Budget time

It’s budget time. Like always, there is hope in the air and optimists are expecting the moon. Will they actually land on the moon or sing popular song ” Chanda Mama Door Ke” only the time is going to tell, which is not too far away, given that Nirmala Sitharaman has almost given finishing touches to the final document and wrapped it in a soft bag, a departure from the tradition of brief case?

If you ask me, budget is a hugely expected but soon forgotten event? Many of us remember finance ministers but hardly any particular budget, the only exception being 1991 landmark budget that brought India back from the brink of bankruptcy and initiated reforms that sort of changed the future course for our country. Otherwise. It’s all about taxes and more taxes and hardly any reliefs and in fact lesser reliefs. We had service tax than GST , surcharge, cess, higher bracket for super rich, more subsidies, bigger deficits and in short inflationary trends after each budget.

And the Government’s appetite seems to be insatiable! If the market whispers are to be believed, Government is proposing to impose inheritance tax, ensuring that I don’t peacefully inherit the property built by my father through his hard earned tax paid money!

And if you ask me what Government has in offering for common lower or middle middle class as social security especially in the old age – the answer is fend for yourself in this era when interest rates are south bound and inflation north bound! Healthcare is getting super expensive and Government hospitals are overcrowded, unclean and bursting at the seams, very few citizens are covered under old age pension scheme and there is hardly any social support system!

Yet its human nature to hope for the best and wait for “achche din”. My wish list for Madam Sitharaman would be:

(1) Rationalise personal income tax rates- tax rates could be high for super rich but let the structure be simple- do away with surcharges and cesses!

(2) Give tax breaks on investments in fresh production capacities and technologies to boost growth- stop focusing on stock markets, which should reflect outcome of growth rather than cause!

(3) Do away with tolls and toll plazas – let every vehicle owner pay fixed charge every year depending on his vehicle’s class!

(4) Incentivise birth control and small families, initiatives for social causes, contribution to green energy, water management and swacch Bharat, girl child and primary education.

(5) Invest in low cost housing (and maintain lest the buildings start looking like slums after 2 years), improve public transport ( new BEST initiative on mini buses – but where are the roads and traffic management?) , plant trees, manage water resources and prevent farmers’ suicide!

The question is where’s the money for the above notwithstanding record tax and GST collections? Broad base tax net – if everyone one is to get subsidy, old age pension or unemployment dole then each one should also shell out tax be it only Rs10! Make tax collection more efficient. Do away with loan waivers. Reduce unproductive subsidies. Reduce wasteful expenditure on advertisements, travels, security etc.

The need is to think out of box. The country is full of Manmohans, Raghuram Rajans, Monteks, Abhijits- the need is to be inclusive and open ! We have the best brains, best resources and best opportunities- lets encash all these and let this budget show the path !

R K Puram – story of my childhood

I spent a major part of my childhood in the Central Government residential colony of R K Puram. My school was also located there itself. Lived in sectors 2, 3, 5 and 7 and had friends in 1, 6 and 8. Each sector had its own market that was self sufficient. Of course, choice of some particular shops would take one to different sectors. But the colony was well laid out, open, green, quite , peaceful , homogenous yet cosmopolitan. At that time life outside R K Puram was unimaginable.

Caught in this feeling of nostalgia, a few lines came to my mind, which I have put into a poem that reads as under:

राम कृष्ण पुरम से क्या है मेरा नाता

सदियाँ हो गई छोड़े हुए पर भूल न उसे पाता।

सरकारी क्वार्टरों की क़तारें

और हरे भरे पार्क क़तारों के बीच में

खुली खुली थी आबोहवा

कोई परेशानी न थी चलता था सब ठीक से

सर्दियों में औरतें धूप में बैठ

स्वेटर बुनती और गप्पें मारतीं

और बच्चे स्कूल से लौटकर खेलते कूदते

कितने अच्छी थीं वो सुबह और वो रातें

और गर्मियों में रातें खुले में गुजरती

न कोई डर था न कोई फ़िक्र

आसमान में तारे गिनते थे

अब किससे करें इसका ज़िक्र

टी वी तो फिर भी कुछ घरों में थे

पर कारों से थे बिलकुल अनजान

पढ़ाई लिखाई से न कि पैसे से

होती थी आदमी की पहचान

न मॉल थे न के एफ सी न मैकडोनाल्ड

पर हर सेक्टर में थी मार्केट और जाननेवाले लोग

जो बिल्कुल अपने से लगते थे

ऐसा था संयोग

हम बड़े होकर वहाँ से निकल गए

छोड़कर वो गलियॉ और वो दोस्त

आर के पुरम भी तो वैसा न रहा

यही तो है अफ़सोस!

