How he made it big.

on Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This interview came 2 years back in a business magazine.It inspires me a lot.When he can create infy cant we just get in IIMs.

Hope all of you enjoy,

At 53, N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman and CEO, Infosys Technologies (1998-99 sales: Rs 513 crore), heads India’s most successful Silicon Valley style start-up. Established in 1981 by seven professionals who pooled in their savings of Rs 10,000 (borrowed from their wives), Infosys has set all kinds of records. It was the first company to institute a company wide, performance based Employee Stock Option Plan that cut right across the hierarchy. This year, it was the first India-registered company to list on an American stock exchange (Nasdaq). On measures of transparency and corporate governance, Infosys is the epitome of the upright corporate citizen.

To Murthy goes the credit for first having the vision to see the opportunity in software, pick the right team and more significantly keep it together. The Infosys success is striking since all of its founders come from middle class backgrounds, had no backing of any business house but simply leveraged their brainpower and sweat equity. This is a model for the new generation of Indian enterprises in the coming millennium.

The fifth born of eight children, Murthy’s father was a modest school teacher in Mysore who could not afford to send his son to iit. Today, his 7.7% stake in Infosys makes Murthy a very wealthy man, with an estimated networth of Rs 2,500 crore. Yet he continues to cling to his roots, staying in a house in the middle class area of Jayanagar in Bangalore with his engineer wife Sudha and their two children, Akshata and Rohan. He was interviewed by Naazneen Karmali in Bangalore.



What made you initially choose engineering as a career?

My uncle was a civil servant and my father was very keen that I take that up as a career but somehow it didn’t appeal to me. Those were the days when engineering was considered the in thing along with medicine. People didn’t think that being an economist or a social scientist could be a productive career.

I had got admission to the iit by passing the entrance exam with a fairly high rank and a scholarship. But the scholarship was to be disbursed at the end of the year. I remember talking to my father who said that there was no way he could afford to pay since he was earning Rs 250 per month. He said: If you’re smart you can go to any college and be able to do something worthwhile. So I joined the local engineering college.



Did you have any role models who inspired you in your career?

Those days our role models were our teachers, both in school and university. They taught us to be inquisitive and articulate. You have to imagine a lower middle class family in a district headquarters in the ’60s. My father used to tell us about the importance of putting public good before private good; mother would talk about sacrifice and truth. Beyond the basic values of life they didn’t discuss too much about our careers.

My dream was to become a junior engineer in a hydroelectric power plant, Nehru’s temples of modern India. What appealed to me was that they were non-polluting and set in pristine surroundings. Also, being an electrical engineer, there was this macho thing about building a big generator. But as a top-ranking student, people advised me to do my masters. It was not easy for people like us from a certain section of society that was considered already advantaged to get a job in Karnataka because of the reservation system and so I postponed the career decision for two years by doing my masters.



So you finally made it to IIT; what was that experience like?

IIT Kanpur was in its halcyon days. We had so many young professors who had done their Ph.Ds in the US and had come back to India. They were all in their 20s and 30s and full of energy and optimism. Also, under the Kanpur Indo-American programme, iit had links with eight American universities like MIT, Berkeley, Purdue. What that meant was that when MIT got an IBM computer they sent one to Kanpur. We were introduced to computers – that wonder machine – and I was hooked.



What prompted you to opt for the unconventional job offer from IIM?

The phase I enjoyed the most was my time at iim Ahmedabad where I took up a job as chief systems programmer. In those days there were few computer science graduates so we got five job offers each. I had offers from hmt, ecil, Telco, Air India. The salary in those places was much higher than at the iim. But Prof. Krishnayya of iim who came to iit Kanpur talked to me for an hour about this great, modern mini- computer that he was going to install and that iim would be the third business school in the world to install a time-sharing system after Harvard and Stanford. He also said that the atmosphere was collegial, we’d work 20 hours a day and learn a lot. Taking this job at a salary of Rs 800 a month was the best decision of my life.

I learnt so many things from Krishnayya. He is probably the person who influenced me the most. He taught us how important it is to aspire. We used to work 20 hours a day; go home at 3 a.m. sometimes and be back at 7 a.m. There was so much opportunity to learn. We designed and implemented a basic interpreter for ecil. I learnt what it is to be an engineer. It isn’t theory but application of the theory to solve problems and make a difference to society.



You worked overseas early in your career. What did you learn from your stint abroad?

My years in Paris were the most influential years of my life. I observed how in a western country even the socialists understood that wealth has to be first created before it can be distributed. That there could only be a few leaders to create wealth. And that it’s the job of the government to create an environment where it’s possible for people to create wealth. I realised that all this talk of socialism as practised in India was not meaningful. Our country treated communism as an ism that was completely disassociated from the reality of the context. You cannot distribute poverty.

My father always told us that India had a lot to learn from the West. Also, he was a great fan of classical music. On Sundays, air used to play music for an hour. One day I asked him: why should I listen to this alien music? He said: What appeals to me is that in a symphony there are over 100 people, each of whom is a maestro, but they come together as a team to play according to a script under this conductor and produce something divine. They prove that one plus one can be more than two. It’s a great example of teamwork.



What prompted your change of heart from being a staunch leftist?

After my Paris stay, I donated my earnings and with $450 in my pocket decided to return home overland. I came to Nis, a border town between the then Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to take the Sofia Express. I struck up conversation with a girl in the compartment. After about 45 minutes the train stopped, the police took the girl away, ransacked my backpack, and put me in a room that had no mattress and a window 10 ft high. They kept me there for 60 hours after which they freed me saying that since I was from a friendly country they were letting me go. I felt that if this system treats friends this way then I did not want anything to do with it. This experience really shook me.



So the socialist in you became a committed capitalist?

I am a 100% free marketeer but I call myself a compassionate capitalist. While I’m very conservative in economic matters I’m very liberal about social matters. But I have no illusions about socialism. In a country like India, when we have to make capitalism an attractive alternative to people, it is extremely important for us to show tremendous compassion to the less fortunate. That doesn’t mean that you should give jobs to people who don’t deserve them or that you should make less profits but wherever you can show compassion you should.



What was the initial business plan of Infosys based on?

We were very clear that we wanted to be in India. There were many opportunities to settle outside but we wanted to create an institution in India. We knew there was hardly a market here, so we had to look at the export market from day one. At that time we had no idea how far it would go but our satisfaction comes mainly from working with bright, smart and hard-working young men and women.

Our first contract was from Databasics in New York. We had worked with them at Patni Computer Systems but they wanted to set up on their own software group in India. We convinced them that we could do as good a job. My colleagues left for the US to work on-site on the project. I stayed back to set up the infrastructure. We decided to import a computer so that we could add value from India.



How easy or difficult was it in those days to get a business like yours off the ground?

In those days it would take anywhere between 15 to 24 months to get a computer. We started in 1981 but our first computer was installed only in February 1984. Getting a loan was very difficult. We had worked out a time-sharing deal with mico on the basis of which anz did a project report. But anz refused to give us the loan. Several other banks also turned us down. It was just by chance on a flight that I happened to be sitting next to K.S.N. Murthy of the Karnataka State Industrial Investment and Development Corporation, and we got our break. They redid the entire project report over 14 hours a day for a week and got it sanctioned in 15 days.

Right from day one our idea was to add value from India. To do that we needed certain factor conditions – computers, telephone lines. It took us a year to get a phone in Bangalaore. There was a rule then that higher priority was to be given to retired government servants than businesses. We had a contract for $3,50,000; in addition we would get an ibm compatible machine on loan from our customer. All that they insisted was that we have a telephone so that they could contact us. The customer said: Look I understand that you are a group of competent people, but if you want to do it from India you must convince us that you can establish a line of communication. So, much against our desire, we had to ship the team out.

One has to go through all these experiences because it makes you understand your own frailties and also helps you develop respect for God. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in life. I’ve received much more from society than I’ve given. I have many friends who are much smarter, much more accomplished, but somehow life has dealt me so many good cards that I can’t ascribe it to anything other than God’s grace.



Did you ever at any point feel like giving up?

There came a time in 1990 when we were floundering. We had offers to buy us out which my colleagues thought we should consider since we weren’t making too much headway. We had a 4-5 hour discussion and I could feel the sense of despondency. So I pulled a fast one. I said guys don’t worry, I’ll buy you out. I know it’s going to be tough in this country but I have no doubt that we’ll see light. In minutes, they all said that we’re with you. From now onwards we will never discuss the issue of closing down, getting tired or giving up. This marathon will be restarted.

Leadership is about making what seems impossible, possible; about changing the perception of what reality is. The reality in India is dirty roads, pollution, bad traffic, etc. Reality is what we make it; it is for us to change. If you give confidence to people they can achieve tremendous things. We have run this company as professionally as any other corporation in the world in terms of the principles of corporate governance, in not using corporate resources for personal conveniences, with respect for the professional.



What was the turning point for Infosys?

Chance favours the prepared mind. Just as we got determined to run the marathon with much greater gusto, liberalisation happened. If there is one company that symbolises all the good that came out of liberalisation, it is Infosys. It did four things for us: It enhanced the velocity of decision-making in government. It used to take 8 to 12 months to get a computer and the decision depended on the babu in Delhi. After 1991, it wasn’t necessary to go to Delhi for approvals. We could walk across to the Software Technology Park here and get licenses in half a day for $1 million.

