Saturday, October 30, 2010

Uniquely Singapore!!!

I resumed blogging after a rather long gap. No particular reason though, I have opened my draft blogs a dozen times in these past six months but never gone ahead to complete it. I spent almost the last seven months in Singapore on an assignment and there is no better topic I can think of to resume blogging than the amazing country. It's a very unique place. I am not so well travelled to make a judgement, but I think Singapore is quite unique. A small island city-country, exceptionally well governed and managed, with robust economic activity is truly an example for several of the world's countries to look at and pick up lessons from. Like every place, Singapore has it's unique flavours which make it what it is today. In my own observations, I will remember Singapore for all these unique reasons:-

Fast walkers:- The first thing you notice about Singapore is fast walkers. People walk out of tube stations, escalators, sea beaches, office complexes and what not...... at a pace you will not see on earth! It is as if they are fitted with some self propelling motors whose speed keeps on increasing. If you do not believe me, I read an article recently where a survey by the British Council ranked Singapore as the city with the fastest walkers followed by Copenhagen, Madrid, Guangzhou and Dublin. Singapore is not a laid back city. The best thing about these fast walkers is that they walk fast at all times - whether it is going to office or coming back, on a weekend with family and friends or when walking out of a pub (that's quite remarkable). However, as a tourist if you really want to get the flavour of the city walk right out of a tube station and walk around. China Town and Clarke Quay are my all time favourites and walking around there is an amazing experience. In fact, my own pace of walking increased by quite a good speed after my stay there.

Amazing public transport: The public transport in Singapore is what one dreams of. Punctual, Reliable, Modern, Economical and World Class. The transport within Singapore is mainly land based - rail, bus, taxis and it is no surprise that a lot of Singaporeans rely completely on that. Travelling within the city is so hassle free that even on a small pretext we used to travel kilometres. However, apart from the trains, bus, taxis there is this unique trishaws akin to our pedalled rickshaws which you can take to get a flavour of the city. When you leave Singapore the thing which strikes is that why the public transport which you took for granted in Singapore is not available in other cities? It is not rocket science, its merely good planning and execution which any other city should be able to do. Its no wonder that a lot of our Indian politicians and babus make innumerable trips to Singapore on taxpayers money to "study" the transport system there and end up ..... I dont know with what (probably large shopping sprees at the Singapore shopping festivals!!)

Cosmopolitan identity:- Singapore is truly a cosmopolitan melting pot. One day in the city is enough to make you realise that it is a unique mix of Chinese, Malay, British and Indian cultures. It happily takes in all these cultures and a large proportion of foreign nationals making it a multi racial, multi ethnic and multi lingual nation. A large section of people can speak or understand more than one language. What really struck during my various interactions with people is that a lot of expats (even Westerns) feel quite at home here and in a lot of cases would not like to go back if given a chance.

Food courts- Singapore can boast of having the largest amount of food courts covering world's most diverse and vibrant culinary traditions. The culinary journey in Singapore is very varied. The choice of food available was actually an eye opener for me. Most local or street food (Singaporeans love that) is influenced by Chinese, Malay and Indian and Continental influences. A large amount of food is chicken based - I saw a lot of Chicken noodles or Chicken rice. There is a huge choice in terms of meat based food ,although for the pure vegetarians there is the ever reliable Saravanna and Anand Bhavan to fall back upon. For the office goers ,La Pau Sat, on a working day lunch hour is amazing. Food is being cooked fast and consumed equally fast. There is probably a little bit of food for every taste - for a Tamil Brahmin to a Japanese tourist or for a Swedish banker.

Network connected - Singapore is the world's most network connected city. I did not meet anybody who does not have a hand phone (most of them Blackberry's and upwards). Checking mail, browsing sites, checking best deals, finding roads, chatting on yahoo are all done on the move on these instruments. The phone is more like a phone cum laptop. An Internet cable line is assured to be there at all places.

Easiest place to do business: Singapore offers one of the best business friendly environments. Its no wonder that almost all the respected corporates in the world have a strong presence there. One may wonder why? The answer is there for all to see- it is a junction of east and west. It is at a crossroads of international trade routes, and it itself is a economic miracle (a country only four decades old, with no natural resources and already one of world's top trade destinations).

Night safari:- This is a unique attraction as part of the Singapore zoo where you will find animals in a created environment resembling their habitat. Its a nocturnal zoo where you hop on to a tram and go through tigers, cheetahs and hyenas who roam about freely past you.

Roads and traffic signals:- Every part of Singapore has traffic signals , some covered by cameras and some not. However, the amazing thing is that in almost 99% of cases people follow them and also follow all road rules. This is such a far cry from some of our cities where if you wait at a red signal the entire traffic honks from behind or if you follow road rules people actually stare and sneer at you.

Litter free:- Singapore has a great reputation of being litter free and it lives up to it everyday. Litter bins are there everywhere and of course there are strict penalties for violating and throwing litter...... could be up to 200 sgd.

Durian fruit:- In Singapore, the king of fruits is the Durian fruit. Widely known, available and marketed.In Singapore, you would either love the durian fruit or hate it but you will never be able to ignore it.It almost ressembles a jackfruit,the edible flesh of it emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard it as fragrant, otherwise find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes deep appreciation to intense disgust and has been described as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The flesh of the fruit is consumed at various stages of ripeness.

There would be a lot more, which I found quite unique in this city. I did not however include them because I feel some of it could be found in other places and restricted my list to absolutely unique things. Its a great place , there are a lot of things you can learn from there...its a happy city, people are joyous and lead happy lives but its also great to be back home!!

