Saturday, April 30, 2005

Why I love ice-cream

Because it makes me happy. Indescribably, inexorably happy. I’m actually quite a sight to watch when I eat ice-cream – I act as if I’m on drugs or something. It’s a most harmless, fantastic high. And guess what – research has actually proved that ice-cream really does make you happy. You can read more about it here.

The article says:

Neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London studied a group of people who ate vanilla ice cream. They found that ice cream affected the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain, known to be activated when people enjoy themselves.

Research was also carried out by Unilever, using ice cream made by Walls, which it owns. Don Darling of Unilever said: "This is the first time that we've been able to show that ice cream makes you happy. Just one spoonful lights up the happy zones of the brain in clinical trials."

So, everyone, go have a spoonful of ice-cream today. I’m so glad my wacky behaviour when I eat ice-cream has now got scientific sanction!!!

Cows Ahoy!

There is an article in today’s paper about the menace of cows on Indian roads – something which I thought fit to write about because it is actually an issue which has, at various points of time, taken up quite a bit of my thoughts. Which country in the world, other than India, would you see animals sitting square in the middle of the road, seemingly disinterested in the traffic chaos they are causing? If anyone has an answer, please let me know. I find it absolutely frustrating that a government actually prefers regular traffic jams and occasional accidents to getting rid of the cow menace. I mean, wouldn’t the cows themselves rather be happier in a safe dairy? When I was younger, I used to play ‘What if I was Prime Minister’ in my head, and one of the first things I decided I’d do was put all these wandering cows away where they should be. I mean, India has enough and more people to tend to cows, and if a bit of the money going to pay bribes could be usefully diverted to doing this, I think a lot of good would be done. First you’d be clearing the roads and making them safer, and second you would be generating employment for poor people who need them. In fact, a whole industry could be usefully tapped – you could have dairies producing milk which could generate income, and so on and so forth. But I suppose the government would typically have their own views on this – such as where would the land for such an enterprise come from? Oh, well.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been given a deadline of one week by the High Court to clear city roads of the cattle menace. And the MCD Commissioner is not optimistic of achieving the target within the deadline. Is that surprising? Not to me. Anyway, to quote, ”Considering our experience with the police, we will be able to achieve the target only by the year-end. The court has asked us to submit an action plan within a week. I have called for an immediate meeting of officials from the veterinary department to discuss the matter.” Which basically means – too bad for the public. They are going to have to continue to put up with the cattle menace indefinitely.

There is another rather funny angle to this, by the way - a rumour presumably because I didn’t find anything to support it on the globally accepted Source of All Knowledge (the internet of course!!) – apparently cows sit in the middle of the road because flies don’t irritate them there due to the constant flow of traffic. This has, according to the rumour, been found out by none other than the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Do Not Disturb

If anyone has ever had unsolicited calls from various companies asking if you are interested in their products, then you know how I feel. Yesterday I had FOUR calls (and I think I’ve hardly ever got any before that) from HDFC, Tata Indicom, Idea Cellular, and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance asking me whether I’m interested in their credit cards, phone connections, or insurance. I’ve worked with a market research company briefly and I know for a fact that they have a database of landline numbers whom they call to conduct research on various topics. But calling mobile numbers to sell products is another thing altogether and that is what I call complete invasion of privacy. In fact, where I used to work, the system did not permit mobile numbers to be called (but that of course was the UK and not India where privacy is almost non-existent).

The first call I actually bothered to respond to because I was interested in what they had to say. I said I’d think about it and put the phone down. To the others I just kept parroting 'Not interested'. Now my theory is that there must be a central database where these people pass on all unsuspecting fools for other companies to harass, because somehow the other three all called the same day. Having been disturbed from my sleep (which is the worst time to call anyone, by the way), I angrily asked the fourth chap where he got my number from, and the answer was a ‘marketing research’ company.

Someone should tell them that market research is very different from hard-selling products. India needs to get professional and follow a publicly accepted system.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Paradise on Earth

“If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” once exclaimed King Jehangir of Kashmir. The atmosphere is not as carefree as it was during his time, but I echoed his feelings when my eyes feasted upon the natural wealth of Kashmir for the first time. I was full of mixed emotions when I went – what was I to expect? The last two decades have seen Kashmir’s socio-political atmosphere disintegrate tragically, and even if one isn’t too keen on reading about the state of affairs there regularly, the Indian media won’t allow you to speculate. Bombs, suicide attacks – that’s all I ever read about. But things are improving, albeit slowly. On April 7th , the first Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus in recent times made a journey. The happy event was however clouded by a purported ‘militant’ attack on the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar a day prior to that. I say ‘purported’ beause the majority of educated Kashmiris in the city believe that it was a government plan to attract attention to the terrorism in the state – security in the area prior to the bus journey was so tight that even a fly couldn’t have flown by, and then a militant attack?, they noted skeptically.

As my flight descended into the Valley, I was awestruck by the looming snow-capped mountains in the distance, and the yellow mustard fields dotting the landscape. The grey clouds in the sky seemed all at once mysterious and beautiful. Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir (or, as the BBC, politically correct as always says, ‘Indian Kashmir’) is nestled among the Karakoram range of mountains and has a population of 1.1 million. Muslims are the majority but Sikhs, despite the Anantnag massacre in 2001, still live here, as do many Hindus despite the ouster of the Kashmiri Pandit Hindus a while ago. Army men stand with guns or man bunkers on the roads every few feet, despite the relative peace in most areas where people go about their daily business, having got used to the presence of the military in the state. The supply of electricity is erratic, with regular power cuts, and life pretty much shuts down by 8 PM.

Having said all this, I don’t think I can do justice to the beauty of the place. It is no wonder that India and Pakistan are fighting over Kashmir, because I’m pretty sure that tourism alone would bring in a lot of money if there was peace. I went to Gulmarg, literally meaning ‘Meadow of Flowers’, which was actually a meadow of snow when I was there! A white blanket dotted the mountainous area, and a ride by cable-car took me to the upper reaches of the area where the base of some peaks were within walking distance. Many old Hindi films have been shot in Gulmarg, and I even recognized some locations from my limited memory of a few I’ve seen (If anyone knows the Mumtaz-Rajesh Khanna song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, it was shot here).

Pahalgam is another pretty-as-a-picture place to visit. This one translates as ‘Valley of Shepherds’. A rushing river gushes through the region, called the Lidder Valley, as snow-laden peaks shine in the distance. It actually snowed briefly while I was there, and though summer is known as the best time to visit, the cold added its own touch to my memory of Pahalgam.

Taking a ride in a shikara on Dal Lake, getting dressed up in Kashmiri get-up for a photo and begging the army men at security check-posts at the entry to the Mughal Gardens at Cheshmashahi to let us take a video-camera (which we finally did smuggle inside!) are some other enjoyable moments of my trip.

One thought that repeatedly came to my mind during my stay was that this was truly a paradise on earth. Now if only someone could only make the region’s decision-makers and activitists understand that.