose the ability to fiddle around with tax rates, generally speaking. The will now be the sole preserve of the central govt. Hence, expect the State Government finances to come under strain, if they do not tighten their belts. This is good for the country as a whole, in the long run, but in the short term, frictions are inevitable.

Fourthly, in a vast federal structure like ours, implementing a monstrous tax structure is going to be a daunting task. For the manufacturers, traders, service providers, govts, tax authorities and Chartered Accountants alike. Make no mistake about it.

Lastly, in a country where awareness about taxes is generally abysmal, expect a lot of cheating, and blaming the govt for it, to happen. This will provide the ideal fodder for the political parties to go after the government. In some cases, prices are expected to spike, in the name of GST. After all, the average ignoramus citizen is unlikely to either fathom GST or question it. The RBI has done well not to reduce interest rates, in spite of the lowest possible inflation agains ta backdrop of three successive failed monsoons. There was heavy political pressure to do so, in order to stimulate growth, but so far, the RBI has held it's ground, perhaps in anticipation of a general price rise due to GST. The bottomline - in the normal course, GST should only reduce prices overall ( may vary amongst individual goods and services) , but then, the shoddy implementation is most likely to aid the those cheaters amongst the principals, and could witness a general price price. To me, this appears to be the most likely scenario. I will be delighted to be proven wrong. Nett of it, is GST for the better or for the worse? My take - worse, for the short term. But will simplify and regulate taxes and their compliance over the long term, and will stimulate growth, and free movement of goods and services across the country.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Praise the Lord!!

Tirupati Venkateshwara Swamy has played hide and seek with our family. As a child, I never got to visit Tirupati. Whenever that topic arose, my father, in a  stern voice would say " Oh! There is this ancestral curse that would not allow us from visiting Tirupati!"  I poked him further when I was old enough to understand.

It turns out that, over a hundred years ago, one of my ancestors had died on his return from a padayatra of Tirupati. Remember, in those days, there was no flight, train or bus. People used to commute in bullock carts. For pilgrimages though, traveling in groups on foot ( Padayatra) was preferred.  So, my great ancestor had decided to relieve his soul from his body, on his way back, after his sumptuous prasadam of laddoo, which must then have been a 200 year-old  tradition by then. Lo and behold! The dogma in the family was set right there. All everyone had faithfully adhered.

Until in 1985. The rebel in me was not convinced. I had then told myself " his time was up, and so he had passed on. Why blame the Swamy for it? Also, if I visit Him, and his only response is to take my life away, then he is no God, which obviously cannot be true!". Youthful belligerence had prevailed ultimately. After I had joined the college of Engg, Guindy, Chennai , I had made , not one, but 7 trips to Tirumala and Tirupati. What had started off initially as a mark of rebellion had soon turned into a mini-infatuation with Balaji. My friends I made those trips, waited overnight in the serpentine queues without food, water or toilet-outs and endured pain. All for an under-60 second darshan of Him. But I never felt bad, for many reasons.

Firstly, I used to look forward to the trip, for not just the temple visit, but also hiking expeditions that invariably followed, in the nearby hills. Short, but sweet hiking trips with friends made it very, very enjoyable. None of us could afford any hiking gear, but that did not deter us. We had to be wary of the forest officials. the relative of one my friends was in the forest dept., and he arranged for the hikes, along pre-set paths, and kept it "safe and discreet".

Secondly, youth and company of friends had ensured that overnight waiting in the queue, was had turned out pleasant than waiting in the queue for a Rajinikanth movie ticket!

Thirdly, and most importantly, is the connect with the murthi (statue) of the Lord. I have to admit here, that every time I had visited, I used to sulk at the long wait. I used to tell myself " Why this obsession for the people? What is so great about this temple, that people are more than happy to wait out and have darshan? Chee! May not be worth at all!".   These murmurs within the cerebrum used to continue, even as I stood in the queues. Inch by inch, the goal would gradually come nearer. Weary legs, tired eyes and drooping shoulders would wish that the agony ended soon.

Until one reached the sanctum sanctorum. The shrill " Jarugandi, Jarugandi!!" notwithstanding, one glimpse of the Lord within that all-important 60 seconds, would invariably be enough to forget everything in this world. The pleasures and pain, the happiness and sorrows and all travails and tribulations, would, in a flash, be relegated to oblivion. There mere presence in front of that majestic form of the Lord, would put everything else in the back burner. Such is His radiance. The magnificent decorations on the imposing statue, shining in all splendour with gold and diamond on every inch of His body, would send the crowd into raptures. " Govindaaaa, Gooooovinda!!" filled the air. In an instant, I used to be transported to another world, forgetting everything else. Even today, I can swear by it. There is something unique about Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala, which I do not find in most other temples. That wonderful and indescribable feeling can only be experienced.

For the believer and the non-believer alike, it does not matter whether you visit on foot, by air, by train, or by road. All I can say is - live that experience!