Neighbouring colonies of Moti Bagh, Netaji Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Kidwai Nagar are getting demolished to make way for swanky skyscrapers. Don’t know what’s in fate for R K Puram – whether it will survive to see another day or permanently consigned to my memories.

Jigar Brelvi

Jigar Brelvi was born Shyam Mohan Lal in Bareilly. He was born at a time when the struggle for independence was on and this kindled the feeling of patriotism and revolt in him. Though he had a cushy Government job, his defiant attitude made him unpopular with the British authorities, who forced him to retire on certain framed grounds. How he and his family had to face penury and struggle to meet the two ends meet and how such circumstances evoked the best poetry out of him form the stuff the folklores are made of !

I don’t think anyone of us, including the writer of this blog, an aficionado of Urdu language and poetry, would have heard about Jigar Brelvi! While the famous ghazal singers have made the works of some of the poets such as Mir, Ghalib, Faiz etc immortal, I don’t see Jigar Brelvi’s work finding favours with such noted artists. Some of his popular couplets, quotes below, show what a prodigy he was, given the depth of his poetry.

(1) आज क्या जाने क्या है होने को

जी बहुत चाहता है रोने को

दर्द हो दुख हो तो दवा कीजे

फट पड़े आसमाँ तो क्या कीजे

(2) ज़िंदगी क्या है सब्र करना है

ख़ून का घूँट पी के मरना है

जान अपने लिए खो लेने दे

मुझ को जी खोल के रो लेने दे

(3) किसी को देखते क्यूँ आह रोते

जो बस चलता तो हम पैदा न होते

मौत जब तक नज़र नहीं आती

ज़िंदगी राह पर नहीं आती

You must be wondering from where I got to know so much about this relatively less popular and unknown Urdu poet? He has been paid a glowing tribute by a Pakistani columnist in the yesterday’s e edition of popular Urdu daily Jang that I sometimes catch up on my IPad. Earlier also, I have seen Pakistani media celebrating the lives of popular Indian artists such as O P Nayyar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand who were all born in pre partitioned India! If the media on the either side of the border start celebrating common heritage instead of publishing acidic comments, the tension between the neighbors can ease.

Oh my god!

Which name comes to your mind if asked about the top or number one intelligence agency in the world? Most probably CIA or KGB, two rivals from the Cold War days! More informed and adventurous may opt for Israeli Mossad, hugely respected for its cover operations. Memories of the most popular cover agent ever to adorn silver screen viz James Bond could ring a bell for MI 6. Patriotic amongst us would tend to rate our own RAW very high! But hold your horses before guessing the name of top intelligence agency that’s most feared too! It’s none other than Pakistan’s ISI. This came as a shocker of an information to me, when I received this video being circulated on WhatsApp and I am sure that even you would be in an as severe state of shock as I have been since the time of having come across this piece of information. The video goes on to inform that ISI has the largest number of field agents or operatives, as they are called, with the unique distinction (or should be call notoriety) of none ever having been caught alive!

Another bit of information that’s absolutely stunning is that it came into existence in 1948 that’s immediately upon formation of the state of Pakistan. In contrast, RAW was formed much later in late 1960s. While the state of India focused on development, poverty amelioration, infrastructure, health etc, Pakistan objective was since the very beginning to cause tumult and turmoil through covert operations!

I have always propagated the preaching of bible – “Love thy neighbour” – and tried to promote bonhomie and trust between the people of our two nations. But given that country’s track record, I have also maintained that we live in a very disturbed neighbourhood surrounded by a very aggressive and dangerous neighbour. The above video bolsters this belief of mine. I hope that nations of this world take cognisance of this fact and join hands to neutralise the evil design and acts of ISI or be prepared for more acts such as 9/11 and Abbottabad!

Not too bad afterall!

The above wellness calendar circulated by TCS to its employees has gone viral on social media with I myself having received it from more than 10 contacts and having forwarded it to another 10! But it’s a good initiative by one of the leading IT companies that comes from the stable of venerable TATA group.

