About the Blog

This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

July 24, 2010

A Judge & the Mafioso

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, and is certainly repeating itself in more ways than one in the battle of Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde crusade against illegal mining in Karnataka. A lot has been written about this case but I wonder why no one has drawn parallels to the past. The history i am referring to is the one in the past when the baton ultimately passed on to a crusader judge to take on the might of the organized mafia. The battle grounds were drawn in different countries at different points in time i.e,, Italy, Colombia and now India but the protagonists in the battle bear striking similarity . On the face of it looks like a simple story of the good vs evil, honesty vs corruption and David vs Goliaths but what romanticizes these stories is the underlying currents of Heroism, a one man’s fight carried on when the system has lost it, a fight of a righteous one man against the power of money & influence. Justice SK Hegde in my opinion stands in the same pantheon as Alfonso Valdivieso & Giovanni falcone.

Falcone, the antimafia judge was nothing less than a folk hero in Rome during the 1980’s. He was instrumental in reigning the Sicilian mafia (also known as Cosa nostra) who for years had let a reign of terror by extortion & murder. This mafia legitimised itself through various business activities by controlling public & private contracts (at an estimated 6.5 Bn euro then) while they did undercover drug & arms trafficking. Not into active politics but they had law officials & police officers on their payrolls. Falcone systematically tried dismantling the mafia by a sustained campaign despite being a lone crusader. The political establishment having much to hide did not support him but despite languishing government support, Falcone and his staff continued their work in the anti-Mafia pool headquartered in Rome. Before Falcone's efforts, little progress had been made in prosecuting Sicilian Mafiosi who moved about in the United States, particularly in the New York area, without being traced by Italian authorities or identified by American ones. His efforts were cut short when the Mafiosi murdered him by blowing up his car on the way to the airport.

Lets cut the scene to Colombia where Prosecutor General Valdivieso had set himself the goal of separating Colombia's political elite from its murderous friendships and entanglements with drug mafia. The Cali Cartel, whose brief roots began in trafficking marijuana had shifted to cocaine due to its ease of transporting and greater profit margin. By the mid 1990's the trafficking empire of the Cali Cartel was a multi-billion dollar enterprise, In order to launder the incoming money of the trafficking operations, the Cali cartel heavily invested its funds into legitimate business ventures as well as front companies to mask the money through. The cartel also invested this money to gain influence within the government through bribes and favors.

Valdivieso had a role model in his uncle Galan who throughout the 1980s, as the drug cartels flourished and the killings escalated, pressed his attacks on the corruption of his political class. By the time Galan ran for the presidency in 1989, he had become a serious threat to the mafia's encroaching grip on the Colombian political establishment. Galán was murdered on the campaign trail in order allegedly to clear the path to the Presidential Palace for more pliable men who would cut deals, not fight. Alfonso Valdivieso, who hung Galán's portrait on his walls, undertook investigation of the links between the Cali cartel and the election campaign of the President Ernesto Samper that triggered the gravest political crisis in Colombian history. He ensured that by May, 1996, one government minister and the Attorney General were behind bars. The Minister of the Interior, the Foreign Secretary, and the Minister of Communications were charged with complicity in the cover-up of drug- mafia contributions to the Samper campaign. Eight Congress members were also arrested, while a further 170 out of a total of 230 came under investigation for drug corruption. Samper was given a temporary reprieve in May with the decision of a congressional commission to exonerate him of drug-corruption charges. Yet he found himself disgraced and lost power.

The moral (or the lack of it) in these stories that I see is that

a. First the mafia strikes it rich be it Drugs, Arms or Mining.
b. Then they try to legitimise their business, in the process they buy the political & bureaucratic classes with their riches
c. Then they make a dash at power , which they try to control mostly through proxy
d. Finally it takes one man, usually a judge to foil their efforts.

July 18, 2010

A Citi that Slips

Have you ever gone through an ordeal with the customer service dept in your bank? Chances are that 9 out of 10 you would. Can you pls describe how the experience has been? Chances that you felt like tearing your hair out or yelping at the other side would have been equally bright. And a thought that some pea brained official sitting in a cosy corner cubicle in some part of the country formulates the bank rules and in another you have a ill trained fresh- on- the- job executive sitting in the call center and reading out the rules like some kind of sermon in a Sunday mass that the customer is customarily obligated to. While the disconnect is complete , all in the name of Customer (kasht se mar) Service.

For a while I had been under the impression that Citibank was the better of the lot when it came to Internet Banking. The user interfaces were friendly and the features less cumbersome as compared to ICICI Bank & HDFC Bank (in my firsthand experience). But that was until recently. Last week I attempted to register a new payee in my account to effect some electronic fund transfer. After keying in the mandatory beneficiary details in the ‘Add new beneficiary’ section , the bank automatically sent a OAC (online authorization code) to my mobile number. The ensuing page gave me two options 1. Authorize payee now 2. Authorize payee later. As I did not get the SMS (OAS) immdtly I opted for option 2 (i.e, Authorize payee later). A good 5-7 minutes later I received the SMS but by then the webpage has expired and relogging into the account I see that the payee was not in the pending list (i.e, registered payee list). So I go through the whole rigmarole again to find in the same spot in the beginning.

