Showing posts with label Infrastructure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Infrastructure. Show all posts

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In a Jam, not yet a Pickle

I used to have this recurring nightmare of getting stuck in a traffic jam where I would be stuck for an entire day.
But when I got to read about the epic jam in the Beijing-Tibet expressway, it was a real feeling of dread and a bad premonition that I could be stuck in one in Bangalore very soon.
After all, our politicians have been trying to turn Bangalore into a Singapore. I don't know if they're still working on it. But I guess, their sights were more on making Bangalore into a Bangladesh.
Over-filling drains, power shortages, traffic snarls, we seem to have all of it here.

In a larger picture, India is an enigma!
How on earth did a nation in the hands of such scrupulous people at the top manage to survive and better still capture the hearts and attention of the modern traveler and businessman?
A country that is ravaged by nature and man has managed to keep itself alive despite all odds.

We have such brilliant examples of ingenuity and talent.
We have contributed such awe inspiring people and ideas to humanity.

The 'epic jam' however lasted for more than a month.

The pickle that we as a nation are in have lasted for several decades now.

A will that has been weakened by centuries of political plundering, our society is slowly loosing its grip on the future. The politicians here hurry to amass obscene amounts of wealth so fast that it looks like greed is going out of style!

What surprises me is that there is a growing resentment among my peers, tax payers who are educated, independent and honest. While they acknowledge that the system needs to change, what exasperates them is the fact that not many people will walk the talk when it comes to the D Day. A packet of food, some cheap alcohol and few hundred rupees is all it takes to lure our rural folk en mass to the Polling booth.

Don't blame the rains (or the lack of it) because if Israel (a arid land) could make its soil lush, I am pretty sure, India can do better.

It is a vicious cycle, actually.
India has never been poor. Actually, measure by measure, pound by pound India has held more wealth and lured more people in history than all the other countries put together.

Farmers will milk politicians when elections approach.
Politicians will wash, lick and dry the unmentionables of their voters until they get elected.
Once in power, they will do all that they can to either stay in power or to make enough wealth and connections to last a few generations.
Did someone say farmer suicides? Well, what goes around comes around. Come elections, all will be forgotten and forgiven. Bed the enemy.

What we need is a new breed of statesman.

Someone who will learn from lessons past and not be complacent.
Someone who will understand how corruption breeds an society that is ill.
Someone who will have the gall to stamp out bureaucracy and bring in accountability.
Someone who will resist being a puppet in the hands of higher sinister powers.
A person who will not only be eloquent in speech but effective in action too.

In short, we need someone who will talk the talk and walk the walk.
We need help!
Lest we be known as a 'Epic Fail'

Nowadays, I have different nightmares.
No, its not about snakes and ghouls but the impending sense of doom that my kids will face in a Nation that refuses to grow up.
Its not a pretty picture and I hope we don't live long enough to face their wrath and answer their scathing questions.
Sorry kids, we screwed you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Incredible India

I love traveling.

Well, most people do, and in a time when travel is a way of life, it is a fashionable thing to mention in resumes and 'About Me' sections online.
Tourism is a huge industry and unlike most other industries, tourism can propel an entire economy into the 'first world'.

India, unfortunately has a few black horses.
While states like Kerala and Goa have been the Toppers in the Class, the same cannot be said of the other states that pretend to be tourist friendly but instead cannibalize their travelers.

I am a fairly prolific traveler. However I am a careful and a very cautious traveler too. Am very skeptical about overly friendly co passengers, abhor passengers who put up and attitude and ignore those of them who show off their gadgets and supposed wealth.
I have a gift of being able to grasp the local language of the place I am visiting and that has saved me a lot of times.

Of all the places that I have traveled, my least favorite place is Hyderabad!
Sweltering heat and an almost unending need for water. If you are headed that way, be prepared to stay in an air conditioned room inside. The buses are archaic and public transportation is utter chaos. Not that it is different from the other parts of Incredible India, but what the heck!

Locals in places that I've visited often think that if you talk in English and look "forward", that they can relieve you of your wallet's content. Nevermind their smile and polite manners, they will unabashedly make sure you part with as much money as they can. All this unless you are cautious and prudent.

Sometimes, paranoia and lack of good sense can get the better of you.

You could miss out on the good stuff. India is not a Sweden or a Switzerland. And it can never be one either. However it is a land of extremes. You can travel to just across the border and a lot of curious anomalies and strange traditions. Bombay, one of my favorite places to travel to is fast paced and very practical. Kerala, one of my favorite holiday spots is exactly the opposite. The people there are neither fast paced nor practical. Keralites in Kerala are a sluggish lot. Most businessmen who start businesses are smart and intelligent, but some of them start a business for the wrong reasons. They simply hate to work under a boss. And whatever little zeal that they had quickly evaporates and fails to make up for the utter lack of business acumen.
They fail to capitalize on opportunities that knock and their ventures will die a natural demise.

