Crowded political space

There was a time when there were not many options; a car meant either Ambassador or Fiat and so on with other things.  It all changed with reforms, now we are spoilt for  choice.  Political space is beginning to resemble a market place;  men and women of various ideological hues  bordering on idealism and utopia and the din, noise  and shrill voices trying to get their points across, similar to our roads where cattle, bicycle, honking cars and motorbikes vie for space.

Audience appears captivated by the demagogues, religious fanatics, preachers of free market economy,  self-appointed anti-corruption crusaders etc.  It is getting louder as the days pass.  TV serials seem to be out and TV journalists are in with a reach unimaginable two decades ago.  Roads, electricity and water is passe.  Now it is all about four C’s – corruption, crores and crony capitalism.

Corruption appears to have life breathed into it and has taken on a three-dimensional form, it is under the ground, on the ground and in the air.  Media pitches in with its expose’ and adding the word ‘gate’ to every sour looking deal.  At the Watergate,  wires got crossed and the right end went to the wrong ears and the game was up.  Back home  when papers get to the wrong hands the game begins.  Television journalists have created a new form of entertainment,  better than the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law kind;  rudely interrupted by commercials, which is called ‘a break’.   A great change from the song, dance and tear jerkers of Bollywood.  It is beginning to look like Tom and Jerry re-play without the usual ending.

From Adam, humanity has got it more times wrong than right – it was fruit then,  it is papers now.

A Case of Bent Spine

A dead king,  known to have ruled briefly,  reportedly killed in battle,  humiliated after death by having a sword stuck in his posterior, unceremoniously buried,  rather thrown in a pit – place of burial unknown.   A case for the jobless detective,  to hunt for a man so far back in history.    With his genetic deformity he probably had trouble getting on a horse and wielding his sword.  Was he left-handed,  right-handed or ambidextrous?    If poor Richard III had known he was going to be immortalized he would probably have gone in for corrective surgery.    At least put up a good show after death,  if not in this life.

Curiously,   sometime back a person was buried at sea.   He led a remarkable life.    A sort of heroic figure,   popular with a few and unpopular with many.    Caught unawares,   hopelessly outnumbered and killed in battle.    Why wasn’t he interred unceremoniously like Richard III?    Probably because the battle was fought in his home,   his back was straight,   was tall,   bearded had three wives and many children.

Bent backs are no more great feature.   They abound in plenty.    Their spines are barometrically oriented and can sense which way the wind is blowing in the corridors and quickly align to the right or left accordingly.   They could be immortalized like Richard III,   but Shakespeare is not around to do it.

Ballerinas and Champagne

Thirty million Euros is a lot of money to spend in a span of two years on ballerinas and champagne as reported in a press report.  Costliest vintage champagne probably taken from a ship wreck should not be more than 1000 euros per bottle, and the ballerina(s) for those like a former prime minister need to add another few thousand euros. Clearly, thirty million is difficult to spend in two years, just on Ballerinas and Champagne.  Maybe, they forgot to add an Atlantic cruise and five star hotel stay at every pit stop or a charter flight to Antarctic with the ballerinas, champagne and waitresses in attendance.

During my recent visit to Delhi I asked a farmer about ballerina.  He mistook it for a ball and started giving me directions to the nearest sports shop where I could buy a foot ball.  Then he proceeded to ask me why I needed a ball.  Ballerina being such a hard word to understand, I refrained from asking about champagne.  I knew I would be directed to the nearest “wine and beer shop” where wine is rarely available.  Should I ask him about helicopter or chopper?  No, he would not understand surely. Maybe I should have asked something more close to his understanding like bijli, pani, sadak or makaan.

With elections close it would be interesting to watch, how ballerinas and champagne get converted to weapons of mass destruction to decimate the opposition.  It would require a team of ingenious engineers, scientists and rocket scientists of the calibre of Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison to convert the Champagne in the bottle to a nuclear weapon and get the Ballerinas to press the button to have a truly spectacular effect and win the war.  They should start calling for applications from the scientific community to prepare the blue print and make a prototype ready for demonstration in the deserts of Rajasthan.

When they do win the war, what will they do with the left over champagne?  Pop the cork and celebrate like in Formula I?  With little else to sell, they could probably market the Champagne  re-branded as “Ballerina Champagne”.

