My friend Prashant’s blogpost about North-South divide and racism prompts me to write this. In a country of so many different races, languages, food habits and religions, it is not un-common to find people complaining about not feeling welcome in a different land. Here are a few observations from my own experiences or my close friends’.

One thing where racism happens most often is language related. There are two aspects to it:

a) Ridicule of your language. People who only know single digit words in Bangla, start talking in Bangla: “Ki khabo? Rosogolla khabe? Jol khabe?”, the last question to ridicule that Bengalis “eat” everything – drinks included. At most times, I ignore this one, but if people persist, which happened one time, I had to point out that in formal Bangla there are four categories of food and eating: chew, suck, lick and drink; and only in modern spoken language, we “eat” (consume) edibles. Of course, my follow up question remains un-answered: “In hindi, you say sutta piyo. How do you drink sutta?” I don't think any language is superior or inferior to any other language, so it's not prudent to ridicule any language, especially when you don't know the language.

b) Ridicule of you speaking other language. Hindi is my third language as it is for many people in non-hindi speaking India. So, if I make a mistake in Hindi, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Of course, when I make a mistake, I expect my friends to correct me positively (and thus encourage), but without ridiculing me (which will surely discourage). Similarly in south, the inability to speak a common language is a problem. In most of Bangalore, I could talk either in Hindi or English, except for some autowallas, who when I boarded the auto knew Hindi / English, but while taking a longer route or asking for extra money, forgot! But, since at other times, I have managed to communicate with people (some of them - so called illiterate) without sharing a common language, I think, it’s the attitude while speaking which determines if the communication is pleasing.

Another thing that I think is wrong is type-casting. This is most evident in mainstream hindi movies. All Bengalis must be rosogolla eating, weak, and coward; all Sardars must be brave but foolish; all “South Indians” must speak in a funny tone wearing a folded lungi, and so on. In real life, I can recount the numerous times I have been branded as “North Indian” in Bangalore, disregarding my protests that I am from Kolkata, which in the official map of India, is rather East than North. Type-casting is most evident in case of North Eastern states. For the rest of India, somehow, all the seven sister states (except Assam?) and Sikkim are same. A Manipuri friend of mine narrated a story to me about this. While searching for a house in Delhi, she was asked if she ate dogs (with a smirk on the landlord's face) before, you guessed it, refusing her. (The fact is, only a very few tribes in North East India - mainly in Nagaland actually eat dogs). Of course, she has more stories to tell about how no one shared lunch with her in school (she studied in Delhi), calling her “Junglee”! And somehow, all “Chinkis” are ‘easy’!

The generalization is ignorance at most times. Take food for example. South Indian food is Dosa and Idly with Sambar! Having sampled various cuisine myself throughout Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala, I can safely contradict this. The food habit of all four states is different, with obvious overlap of some foods. So, we don't need to classify everything to three types of food in India: North Indian, South Indian, and Chinese!

These are just a few examples of racism in our own country against our own country people. I am sure there are incidents like these happening everyday, everywhere. I don’t know what prompts these behavior: it could be ignorance, it could be complex (superiority), it could be lack of sensitivity. But I do believe, the situation can be improved. All we need to do is to be sensitive to others; forget the differences (cultural, physical appearance, language) and see how much is common; and most importantly, respect other cultures, religions and habits. That’s not too difficult, is it?

That is how our flag should fly!

Congratulations to Captain Dhoni and his men for winning the inaugural ICC World Twenty-20 Championship. It is good to see Indians play with their heads high, not intimidated by opposition or situation, smiling even when the chips are down, playing with aggression, and snatching close matches. Thanks guys, you made us proud.

State of Shame

In today's episode of Indian Idol, there was a short interview of Dr. D D Lapang, Chief Minister of Meghalaya. On his desk, there were two flags. (I don't know what it's called, but they cross each other.) Both of them were inverted (Green was on top; saffron at bottom)!

This is the same India, where till a few years ago, the common people were not allowed to display the tri-color, and that only changed in 2002 thanks to Mr. Naveen Jindal.

Remember: this is no common man; this is a Chief Minister of a state and his desk; shown on national television! No one noticed? Not even the editors at Sony?

Tryst with Tata Indicom

6th September 2007: I am in Kolkata for a few days now. I decide to get an Internet connection. I know what type of connection I want: a PCMCIA data card based connection. I call Tata Indicom, Kolkata. They try to suggest an alternate USB based connection; I listen and insist on their v-data card. Within minutes, I receive a call from Prateek’s (a dealer of Tata Indicom) for a house call. Within hours, someone comes to my place, gives me the card, takes the required documents and money, and tells me it takes up to 48 hours to activate this, however, it should be done by tomorrow. So far so good.

