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Abandoned 40 years ago, US techie reunites with family in India

I read an amazing story today in the Times of India about an Assamese NRI who was abandoned as a child in India, and lived to tell an incredible success story.

In the summer of ’69, a four-year-old boy inGuwahati was asked by his mother one day to go into the kitchen and eat an orange she had left for him there. By the time he was done, his mother had bolted out of the house and abandoned him. She never returned. The boy and his eight-year-old sister had barely coped with the loss when their father, who was then posted in the Assam capital with the 4thAssamPolice Battalion, sent them to a relative in Kathmandu. They confused their way and found themselves instead on the streets of Nepal, alone and inching towards certain death.

That little, lost boy, Kisan Upadhaya, is today a top notch IT specialist who provides tech support to four institutes within Duke University, North Carolina — Social Science Research Institute, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), DIBS Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. But in all these years, as he scripted a phenomenal success story for himself, there was always something that ate him up from inside – the thoughts of his family and the sister who tried hard to feed and protect him. He had to find them.

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India to become the 4th largest military power by the end of this decade: The Economist

A pretty interesting article. Some insights for me from the article
1. Russia is still India’s largest supplier of arms, even after all the realignment in the global power structure.It accounts for more than half of India’s imports
2. Our ministry of external affairs, the ministry responsible for managing our global relationships and perception, is “puny. Singapore, with a population of 5m, has a foreign service about the same size as India’s.”

UNLIKE many other Asian countries—and in stark contrast to neighbouring Pakistan—India has never been run by its generals. The upper ranks of the powerful civil service of the colonial Raj were largely Hindu, while Muslims were disproportionately represented in the army. On gaining independence the Indian political elite, which had a strong pacifist bent, was determined to keep the generals in their place. In this it has happily succeeded.

But there have been costs. One is that India exhibits a striking lack of what might be called a strategic culture. It has fought a number of limited wars—one with China, which it lost, and several with Pakistan, which it mostly won, if not always convincingly—and it faces a range of threats, including jihadist terrorism and a persistent Maoist insurgency. Yet its political class shows little sign of knowing or caring how the country’s military clout should be deployed.

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21574458-india-poised-become-one-four-largest-military-powers-world-end?

The biggest arms buyers

The Ghastly Delhi Rape and Anna Hazare

In the past two years that I have been back in India, I have seen two spontaneous eruptions of large scale fury from the public against the deplorable state of certain affairs in India. One was Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption. The other is the current outpouring of anguish by hordes of people daily in the centre of Delhi to protest the ghastly rape in the heart of Delhi, and its corollary,  the poor protection of women on Indian streets.

These two uprisings have a few things in common. They depict a society simmering with anger, a society fed up, with no recourse left but to demonstrate. Most importantly, they depict a society where the old cliche  “justice delayed is justice denied” is no longer a cliche. Laws and rules have become mostly impotent, and the criminal minded are growing more and more brazen in benefiting themselves.

Anna Hazare’s fasts, boosted by Kejriwal’s immaculate stage management, mobilized an incredible number of Indians across the country. A nation rose, fed up of being held hostage to venal officials and politicians in every rung of every possible government or quasi-government institution. Anna Hazare and Kejriwal demanded the creation of an extra-constitutional body that would punish the corrupt. Those demanding bribes, and those who bribed, would both be held accountable.

For a moment, it looked like a new beginning would come to pass. But it was only for a moment. In hindsight, many reasons have been given for the fizzling out of his euphoric campaign. His occasionally bizarre high-handed comments, the autocratic nature of some of the leaders of the movement, disunity among the key stakeholders, and seemingly inflexible demands. All of these flaws may be accurate, but one flaw that pricked the balloon of success was the “my way or the highway” demand for an extra-constitutional body to dispense justice on the corrupt. Who regulates and monitors the justice dispensing body? Would it be another body? Who monitors that monitoring body? In programming jargon, that would be called an “infinite recursive loop”. The “extra-constitutional body” gave the democratic government the ammunition it needed to ward off the enemy before the citadel fell.

If one were to dissect and simplify Anna Hazare’s campaign into a problem statement, it would read “The justice system is no longer working to punish the corrupt within an acceptable time frame.” There are many solutions besides an extra-constitutional body. A constitutionally acceptable solution would be to reform the justice system, with some tactical fixes that provide immediate relief while the longer term reforms take hold. Had Kejriwal and Hazare pushed for justice reform, it might have been a more palatable solution for the government to implement. The movement could have then used its popularity with the people to keep the pressure on the government to reform.

