Devendra Fadnavis- Will Maharashtra beckon him again?

I am no political commentator. I don’t have any political affiliations either. I don’t think any political party or politician is indispensable. A few come and leave deep imprint on the nation’s destiny. A few come and go barely remembered thereafter.

However, today’s elections in Maharashtra are important, because for the first time there has been a Chief Minister, who not only kept controversies at bay, managed a very difficult alliance partner and effectively neutralised big time stalwarts but actually did so much work for all to see. For years, I have been witnessing the decline of this great city, Mumbai, but for the first time, there’s been so much effort to improve its dying infrastructure. Metro network, operationalisation of Monorail, coastal road project, infusion of new life into BEST and solid governance to implement all these heavy projects are something unseen hitherto. And this is not limited to Mumbai. Other major cities such as Pune, Nagpur, Nasik etc are witnessing similar upgradation of infrastructure. Law & order has largely remained good and there has been hardly any scandal. Above all, CM and his family have generally lived a very simple lowkey life without any airs or tall claims.

While the voters are the best judge and I repose full faith and trust in prudence and judgment of Indian electorate, I can only wish all the best to Devendra Fadnavis for I have seldom come across such a simpleton, workaholic, family man, clean and efficient politician like him. Elections will come and go springing shocks and surprises, but people like Devendra rise above all this to make significant contribution to the society forever remaining etched in the memories of the people.

From Russia with Love

I distinctly remember a TV interview on Doordarshan in early 80s, when a Russian envoy was asked, ” How the Russia views the current situation in West Asia?” . The envoy immediately corrected the interviewer that it’s not Russia but Soviet Union. USSR or Soviet Union existed between 1922 and 1991, when we heard words like Glasnost and Perestroika and the centralised communist structure weakened leading to creation of 15 independent states out of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the largest state reverted to its original name Russia. This is no political commentary on Russia, but a travelogue arising out of my maiden visit to that enigmatic country.

Why enigmatic? Because notwithstanding the title of 1963 James Bond movie titled, From Russia with Love starring Sean Connery, we in India have always loved Russia for it has proven to be our all weather friend. We have known it as another superpower providing balance of power in this world. Till we acquired British Jaguars and now French Rafale, Russian MIGs have been our mainstay, apart from several other areas of cooperation between two friendly nations.

Again the blog is acquiring political overtones though the intent is not to make a mention about Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan but to explain the enigma. I had studied entry level Russian way back and when once we were invited by our Russian teacher to her place for dinner, all she served was boiled potato! I was told that food was not abundant and people used to queue up for meat and bread, which were rationed. Fast forward to 2019, potato is still a delicacy, but you have restaurants in every nook and corner of the city I visited, St. Petersburg, serving all kinds of cuisines, including Indian. There are superstores flooded with food items of all ilks. Russia of today is like any other advanced European country – great infrastructure, abundance of everything and safety.

St. Petersburg, earlier known as Leningrad, has history written all over. The city has seen it all – from flourish of Christianity ( some of the cathedrals are to be seen to be believed) to Bolshevik revolution that led to rise of communism when several churches and cathedrals were either destroyed or converted into museums to resurgence of Republican state following glasnost and perestroika, when the city got back its prideful place. The city got its original name (actually it was Petrograd before it was changed to Leningrad) St Petersburg back in 1991.

We saw discipline on road, cleanliness of the highest order, general safety ( except minor crimes like pick pocketing in crowded places), great eating options, superb local transport and rare sight seeing options ( there seemed to be surge if tourists before the onset of winters) that made my visit to Sf Petersburg memorable. Though still autumn, the weather seemed unbearably cold, but all the places, including transport options are heated.

I came back from Russia with Love, though I am not sure about James Bond’s experience!

Siddharth Kannan – Toast to a great host

Sidharth Kannan is energetic, vivacious, charismatic, witty, knowledgeable and above all an emcee, host or presenter, whatever you may choose to call him, par excellence. At an official event that I recently attended at Russia, Siddharth was requested to host this important and big programme and after his dramatic entry sharp at the scheduled time, he kept the audiences mesmerised, regaled, entertained and fully involved for next 3 hours. Neither audience, nor he got tired as suddenly the auditorium seemed to have been filled with and unending supply of energy.

Incidentally, this was not the first time that I attended an event hosted by Siddharth. A few years ago also, I got an opportunity and if anything, he seems to be getting younger, bolder and tastier like an ageing wine!

