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The loss of around 100 lives on January 14 in a stampede that followed a freak vehicle accident on a narrow path to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in Kerala is bound to reopen the debate about better policing and crowd management.

This shrine is among the top five rich temples in India. But considering the number of days, about 100, in a year it’s open to devotees, one can say it’s the richest. And, that alone will be the trigger for accusations that the temple management, Travancore Devaswom Board, and the Kerala government haven’t been serious about ensuring the safety of pilgrims.

In many ways, this temple is unlike many others, especially the customs and the preparatory penance the devotee has to undertake prior to the pilgrimage. The shrine is situated on a hill, Sabarimala, in a thickly forested area of Western Ghats. The main pilgrimage season is from mid-November to mid-January, with the most divine moment falling on Makara Sankranti, January 14. The temple is also open on the first few days of every Malayalam month (roughly the middle of the Gregorian calendar month).

The path to the peak where the temple is situated is supposed to be laden with thorns and pebbles to make the climb of the devotee as arduous as possible. In fact, in olden days, most of the pilgrims trekked through forests, fearing wild animals. Because of this belief, all attempts at better infrastructure (which obviously means making the climb easier and more comfortable) have been met with criticism that it goes against the basic tenets of the temple. “Only the devout who are willing to undertake the pain, need visit the temple. This is not a tourist resort,” I remember the angry comment of a temple management official.

Facilities have improved

In spite of such criticisms, infrastructure and comforts both on the way to the temple and atop, on the temple premises, have improved considerably. Having gone there many times, I would say that pilgrimage some 20 years back was much harder than it is now. If there aren’t any long queues, it takes, on an average, about three to five hours to climb from the base at Pampa to the hilltop temple.

Some sections of the path are now cemented. On route, there are now places to rest and small eateries that serve from soft-drinks and glucose to snacks. Atop there are plenty of restaurants and rest houses, so too modern communication facilities. Once upon a time, only when the pilgrim returned home, family members and friends heaved a sigh of relief, because there was just no way to communicate. There’s now even a cardiac care centre atop the hill. So comments that infrastructure and facilities at Sabarimala haven’t kept pace with time are not true.

The second criticism is about crowd management. Even this has improved a lot over the years, especially with the yearly increase in the number of pilgrims. Kerala Police personnel — barefooted and bearded — are specially assigned for crowd management at the temple. They are extremely courteous and helpful, so much so, that it comes as a pleasant surprise, used to as we are to the stereotyped rude-and-rough image of the average policeman on the street. There are lots of barricades and the queues are efficiently managed by the policemen.

Looking at the ever-increasing number of people who converge on the hill shrine, and given the lack of patience of the average Indian, crowd management is a huge challenge; and it must be conceded that the temple organisers and Kerala government are doing a commendable task.

Open the temple around the year

So, does this mean that everything is fine, and let pilgrims come at their own risk? No. There is definitely a problem out there, and to believe that there’s nothing more to be done is to be inexcusably insensitive. And the problem is the crowd, and this problem is getting bigger every year, as the number of devotees has been increasing.

Both the temple management and Kerala government have to seriously look into the many suggestions, and immediately start a process of debate in the public domain and put in place at least some of the suggestions before the next pilgrimage season.

Opening the temple around the year is one of the proposals. In that case, a good section of the annual crowd may get spaced out across the year bringing down the number of pilgrims in the Nov-Jan season. Already, a number of people prefer to visit the temple in the off-season – those first few days of the Malayalam month when the temple is opened for pooja.

But, opening the temple around the year may create more problems. There will be increased demand on security forces and other infrastructural facilities that will have to be scaled up proportionately. Also, the number of pilgrims may go up, with many people who never thought of making a trip, deciding to undertake one. So the problem of crowd, which one thought of solving, might end up becoming a bigger one!

While there’s no doubt that organisers are doing their best atop the hill, there’s not much vigilance around the hillock. It’s difficult but with the help of the forest department, the police will have to block unauthorised entry points through the woods to the shrine. Many reports have said that the spot where the tragedy took place was an unauthorised route that is opened during the peak season in violation of forest laws. Such loopholes will have to be plugged. There must be authorised routes to the peak and also authorised viewing points on Makara Sankranti – difficult but not impossible.

Regulate entry of pilgrims

This is one innovation that the government has been reluctant to look at. But this will have to happen, whether the temple management likes it or not. And it won’t be easy, since the logistics of issuing and checking these passes will be huge. But again, it’s definitely not something that can’t be put in place.

Pampa is the base of the hill from where pilgrims begin the climb after having a dip in the Pampa river. The bus-stands and vehicle parking areas are located at a distance of around a kilometre from this spot. The infrastructure around these areas has improved by leaps and bounds and there’s nothing stopping the authorities from scaling it up further.

There is a limit to the number of pilgrims the route to the hill and shrine itself can accommodate. And since most of the area around the shrine is thickly wooded and thus expansion is ruled out, the entry of pilgrims to Pampa and beyond has to be regulated. Some form of pass or ticket – free of cost, of course, since entry to the temple is free – with electronic tagging will have to be introduced.

For this, the whole crowd management system will have to be restructured and electronically networked. Numbered tags or passes can be made available through designated banks or similar institutions. At multiple points these passes will have to be checked and validated. There has to be an electronic queue system so that the amount of time pilgrims have to wait on route is considerably reduced. This will also help the security forces who are on constant vigil. With the sort of progress in computerised networking Kerala has achieved, this is definitely possible.

