Of Courts & Judges

The Courts in India have an unenviable task of trying to clear the backlog of cases in a litigation friendly country. As per reports there are nearly 4 crore ( 40 million) cases pending before the Courts in our country, with 10 % of them dating back to over a decade! Yet, while one cannot generalize, about Courts or Judges, as an ordinary citizen of India I am surprised by some of the things reported from the Courts.

In the past decades, what happened in the Court largely remained a mystery as the ordinary person had no idea of what went on and who said what. In the area of Industrial Disputes, in which I have some experience, it was common knowledge that between the two lawyers dates were often ” fixed”to suit their convenience. If A asked for an adjournment this week, the opposing lawyer B would ask for one on the next date which was some weeks away. Hence cases dragged on for months together, if not for years.

The pandemic brought about many changes. Most courts these days have taken to having virtual hearings. This is a welcome move. At least cases do go on and in some Courts large number of cases have been settled during the year or more of the pandemic. Also I notice that online portals such as Bar and Bench give almost ball by ball commentary of court cases, much like in a cricket match. The reader gets to know what the lawyers said, what the judge observed and so on. This is totally new to many of us as we would never have had access to such information before.

This new found transparency has sometimes embarrassed the judges and the advocates! A post that went viral on social media in August 2020 showed Senior Advoacate Rajeev Dhawan caught on camera taking puffs on his hookah while arguing a virtual case before the Rajasthan High Court ! One doesn’t know whether the learned Judge had anything to say to the senior advocate. Perhaps he didn’t as the much respected Mr Dhawan is in his ’70s, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. Still, so much for setting a good example to your juniors and the world at large!!

In a more recent case, the Madras High Court made scathing observations about the Election Commission of India saying it was “singularly” responsible for the second wave of Covid. It even went to the extent of observing “Its officials should be booked for murder.” In a situation where deaths are mounting all over the world due to Covid- around 3.2 million as of date- even the casual reader would find these remarks rather puzzling, if not petulant.

The Election Commission naturally was stung by these observations and took the case to the Supreme Court which a few days ago agreed the “murder charge” remarks of the Madras High Court were “harsh” and the “metaphor inappropriate “. It was good that they did so! Sadly, over 230,000 people have died in India as of date due to this pandemic. Holding the Election Commission responsible for the deaths during the political rallies has become fashionable but more people are accountable too. What about the politicians – of all political parties- who organized and held these rallies? What about the people themselves, who flocked to them ? What about the media which gave the rallies such extensive coverage making each political party vie for higher eyeballs? All of them knew fully well these could be super spreader events for the Corona virus.

As mentioned earlier, we are these days becoming privy to what actually happens in Courts. Thanks to Bar and Bench, I am reading with great interest the remarks of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court in the matter of oxygen supply to Delhi during this pandemic. While it makes for interesting reading I couldn’t quite make out what the point in law was for the Courts to decide. Surely, deciding on the amount of oxygen needed for each hospital, city, and State; the methods of reaching oxygen to hospitals; is the job of the executive rather than that of the judiciary?

Enjoy Your Writing

Writers often speak of Writer’s Block and allied obstacles to the entire process of writing. May be you aren’t able to make time for writing, may be you are not satisfied with your output, or may be you are not motivated to write as you once were. I decided to share my thoughts and those of others to budding and seasoned writers alike.

Sadly we are in the midst of the gloom of the Covid 19 Pandemic which is hitting us so badly all over the world. What can we do to write and make ourselves -and hopefully others around us who read our work- more happy?

I keep harping on the need for writers to never stop reading! You can read whatever interests you but do read. In the process, you pick up many tips, consciously or otherwise on what successful writers do in presenting their stories. There is so much to read out there that techniques of speed reading also help us in this world of information overkill. This article in Buffer.com tells you how to read more to write better.

If, like me, you enjoy reading short stories and would like to try writing one, please check out this article by Jerry Jenkins on How To Write A Short Story That Captivates Your Reader. I particularly liked the description of how Ernest Hemingway accepted the challenge to write a story in less than 10 words! He wrote: ” For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.“. How impactful and gut wrenching! But then Hemingway was a genius, wasn’t he?

Kurt Vonnegut has shared his tips to write a great short story. My favourite in his list: “Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action”. If it does neither, don’t use it. As simple as that!

For a more technical and comprehensive approach, do read: “Short Story Writing For Beginners: A Guide” by Writer and Freelancer, N A Turner. This is a good article which details the different elements involved in writing a short story. It highlights that writing is not only about sitting someplace and waiting for That Great Story Idea to hit you!

