Waiting for food

Bangalore’s latest hang-out spot is The
, a 450,000 acre shopping complex in Koramangala. This is the first
mall of its kind and size in Bangalore, so of course Bangaloreans are flocking
there to check out this shopping paradise.

Like any decent mall, The Forum too has a food court, and unlike some of the
other icky food courts in town (yes, Bangalore Central, I’m talking about you),
this one happens to be quite decent. The restaurant-loving Bangalorean, who is
now trying to match the Bombayite at being adventurous about food, has plenty of
variety to keep herself occupied. In the food court, you’ll find Thai food,
Chinese food, South-Indian dosas, biryanis, Subway, etc. It’s a pretty good
spread if you ask me. Obviously, when it gets busy, the place gets chaotic
because the average Indian does not know how to stand in a queue and actually
wait his turn. But I digress…

And guess which food outlet gets the most traffic? Thai food? Subway?

No, ladies and gentlemen, the answer is none of the above. It is… [drumroll
please] the spanking new McDonald’s that has just opened its first
outlet in Bangalore
. Amidst the numerous cuisines on offer at The Forum, the
queue outside McDonald’s stretches for a long, long distance. Can you believe
this? Bangalore has restaurants that serve food from 20 countries, yet the
public is willing to wait ages just so they can get a taste of a lousy Maharaja

What is wrong with us? I’d understand if it were some exotic food not
available elsewhere, but this is Mc-fucking-Donald’s. This is the place
that serves mediocre food consistently all over the world. In USA and most parts
of the world, McDonald’s is cheap-ass food where you can feed your family for
$10. That’s about all there is. There’s no "ambience", the chairs are
uncomfortable (intentionally), and the food is average but same-same everywhere.
Why are we worshipping places like KFC and McDonald’s as if they were some holy
grail of gourmet food? As if this weren’t enough, I tore my hair out when I
opened my Friday copy of the Times of India. I flipped to the food review
section hoping to find some new exciting restaurant in town (because one opens
every other day in Bangalore), and I was horrified. Believe it or not, the food
critic had reviewed the McDonald’s at The Forum. I shit you not! Where
else in the world would a McDonald’s outlet be reviewed like a restaurant? It
happens only in India.

If ever you wanted to see an example of crazy worship of Western icons, this
would be it.

The meaning of being an Indian

I was born in India and have spent most of my life here. But just how
"Indian" am I? 

What does it mean to be an Indian anyway? If we set aside the default label
that was stuck on you because you were born in this country, is there something
else that binds people together into being an Indian? 

Ravi once opined that
nationalism was a constructed identity. He wrote: "Every generation finds
things we have in common, things that we share, things that we value and things
that we can be proud of, and builds a nationalism out of it."

And what if you don’t find too much in common with many people in your
country? I ask because for many years, I have felt a "cultural
mismatch" between me and the country I live in. I could not identify with
many things that form our "culture". For instance:

  1. I am a strong atheist in a country where religion is woven finely into the
    cultural fabric. (My parents are very religious people, however.)
  2. I am a strong individualist in a country where the familial unit is very
    important and indeed, marriages are considered unions between families, not
    just individuals.
  3. In a country full of rituals for every occasion, I find no value in them.
  4. I don’t believe in the "respect your elders by default" Indian
    principle unless they deserve respect.
  5. I don’t really celebrate festivals like Diwali and Holi. (Actually, I
    can’t stand loud noise.)
  6. I’m a libertarian in a society that still mostly believes it should have a
    say in what’s right and what’s wrong in the way people live their lives.
    (Not to mention our socialist government.)
  7. I stop at red traffic lights, no matter how late at night it is or how few
    cars are on the road. I’ve been wearing a seat belt many years before it
    became law.
  8. I try to stand in the queue wherever possible unlike all those others
    rushing to push ahead.
  9. I don’t watch Bollywood movies because they make my brain cells melt each
    time I try.
  10. I consider English my first language because that’s the one I’m most
    comfortable with.

