A monumental mistake

That’s what neglecting a heritage structures is. At least it is according to me. Our country has some absolutely beautiful historical structure and to me neglecting any of them is unacceptable. But when it is the Taj Mahal we are talking about, neglecting it, goes well beyond just being acceptable.

The Sunday paper of HT carried an article on the terrible condition of India’s contribution to the Seven Wonders of the World.

The walls have cracks. Marble slabs have fallen off in several places, including from the main dome.

The intricate and beautiful inlay work is getting erased. Weeds are sprouting from behind the bricks.

It’s not just that people have noticed the deteriorating condition of the Taj, personnel from the Archaeological Survey of India that maintains the monument have admitted to the neglect and deterioration.

“There has been damage in many places,” said Munazzar Ali, assistant conservator, ASI. He maintained that keeping a huge, 350-year-old monument in perfect condition was an extremely challenging task, more so with the paucity of funds allotted for the upkeep. “Conservation is a continuous process at the Taj,” said Ali.

Source: Copy of original article found at Yahoo India news. I have just realized that HT has an epaper but it requires you to log on to read. Thank you very much. I have enough usernames and passwords to remember without adding another to the long list. Is it just me or does this upset everyone? Do you find it Ok that as a nation we care very little about the past that built our present?

I was taught as a child to appreciate history and its varied enduring evidences. I was taken to museums and heritage sites whenever possible. Each visit was preceded by strict instructions on keeping my hands to myself, my eyes riveted on what was in front and my ears open.  When I learn to read I was asked to read the plaque at the entrance of monuments, the ones no one else seemed to be interested in.  My parents (more my mom than my dad. Dad’s the science and tech person and mom the history and arts kind) explained parts I didn’t follow and added their two pence to it. Before I could read, my mom would either read out to me or would give me the gist. This was the standard practice- standing instructions about how to behave followed by snippets of information about what we  were seeing as we went along and gentle correction in behaviour if the need be.  Of course with age the places we went to, the time we spent there and the discussions that followed changed, but the basic rules of decorum remained unchanged.  I don’t know how other children viewed these excursions, but I enjoyed them and the gyan that came along with them. I found what I saw and heard fascinating and because it was something that interested me, it was fun. But I did wonder often about how no one else’s parent’s asked them to talk softly, to not touch anything on display  or to carry toffee wrappers all the way back home in the absence of a dustbin. Now, however, I don’t care about why the other kids weren’t taught these things- I am just very glad I was. Others may consider these aspects of human behaviour and attitude insignificant, but to me they are important.  I think they way you treat people and things gives an indication of the kind of person you are.  The manner in which we behave depends heavily on the kind of  parenting we received. Whether we like it or not, most of us end up turning out quite like our parents.  If your parents considered it alright to throw away a used plastic tea cup while strolling through the compound of Qutab Minar, in all likelihood you would grow up to do the same. Or the exact reverse, as the case may be. It would be like second nature to you. Why you wouldn’t realize it to be wrong on observing the handful of others who didn’t indulge in such behaviour, I don’t know.  

Coming back to the Taj Mahal. We lived in Delhi for well over 20 years but oddly never managed to arrange a visit to Agra. It was after moving to Mumbai that we made a trip all the way to the city. (That’s what’s going to happen to Goa. We will have to move back to Delhi and then travel to Goa.) The visit was well worth the time and effort. Have you seen the Taj? For me there is only one world to describe the moment- breathtaking. When you visit the Taj, you don’t spot the monument immediately. You need to pass through a large red sandstone entrance first and just as you cross the threshold, you have in front of you this beautiful, white, incredibly symmetric structure. It takes you a second or two to realize you are standing still, gaping. It’s a marvel how this structure was conceived and built. And it’s a tragedy we seem to care so little about it today. I visited it some 6 years back and the lack of maintenance was visible then too.taj taj-compound





Pictures taken during Agra trip. Non digi,scanned and therefore not the clearest.

I could spot places where people had inscribed their name on the walls (not of the main structure though), wrappers and packing material thrown around carelessly, children running around unattended. I even found a bunch of hooligans peeping into the inner chamber where Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were laid to rest letting out shrill shouts to examine the echo of the tomb. Such inappropriate, disrespectful behaviour on public display was shocking. You can imagine when we treat internationally renowned structures like the Taj in this manner, what we do with our lesser known ones. The Karla Caves visited recently were a disappointment as was Hawa Mahal and many others that I have seen over the years. Why we don’t wish to preserve what we have, I cannot understand. They are not just beautiful structures to look at, they are a marvel because of the era in which they were built and the history they carry. It upsets me to find these fabulous structures in a state of neglect. Some of the responsibility for this I lay at the door of the government agencies  who do a shoddy job of maintenance and restoration but the rest I assign to the public.  If only each one of us would care a little more about our heritage… I am may be willing to make the effort to do exactly that, but what do I do with the millions of others who couldn’t care less?