To conclude, listen to what one of my favourite writers, Stephen King said : “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

I hope this blog post kindles the interest in writing in you, or in some cases, re-kindles that dormant interest. Happy writing, and of course before that- happy reading!!

On Our Advertisements/TV Commercials

I have been an avid follower of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and watch many of the matches. This year there are no ticket sales simply because there is no audience on the ground due to the raging Covid 19. As a result, I guess, the number of TV commercials have increased substantially to make up for the lost revenue.

Being quite interested in advertising, I don’t really mind! I have always believed that the creativity of those who design our advertisements or TV commercials in India is often second to none. What sets the typical Indian TV commercial apart from all others is the raw appeal to the emotions of the viewer. This is seldom the touchpoint in Western advertisements.

I am not talking of emotions flowing from celebrity endorsement of brands. Surely they must be a force to reckon with which is why top celebrities, be they film stars or cricketers these days, are much in demand to endorse every conceivable product. The message goes out that this product or brand should be good because Amitabh Bachchan or Viral Kohli is using it. Likewise, the feeling that you use the same toothpaste as Aishwarya Rai or Kareena Kapoor probably appeals to millions of people. Otherwise, celebrity endorsements would never be as big as they are.

This report by Duff & Phelps may be slightly dated (2019) but it makes for interesting reading. It says that as celebrities feature in 20 % of endorsements in the United States, while in India the figure is much higher at 50 %. It also talks of the growing clout of “star couples” such as Indian Cricket’s super star Virat Kohli and his film star wife, Anushka Sharma.

Sometimes, celebrity endorsements can backfire! M S Dhoni was at one time India’s most loved sports star. However, his being Brand Ambassador for the Amrapalli Group resulted in the kind of embarrassment he had never faced before. His fan base felt cheated when the builder he endorsed did not deliver their flats on time! Many claimed it was his advertising that led them to trust this builder!! On top of that there was an unsavory dispute regarding his own payments from that group! Of course, those cheated in their purchase of flats argued that the amount Dhoni was fighting for was a very small percentage of his overall wealth. They, it was argued, had sunk a substantially higher percentage of their life’s earning in buying that flat from Amrapali!

Personally, however, these advertisements have never appealed to me. I prefer advertisements which touch my heart or tickle my funny bone. I saw one from Cadbury’s recently- one in Hindi called Laundry– which I thought was superb. But then, this is nothing new as Cadbury’s has always been recognized as a strong brand for many decades.

I also lhought this one from Cello for their Butterflow Pen called Lamba Naam was quite hilarious ! There are so many more I can mention but I shall save that for some other time!

Advertisements are expected to inform, to persuade and remind! The fact that even today we remember so many old advertisements seen on Indian television screens indicates that our advertisers have pretty much hit their mark!

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“When The Wildflowers Bloom”: Rupa Bhullar

When The Wildflowers Bloom” by Rupa Bhullar was on my reading list and I completed it today. The book has been published by Rupa Publications recently in 2021.

The start of the book is quite dramatic. The main character, a 38 year old home maker, Tara Grewal is publicly humiliated at a party in front of her family and friends by her husband Tej. This sets the context for what is to follow. However, after that the story took fairly long to build up. Tara seeks refuge in her grandmother’s house in a village in Punjab. Not much happens other than a lot of reminiscing about the past and thoughts on what the future holds. To that extent I found the first part of the book rather sluggish after the dramatic start.

There were no surprises along the way and the plot was more predictable than I thought. I kept thinking there might be some action in the next chapter to stir the pot but it was not to be.

Now, about the positives. I must say the scenes are beautifully portrayed. I could easily and readily images the lush fields of Punjab, the drive up the mountain road to Kasauli, the serene atmosphere of the Gurudwara, to mention but a few scenes. The descriptive writing was of a high standard. I found the second part considerably more absorbing than the first.

I also enjoyed the characters like the old Beeja, the fiercely protective Premo, the ebullient Balwinder and of course the suave and charming Dev, not to forget his uncle and aunt both colorful characters very different from each other.

There are lessons to be learnt from the story. Lessons of the grit shown by a 38 year old lady with two growing children when she takes the crucial decision which would change her life forever. She has to decide whether to continue in an unhappy marriage with its share of domestic violence or walk out to an unknown world beyond. The book also throws light on the all too common theme of how women are exploited in our villages. It covers how the dreams of many girls seldom come true due to the harsh realities of their struggles growing up in villages.

