Wednesday, February 10, 2010
By Shevlin Sebastian
News item: Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has said the government plans to include more dogs in the canine squad of the State Police.
When Kennel Minister Kay Bee announces that more dogs are needed for the Kerala police canine squad, there is great excitement among the dogs in the state.
“Here is our chance,” says Prem Alsatian to his wife Susheela. “During this worldwide recession, there is nothing better than a government job. You get a regular salary and good benefits.”
But little does Prem know that dogs from other states in India have also taken note of the announcement.
At the selection centre, at Thuiruvananthapuram, there are numerous dogs present. Prem immediately realises that the chances of getting selected are quite difficult.
He calls up Taj Barkbark of the Kerala Navnirman Sena. “All types of dogs have come,” he says. “We have to do something.”
Taj says, “Don’t worry. I am going to announce an agitation. Only Keralites should get selection. We are the local dogs. Why should dogs from outside the State get a chance?”
Taj tells his goondas to launch an attack on North Indian dogs. So, Bengali Dachshunds, Bihari Pomeranians, Punjabi Dobermans, and Rajasthani terriers are beaten up.
Several dogs are bleeding from the jaws, although all of them are gnashing their teeth. Television channels, ‘Dogs Now’, ‘Dogs Today’ and ‘Dog News Network’ (DNN) are repeatedly airing the images of the violence.
Former Union Dog Minister Palu Lasad goes on national TV and says, “Dogs from all over India should be allowed to take part. Doggone it, the best should be selected. We have to fight the terrorists.”
Taj replies, “No way. First we will fight the Northies, then the Pakis.”
Meanwhile, Delhi-based psychiatrist, Bow Wow, says, “Dogs from Kerala suffer from an inferiority complex. They don’t want competition, they just want a quota system, the cowardly bunch of Leftists!”
The Chief Dog in the Kerala Assembly, Veenarayi Peejan, says, “We take offence to that statement. Bow Wow is a mentally-deranged Rightist.”
Meanwhile, the Sena disrupts the selection process. All the dogs leave the centre. Kay Bee is at his wit’s end. Finally, he says, “There is only one option left. Men who behave like dogs will be eligible for selection.”
Veenarayi Peejan shakes Kay Bee’s hand and tells the Assembly, “In other words, only politicians will be selected.”
(A slightly different version appeared in The New Indian Express, Kochi)
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
INDIANS STUDENTS IN AUSTRALIA
Indians students in Australia have been attacked for the past several months. Long-term Indian residents says that robbery, not racism, is the reason
Photo: Lali Jacob (extreme right) with her family
By Shevlin Sebastian
In a restaurant at Sydney, Bobby John Mana is having dinner with a friend. Most of the patrons are Australians. There are six Indian students who are boisterous and talking loudly in Hindi, no doubt aided by the alcohol they are consuming. And it is becoming annoying. Soon, the waiter brings forth a cake on a trolley.
“So the people understood it is a birthday celebration and they are in a forgiving mood,” says Bobby. “But then the boys proceed to smear cake on each other’s faces. Pieces are falling all over the carpet. This is terrible behaviour.”
Finally, one of the patrons, a big-built Australian, who is having dinner with his wife, loses his patience. He goes up to the group and says, “Excuse me I would appreciate it if you behave because I am having dinner.”
The students become quiet at once. “If they had continued with their boorish behaviour, I am sure the Australian would have given them a good beating,” says Bobby, with a laugh.
Bobby, a film-maker, who has lived 13 years in Australia, has been staying in Kochi for work in the past one year.
Indian students lack an understating of Australian society. Lali Jacob, who works as a manager at the School of Medical Science at Sydney, says, “In Australia everybody says ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Hello, how are you, mate?’ to strangers.”
Lali remembers meeting a family who had migrated a few months ago. “They complained that everybody seems to be saying, ‘How are you?’” says Lali. “They said that they were getting annoyed by this, but I told them this is the way in Australia. For example, if I meet you on the road, I will say, ‘How are you?’ If I meet you again after two hours, I will still say, ‘How are you?’”
She gives another example. If you are in the checkout counter of a supermarket, the staffer, before making out your bill, will say. ‘How are you today?’”
Lali says the majority of Indian students do not respond to the greetings. “As a result, Australians think, ‘Indians are so rude,’” she says.
Bobby says that Indians make other mistakes while navigating through Australian society. They do a lot of odd jobs and then they use the money to buy the best mobile phones, I Pods, laptops and sneakers.