Second, equity became a viable financing option. Abolishing the Controller of Capital Issues had a multiplier effect on Indian enterprises. Prior to 1991, an officer was charged with the authority to decide at what premium a company went public and generally he always looked at the past. But capital markets are about the future. With low premiums, new entrepreneurs were reluctant to approach the capital markets. Once the company and lead manager were allowed to decide the premium, that set us free.

The government also liberalised the rbi rules for current account transactions. This meant that it was easy to travel abroad, establish offices and get consultants. Prior to 1991, we had to make an application to rbi which could take 5 to 10 days. Today I can travel in the next 6 hours. So it’s a big change.

The most important thing is that government reversed the policy of foreign investment and allowed 100% ownership for mncs. This is the main reason why Infosys came up. At the time many hi-tech companies came in and that created competition, not in the marketplace but for our human resources. People told me that Murthy your game is up, all your people will leave.

We could react in three ways: that this is our karma. We’ll grow but not much – the Hindu philosophy. The second alternative was to lobby the government not to permit 100% ownership by mncs. As president of Nasscom, I could have kept all these guys out. But that was against my fundamental philosophy. The third was to find out why our youngsters would want to leave us and see if we could create those conditions in Infosys.

A successful corporation is one that introspects about internal transformation first before blaming the context, competition or external circumstances. Everyone bought into this philosophy and how we could bring about a fundamental transformation. We increased our salaries, we introduced a stock option plan so that our people would have much more money than any other Indian mnc. We also decided to make it a fun place to work because our assets walk out of the door every evening mentally and physically tired. We must make sure that they come back with a zest to work.

I am a firm believer that this country has a lot to learn from the West. We have to be open-minded, learn all the good things from them, and become stronger. For me a democracy is one where people put public good before private good; where responsibilities come before the rights.



What has kept the Infosys team together through all these years?

How do we stay together? We have unwritten rules. Everybody knows that if we want to work as a team we have to be transaction based. We start every transaction on a zero base. It is perfectly feasible for us to disagree on a transaction but we start the next transaction without any bias. Only an argument that has merit wins; it has nothing to do with hierarchy. Disagreeing is in the nature of things. When you bring a set of people who have respect for each others’ competence in certain areas and you’re transaction-oriented then it can work as it has in our case.

Our value system was like the British Constitution – it was all unwritten but extremely well practiced. If I were to have another opportunity to found another company, I would never ask for anyone else – these are truly remarkable people. Our value system is the true strength of Infosys. Besides, we have complementary skills. For example, I have an eye for detail and am comfortable with balance sheets and numbers. Then I can also get into the big picture. Nandan has a great ability to communicate and get himself connected to networks; his thinking is very strategic. Raghavan is a good people manager. Gopal is the best among us in technology. Shibulal and Dinesh are great on projects – so there’s a complementarity of skills



What do you think was your best business decision?

Well, I think the best business decision was to introspect. We will press on the pedal. We will compete with the best of the multinationals in terms of retaining people, in terms of creating a brand equity. I think if you ask me what distinguishes Infosys from many other companies, it is the following: We have a very strong value system. In fact, when I address new hires the main thing I talk to them about is the value system. I tell them that even in the most fierce competitive situation they must never talk ill of customers. For heaven’s sake don’t short change anybody. Never ever violate any law of the land. It is better to lose a billion dollars than a good night’s sleep. It is a true meritocracy. Raghavan’s two children are engineers but they did not come here to ask for a job. They worked elsewhere before they went to the US to do their mba. It is our responsibility to maintain the dignity of professionals here.

The second thing that’s unique about Infosys is that we have accepted that speed and imagination are the only two context-invariant and time-invariant parameters for success. We don’t think that we have any extraordinary legacy/strength that will carry us through the years. If we continue to innovate and to adapt then we will survive or else we’ll disappear like dew on a summer morning. So there’s a sense of paranoia and a certain fear that tomorrow we may not get food on the table if we don’t satisfy our customers. We don’t think anything is given to us. We’re as good as our last quarterly result. If we don’t do well in the next quarter, we’ll be wiped out.



So far Infosys has grown organically. Are you looking at acquisitions as a future growth strategy?

Indeed. Adding 50% to $500 million is so much more difficult than adding 50% to $100 million. We are looking at acquisitions though we haven’t identified any company yet. We want to look at a group/company that will add to the top line immediately but will also add to the bottomline in the medium term. Ideally it should be a small company, so that the cross-cultural issues can be handled more easily. Third, it must have an intellectual property right, either in the form of a methodology or a tool or processes which can be scaled up across Infosys for improving productivity in an emerging area like e-commerce, crm etc. Finally, it could also be an aged technology product which has fallen on bad days but one that has a captive customer base. We can take that and enhance it technologically because we have the strength here to do that. And because there’s a captive customer base it’s much easier to sell. In any product, selling to the first 20 customers is the hardest.



Many feel that software companies are riding the boom in demand for y2k remedial work. What will be Infosys’ life after y2k?

We will continue be a software services company because as technology changes rapidly, companies will want to leverage the internet for gaining competitive advantage. There will be tremendous opportunities for companies like Infosys to re-engineer existing systems, enhance functionality. But the fundamental strength will have to be learnability of experience. That is, how quickly you understand a new paradigm, a new technology and apply it to bring business benefit to customers. As long as learnability is alive and kicking at Infosys, we will have no problems about our future.



What are the big challenges facing you?

We have to put in systems, processes and tools to leverage technology to enhance the quality and productivity of our people. If today we take 100 hours to do something, then next year we should take 95 hours. Second, we must learn to manage growth. Inspite of recruiting larger numbers we should operate as a small, close knit, nimble company. That’s the task of this management.

My vision is to make Infosys a globally respected software corporation, delivering best of breed solutions employing best in class professionals. That’s different from an mnc which generally has subsidiaries in different countries, manufactures and sells there. As a corollary to that, I want it to be a place where people of different nationalities, religions and races will come together and compete in an environment of harmony and meritocracy. We believe that the local people are the best people in a given environment.



What are the challenges that the software sector faces in the new millennium?

One, we have to create corporate brand equity and product/services brand equity outside India. Indian industry’s record of doing this has been pathetic. We have to become multicultural as local people are most effective in a local environment. And we have to learn to operate in a multicultural environment. We have few examples of Indian companies successfully doing so.

The most difficult challenge is recruiting, enabling, empowering and retaining the best and brightest talent. Enhancing per capita revenue productivity and moving up the value chain is the next big challenge because our costs are going up in India. Unless we do this, our success won’t survive in the long run.



Will Infosys move up the value chain to become a pro-duct company in the future?

Our profitability and margins are the best in the services industry. Compare us with anybody on Nasdaq. The net income margin of Infosys is as good as any product company with the exception of Microsoft. It’s not necessary to transform ourselves into a product company. In fact, in the Net economy it is services companies like Amazon.com, Priceline, eBay that have been growing. I’m not worried about traditional thinking that one must have a product. Infosys has enhanced its per capita productivity at least 10% in last five years. We are positioned to continue to be profitable.



Does government have a role to play in the it sector? One view is that it has grown because the government has been hands-off and now that an it ministry has been set up it could pose a roadblock. What is your view?

The government has a role in creating a context for Indian entrepreneurs to succeed. They should concentrate on a policy regime and not a case-by-case syndrome. If decisions of corporations are not taken in boardrooms but in some government office then we won’t go anywhere. Our company has been at the leading edge in pushing the policy regime. When we got listed on Nasdaq we required a policy regime. We need the cooperation of government as we move forward.



What opportunity does the growing power of the Internet pose for your company?

Internet is a great phenomenon particularly for a country like India because it has meant the death of distance. It has brought the anywhere, anytime paradigm. In a large resource scarce country like India, it is going to play a crucial role in ensuring that both business to business and business to customer benefits accrue much faster to both industry and consumers.

Thanks to the emergence of companies like Amazon, the traditional companies have realised that they have to shape up or ship out. So there’s a tremendous emphasis on leveraging the power of the internet. We understand online transaction processing very well – we have done it for 18 years. E-commerce requires the ability to mount a robust and secure an online transaction processing engine, a certain application layer. The only difference is that you have to create a user-friendly web front end which skill we’ve developed in the last 2-3 years. We have a big advantage of over new e-commerce companies because the design and implementation of a high performance engine is something we’ve been doing for years. US corporations are in a hurry to get on to the e-comerce bandwagon and this is a clear opportunity for us.



The stockmarket seems to have discovered the worth of it and infotech stocks are seeing ever rising valuations. How do you react to this?

I tell my colleagues not to look at the stockmarket. What we should worry about day after day is to provide quality products on time, within budget to our customers. We must show transparency to investors, not violate any law of the land, and be in harmony with society. That’s our main charter and we should stick to it. The stockmarket may or may not reward us even if we do that. This is ephemeral. We should not be too ecstatic about it today or get despondent if it falls tomorrow.



