Dec 31, 2011

Ze List v1.0

In the spirit of having lists, 2011 was among the most interesting year in this decade.

Ze List is my take on what was interesting, on what made the cut, what didn't and what mattered this year. (In order of importance, of course)



Though an unusual entry at Ze List, I think it is important to understand that everything that happens in our life happens for a distinct reason.


Arab Springs

Stumbling through critical policy matters, fumbling with crisis our politicians have managed to sleep walk through 2011. Yet again.



The sheer volume of money that was siphoned off this year boggled the mind’s arithmetic. There was an average of new scandal a month.



In 140 characters, much of the world spoke to each other this year. Against injustice, discontent, joy, sorrow and everything in between.



Lending itself to the lexicon, the Arab world erupted against autocratic rulers and ruthless democracies with a vengeance that does not seem to die.


Julian Assange

Offering a glimmer of hope, what started out as a promise is threatening to fizzle out. Anna needs to strategize and stabilize.



Japan is not new to natural calamities or man-made disasters. As if a devastating earthquake, a huge tsunami in its aftermath was not enough, the nation reeled under the familiar threat of a nuclear holocaust.



The City of Dreams had another nightmare. While any other city in the world would have learned their lesson from 26/11, Mumbai appears to forget. Snooze.



A little known whistle-blower site founded by Julian Assange became the nemesis of much of the world’s corrupt, by leaking top secret diplomatic cables and documents. Embarrassed, the West scrambled to muzzle the whistle, Assange has always managed to stay one step ahead every single time.

Meanwhile, he’s promised to reveal the account holders of all that money that has been siphoned off India into tax havens abroad in 2012. Now, that should be interesting!



As the world continued its love story with fossil fuels, Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) will continue to call the shots. Here’s to another year that went to fluctuating crude prices.


Conrad Murray

In an attempt to show the world and an embarrassment to the government, a government planning commission declares that anyone who earns more than Rs 32/- a day is over the poverty line and cannot be entitled to schemes for individuals below poverty level.

Well, Mr Planning Commissioner 1987 called and they wanted your 32 rupees back.



Against a disease that still kills millions of individuals across the world, a vaccine against the disease is just what the doctor prescribed.



Progress.

For a nation that has the largest and cheapest workforce and the fastest growing infrastructure in the world, China is perhaps one of those nations you can’t afford (pun intended) to ignore.



It appears like we finally managed to get our sneakers all nice and ready. Starting with a really good show at the CWG last year, the winning streak continued with good shows at tennis and…


Pope Benedict

… yes, Cricket too. We won the World Cup. Finally, some justification to all the millions that we pay to our over-rated and over dramatic cricket players.



The physician who lived his dream of that one famous client as he walked into the sunset, was finally convicted to a four year prison sentence for administering the fatal dose of surgical anesthetic that killed the king of Pop- Michael Jackson.  



It’s all about the Oil, honey.



With Iraq finally within Uncle Sam’s kitty, it was time to move on to Iran.


Suresh Kalmadi & Tihar Co.

After the fiasco called CWG, much drama and many investigations, Mr Kalmadi finally got the axe. Well, maybe he was just the most convenient scapegoat but was soon united with many of his colleagues for company.



Starting off as a politician with a squeaky clean image, the chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka showed how he was like any of the other jerks around him – Corrupt and Power hungry.

Along went his compatriots in corruption, the Reddy brothers who stripped entire mountains in the mineral rich region of Bellery for it’s iron ore. Billions looted.


Britney Spears

With an economy that has been feverish for a very long time, its cousin from across the Atlantic sent stock exchanges around the world into a tizzy when crisis hit. Credit ratings fell and so did the CEO of the credit agency that downgraded the rating.



When you’re bailed out by money that really belongs to the people, you normally wouldn’t think of taxing them anymore. A decision by Bank of America (BOFA) to charge 5% monthly was perhaps one of the many ill informed decisions that the bank regretted. Victory lap, anyone?



Paid for the sins; who as Cardinal Ratzinger oversaw pedophile priests.  