Similiarly, the gang-rape case in Delhi has thinkers and activists proposing various solutions. Some suggest new laws, others suggest stricter punishment such as castration, and some suggest fast track courts or at least a different court process for rape cases. While there is merit in our updating rape laws, police procedures, and security, we must also implement the third suggestion i.e  faster courts and quicker dispensation of justice. Quicker justice is now an absolute necessity. Passing any new rape laws is useless if the enforcement of the law is ineffective.

There are a combination of issues, societal and institutional, that are at the core of why such a crime was committed and how it went undetected. But one of the problem statements in the Delhi gang-rape case is the same as the Anna Hazare movement “The justice system is no longer working to punish rapists within an acceptable time frame.” Hence, the criminal minded feel emboldened to act according to their animal nature, safe in the knowledge that by the time any sentence is served, they have many years to continue living out their lives as normal. As per a recent One India News article, there are 2  sitting MPs and 6 MLAs with cases of crime against women pending against them.

The 3 Pillars of Democracy

Pillars of Parliamentary Democracy

In our constitution, as it is in any democracy, there are three pillars. The Legislative pillar frames the laws, the Executive carries them out, and the Judiciary makes sure that the laws are followed. But in our democracy, one of our pillars has been weakened by years of neglect. Hence we hobble when we could be running. We think we are running, with China just ahead of us. In reality we are hobbling. What is amazing that despite our impediment, we have been second only to China in growth. Imagine the possibilities if we could run, unschackled by the fetters we have cast upon ourselves..

Many would say that the assertions made so far are simply not true. India has an active judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. That is correct, but it’s time to look at the situation  another way. Why does the Supreme Court need to intervene into matters that are well beneath their purview? The Supreme Court Justices have far more pressing national matters than passing judgements on demolition of illegal structures in Delhi, or upbraiding the CBI, or getting involved in the Jessica Lal case. It’s like asking the CEO of ITC to review the performance of a mid-level employee and order the appropriate action. Laws need to be enforced at the level of court they belong, and in a reasonable timeframe.

Imagine for a moment what a society in India could be like if rules were followed, laws were upheld, and those who broke rules and laws were held accountable. Unruly traffic would significantly decrease. Who would want to pay a hefty fine, or definitely go to jail, for breaking a red light or driving rashly? The culture of bribery would nearly end. Which police constable or low level government official would take the risk of losing their job and livelihood for the sake of a quick buck, if they were to know that they would definitely be prosecuted within 6 months? The culture of lawlessness that has permeated into the day-to-day life of India would eventually be wiped out. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. Today, bribing a traffic cop in the US is unthinkable. Why is that so? Because although it began with an efficient court system that made bribing just not worth the risk,  the concept is now so firmly embedded into popular thinking that the idea of bribing  is almost non-existent. The first thing that one thinks of when pulled over by a traffic cop is how to defend one’s action that no rule was broken. If it does not work, then one may try to sweet talk the cop. The final step may be to use emotional appeal, through tears or a creative sob story. Nowhere in that spectrum does the idea of bribing the cop even arise. Nor does the cop ask for one, because he/she knows that if the victim complains, there will be definite severe repercussions.

Justice - Some Facts and Figures

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spoken many times of quelling urban migration, of building an economy where people like “Nirbhaya” should not have to leave their villages and migrate to cities just to earn a living. But consider this: If a poor villager is to stay back in his village, he will need some land to live on, and perhaps some more land to farm. However, India is currently in a situation where the protection of property rights is virtually non-existent. A rich or powerful person can merely occupy a poor man’s land, be it his home or his farm, and there is no guarantee that the poor man will get his land back in his lifetime. Why then should a poor man take the risk of staying back in his village, when his basic rights, as enshrined in the constitution, are not protected adequately by the courts? In the urban cities, tenants refuse to vacate. If the property owner is forced to file a case against the tenants, it could take 20 or 30 years for the courts to deliver judgement. As a result, tenants have become thieves, protected by the shadow of a beleaguered civil court system.