Patriotism by another name?

We subscribe to the Hindustan Times. Ardent Times Of India loyalists till some years back, we moved to HT when the newspaper was launched in Mumbai, mainly because we found the Mumbai edition of TOI too pager three-ey for our taste.  Flipping through  HT is an integral part of my morning routine but sometimes,for the sake of variety, I like to read other newspapers  too.

I picked up a copy of  DNA on my way to work today and found an article that caught my attention. Titled “Meet India’s silent cyber warriors” the article talked about how Indians were engaging in a hacking war with Pakistanis.  It was a  brief article so let me reproduce  it here for you.

Who are our soldiers in the cyber war with Pakistan? Contrary to popular belief, the cyber war is not fought by hackers hired by the government but by software engineers loosely connected through anonymous chat severs who want to do “something for their country” in their own way and in their free time.

Meet Rahul Shekhar (name changed to protect identity), a 26-year-old software engineer with one of the top IT firms in India. Rahul is one of the many “soldiers” India has in its cyber war against known and unknown enemies.

A harmless coder of taxation-related software during the day, Shekhar tunes in to the cyber war by night. “I get home and relax for some time. Post an early dinner I spend three hours working on a form of attack, defence or training in India’s cyber wars,” he told DNA.

Globally, hackers not connected with the government machinery are known to supply intelligence to their governments. Like snipers on a tall building, computer hackers often act as cyber vanguards. Working in tandem with like-minded people worldwide, Indian and Pakistani hackers fight this silent battle round-the-clock. They keep tabs on each other’s possible vulnerabilities and send in worms, viruses and other malware once vulnerabilities are confirmed.

According to Shekhar, hackers fighting for any country are of three kinds: Black hats, white hats and grey hats. In cyber parlance, black hats are hackers whose professional lives are spent trying to attack other systems. White hats defend against attacks. “I am of the third kind, the grey hat – not a professional hacker but I pursue it seriously as a hobby and out of patriotism.”

Source: DNA, Mumbai 7.1.09

If you prefer reading  the e-article, you can go  here.

Now there are lots of things in this article that I don’t like. I am not even getting into the issue of hacking here. I am focusing on how some people consider hacking patriotic.   If Shekhar here said he had taken to hacking as a hobby I wouldn’t have too much to say to him, after all a hobby is a personal choice. But the fact that he considers it an act of patriotism is what upsets me.Love for one’s country doesn’t mean we harm others.  Granted that we are talking about Pakistan here and that there are bound to be some people who will hold grudges against the country in spite  of knowing that most of the trouble between the two nations is politically created. But that still doesn’t  justify intentionally harming others. If you are patriotic shouldn’t you be doing something that helps your country develop and prosper instead of trying to harm others and slow their progress? What better way to show your love for your country than by making genuine contributions towards its development? For most people, I think, a “genuine contribution” would simply mean undertaking  their professional and personal tasks with honestly and sincerity.  If  we all shoulder whatever little responsibility we have earnestly, we make a contribution whether or not we realise it. How does hacking help us make our contribution to the nation’s development? It doesn’t. So to my mind, this whole virtual hacking war is a waste of manpower, talent and time. If only people from both the countries would divert these resources to better use, we ‘d all benefit.

What do you think? Can hacking be considered patriotic?If something is essentially unethical, can it still be considered patriotic?

If this post was of your interst, you may also like reading the post on myths about Pakistan on Tazeen’s blog.

Questions without answers

As Mumbai heaves a sigh of relief as the hostage situation finally draws to a close after three long days, my head is abuzz with questions. Nagging questions that I don’t have answers to.

Why do people turn into terrorists? No matter what the “incentives” of becoming a terrorist may be, how can anyone convince someone to become a cold bloodied murder? Are such people completely devoid of a conscience? Don’t they ever think of the immense degree of damage they would cause to life and property? Of the people they will scar for life? Don’t they realise they are becoming pawns at the hands of religious fundamentalists and ill-intentioned governments? How can they be blinded so completely?

As a country we aren’t new to terrorism, we have had it for a number of years now. But how come we still seem unprepared, almost careless about it each time it hits us? How do such things happen? Why are we unable to prevent them? I was at the Taj exactly 5 days back for a conference and I can assure you they seem to have no security measures in place. I walked up to the main entrance and walked right through the doors- no one asked me to walk through a metal detector, no one checked my bag, no one asked me where I was headed. I had carried an identification card along with the invite thinking someone may ask me for them. No one did.  I literally waltzed into the hotel. If newspaper reports are to be believed so did the terrorists. And that’s what is scary.  Why aren’t we learning from past mistakes? I understand that the situations aren’t predictable- the attacks are getting worse each time and the terrorists are using new strategies and tactics but there must be something we can do. We can’t always be the helpless victim.

