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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Railway Staffers Flunk: Between Kandivali & Parle #2


 Between Kandivali & Parle - Part 2

To know why this section of the blog is called "Between Kandivali & Parle", Click here. 

20 Western Railway employees, were selected as eligible for promotion and appeared for a 150-mark question paper. An internal examination, it included basic questions the answers of which, as reported, officials with a few years of experience would and should have

RESULT: All 20 staff members flunked, with none able to score even as much as 90 out of 150. Just as a reminder, these people were considered eligible for promotion! 

At this point, it might help to say where I am headed to right now

I am on my way to my college, and from today, the Second Year Junior College students' First Terminal examination begins. When I will reach college, there will be talks around of two types. One, talks deriding those who have prepared well. And second, nonchalant talks glorifying, romanticizing and boasting mediocrity: 

"Have you studied?" "I haven't even covered half the portion." "I hope I pass!" "I did not open the book until today morning…" 

The list of baseless excuses is exasperating and endless. 

This is, however not about naive college students who, so far, don't seem consequential for the society or country at large. Baffling would be this explicit comparison I have made, because there doesn't seem to be anything in common. Except one aspect, our attitude. Am I talking about an attitude towards examinations? Because it has been long since we have rationalized the importance of an examination. Having been a home-schooler, I firmly believe in the futility of it. 

However, this is truly about the attitude not towards exams but towards excellence, knowledge and good performance. Inabilities, instead of igniting a flame to improve, have permanently extinguished the fire to try- making most of the functioning machineries complacent.

It is scary to see that the present of India, and seemingly the future, is more or less the same. The officials who flunked the test may well say that the questions were out of their purview’, much like a failing student's plea, out of syllabus! 
We do see, realize and understand this in our urban overpopulated areas- the problem of the educated unemployed, waiting for white collar jobs, feeling entitled to a position or promotion, but completely lacking a drive for doing well. 

If we were to come back to our comparison, our education system tests us on every step of the ladder, but disregard if we truly have the knowledge to carry out some specific task. The very fact that these staffers were unable to answer questions about the working of their own working environment, exposes their lack of knowledge as does an examination for a student in which he or she fails. 

Doesn't this reinstate the fact that the future is going to be similar to how the present is? If a majority of the country is being brought up on a laissez-faire policy, with no discipline or commitment towards one's own field of work, who thinks about the greater good then? 

Let us leave that question unanswered and us move on to another way of looking at this same situation. The Fairness Syndrome that asks if it is correct to determine a worker's knowledge on the basis of a test? Yes, I am an advocate of dedicated excellent achievers. So then is it possible to justify how and why the staffers failed? I don't think so.

But from an opinionistic point of view, I do notice the obsession of each layer of our system, educational and occupational, with tests/ examinations. To be 'eligible' for a promotion, rail employees give an exam. To be eligible for MBBS, science students give NIIT. To be eligible to study engineering, Jee-Mains are a must. UPSC is a must for civil services.

No heredity or nepotism works here. So obsessed with examinations, and why? To verify if the candidates are eligible to work the best for railways, to be sure that the engineers, doctors, IAS officers, etc, are up to the mark and serve the country well! Then why...and do not expect an answer, why is it that a country so obsessed with examination at each stage has no examination held to determine whether a politician is eligible to be a politician and run the country???? 

Why not test their administrative skills? Why not see if they are capable of decision making? Why not make them write essays on 'What will I do if I become a Prime minister?' or why not give them Multiple Choice Questions to check their basic understanding of democracy, national economics and public welfare? Why not check their knowledge of the constitution, of the judiciary, and history of Indian politics? Should each politician not be tested for checking their abilities? The day this question is answered one of two things may happen:

Either each and every politician will be stripped off their privileges and asked to prove themselves in an examination, or, we as a country shall want to entirely do away with the system of examination. 