So what can one do? What is the solution? Commissions on judicial reform have been created multiple times by past governments. Some recommendations have been implemented, many remain. Essentially, the solutions boil down to

Judges per Million

  • Fix the ratio of judges:population. The ratio (number of judges per million people) in the US is 130, in Canada it is over 75, in the UK it is over 50. In India, the sanctioned number is under 15 at the moment. The real number is even further worsened by the fact that 25% of the sanctioned judges seats is vacant. The Supreme Court even issued a directive to the Union Ministry of Law in 2002 that the subordinate judiciary be increased from 10.5 per million people to 50 per million people within a  period of 5 years. Have more diversity amongst the judges, definitely more women.
  • Simplify the judgement recording and delivery process. Remove all the archaic language and legalese requirements so that judges can draft a judgement in a day or two, if required. There is no need for lengthy judgements running into hundreds of pages.
  • Computerize the courts. I am a regular visitor to the lower courts in Kolkata due to various cases of mine pending now for as long as 10 years.  When I step into the courtrooms of the judges court, it feels like I have stepped into a bad period drama, and not even Merchant-Ivory can scrub it up to acceptable norms. The court clerk writes in longhand in some long winded journal. All dates and next steps can be changed with a few bribes in the right places. Anyone can get all the court related information on any case with a bribe, there is no concept of privacy or security. The courts are crying out for a technology upgrade. Mr. Nilekani, are you listening?
  • Provide more funding and more financial autonomy to the judiciary. Less than 0.1% of GNP (there was a recent article in TOI which claimed that the spend is now 0.01% of GNP) is spent on funding the judiciary. The judiciary needs more money for many reasons. There was a time when it was a matter of prestige to be a judge in India. They were well paid, got benefits, and were highly respected. Today, only some of the benefits remain. We need to incentivize our people to become judges again. The judiciary needs money if it has to expand the number of judges, provide new courts, upgrade the infrastructure (including technology).
  • Enforce new rules that prevent litigants from delaying cases. Stay orders, incorrect address strategies, changing of plaints, number of appeals – all of these need to be limited in some form or the other.
  • Implement fast track courts for certain categories of issues where there will be immediate benefit. This is a tactical solution until the long term reforms start to bear fruit. Categories such as Rape cases, Property protection cases, traffic courts are good candidates to start with.

India has come a long way with the financial reforms implemented in the 90s. There is a growing belief that India will regain its former glory in this century. The reality, however, is that no democracy can hope to survive in the long run if the third pillar, the judiciary, is not effective. For India to truly take its place as one of the great countries in the world, it has to foster a culture of law-abiding citizenry. Among the many things it needs to sort out, the court system is one of the most crucial. As long as we do not bring our focus to reforming the delivery of justice, we can only hang our heads in shame that we were not able to redeem the memory of “Nirbhaya“, and pray for a miracle that will prevent many more “Nirbhayas” in the future.

There are many concerned individuals, or groups, that are advocating reforms. Here are links to a few.

  1. Forum for Fast Justice: A forum in Mumbai created to raise awareness of the issues with the judiciary and to push for judicial reform. http://fastjustice.org/index.html
  2. A recent op-ed in Times of India on the need for Judicial reform post the tragedy of “Amaanat”.
  3. Justice Barred: A piece written in Tribune India on Mar 15th 2012.
  4. Blind to what, Your Honour?: An article in Times of India by Addl Solicitor General of India, Indira Jaising, on the kind of reforms, judicial and otherwise required to prevent such rape crimes from happening in the future.
  5. Need for a smarter & faster judicial process: A fellow blogger’s view on the state of the judicial system in India.
  6. Some statistics on the justice system in India.

Rabindranath Tagore – Discoveries, memories, and a thanksgiving

May 7, 2012 was a quiet day for most people, but it also happened to be the 150thbirth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. While Tagore’s prolific output borders on the incredible, what is even more astonishing is the high level of quality that he sustained across his body of work. His songs used folk and ragas extensively, his writings touched on every possible human emotion, his novels fueled award winning movies, his plays were staged worldwide, and a translation of just one of his volumes of poetry won him a Nobel prize.

Tagore’s extraordinary creative output

I discovered – rediscovered would be more appropriate – Tagore’s music and poetry in my last years of college in the US. A Bangladeshi friend had an extensive collection of Tagore on cassette. My reading of Tagore’s poetry, and his essays on living, was enhanced by listening to my friend’s tapes. Songs that I could not stand in my school days suddenly took on new meaning. Reading a poem in Gitanjali, and then hearing it in song, was a brain-shifting experience. The tune was rarely what I expected, and yet it made the poem spring to life, evoking feelings and emotions that the written word could not.