Was supposed to the Facebook killer.

Didn’t happen.


Muammar Gaddafi

If it was Saddam earlier, this year we had Gaddafi.

For all the bodyguards that surrounded him during his hay days, the utterly miserable he died at the hands of his citizens was a lesson that we wish autocratic rulers and despotic dictators would learn.



For much of the beginning of the year, all the empire really spoke about was The Wedding. *Yawn*



After almost crashing and burning, Britney reinvented herself. She’s back!



Overseeing the last bastion of communist rule, Kim Jong 2 held a tight grip over North Korea and managed to taunt the West until his death at 69.


Swami Nithyananda

After being implicated in an embarrassing tape that showed him in a compromising position with a regional movie actress and devotee, he managed to slip into oblivion unable to stand the uncomfortable glare of the media and society. Did we all say ‘Déjà vu’



The self styled godman and philanthropist died after multiple organ failure. Alas, the search for a god that is immortal continues.



One of handful of people who changed the world this century, he was unceremoniously killed by highly trained SEALS in a covert operation in the one place where he shouldn’t have been – Pakistan.


Sheela, Murderous Women and DK Bose

Talk about going viral. This year was a year of movie songs that went viral and beyond borders as Indians across the nation asked ‘Why this Kolaveri de?’. Maybe, this is what we need to ask Pakistan and our government.


MF Hussain

Shorn by his motherland, MF spent the last few decades of his life with his eccentricities as a nomad, finally dying in Qatar.



The inventor of C, the computer programming language, Dennis’s death barely created a ripple as his death was overshadowed by the death of a more iconic compatriot...


Dennis Ritchie



Enough has been said of and about one of the most ‘iconic’ CEO’s. Hardly a philanthropic or as charitable as any of other CEO’s of his time, his death resulted in worldwide mourning.



From being a central government Minister, she fought the Communists and won state elections and became the chief minister of the north eastern Indian state of West Bengal (aka Paschimbanga). A firebrand and a populist, she is one politician to watch out for.



Looks like all kinds of clowns are predicting the end of the world. Harold’s failed doomsday predictions made him the laughing stock among the believers and non-believers alike. Harold, start preparing for the 21st Dec, 2012.


Tablet Wars 

If Apple set the cat among the pigeons by launching the iPad, 2011 saw a slew of companies releasing their versions of the iPad killers. Not much luck there.


Harold Camping

3D everything

3D movies became all the rage. Even television and mobile phones.  
Imagine watching Freddie vs Jason on 3D.



The Guvornator and his wife of 25 years; Maria Shriver separated after it was revealed that he had cheated on his wife and fathered a son with one of the domestic help.



The iconic and much married Hollywood diva died leaving much of Hollywood grieving and reminiscing.


Rupert Murdoch

The news magnate had to apologise for unauthorized phone taps. Reality bytes.



Cheaters, the TV show earned a right to be on Ze List, sheerly because of the way, you are reminded of how partners will cheat and when confronted fight back, and still want to “get the f*&$#W@* cameras out of my face”. Isn’t it interesting that they all wanted to be asked if they were cheating in private? Ya right.



The 116 year old masonry gravity Dam has been one of the few bones of contention between Tamil Nadu (who has a 999 year lease on the dam) and Kerala (in whose land the dam is situated). Several quakes and an aging Dam have put the two states at loggerheads.



In the Red. Both literally and figuratively.


Angry Birds

Caught the imagination of the kids within us. Was certainly not good for birds though!



Acquired by Microsoft. Finally.



Returned to the hot seat after a short sabbatical. Back to business.



Tried to create a sequel to the ‘Arab Springs’. Ended up with a spoof.


Rebecca Black

And after several months in prison, the investigating agency botched up the one chance they had to punish the guilty for the biggest accounting fraud in Indian corporate history.



After keeping the nation guessing on whether he will be running for presidency or not, he decided he would rather stick with ‘The Apprentice’ for now.  
He would have made for an interesting Prez though!