India has its quirks too and while you can see towering examples of well thought out infrastructure, you will also see shoddy remains of poor civic work. Its like that oft quoted statement: "Examples of ancient culture coexisting with modern architecture..".

Its that rat race for more money, that has relegated us to the Third World/Developing Nation bin.

When per capita, our growth could have been as good as that of the US of A, we have corrupt leadership and politicians on the one hand an agrarian society that does not take care of its farmers.

But there's hope. Though not a revolution, I can sense a movement. A slow awakening of the youth to the real issues that plague this land. What we now need is a real Leader. A charismatic Leader of the Young.

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"
This Speaker exhorted that we as humanity fight tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. This statement is as relevant as it was 30 years ago as it is now and unless we shed our colonial hangup, shake the dust of excuses and pull up our socks we will always be as defenseless as drunk man on an Indian road.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Bucking the Ride

Driving in India requires you to have 3 absolutely essential aspects:
Good Horn, Good Brakes and Good luck.

Its been a long while since I've used public transportation.
'Infrastructure' as is known in India is a fairly loose term.

Recession meant I had to cut corners and with fuel prices eating up more of my earnings every month, I decided to sell my ride and take up public transportation.
I've earned most of my miles traveling in buses in Bangalore and back home in Kollam, Kerala.
Given a choice, I would travel in a bus rather than a car or any other private mode of transportation. Buses in Kerala and Bangalore are my favorite, besides the locals in Mumbai.

Public Buses in Bangalore are laid back and have a mind of their own. Drivers think they are above the law, and conductors try to make a quick buck every opportunity they get. There are laws, if it were followed, would have made driving in Bangalore is pleasure. But what do you get if a driver decides to stop for a passenger almost diagonally across the road, for 20 seconds. This has a domino affect on all the rest of the traffic that was unlucky enough to be behind the bus. In the 30 seconds that it took for the bus to get moving, you would have all the other drivers honking and literally pulling their hair out. Now, multiply this by a thousand buses doing this at least 30 times a days. Combine this with a hundred cows, a thousand bullock carts, a million Rickshaws, a zillion bikes and a quadrillion cars. That's the formula for Road Rash, Bangalore Edition.

I was traveling on the day of the Civic elections that were held recently, and I must say, that was the first day I ever saw the roads without a traffic jam in the CBD (Central Business District).
Many well intentioned publicity campaigns were launched, but none of them ever made a dent in the psyche of the common Indian road user.

So what ails Bangalore roads?

Most of them are illiterate and with the lackadaisical quality of primary education, our drivers rarely get to learn about traffic rules and unless there is a concerted effort, our children will never learn that either. I remember how we used to have traffic education back in our primary classes. My biggest source of social etiquette was from a TV show called 'Sesame Street'. I still remember how the friendly puppets used to teach us different things.. Sadly, our children are stuck with lackluster shows on TV.

Roads in Bangalore, are pretty much unmarked and none have dedicated lanes for emergency vehicles. Our drivers change lanes with absolute disregard and blatant disrespect for their fellow drivers and road users. A show of hand or signal is considered 'luxury' if not for the cursory glance while you are changing lanes or making that turn. After all, 'why should I take care. If you are behind me, you should look out for me'. Our 'I am the King of the Road' attitude is wrecking havoc which probably over the years, will mutate into 'Hit first, Ask questions later'.

I have seen ambulances with their sirens getting stuck at the traffic lights, just because the guy in the front didn't want to jump the signal. (He would have otherwise jumped the signal if he was late for a movie/date) God bless you, if you ever need an ambulance in Bangalore!
I have seen men (in particular) in bikes ride on the footpath (yes, you heard me right, the foot path) just so that they can get ahead at the traffic lights.

Well, the roads, themselves leave much to be desired since most of the roads that were laid in the last 2-3 years look like the work of a bunch of kids with shovels and a lot of tar. Uneven does not even begin to describe the road leading up to the Golf course and Hebbal flyover.
Much of the road look like tar was laid over a carpet bombed terrain, the railings shoddy and crooked and dividers that look like a bunch of Lego blocks strewn in a line. I have been on better dirt roads in villages! This road however gets me thinking and wondering 'Who approved this road and how is it that we never have bothered to castrate the bastards who made millions out of a work this shoddy'.