If each politician were tested and verified for perceiving worst case scenarios and be ready for it beforehand, the situation would not be like that of students who study only when they fail or do poorly once or twice. We would not wait for accidents to happen to make structural changes or riots to happen before curbing cultural nationalism. But such Politician tests are a far fetched dream, the fulfillment of which will require a politician who doesnt mind giving that test.
And till then, we still have the enormous task of assessing the attitude we have towards excellence. Bringing in our college students analogy back in, you surely know what is an onlooker's response when one says, I am going to fail or I embrace mediocrity. It is pity and sympathy. And what is it when one in a crowd of many seeks to perform well. It is awe and respect. 

So what do we, as a nation, in the present and the future want from global onlookers: pity, or respect?


Do comment what you think about the 20 staffers failing at their Promotion Exam.  


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Elphinstone Stampede: Between Kandivali and Parle #1

Between Kandivali and Parle- Part One

To know why this section of the blog is called "Between Kandivali & Parle", Click here. 

The recent tragedy, close to a mass self-inflicted massacre, at the Elphinstone Road station is live testimony to the chaos our country is. For me to write this article several days after the incident, would be surprising to people used to instant noodles, instant soups and instant news. We have all info at our fingertips, but here's the thing: each piece of news is banter for an hour, trending for a day and no more than a debate for a week.
The purpose of talking about the Elphinstone Road incident is not to blame anyone. Thats what everyone is doing, anyways,  so far. People in the crowd blamed the other people in the crowd; the other people in the crowd are blaming the present government mechanism; the present government is putting it on the previous government and the baton is going to and fro between all those involved. Those unconcerned, too, are exercising their revisionist muscles and voicing their opinions. So, I take a dip and attempt to do the same.

I don't send my opinion from a news anchor's seat or a politician's. Either ways, I will blame another entity. Moreover, either of those ways are soft and comfortable positions- well seated in air conditioned rooms. Instead, I speak from a Churchgate bound local train's second class compartment, which at the moment is cramped, to say the least. It is 1 p.m. In a circle around me are dozens of men, heading to work or college...we are piled up against each other, which still is nearly five times a better situation than how it would have been, say 3 hours ago, at 10 a.m. Definitely cozy, but that’s not really the word for it.

When I will reach my destination, two dozen people will be thrust out by the mutual human force that we shall exert on each other. Simultaneously, people at the platform will try to jump into the trains as soon as it stops. 

After the incident on Friday, a great many people came together, proposing a unanimous solution: get the Railway Officers and VVIPs to let go of their privileges and travel in circumstances they themselves, to quite an extent are responsible for. However, dear privilege-bearers, I would not really wish these circumstances to be inflicted on you...quite embarrassing it would be, to stand out on a platform, because you are incompetent!

Not as an official, but as an individual, because here is the problem: Not one individual out of those several people hanging outside, squeezing into a place beyond the foot-board (how I dont know), will acquiesce to give their spot to a VVIP, to a CM or for that matter, any dignitary.

Everyone has their workplace to reach to, and each one has fought hard to find a square inch in the jam-packed local. Survival of the fittest, after all. 

Coming back to the subject, what prompted me to write this, was not the incident in itself, but another set of happenings that sort of answer why the incident transpired in the first place.

A Border Security Force pilot has pointed out discrepancies in the safety of air-crafts flying VIPs and MPs. Moreover, maintenance of these air-crafts is not up to the mark and pilots are trainees.

Something more to think about are the two instances when Maharashtra Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis’ helicopter crash landed in May and July respectively, earlier this year.

These facts bring us to a conclusion.

The government is not apathetic to citizens or citizens safety.
It is just plain apathetic to safety in general. 

Let me provide another version of this conclusion.

We Indians, are apathetic to safety. Because after all, who cares? The world does not come to a grinding halt when 20 citizens die in a public tragedy. Except for the families that is. Otherwise, who cares? Television anchors seem to, not because they actually do, but are literate enough to articulate it.