“When they finish work late at night, they will walk through deserted parks, or travel in empty train compartments flashing their latest gadgets,” he says. So, the drug addict, who is hard up for money, thinks, ‘Look at this, an Indian with an expensive mobile phone. He is not Lebanese or a Chinese, who will fight back. This is easy meat!’
Bobby says that Indians are physical cowards. “They will shout ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and throw stones at the police in India,” he says. “But in Australia a white has to just yell at him, and he will throw down the phone or the laptop and run away.”
What adds to the problem is the lack of unity among the Indians. “So, if one Indian student is being attacked, the others will look away. They will not even inform the police. Instead, they will pretend as if nothing has happened,” says Bobby. This is in stark contrast to the Lebanese, who always moves in gangs. If one is attacked, there is an immediate group response.
Meanwhile, Lali is puzzled over the brouhaha in the media over the attacks on Indians. “Mugging incidents occur in every country,” she says. “It happens in New York, Paris, New Delhi, or Mumbai. I fear that all this negative publicity will polarise the Australians and the Indian immigrants.”
So, does that mean these are not racist attacks? “Not at all,” says Bobby. “These are just opportunistic guys robbing vulnerable Indians. There is nothing more to it.”
However, he says, this is not to deny that racism exists in Australian society.
“Every country has an element of racism, but in Australia it has a good-humoured tinge,” says Bobby. “My Australian friends used to call me a ‘curry muncher’, because I am an Indian. But everybody loves curry in Australia and it is quite expensive. So, it is an indirect compliment. I would describe it as a light form of discrimination. I have never experienced brutal in-your-face racism.”
Not like what happened to Bobby’s relative, Chinnu, a doctor, who grew up in London. Once she was spat upon by a white, who shouted, “You Paki, go back!” She spent four months in Australia doing her house surgeoncy. “Chinnu never experienced a single incident of racism,” says Bobby. “She told me Australia is a great country.”
Lali says that she also has never experienced any form of racism in Australia. “It is a country where if you work hard you can go all the way to the top,” she says.
Incidentally, people from more than 50 nationalities live here. They include Italians, Brits, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Greeks, South Africans, Germans, and Malaysians.
And yet, despite this wide variety, in the recent past, Indians have been singled out for attacks. So what is the way out?
“They should take simple precautions like avoiding deserted parks or travel in empty trains late at night,” says Dr Soni Stephens, who works in the Sydney Dental Hospital.
Lali says the Indian High Commission should hold orientations sessions to teach students on how to behave in Australia. She gives an example of mixed signals.
“If you travel on a train, and if an Indian receives a call on the mobile, he tends to talk so loudly that it annoys everybody else in the compartment,” she says. “These are basic manners which are lacking in Indians.”
Bobby says that the new generation Indians should take some advice from their countrymen who have been there for decades.
“The earlier immigrants also had small issues here and there,” says Bobby. “But they knew how to work their way through. The solution is not to go to the media.” Sadly, some politicians and the media on both sides are happy to fish around in these waters, to get the maximum publicity possible.
They fear that if this media blitzkrieg continues, there will be a negative backlash from Australians. “Don’t forget that the tourism industry is already hit,” says Bobby. “The Australians are now wary about coming to India. They prefer to go to Sri Lanka, instead.”
In the end, both Lali and Bobby say, with deep feeling, “Australia is a great country and one of the best places to settle down. This is what we will tell the students: assimilate, and be a part of this wonderful society.”
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)
INDIAN STUDENTS IN AUSTRALIA
INTERVIEW: PETER VARGHESE, Australian High Commissioner in India
By Shevlin Sebastian
Why is there a sudden spurt of attacks on Indians? Who is to blame?
There is no excuse for the crimes suffered by Indians in our community. And
such acts have been condemned by the Australian community and leaders. But it is important to recognise some of the underlying dynamics of the issue.
What is that?
The Indian student population in Australia has grown very quickly in recent years to almost 1,00,000. The vast majority have a good experience in Australia. Many choose to stay on to build a life for themselves and their families. They are hard-working and welcome additions to our diverse, multicultural society.
If that is so, why are the students being attacked?
Crime is never easy to dissect. But Australia is a relatively safe place, with homicide and assault rates well below the global average. But it is important to recognise that some students come to Australia under heavy financial stress and choose to take better-paid late-night work, and to live in cheaper suburbs.
There are, unfortunately, risks involved in such work. That is why we encourage students to bring sufficient funds to Australia so they can avoid some of the higher-risk professions.