People say that the intellectual elite of India is now in Silicon Valley. What is your view?

Twenty years ago if someone had asked me whether Indians should go abroad, I would have said No. Today I have a completely different view. The need of the country today is to create a good brand equity of the country. That will be created by high quality Indians in some numbers establishing themselves abroad. I don’t feel bad about it. If some people go we should cheer them, applaud them, make them feel welcome, and give them emotional support. Because they are doing a great job of enhancing the equity of India.

It’s very easy to sit in India and say Mera Bharat Mahaan. Economic power is the only thing that counts in today’s word. We have to create an image in the minds of foreigners that Indians can do it. In fact, that has already happened in the Valley. If an Indian is involved in a venture, then the venture capitalist will look positively at it. We have to convert this country so that we not only retain people here but also attract some of them back.



What advice would you give to the next generation of entrepreneurs?

Early to bed and early to rise and work like hell. Those people who have entrepreneurial strengths need to get a marketable idea and understand the window of opportunity for it. They have to bring together a team that has mutually exclusive, but collectively exhaustive skills and work out a value system. Entrepreneurship is about running a marathon, not a 100 metre dash.



What does money mean to you?

Beyond a certain level of comfort I think one’s wealth should be seen as an opportunity to make a difference to society. My colleagues think so too. The power of money is the power to give. Obviously it will have to be done in a gradual manner over the years, but there’s no doubt that a majority of what we have will be given to public causes.



What drives you then if not money?

There’s a saying in America that the reward for winning a pinball game is to get a chance to play the next one. In most situations, the pleasure comes from the journey, not the destination.

Does Anything Matter?

on Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE LAST time we broke a story that rumbled the jungle that is Delhi’s power elite, we were condemned to a three-year walk over burning coals. The story, peration West End, an exposé of the rampant corruption in arms procurements, was first aired in March 2001, and almost immediately two things happened. The first was a groundswell of public applause and affection that did not abate for a long time. The second, fairly predictable — though not in its ferocity and longevity — was an immoral and unconstitutional assault on our work and lives. That too did not abate for a long time — not till the state’s entire ammunition was spent, and there was nothing more to throw at us.

At the time, six years ago, we were, in succession, accused of being Congress stooges, agents of Dawood Ibrahim, on the payroll of the Hindujas, connected to the ISI of Pakistan, responsible for crashing the stock market, and in possession of hundreds of crores in payoffs. The estimates varied from twenty to two hundred. Narendra Modi — yes the same one — was at the time I think a general secretary in the BJP, and I will never forget a television interview in which both of us were doing phone-ins and he was spewing lies with the stentorian voice of a Supreme Court judge. A day later he was to issue printed pamphlets with ten facts about me. The first and most crucial was that I was the son of a contractor who was a close aide of veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh from Madhya Pradesh.

Delhi’s perennially skewed elite — a relic of the Mughal durbar, pathologically fixated on its positioning on the social and power chessboard — relished every floating accusation and relayed it with embellishments. Even friends and acquaintances whispered. They had never seen anyone do anything but for a sweet personal reason. It was fair to assume that, similarly, we had many or at least one. Now that the state was hunting us with all its hounds it was only a matter of time before the truth was out. Having said that — a great job still, much needed, and most courageous!

As it were I had never met any of the Hindujas.

As it were I had never bought or sold a single share on the stock market.

As it were I’d never had anything to do with the Congress, never having been a political reporter in my career. (For record’s sake let it be said TEHELKA must be the only company in India which has three CBI cases — all trumped up and lodged during the time of the NDA government — still going on against it, three years after the UPA came to power. We routinely go to court to seek bail on them.)

As it were we were not in possession of a single illicit rupee, else the hounds of the state that were panting after us around the clock would have locked us up and thrown away the keys. At the time there were just four of us left, down from 120, officed in a small borrowed room in the village behind South Extension. The money we borrowed then, running into tens of lakhs, to wage our legal and public battle, much of it from luminous Indian names, is still being repayed.

And of course, as it were — despite our exposé on cricket matchfixing, which badly hurt the underworld — none of us had ever met Dawood Ibrahim or any of the star-struck bhais.
Illustration: Anand Naorem


More absurdly still, leave alone my father I too had never met Arjun Singh at the time. Not to add that my father far from being a contractor had spent his life in the Indian army, wearing olive, and fighting in the two Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. Yet Modi had thought nothing of throwing a blatant untruth into the public space, amid all the others listed above that were being flung about. And the media — more giddy than the Sensex — had refused to clarify and rebut.

And unrebutted and unclarified lies — like an unpoliced Sensex — have the ability to swell to dangerous proportions, deforming reality and ushering in chaos. The core fascist axiom is a cliché: the whisper campaign of lies that soon becomes the truth or at least drowns it out. We saw that in 1984 as the Sikhs were put to the sword, and we saw it in 2002 as Gujarat was set to burn with a mishmash of false information and ill-intent. Mostly the media relayed unchecked versions, but sometimes it unearthed the truth. But truth by then had ceased to be a factor. The strategy of those exposed was to ratchet up the public noise till everything was drowned — good, bad, true, false. With our present exposé it has been: but why have you left out Godhra? Whereas the truth is we haven’t. In fact 30 pages of our issue were devoted only to the Godhra investigation!

Noise as strategy when faced with serious charges may be smart if deplorable political tactics, but what is mystifying is the Indian elite’s penchant for the conspiracy theory. It smacks of a self-serving culture where the greater good is seen as no motive at all. Over the years I have had the bizarre and nauseating experience of the well-heeled casting aspersions on the financial integrity of fantastic public warriors like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. To differ in thought is one thing, but to automatically assume corruption of those who take up public causes says grim things about the kind of people we are. Some of this deformity may have to do with our colonial past: the desperate urge to please the white master engendering corrosive emotions of envy, cunning, plotting, backbiting and betrayal.

This time — with our investigation into the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 — the conspiracy-seekers scaled new heights. While the BJP attacked us for working for the Congress, the Congress spread the word that we were working for the BJP! Clearly we were doing something right. In all this the battle for the idea of India was left to Laloo Yadav, Mayawati and the Left. The Congress one presumes knows the phrase — since its forebears literally coined it — but they can’t anymore seem to remember what it means.

It’s extraordinary that more than a week after the Gujarat massacre exposé, the prime minister and the home minister had not made a single statement. For the first time in the history of journalism, mass murderers were on camera telling us how they killed, why they killed, and with whose permission they did it. Nor were these just petty criminals; these were fanatics, ideologically driven, working the most dangerous faultline of the subcontinent, revealing the truth of a perilous rupture fully capable of tearing this country apart. But that was clearly not enough for the good man of Race Course Road. Had the CII burped loudly, the PMO would have issued a clarification. Had they then organised a seminar on the untimely burp, the prime minister would have addressed it.

It may be unfair to pillory the prime minister, a man given responsibility without power, the honest man sitting atop a dishonest hillock. Let us then look at the grand strategists of the Congress who cannot win an election themselves but know the secret of winning elections for the many. On their perverse abacus, exposing Modi’s hand in bestial murders and rapes was designed to convince the Gujarati Hindu that this is precisely the kind of leadership it wanted! It never struck them that they could use the evidence of violence to shape a stirring dialogue against it.

THE FACT is the Congress is today run by petty strategists who no longer know what it is to do the right thing. They possess neither the illuminations of history, nor a vision for the future. They fail to see that once great men sutured a hundred fault-lines — of caste, religion, race, language, class — to create the idea of India out of a diverse, colonised, feudal subcontinent. Foolishly they preside over the reopening of these fault-lines, unable to see the chaos that will ensue. They do not know how to wield morality as a weapon in politics, and they lack the courage to walk any high road. At best they are vote accountants who waver between the profit and the loss of various elections.

The present Congress brings grief to the liberal, secular, democratic Indian who needs a political umbrella under which to wage the civilisational battle for India’s soul. By not saying the right thing, by not doing the right thing, it weakens the resolve of the decent Indian, who lacks the stomach for conflict and seeks affirmation of his decency. The vacated space is then colonised by poisonous ideologies based on exclusion and a garbled — pseudo-religious, pseudo-historic — hunt for identity.

And all this is happening while the elite Indian behaves like the elite American during the gilded age, the 1920s — glitz, glam, champagne times — even as the ground shifts beneath its feet. The latest statistics show the numbers living in abject poverty are actually growing in five major states. In 30 percent of India’s districts Naxalite insurrections, rising from crushing poverty, are on the upswing. Can Manhattan and sub-Saharan Africa exist in the same space endlessly without some resulting cataclysm? The fact is India needs not just economic tinkering but great political vision. And there are no signs of it. The apathy of Gujarat tells us that the most complex country in the world faces its most complex challenges ever.