Somewhere to an extent, and how it would appear to an onlooker, even we commuters do not care much about our own safety. A couple of hours after a tragedy that killed dozens, people were hanging out of the localsand shall continue doing so. We continue over crowding the trains. We continue going to work. We continue paying taxes and we continue hating the government for not using that money wisely.

Having said that, I shall add to point out, where I feel we currently are. In a circle.

Why do we not quit adjusting and overcrowding our trains? Maybe because we have been left no option by the authorities who can do something about it. Why do authorities do nothing about it? Maybe because we are adjusting and overcrowding our trains. 

Who is responsible for this stalemate?

If our decision makers would have been efficient and not as obstinate as they are, there would have been no such stalemate. Since they are, to what extent can we, the tax-bearers and problem-bearers, do something? As far as the government is concerned, their apathy for safety in general has hurled helicopters, in which they themselves are travelling, to the ground.

Its like paying a nanny to take care of your children, when she is doing a bad job of parenting her own children. You cant blame her for arrogance when she fails to deliver, but rather for ignorance and indifference. 

I alight at Vile Parle station. I see no pushing-pulling happening as such, nevertheless, a man falls while walking out of a compartment. He looks around and shouts at a middle aged plump man, who he thinks has pushed him. The plump man smiles. We Indians never push anyone. Every time, someone else pushes from behind.


Ignorance or indifference? Do comment what you think about the Elphinstone Road Stampede. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Indian Parsi: #MoreIndianThanYouThink

The best part about living in India, is the number of diverse cultures influencing our lives everyday. The best part about being a Parsi, living in India with parents (who are, well, #MoreIndianThanYouThink) is that I get to celebrate each and every festival that comes our way.

NEWSFLASH: Each and every day is a festival, occasion, reason to celebrate, for at least one sub-culture in INDIA. While one can spend life bored, looking at how mundane it is, wondering why there’s nothing or no reason to smile, here’s what should be done: Celebrate Like An Indian!

A quick brief about the Parsi community in India: Came to India after fleeing from Iran a long, long time ago, were given refuge here, promised to seamlessly get assimilated into the ever-accepting Indian culture - just the way sugar melts into milk and sweetens it. Kept that promise: by accepting and submitting to whoever was the central authority (that obviously kept changing as centuries passed). Meanwhile, Parsis absorbed whatever each culture the authority endorsed and mixed it with ours.

However, while we sweetened the milk, enriched India in whatever ways possible- the tendency we call ethnocentrism swam in.

Entry only to Zoroastrians.”- says each signboard outside our Agyaris, i.e. place of worship for Zoroastrians. Parsi women who marry outside the caste are considered belonging to the groom’s religion. Indian Parsis don’t accept conversions. Today, not only the Parsi culture but also the Parsi population is shrinking. But after all, each and every culture has its ups and downs, right? We try and embrace the culture we are born in with open arms- and then make modifications in our personal lives for our individual needs, and that is what makes us true blue Indians.

It is amazing to enjoy the Parsi culture and I have basked in its glory ever since I remember. But it has its rigid structure that has it’s restrictions - my mother being a non-Parsi is not allowed to pray with us in the agyari. It is unjust, but that’s another story. And since the culture is relatively smaller (or not widely known for that matter), it limits its people to very few festivals and celebrations in a year.

So what here, is the winning strategy that held me from thinking of a Parsi’s life as a ‘limited celebrations life’? What should I be doing that allows me to pray at God’s abode with my mother? What will suit me best, if I want to have a sneak-peek into varied cultures and relish each one? The answer is, well, in the fact that I am first, before a Parsi, an Indian. 

So...I Celebrate Like An Indian! Now, what is that even supposed to mean? First, it says: Accept All and Respect All. Second, have a look at what an Indian Parsi’s absolutely Indian way of celebrating festivals looks like. And you will know, I am #MoreIndianThanYouThink.