If you are looking for an action-packed book, this is not for you. If, however, you want a leisurely but good read, without there being too much in the plot, you will enjoy this book.

Gherao!

As you know, the elections in West Bengal are grabbing eyeballs because of the high-octane campaigns launched by the sitting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, and her principal opponent this time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has been ruling the state for 10 years now.

While earlier – before the campaigns began – many believed she would easily win a third term, now- to many observers including me- such a result seems less certain. It is evident from what we see on television and read in the newspapers that it will be a close finish. The bitter battle for votes will go on till we come to know the results on May 2

The central paramilitary forces are on election duty in that state, to support the Election Commission to ensure that free and fair elections take place. An article in the respected Indian Express no less, headlined that the Bengal Chief Minister has exhorted the women of West Bengal to gherao the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF.)

I was shocked to see this headline because it brought back many memories of gheraos in West Bengal. I remember the days in Durgapur when strikes and gheraos were commonplace and there used to a lot of trade union violence. I speak of the period between 1968-1972.

Decades ago, in many parts of the country, especially in West Bengal where it originated, the gherao was used by trade unions and other striking outfits as an offensive weapon. To gherao meant to surround a person or persons in a room and keep them in a form of captivity. On the face of it it was supposed to be peaceful protest but confining people to their room, not allowing them to have food, water, their medicines or use the toilet was harassment of the highest order. I have heard of cases where executives almost died due to the stress and strain of being so ghearaoed.

As a student of Industrial Relations at XLRI Jamshedpur, I remember we had studied famous judgements like the ones delivered in the Calcutta High Court in Jay Engineering Case reported in AIR 1968 CAL.

Coming back to the present situation, to instigate the public at large to gherao the police was asking for trouble. I thought of so many things that could go wrong if the agitated public began to gherao the authorities- in this case- the paramilitary police.

My fears were not unfounded. Today’s Indian Express reports that four people were killed in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district in the state of West Bengal. It is reported that a mob of locals attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) party and tried to snatch their weapons. This led to the police opening fire resulting in four deaths. What a shocking state of affairs!

I realize that politics in West Bengal has always been characterized by violence but I do hope things don’t go totally out of hand. There is no place for such violence in a democracy like ours. The sad part is that the ordinary policeman or the ordinary citizen, in this case, get hurt and at times die. Nothing ever happens to the leaders who instigate violence!

“Always A Foreigner” by Ashwini Devare

The Indian Foreign Service has always been considered a highly prestigious organisation, especially when I was growing up in the 1950s and the 1960s. It was said that this branch of the All India Civil Services was the first choice for successful candidates. It was also believed that the children of IFS officers lived a most luxurious life, traveling all over the world.

Always A Foreigner: A Memoir ” by Ashwini Devare puts at rest the myth about children of IFS officers. She writes of how actually the frequent transfers came in the way of a steady education. While the exposure to different countries of the world brought many benefits in its wake, it could also result in children getting disoriented through having to unlearn and relearn all the time in a new environment. In her own case, she had lived in six different countries by the time she was fifteen so, as you can imagine, she is best qualified to write about these experiences.

Ms Devare’s memoirs are delightful! They capture how she and her family coped in different lands where her father represented India in various capacities, over the decades from the 1960s till the start of the 21st century. What makes the book more interesting is her interspersing her personal memories with major events that took place at that time. She describes, amongst other incidents, how the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent when they were in Moscow; how the Chogyal and the Gyalmo- their Royal Highnesses The King and Queen of Sikkim – fled Gangtok when they were there; and when they were in New Delhi how horrible events traumatized the city following the assassination of Prime Minster Indira Gandhi.

In addition, we are treated to rich slices of her family life. She has captured her characters so well that we feel we have met them in person. Her father, deeply committed to his country and his responsibilities; her mother, who first went abroad as a young bride barely days after her marriage ; and her sister who grew up with her, and how they shared many experiences while they were quite different from each other by way of personalities.

In the course of the book, Ms Devare captures the highpoints of her career as a broadcast journalist, an on-air reporter and producer, and later as a writer. She studied and worked in different countries and experienced many challenges in each of them.

I enjoyed the elegant yet simple writing style which is a characteristic of this book. I also appreciated the high degree of candor and honesty displayed by the author. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in travel and history. Indeed, I would recommend this to anyone looking to enjoy some good writing !