TARUN J. TEJPAL
Editor-in-Chief
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 44, Dated Nov 17, 2007

Daddy, Why did we invade Iraq?

on Monday, May 26, 2008

Q: Daddy, why did we have to attack Iraq?
A: Because they had weapons of mass destruction, honey.
Q: But the inspectors didn't find any weapons of mass
destruction.
A: That's because the Iraqis were hiding them.
Q: And that's why we invaded Iraq?
A: Yep. Invasions always work better than inspections.
Q: But after we invaded them, we STILL didn't find any weapons of
mass
destruction, did we?
A: That's because the weapons are so well hidden. Don't worry,
we'll find
something, probably right before the 2004 election.
Q: Why did Iraq want all those weapons of mass destruction?
A: To use them in a war, silly.
Q: I'm confused. If they had all those weapons that they planned
to use in a war, then why didn't they use any of those weapons when we went
to war with them?
A: Well, obviously they didn't want anyone to know they had those
weapons, so they chose to die by the thousands rather than defend
themselves.
Q: That doesn't make sense Daddy. Why would they choose to die if
they had all those big weapons to fight us back with?
A: It's a different culture. It's not supposed to make sense.
Q: I don't know about you, but I don't think they had any of
those weapons our government said they did.
A: Well, you know, it doesn't matter whether or not they had
those weapons.
We had another good reason to invade them anyway.
Q: And what was that?
A: Even if Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Saddam
Hussein was a cruel dictator, which is another good reason to invade another
country.
Q: Why? What does a cruel dictator do that makes it OK to invade
his country?
A: Well, for one thing, he tortured his own people.
Q: Kind of like what they do in China?
A: Don't go comparing China to Iraq. China is a good economic
competitor, where millions of people work for slave wages in sweatshops to
make U.S. corporations richer.
Q: So if a country lets its people be exploited for American
corporate gain, it's a good country, even if that country tortures people?
A: Right.
Q: Why were people in Iraq being tortured?
A: For political crimes, mostly, like criticizing the government.
People who criticized the government in Iraq were sent to prison and
tortured.
Q: Isn't that exactly what happens in China?
A: I told you, China is different.
Q: What's the difference between China and Iraq?
A: Well, for one thing, Iraq was ruled by the Ba'ath party, while
China is Communist.
Q: Didn't you once tell me Communists were bad?
A: No, just Cuban Communists are bad.
Q: How are the Cuban Communists bad?
A: Well, for one thing, people who criticize the government in
Cuba are sent to prison and tortured.
Q: Like in Iraq?
A: Exactly.
Q: And like in China, too?
A: I told you, China's a good economic competitor. Cuba, on the
other hand, is not.
Q: How come Cuba isn't a good economic competitor?
A: Well, you see, back in the early 1960s, our government passed
some laws that made it illegal for Americans to trade or do any business
with Cuba until they stopped being Communists and started being capitalists
like us.
Q: But if we got rid of those laws, opened up trade with Cuba,
and started doing business with them, wouldn't that help the Cubans become
capitalists?
A: Don't be a smart-ass.
Q: I didn't think I was being one.
A: Well, anyway, they also don't have freedom of religion in
Cuba.
Q: Kind of like China and the @!#$ movement?
A: I told you, stop saying bad things about China. Anyway, Saddam
Hussein came to power through a military coup, so he's not really a
legitimate leader anyway.
Q: What's a military coup?
A: That's when a military general takes over the government of a
country by force, instead of holding free elections like we do in the United
States.
Q: Didn't the ruler of Pakistan come to power by a military
coup?
A: You mean General Pervez Musharraf? Uh, yeah, he did, but
Pakistan is our friend.
Q: Why is Pakistan our friend if their leader is illegitimate?
A: I never said Pervez Musharraf was illegitimate.
Q: Didn't you just say a military general who comes to power by
forcibly overthrowing the legitimate government of a nation is ani
llegitimate leader?
A: Only Saddam Hussein. Pervez Musharraf is our friend, because
he helped us invade Afghanistan.
Q: Why did we invade Afghanistan?
A: Because of what they did to us on September 11th.
Q: What did Afghanistan do to us on September 11th?
A: Well, on September 11th, nineteen men, fifteen of them Saudi
Arabians, hijacked four airplanes and flew three of them into
buildings, killing over
3,000 Americans.
Q: So how did Afghanistan figure into all that?
A: Afghanistan was where those bad men trained, under the
oppressive rule of the Taliban.
Q: Aren't the Taliban those bad radical Islamics who chopped off
people's heads and hands?
A: Yes, that's exactly who they were. Not only did they chop off
people's heads and hands, but they oppressed women, too.
Q: Didn't the Bush administration give the Taliban 43 million
dollars back in May of 2001?
A: Yes, but that money was a reward because they did such a good
job fighting drugs.
Q: Fighting drugs?
A: Yes, the Taliban were very helpful in stopping people from
growing opium poppies.
Q: How did they do such a good job?
A: Simple. If people were caught growing opium poppies, the
Taliban would have their hands and heads cut off.
Q: So, when the Taliban cut off people's heads and hands for
growing flowers, that was OK, but not if they cut people's heads and
hands off for other reasons?
A: Yes. It's OK with us if radical Islamic fundamentalists cut
off people's hands for growing flowers, but it's cruel if they cut off people's
hands for stealing bread.
Q: Don't they also cut off people's hands and heads in Saudi
Arabia?
A: That's different. Afghanistan was ruled by a tyrannical
patriarchy that oppressed women and forced them to wear burqas whenever they were
in public, with death by stoning as the penalty for women who did
not comply.
Q: Don't Saudi women have to wear burqas in public, too?
A: No, Saudi women merely wear a traditional Islamic body
covering.
Q: What's the difference?
A: The traditional Islamic covering worn by Saudi women is a
modest yet fashionable garment that covers all of a woman's body except for
her eyes and fingers. The burqa, on the other hand, is an evil tool of
patriarchal oppression that covers all of a woman's body except for her eyes
and fingers.
Q: It sounds like the same thing with a different name.
A: Now, don't go comparing Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The
Saudis are our friends.
Q: But I thought you said 15 of the 19 hijackers on September
11th were from Saudi Arabia.
A: Yes, but they trained in Afghanistan.
Q: Who trained them?
A: A very bad man named Osama bin Laden.
Q: Was he from Afghanistan?
A: Uh, no, he was from Saudi Arabia too. But he was a bad man, a
very bad man.
Q: I seem to recall he was our friend once.
A: Only when we helped him and the mujahadeen repel the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan back in the 1980s.
Q: Who are the Soviets? Was that the Evil Communist Empire Ronald
Reagan talked about?
A: There are no more Soviets. The Soviet Union broke up in 1990
or there abouts, and now they have elections and capitalism like us. We
call them Russians now.
Q: So the Soviets, I mean, the Russians, are now our friends?
A: Well, not really. You see, they were our friends for many
years after they stopped being Soviets, but then they decided not to support
our invasion of Iraq, so we're mad at them now. We're also mad at the
French and the Germans because they didn't help us invade Iraq ither.
Q: So the French and Germans are evil, too?
A: Not exactly evil, but just bad enough that we had to rename
French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast.
Q: Do we always rename foods whenever another country doesn't do
what we want them to do?
A: No, we just do that to our friends. Our enemies, we invade.
Q: But wasn't Iraq one of our friends back in the 1980s?
A: Well, yeah. For a while.
Q: Was Saddam Hussein ruler of Iraq back then?
A: Yes, but at the time he was fighting against Iran, which made
him our friend, temporarily.
Q: Why did that make him our friend?
A: Because at that time, Iran was our enemy.
Q: Isn't that when he gassed the Kurds?
A: Yeah, but since he was fighting against Iran at the time, we
looked the other way, to show him we were his friend.
Q: So anyone who fights against one of our enemies automatically
becomes our friend?
A: Most of the time, yes.
Q: And anyone who fights against one of our friends is
automatically an enemy?
A: Sometimes that's true, too. However, if American
corporations can profit by selling weapons to both sides at the same time, all the
better.
Q: Why?
A: Because war is good for the economy, which means war is good
for America.
Also, since God is on America's side, anyone who opposes war is a
godless un-American Communist. Do you understand now why we attacked
Iraq?
Q: I think so. We attacked them because God wanted us to, right?
A: Yes.
Q: But how did we know God wanted us to attack Iraq?
A: Well, you see, God personally speaks to George W. Bush and
tells him
what to do.
Q: So basically, what you're saying is that we attacked Iraq
because George
W. Bush hears voices in his head?
A. Yes! You finally understand how the world works.
Now close your eyes, make yourself comfortable, and go to sleep.
Good night.

Quit India Speech

Before you discuss the resolution, let me place before you one or two things, I want you to understand two things very clearly and to consider them from the same point of view from which I am placing them before you. I ask you to consider it from my point of view, because if you approve of it, you will be enjoined to carry out all I say. It will be a great responsibility. There are people who ask me whether I am the same man that I was in 1920, or whether there has been any change in me. You are right in asking that question.

Let me, however, hasten to assure that I am the same Gandhi as I was in 1920. I have not changed in any fundamental respect. I attach the same importance to non-violence that I did then. If at all, my emphasis on it has grown stronger. There is no real contradiction between the present resolution and my previous writings and utterances.

Occasions like the present do not occur in everybody's and but rarely in anybody's life. I want you to know and feel that there is nothing but purest Ahimsa1 in all that I am saying and doing today. The draft resolution of the Working Committee is based on Ahimsa, the contemplated struggle similarly has its roots in Ahimsa. If, therefore, there is any among you who has lost faith in Ahimsa or is wearied of it, let him not vote for this resolution.