On occasions – it happened more than once – I would hear a song and love it. Both the tune and the words. When I would mention it to my father on our weekly call, he would laugh and tell me that the song was one of my favourites when I was 3 or 4 years old. I used to repeatedly ask him to play it for me, till he got tired of the song himself. Sometimes I would try and play the record (only vinyl back then, cassettes were rare in India) myself and either scratch or damage the record. Two such songs were

Aamra chonchol, aamra odbhut, aamra nutawn juboneri doot
Hum hain chanchal, hum hain adbhut, hum hain nutan yuva ke doot.
We are playful, we are extraordinary, we are messengers of youth.

Aaji shubho din-e, pitaro bhobon-e, amrito shodoun-e chalo jai
Chaulo chaulo chaulo bhai.
Aaj shubh din par, pitra bhavan mein, amrit sadan mein chalo jaayein,
Chalo chalo chalo bhai.
On this auspicious day, let us go to where our ancestors dwell, to that house of nectar.
Let us go, let us go, let us go, O brothers.

Note to Parents: the music you play in the house sticks with your children, even if they don’t consciously remember the song in later years. I have learnt that lesson. Certain Rabindrasangeet songs my grandmother played regularly that I abhorred, I love them now.

In school (i.e. junior and high school), we had to sing a song every day at assembly. The songs were secularly chosen across various saints, poets and religions. Songs of Iqbal, Kabir, Tagore and so on. Two of the three most popular assembly songs were Tagore songs. Quite an irony, since my school had a lot of North Indians who touted a hate of Bengalis, but happily sang the Bengali songs at assembly. One of the songs was

“Ananda Loke, Mangala Loke, Viraajo Satya Sundara”
“Joy to all, Harmony to all, May Truth and Beauty Triumph”.

Several years later, well after college, I was asked to sing the same song at a Bengali friend’s wedding. My friend’s mother wanted to hear me once before unleashing me on stage. When I first began to sing it to her the way we sang it in school, she was aghast. She and her sister then sang it back to me (with such good voices that they ought to have sung the song at the wedding), and I realized that the music teacher in school had made some minor modifications in the rendition of the song to suit child voices. The original tune I heard from my friend’s mother was much more beautiful. With just a few changes, the song had acquired such depth and melody, that I was suddenly touched by the sheer beauty of the words. That is the power of a Tagore composition. Simple, yet powerful.

Although I ventured into Tagore territory on my own in the US, my father played a large role in making me understand and appreciate Tagore. One day, as we were talking about the efficacy of prayer, he began to quote a Tagore song.  He explained to me each and every line of the song, and gradually unraveled the immense beauty of the language, the choice of words, the tune, and the devotional content.

Dhaai jano mor shokol bhalobasha probhu tomaar paane, tomaar paane, tomaar paane
Jai jano mor shokol gombhir aasha probhu tomaar kaane, tomaar kaane, tomaar kaane.

May all my love flow towards you my Lord, to You, to You
May all my deepest longings reach your ears, my Lord, to You, to You.

On another occasion, on one of my trips home from college, we were discussing the pursuit of material things. He then told me a story written by Tagore which I can never forget.

A very rich man suddenly lost all his wealth. He went from pillar to post trying to find a way to restore his earlier glory. He traveled all over the country, visited various temples, and met many traders, but to no avail.
After a long time, on one such occasion, he came across a sadhu. The sadhu was meditating, and he patiently waited till the sadhu was done. He then explained his tragic story to the sadhu and asked for help.

The sadhu said, “That’s no problem. If you go down this path, you will come to a beach. There will be some ruins there. If you dig in this specific spot in the ruins, you will find a stone. With that stone, whatever you wish will turn to gold.”

The man, somewhat skeptical, went down the path. He found the beach. He found the ruins. He dug at the specific spot mentioned by the sadhu. He found the stone. He tested the stone. He took a brick in his hand. He wished. It turned into gold. He took some sand and wished. It became gold.

He could not believe his luck. He began to fantasize about what how his life would change. He imagined the glorious mansions, clothes, horses and chariots that he would possess again. He thought about the people he would take revenge on, and the people he would help.

And then he stopped. He put back the stone. He made his way back to the sadhu.

The sadhu saw him return empty-handed and was surprised.

“What happened? Did you not find the stone?”

The man responded, “I did, but I want what you have that you did not take that stone.”

I read the story out at my father’s memorial service when he passed away.

When I moved to London from New York, I joined Smt. Shyamoli Basu’s Rabindra Sangeet singing group, quite by chance. During that time, I came to understand the extensive use of raagas and taals by Tagore in his songs. I also discovered the various ways he used folk music such as Baul and Bhatiyaali, as well as folk instruments such as the Khol. Some of his more complex songs were explained to me by my teacher and others in the group. It was an enriching experience to learn the techniques of a great master while simultaneously enjoying his music and poetry. Once at Shyamali Di’s place, she sang a song

Jibane joto puja holona shara,
Jaani-he jaani tao hoyni hara

Jeevan mein jitna bhi puja hua nahi saara,
Janta hoon He tabhi bhi hua nahin haara

The prayers that have remained incomplete in this life,
I know O Lord that yet they are not forgotten.