Most of the resistance to these measures have stemmed from the magnitude of the change the system will have to be subjected to. But, I don’t think there’s an alternative. When Sabarimala has modernised to this extent, all it takes to put in place an efficient crowd management system is only determined use of technology. And when the purpose is solely to ensure the safety of pilgrims, one wonders why there should be any objection at all.

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Sir Mark Tully, who worked as the correspondent for the BBC from 1965 to 1994, was in Bangalore on October 7 to deliver the 9th Dr Stanley Samartha Memorial lecture on religious tolerance, organised by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue, at the Rotary House of Friendship, Lavelle Road.

Sir Mark is a celebrity in India. He is sometimes described as more Indian than Indians. Not without reasons. Unlike many other foreign journalists, he contextualized and interpreted better the socio-political and economic events he covered. His reports resonated with deep understanding of the country, and he played a huge role in demystifying India to the world. And he become  easily one of the most acclaimed correspondents, not just in Delhi but in the BBC itself. He has written a number of books, and still does programmes for the BBC. He resides in Delhi.

 

Sir Mark Tully at the Rotary House of Friendship, Lavelle Road, Bangalore.

 

He was gracious to grant me an interview the next day, at the Bangalore Club where stayed overnight. He is a very down-to-earth person, totally bereft of any vanity.

The following is the full text of the interview, an abridged version of which appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on October 9.

Sir Mak, you came back to India to start your career in 1964. You have seen at close quarters Indian democracy evolve. How do you compare Indira’s India with Sonia’s India?

Indira’s India was tightly controlled in many ways particularly economically. Indira herself exercised tight control over politics and country. Today there’s much more freedom, particularly economically. That’s one reason the country is flourishing. And politically, Congress party is not as powerful as before. And certainly, Manmohan Singh and Sonia together are not as powerful as Indira was.

The middle class has changed, has become more westernized. More people now have cars and are more mobile than before. Poor people also have changed. They are now more willing to claim their rights. There’s more migration to cities. There was a recent survey that showed that Dalits are not prepared to accept traditions even in rural areas that keep them in subjugation and humiliation.

 

Sir Mark Tully delivers the 9th Dr Stanley Samartha Memorial lecture on religious tolerance, organised by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue, at the Rotary House of Friendship, Lavelle Road, on Oct 7.

 

 

You spoke about how India has been developing, especially getting westernized. There are people who think this is not the right way forward, and at least some of them think the current Maoist troubles are a result of rampant western commercialization of Indian society…

One of the biggest problems of India is the government’s inability to deliver. India was recently described by an American academic as a “flailing state”. What he meant was that you have many bright people in the IAS, but the machinery for them to implement what they want to is simply not there. So, there are two factors in the tribal areas: One, neglect and inefficiency. Then there is the problem of land acquisition: it becomes an easy issue for the Naxalites.

There’s a policy vacuum, particularly with regard to acquisition of land of poor people in rural areas. And why does it take so long to start thinking of the possibility of people — whose land has been taken away — having some form of share holding in the new projects? Why is it taking so long?

The other problem of land acquisition is the antiquated and inefficient court system. Land disputes are getting stuck in courts for ages. Just as the government machinery is in urgent need of reforms, the courts are also in urgent need of reforms.

Talking of courts… we recently had the Ayodhya verdict. What has not gone unnoticed is the remarkable equanimity with which the people of India accepted the verdict. There was not even the slightest spark of unrest, leave alone major violence, anywhere in the country. Do you think this is symptomatic of the dawn of a New India, an India that is fed up with violence, an India that is eager to move on…?

I am very wary of expressions like ‘dawn of a new India’ etc. India has been changing gradually. I just want to take you back to the days of the telecast of Ramayan on Doordarshan. There was this huge outcry over how it’s a breach of secularism and all. And when I argued that it’d be a great pity if India couldn’t broadcast one of its great epics, I was accused of being pro-Hindu etc., and now you look at the television and you have a whole lot of channels devoted to people preaching Hinduism. This is one of the changes that came about; and now there’s a mature attitude towards religion in India.

And we should also realize that the whole Ayodhya thing was whipped up for political reasons. There was more of politics than religion, actually. If we are not whipping it up this time, it shows that BJP also realizes that the form of extreme Hindu politics does not pay.

Coming back to the verdict, as you’d recall, the judges relied on faith to decide an aspect of the case. All three judges in concurring judgment said the disputed site was the birth place of Lord Ram. Now this was seen by many as a dangerous precedent, wherein the judiciary instead of going by incontrovertible evidence invoked the article of faith to decide a contentious issue. And, it’s also feared that this could be a dangerous precedent for deciding some other similar cases pending in courts… What’s your take on this?

My own position is that the judiciary should have restricted itself to who owns the land legally, and left to the government the decision on whether or not a temple or mosque could be constructed. To bring in the matter of faith, raises a lot of questions. And I am sure the Supreme Court will look into the question.

 

Sir Mark Tully talking to yours truly at the Bangalore Club on October 8.

 

 

The religion of Islam has been going through a troubled phase. Though it’s said that terrorism doesn’t have a religion; it’s a fact that perpetrators of violence have been using the word Islam and Muslim, for reasons they think are legitimate. How do you see this linkage between violence and religion?

What’s important is for religious leaders to stand together and tell very clearly that terrorists are defaming the religion. So it should be possible for Islamic leaders and the local clergy as well to make this clear to everyone.

9/11 brought in a new dimension to Kashmir problem. Some commentators have seen it as a widening of the conflict zone. They feel the insurgency there is now a part of what is called the “wider terror network”….

