Tuesday, September 24, 2013 7 comments


 This is the second guest post on my blog. There could have been no better gift to celebrate the3rd  birthday of the Chronicles. Written by none other than  my father - P. Sundararajan !!! I am honored!

It is said that ‘foresight’ is necessary for success in life. Though this trait of ‘foresight’ varies from person to person, many times (for people past sixty), ‘hindsight’ gives many times a satisfaction that you have reached a stage in life which would have been worse off, otherwise.

But ‘hindsight’ is not productive for the future of any individual, it is definitely a source of satisfaction for people who have a positive approach to life and incidentally may be of help to others. 

In my life, such incidents have happened (without myself realizing), that certain actions as a young man and certain decisions I had taken had done well to improve my life, personality and that of my family. I will explain in more detail. 

When I entered college (intermediate class of those days), I was put into a Catholic mission college (Loyola at Madras), since my father had a great regard for these institutions, which he hoped would shape his son’s future properly. So I spent my two years of intermediate at Loyola Madras, and after that, as is the case of every young man, there comes a turning point to proceed with the road ahead. 

My illustrious Alma mater
Two options were open. My cousin had taken engineering and naturally, with my good marks in science subjects at the intermediate level, my father wished that I join Engineering college – which were only four or five in my state of Tamil Nadu – all government colleges. 

Since the process of admission to Engineering college takes at least 2 months, from June to July, all youngsters, as an alternative, would also try and join a degree course (mostly science / maths) with plans to leave once the engineering admission is secured. 

As in the case of everybody, I tried admission for science/honours course in Chemistry, which was the subject of my liking. As per my father’s wish, I applied to the same Loyola College for B.Sc. (Hons) Chemistry, since all the connected subjects (maths/physics), I had very good marks. 

My father accompanied me for meeting the principal of Loyola College and seeing my marks in Maths – where I had got cent percent – he immediately offered me (or ordered me!) to join an honours course in Maths. My hopes of joining a Chemistry (Hons) course were shattered. My father was jubilant that his son is going to read higher maths, as was the case of one my distant relatives, who incidentally is the first graduate from our family. 

In those days, sons didn’t have much choice of the subject they studied. Many times parents decided and so it was with me. I joined the Maths (Hons) class which, though not tough, was for me literally boring especially when I thought of the principal who denied me admission in Chemistry (Hons)!

The only alternative left to me was to hope for admission in Engineering which eventually I got in the College of Engineering, Guindy, and I came out as a Civil Engineer. 

My extended family
When I look back (hindsight), I feel God had some plans for me which I didn’t realize at that time. If I had continued in science, I would have landed as an academic or clerk with the govt (and in due course rise to junior officer level). Because God pushed me into Engineering, I could join the Indian Railways, go to various places and states across the country which widened my horizons, knowledge and also that of my children. 

Let us pray to God that seek his plan for our betterment in life, though we may realise the benefits of His ‘plans’ at a later stage in life – through ‘Hindsight’

                                                                                                   P. Sundararajan
Sunday, September 22, 2013 8 comments

Affordable alternatives

Last Monday, we attended a wedding reception. It was held in a lovely hall outside of Chennai at a place called Porur! My husband  was not keen on attending it. Reason? He did not want us to drive out to this place at the worst time of the day- 6 PM. So we took a cab. The time on the card said “7 PM onwards”. We left around 6 PM and reached the venue by about 8 PM. 

So what took us so long to cover a distance that is less than 15 km? Yes, it is a “no brainer”- we were held up in traffic. While traffic was part of the problem, the road conditions were miserable to say the least.  I felt really sorry for the chap driving us and admired him for his cool. The husband, had he been driving would have lost his within minutes of getting behind the wheel!

Traffic nightmares are not peculiar to Chennai. With rapid urbanization, the population in the city is literally bursting at its seams! And Chennai has its own peculiar problems- the roads do not seem adequate to hold the vehicles running on them and there are certain roads where a person cannot even walk a few meters because, there is no space left for them to walk on! 

Chennai is a bit different from places like Delhi and Mumbai where the number of two wheelers on the road are far lesser. In addition to the two wheelers, there are cyclists, three wheelers like autos, small trucks ( and sometimes large ones too) , all of them causing a mess that even the Lord Almighty cannot clean up! 