Recently, I was given a book on Tagore’s music called  Rabindranath Tagore The Singer and his Song by Reba Som. It’s a terrific book, delving into how Tagore made music, and how his music and his life were deeply interconnected till his end. Tagore’s genius is made evident in the book as the author uncovers stories and methods behind many of his songs, some famous, with context and interesting trivia. Many myths and criticisms of Tagore are explored. Some are dispelled and some are validated. I am greatly thankful for such a gift, and more so to Mrs. Reba Som for having taken the trouble to write such a fascinating book.

Another book that I must mention is a book I happened to pick up at a railway station in India a few years ago, most likely the Howrah Station. The book is called Psalms of Solitude Gitanjali, an edition for non-Bengali readers published by Binode Behari Pal of Mind India Publications. The book has every poem in its original Bengali, the poem in hindi, the english meaning of every word in the poem, and then Tagore’s english translation. All of these are in English script. Essentially, it allows the reader to reconstruct the poem in English directly from the Bengali or hindi version. By doing this, the reader can grasp some of the finer nuances of the language, or the meter, or the particular rhyme that Tagore used in the poems.

Two aspects of Tagore’s life stand out for me.
1. He was home schooled because he could not take the stifling atmosphere of a classroom. His incredible creativity, his fearless experimentation, came from his unique education. He later experimented with the idea in Shantiniketan.
2. He went through a series of what would normally be called life-crippling events in his forties, but came out stronger for it.

I will write more on these aspects in another post later.

Hybrid cars in India

The Times of India on Jan 15th had a special report on India’s new-found love affair with the car and the resulting potential devastation on cities already crippled by a shortage of road space and parking, cratered by potholes, and snarled by mismanaged traffic. Although not explicitly mentioned in the TOI, the general anarchy on roads caused by a complete disdain of drivers towards driving rules and etiquette, the rising air pollution caused by a lack of enforcement of emission controls, and the hefty cost of petrol (nearly $6 or 4 Euro per gallon) are also severe issues facing Indian citizens as the the number of cars surge in the country. For good measure, one can also add the possible oil addiction, akin to the US, that India will face with the unchecked growth of cars in the country.

There is a solution for each of these problems. Let’s start with air pollution, the cost of petrol and the resultant inflation, and oil dependency.

Urban India is tailor made for electric cars, or at the very least, hybrids. Think about it for a moment. A drive of 15 kilometres in Mumbai takes between 25 minutes to over an hour, depending on traffic and time of day. It’s not very different in any of the urban metros in India. Not even Delhi, with its relatively superior infrastructure. Cars rarely go over 60 kmph, 80 kmph (55 mph) is the F1 speed of urban India. When traffic does move, vehicles are constantly in a stop-and-go mode. The need for strong acceleration is low, and the need to drive sustained distances at high speed is low. Rarely does a commuter drive more than 40 kms (25 miles) to get to work, or for errands.

So why not the Indian government push for hybrid cars or electric cars with subsidies? The government subsidizes rice, grain, power, agriculture, even laptops. Next step: subsidize green eco-friendly cars. We have seen the improvements in air quality from moving to CNG. Imagine the additional improvement if we can shift our means of transport to electric or hybrid powered vehicles.

The Honda Civic hybrid was far more expensive than the regular Honda Civic when it was launched in India. It put paid to the experiment with hybrid cars. Yet, sales of hybrid vehicles have mostly increased in the developed world. Toyota sold more than a million hybrid vehicles in Japan in 2010. In the US, sales of hybrids have gone up in since they first came out. However, the US government subsidizes the cost of petrol, and therefore hybrid car sales fluctuate based on the fluctuations of petrol prices and the state of the economy. Such an unpredictable situation hasn’t deterred car manufacturers from launching more and more hybrids in the US. Virtually every manufacturer has a hybrid model available in the US, including premium brands such as BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. The writing is on the wall. The day of the gas guzzler is now falling into night.

What has helped is that virtually every developed country, and quite a few countries with emerging economies, provide either tax incentives or rebates with the purchase of electric or hybrid cars. The USA provides up to $7500 as tax credit depending on the state one resides in and the battery size of the car. Canada provides up to $8000 as a rebate, the UK government will cover 25% of the cost of the car up to $8000.