Rebecca Black 'Friday'

A hit solo, 'Friday', with it’s catchy tune went viral within a few weeks since it was illegally uploaded on online video sharing portals. Well, any publicity is good publicity for a budding 14 year old.



Crash, burn, booze, babes. Repeat cycle.



One of the few very successful female Asian porn performers, her entry into the Indian version of the Bigg Boss, made headlines across India. Toeing a fine line, she has managed to stay in the news.


Sunny Leone

Marriages are no longer made in heaven. 72 days after they proclaimed undying love in a ‘made for media’ marriage, they completed their marital duties too. I guess marriages are now made over business lunches and sealed tight with a prenup.



After a pretty forgettable 2010 and much of the years before that, Beckham bounced back to prove why you must still bend it like Beckham.



One word – Cute.



Touched all the right chords. Spoke all the right words. Poignant.


Kim Kardashian

Another brutal reminder that the world does not need an Al Qeada or a Saddam Hussein. Just one pathetic, depressed dude with a meticulous plan to kill.



For proving that movies are only meant to rake in the moolah and not because they must entertain. We could certainly see/hear a lot less of the king of mediocre movies.



Barely made it to Ze List. I hear she is happy now.

Dec 29, 2011

2011: The Year of the Corrupt

While the Chinese celebrate the year of the dogs and dragons, down in India we'd like to celebrate 2011 as the year of the scams

After all, our politicians and businesses have managed to siphon off about $10 billion a year every year for several decades, to tax havens around the world. 
While it's been a few decades since the cookie jar has been systematically raided, 2o11 was a culmination of sorts. 

Many of our A-list politicians have been caught with their pants down and hands deep inside the cookie jar. 
While the proof is there and the crime is clear, the lady with the scales is snoozing.


As I've often wondered aloud, scams of this magnitude is the scourge of countries with developing economies. With a flush of foreign investments, the temptation was too huge (and zero conviction record) to ignore. 

Bangalore- It's all about the money, honey!
Good thing we invented the zero, because we can proudly claim to have swindled money with too many zeros that would interest any venture capitalist.


Like managers at the top of the pyramid, corruption permeates down the layers. If it is corporations and members of parliament that are making the big bucks, down at the local registration office, we have sleazy office peons and Superindents asking for 'chai money'.


Take a looksee at the graphs (and the data). 

Bangalore, may have left behind the tag of the 'Pensioner's paradise' and was certainly robbed off the 'Garden City' but, is certainly the creaming the layer with the most color. 
Now, that's something to toast on.

Dec 28, 2011

Banged up abroad

An incredibly popular series that reveals real life accounts of how westerners were caught smuggling contraband while traveling.

Banged up abroad makes you marvel at the naivety and wonder how gullible people can be when offered a chance of easy money and adventure.
A common thread among all the victims is how they are inadvertently lured into a trap. Of course nearly all of them are innocent mules who find themselves weakened with temptation.
The format of the show makes sure the narrative is accurate, fact-based.


Having been caught with serious drug trafficking charges, you'll see how prison reforms an individual.  Nonetheless, I've being surprised how a person can turn off their conscience.
Whatever he/she has done, no matter where the roots are, you'll always notice how the victims muffled their inner voices even when there were red flags at every step.
They always let their desire for a better lifestyle get the better of them. 

Looking at how guilt and remorse can reform a repentant person, I am reminded of the benefits of tough prison terms and of how our justice systems rarely succeed in catching the real culprits most of the times.


I am also reminded of an instruction that my Dad gave me as I started traveling. 
Never accept/agree for luggage that is not yours. 
This simple instruction meant that I should at all times pack my own luggage and be sure not to carry anything that you know will get you into trouble, whether you are lucky or not.


Later when I started earning, Dad gave me another piece of advice that has stuck with me for years - Never fall for the lure of easy money.


I've learned that money that you haven't worked for, will end up digging your grave.
Good things in life are worth struggling for.  
So if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.
   

Dec 27, 2011

Happy New Year!

The 52nd week of a year is always the most anticipated week.