The Australian government says the attacks are not all racist in origin. The Indian government says otherwise. What is the truth?
Right from the beginning, Australian authorities have acknowledged that some of the incidents appear to be racial in motivation - and have condemned such acts.
The then Australian High commissioner to India, John McCarthy, stressed this in numerous interviews. And since taking over as High Commissioner, in September, 2009, I have repeated this.
So, does that mean the attacks are racist in origin?
Not all attacks. It is important to differentiate between different acts of crime. Some appear to have been racist in motivation, most have not. Unfortunately, Indians, like all other groups, are victims of urban crime that afflicts all international cities. Undesirable and regrettable; yes. Automatically racist; no.
Australia has a zero-tolerance approach to racism. Modern Australia has been built on multiculturalism and immigration from all corners from the globe. In such a society there is no place for racism.
What is the advice you will give to Indians students who are planning to study in Australia as well as those students who are already there?
Firstly, Australia is a welcoming and safe place to study. But we concur with the Indian government's advice to students: prepare well, do your research before you come, take precautions to stay safe. Be assured that support structures are in place if you need assistance.
And a less formal piece of advice - take an interest in Australia. While Australia and India share many common values, Australia is a different society. Make an effort to understand 'what makes Australians tick'.
One example might be the game of Australian Rules Football played throughout southern Australia. Australians love cricket, but in cities like Melbourne, Australian Rules Football is like a religion. Taking an interest in the game can serve as a great tool to build bridges with Australians.
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)
COLUMN: SPIRITUAL MATTERS
By Shevlin Sebastian
When Kochi-based industrialist S.S. Agarwal enters his office, the first thing he does is to stand in front of a photo of Lord Ganapati hanging on a wall. His lips are moving visibly. A few minutes later, Agarwal turns around, and with a broad smile, he greets his visitor. So what did he pray for?
“I asked God to please give us enough so that we are able to feed ourselves, as well as others who come to our door,” he says. Agarwal also recites a few shlokas, including the Gayatri Mantra.
“God is great,” he continues. “You can ask Him for anything with a deep desire in your heart and He will provide.”
Agarwal gives some examples. Around 30 years ago, he had gone to see a possible bridegroom for his sister in Bangalore. “The boy lived in a beautiful house,” says Agarwal. “I remember the red brick walls, marble floors and the well-kept garden.” Agarwal whispered to himself, ‘Dear God, I want a house like this.’
A few years later, when he moved from Salem and settled down in Kochi, the first house that he rented was an exact replica of the house in Bangalore. Later, he also built a house in the same style.
In 1973, Agarwal had opened a flour mill in Mangalore. Looking through the sixth floor window of his office he could see a steel mill on the opposite side. “I was fascinated by the way the scrap was being unloaded, and how magnets and cranes were used to move things,” he says. “I told God that I wanted a similar steel mill.”
In 1995, Agarwal opened a steel mill in Binanipuram, a suburb of Kochi.
To invoke God’s power so that he can fulfill his dreams, Agarwal prays to Lord Ganapati, Satyanarayan, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga.
“Durga is also known as Aparajita,” he says. “She is the destroyer of evil.” And suddenly he puts his hands inside his shirt pocket and brings out a small plastic packet which contains dry flowers. “These are known as Aparijta flowers,” he says. “When you keep them with you, nobody can defeat you.”
He tells a story of how a businessman in Coimbatore owed him Rs 60 lakh and was not making the payment. But Agarwal prayed to Aparajita, touched the flowers of ten, and told himself, ‘I must not lose.’ Later, through fortuitous circumstances, he got the payment.
But life is not always fortuitous. Sometimes, bad things occur. So, does Agarwal get angry with God when that happens? “Not at all,” he says. “God can never harm you, because His nature is to be good.”
He says unfortunate events occur because of one’s negative actions. “It is the law of karma,” he says. “So why blame God?”
So who is God? “I believe in an Almighty God,” he says. “You can call it Bhagwan or Jesus Christ or Allah. All religions are different rivers which are flowing towards the same source: a spiritual power which animates the Universe.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)
Thursday, February 04, 2010
That's actor Cochin Haneefa for you. He died of a liver ailment in Chennai a few days ago
By Shevlin Sebastian
A couple of years ago I was doing a column about the childhood memories of celebrities for the Kochi Expresso supplement. And one of the people I met, along with photographer Rajeev Prasad, was Cochin Haneefa. He lived in a simple house at Pullepady, Kochi, near the St. Augustine’s school. The moment I rang the bell, and he opened the door, he was a mesmerising host.