And what about those who lost their lives in this operation? Now that the operation has been successful, the media is full of reports about the martyrs, rightly extolling their  bravery and their contribution to freeing the city. But  as short lived as the public memory is, a few days from now, we would all have forgotten about them. Just like we forgot the Kargil martyrs and innumerable others. At the most their families will get some compensation from the government or a substitute job for one of the family members, but the lives of the families will never be the same again and we will all conveniently forget and move on.

Do horrific instance like this wake up our politicians from their stupor? Does it make them realise how selfish they are-mindlessly running after vote banks, caring not for the welfare of the people who they are supposed to govern?  I am not sure it does. They seem to enjoy getting milage out of the situation. (Read Thought Safari’s post on this here.) A number of smses have been circulating around Mumbai, some of them aimed at Raj Thakre. “Where is Raj Thakre and his brave sena? Tel him that the 200 NSG commandos from Delhi have been sent to Mumbai to fight terrorist so that he can sleep in peacefully (all north and south Indians, no marathi manoos)Please forward this to others so that if finally reaches him” said one of the messages I received. The Indian Homemaker did a post on this. I agree to the sentiments behind that sms. How petty are our politicians that they are willing to pit their own countrymen against each other? Is this how want to govern the people- divide and rule? Should the commandos have only saved north Indians and south Indians and left all others? What comes first- religious and regional affiliations or humanity?

While I try to find answers to these questions and find none, you could extend  help by answering a few for me.

PS: Have any of you seen this ad? I love the message it conveys. I wish they made more ads like this.

Spiral effect

 The front page of today’s DNA newspaper carried a story about the loan waiver for indebted farmers. The story caught my eye and I quickly read through it while waiting for the bus in the morning.

I found the story to be quite shocking. It talked of a new trend in society where money lenders were committing suicides because of the waiver offered to farmers. Some of the money lenders had themselves borrowed money from other lenders and were therefore extremely worried about how they would return the money. When the debts were waived off, the farmers didn’t need to pay the money lenders anything-not even the principal amount, in turn making the money lenders themselves indebted to other, richer money lenders.

All this while I was very happy about the waiver.  I genuinely felt that this was a move in the right and it would lead to betterment in the lives of many poor farmers. What I didn’t realise was that everything in the social world has multiple facets. And for every ‘good’ action you take, there are innumerable outcomes possible- some good, some not so good. As an academic exercise, it is interesting to see how changing one aspect of social life, countless other aspects get impacted. But in real life -where real people are involved, it becomes that much more important to think through things thoroughly before implementing policies. Not once did I think of what would happen to the money lenders when I heard of the waiver. It just shows how short-sighted one can be.

PS- I tried finding the article on the online version of the newspaper but couldn’t. The article was titled “waiver pain: moneylender and family end life“. If you are keen on reading it, try searching the DNA  website or find a hard copy of the paper.

Nano …I don’t ‘no’

I left home for work at 7.30 am and landed in office at 9.45. All thanks to Mumbai’s traffic. I am obviously not excited about the people’s car right now.

The world’s raving about it. The general public is believed to have loved it at first sight. India, it seems, has made a mark in the international automobile market. Applying for 34 patents for the car is proof enough of the kind of scientific /technological breakthroughs this car has acheived. I am with you in celebrating this achievement. But I worry too much about the social implications.

If everybody will be able to afford a car, they are naturally going to ditch their good old scooter/motorcycle and invest in a four-wheel drive. That means cars will become a bit like what cell phones became a few years back- omnipresent. Are our roads equipped to take that kind of traffic? No way! (Driving to my office one day will give you a fair idea of what I mean). We don’t have sufficient space on the roads. We don’t have the best traffic sense. And we most certainly don’t believe in following traffic rules (especially if the much-revered pandu is not seen lurking around some street corner). With more and more reckless drivers bringing their cars onto the roads, the roads are only going to get more unsafe. More traffic would mean higher stress levels on the roads, possibly added road rage and definitely higher pressure on the handful of traffic policemen who direct the traffic. This is just what will happen to our roads, I haven’t even started talking about the environmental effects. Using up of higher quantities of fossil fuels, higher expenditure by the nation on crude oil, increased air and noise pollution. And God only knows what else. Somehow these thoughts don’t make me too happy.

But isn’t this what development/industrialization is about? We displace hoards of people to set up industries. I don’t agree to that but can I do without industrialization? No. The Nano is a exceptional feat, there is no denying that. And it surely makes the country proud to have designed and manufactured the cheapest car in the world . Plus, isn’t an affordable car essentially about upward social mobility? So why should we ‘prevent’ people from moving up the social ladder?

What’s more important for us? Environment or development? (Note to social worker friends who read my blog: Please don’t stat a discussion about “what is development” here , puhleeease!) I don’t know. Right now both seem important to me.

If after reading my non-conclusive ramble about the Nano you are up some more reading , go here to read an interview of Ratan Tata. I like the man but I still don’t know if I like his car!