I think irrespective of 9/11 and related issues, Kashmir is purely an India-Pakistan issue. India has genuine concerns of the message that will go out if the state with the largest Muslim population is cast away. On the Pakistan side, its army is very powerful. It needs the Kashmir issue to justify its existence. If there’s no Kashmir issue, if there’s no enmity with India, what do you need the army for? Now, of course, there’s another need, in the northwest of that country.

It needs two hands to clap, and during Musharraf’s time, it looked as though the two hands were willing to clap. Both India and Pakistan should be willing to make concessions if this problem has to be solved.

Just to take you back to the time you had to leave the BBC… What exactly was then Director-General John Birt trying to and why was it disagreeable to you, forcing you to leave the organization?

He was trying to create a revolution in BBC, whereas I believe in evolution. He denigrated the BBC, he poured scorn on all work the BBC had done previously. The denigration was unjustified and also very damaging. He bureaucratized the organization. He changed it entirely from a position where the responsibility was held at producer/editor levels to where it went to the hands of managers.

Are you aware of the Facebook page in your name, which has over 1,000 fans? How do you see the emergence of online journalism?

No I am not aware of that… Well, there are going to be changes. But I don’t think any media will die. When TV came everyone said that the radio will die. But that hasn’t happened. I don’t think newspapers will die.

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(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

December 6, 1992 will never be forgotten, for all the wrong reasons.

September 30, 2010, will never be forgotten for all the right reasons.

Yesterday’s verdict of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on the Ayodhya land title suits will be remembered for many reasons; and one of them is that it was not an escapist verdict, an easy-way-out-of-a-difficult-situation verdict.

The court addressed controversial issues head-on. One of them was that of faith. All these years, Hindu-leaning parties and organisations have been saying that “matters of faith can never be decided by a court of law”. It was a dangerous proclamation. But luckily all their leaders, most prominently, L K Advani and Narendra Modi, said as loudly as they could, that they would accept the court verdict.

A matter of faith was indeed decided by the court. And now, post-verdict, some commentators — most ironically those not sympathetic to the Hindu viewpoint — are saying that the court shouldn’t have decided on a matter of faith.

It was incidental that in question here was the faith of one community. It could have been the faith of any community.

We all believe in something,
may be something rational,
may be something irrational,
but we all believe in something.
And it’s here that faith comes in.

For a moment, let’s forget the temple and the mosque. Take something very ordinary.

Would we have travelled in a train if we didn’t have faith in the train driver? No, we wouldn’t have. We buy a car because we have faith in the car manufacturer. We go to a doctor because we have faith in his ability to cure us. We approach a teacher because we have faith in her. We live because we have faith in everything that the future holds. Faith is all over the place. Faith does play a big role in our everyday life.

Imagine for a moment if the court had ordered: “Let there be no temple, no mosque; forget 2.77 acre or whatever, get all the land people are fighting over; and let there be a childrens’ playground or a library or an educational complex on it.” That would have looked such an artificial compromise. We need courts to settle disputes; not to cover them up.

It’s a matter of great pride for India’s judiciary that despite all fears being raked up, the issue was addressed, settled and a solution offered. It’s for litigants to agree or disagree. There’s a higher court of appeal. And, it’s such a music to the ears to hear that aggrieved litigants will treat the matter closed once the Supreme Court pronounces the final verdict.

It’s a matter of great pride for Indians that we all exhibited remarkable amount of patience and understanding post-verdict. This was unprecedented. There were no loud, animated, partisan, emotional, discussions and arguments, or fraying of tempers.

September 30, 2010, would also hopefully be remembered as the day India came out of its adolescent years. The day India quietly but powerfully broke off the beaten, dirty path, cut a new lane, on to a new, brighter tomorrow.

Finally, one request to Sonia, Advani, Lalu, Paswan and every other politician on whom the success of our democracy rests: Hope you all politicians saw the way we people reacted. We expect the same maturity from you. Please don’t play politics with this high court verdict. Let’s look ahead and move on. We have had enough of the past.

India has woken up to a new world on the first of October. Tomorrow is Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. For once, he would have had a reason to smile.

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(This has been crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

All this brouhaha about Commonwealth Games makes no sense. It only betrays our lack of understanding about our own country. CWG preparations have been going on exactly the way any other event is organised. The collective astonishment and shock across the country is amazing, to say the least. O! those pictures of filth in the Commonwealth village? But isn’t that how an under-construction building anywhere else in our country looks? Don’t we all know about that ”final acid wash” which magically brings glitter to the floor tiles and smiles on everyone’s faces?

Since when are we so blind not to see garbage on roadsides and street corners? Litter-free streets of foreign cities always leave us baffled. We wonder as to whether people actually live in those cities. Even when terrorists found that garbage heaps are the easiest, the best and the most unsuspecting of places to keep an explosive, we still are comfortable with rotting, smelly piles of filth on roadsides. The comfort levels of Indians are indeed different from those in the rest of the world. Let us accept that.

We all believe that ceaseless honking is what makes vehicles move on our busy roads. We have an abiding faith in the power of the horn, especially when the traffic light is red. We are so proactive and enterprising with our vehicles, especially at junctions, that patience is an anathema. Even with so much chaos and noise on roads, even with so much litter, even without power and water, our tourism industry is booming. Foreigners keep coming back year after year. India Incredible!

Let us remember that all Commonwealth countries haven’t protested the way all Indians have. Every culture is unique. There’s nothing wrong with the way we do things; what’s wrong is the way others see it. Didn’t John Kenneth Galbraith, former US ambassador to India, once describe our nation as a “functioning anarchy”? So, it’s all about perception. People say we should learn lessons from the CWG fiasco. But when its few critics are now its most vocal admirers, and when CWG is all set to be a huge success, where are the lessons to be learnt!

