Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Bombay Roads

If a tortoise had at all beaten a hare in a race, I am sure Bombay would have hosted that race. The traffic moves at a snail's pace. The pee-pee of auto-rickshaws and pon-pon of the trucks cause such a headache that you wish to get rid of your head knowing well that the headache wont go. To a larger extent, this is due to the abysmal condition of the roads in the mega-city of India. Going by normal standards, only few roads in the city can qualify being called a road - western express highway, eastern express highway, JV Link Road are few of them. Remaining all roads are no better than the narrow lanes which are either meant for the kids to play marbles or for the youngsters to speed away on their bikes. By no stretch of imagination (obviously the imagination of non-mumbaikars, for a mumbaikar's imagination is polluted by the realities of his city) the narrow lanes of Bandra are not meant for the BMWs, Mercs, Audis of the several cine-stars who stay there. You would come across tens of hawkers selling anything from orange-juice to footwear just outside the Bandra station - a structure built by Brits almost a century ago. On the same road, there is always a queue of people eagerly waiting for auto-rickshaws. On the other side of the road, there are small shops which have been unmoved in last fifty areas. Such shops resemble the shops in medieval times. There are many other illegal stalls in front of these shops. In whatever space is left, you would see foreign made cars trying to make way somehow. If the same was the case in Delhi, the owner of Maruti-800 would have taken pot shots on the BMW owner for irrespective of more powerful engine of the latter, his car moves slowly than a Maruti.

At many other places, the roads have sharper ups and downs than those seen in the Sensex in seventeen months. Mahakali Caves Road is one exapmple in the eastern part of Andheri suburbs. It is obvious that this road is named after Mahakali Caves which are few meters away from the road. Though, I have not seen the caves, but I think the journey on the road is tougher than the one in the cave. As we say in Media, Sensex had a tipsy-turvy ride, I think if you want to experience such a ride, you should travel on Mahakali Caves Road.

This was not enough as the God made Bombay a coastal city. The rains are so heavy that it washes away the upper layer of most of the roads. It is like taking the mask-off from the face of BMC and MMRDA, which were claiming only few months ago about the substantial investments they have done in road infrastructure of the city.

On the top of all of it, metro rail is coming to Bombay. The construction of this rail has taken almost one-third of many roads as its construction site. The other day, I was travelling in an auto. It was late in night and the driver was sleepy. He was about to drive straight into the construction site that I yelled at him and he somehow took a right turn. I asked how could he do it. He said he has been driving for the last thirty years on the same road and it is his hands who do the thinking more than his brain. I pray as I wish his brain to think more than his hands.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Bizzare Parallel

Finding parallels between present and past always is interesting. I was thinking of one such parallel between Gandhi and Narayanmurthy. What inspired me to compare these personalities, despite of absence of strict similarity, is their patriarchal image - that of a bespectacled man, old in age, calm in demeanor like a saint.
Gandhi officially retired from Congress in mid 1930s to his ashram in Wardha. Yet, he continued to remain the numero uno of his party men and his line of thinking was seldom breached. Similarly, Mr Murthy retired from Infosys in 2003. He continues to remain on the board of directors and his approval is necessary for all-important matters concerning the company.
Gandhi smartly mixed godliness with politics. One moment, he would be strategically demanding ‘poorna swaraj’, thereby weakening the demand of separate Dominion of archrival Jinnah – who represented Muslim League. In simpler words, Gandhi wanted Britishers to leave India entirely, while Jinnah wanted a status of separate Dominion like Canada and Australia – commonwealth countries which owed their allegiance to King.
Smartly maintaining distance from Jinnah and his Muslim League, Gandhi preached brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims much like a saint. Gandhi had confused Jinnah so much that Jinnah could never understand in which capacity his counterpart spoke – of an individual who has retired from Congress or of someone who still controlled Congress. Gandhi had confused even Nehru by referring to God in those shrewd political discussions to such an extent that Nehru had remarked – “his constant references to God, God had told him to do that and God came in his dream irritated me”.
Mr Murthy too has attempted to confuse the audience as regards to the capacity he speaks in. Does he speak as an industry veteran? Does he speak as one of the ‘old uncles’ of neighborhood? Does he speak as a social reformer? It seems that Mr Murthy has ideas on anything under sun. He has spoken about the plight of rural women. Much like Gandhi, who educated the masses about the evils of poor sanitation. Though, Mr Murthy may not be as shrewd as Gandhi (or in absence of detailed evidence), but it is clear that he too had the ideas to change the world he lived in. Both Gandhi and Murthy wanted to impact the world beyond their respective areas that of a freedom fighter and an industrialist.
Gandhi argued hard with Ambedkar as the latter had no faith in Congress’s ability to represent Dalits. Gandhi argued that having too many leaders would weaken their stand against British Raj. The man did not stop there. He launched many programmes for upliftment of untouchables – one of the most important being giving them a new name ‘Harijan’. Though such kind of evidence is not available for Mr Murthy. Still, there are incidents, which show that his ambitions are really high and he does not want to remain idle after retirement. It is heard that Mr Murthy said, rather arrogantly, that he would change the face of Bangalore if the Government allows him to do so. Tales of his wishes to become the Indian Ambassador to US and later of becoming the President of India have been doing rounds in media circles for quite some time.
It is clear that both these men carefully cultivated their image of being a self-less, responsible elderly and then used it to get maximum gains for their own aspirations. It is also said that Mr Murthy used to get the minimum salary of all founder members of Infosys. In 2003, his annual salary was Rs 18 lakhs. Phaneesh Murthy’s salary was more than a crore just before he was sacked.
The list of similarities between the two men does not stop here. Gandhi was and is still the most respectable politician. Mr Murthy too will feature among the most respectable industrialist of India. In fact, before Tatas went on an acquisition spree, it was Mr Murthy and not Mr Ratan Tata, who was hailed as the face of globalised India.