Good bye , Singapore...

Friday, July 9, 2010

70's India

Of late this is a topic I have wanted to write. Every generation has it's high moment - a period of time which defines and brands it. We are the 90's generation because we are born in 70's........ that makes us be at the prime of our youth in the 90's. Oh!!! I am deviating from the topic, the 70's generation is the generation born in the 50's i.e the first post independence generation. They were the first ones not having seen the British rule the country, yet having grown up listening to their stories from their parents. What I want to write about, what I feel were the icons of the 70's generation (people-good, bad or ugly who stood out). This generation is now in their 60's having retired and taking an armchair view of life and the changes taking place all around.

What differentiates it from other generations is that they have seen the maximum amount of change in this country, although they may not have been a part of the change process themselves. Some icons and symbols which have stood in this generation and have defined it are :-

  1. Amitabh Bachchan :- Amitabh meaning the light which would never go off, was the screen hero symbolizing the angry young man of the 70's. Usually playing the role of Vijay (victorious). He was the defiant character who braved all odds, showed a heroic masculinity yet his characters connected to the traditional India by the ideal son, brother, or wife he played. Although he flirted with bankruptcy, a near death accident, flops yet the iconic image never took a beating. He is the 70's icon number one.

  2. Ambassador car :-This car despite it's British origins, is a truly a Indian car. Based on the Morris Oxford model and manufactured out of it's Uttarpara plant, this car remains the symbol which symbolizes India. It still is the preferred taxi in most metros in India, is used by the politician and the humble babu and remains most suited to India's terrain. It's is the 70's icon number two.

  3. Indira Gandhi :- Indira , daughter of India's first prime minister was the lady who presided over the India of the 70's.Starting off with her war on Pakistan in 1971, thereby creating Bangladesh and then creating the "smiling buddha" in remote Pokhran in 1974, the green revolution and the emergency , she remains the single most important person who straddled the political landscape then.To the 70's generation , you either loved her ( most women did) or hated her could not ignore her!!!She's is the 70's icon number three.

  4. Sunil Gavaskar :- He was the sporting icon of this generation. Taking on the West Indies in their own land was the start off our birth as a cricketing power. He was the first who made the world stood up and take notice of India as a powerful cricketing nation. Although he had his bad patches of captaincy and controversies, he remained India's number one run getter for years. He is the 70's icon number four.

  5. Varghese Kurien :- Also known as the milkman of India, is the man who created the white revolution in India and made Amul a household brand. Changing dairy from an unorganized sector to a co-operative movement and making India the largest milk producing nation in the world was no mean achievement. One should go to Anand and have the feel of the transformation for themselves.I have been there and I know how milk has transformed Gujrat.

  6. Lata Mangeshkar :-Is truly India's voice of the millennium. She captivated an entire generation who have grown up listening to her songs. Although she has completed seven decades of singing Hindi and other regional songs and has won every possible Indian award upto the Bharat Ratna it is the period of the 70's which actually catapulted her to the long road to fame and history. It is in this decade that she sang the most songs composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal and R.D.Burman whose lyrics were mostly penned by Gulzar, Anand Bakshi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. Beyond the 70's having established fame and a place in the hearts of the people she gradually cut down on her singing and became choosy with directors and lyrics. She is truly India's icon number six.

  7. Pt.Ravi Shankar:- was truly India's first international artist and musician. He is not only one of the greatest artist of this decade but of the later half of this century. His jugalbandi with Allarakha provided one of the greatest partnership in India's musical journey. He was probably solely responsible for popularizing sitar not only in India but also abroad. His teaming up with George Harrison was also one of the great musical success for mixing of Indian and Western music. It was in the 70's that Panditji was at his peak both in the Indian and international musical scene performing in concerts in India and across the world. A flamboyant personality off the musical stage too, he remains icon number seven.

  8. Bajaj Scooter:- Remember those days, Bajaj Chetak and Bajaj Super was one thing you saw on every Indian roads, it was like the Indian happy family's ultimate throne. The man on the driver's seat the woman behind, the little guy and the girl one tucked in between the parents and the other standing in front. Hamara Bajaj was at that time Hamara Parivar. There were competitors like Lambretta and others though but nobody lived upto the Indian family's dream better than the Bajaj scooter.

  9. Bangladesh:- Creation of this nascent nation by breaking off from Pakistan was one of the major events of this decade.Years of linguistic discrimination and economic neglect spurred a revolution triggering a break away from the mainland Pakistan. Led by Mujib and with active and open support by India this small nation was formed after a decisive military victroy. However, Bangaldesh continues to be plagued by poverty, economic corruption and misrule and still remians one of the poorest nations in the region, ironically with one of the highest density of population!!

  10. Naxalbari-charu mazumdar:- The seeds of the communist revolution and marxism were sown here. Starting with a militant peasant uprising and the birth of marxism -lennism in India this movement is something which still continues to be a part of rural political landscape in Bengal. It was as if it was the in thing then to be a Naxal, thousands of students have given up their careers mid-way to join a movement in the 70's which later lost it's way. Although it's ideals were good and revolution was in the air in the 70's it is sad that it's wrong ways and means took out the good name it could have it could have achieved.

I intend to restrict myself to ten for each decade although for the seventies I strongly felt that the smiling buddha , the moped and the green revolution should be a part of.It was a great decade and salute those who made it what it was!!!