“Netaji: Living Dangerously”: by Kingshuk Nag

On his birth anniversary on January 23, I had paid tribute to one of my biggest heroes in Indian history, Netaji Subha Chandra Bose. In that post, I had briefly mentioned the author, Kingshuk Nag. Today, I write my impressions about his book , “Netaji, Living Dangerously”.

I admired the way Nag has crafted this book. He has touched upon the key points of Netaji’s interesting and illustrious career in a 208 page book without sacrificing the essence of his deeds. Since the book was published as recently as 2016, he has been made use of the latest information available on the subject. Earlier authors on Netaji could not do so as all the archives about Netaji were classified. They were not made available to the public by successive Governments in India.

One may wonder why Governments took this approach given Netaji’s reputation and name all over India. His fame, ironically, was the reason why Congress Governments- starting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet- made it their mission to downplay Netaji. They supported the story that he had died in an air crash in modern day Taiwan in 1945.

Nehru did not want Netaji to emerge in India post Independence as by then he was the tallest leader in the country. He knew that Netaji could pose a threat to his popularity and political fortunes, hence the deliberate downplaying of anything abut Netaji. Indeed, we know now from archives made public, that Netaji’s family was under surveillance for decades after Independence. Nehru and his successors wanted to know if Netaji was planning to return to India. This started the surveillance activity.

Nag also writes about the mysterious Gumnami Baba who first came to Uttar Pradesh in the mid-1950s. He was also called Bhagwanji or Gumnami Baba as he had no name! Many believed that based on anecdotal and other evidence found over the decades that he was indeed Netaji. He died in 1985 with his secrets intact. What was the true story of Gumnami Baba remains in the realm of speculation.

The reader is explained the political developments that took place towards the end of the Second World War. You will remember that Netaji had allied himself strongly with the Japanese who surrendered in 1945 bringing the Second World War to an end. The British Empire, weary after the long war was on it’s last legs. Netaji had influenced an armed struggle for the first time in British India. The mutiny by Indians in the Royal Indian Navy was a major event which made the British decide to leave India once and for all. On the other hand, the United States and Soviet Russia had become the most powerful countries in the world.

Nag suggests that post 1945, Netaji was a prisoner in the Russian labour camps. The Russians under Stalin had no interest in him, Japan was seeking a new beginning, Nazi Germany had been vanquished, and India had become an independent nation under Nehru and the Congress. Where would Netaji fit in – in this new world? Perhaps his experiences in Russia convinced him to live incognito in the future? Did he therefore emerge as Gumnami Baba to live out the rest of his dues in relative anonymity?

I have said enough about the book. You should read it to come to your own conclusions. I can assure you it makes for highly interesting reading, especially if, like me, you are fan of Netaji and a student of Indian history and politics.

Storytelling Podcasts

Guess what? I have got hooked to listening to podcasts. Sure, I had heard of podcasts even a decade ago but at that time my focus was on writing. So I used to read a lot and write as much as I could but I didn’t really listen to podcasts. It was only recently that my attention was drawn to podcasts by none other than WordPress which I have been using for my blogs for years together.

I saw that blog posts in WordPress could be converted without too much effort to very basic podcasts! I found this quite interesting and made one myself. A Book Review of ” The Girl Who Lived” by Christopher Greyson using Anchor. This excited me in a big way.

Could I convert some of my short stories to podcasts? I had to find out ! So I explored the world of short stories and podcasts. It was thrilling to find there are many websites devoted to podcasts of short stories. For example, I discovered this website from Bustle called 10 Storytelling Podcasts You Need To Listen To If You Love Short Stories!! Bustle is part of Bustle Digital Media, said to be the fastest growing publisher in modern media with 84 million readers!

To start with I explored The Moth and loved the very first story I heard. It was by Stacy Bader Curry in the podcast In Service Of in Moth Radio Hour.

I also enjoyed The Short Story Masterclass by The Aerogramme Writers Studio. In this, leading writers share their experience and thoughts on writing short stories in a podcast series produced by Thresholds, an online international short story forum based in the University of Chichester in collaboration with Small Wonder Short Story Festival.

There is so much there to learn and enjoy. If you have time – while on a flight, on a road trip, while waiting for someone, or just being free to do what you like- do dip into a short story using the podcast mode. There are so many talented people out there who have the ability to tell a story so well that you will ask for more.