Firstly, he and his wife laid out a feast for us. There were cakes, jilebis, potato chips, cashew nuts, halwa, and piping hot coffee. Used to just a cup of tea at the homes of celebrities, with their puffed-up egos and unsubtle attitude – ‘Consider yourself lucky you are meeting me’ - this was a shock.
Cochin Haneefa had just returned from Pondicherry following a strenuous shoot for Shankar's 'Enthiran – The Robot'. He folded his legs on the sofa and began talking, his eyes twinkling all the time. And what followed were anecdotes, jokes, reminiscences, and juicy movie gossip. But the one story I never forgot was a poignant one.
Cochin Haneefa had pointed to his feet and said, "These legs have a story to tell."
When Haneefa was born, he had crooked legs. Both feet were pointed at each other. "A close friend of my father, Dr. G.D. Mohammed said the problem can be solved," said Haneefa. He forcibly straightened the baby's legs and encased it in plaster. However, after three months when the plaster was taken off, the legs remained in the same position.
"Everybody began crying when the doctor said, 'This is his destiny and there is nothing we can do about it,'" said Haneefa.
But his father never lost hope. Every night he would massage Haneefa's legs with oil till 1 a.m. He would be crying when he did this, but in a remarkable show of tenacity he did it non-stop for three years. "When it was time for me to go to school, my feet were perfect," says Haneefa. "I had no memory of crooked legs."
For years Haneefa did not know about the entire extent of his disability and his father's role in curing him. One day after he had become a famous actor he met Dr. Muhammad who told him the full story. "I wept in gratitude," he says. "I realised there was no way I could repay my beloved father."
But Cochin Haneefa does repay his beloved fans. When the interview was over, he accompanied us outside and suddenly explained the rationale of his sweet nature.
“I always behave well with people, especially fans, who come to meet me,” he said. “They love me a lot. The least I can do is to be friendly and kind to them. They will remember it with happiness forever.”
Cochin Haneefa, we will remember you with happiness forever!
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)
A former bank manager, S.M. Dherendra, relives his experiences of repossessing cars and other assets from clients who defaulted on loan payments
By Shevlin Sebastian
S.M. Dherendra, the former collection manager of a private bank went to a house in Kottayam. Thomas Chacko* had taken a loan to buy a Maruti Zen. But owing to a job loss, he no longer had the money to pay the equated monthly installments (EMIs). Now there were seven outstanding EMIs.
“When I entered the home, I asked politely for the car keys,” says Dherendra. Thomas resisted. “I raised my voice and became adamant,” he says.
Thomas was about to give the keys when his wife entered the living room. She was nine months pregnant and pleaded with Dherendra not to take the car. “I might give birth at any moment,” she said. Recalls Dherendra: “I am a human being. So I left without taking the car.”
On another occasion, Dherendra informed K. Santosh*, who stayed in Changanacherry that he would be arriving the next morning to repossess the car since he had fallen behind in his monthly EMIs.
However, when he reached the house he was stunned to discover that Santosh, 73, had died of a heart attack during the night. “I gave my condolences to the family and left immediately,” he says.
Dherendra’s job is to collect the car, or any other asset, which has been bought on a loan, once the customer misses out on his EMI repeatedly. It is, as expected, not a pleasant experience for both parties.
“When I reach the house and the family members realise the reason behind my visit, the door is shut on my face,” he says. “Then they will go to the balcony and shout, ‘Why do you come home? Who has authorised you? We are going to call the police. You are threatening us.’”
Soon, the local people will gather around. Dherendra has to make a quick judgement. If the public shows support for the family he knows he has little chance of taking away the car. So he leaves. But thereafter the family is put under constant surveillance.
“What the family did not realize, when they opposed us initially, is that we have an extensive network of agents and observers who are able to keep an eye on the man’s movement, especially when he is driving the car,” says Dherendra.
The moment the man goes out in the car and it is parked somewhere, the collection agents rush there, open the car with a duplicate key and drive it away. Immediately, the police are informed. The next call is to the customer. Usually, he becomes furious. “It is understandable because we are humiliating him in front of society,” says Dhirendra.
Sometimes, the client goes to the bank and shouts at the staffers. Or he goes to the police station to lodge a complaint. “What the man does not realise is that he is a defaulter and we are just following the rules,” says Dherendra.
Incidentally, taking the car like this is not an illegal act. The agreement states clearly that, when there is a default, the bank can repossess the car from the premises or any other location.