I particularly enjoy reading the 'lists'. Of the new rich, of famous deaths, of milestones and unfortunate natural calamities and man-made disasters. The top 10 and the bottom 20. 
The creme de la creme of everything that matters and of everything that doesn't.

The time of the year when you retrospect on all that you did and didn't accomplish. 
A time when you look forward to a much better year ahead nevermind if you have been trailing behind with a crappy year already.
A time when everyone is euphoric and pessimistic at the same time. 


But what I really love are the frenzied commercials for new year's eve parties and the outrageous prices for couple tickets (with unlimited beverages and food, of course). Ranging from the modest (Rs1499/-) to the insane (Rs 24999/-), these parties promise you fire-breathers from the Orient, belly dancers from the Middle East, the hottest DJ's from the West and exotic themed parties.

I've been to two of these parties with a former girlfriend who'd hop parties and clubs like it was going out of style. On one of my visits to a new year's eve party, I recall the astronomical price of the tickets (at Rs 4999/-, it was a bomb 8 years ago). Being one of the most expensive parties does have it's advantages - it keeps the riff raff out. 
Off the 300 or so that came to the party, nearly all the women who came to the party were dressed in their finest, skimpiest party wear. A snip here or a tug there and the entire garment would have come off. Of course, you'd definitely want the attire to fall off when you are drunk and ready for some 'enchanting moments' with a person you'd normally not even get to second base. And second base they did. Over the course of the night, I saw nearly every couple in varying degrees of undressing and making merry in a way that you'd otherwise only see in a porn. Many of the women were carried off by their burly 'boyfriends' in the wee hours of the morning. 
Some were still naked and lying in a corner. Inebriated,  raped and oblivious.
What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!
And that was the last time I ever been to one of the eve parties.


What is about the New year and Christmas that makes people want to drink and make merry? I find it obnoxious that people associate Christmas and the New Year with partying and unfettered crapulence.

Surely, celebrate, drink to good health, prosperity and peace. 
But this time of the year should really be about reflecting on what we need to do to achieve our goals in the year to come. 

After all, goals are not self-fulfilling. 
Only prophesies are. 

Dec 24, 2011

Waiting for Christmas...

For Christians around the world, across the ages, December means all things joyful and fresh beginnings. 

My earliest memories of Christmas was Santa, skits at church, lots of gifts (one of two events in a year when I would get gifts) and plenty of cake.
Santa is something kids learn to grow out of, but more than a year ago, when my niece and nephew was visiting me during Christmas, they were ready for Santa with notes and a wishlist of things they would like for Christmas. Not one to let them down, I bought all the things on the list and slid it under their pillow as they slept. The joy on their faces was incentive enough. 
They even preserved letter Santa wrote to them all year. They studied hard, played hard and made their parents proud and happy. After all, that was what Santa had asked of them.

This year, as I searched long and hard for a particular book that I wanted them to have for Christmas, I also made sure Santa appreciated them for the wonderful kids they were. Now, I may be biased about how adorable the children are, but I do know I love them as much as I would love my own children. 

As children, we wait all year for Christmas and the wonderful surprises that are in store. 
As grown-ups, Christmas comes to mean lots of wine, plum cakes and time away from work.

For many others, Christmas is  a gentle reminder that you will need to have booked your tickets for the New year bash. If you haven't already, then what are you waiting for? Christmas?

Dec 22, 2011

Stalk 'em

Recently when a close friend of mine was relating to me how her ex was keeping a close tab on her. I was hardly surprised.

That's what most ex'es do.
Atleast the bitter ones.

Orkut was a wonderful thing. Sneaking a peek at the photo albums to see who's been dating who and hoping that they are having a miserable time, even if you are secretly envious about the good time they are really having. Browsing through the scraps to find out who he/she has been writing to and hearing from.

Then came Facebook. Darn those privacy levels. Now, he/she can't see those photo albums and or read those wall posts. So, now you have a stalker who is despicable enough to be rummaging through information (mostly pictures of you) on the internet. However, despite all the privacy online, and with the kind of footprint that we leave online, it is only a matter of time, that you can find some information. Even if it is as mundane as a note about a doctor's visit. "Finally, some new information!"
Well, congratulations, Shortie!