The hustle and bustle, the clutter and chaos: that’s our USP, that’s the India the world is talking about. Our greatness is: we still deliver success, like pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. Let’s not bow to criticism and change our ways. Then we will cease to be Indians.

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(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

They may not be forever emailing, facebooking or tweeting; but they are grateful to the internet. A whole generation that grew up on radio is rediscovering their lost pastime, of listening to faraway radio stations. Thanks to live online streaming, shortwave radio freaks are smiling again. They are bookmarking stations on web browsers and listening in while working on their laptops.

The hobby is called DXing: D for distance and X for the distant radio station. The fun was in tuning into foreign stations, like Radio Cylone, Radio Netherlands, Voice of America, Radio Mosow, apart from of course, the BBC. There was a craze to collect QSL cards. (QSL is an abbreviation for reception reports in radio-telecommunication.)

After listening to a programme, shortwave enthusiasts wrote to the radio station about the programmes mentioning the frequency and quality of reception. As a token of appreciation, the station sent listeners a QSL card. There was competition among listeners for the number and variety of cards they collected. QSL cards are now vanishing. For example, BBC World Service does not send QSL cards. The emails about programmes and reception quality are passed on to the engineers, says the BBC.

The last two decades had put the radio on the death bed. Electromagnetic waves from the overhead mesh of TV cables and the neighbourhood mobile phone towers drowned out shortwave radio signals, and many radio station cut down on their shortwave transmissions. It was depressing, when nothing could be heard on the radio. With internet boom, many radio stations went online, bringing the unmistakably pleasant feeling of deja vu for radio buffs.

LIVE STREAMING

BBC has one of the richest collections of online audio-broadcasts; live streaming of Radio 1 began in 1996. In 2007, BBC iPlayer an online service for listening to previously aired shows was launched. Today, there are as many as 17 BBC stations online — Radio 1, 1extra, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 live sports extra, 6, 7, Asian Network, World Service, and six regional radio stations like Radio Wales and Radio Ulster. And each of these has a wide variety of programmes. Besides, podcasts, BBC has a rich archive of news reports of landmark events and recordings of famous speeches.

Closer home, there are many Indian radio stations online. All India Radio’s News on Air provides its English, Hindi and regional language news bulletins in an mp3 format for listening in any time. VoiceVibes provides live streaming of VividhBharati programmes. Besides, it provides Hyderabad-based stations like Aakashavani Telugu, AIR Urdu, RadioCity, Red FM, RadioMirchi and Rainbow.

Raj, who administers the site says, “Radio on VoiceVibes is for those who are missing Hyderabad like me. Enjoy and feel at home.” By providing FM stations online, VoiceVibes has broken a technical geographical limitation: being a terrestrial transmission, FM stations can’t usually be accessed on a radio beyond around 50 km from where the station is located. With no such problems, online streaming is a boon for people away from home.

Space For Radio is another unique online venture. With a host of RJs, it provides a variety of Malayalam programmes 24×7: devotional songs, old and new film songs, celebrity interviews etc. Unlike other online radio station, the moment you open the Space For Radio site, streaming starts, there’s no need to click on any link or button, making it convenient for the listener. “This is the first online radio in the world run by women crew; and we have more than 5 lakh listeners all over the world, within one year,” says its administrator. Recently, they enabled access to the online station on mobiles.

How comparable is online radio with its good-old offline version? The quality is infinitely better. But Googling a radio station and clicking on a few links is no fun compared to sitting up late in the evening, turning the radio nob, finding a foreign station and even slanting the radio a bit for better reception! Of course, shortwave radio freaks are glad they are able to listen to some of their favourite programmes and their presenters.

LInks:

Foreign radio stations:
BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/
Voice of America – http://www.voanews.com/
Fox Radio News – http://radio.foxnews.com/
National Public Radio – http://www.npr.org/
Radio Netherlands – http://www.rnw.nl/english
Radio Australia – http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/
Radio Canada International – http://www.rcinet.ca/
Deutsche Welle (Radio Germany) – http://www.dw-world.de/
Radio France International – English – http://www.english.rfi.fr/

Indian radio stations

All India Radio News – http://newsonair.com/
Vivdh Bharati – http://www.voicevibes.net/
Malayalam – http://spaceforradio.com/

Online radio directories

http://radiotime.com/
http://www.live365.com
http://www.onlinefmradio.in/

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The Man on a Wheelchair

I am at a speciality hospital in Bangalore. It’s around 11.30 am. A man in late 50s is being wheeled in on a chair. Two women accompanying him are worried and talk alternatively on the mobile and to hospital staff. A couple of relatives or friends too have joined them.

Read the full story here.

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* A stranger helping a visually challenged man to cross the road.

* A stranger removing a big stone from the middle of the road.

* A stranger throwing an orange peel on the pavement.

* A stranger apologising to you for almost brushing his bike against your car.

* A stranger spitting out in public the paan he was chewing.

Fleeting moments; actions that all of us come across at some point; gestures — some pleasant, some unpleasant — that stir our emotions; some leave us smiling, some leave us seething.

It’s a fact that we meet more number of strangers than friends every day. And many of them leave some impression — good or bad — on us, prompting us to react. It could be a simple word of appreciation that the good Samaritan deserves, or it could be a rebuke aimed at that unruly citizen on the road. Though there are many mass communication platforms today, there is not one which will help you connect with a stranger.

Samson Manickaraj has taken social networking to a new high. While most sites let you interact with friends, Samson's invention of Blauk will allow you to connect with strangers.