Let me explain my position clearly. God has vouchsafed to me a priceless gift in the weapon of Ahimsa. I and my Ahimsa are on our trail today. If in the present crisis, when the earth is being scorched by the flames of Himsa2 and crying for deliverance, I failed to make use of the God given talent, God will not forgive me and I shall be judged un-wrongly of the great gift. I must act now. I may not hesitate and merely look on, when Russia and China are threatened.

Ours is not a drive for power, but purely a non-violent fight for India's independence. In a violent struggle, a successful general has been often known to effect a military coup and to set up a dictatorship. But under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country. The Congress is unconcerned as to who will rule, when freedom is attained. The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India, and it will be for them to decide to whom it placed in the entrusted. May be that the reins will be placed in the hands of the Parsis, for instance-as I would love to see happen-or they may be handed to some others whose names are not heard in the Congress today. It will not be for you then to object saying, 'This community is microscopic. That party did not play its due part in the freedom's struggle; why should it have all the power?' Ever since its inception the Congress has kept itself meticulously free of the communal taint. It has thought always in terms of the whole nation and has acted accordingly ...

I know how imperfect our Ahimsa is and how far away we are still from the ideal, but in Ahimsa there is no final failure or defeat. I have faith, therefore, that if, in spite of our shortcomings, the big thing does happen, it will be because God wanted to help us by crowning with success our silent, unremitting Sadhana1 for the last twenty-two years.

I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle's French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.

Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behaviour. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one This hatred would even make them welcome the Japanese. It is most dangerous. It means that they will exchange one slavery for another. We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism. The proposal for the withdrawal of British power did not come out of anger. It came to enable India to play its due part at the present critical juncture It is not a happy position for a big country like India to be merely helping with money and material obtained willy-nilly from her while the United Nations are conducting the war. We cannot evoke the true spirit of sacrifice and velour, so long as we are not free. I know the British Government will not be able to withhold freedom from us, when we have made enough self-sacrifice. We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them. People may laugh, nevertheless that is my claim. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbour hatred against anybody.

-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Speech by Narayana Murthy at LBSIM,Delhi

on Thursday, May 22, 2008

NEEDED, A VALUE SYSTEM WHERE PEOPLE ACCEPT MODEST SACRIFICES FOR COMMON GOOD.

As it is said in the Vedas: Man can live individually, but can survive only
collectively. Hence, our challenge is to form a progressive community by
balancing the interests of the individual and that of the society. To meet
this we need to develop a value system where people accept modest
sacrifices for the common good.

A value system is the protocol for behaviour that enhances the trust,
confidence and commitment of members of the community. It goes beyond the
domain of legality - It is about decent and desirable behaviour. Further,
it includes putting the community interests ahead of your own. Thus, our
collective survival and progress is predicated on sound values.

There are two pillars of the cultural value system - loyalty to family and
loyalty to community. One should not be in isolation to the other, because,
successful societies are those which combine both harmoniously. It is in
this context that I will discuss the role of Western values in contemporary
Indian society.

As an Indian, I am proud to be part of a culture, which has deep-rooted
family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance,
parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them
until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children
consider it their duty to take care of aged parents. We believe: "Mathru
devo bhava, pithru devo bhava" (Mother is God and Father is God). Further,
brothers and sisters sacrifice for each other. In fact, the eldest brother
or sister is respected by all the other siblings.

As for marriage, it is held to be a sacred union - husband and wife are
bonded, most often, for life. In joint families, the entire family works
towards the welfare of the family. There is so much love and affection in
our family life. This is the essence of Indian values and one of our key
strengths.

Our families act as a critical support mechanism for us. In fact, the
credit to the success of Infosys goes, as much to the founders as to their
families, for supporting them through the tough times. Unfortunately, our
attitude towards family life is not reflected in our attitude towards
community behaviour. From littering the streets to corruption to breaking
of contractual obligations, we are apathetic towards the common good.

The primary difference between the West and us is that, there, people have
a much better societal orientation. In the West - the US, Canada, Europe,
Australia, New Zealand - individuals understand that they have to be
responsible towards their community.

They care more for the society than we do. Further, they generally
sacrifice more for the society than us. Quality of life is enhanced because
of this. This is where we need to learn form the West.

Consider some of the lessons that we Indians can learn from the West:

* Respect for the public good - In the West, there is respect for the
public good. For instance, parks free of litter, clean streets, public
toilets free of graffiti - all these are instances of care for the
publicgood.

On the contrary, in India, we keep our houses clean and water our gardens
everyday but, when we go to a park, we do not think twice before littering
the place.

* Attitude to corruption - This is because of the individual's responsible
behaviour towards the community as a whole. On the contrary, in India,
corruption, tax evasion, cheating and bribery have eaten into our vitals.
For instance, contractors bribe officials, and construct low-quality roads
and bridges. Corruption, as we see in India, is another example of putting
the interest of oneself, and at best that of one's family, above that of
the society.

Society is relatively corruption free in the West. It is very difficult to
bribe a police officer into avoiding a speeding ticket. The result is that
society loses in the form of substandard defense equipment and
infrastructure, and low-quality recruitment, just to name a few
impediments. Unfortunately, this behaviour is condoned by almost everyone.

* Public apathy - Apathy in solving community matters has held us back from
making progress, which is otherwise within our reach. We see serious
problems around us but do not try to solve them. We behave as if the
problems do not exist or are somebody else's. On the other hand, in the
West, people solve societal problems proactively.

There are several examples of our apathetic attitude.

(i) For instance, all of us are aware of the problem of drought in India.
More than 40 years ago, Dr KL Rao - an irrigation expert, suggested
creation of a water grid connecting all the rivers in North and South
India, to solve this problem. Unfortunately, nothing has been done
aboutthis.

(ii) The story of power shortage in Bangalore is another instance. In 1983,
it was decided to build a thermal power plant to meet Bangalore's
powerrequirements. Unfortunately, we have still not started it.

(iii) The Milan subway in Bombay is in a deplorable state for the past 40
years, and no action has been taken.

To quote another example, considering the constant travel required in the
software industry; five years ago, I had suggested a 240-page passport.
This would eliminate frequent visits to the passport office. In fact, we
are ready to pay for it. However, I am yet to hear from the ministry of
external affairs on this. We, Indians, would do well to remember Thomas
Hunter's words: Idleness travels very slowly, and poverty soon overtakes
it.

What could be the reason for this? We were ruled by foreigners for over
thousand years. Thus, we have always believed that public issues belonged
to some foreign ruler and that we have no role in solving them. Moreover,
we have lost the will to proactively solve our own problems and have got
used to just executing someone else's orders.

Borrowing Aristotle's words: "We are what we repeatedly do." Thus, having
done this over the years, the decision-makers in our society are not
trained for solving problems. Our decision-makers look to somebody else to
take decisions. Unfortunately, there is nobody to look up to, and this is
the tragedy.

Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our society. I have
travelled extensively, and in my experience, have not come across another
society where people are as contemptuous of better societies as we are,
with as little progress as we have achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds
hypocrisy.

No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little
current accomplishment. Friends, this is not a new phenomenon, but at least
a thousand years old. For instance, Al Barouni, the famous Arabic logician
and traveller of the 10th century, who spent about 30 years in India from
997 AD to around 1027 AD, referred to this trait of Indians.

According to him, during his visit, most Indian pundits considered it below
their dignity even to hold arguments with him. In fact, on a few occasions
when a pundit was willing to listen to him, and found his arguments to be
very sound, he invariably asked Barouni: which Indian pundit taught these
smart things!

The most important attribute of a progressive society is respect for others
who have accomplished more than they themselves have, and learn from them.
Contrary to this, our leaders make us believe that other societies do not
know anything!

At the same time, everyday, in the newspapers, you will find numerous
claims from our leaders that ours is the greatest nation. This has to stop.
These people would do well to remember Thomas Carlyle's words: "The
greatest of faults is to be conscious of none."

If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people
who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than
them. Infosys is a good example of such an attitude.

We continue to rationalise our failures. No other society has mastered this
art as well as we have. Obviously, this is an excuse to justify our
incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude has to change. As Sir
Josiah Stamp has said: "It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we
cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities."

Another interesting attribute, which we Indians can learn from the West, is
their accountability. Irrespective of your position, in the West, you are
held accountable for what you do. However, in India, the more 'important'
you are, the less answerable you are.

For instance, a senior politician once declared that he 'forget' to file
his tax returns for 10 consecutive years - and he got away with it. To
quote another instance, there are over 100 loss-making public sector units
in India. Nevertheless, I have not seen action taken for bad performance
against top managers in these organisations.

In the West, each person is proud about his or her labour that raises
honest sweat. On the other hand, in India, we tend to overlook the
significance of those who are not in professional jobs. We have a mindset
that reveres only supposedly intellectual work. For instance, I have seen
many engineers, fresh from college, who only want to do cutting-edge work
and not work that is of relevance to business and the country.

However, be it an organisation or society, there are different people
performing different roles. For success, all these people are required to
discharge their duties. This includes everyone from the CEO to the person
who serves tea - every role is important. Hence, we need a mindset that
reveres everyone who puts in honest work.

