September 1, 2015

Dear Colleagues
Here is another round of random reflections for your perusal:

1. Hardly any fortnight passes when news about some stampede in some part of this country is not reported. Because Lord Shiva is worshipped on Mondays of the holy month of Shravan, it is to be expected that thousands of devotees will throng Shiva temples. Density of population, scale of devotion and inadequate physical spaces at such holy places create conditions for stampede. Effective ‘large crowd management’ is yet to become regular administrative practice in India. Yet, when the government decides, it can put up an event-free show like KumbhMelas (including the ongoing one in Nashik) where tens of millions participate.

2. To a casual short-term visitor, Bangkok, and indeed much of Thailand, looks like a serene, busy and courteous society. Yet, Thai society appears to be highly divided and internally torn. Decades of red and yellow shirt movements have now sharpened socio-economic and ideological fault-lines. The present ‘junta’ government has clamped down on local and international media and civil society like never before. Is another economic Asian ‘tiger’ heading towards permanent societal conflicts?

3. It appears that religious symbols can be used to flout public laws with impunity. Take for example, the law for wearing helmets by riders of two-wheelers. Both the driver and the person behind are expected to wear helmets in most countries. Sikhs have always argued that helmets can not be worn on top of their turbans. Now, white head caps are being used by Muslims as a pretext for not wearing helmets, especially on Fridays. The traffic police seem to accept these arguments, and not fine them. Do these turbans and caps protect the believers from head injuries in case of fall from a two-wheeler?

4. In the name of VYAPAM, the country has been shaken to learn how admissions to technical and medical colleges were manipulated in Madhya Pradesh. Parents around the country must have faced enormous tensions, hassles and frustrations when their children try to get admissions to such colleges. In the name of rigorous entrance tests, the system has been rigged such that many seats remain vacant in premier institutions, to be filled on political and/or monetary considerations. This is a national scam, a fraud on the youth of India.

5. I recently heard a story about virtual pet dog. On your smart phone, it is now possible to ‘own’ a pet dog, give it a name, feed it regularly a food of its choice, ‘take it out’ for a walk, allow it to ‘pee on a tree’ with one leg up. If the owner of the pet dog is busy in school or at work or in a cinema hall, a surrogate ‘owner’ can look after it, just with the click of an ‘app’. There are ‘apps’ for vetenarians, medicines, special dog-shows, and mating too. Now, if you can have all that at a click, aren’t you smart? Please advise your neighbours!

Best wishes
Rajesh Tandon