If the Indian government is serious about air quality, and the country’s dependence of oil, then it should provide incentives to both auto manufacturers and consumers to increase the number of hybrids and electric vehicles on the roads.

Taking the argument further, the Nano should have been built as an electric car, or at least a hybrid, and subsidized by the government. The cost incentives to the consumer would have been far higher. An electric Nano might actually have sparked the auto revolution that the Tatas so desired.Even now, as the Bajaj family enters the world of four wheeler mini cars with the RE60, it should consider electric, or at least hybrid technology, as the means to power the vehicle. The RE60 will give 35 kms/litre, but an electric version would provide even more fuel economy at very little cost to air pollution.

In the meanwhile, here’s what China is doing to push the use of hybrids and electric cars. It is time for India to seriously consider similiar strategies as the rest of the world in moving to an oil-free and pollution free automobile experience.

I will discuss solutions to some of the other problems, such as traffic anarchy, in a separate blog post.

In India, every day is spontaneous day part II – Ordering wedding cards

An uncle very kindly offered to help me get my wedding cards made in Mumbai. He knew a printer for a very long time and the gentleman printed wedding cards as well. All that would be required, as my uncle put it, would be to go over a few designs with the printer, choose one, and he would have it ready in a jiffy. Since the printer was next to his office, it should be a quick chore.

Sounded great to me. I figured that if I went early enough to my uncle in downtown Mumbai, I could wrap up early and make it back to my office in the suburbs of Mumbai well before lunch.

I got to my uncle’s office early and we walked out to find his printer associate. As we walked the by-lanes of the Fort area, we could not figure out which building he was in. Neither his name, nor mailbox, was in any of the buildings that my uncle remembered him to be in.I wasn’t even sure that any of the buildings housed actual people anymore. However, the cigarette and beedi seller on the corner pointed out the building that he worked in and we headed in, like children with torches gingerly entering a dark cave.

We came up to an open courtyard after climbing two floors. There were some ramshackle offices all around. I turned to look behind, and my uncle identified his office. We walked in. An elderly lady, who seemed to be the assistant, greeted us. We walked on into the main office and sat opposite a very elderly man. He was hunched over in his chair. He seemed asleep. I was about to go back to the elderly lady (it dawned on me that she might be his wife) to find out if he was alive, and if he was alive, was he the printer, and if he was both, could she perhaps wake him up?

Just then he stirred, and began to speak to my uncle. As they exchanged pleasantries, the printer gentleman made a comment that was heart rending. My uncle said
“My nephew here wants to print wedding cards. You print all our material. So I thought you would be the best person for him”

He replied wearily “Thank you. You are one of the only people who still come to me for printing”. It was said with a quiet tired sigh that would have melted Saddam Hussein’s heart. Inwardly, I hoped he would stay alive and awake through our conversation.

He went on to say that he no longer carried wedding card designs. I would have to go to a specific street in South Mumbai near the Metro cinema, choose a design, bring it back to him, and then he would print it. It was also the only street in Mumbai where one could get wedding card designs. He suggested a specific shop where he knew the proprietors and that I should get my design from there and bring it back to him.

So off I went to the street of wedding cards. I got lost, since directions in India generally don’t go beyond “Over there” or “It is in the general direction of my outstretched arm” or the most famous “Just ahead”. Eventually, I did find the place. The street was nothing but wedding card shops, with an occasional dairy shop or a sweetmeats shop thrown in. The shop I was referred to was at the very end of the street, naturally, and after navigating people, cows, goats, bicycles, and wheelbarrows, I made it to the shop.

The shop owner did not know the printer. He suggested that it would be more cost effective for me to buy a pre-designed card rather than custom design a card with him. I then shopped at the other stores, but the store owners refused to provide samples without a deposit that would have bailed out AIG. As I stood outside surveying the cards, a cow came alongside and began to survey the cards along with me, swishing its tail. It was unclear if the cow fancied the cards or if it found my shoes the perfect colour to unload some dung.

At that moment,I wondered, and only for a moment since I did not wish to get dunged on, how the day had eloped away from my plans and timelines.

It was already noon. Traffic would now be a force to reckon with. It would take me longer to get to the office, some 25 kms away from where I was, than it would take to fly to Kolkata from Mumbai.

So, without a wedding card design, without an order to the printer, I pushed headlong through the traffic back to my office, marveling at the way time and space warps in the wefts of India.