Indians become intimate even without being friendly. They ask favors of
strangers without any hesitation. For instance, the other day, while I was
travelling from Bangalore to Mantralayam, I met a fellow traveller on the
train. Hardly five minutes into the conversation, he requested me to speak
to his MD about removing him from the bottom 10 per cent list in his
company, earmarked for disciplinary action.

I was reminded of what Rudyard Kipling once said: A westerner can be
friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate
without being friendly.

Yet another lesson to be learnt from the West, is about their
professionalism in dealings. The common good being more important than
personal equations, people do not let personal relations interfere with
their professional dealings. For instance, they don't hesitate to chastise
a colleague, even if he is a personal friend, for incompetent work.

In India, I have seen that we tend to view even work interactions from a
personal perspective. Further, we are the most 'thin-skinned' society in
the world - we see insults where none is meant. This may be because we were
not free for most of the last thousand years.

Further, we seem to extend this lack of professionalism to our sense of
punctuality. We do not seem to respect the other person's time. The Indian
Standard Time somehow seems to be always running late. Moreover, deadlines
are typically not met. How many public projects are completed on time?

The disheartening aspect is that we have accepted this as the norm rather
than an exception. Meritocracy by definition means that we cannot let
personal prejudices affect our evaluation of an individual's performance.
As we increasingly start to benchmark ourselves with global standards, we
have to embrace meritocracy.

In the West, right from a very young age, parents teach their children to
be independent in thinking. Thus, they grow up to be strong, confident
individuals. In India, we still suffer from feudal thinking. I have seen
people, who are otherwise bright, refusing to show independence and
preferring to be told what to do by their boss. We need to overcome this
attitude if we have to succeed globally.

The Western value system teaches respect to contractual obligation. In the
West, contractual obligations are seldom dishonoured. This is important -
enforceablity of legal rights and contracts is the most important factor in
the enhancement of credibility of our people and nation.

In India, we consider our marriage vows as sacred. We are willing to
sacrifice in order to respect our marriage vows. However, we do not extend
this to the public domain. For instance, India had an unfavourable contract
with Enron. Instead of punishing the people responsible for negotiating
this, we reneged on the contract - this was much before we came to know
about the illegal activities at Enron.

To quote another instance, I had given recommendations to several students
for the national scholarship for higher studies in US universities. Most of
them did not return to India even though contractually they were obliged to
spend five years after their degree in India.

In fact, according to a professor at a reputed US university, the maximum
default rate for student loans is among Indians - all of these students
pass out in flying colours and land lucrative jobs, yet they refuse to pay
back their loans. Thus, their action has made it difficult for the students
after them, from India, to obtain loans.

Further, we Indians do not display intellectual honesty. For example, our
political leaders use mobile phones to tell journalists on the other side
that they do not believe in technology! If we want our youngsters to
progress, such hypocrisy must be stopped.

We are all aware of our rights as citizens. Nevertheless, we often fail to
acknowledge the duty that accompanies every right. To borrow Dwight
Eisenhower's words: "People that values its privileges above its principles
soon loses both."

Our duty is towards the community as a whole, as much as it is towards our
families. We have to remember that fundamental social problems grow out of
a lack of commitment to the common good. To quote Henry Beecher: Culture is
that which helps us to work for the betterment of all.

Hence, friends, I do believe that we can make our society even better by
assimilating these Western values into our own culture - we will be
stronger for it. Most of our behaviour comes from greed, lack of
self-confidence, lack of confidence in the nation, and lack of respect for
the society.

To borrow Gandhi's words: There is enough in this world for everyone's
need, but not enough for everyone's greed. Let us work towards a society
where we would do unto others what we would have others do unto us. Let us
all be responsible citizens who make our country a great place to live.

In the words of Winston Churchill, "Responsibility is the price of
greatness." We have to extend our family values beyond the boundaries of
our home. Let us work towards maximum welfare of the maximum people -
"Samasta janaanaam sukhino bhavantu".

Finally, let us of this generation, conduct ourselves as great citizens
rather than just good people so that we can serve as good examples for our
younger generation.

Thank you.
-Narayana Murthy

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalaam's speech in Hyderabad

"I have three visions for India. In 3000 years of our history, people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands, conquered our minds. From Alexander onwards, The Greeks, the Turks, the Moguls, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us, took over what was ours. Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not conquered anyone. We have not grabbed their land, their culture, their history and Tried to enforce our way of life on them. Why? Because we respect the freedom of others.

That is why my first vision is that of FREEDOM. I believe that India got its first vision of this in 1857, when we started the war of Independence. It is this freedom that we must protect and nurture and build on. If we are not free, no one will respect us.

My second vision for India's DEVELOPMENT, For fifty years we have been A developing nation. It is time we see ourselves as a developed nation. We are among top 5 nations of the world in terms of GDP. We have 10 percent growth rate in most areas. Our poverty levels are falling. Our achievements are being globally recognized today. Yet we lack the self-confidence to see ourselves as a developed nation, self-reliant and self-assured. Isn't this incorrect?

I have a THIRD vision. India must stand up to the world. Because I believe that, unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. Only strength respects strength. We must be strong not only as a military power but also as an economic power. Both must go hand-in-hand. My good fortune was to have worked with three great minds. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai of the Dept. of space, Professor Satish Dhawan, who succeeded him and Dr.Brahm Prakash, father of nuclear material. I was lucky to have worked with all three of them closely and consider this the great opportunity of my life.I see four milestones in my career:

Twenty years I spent in ISRO. I was given the opportunity to be the project director for India's first satellite launch vehicle, SLV3. The one that launched Rohini. These years played a very important role in my life of Scientist. After my ISRO years, I joined DRDO and got a chance to be the part of India's guided missile program. It was my second bliss when Agni met its mission requirements in 1994.

The Dept. of Atomic Energy and DRDO had this tremendous partnership in the recent nuclear tests, on May 11 and 13. This was the third bliss. The joy of participating with my team in these nuclear tests and proving to the world that India can make it, that we are no longer a developing nation but one of them. It made me feel very proud as an Indian. The fact that we have now developed for Agni a re-entry structure, for which we have developed this new material. A Very light material called carbon-carbon.

One day an orthopedic surgeon from Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences visited my laboratory. He lifted the material and found it so light that he took me to his hospital and showed me his patients. There were these little girls and boys with heavy metallic calipers weighing over three Kg. each, dragging their feet around.

He said to me: Please remove the pain of my patients. In three weeks, we made these Floor reaction Orthosis 300-gram calipers and took them to the orthopedic center. The children didn't believe their eyes. From dragging around a three kg. load on their legs, they could now move around! Their parents had tears in their eyes. That was my fourth bliss!

Why is the media here so negative? Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why?

We are the first in milk production.
We are number one in Remote sensing satellites.
We are the second largest producer of wheat.
We are the second largest producer of rice.
Look at Dr. Sudarshan, he has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self driving unit.
There are millions of such achievements but our media is only obsessed in the bad news and failures and disasters.

I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert land into an orchid and a granary.

It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news. In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE?

Another question: Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with foreign things? We want foreign TVs, we want foreign shirts. We want foreign technology. Why this obsession with everything imported. Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance? I was in Hyderabad giving this lecture, when a 14 year old girl asked me for my autograph. I asked her what her goal in life is. She replied: I want to live in a developed India. For her, you and I will have to build this developed India. You must proclaim. India is not an under-developed nation; it is a highly developed nation.

Do you have 10 minutes? Allow me to come back with a vengeance. Got 10 minutes for your country? If yes, then read; otherwise, choice is yours.

YOU say that our government is inefficient.
YOU say that our laws are too old.
YOU say that the municipality does not pick up the garbage.
YOU say that the phones don't work, the railways are a joke, the airline is the worst in the world, mails never reach their destination.
YOU say that our country has been fed to the dogs and is the absolute pits.
YOU say, say and say.

What do YOU do about it? Take a person on his way to Singapore. Give him a name - YOURS.

Give him a face - YOURS. YOU walk out of the airport and you are at your International best.

In Singapore you don't throw cigarette butts on the roads or eat in the stores. YOU are as proud of their Underground Links as they are. You pay $5(approx. Rs.60) to drive through Orchard Road (equivalent of Mahim Causeway or Pedder Road) between 5 PM and 8 PM. YOU come back to the parking lot to punch your parking ticket if you have over stayed in a restaurant or a shopping mall irrespective of your status identity. In Singapore you don't say anything, DO YOU? YOU wouldn't dare to eat in public during Ramadan, in Dubai. YOU would not dare to go out without your head covered in Jeddah. YOU would not dare to buy an employee of the telephone exchange in London at 10 pounds (Rs.650) a month to, "see to it that my STD and ISD calls are billed to someone else."

YOU would not dare to speed beyond 55 mph (88 km/h) in Washington and then tell the traffic cop, "Jaanta hai sala main kaun hoon (Do you know who I am?). I am so and so's son. Take your two bucks and get lost." YOU wouldn't chuck an empty coconut shell anywhere other than the garbage pail on the beaches in Australia and New Zealand. Why don't YOU spit Paan on the streets of Tokyo? Why don't YOU use examination jockeys or buy fake certificates in Boston? We are still talking of the same YOU. YOU who can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries but cannot in your own. You who will throw papers and cigarettes on the road the moment you touch Indian ground. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India?