So believes 30-year-old Samson Manickaraj, and he has come up with blauk.com. He says this is not social networking site that helps you connect with your friends, nor this is a blog or a micro-blog that lets you broadcast to the world what you are doing or what you think about something. “This is a ‘noteboard’ site. The first noteboard and the only noteboard site in the world providing noteboarding service.”

What is a noteboard? “By noteboard I mean a board, a platform, where you can leave notes for random people you see in your everyday life,” says Manickaraj, CEO of the youngest networking device on the web. “Blauk is the first of its kind in the sense that it lets you post messages for strangers you run into in everyday life, and Blauk ensures that the other person knows your thoughts.”

Manickraj, an alumnus of the California State University, elaborates the unique concept behind Blauk, “Having an opinion is a human instinct. Vice-versa, wanting to know what others think of us is also a craving within us. Popular social networks allow you to stay in touch with existing friends. There is no service which lets people hear what strangers think of them. Blauk has filled this void.”

“If a Facebook lets you stay in touch with existing friends and a Twitter lets you express what you are doing at the moment, then Blauk lets you speak of what you think of the world and vice-versa what the world thinks of you. So Blauk has filled an existing void in the social-networking arena,” he says.

How do you blauk? Like any networking site, you register with a username and password. Fill in your age, sex and email ID. That’s it. Go to the homepage, and start blauking. When you click on ‘post’, you will be prompted to fill in the “description of the person you saw”, “when did you see”, “where did you see”, and the city. You can also leave a message for the stranger.

Blauk was launched in January 2010 and it’s now in a very basic stage. Manickaraj says there are 43,881 registered users as of April 8, and blaukoholics will define what it will eventually be. “As of now, people are blauking an appreciative comment or criticizing bad behavior in public, talking about cool cars etc,” he says.

There are a number of blauks (messages) aimed at strangers indulging in unacceptable practices in public, like talking on mobile while driving or relieving oneself on roadside. There are also appreciative comments on what people are wearing or the mobile phone they are using. Says Manickaraj, “A lot of women are using Blauk to post live messages describing guys who harass or stalk them. People following Blauk on the cellphones get to read these live and take action or react.”

Twenty-six year old Priya Sharma, working with foreign bank in Chennai, finds Blauk interesting. “I joined this two weeks back after I read about it in the media. It’s cool because we can make comments on strangers, giving full description of that guy, when and where he was. And it’s safe! It’s like talking one-on-one to strangers. You can’t do that so easily in real life.”

Since the whole premise of Blauk is connecting with strangers on a personal level, identification process is crucial, and it’s built-in, though not foolproof. If the person who blauks is accurate about the stranger’s attributes, location, age, time of incident etc, it becomes easy for the stranger to find out (using the search tool) if there has been a comment about him.

Manickaraj says issues of privacy violations are limited in Blauk. “People entering blauk.com expect to see a realistic account of others’ opinion of them. If they were rude to a kid on the street then that is what they will hear, and if they did a kind act they will hear a lot of praises.” He says since no one refers to anyone by name there is no possibility of direct offence. There is a “Spirit of Blauk” to which users have to agree. “There is a content-monitoring team working around the clock from India to Los Angeles covering a 24 hour cycle. Offensive user ids are banned from the network,” says Manickaraj.

Like any networking device, it’s the users who will determine its value. Manickaraj hopes Blauk will gradually evolve into a medium that will take communication to a higher level, which will enable easy personal communication with strangers, that in turn will redefine social behaviour and bring in positive changes in personal and workplace relationships.

Here are some typical blauks:

10:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ liberty x road, himmatnagar – hyderabad
the person on cell driving a black skoda
“ur life may nt be precious 2 u but 4 othrs it is,so stop tlkng wen u are drvng to make the road safe”
coolangel, Female 36

8:00 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ petrol bunk, shenoy nagar, Chennai
nearly 40 woman / verna
“Was your blouse really torn or is it fashion?”
trnjt, Male 31

8:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ Near Mumbai TV tower, Mumbai
5’7″ fair guy abt 23, goatee, dull gray t-shirt, maruti 800 #4753
“Hey idiot you did not get any other place to take a piss?”
patinsn, Male 27

6:30 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ Benzer, Mumbai
white shirt, shorts, foreigner guy
“cellphone looked damn cool”
chipmunkd, Male 21

11:15 AM Tue, 06.Apr.2010
@ John Players store, Moledina road, Pune
Girl, maroon color salwar, 22/23 years
“your smile has made my dull and boring day!!”
sardine_lover, Male 22

5:45 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ central railway station, platform 9, Chennai
green Tshirt, 19/20 yrs of age, wit his parents
“waaat foul lingo; neva heard it so worse; and u ppl lukn educated 2; duh… ur dads even worse.”
teeee, Female 19

3:15 PM Fri, 02.Apr.2010
@ Atrium cafe, im on tbl 3, him on ma right side, Kolkata
fair guy, crew cut, yellow Tshirt wth supermodel pic
“scared to pick up pen frm flr cus.. iv a loose t shirt & this jerk watchn nonstop whn ill bend down”
shar_adha :: Female 22

(An abridged, edited version of this article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on April 12, 2010.)

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Twitter was conceptualised as the web equivalent of SMS. But in its four years of existence, the microblog has grown way beyond even what its founders imagined. Millions of people use it in some way: to follow breaking news, to keep in touch with friends or to give expression to their emotions and opinions.

When a few Londoners in 2008 decided to leverage the power of online networking to steer social projects, they were breaking new ground. The thought was elementary: if a million people could network online, why can’t a few of them get together offline? And, thus w as born the idea of Twestival or twitter festival.