Statistics reveal cyber stalking is prevalent in developing countries like India, where there isn't strict enforcement of rules that protect privacy of an individual online. I know a person who left a malicious yet anonymous comment on google maps against me in the hope that I would toe his line. But being anonymous online is misnomer. A little digging yielded his computer's IP Address, name and postal address. But this is the cost we pay for freedom and free speech.

Relationships are tricky.
The first times are always so beautiful. The first date, the first look, the first shy smile, the first kiss and even the first fight (aka lover's spat). All immortalized. Or until you break up, whichever comes first.

Breakups are a tight rope walk. Long after you unceremoniously dumped him/her, you burn with the innate desire to still be a part of that one person you should have never hurt and cheated upon.
It could be infidelity or simply boredom. Love turns sour faster than you can say 'Sufferin' succotash'. And it's all downhill after this. If you are married, you're headed towards many painful months of counseling (if you are lucky) or a divorce (if you are unlucky). If you are just a couple, you'd still go through all the pangs of a 'divorce'. Mutual friends stop being that. Gifts get returned/donated/burned. The memories of all the places where the both of you went to and 'did' it and all the things you did together suddenly begin to trap you in a vicious cycle of denial, hate, depression and anger. For the lucky few, the transition is nice and easy and the wounds heal.

For as long as humans crave love and value lust, we'll always have partners who cheat and all the trauma that comes along with it. And lecherous men and unrepentant women would want to spy on their former better halves and secretly want them to suffer but I've got three words for you-  
Get a life!

Dec 21, 2011

Merry Christmas!

When wives grow fonder towards their husbands and when every business worth it's balance sheet announce a 'upto 50%', then you know it's finally the Christmas week.

Christmas - Also the biggest week for Christians all over the globe.
Now, I am not against the way Christmas has been commercialized, packaged and sold, because it's so wonderful to see many non-Christians joining in the festivities. It is near heavenly when you hear malls play 'Halleluiah' and the Christmas classics around this time of the year. After all it's not every time you get to hear 'Joy to the world, the Lord has come' in a world torn by religious strife.

But is this what Christmas was really meant to be?
Window shopping for Christmas decorations, I struggled to understand how people wouldn't bat an eyelid when spending close to Rs 5,000 ( Approx $100) a piece for a single wreath and mistletoe. Now I am not a penny pincher but having seen how many people we have around us who live a day at a time, simply because the Charities that work for them have no funds.

Growing up, I remember how Christmas was about sharing, forgiving people who have hurt you and reconciling with people you have hurt, giving to those who really need it and sharing the joy!

While I fail to see all the hope and joy that Christmas is supposed to symbolize, I believe it's just a matter of time before we come full circle and begin to truly appreciate the reason for the season.

Dec 18, 2011

...and the meek shall inherit the Heaven

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. 

Looking at the picture on the right, how many did it speak to you?

In an age where violence is both condemned and glorified and where there is no dearth of bad news, this picture may not shock a modern reader. Insensitivised, our numbed conscience won't even register a protest. 

Christianity's greatest verses teach it's followers to show the other cheek and to suffer for your faith. The meek shall inherit the Heaven. And the poor shall have riches above.

What I've seen is it is easier to teach a person how he/she should live in a way that would honor the Lord, but would he/she resist the urge to temptation? 
While we consider ourselves blessed when all is fine, when we aren't suffering and when we have the money/resources that give us all the material comforts that define good living, we rarely correct ourselves or introspect when we are stuck.

I know people who have been struggling for many years, stuck in careers that aren't taking them where they need to be, or with people who are pulling them down. While we are quick to shrug off a short patch of 'bad luck' as a passing phase, when the 'phase' gets longer, they give up hope. They resign themselves to the fate. They simply give up.

Having been on both sides of 'luck'; where at one point I hit the lowest point a human being could hit, and then being able to 'settle down', I see how important God is in our lives. 