I am listing below some thoughts about how we can solve the traffic problems in this city. These are some simple options we can follow which do not involve building flyovers or under passes  and providing opportunities for politicians to mint money.

1.   Offices can seriously take stock of their HR and look at the people whose jobs require them to come to office everyday. Those people whose jobs are output driven, and not requiring physical office presence, can be given laptops and allowed to work from home. It would improve their quality of life along with keeping them off the road. I firmly believe that it would take care of atleast 20% of the traffic congestion, while also reducing the expenditure on office space rental. I am a firm advocate of the “work from home” option.  My present organization has permitted me to do it and I am immensely thankful to them for that.  I had lobbied a lot for it in the previous organization. Though a lot of women in the head office were provided with that option, my supervisor at the Chennai office  was not for it. I guess it made him feel good to have his team around him and spend about 3 hrs of work time every day in meetings that could have been completed over phone using the conference call option. I am increasingly beginning to believe that every Chennai boss thinks like him. 

2.   Offices in every part of the city should have some policies around making carpooling compulsory and have bus services to pick up and drop people from specific points. There are offices that do this but these are located well outside the city. The same applies to school. All schools should make commuting by school bus or public transport compulsory.  Carpooling to schools is not a practical option if carpooling to work place is made compulsory. Coming to school by school bus, public transport, walk or bicycle creates a feeling of healthy equality among kids. My daughter has been taking the school bus to her school since the time she was two and a half years old. Her school is located in the OMR which about 15 years ago did not have the good roads that it now has. People were shocked that we were sending such a young child by school bus! But I  believe that was the best thing we did for her. She made more friends than she would have had she been picked up or dropped by car.  Even carpooling would have restricted her interaction to those few kids alone. 

3.   Certain parts of the city like the North and South Usman roads should be closed for private transport at all times. By private transport I mean, two wheelers, cars and autorickshaws. Pavements should be widened encouraging people to walk in this shopping area. People can take buses or walk. It would make shopping a more pleasant experience. For the elderly there can be a few cycle rickshaws which they can board from specific points. 

4.   When people apply for vehicle licenses the application should be carefully scrutinized to see if the family already has another vehicle. If they do then they have to provide convincing reasons as to why they want to have another car or bike. There should be very strict rules about three member families like mine wanting to have two cars. 

5.   Two wheeler manufacture and sales need to be reviewed. Most of them have two stroke engines which are polluting 

6.   Finally, there should be system of charging vehicle users very heavily for the use of the road. Some sort of meter can be fixed to the cars and two wheelers so that every time one uses it the person can be charged for the number of kilometers it runs. 

Chennai has a fairly good public transport system. But , people do not seem to be using  it as much as they ought to. A road with fewer cars and scooters would be easier for buses and if the number of AC buses can be increased then life on the road would become much easier. With the metro coming in there would be another important option. 

Unfortunately, people in this city have a lot of western ( read American) aspirations where every member of the family wants to drive around in a car.  The evolution of this can be traced back to the days of the IT boom when salaries skyrocketed!!  People thought they could realize the American dream in a South Indian city! Banks were quick to realize the  business option around this dream giving rise to easy access to vehicle loans. The lower middle classes not to be outdone used this option for buying two wheelers which they slowly upgraded to a four wheeler. They sometimes retain both vehicles often using the two wheelers to negotiate the difficult streets in places like T Nagar.

I think it is about time we realized that India is not America. Every member of the family does not have to have a car. Housewives can easily walk to do their grocery shopping and kids can take the school bus or public bus. We have a huge urban population which requires mass transport options. No amount of fly overs or under passes will be enough to contain this burgeoning vehicle population. Most of the times one feels like standing in a queue in the Tirupati temple while driving through traffic in the city. We stand more than we move. 

I firmly believe that where there is a will there is a way. Why is public transportation considered so demeaning to travel in? I have always taken buses and trains and I do not feel ashamed about it. People often ask me why I don’t drive when I learnt how to and also possess a driving license? While I am extremely nervous about driving under the conditions that exist I must say I do not WANT to drive  to get from point A to point B. And given the traffic issues one is not going to arrive earlier simply because one drove to that point. I am perfectly comfortable with  arriving somewhere in a bus, train or an auto.  I am who I am and do not need a car to tell the world about it. 