The problem is that the one leading a very staid and unhealthy life that’s me, gets scared on receiving such communications fearing the worst. However, instead of ignoring or deleting this communication, this time I gathered heart and chose to score myself. To my dismay, I found out that I was not even half as bad as I assessed myself. In fact, I was compliant on almost 90% of the parameters. I have been having warm water with lime every morning since time immemorial that has helped me overcome constipation altogether. 30 minutes exercise every morning is mandatory for me thanks to my knees issue. I drink sufficient water, don’t eat once full, try to have an early dinner, have breakfast and avoid elevators and take stairs as far as possible. But then I am no God, but a mere human when it comes to complying with the following:

(1) to drink one cup of tea/copy in a day – I breach it by 300% if not more!

(2) to have one new vegetable each day – can’t think of anything beyond bhindi and gobi !

(3) Can’t avoid white sugar, desserts and biscuits altogether!

Shall try to be more compliant but I am happy with my score card! How about you?😀

Marvilla is marvellous indeed

Let me first put a caveat and clarify that this is not a paid or a sponsored blog. I know Marvilla because I have experienced their hospitality and sensitive care first hand.

Like everyone else, I love Kashmir and Kashmir in winters is like a bride dressed in a white gown of ice, looking extremely charming and beautiful. Therefore, when they announced 4 nights 5 days tour de Kashmir imaginatively named “Jannat -E-Kashmir”, I and my wife yearned to be part of it. Unfortunately, certain family exigencies barred us from being part of the tour.

Tour comprising a happy group of 13 guests left Delhi as scheduled to savour what was going to be an unforgettable experience, which is always the case when you visit Kashmir with Marvilla, the Kashmir experts. The usual suspects Gulmarg and Pahalgam covered in the thick blanket of snow were nothing less than heavenly. Srinagar itself experienced unprecedented cold and snowfall. The guests ensconced inside the comfortable environment of Marvilla guest house savoured this unusually cold conditions over lip smacking, piping hot delicacies served with love and affection. It was all going as per the script and more till the weather decided to play the spoilsport. On the day of departure, unprecedented snowfall led to the cancellation of all the flights, a phenomenon that was to continue over the next 3 days. While an extra day of holiday and hospitality is always welcomed, getting stranded for days over uncertainty, especially for working professionals, can be nerve wrecking. On the fourth day of this continuous confinement a bunch of more adventurous group members left Srinagar on a road journey of around 900 kilometers on snow covered path. Rest were lucky to get flights to Chandigarh and Amritsar the next day and as this blog is being written, they are going back to their respective homes covering the rest of the journey by road.

A close knit group that developed a very affectionate camaraderie did face internal strife due to some members expressing displeasure at the arrangements due to prolonged confinement. This was neither expected nor required as the situation was like a force majeure or Deo volente that was beyond Marvilla’s control.

Hats off to Marvilla for pulling off such a difficult situation with so much aplomb! I am sure that the group has completely overcome that minor misunderstanding and will again join hands with ever reliable Marvilla for more such memorable experiences.

Long live Kashmir, which will always be more special when seen through the eyes of Marvilla.

Except Muslims!

We have lived together for centuries till Britishers adopted the policy of “Divide and Rule” and we had a secular India and a Muslim Pakistan. Religion based division proved to be a myth when a Muslim Bangladesh decided to separate from a Muslim Pakistan, while the secular India remained rock solid and made great strides in all walks of life.

There are heart rending stories of partitions, especially in the parts that got divided – Punjab and Bengal. On one hand there are horror stories of communities butchering each other, there are equally compassionate stories of one community helping members of other community and saving lives! Just read a great true life story of how a Hindu family stuck up in a predominantly Muslim area in a riot torn Calcutta was rescued by a Muslim cart puller by risking his life.

All the Indians must take a pledge that there would never be another division of our motherland and that we shall never allow a civil war on our land. Division can be on account of lots of reason – religion, caste, creed, ethnicity and yet it does not guarantee happiness, progress and prosperity. Unity has only one reason – peace but it guarantees lasting peace, happiness and prosperity. Let’s not fall into any trap but remain one- indivisible and inseparable! We should have an India that’s not except Muslims but is plus Muslims and everyone else!

Jai Hind!