8th September 2007: I receive about 10 calls in the last two days asking me if I wanted a Tata Indicom v-data card. I politely tell everyone that I have already taken one in my Ma's name, and the verification has also been done. But the connection is yet to be active, and 48 hours is almost up, so I call Tata Indicom customer care. After confirming thrice that my preferred language is English, I am greeted by a very formal Bengali speaking gentleman. He listens to my complaint, and gives me the docket number: 85114421. The official resolution date is 12th September, but it should be done by Monday, 10th.

10th September 2007: The connection is not activated. “They are looking in to it”.

11th September 2007: I receive a call saying the issue is resolved. I should check it. I couldn’t check as my laptop was given for upgrade, so I request the lady to give me her number. She doesn’t have a number! I request her to call me after 7. In 30 minutes though, the same dealer chap who delivered the v-data card, comes to my place to replace my SIM. I narrate the whole story and send him back. I receive another call within 30 mins: I tell this guy the same story. This is getting exciting.

12th September 2007: I check the connection: not working. I check it on another laptop: not working. Still no call from the lady who said the issue is resolved.

13th September 2007: I call Prateek Sharma (the dealer), who asks me to come to his shop for replacing the SIM. I go there, since I refused to change the SIM two days ago. He gives me the new SIM, talks to someone, and tells me it will be activated in two hours.

15th September 2007: Two hours multiplied by a day = two days pass by. I am still without an Internet connection. I am suggested that the card is active; my laptop is at fault. I mention that I have tried it on another laptop. They give me another docket number: 85938599. I threaten to move Consumer Court. They sympathize by saying "We will re-connect, as soon as possible! You will receive a call soon”.

17th September 2007: I am still waiting for that call! I finally run out of patience, and call Mr. Sharma, and ask for a refund (I must say, this was my ma’s idea; I was getting ready to meet my lawyer friend and go to consumer court). Mr. Sharma asks me to go to his shop and promises to show me that the card is active. I think at this point he thought I am a moron, and must be doing something wrong. I go there; he checks: it doesn’t work. He checks on his laptop, it doesn’t work. He makes a few phone call and talks to at least five different people at Tata Indicom and finally the problem is determined! There is some ESN (or ECN) number which is not attached to my SIM! Mr. Sharma treats me to a second cup of tea, the problem is set right in 15 minutes, the connection works! My boring life is given a twang of excitement by this experience. It also raises a few questions:

Why would I have to go to the dealer twice to get this resolved? When and where was I at fault?

Why or how did the customer service agents determine that the problem was first with the SIM and then with the laptop? Trust me, I know a thing or two about Internet connection and troubleshooting: I used to teach agents how to troubleshoot broadband by satellite connections for three years! In my opinion, the Tata Indicom agents I spoke to knew nothing about troubleshooting, let alone Tata Indicom troubleshooting.

This goes on for 11 days, and I repeatedly complain, but no one at Tata Indicom takes the ownership of this problem! Since at long last the dealer took the ownership and it was finally resolved in less than an hour, there is a clear lack of responsibility by I-don’t-know-who-but-someone-at-Tata-Indicom! Had that person taken it up, this should have been closed a few days ago! Who is this moron?

The big question is: With this kind of service, is Tata Indicom really interested in consumer broadband market?

Kolkata Kronicles

Its the same old city I remember. The same heat. The same humidity. The same incessant rain.

The same passion for sports, and politics. A road football tournament happening right next to my house. People discussing Federation Cup football tournament, where else but here! The same concern, and hence meetings, roadshows and addas for political issues. Ditto for seemingly non-political issues; but, trust our political leaders here to paint a coat of politics on everything. The cornerstone of local politics must be "The centre (rulers in Delhi) and industrialisation cannot be good".

The same old value for money; nowhere in India have I seen such value for money - to the point of everything being cheap nee cost effective (being politically correct). Probably caused by the lack of disposable income of common people here. I had a hard time making my father understand why his medicine which cost Rs. 65 a few years ago, and now costing Rs. 79 (in other cities people would round off and say Rs 80!) is a good thing because it beats inflation - I gave up.

This is the same old Kolkata.

P.S: I am writing this on a public internet cafe. As with other things here, taking a internet connection is taking more time than expected.