Once in an interview, the famous Ex-municipal commissioner of Bombay, Mr. Tinaikar, had a point to make. "Rich people's dogs are walked on the streets to leave their affluent droppings all over the place," he said." And then the same people turn around to criticize and blame the authorities for inefficiency and dirty pavements. What do they expect the officers to do? Go down with broom every time their dog feels the pressure in his bowels? In America every dog owner has to clean up after his pet has done the job. Same in Japan. Will the Indian citizen do that here?" He's right. We go to the polls to choose a government and after that forfeit all responsibility. We sit back wanting to be pampered and expect the government to do everything for us whilst our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place nor are we going to stop to pick up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin. We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms.

We want Indian Airlines and Air India to provide the best of food and toiletries but we are not going to stop pilfering at the least opportunity. This applies even to the staff who is known not to pass on the service to the public. When it comes to burning social issues like those related to women, dowry, girl child and others, we make loud drawing room protestations and continue to do the reverse at home. Our excuse? 'It's the whole system which has to change, how will it matter if I alone forego my sons' rights to a dowry.'

So who's going to change the system? What does a system consist of? Very conveniently for us it consists of our neighbors, other households, other cities, other communities and the government. But definitely not me and YOU. When it comes to us actually making a positive contribution to the system we lock ourselves along with our families into a safe cocoon and look into the distance at countries far away and wait for a Mr. Clean to come along & work miracles for us with a majestic sweep of his hand or we leave the country and run away. Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England. When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government.

Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system. Our conscience is mortgaged to money.

Dear Indians,

The article is highly thought inductive, calls for a great deal of introspection and pricks one's conscience too....

I am echoing J. F. Kennedy's words to his fellow Americans to relate to Indians.....

"ASK WHAT WE CAN DO FOR INDIA AND DO WHAT HAS TO BE DONE TO MAKE INDIA WHAT AMERICA AND OTHER WESTERN COUNTRIES ARE TODAY"

Lets do what India needs from us.

Thank you
Abdul Kalaam

[Dr. APJ Abdul Kalaam is the President of India]

Dharavi Through A Peephole

on Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brigida Viggiano takes a paid tour of Asia’s largest slum and changes her mind about slum tourism



The first time I heard about slum tours in Mumbai, I wasn’t shocked. I was already aware of the global trend of focussing on the grim underbelly of cultures: guided walks through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the shanty towns of South Africa and the garbage dumps of Mexico. A stroll through the claustrophobic gullies of Dharavi was thus par for the course for New Age tourism.
The Dharavi walk is the brainchild of 33-year-old Britisher Chris Way who, along with his Indian business partner Krishna Poojari, founded Reality Tours and Travel in 2006. Since slum tours are largely about spectacularisation, the process by which detached viewers participate vicariously in a crisis or event, maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the Reality Tours and Travel logo reminded me of Big Brother’s eye.
I embarked on the tour with mixed feelings: curiosity on the one hand and embarrassment on the other for being part of a group I had always viewed as heartlessly voyeuristic. To escape the burden of guilt, I told myself that I was doing it only to confirm my beliefs through experience, and that I would be in a better position subsequently to plead against slum tourism.
The four-hour trek doesn’t come cheap. Tourists shell out Rs 800 (including the cost of the airconditioned car which transports you to the slum), but you can do an abridged version for Rs 400. Our tour guide Girish, a youngster who grew up in a slum himself, first took us on a one-hour
tour of the red-light area, the openair laundry of Dhobi Ghat and other places on the way to Dharavi. Finally we reached the slum itself, 432 acres of squalor that house almost a million residents. Immediately we were in another world, a world that most Mumbaikars are afraid to enter. It was a city within the city.
The tour began from 13th Compound, one of the busiest neighbourhoods of Dharavi where people work 12 to 14 hours a day recycling plastic, cartons and other kinds of refuse. Then we walked though the leather-tanning area, where we couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds because of the noxious smoke. Our guide showed us the bakery and the papad-making area, explaining that it wasn’t unusual to get products made by Dharavi dwellers served in restaurants all over Mumbai.
We passed Hindu altar shapers, who are mainly Muslims, a triumph to India’s poster secularism. “This is one of the most evident signs of the sense of community that exists in the area,’’ said Girish. We then moved to the residential area, walking through alleys so narrow that they didn’t admit even a sunbeam. The tour ended after a couple of hours in the clay-potting area, where potters still fashion pots by traditional methods.
There were two figures that Girish kept repeating during the
tour: 10,000, which is the number of small-scale industries operating in Dharavi, and USD 665 million, which is the annual turnover Dharavi’s residents are estimated to generate. What thrilled me the most, personally, was that I could not find even one person who wasn’t working: the slum dwellers were so engrossed that most failed to even notice that a group of foreign tourists was in their midst. Dharavi put paid to the insensitive upper-class perception of the poor as lazy blokes who beg for a living.
So, is slum tourism not a voyeuristic attempt to expose third world poverty and the poor after all? “If we wanted to show pover
ty, we wouldn’t go to Dharavi. What we do want to show is how, despite the poverty, these people are able to be so productive,’’ said Chris Way when I met him after the tour. The aim of such tours, as stated on the company website, is to “break down the negative image of Dharavi and its residents’’; to generate understanding, not pity. And this is possible only by exposing the unknown reality and continuously challenging stereotypes about the poor.
Ethel D’Souza, manager of Lok Seva Sangani, which has been working in slum areas for over 30 years, believes that slum tourism is a matter of perspective. I asked her whether she thought her slumdwellers would have been offended by tourists walking around their houses. Her answer was rather surprising: “Sometimes people come with us to see what a slum means and how we work to improve living conditions. Slum-dwellers are already used to and, indeed, even welcome visitors, since they want them to understand how things have changed over the last few years. They want to shed the label of ‘slum-dweller’ or rather the negative connotation it has.’’
With India becoming an important player on the global scene, perhaps it’s important for foreigners to see the other side of the picture: the badly paid lower-end workforce which is a prime part of the much rah-rahed Indian economy. For my part, I realised that there’s much more to India than its super-wealthy elite, plush hotels and fancy restaurants. Invisible India deserves far more international exposure than it gets; and slum tourism isn’t such a bad thing after all. TNN

Surviving India


No pasta please, we’re Indian

He may be loaded but he’s not the best travelling companion. Priyanko Sarkar on the quirks of the Indian tourist



US philosophical writer Dagobert D Runes once said that people travel to faraway places to watch in fascination the kind of people they ignore at home. Obviously he hadn’t reckoned with the average thepla-carting Indian tourist who pays through his nose for exotic holiday packages but has to lug a little bit of Bharat along.
It is not something that travel companies and the hospitality industry acknowledge openly, but the pugmarks left behind by Indian travellers aren’t exemplary. “Indian tourists lack basic hygiene and don’t respect the culture of the country they visit. In spite of giving them clear instructions, they do whatever they feel like,’’ says Puneet Sehgal, Yatra.com’s senior manager on the frustration of having to deal with Indian women turning up in saris for parasailing in Thailand or men gracing formal dinners on cruises in nightsuits and chappals.
Perhaps to feel more at home, the Indian tourist also spits, litters train coaches with food and sticks gum on the trains and stations of Europe’s rail networks. “All this gets quite embarrassing sometimes,’’ says Sehgal who believes that an astounding 40 percent of Indian tourists behave in this way. “In a sense we’re supposed to be brand ambassadors for our country but Indians don’t really set the greatest examples while travelling.’’
Sehgal’s colleague Arpit Seth
avers that Indians create problems even while travelling within the country. “People expect five-star service for 500-rupee rooms,’’ he says. “In Goa, I’ve seen groups who wipe their hands on the sand and then eat without washing. Once, a group of men turned up to swim in the dark after the hotel pool was closed—in their underwear.’’ Adds Jitesh K P, senior executive, Cleartrip.com, “We get a lot sarcastic mails from customers, complaining about everything from not getting 24x7 water supply to the location of the hotel. Once we even got a mail from a man who cribbed that his hotel room was not built according to Vaastu Shastra. Foreign tourists are calmer and more understanding than Indians. But we have to take care of each customer because the competition is so intense.’’
The great Indian decibel level is another bugbear. An Indian con
tingent is invariably the loudest, say travel industry employees, and on flights, where decorum and silence go hand in hand, it is positively embarrassing. “My foreign colleague couldn’t understand why Indian groups always shouted and wanted the most freebies on flights,’’ says Shreya Nair, an a i r- h o s t e s s with a foreign jetliner. “I told her it was in our genes and laughed it off, but I was pretty mortified.’’
Travel agents are at pains to point out that this conduct isn’t confined to the hard-up and inexperienced tourist, who can be forgiven his gaucheness. “Smart and upwardly mobile young travellers are taking over the Indian tourism scene now,’’ says a travel company employee. “But even they often end up being a source of acute em
barrassment to fellow travellers.’’
Sudeep Barve, secretary of Chakram Hikers, says that he finds Indians littering everywhere he goes on his treks (though he attributes this to first-timers and believes that “generally hikers are decent people’’). But Chandigarhbased Samuel Arthur, who guides people on their treks to the Himalayas, declares that Indians are
by far the worst listeners he has come across. “A group of tourists from Maharashtra came in Tshirts and Bermudas to trek to Kinner Kailash. They were sweating heavily because of the ascent and rebuffed my advice to stock up on woollens, mattresses and food,’’ he says. The expected happened and by the time Arthur received the call for help, one person had already died of frostbite and two lay in a critical condition. “Great mountaineers stay with shepherds to gauge the mountains and weather. But Indians don’t feel the need to understand that the mountain is a great being. They blindly follow their guide who is driven only by commercial interests,’’ adds Arthur who has been trekking in the Himalayas for nearly 18 years now. “Many people have lost their lives only because they refused to listen to advice from locals.’’
Many Indian tourists aren’t
apologetic about their regressive attitude. Arjun Sethi, 24, declares that he pays a bomb to travel comfortably and safely in a package tour, and it is his right to expect quality services, good food and proper hotels. “Even if an emergency arises I would want the tour operator to fix it rather than make me bear any inconvenience,’’ he says. Sethi admits to abusing his tour operator when he was made to wake up half an hour earlier than scheduled on his Egypt tour and when he was told to pick up litter he had thrown on the ground at Mt Titlis in Switzerland (“Why must I alone pick up my stuff ? What about the others?’’)
Yogesh Shah, who runs The Backpacker Co, proudly states, “Don’t be afraid of your Indianness. I can’t live without carrying Gujarati food on my foreign tours.
That’s completely fine I think.’’ Dutifully, Shah carries khakras, farsaan and gathiya on his travels and scoffs at people who visit the Eiffel Tower only to get their pictures clicked rather than enjoy the beauty of the Tower. “The funda of travel is to experience new culture,’’ he says wisely and adds in the same breath, “It’s better to eat what you like than starve yourself in a foreign country.’’ TNN