I do my kusti prayers, wear my sudreh everyday and pay obeisance to God. If it is the day of one of our festivals- Parsi New Year or Navroze, we celebrate with good… no wait, great food, wine and relatives!

But does that stop me from enjoying each and every festival all year round? Of course not! January sees me flying kites and relishing til-gul (mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery) on the day of Makar Sankranti, one of the ancient Hindu festivals. In February comes Maha Shivratri which consists in offering prayers to Lord Shiva. It is an auspicious occasion that brings the family together. March brings with it Holi, that has me drenched with water and bathed in several colours- what is a better festival to have a gala time with friends?

Ram Navami and Gudi Padwa are the festivals that follow. These days are full of rituals that involve songs or bhajans or prayers and of course a number of delights for the taste buds. Mid-year, we have Rakshabandhan (that helps me meet cousins I otherwise never meet), Ganesh Chaturthi (which is a grand function in most households here in Mumbai, ranging 1 and half to 11 days of bringing home Lord Ganpati’s idol), Navratri (nine nights of aartis or prayers followed by the dance of Garba and Dandiya- the only excuse for us- the busy metro people to get together) and Durga Pooja (bowing to Goddess Durga). Nothing stops us from celebrating Eid either, with a nice big pot of Biryani.

Each festival has its own flavours, rituals, celebrations and fun element. Deepawali, the festival of lights and Christmas come towards the end of the year. Again, both these festivals are a superb time for many to take off for vacations and trips. Making the Christmas tree is an activity I have always enjoyed along with lighting divas during Deepavali.

The utter beauty lies in the fact that celebrating like an Indian makes us enjoy a “New Year” every couple of months. Each calendar followed by different cultures may sometimes lead to overlapping of festivals of different cultures/ religions.  I still remember a day in the distant past when we celebrated our Navroze along with singing prayers in the afternoon for another festival. I remember eating Biryani on Eid and simultaneously watch a troupe trying to break the pot during the Hindu festival of Janmashtami. But how does it matter if you Celebrate Like An Indian?

Of course I love the Parsi delicacies and love Dhansakh, but I can’t have it all year round, can I? I need some Idlis, I need some Dal Makhani, I need some sabjis, I need some Biryani, I need some Daal Baati…! To taste each and every flavour of each and every culture is my right, and well, duty, maybe ;-) as an Indian. What did we say by the way? Celebrate Like An Indian!

How does it matter, if I am a Parsi, and some other culture predominantly celebrates a festival I want to celebrate? If a festival brings me closer to my family, if it gets me in touch with friends to make plans who I might otherwise lose contact with, if it acquaints me with relatives I never meet for the rest of the year, if it puts a smile on my face, if it breaks my routine, if it treats me to a fantastic, authentic meal I can get to eat only on that day, if it strengthens bonds, why fret? I just put my guards down and Celebrate Like An Indian!

And it is this we-feeling that ties all Indians together- and we do not even know about it. And this, has strengthened India’s influence everywhere. Yes, we accept all. But we are distinct. We are We. Lufthansa is truly celebrating like an Indian. Here, have a look at this all new TVC:

A conspiracy for winning against Indians, by Thinking Like An Indian, Eating Like An Indian, Training Like An Indian, Dancing Like An Indian…and finally, Flying Like An Indian! But how do you fly, like an Indian? Don’t even break a sweat. Lufthansa has answered this question already! Lufthansa, like me, an Indian Parsi, is #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Its in-flight experience involves a welcome with a Namaste- which in itself promises a hospitable experience to passengers. Indian-i-fying further, Lufthansa offers a delicious Indian meal with a cup of chai along with entertainment in the form of Bollywood blockbusters.  Have a look at the Indian-ness that Lufthansa provides:

That is how you truly Celebrate Like An Indian- the gorgeousness of Indian-ness!  

-Shahen Pardiwala

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