I believe that if there are more numbers of people opting for public transport, there  would be more pressure on the government to increase the frequency and quality of buses. If we can pay Rs 100 for a short distance by auto or bear the exorbitant fuel costs for our fancy cars we can certainly cough up Rs 50 or so for a one way travel by an air-conditioned bus. 

 Where there is a will there is a way. And as I have mentioned earlier, all ways proposed need not involve state expenditure.  It just calls for a holistic effort at urban planning that explores options beyond infrastructure involving all stakeholders concerned. And I believe it SHOULD be possible in a democracy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013 6 comments

Lost in this “new” world

I am convinced I am well on the path towards old age! I am increasing spending more time on the “nostalgia trip” reminiscing about childhood and youth depicting them as a golden period!  But I am not alone. I find a lot of people of my generation are indulging in this. Why?  Is it just that these were times in our lives when we were without a care in this world or is it that we lived during a time when life was easier?

But the question is who is to decide that? If we look at the development indicators of our country today and compare it with what it was in the 1970s and 80s then it does not look like life was very easy in those times. Medical science had not achieved  the heights that is has today  It was a time when every other child used to suffer from Primary complex. Smallpox and polio were a reality. Tuberculosis was still a dreaded disease resulting in people having to live in “sanatoriums”. Villages lived in darkness after the evening and few people had access to education. 

However, I guess for the middle classes, life was difficult but not so hard. We had access to health care and education. But unemployment was something that most people in the middle classes dreaded. Getting a “decent job” was a must for all males from the middle class. What constituted “decent” was something white collar where one sat across a table and did something with a pen!

India has obviously come a long way from those times. 

But at a more philosophical level, I feel what is missing now is the “fire” that burned in people, particularly the youth. There was the desire to change things. It was not just in India , the entire world was burning with this fire. The movement in the US against segregation, the Vietnam war, the songs that were written, the “flower power” cult  that came up bear testimony to the fact that the world was still holding on to ideals. Closer home we had the Naxalite movement which had a huge participation from the educated youth. Sure, there was politics and corruption but nothing near what it is now.  The Media was not judge and jury creating heroes and villains out of people! Like others they also had a conscience! I remember during the days of the emergency in our country, some newspapers came up with a blank editorial. 

While I am all for the positive change that has come about in today’s world in terms of development I think what is missing is that idealism. People tell me that it is the market economy that is the culprit. I am not sure. I think, it has something to do with a general change in the value system that has come about. Achievements in terms of tangibles are very important today. It is what house you live in, the car you drive that tells people who you are. It is okay to flaunt what you have and be proud of it. People see it as a reward for their “hard work”. 

But more than anything is a sense of disconnect that we have with anything that does not immediately affect us.  There is a certain cynicism that has overtaken us. We have more access to information and differing view point on the same issue presented to us literally on a plate, yet we do not act on this information.  
Even knowledge seems to have undergone a change in definition! Actually what constitutes knowledge in today’s times is very different. It is very technology and money focused. Sure, both these are very essential in making life easier but can we allow them to take over our lives? They can also be used to enrich our lives but we don’t! That self centered being within us does not allow us to !.

We in India may have consolidated ourselves as a nation and become a power to reckon with in this region but we are getting fragmented by the day along lines of religion, caste and ethnicity. Our politics bears testimony to the fact.
We are unsafe even within our own neighborhoods. You can’t say when or where a bomb would explode. And this is probably the single most unifying condition across the world. Yet, it does not help in bringing us together to extinguish the feeling of hate behind it. Hatred is dealt with hatred keeping the fire burning.

This is the world that we are leaving behind for our children. But the point is, do they care? They are so blissful , enjoying their own comforts and chasing behind some more that none of these things seem to really matter to them. A death in a bomb blast, a case of death by starvation is just another news item. 

Everything and everyone today can be bought off. You just need to have the capacity to pay. Even the naxal movement of the 70s has been reduced to that. All existential questions can seemingly be answered through the currency option. 

A dream today is about a life where you have the capacity to pay for whatever is required to be paid for. Sad….!!!  I shudder to think what we are heading for..the apocalypse? 

I think I must sign off now. Guess I am ready to be labeled as well and truly senile!!