Disneyland theme song

Come and share the enchantment and magic,
Of Disney’s dreams come true,
Wave your wand and watch wonders appear,
Waiting there for you.

It’s time to take a jolly holiday,
Where teacups are dancing,
And brooms are entrancing,
Whistle all your cares away,
Just believe and if you imagine,
Just believe and your dreams will come true.

Discover the magic inside your heart,
Hear it calling you to play,
Some pixie dust is just the start,
Once upon a time is forever and a day.

Come and share the romance and duty,
Of Disney’s dreams come true,
Feel the splendour, the hope and the joy,
Waiting there for you,

In a tale as old as time you’ll be,
Where princes are charming,
And villains disheartening,
They are true, a fantasy,
Just believe and if you imagine,
Just believe and your dreams will come true,
(Just believe and your dreams will come true.)

Where stories never end,
Make new memories with friends,
It’s time to discover, let magic uncover,
The dream lives in you…

Come and share the exciting adventure,
Of Disney’s dreams come true,
Second star the right you will find,
The child at heart in you.

Find and board a magic carpet ride,
Go soaring, free-wheeling,
A magical feeling,
All you need is right inside,
Just believe and if you imagine,
Just believe and your dreams will come true.

Just believe and if you imagine,
And you’ll see Disney’s dreams come true!

Parade of dreams

on Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fifty years ago, a magical place was born. A place of enchantment, adventure, laughter, and imagination. Where new worlds of joy and wonder just waited to be discovered. And in this marvelous kingdom, there lived many delightful friends who made our dreams come true.

Today, we invite you to celebrate 50 years of magical memories with your Disney family as we proudly present Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams. We dedicate to it dreamers around the world, and to that special dream that first began when Walt Disney proclaimed, "To all who come to this happy place - welcome!"

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our brotherly time
We're happy giving and taking to the friends we're making
There's nothing we won't do

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our happy to be time
This is our festival you know and best of all
We're here to share it all

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our brotherly time
This is our festival you know and best of all
We're here to share it all

Show stop:

Walt Disney: "To all who come to this happy place - Welcome!"

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our brotherly time
We're happy giving and taking to the friends we're making
There's nothing we won't do

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our happy to be time
This is our festival you know and best of all
We're here to share it all

Remembering good times together
With someone dear to your heart
Finding love, planning a future
Telling stories and laughing with friends
Precious moments you'll never forget

This has to be the most beautiful the most peaceful place
I've ever been to
(Can you feel the love tonight?)
It's nothing like I've ever seen before

Welcome to our family time
(Tale as old as time)
Welcome to our brotherly time
We're happy giving and taking to the friends we're making
There's nothing we won't do

Welcome to our family time
(Someday I'll be, part of your world)
Welcome to our happy to be time
This is our festival you know and best of all
We're here to share it
We're here to share it
We're here to share it
We're here to share it all!

Snake Whisperer

on Monday, May 19, 2008

Despite their many benefits, snakes are killed indiscriminately

RAHUL ALVARES
Is a wildlife consultant in Goa

PEOPLE CALL ME a “snake rescuer” and I’ve always considered the term in its literal sense: I rescue snakes from people. Human beings are much bigger, stronger, far more intelligent, armed with opposable thumbs and able to wield weapons like rakes, bats, coconut palms and choppers with ease — enough to smash a legless reptile. Venomous though a cobra may be, it does not stand a chance against humans.

Over the last few decades we’ve added to our munitions, deadly chemical weapons like Baygon sprays, toilet acid and other insecticides. When humans do get hit back, we have an efficient antidote in snake antivenin, which can save our lives. Snakes have no such defence against humans. So when I do pull out a massive cobra from under someone’s bed, I do not flatter myself with the thought that I’ve rescued a fellow human being, but am convinced that I saved the snake: it is always the snake rather than the human who is in real danger. So why are people so insensitive towards snakes? The answer may lie in another question — why do snake rescuers care so much for snakes?

Like most people, I consider myself a fairly decent guy. I live and let live. The only difference between me and most “normal” human beings is that I’ve taken the trouble to understand snakes. When I pull out a hissing cobra from under someone’s bed, I can see fear in its eyes: the snake is sorry for having made the mistake of entering a human habitat, harmless — even beneficial — though its intentions may be. Behind the grand façade of the cobra’s signature hood, I see a terrified reptile pretending to strike at me, but taking care to miss. I see a snake that only wants out and I feel really bad when humans don’t give them the opportunity.

My mother tells me that I was chasing snakes even before I learnt to walk. When people ask: “Why snakes?”, I can only say: “Why collect stamps?” Certain interests are inborn and while I don’t expect everyone to love snakes, I do think that we need to understand a few basic facts in order to seek a peaceful coexistence with them.

Most people do not know that of the 275 species of snakes found in India only four are a threat to humans. People believe that a bite from a cobra means sure death in a few minutes when the fact is, a sure cure awaits snakebite victims in every Indian hospital. Even if you took two hours to get there, you’d be quite safe provided you stayed calm.

After I have rescued a snake, I try to familiarise my clients with the creatures. I tell them that cobras don’t eat people, they eat other snakes. I try to explain that if it weren’t for snakes, this country would be overrun by rodents and a host of harmful insects that form the staple diet of younger snakes. The Guinness Book of World Records rates the rat “the most dangerous small mammal in the world” — they carry more than 20 pathogens including the bacterium that causes bubonic plague, leptospirosis, lassa fever and rat bite fever, all of which can be fatal. “Snakes regularly take these guys out,” I tell people. Yet, rats don’t generate even a small percentage of the hostility that snakes do.

It is an established fact that snakes provide an excellent natural pest control service for humans and cobra venom has been used for years as a strong analgesic (more effective than morphine). Now major research is being done on more uses for snake venom in medicine, including treatment for cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s.

Fortunately, snakes in India don’t face the threat of extinction. In Goa, 30 or 40 snake rescuers pick up cobras in cities like Panjim and Margao; the Indian Rock python (a protected species under the Wildlife Act) thrives in cities, thanks to all the garbage, which breeds big bandicoots, which these snakes eat.

For every snake spotted by a human, there are probably ten more hiding somewhere, minding their own business. The real cause for concern, though, is apathy — people kill snakes just because they are there. In the wild, for one animal to survive, often, another has to die. If a tribal living in a forest or a bird of prey kills a snake to eat it, that’s fine. But when people thrash snakes for no reason at all, it makes me worry for humanity and wonder about our morality. We all know that it is wrong to kill. But the truth is that what prevents most of us from committing serious crimes is the threat of punishment. Every snake in India is protected by the law, yet people kill snakes with impunity because no one ever gets charged or prosecuted.

Children are more open and sensitive and are much better listeners, which is why I’m always much more interested in talking to them about snakes. A child brought up completely alienated from nature will grow into an adult with absolutely no understanding of the environment and its functioning. Yet, our schools and colleges do not provide even basic lessons in wildlife. And sadly, our educators still haven’t realised that understanding the wild creatures with which we share the planet is more crucial to our survival than calculus or integral mathematics.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 19, Dated May 17, 2008