What makes him different from other hosts, who may be equally enigmatic, witty, energetic and knowledgeable, if not more? We have witnessed award ceremonies hosted by the stars such as Shahrukh, Ranveer, Ranbir, Saif etc! I think what raises Siddharth’s stature as an emcee and host one notch above others is his uncanny ability to be tremendously funny, comic and boisterous and yet never trespassing the thin line of becoming satirical or hitting the members of audience or performing artists below the belt causing any embarrassment. If anything, he only makes ordinary folks that include me, feel involved, entertained, confident to do things that they might not have ever done before and yet never crossing the line that would cause hurt, embarrassment or discomfort. In fact, beyond a point, members of audience want him to come to them for a prank or two. Such is Siddharth’s charm.

At this last event at Russia, he made someone with two left feet like me dance, appreciated my ordinary and short speech like a path breaking address and made me feel so important and revered in spite of I being just one amongst several hundred attending the event. And I am sure, each of those hundreds would express a similar feeling, if asked.

He is a celebrity, having interviewed or hosted most of the celebrities, worked with kings of comical timing such as Cyrus Broacha, hosted large number of iconic shows on radio and TV, highly recognised and decorated and yet absolutely down to earth. This speaks highly of his bringing up by his erudite parents in Delhi. His bother Hrishikesh Kannan, popularly known as Hrishi K is extremely popular RJ. It can be safely concluded that talent runs deep in the family.

This is neither a tribute nor a eulogy, because Siddharth has to entertain, regale and host millions and given his energy, I have no doubt that he’s destined for much bigger honours than what he has already achieved. It’s celebration of Siddharth’s great quality of spreading unbridled happiness wherever he goes, a quality many of us need to imbibe, emulate and demonstrate.

Jai Hind our soldiers

Currently I am on a short trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, in connection with an official engagement. While my travel blog will follow, this is regarding a totally new experience about the military life.

We have been brought to a place some 100 Kms away from the city, where buses have left us at the end of a motorable road to be taken to a further remote location by military trucks, powerful all terrain monsters. A short drive through muddy, virtually no road brings us to a military camp. Here we are exposed to real arms, guns, grenades, tanks and other small arms. The weather is chilly ( temperature being close to freezing point), damp and very harsh. In such extreme conditions, we are given an opportunity to relive real experience. First, after a demo, we are given a chance to fire that monster of a weapon, the much dreaded AK-47. This is an excitable but eerie experience. Next is a ride in the tank through the unfriendliest of the terrains. Thereafter, we are offered to try our hands at knives, thrown at the targets that’s much different from darts we get throw at certain bars. In the eerie cold, a cup of hot ” Black Army Tea” comes like godsend relief.

The experience evokes a feeling of patriotism in all of us. ” Bharat Mata ki Jai”, “Ganpati Bappa Moriya” and “Har Har Mahadev” chants make the atmosphere very sombre. We are all having just one feeling- in a made up scenario, when we are facing no real enemy. are getting full assistance and safety and are made comfortable to the extent possible, we’re getting this eerie feeling! How about our soldiers? They face a very vicious and treacherous enemy, terrorists, most difficult of terrains (Siachen is the highest battle ground in the world), are at the front for months together away from their families and yet have their morale always high ready to die for the nation at the drop of a hat!

Let’s not underplay their sacrifice by labelling it as their duty. Let’s give our fondest salutation to these men because of whom we feel protected and safe!

Jai Hind.

When all the also rans were stars

There was never something like Sholay before it took the nation by storm on its release in 1975. Till date, people remember it’s storyline, characters and more importantly dialogues. “Kitne aadmi thay”, “ arre oh sambha”, “tera kya hoga Kalia”, “Sardar aapka namak khaya hai” and I can recall and mention at least 20 more.