Then comes the dial ordeal. I dial the call center and go through all the number pressing options, first dial the account #, then the Pin#, then listen to your automated account balance and then press 9 to finally go to a call center executive. Here once again you through the online verification and after another good 5 minutes of explanation, the executive says ‘as a part of our new security procedures’ the authorization option is valid only for a few minutes on the Account page. That means if there is a time delay in my receiving the OAC then the whole exercise is as good as a walk in the Garden. I protested that I did not get the OAC immdtly on 2 occasions and therefore had to opt for option 2 (i.e, Authorize payee later). The call center executive nonchalantly says ‘then you have to call the mobile service provider’ as the problem is at their end. But then why the ‘Authorize payee later’ option I ask? The reply harks back to square one ‘Sir as a part of the new security .....’

I throw up my hands in despair.

July 10, 2010

Growing up in the 80s

Inspired by a mail that my friend Kiran Bagade sent recently I have made my list of what it was like growing up in the 80s. Life was much simpler then and there were a lot of things one easily identified with, I am sure everybody would have their own fav list

• Going to school meant either taking a ride in dad’s Vespa scooter or Fiat (1100D) Car or being left by the servant in an atlas cycle. There was no such thing called school vans or private operators.

• There was no such thing called traffic signals or traffic jams , schools usually operated from early morning to early evenings

• Calling somebody outside your town meant logging a trunk call and waiting for the call back ring from the operator who most of the times sounded more animate than the voice overs today

• Thumsup,Torino or Goldspot was the usually preferred drink available in the market, these came in thick bottles and usually had a ring of yellow or red at the openings when the caps were opened

• Coming from school at the end of the day, one had to usually wash the hands thoroughly covered with ink stains from leaking ink pens

• Following a Cricket Test match during school meant running to the canteen radio or the nearby class during recess to crowd around the guy carrying a pocket transistor

• The West Indies cricket team were ruling the roost, thay had a halo around for their super fast bowlers & for batsman like Clive llyod, Haynes & Greenidge who almost seemed to play endlessly & never get out

• 7 p.m meant Krishi Darshan on Television, followed by Jan Hai Jahan Hai at 7:30 p.m. 8 pm meant Chitrahaar or Living planet on week days.

• You religiously followed Lajjoji, lallu & Bhadki in Humlog on weekdays . Other days you followed Khandaan , Nukkad, Byomkesh Bakshi et al.,

• Sundays meant a half day of running serials on Doordarshan: 7-8 am slot was for Keertans followed by children serial between 8-9am, 9 -12 was reserved for family drama serials that included Rajni , Wagle ki Duniya etc

• The ads that accompanied the serials were :Vicks, Nirma, Bajaj, Colgate,Sylvania Laxman,Dunlop, Btex, Topaz, Surf et al.,

• Sunday afternoon meant boring regional films that usually were depressing art movies assisted by subtitles. Followed by ‘Vikram aur Betaal’ in the early evenings.

• News were read by serious commentators behind a flat blue background with Doordarshan logo on the upper right corner of TV. The video clippings sometimes used to get mixed up or audio not forthcoming but it spared us of discussion and opinion mongering by panelists.

• You did not get to hear of Terrorism or Global warming on the News. ‘The world this week’ captured themes like Cold war, Iran-Iraq conflict etc. Kashmir dint make any news on the national front and BJP was still a babes in the wood.

• Telecast could suddenly go blank followed by ‘Rukawat ke liya Khed hai’ message.

• One could get pirated new films on VCRs (an oversized version of magnetic audio tapes) whose distinguishing feature was crackling noises, images that seemed stretched in the middle or edges, color bands and running advertising titles at the bottom.

July 4, 2010

A hundred of sorts

Thanks for putting up with me all these while (yawn), 2 years todate and on the 100th blogpost I stand. As I sit back & recollect how it all began I cant help but chuckle. One fine evening, as the sun light faded over what seemed to be a place straight out of a text book: where well manicured lawns spread out a green blanket over blocks of buildings , on the sidelines an occasional electric cart would quietly make its way around people cycling idly , at another corner a few played basket ball with the enthusiasm of young adults while others hung around cafeterias. Within the serene buildings however, as the servers hummed, code jockeys worked feverishly on the keyboards to meet schedules that spanned various time zones for clients spread across the Atlantic. But myself and Shaz found ourselves on the micro mini Golf lawns where he was demonstrating his ‘tee’ing skills and I was following him as a serious apprentice. Somewhere during the conversation a topic started hovering around something that was posted on the Infy dashboard (Sparsh) where techies regularly vented their ire’s & opinions. This discussion led to Blogging and Shaz suggested that I create an account for myself on Blogger. I nodded and we moved on. I had forgotten this altogether but a few weeks later Shaz took the initiative upon himself and mailed me the coordinates.

He had created a blog template for me with a generous title that read “I was Brendons double once’. I don’t know how close I came to resembling the Hollywood star but Shaz firmly believed that I was pretty near. And that prompted him the title which I guess had made an impact. I had some followers & generous comments on an empty Blog piece for a couple of years by people who believed that I was indeed the body double of the star!

It took a good couple of years to come out of my inertia and write my first article. I wrote my first article about how some people showcase fiduciary management teams of high flying names to further their Business cause. I likened them to designers flaunting exotic looking clothes on the ramps that having little or no practical value. Thereafter I have tried writing on varied topics and thanks to the encouragement of my friends & peers it has become a favorite pastime.

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