Twestival Global 2010 will be held in 175 cities around the world — including Bangalore — on March 25 in aid of international charity, Concern Worldwide. The proceeds will go to its worldwide education projects. Besides Bangalore, six cities — Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi — will host Twestival this year. Each city will have its own fund-raising programme, conceptualized and organized by volunteers,
 on that day.

BANGALORE TWESTIVAL AT OPUS

The Bangalore festival will include a rock show by Galeej Gurus, Repsychled, and Nakul Shenoy’s Beyond Magic, at Opus, Palace Road, from 7 pm onwards. “If you are on twitter and in Bangalore, this is a must-attend to meet your twitter friends as well as to contribute to a social cause,” said Vaijayanthi K M, regional coordinator for India. There are plans for a secondary fund-raising inter-corporate cricket match on March 27.

Jason Alexander, who manages Galeej Gurus, said: “We strongly believe in the cause of education that Twestival is supporting this year. We would like to do our part in giving back to the society & community, through what we do best…making & performing music.” Shalini Mohan, a bassist for Repsychled, is excited. “It’s a festival that’s happening all over the world on the same day. Nothing like joining hands for supporting a cause.”

Vaijayanthi says people are now more aware about Twestival. “We do not have to explain the entire premise, the motive and our intention. Companies/sponsors are also more forthcoming and willing to support us because they have seen the impact.”

Founder of Twestival Amanda Rose feels there is no shortage of people who are passionate and want to help. The challenge is coordination, not participation. “Organizing online and gathering offline allows Twestival to harness the incredible communication power of twitter to propel participation in real events. By using social media platforms such as twitter, Twestival is able to connect hundreds of independent local events into a powerful global initiative.”

SOCIAL CAUSE

Concern Worldwide, in aid of which Twestival 2010 is being held, is a 40-year-old Ireland-based international humanitarian organization working among the deprived to improve their standard of living. With a staff of about 3,200 people of 50 nationalities, it operates in 28 countries. In September last year, Concern celebrated 10 years of its work in India.

An estimated 72 million children worldwide are not enrolled in school, says Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide. “Concern is committed to reaching those left behind, giving them access to learning and the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. Twestival Global is revolutionizing the way concerned citizens all over the world connect to benefit the poorest among us. We are thrilled to have been chosen, and we’re rolling up our sleeves to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity,” says Arnold.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

A group of London tweeple (people who use twitter) hosted an event called Harvest Twestival in September 2008. The objective was to meet up, have some fun and in the process help a local charity organization. They held a raffle, pooled in donations and canned food for a non-profit called The Connections in Traffalgar Square which supports the homeless.

The messages went out on twitter, the event was planned in two weeks, and sponsorships were pooled in from twitter users. The organizers expected not more than 40 to attend, but people had networked online and around 250 showed up at the venue! The Harvest Twestival was a thumping success. While on one side The Connections got the support it was looking for, the event demonstrated the power of twitter as a platform to network and rally for a social cause. The enthusiasm led the way for holding the first Twestival Global, preparations for which began with the first tweet on January 8, 2009.

A month later, on February 12, over 1,000 volunteers got together in 202 cities, including Bangalore, to organize events to raise funds for water projects around the world. Over $250 was raised in one day through events and online donations; resulting in 55 wells benefiting more than 17,000 people in Uganda, Ethiopia and India.

Says Vaijayanthi, “In 2009, Twestival India was able to raise over Rs 90,000 for the non-profits. Considering the ever-increasing number of Indians taking to twitter, we expect to more than double this amount in 2010.”

TWITTER TURNS FOUR

It was on March 21, 2006, at 9.50 pm PST, that Jack Dorsey, founder of twitter, sent out the first tweet: “just setting up my twttr”.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on March 22, 2010)

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Facebook updates are mostly weird, like, “It’s soooo green” or “ah, it’s wet”, or “stop it” etc. They are either too full of multiple meanings or totally meaningless to even the best of friends. I usually don’t spare a second thought for such messages. So, yesterday afternoon when I saw the status message of some of my (women) friends as “purple”, “black”, “pink”, I didn’t find anything unusual.

In the evening, when I reached my office, one of the woman colleagues told me to have a look at the Gmail status messages of women. There too I found colours! My first hunch was it’s some sort of weird intra-office joke. But I found the pattern even among my friends who aren’t my colleagues.

The question, “why these colours”, met with smile and laughter. And one of them said, “It’s the colour of the boyfriend’s underwear.” To which my quick retort, was “That’s some insight!” Only when I heard someone mention Facebook, I remembered what I had seen some hours before.

The women in the office were evidently having fun, seeing the puzzled look men’s faces. Apparently some guy made — what I later realised was — a horrendous mistake, by following suit and putting up his favourite colour as status message. Further embarrassment was avoided — he was told, it was meant only for girls and was advised to remove it. Girls were laughing out loud!

Meanwhile, I did what I do instinctively when I’m stumped for an answer — went straight to Google, with the key words: “women colour status message facebook gmail” O, there it was! Women all over the world were putting up the colour of their bra as status message! A bit more research revealed that the reason behind the meme was to create awareness about breast cancer.

And suddenly (from among men) a rejoicing cry of having cracked the colour code rent the air, with exclamations such as “we now know what it’s”, “the mystery is solved”, “the cat is out of the bag!” etc etc… I told the girls: “You can’t beat technology!” and I was sort of patting my back, quite pleased that I didn’t spend too much time wondering what the colourful status messages were all about.

And, suddenly the women who were laughing all this while suddenly went silent. One girl, who woke up too late, gave up plans to put up her colour the moment it was known what it was all about.

Awareness about bra or breast cancer?

So much for what happened. Now I have a few doubts, the answers for which may not be readily available on Google.