“Till the loan is cleared, the company is the owner of the car,” he says. “The client is regarded as a user till the last rupee is paid.”
Most of the defaulting customers realise this. So, they quietly give the car keys. But Dherendra, who has traveled the length and breadth of Kerala, says that people behave differently in various regions.
“In Malabar, a violent place, the people are tough,” says Dherendra. “They are unfazed by demands for payment. There is a fear in us when we approach the defaulting customers. So we always take the help of the police or powerful political contacts.”
In contrast, people in places like Tiruvalla, Changanacherry or Pathanamthitta are polite and well-mannered. “When we tell them that our jobs are at stake if we don’t collect the car, they just hand over the keys,” says Dherendra. But things are different in Pala, where the clients are mostly businessmen and are tough as nails. “They are mentally strong and are not intimidated at all,” he says.
Dherendra did this job for 12 years and gave up. “I was changing as a person,” says Dherendra, who is now happily working in the real estate industry. “I had become arrogant and adamant. Sometimes I behaved with my family in this manner. So I felt it was time to quit. It was the best decision I took.”
(*: Some names have been changed)
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Incessant horn-blowing by Kochi’s drivers jangles the nerves and shatters mental peace
By Shevlin Sebastian
One day, while I was travelling along National Highway 47 on a Honda Activa scooter, at Kochi, a motorbike came up behind me and suddenly the driver pressed the horn so loudly that my whole body jerked forward and I almost lost my balance. Then the driver sped past me.
Usually a mild person, I became angry. I chased the motorbike, pushing my poor scooter beyond its limits. When I came near him, I pressed hard, so that my horn would startle him. Unfortunately, I pressed the starter button and no sound came. By then he had streaked forward again.
The reason why I missed the horn button is because I may be the only person in the whole of Kochi to never blow the horn, whether on the scooter or in the car. Is it a difficult thing to do?
Not at all, especially if you are on a two-wheeler. And yet all over the city, drivers in two, three and four-wheelers are incessantly blowing their horns.
It is the rudest act on the road. It bespeaks a lack of respect towards others and, most probably, a lack of self-respect. It is a display of crassness and contempt.
And it adds immeasurably to the difficulties of travelling. As it is, buses, tipper lorries, trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, and barking dogs make such a cacophonic sound that it is the rare person who travels on Kochi’s roads and remains sane.
What adds to the aggravation is the lack of road discipline, the constant desire to cut corners, and to ‘show the finger’ to the drivers of the other vehicles: the ‘Me Superman you idiot’ attitude.
But, at least, they can go easy on the horn. Once on a deserted street, a car is coming from the opposite side. I am once again on a two-wheeler. It is broad daylight, and still the driver blows the horn incessantly.
“What is the reason?” I shout and gesture with my hands. “I can see you, you can see me.” But he just whizzes past without acknowledging my protest or frustration.
Why can’t we, of the middle class, supposedly cultured and aware, at least desist from blowing the horn? But I find that car owners are the most blatant in using the horn.
Nouveau riche owners, maybe, who want to show off their Honda Civics and BMWs. They also can’t feel the effects of their actions: they sit ensconced in air-conditioned comfort.
And what about those brash young bus drivers, who drive their vehicles, as if they are two-wheelers, hurtling the bus across lanes? It sends heartbeats soaring and sweat glands to work overtime. And the air horns that they use? Is there a more painful experience than to listen to an air horn in full blast in the midst of heavy traffic?
I am sure when we die, and the sinners among us go to hell, we will feel at home. Because Kochi’s traffic is already HELL on earth!
In desperation, I now travel on deserted lanes. But, unfortunately, there is always an ambush waiting in some leafy by-lane. A man will suddenly blow his horn for no reason.
Of course if a pretty woman is walking down the street, it is inevitable that he will make a noise, startling the poor lady and, yours truly, who is trying to appreciate her beauty in goggle-eyed wonder.
How times have changed! Fifteen years ago, Kochi was such a placid place to live. The traffic was far less, drivers were polite, nobody was trying to outmuscle each other on the road, and life was less taxing on the nerves. Unfortunately, things will never be the same again.
The city has irrevocably become an overcrowded metro.
So, what then is the solution for the chaos on the streets?
Green vehicles, please. At least, the noise of the engines can be cut down that way.
As for those maniac horn-blowing drivers, ‘shoot at sight’ orders to the police would be a welcome solution.
The fewer monsters in the world the better!
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)