Well Done, India! From Donee To Donor

Congratulations to our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji and his team, our scientists and researchers, our entrepreneurs, our doctors and paramedical staff, and thousands of other involved in logistics for this humanitarian work. At a time when the whole world is still reeling with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic India has sent 56,00,000 COVID-19 vaccines as gifts to many foreign countries. Another 100,00,000 were sent as commercial supply. This move has filled our hearts with pride as these vaccines are indeed precious.

Let’s put things in perspective about the ravaging Coronavirus Pandemic. 219 countries in the world are still coming to terms with this pandemic. They have all suffered in varying degree. As of date over 120 million people have been affected by this all over the world. While over 95 million have recovered, please spare a thought for the 2.6 million who lost their lives. I am sure you too would have lost friends and relatives as I have.

Most people of my generation living in post- Independence India – from the 1950s to the 70’s were pretty much used to our country – and us her people- being donees rather than donors!! At a national level, from time to time, we were dependent on the generosity of other countries to help us out of crisis. Just after Partition in 1947, we saw the rapid spread of malaria which affected some 75 million people resulting in 800,000 deaths. The Canadian Red Cross rushed 92 cases of precious penicillin to India. Today, nearly 75 years later, the Indian Government has agreed to send 500,000 doses of COVID 19 vaccine to Canada based on that country’s request.

India has become the powerhouse of vaccine manufacture. As much as a whopping 60 % of the world’s vaccines are manufactured in India. As of now, two vaccines have been approved by the Government of India for emergency use in the country. The first was Covishield, developed by Oxford- AstaZeneca in the UK, manufactured by the Pune based Serum Institute of India. They say they can make 60-70 million doses a month. The second vaccine has been indigenously developed in india and is called Covaxin. This is manufactured by Bharat Biotech of Hyderabad which plans to make 200 million doses per annum. Some weeks ago our External Affairs Minister Dr S Jayashankar said India had supplied vaccines to 15 countries and at least another 25 were in the queue.

It is indeed creditable that India is offering the vaccines to other countries when we ourselves have a huge challenge at hand. To vaccinate the second largest population in the world! India has started what is probably the biggest and most complex vaccination program undertaken anywhere in the world. The Prime Minister had said that our goal was to vaccinate 300 million people by the end of July 2021. In itself a large number but still a little less than one third of our total population!!

In the first phase, front line medical workers were vaccinated. In the second phase, the aim is to vaccinate elders (those above 60 years of age) as well as those who are 45 and above but have one or the other of an identified list of co-morbidities. As of date, an estimated 28 million have been vaccinated in India. We are vaccinating about 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 people per day as of now.

It feels good to see how we have grown as a nation, to the extent that we are considered an important part of the global fight against the COVID 19 pandemic. Even as I key in this post, I read that the United States have agreed to fund the production of 1 billion vaccines by the end of 2022 by an Indian Pharma firm- Biological E.

I would like to finish where I started. I am sure my parents – and some of us much later for that matter – would never have imagined a day would come when India would become in the world of medicine- a donor rather than a donee! Jai Hind!!

“The Girl Who Lived” by Christopher Greyson

I was reading a thriller after quite some time. This one was, ” The Girl Who Lived ” by Christopher Greyson. I found it quite interesting though at times there was a lot of repetition. The author hammered home points building the the character of Faith Winters in the story of four murders that took place years ago in a small town in America. She was the survivor- and of course- “the girl who lived”.

Faith’s traumatic experiences are chronicled in great detail. As one reads more of the story, the reader develops a soft corner for her as she is very much the underdog. She has spent time in a mental asylum, has problems of drugs and alcohol. As a consequence her mind is pretty messed up. Yet one part of her mind ceaselessly tries to assemble the bits of the puzzle that is driving her crazy: a huge need to find out what actually happened that day years ago when her sister, her father and two others were killed in mysterious circumstances in a cottage in the woods.

She returns to that town when she is discharged from the mental asylum, determined to find a closure on what has been bugging her for years. She has no one she can trust. Her dead sister’s boyfriend is in the local Police force. He tries to help Faith but she is not sure how much she can confide in him. Her relationship with her mother continue to be strained. Her mother has written a best selling book about the murders. This angers Faith who believes the has cashed in on a family tragedy.

In the course of the story, Faith is driven to desperation, enough to make her contemplate ending her life. However, she stumbles on from one clue to another. It then dawns on her that while she is looking for the killers, someone is hunting her down! She must find the killers before they kill her to silence her forever.

The book leaves you with an interesting climax! Greyson’s thriller is well worth the time and money you spend reading it.