The ostensible reason for the campaign was “creating awareness about breast cancer”. The Facebook message, I am told, was on these lines: “Some fun is going on. Just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of breast cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before people wonder why all the girls have a color in their status.”

Who started this? No one has claimed responsibility! Many cancer research organization are distancing themselves from this.

I have serious doubts if this was a fast one pulled on the women by someone who knew the herd mentality of the cyberworld. And it looks like most women just fell for it. And it was stunning to see how women were willingly shedding inhibition and telling the world the colour of their bra.

Would they have behaved the same way, if someone had asked them — straight on their face — the colour of their bra with the aim of creating awareness about breast cancer?

Information diffuses very fast on the internet. It takes no time for it to spread far and wide across the globe. And this too did. To be fair to whoever started this meme, some organizations like Breast Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society have been reporting a surge in visits to their websites, though there’s nothing concrete to link it to the bra colour meme, other than the timing. And some were mighty pleased that they got some contributions as well.

The basic idea was good: leveraging the power of the internet for a social cause and even including a bit of fun. But in all that, how could the word ‘cancer’ be missing? It would have made much sense if women were asked to write how best breast cancer could be fought.

In retrospect, I think, somewhere along the seriousness was lost.

There are some signs of backlash, it looks like. There were girls saying on Facebook that they won’t reveal the colour, and there is a group called “I Really Dont Care What Color Your Bra Is”, which was getting lots of fans.

There were reports in the media of how breast cancer victims didn’t know what they should put up. One woman who had undergone masectomy wrote: ‘None – in fact, I don’t even OWN one…. Nude, nothing…” etc etc…

This is not a joke, it’s heart-wrenching… I think a lot of us who had fun, should think again.

If at the end of it all, if women are now better informed about the disease, well and good. But if it was all about getting some cheap thrill — for men and women — and having fun, then it was a sheer (embarrassing?) waste of time, amounting to trivializing a very serious health issue.

Links:

Newsweek and Washington Post

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This is in continuation of the previous post “What lies between noughties and twenties?” of Dec 29. The question was posted on multiple sites and email, and it elicited quite a number of responses, though I got the maximum responses on LinkedIn.

Some readers said the next decade should be called simply ‘tenties’ since the succeeding ones are ‘twenties’, ‘thirties’, and so on. That sounds logical, if nothing else. There were also a few people who felt the coming ten years could be called 2010s.

One reader felt the whole question was irrelevant since the world would anyway come to an end in 2012! There was another who felt the coming decade should reflect the technological empowerment of people and should be called the ‘idecade’.

Someone evidently brimming with lots of optimism said, “After the first depression, it was the roaring twenties. How about the rollicking teens for this go round?”

There were many suggestions for ‘tennies’. It sounds like the name of a game. But that shouldn’t be a disqualification since the word ‘noughties’, which ultimately came to be accepted, did sound a bit mischievous.

Many seemed to be giving it a ‘human’ touch. “The coming decade will be of gadgets, and it’s the teenagers who excel in them,” said one reader. “So, the decade must have ‘teen’ or ‘tween’ in it.”

There were suggestions like ‘teens’ and ‘tweens’. But, the only problem, if one were to pitch for this, would be the confusion that would arise in a sentence like: “The teens of the teens.”

At the end of it all, the possible contenders narrowed down to: “tenties”, “teenies” and “tweenies”, besides the formal and obvious 2010s.

I have collated below all the 50 responses I received for the question till today.

1) Geoff Franklin wrote:
Please, anything but “teenies” or “tweenies”.

2) Abdul Rahim Hasan wrote:
But they say, it will all be over in 2012 🙂

3) Nancy Wright wrote:
The tweens?

4) DAVE MASKIN wrote:
The 2010s…

5) Tom Field wrote:
We’re emerging from the aughts and headed into the teens. Seems simple enough! 🙂

6) Rodney Ruff wrote:
Probably the “Tens” until 2013 and the “Teens” thereafter through 2019.

7) Nicky Leach, Writer/Editor wrote:
In England, they have moved from the Noughties to the Teensies!!

8) David Geer wrote:
The Noughties +1 ??
The Dime Plus Decade
The Tens

9) Sunita Shukla wrote:
Tweety Tweeties – I guess

10) Jason Schwartz wrote:
The tennies

11) Matthew C. Keegan wrote:
The tens sounds fine to me. By the way, can we all agree to pronounce 2010 as twenty-ten instead of two thousand ten? I’m all for saving a syllable!

12) Atilla Vekony wrote:
Sounds like it’s time to just call it the 2010s. Like we used to call decades prior to the decade-naming madness that started after the 1920s. We’re perfectly happy calling the 1790s the 1790s, the 1640s the 1640s, so let’s call the next decade the 2010s.

13) Judy B. Margolis, MA wrote:
I am calling this decade ‘the Tweens.

14) FRANK FEATHER wrote:
Twenteens..

15) Charlene Norman wrote:
The Decade of Hope? After the first depression, it was the roaring twenties. How about the rollicking teens for this go round?

16) Paul Mount wrote:
As the late, great David Foster Wallace predicted, naming rights will go to the highest bidder. So I’m guessing either “iDecade” or “Google Decade.”

17) Ida Durling wrote:
The Decade of Puberty…

18) Suma Ramachandran wrote:
Some really witty answers here!! Seriously, though, the media will find one or two labels and stick to it. I’m thinking “tweens” for less informal references (although that is already used pretty widely when referring to 12-year-old children, so it may cause some confusion.) “Twenty-tens” is likely to apply to the more formal stuff – and seems to be catching on already. It’s punchy, it’s formal and it’s accurate.