Our perception of God is fish-eyed.
We come closer to Him, when we want something.
As toddlers, toys. 
As students, before exams and when the results are about to come out.
As young adults, before interviews and for a good partner.
As an employee, for a bonus or before an interview.... 
I could go on.
He is our genie in folded arms.
 

While I've already mentioned how the rich consider themselves to be blessed just by virtue of their wealth, the faithful rarely consider themselves lucky when they are meek, poverty stricken and persecuted. What I see all round us is how eager and earnest our poor and meek are to climb up the social ladder. To earn many lakhs, to build an incredible house, own a good car, lots of jewelry, clothes... But when it's their time to go, none of them are really meek, are they?

Dec 17, 2011

Does it really matter?

Recently a college student fell through the glass roof when she tripped a step.
While the girl is in battling for life after she fell 20 ft head first into the concrete, the college authorities have washed their hands off their unconscious ward. 
Never mind that the girl's family are unable to raise the money they need to meet the spiraling costs.
What really matters is while the college authorities are calculating their costs and cutting their risks, we fail to remember how this has now changed the lives of an entire family. All in a snap. (no pun intended)

Does it really matter who pays for the hospital expenses? 
Does it really matter whose negligence caused this?
Will it matter to the college if the girl ever wakes up?
Will the real culprits please stand up?

Have you ever wondered how people squabble over things that are seemingly unimportant.
I've seen grown up children hurt their elderly parents over property and inheritance. I've seen how some of them plunder and loot their parent's trust on them. How they wish their parents just died and bequeathed all that wealth to them.
But does all that really matter?

For all the awesome moments that we think defines our daily lives, there should be times when we must sit to ponder if any of our delusional thoughts of self importance really matter.


Dec 15, 2011

Cycle Ahoy!

So what does a cyclist in the Sub-Continent do around December every year?

No, not do the carol. 
But do the Tour Of Nilgiris.

I've been associated with TfN for 3 out of the 4 years it's been around. As a 'newb', a volunteer, as part of the Support staff, and as the editor for a tour that is widely touted as India's answer to the Tour de France, I've been able to experience and marvel how so many people come together to pull off a logistical trick up their sleeve. Some of them barely rest as the dates approach.

As a cyclist, TfN has come to symbolize what you must be a part of. 
It may not have a Lance Armstrong or an ESPN trailing it's every rider, but it has definitely built up a reputation, much of it word of mouth, of being the only day tour in Asia that is as well planned with even the tiniest detail looked into and fine tuned until the last minute. 

Though participation isn't free , what is impressive is how all of the proceeds go towards the cause of the organizing NGO- RideACycle Foundation, a not for profit organisation that advocates use of cycles as a viable and nature friendly mode of daily transportation, apart from the many many benefits cycling on a daily basis has on the human body.

Supported by cycle manufacturer- TI Cycles (makers of the BSA brand of cycles), TfN has grown by leaps and bounds and is a brand of itself. Like long lost sons and daughters, cyclists across the world converge to to the southern city of Bangalore. Judging by the many 'centuries' of prep rides, camaraderie and the frenzied conversations that happen within the official google group, all the riders begin to know each other so well even before the first mile has been pedalled. 

The 'kick-off' is a thoroughly intoxicating event. 
So here's 70 odd cyclists, with many hundred miles on their cyclo computer, who have lived and breathed nothing but TfN for the better part of this year, some of whom would have flown half way across the world to ride through idyllic villages and nature reserves and forests.
Some of them are excited just being a part of the tour, some of them are here because they want to prove they can do this but most of them are here simply because TfN gives them something that most other tours can only wish - Nature so pristine, memories that will last a lifetime, experience that will you'll brag about for life and friends that will outlast your cycle. 

While a tour this size cannot expect to have riders coming back every year and while some of them may not come back, as 'alumni', every rider, participant and organiser take pride in being a part of the greatest tour in India. 

The BSA TfN. I did it!

Merry Christmas!



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