Nairobi Airport to City

In the summer of 2009 I had the privilege of transiting via Nairobi to another country in Africa.  I was flying from Mumbai.  The flight over Indian Ocean was uneventful, nothing special, just a vast expanse of sea.  A little after 5 hours of flying, we hit landfall.  Soon thereafter I could feel the gentle descent.  While approaching to land I could see Mount Kilimanjaro on my left partially hidden in clouds.  Nairobi airport is at 5000 feet above mean sea level approx.  Finally we were on land.

My friend came to pick me up and we drove down to city.  The journey out of airport was quiet with the usual wide roads, but the landscape changed once we got close to the city, with chaotic traffic jams and innumerable sign boards advertising wild life tourism, which went on to reinforce what was already in my mind, that I am well and truly in Africa.

The sight of street boys selling various items soon confronted me, while still in traffic jam.  My friend gently reminded me not to lower the windows.  A little later I understood the reason why – Several boys were selling daggers, sheathed in what appeared to be a small hand held bicycle pump.  All one had to do was twist the cycle pump look alike and pull, which was being demonstrated – and the 10 inch blade would be out.  It was a bit unnerving to see knife wielding boys near the car.  But what surprised me was, why would anyone sitting in a car buy a dagger?  A calculator, maybe, but not a ten inch dagger. I for one would never buy one, neither did I see anyone buy.  It dawned on me a little later that, it is more for probably stealing than anything else, though I did not witness any robbery.

Free advice and cautions were many.  One stood out.   – don’t walk out alone at night, if you have to, then take a bit of money nothing precious or valuable.  If confronted by an armed robber, never resist, but give what is demanded.  And remember to say “Thank You”!!.  What thanks for being robbed!! Yes I was reminded, never forget good manners.

My stay in Nairobi ended uneventfully.  Try as I might, I could never get to go to Masai Mara.  The two days I was there was not enough, I was told.  It needs planning.  It is eight hours drive to Masai Mara reserve and then lots of time is required to spot the animals, rushing in and out is no way to see Masai Mara.  For witnessing something truly spectacular like a lioness hunting a gazelle or deer,  you got to spend more time.  Two days is just not enough.

Later I did my own little research on visiting Masai Mara reserve and it turns out my friend was right.  At least fifteen days is required from the point of touch down at Nairobi, for a drive through Masai Mara trip.  The Masai Mara reserve can be seen in three ways.  For the daring and adventurous the favorite is walk the reserve with the help of Masai tribe animal tracking team.  Driving through the reserve is the most popular, which involves staying in the reserve for several days.  For the least adventurous the only option is fly over the reserve – it is expensive, but time saver.

For visitors Nairobi has wonderful weather throughout the year, cost of living is reasonable and hotels are available for different budgets, from five star to the back packer types.  The best time to visit is during the annual migration of animals.  I wish I had more time to explore the wild life reserve, which remains a dream unfulfilled.

Religious Crocodiles in Burkina Faso

When I first heard the word Ouagadougou spoken, somewhere in my mind I knew it ought to be in Africa.  Sure it was, but with little effort I found it was in West Africa, with Ghana and Ivory Coast as neighbours.  I reached Ouagadougou in 1999 and stayed there for three years.  My stay was eventful and pleasant.  A Francophone country with poor people all around, it was a culture shock even for an Indian to be in such a poor country.  Never knew people could be so poor.  Sure I had seen poverty but not people so poor.

When I think of crocodiles, I am always reminded of Sabou.  It is an hours drive from Ouagadougou towards the South.  Sabou is famous for crocs.  But has anyone heard of religious crocs?  You got to visit it to believe it.  It is an open area with a large lake with no fences around, and in that lake there are more than 200 crocs.  When I got to Sabou  in a car, immediately a Burkinabe would come with several chickens held by their legs.  I had to buy one for CFA 2500 (about US$5).  They would tie the sqeaking chicken’s legs with a nylon rope and throw it in the water.  On hearing the chicken the crocs would come out and try to grab it, and one of them would get it eventually.  The strange part of the whole incident is that the crocs would not harm humans – apparently because they are religious.  I wonder how they became religious.   I have seen an African boy bathing in the lake with crocs swimming past him.  I have never tried it, and would not advise anyone to try it either.  Yes I did stand close to the crocs, but was very wary of them all the time, being grabbed by a Croc is not my idea of fun.