One of the unique things about Sholay is that it’s characters overshadowed its stars. It’s the only film where people remember Thakur Baldev Singh, Veeru, Jai, Basanti, Radha, Gabbar, Sambha, Kalia etc rather than the actors playing them viz. Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh, Hema, Jaya, Amjad, Mac Mohan, Viju Khote in that order. In fact, while if you mention stars names Sholay may not be the first name to come to mind. Amitabh will bring to mind Zanjeer and Deewar, Dharmendra will resonate with Pratiggya or Satyakam, Hema with Seeta aur Geeta, Jaya with Guddi aur Koshish. However, when you mention the names of lesser stars or also rans, the name Sholay immediately comes to mind. In fact, Amjad, a hugely talented actor, who went on to giving some memorable performances before his premature death, made Gabbar immortal and strangely remained a one film wonder. As a matter of fact, several others like Mac Mohan, Viju Khote, Asrani, Jagdeep, Jalal Agha etc as also their character names viz. Sambha, Kalia, Soorma Bhopali etc remain synonymous with Sholay till today.

I bow to the combined talents and efforts of Salim Javed, Ramesh Sippy, R D Burman, Dwarka Divecha, Waman Guru for creating this once in lifetime masterpiece that made each character and especially minor characters or also rans actors superstars.
This blog is dedicated to Viju Khote, who died could of days ago. RIP Viju Khote.

International day of Older Persons

I just learnt from somewhere that today is the International Day of Older persons. On December 14, 1990 the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons.The holiday was observed for the first time on October 1, 1991.

The holiday is celebrated by raising awareness about issues affecting the elderly, such as senescence and elder abuse. It is also a day to appreciate the contributions that older people make to society.

This holiday is similar to National Grandparents Day in the United States and Canada as well as Double Ninth Festival in China and Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. The observance is a focus of ageing organizations and the United Nations Programme on Ageing.

India is home to 104 million senior citizens. With the crumbling of the institution of joint families, many of the aforesaid 104 million have neither social nor financial security. Further, thanks to low awareness about medical insurance and high cost of treatment in private hospitals, many senior citizens have no choice but to live in misery caused by Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cataract, dental malaise, injuries etc. With children abroad in connection with their jobs, the senior citizens are physically debilitated and emotionally turmoiled.

Old age pension for all, free medical convenience for all senior citizens, old age homes, friendly infrastructure and an overall security to our senior citizenry should be our resolve on this International Day of Older Persons. They are respected, experienced and valuable assets rather than being a burden on the society.

Our jobs and careers are important,

Where is the time for mother & father?

If there’s no time for our own parents,

How can other older persons be a subject of bother?

We celebrate love on Valentine’s Day,

But are seized of this beautiful feeling throughout;

But older persons are a different lot,

To be celebrated on 1st October and then to be thrown out!

Let’s adopt them,

For they did so when we needed them,

On this International Older Persons day,

Let’s resolve to repay gratitude to them!!!

Happy international day of Older Persons!!!

War cry

Imran Khan sounded a war cry while addressing UN General Assembly. He said Pakistan might not be able to face its neighbour 6 times its size in a conventional war, but when driven against the wall, it could be forced to use nukes, which would be disastrous for the world.

In an earlier blog, ” What have we done to Pakistan?”, I had raised this issue. By abrogating Articles 370 and 35 (b) , nothing changed on the ground for Pakistan. It’s not as if this made the plan to secede from India any more difficult for separatists or the task of liberating Kashmir from India any more difficult for Pakistan because the aforesaid two were impossible even before. India all along maintained Kashmir to be its integral part and the abrogation of the aforesaid articles was a mere reinforcement of India’s stated position!

It seems Kashmir is an important issue for a country ravaged by failed economy, unprecedented corruption in upper echelons, weak democracy, unstable internal situation, terrorism ( it’s both – perpetrator as also sufferer) and an over the top military that just cannot wean itself away from interfering in the internal politics and policies of the country. By exploiting passions and emotions on Kashmir, Pakistani policy makers have something to keep their citizens occupied and divert their minds from serious problems affecting that country.

Nukes were easy to develop for them thanks to their subservience to certain superpower(s). However, they are finding it very difficult to resist their use, which justifies the world’s apprehension of their misuse in the hands of weak government and dominant military. Use of Nukes will give Pakistan Kashmir is a childish thought – but devastation it will cause to that country itself and the world in general will be no child’s matter.

I pray to the almighty to bestow a semblance of sanity on the policy makers and military generals of Pakistan whose fingers seem to be itching to press nukes button. As a Sanskrit shlokas goes ‘विनाश काले विपरीत बुद्धि’ meaning when the destruction knocks at the door, sanity is lost. I also hope the world takes notice of Pakistan’s aggressive overtures because their control on their nukes and action may be very fragile and this poses a real threat to the entire humanity.