Going for a Song
Things Past & Present
Body Or Soul?
Tattered Fig Leaf
How Imminent is Imminent
Think it Through
Going for a Song
You would indeed have heard of individuals and even corporate bodies going bust, but did you ever hear of a city and that too an American city renowned as the epicentre of world automobile industry, going bankrupt? And that’s going to happen when Detroit – yes, Detroit from where Ford’s Model T rolled out – files for bankruptcy following failure to broker a deal between the city’s bondholders and its pension funds. Indeed the city had been on decline for the last 60 years. But things will come to this pass, was unimaginable till it happened.
In a recent visit of mine I called on a doctor friend – a specialist with Ford Hospital, residing in what used to be called in good old days 2 million bungalow park in a very leafy posh suburb.
“What do you think will be the price of these houses if Ford winds up from Detroit?” I ventured to ask,
“One dollar,” he replied in a dismal tone.
“I’ll buy it,” I said
“It won’t soon be worth a dime.” He advised with a sad heart.
Perhaps he was privy to the bankruptcy negotiations.
In the interests of larger public safety, the Food and Drug Administration in the US mandated that every food packet and medicine should specify a date by which the product must be consumed. One of the only – perhaps the only – good that Indira Gandhi’s Emergency did to India was a similar mandatory label on all consumables that have a limited shelf life. The industry lobbies always ingenious at devising ways and means to defeat Government’s regulatory measures have come out with their variants partly to inform and partly to mislead. Best Before.... is a substitute of dubious value, capable of any interpretation.
Another devise to defeat the regulation is “within two years of the date of manufacture”. You start looking for that. Generally, it is printed in the obscurest possible place, and unless you’re dead serious to find out, you’re bound to miss it.
So far I’ve been talking about consumables. How about extending the concept to laws passed with a specific intent, offices created for a particular purpose and institutions brought into being to achieve a special goal? How many of these in our society merrily continue years and decades after they have served the purpose for which they were created? Most of them are around far beyond the date of expiry.
Things Past & Present
We have had a strange relationship with speed in history. On the one hand, we are keen – desperately keen – to increase the speed in search of fast, faster and still faster and, on the other, we know not how on earth to deal with the consequences of faster speed.
Do you, for instance, know that when the first automobiles appeared on the road in Germany there was an official regulation that when it is driven, it should have a suitable ringing device attached to it to warn everyone around, especially the pedestrians that something heavy and fast is on move?
Yes, we do want to go faster but don’t know how to control its social and economic spin off. Notwithstanding this, we are always fascinated by the idea of things getting quicker and faster.
Electric transmission of messages became possible by mid-nineteenth century. It was then a great advance. With it came Morse code – a method of transmitting text information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without any special equipment.
Go back to the year 1850. Thanks to the invention of this device, started the sending of telegrams by the British East India Company on an experimental basis between Kolkata and Diamond Harbour. The service was made available to the public in 1854. And thereafter there was no looking back. But the arrival of a telegram was not always welcome. I remember we as small children knew that when a telegram arrived it was invariably either a very good or very bad news – someone’s birth or someone’s death. Soon it acquired more pedestrian uses. In late 1960’s the English MD of a multinational I was selected by, sent me the appointment offer by wire.
So, my heart sank when the 163-year-old telegram service in the country – the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians – was wound up. I should have rushed to send the last wire to my friends, which perhaps half a century hence will be a collector’s item, recalling the end of an iconic service.
My young friends tell me in an era of Mobile phone, SMS and Email, wasn’t it incongruous to have telegram service too. Perhaps it wasn’t. If it was, we too who belong to an older generation would be deemed as an anachronism.
When I look around the scene is far from reassuring. The Internet, the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve several billion users worldwide, is creating a situation when nothing – absolutely nothing – can be taken for granted. Everything is changing, and at a breakneck speed. The Internet, today, carries a breathtakingly extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents of the World Wide Web (WWW), the infrastructure to support email, and peer-to-peer networks. Where do we go from here?
Does anybody have a reassuring answer? I’ll love to have it.
Body or Soul?
The International Morse Code encodes the basic Latin alphabet, some extra Latin letters, the Arabic – actually, Hindu - numerals and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals as standardized sequences of short and long signals called “dots” and “dashes”, or “dits” and “dahs”.
SOS for instance was adopted as the standard emergency signal in Morse code. Why SOS? 99 out of 100 will say: Because it stands for Save Our Souls. Now bodies can possibly be saved. As per Hindu metaphysics, souls don’t need a saviour. Soul is indestructible. Go back to of the Gita: Chapter II; 20: “This Self is never born nor does It ever die....”
Actually, SOS was adopted because it was extremely easy to transmit and also so very easy to decipher:
Three dots, three dashes and three dots. That is what SOS stands for. Even a dim-wit like me could do both – transmit and decipher such a message. Hence, the acceptance of “SOS” as the standard emergency signal. Our souls were safe before that and will remain safer even after it is substituted one day by something else.
Tattered Fig Leaf
Twelve years after it registered a case of disproportionate assets against Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s former personal secretary Vincent George, the CBI recently withdrew the case, citing “insufficient evidence” in its closure report. Did India’s premier investigating agency need half a century to gather sufficient evidence? Shall we assume George is once again Sonia’s trusted lieutenant and a close aide.
The CBI had registered the case against George in 2001, charging him with amassing assets far beyond his known – mark the word – sources of income. According to the CBI, the assets of George and his family showed a quantum increase after 1990. His properties included houses and shops in South Delhi, a house in Bangalore, a plot in Chennai, land in Kerala and farmland on the outskirts of Delhi. He was found to have over Rs.1.5 crore in his bank accounts.
The CBI said the purchase of assets was facilitated by huge “cash gifts” from abroad, which George claimed were from his family members. “It was suspected that the remittances were a part of hawala transactions, where the money was sent abroad through illegal channels and brought back through banking channels as ‘cash gifts’,” said a CBI official who was involved in the investigation.
In 2002, letters rogatory were sent to the US authorities, who never responded, How could they? So the CBI had a fig leaf for closing the case for lack of enough evidence to file a charge sheet.
Won’t it be interesting to know how many such cases has CBI closed on similar grounds?
How Imminent is Imminent?
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth – God bless her – joined the band of increasingly impatient royal baby watchers. The Queen herself is in bit of a hurry and wants Prince William and his wife Kate’s first child arrives soon because she is due to go on holiday.
She was asked if she would like her third great-grandchild to be a girl or a boy. “I don’t think I mind. I would very much like it to arrive. I’m going on holiday,”
Royal officials have remained vague – I’m sure deliberately – about the due date of the baby so the world media keeps guessing and bookmakers continue offering odds on the date of the birth. Put your money wisely. Haven’t you heard of the “Great Kate Wait”?
The tradition is – and the Brits live by traditions – that the Queen will be the first person to be informed when the baby is born, with a handwritten note taken from the hospital to Buckingham Palace. A note will then be pinned outside the gates of the palace.
But bookmakers expect a girl and have made Alexandra the favourite for the baby’s name, followed by Charlotte, Diana and Elizabeth. George and James are hotly tipped if it is a boy
Think it Through
W.H. Auden once said “Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.”
What do you think is more important for humans to laugh or to get admired?
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