19) Bhalchandra Pai wrote:
20 somethings?

20) Manoj Gopinath wrote:
We could try Teens 🙂

21) Rajkumar S wrote:
tennis 🙂

22) Natesh Manikoth wrote:
Aren’t they called the teens in general?

23) jairaj k wrote:
how abt twenteens??

24) Mathew F.Koottunkal wrote:
How about the teens?! or maybe the ‘tweenies, as in what lies “between” the noughties and the twenties?!!!

25) jairaj k wrote:
or even scorteens or scorties???

26) aravindrenu wrote:
Maybe 2k-teens, to sound more techy..

27) Saikat Dasgupta wrote:

How about haughties, or more specifically for the bottle lovers (which we all are) droughties…

28) Saurabh Sharma wrote:
It can be called the teenties. in that all the “teen” years will fall in this decade…

29) Steve James wrote:
Looks like a 2 horse race between ‘Twenty-Tens’, and ‘Tens’. Twenty-Tens gets my vote.

30) Andy Tow wrote:
Can’t see that any variation that involves “teen” can work…. makes the first three years redundant! I can’t see much wrong with “Twenty Tens” (Nineteen Tens, Eighteen Tens, etc. all seem to work)

31) Jeff Crowe wrote:
How about we call it “the near future” until it’s about half way through…

32) Michael Cianci wrote:
The Next Decade.

33) Bob Halstead wrote:
Pradeep: “Decade” only refers to a period of 10 years, not specifically to a period of 10 years that begins with year 0 and ends with year 9. My point here is that “this decade” or “the decade just ended” can be ambiguous: Is it the 10 years that just ended, the 10 that just started, or some other 10 years we’re in the middle of? Generally, you should avoid relative dating whose meaning changes with the passage of time (“today” refers to a different day today from what it did yesterday). Also, I recommend avoiding cutesiness: no tweenies, teenies, or other such. Go (as others recommended) with “the twenty-tens” or “the 2010s”. For the decade now ending, “the first decade of 2000” (“the 2000s” is too broad) or “the first decade of the twenty-first century”. That may be a bit long, but how many times are you really going to need to use it in any one piece?

34) Manny Otiko wrote:
I’m going for the 10s or the 2010s.

35) Wallace Jackson wrote:
Tenzenia.

36) Paula Cohen wrote:
The first decade of the 20th Century was called the “oughts,” and actual years at that time (and probably up until the 1950s – 60s and even later), were frequently spoken of as “ought-six” or “ought-nine,” rather than “oh-six” or “oh-nine.” The second decade was called the “teens,” as in “back in the teens,” or “back in the nineteen-teens.” Then came the “twenties,” the “thirties,” and so on. I see no earthly reason why we can’t use the same designations in this century.

37) Paula Cohen added the following clarification:
@ Charlene Norman
Charlene, the Great Depression didn’t start until the 1930s, and was preceded by the stock market crash of October 1929…which brought a swift and fatal end to the Roaring Twenties, which, in any case, would have been technically over in another two months. No, I wasn’t there are the time, but my parents and grandparents had lots of stories…

38) Swarna wrote:
Tenteens!

39) George Mathew wrote:
Unities!

40) Bhaskaran wrote:
TenTeens..

41) Korula wrote:
I have wondered many times as to how we can ask a simple question as “Etthraametthe president aanu President Clinton?” in English. Have fun.. Kids between 13 and 20 are called teens and the ones between ten and 13 are the Tweens… mebbe the answer lies somewhere here..

42) Vini wrote:
I don’t have a suggestion but will call the next decade tenties or decaties..whatever you and others over here would like to term it..
When I was in high school, I remember one whole week we were discussing this question.. how do you ask Rajiv Gandhi Indiaude ethramathe pradhana manthri aanu in English. Finally someone came up with this…What is the position of Rajiv Gandhi in the chronological order of Indian Prime Ministers? chronological order can also be replaced with successional list. So maybe we can ask… What is the chronological position of Bill Clinton among the Presidents of the United States?

43) Chacko wrote:
It’s the TEENIES man!

44) Osty Lab wrote:
Seventies, eighties, nineties, TENies

45) Reshma wrote:
That made for an insightful reading Pradeep!and yes… we are at a loss for words!…

46) Decader wrote:
Excellent question, Sir. My vote goes to Tennees to describe the decade we’re stepping into.

47) Yam wrote:
Tennees. Sounds cul,gr8. 🙂

48) B A Rao wrote:
I think tenties is correct because ties is common for other decades.

49) B S Raghavendra Rao wrote:
In the first instance the problem of naming the first ten years between 2010-19 seems to be ipsofacto ticklish,and when I scratched my head to know the next block of 10 years in the period 2010-2019 to coin a word in the english language,as we did when the year 2000 ushered in and called it as Y2K,and as the editor has suggested to know the first 10 years in the range of the period 2010-2019, we can conveniently coin it as tennees or in linguistic terms as Y2K+10 to Y2K+19,the latter may seem to be absurd?
My knowledge about naming the next block of ten years between 2010-2019 in coining the same in english language is restricted to the above suggestion.

50) B Rajaram wrote:
The next decade will be for the man’s search for alternate energy source and will be dominated by the energy crisis and environmental pollution. A real threat to our way of life is looming ahead.To save 40% of energy consumption on the planet by replacing the same with that from gravity, an eco-friendly and eternal system of transportation , financially viable and ready to implement too,as detailed at http://www.atrilab.com will be the focus I believe.Since gravity will be the focus and gravitons is the equivalent of electrons, to get tens, we may name the decade as “gravitens”.

(A version of this article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on January 1, 2010.)

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