Sorry if I came across as a snob for it wasn’t my intention. I merely find
myself getting more and more pissed off with the so-called "culture"
of this country that is often hailed. Has our culture been reduced to breaking
traffic laws, trying to beat the law, being unruly in situations where some
order is required, spitting on the roads, urinating on walls, whistling in movie
theatres during kissing scenes, etc.?

Not that all people are like that, of course. I have met plenty of nice
enough people, but if I think about my average week, it’s spent being pissed off
at all the stuff I’ve just mentioned. It tilts the balance against what few
positive experiences I have. (There, that sentence was in anticipation of the
"don’t look only at the negative things" argument someone will surely
make.) And even if I didn’t, I feel like a cultural "misfit" because
of all the numbered reasons I’ve given.

How, then, can I strongly identify with this country? Is there any
"Indian" left in me?

Update (27 Oct): I am amused that in a blog entry where the words “West” or “Western” haven’t been mentioned even once, so many people have assumed the comparison anyway. Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups, folks.

Job reservations in the private sector

The ugly word "reservation" is making an appearance again in the
legislative circles. Now, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati is considering passing
a law
making a certain percentage of private sector jobs available only to backward castes.

Job reservations for "backward" castes, regardless of merit, have
been present in government and public sector jobs for a long time now. Isn’t it
enough that we have to endure the appeasement of vote banks by shameless
politicians? Why should the government interfere in the running of private
companies and dictate its employment policies? Unlike the government, social
justice (or the appearance of it) isn’t one of the responsibilities of private
corporations. A corporation exists to make money for its shareholders. While you
could argue that it has a duty to its employees, it doesn’t have a duty to
. A private corporation should be free to hire whoever it wishes,
competent or not, justified or not, and pursue whatever path it thinks will lead
to profitability. The government’s meddling will only result in more social
divisions. Do they honestly think people who get hired only because
"there’s a quota for them" will be welcomed with open arms by other
employees or that they will have a great career path?

Reservations were originally intended to be a temporary measure; something to have in
place while the government tried to provide education to the so-called backward
castes and get them to equal societal and economic status. That they continue to
exist only points to the utter failure of the government to do so in the
last 55 years since we became independent.

You’d expect a politician like Mayawati to resort to such tactics, but what
do you say when members of the intelligentsia also support these policies? JK
points to this news article in which Narayana Murthy, the Indian media’s God of
the software industry, opposes caste-based reservations proposed by Karnataka
Chief Minister S M Krishna. He, however, extends his support for economic
criteria-based reservations in our companies. In other words, Murthy wants us to
reserve a certain percentage of jobs for the poor. No, it’s not for
government jobs but in the private sector. I’m not sure why Murthy, a capitalist
for sure, is making such a statement. Why does he want to force philanthropy on
us? Why isn’t he content with just hiring the best people, regardless of their
economic background? 

His hypocrisy shows through in that he
doesn’t think his own company, Infosys Technologies Limited, is a good place to
start practising what he preaches. Does Infosys reserve any percentage of its
— and I mean the serious software development jobs, not the lower end
"office attendant" type — for poorer people? No, they certainly
don’t. If Murthy is serious about his intentions, let him put his money where
his mouth is. That may, however, present a problem because there’s something
already there.

His foot.

Avoiding personal conflict on mailing lists

I subscribe to email discussion lists on various topics like web development, information architecture, experience design, online writing, etc. I have often seen vicious arguments break out on some of them. Somebody posts something, then someone else not only refutes that but also calls the original poster a moron for not knowing better. Pretty soon, many flames are exchanged, and the rest of the list subscribers are silent witnesses to a bloody mess. Nobody likes that.

From observing these battles, I’ve found some common behavioural  patterns in all such incidents. The following is my list of suggestions for avoiding flames and managing conflict on mailing lists: 

Read More

Personal income tax should be abolished

Mahesh protests against the Rs. 5000 income tax rebate that women tax payers get. He favours abolishing it since it obviously will get frittered away on clothes, entertainment, etc.

He doesn’t realise that there is a far greater evil that needs to be abolished.

And that’s personal income tax for everyone!

Yes, you heard that right. I strongly believe in abolishing personal income tax completely.

Has Madhu lost it, you wonder? I assure you that I have perfectly logical reasons for this. Ready? Let me start…

Read More