Enforcing laws that already exist should be given the highest priority. Nothing less should do. Like a capricious child with an obsessive compulsive disorder, our Authorities love to create a lot of new rules. It is almost like they are vying for credit for creating draconian rules that never get implemented. I recently got a mail (one of the thousands that are forwarded/spammed) that gave a list of all the traffic rules and punishments. What struck me (besides the realization that the rules might have been ghost written by some 8th grade student) was that most of the 'fines' were a pittance; Rs 100, for instance is a paltry sum. 1oo bucks would have been a princely sum back in the 80's but with the rupee being what it is now, I would rather pay the pittance rather than follow the rule. The fines which are meant to be a deterrence fail to even worry us. 
Growing up in Kuwait, there used to frequent and prompt checks (at any time of the day). There was never any reluctance to pay fines though we have rarely been fined, since the fines and the punishments there were as harsh as they were fiercely enforced. I have seen cops stand in the middle of the blazing sun to make sure they check every driver and punish those breaking the rules. You can't even think of jumping the red light, because you can bet your last buck that you will get a court order in 7 working days asking you to pay up KD 500 (approximately Rs 75000/approximately what an average Indian earns in 3 months). So if you drive without documents, no amount of money muscle or name pulling will help, you will be in jail until the court decides to hear your case (which is probably 1 week). Now this is liberal Kuwait. Consider yourself lucky you are not in Saudi Arabia. You ogle at that lady, and you would end yourself without an eye!

But welcome to India. Aren't we just so lucky that our leaders are politically impotent?

They don't have the will nor the creativity to enforce laws.
A lot of us would like to move mountains but few are willing to practice on small hills.
A very close pal of mine, once remarked that the reason why we have a very laid back attitude about development is because we were ruled over by other civilizations for several centuries.
'Ours is the only civilization that never invaded other countries, but were ruled by others'.Or what is also known as 'The Great Indian Excuse' for screwing up!

We take pride in mediocrity. So what if we were ruled over by other nations for centuries? There have been plenty of other nations, that were ruled and stripped off their riches. Some of them are still ruled by neo imperialistic countries like the US. Japan has not one natural resource of its own, has a large population that have lived through the really tough times but is one of the most respected nations in the world today. Their education system churns out geniuses and their work ethics are flawless. Their products are the most sought after. Health care is free and politicians are fair. Though they were ruled over, nuked and brought to their knees, nothing could ever stop them. They made reforms to their constitution and enforced laws that made sure that everyone had a fair playing field. Traffic is systematic and the pedestrians would cross only in designated sections on the road. Infact you will recognize a Japanese tourist by the way he/she waits for the pedestrian lights to turn green, although in Bangalore, this is a redundant oxymoron. Public Transportation is well developed and corruption is virtually unknown. They wouldn't even think of passing the buck, and when the Japanese apologise, they mean it.

Sometime ago, I chanced upon an well meaning article about 'The Social costs of bad roads'. While not going into the details of what the article said, I wonder how many of us even think of the long term consequence of bad roads and poor driving skills will have on our society and the next generation.

Traveling down the bad roads of Bangalore, some day, I hope the eyes and mouths of our conscience open to the fact that we are capable of better roads and better civic sense. But we instead choose to wear our social blinkers.

Vellanakalude nadu, (The land of White Elephants) A Malayalam comedy by the veteran director Priyadarshan gives you a glimpse at the struggle and the corruption that happens in Kerala (and pretty much any where in India) when it comes to building a road and other public infrastructure projects. (You can watch the movie with English subtitles here)

A lot of times, we like to sidestep the issue like a pothole, for we think we cannot make a difference. We like to indulge in the great bureaucratic exercise called 'Passing the Buck', when it comes to social responsibility.

The Transportation department will let you have a license to drive, kill and maim, and all you need to do is grease the palms of that RTO inspector. I recall when I was trying to get my license, I flunked the driving test 3 times, just because I chose not to bribe that agent in the RTO. I came back, the next day, paid that agent Rs 500 and said my license would be ready, asked me to give the driving test nonetheless. Waiting in line for the test, I noticed that my form had a tiny * that my agent had marked in the top corner, which indicated to the Inspector that he was paid off. Needless to say, I 'breezed' through the test and got my license in 1 week. I knew driving partly because of my experience abroad, but mostly because my Dad was my mentor. But imagine the hundreds and thousands of those who bribe obscene amounts of money just so that they can drive.

Driving while intoxicated is such a no-brainer that I wonder why otherwise smart people would even want to venture the wheel when we know of lives that have been shattered because of people who drove when they were drunk. I guess it is because we know we can bribe that cop off, or maybe because we can earn bragging rights that we drove after drinking. Well, what people don't realize is that it's just not your turn. Not yet.

Is demanding better roads and educated and thoughtful drivers too much to ask?

Welcome to Bangalore, Formerly known as The Garden City, but now it's just The City of bad drivers and horrible roads.
PS: The image of the day: 'Hump Ahead' was chosen because of the following reasons:
1) Because I would like to thank the English genius(es) who immortalized Indian Roads by combining 2 words that make every tourist from the West giggle with naughty anticipation.
2) Because that sign makes me giggle too.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...