What they play is life!

What an enjoyable evening I had on Sunday, the 20th of February 2011! I was privileged to be at RaGaJAM III, organized by the RaGa School of Music (RaGaSoM). This was an opportunity for its students, and others, to perform informally on stage in front of an audience, with no competition or judgments. Ravi C.A., the Director of RaGaSoM and my student decades ago, had/has enough Chemistry with me to generously invite me!

Many of the young performers, some barely five or six years of age, went on stage for the very first time in their lives. Surely, their best is yet to come! Most of the budding musicians were confident, some uncertain, but that only added to the charm! Each and every one of them were wonderful, completed their piece, not giving up, and won generous applause from the audience! After a very long time, I had the opportunity to listen to music being performed, and this was gold!

I’ve always felt that at concerts by great musicians, we, the audience, become one collective cohesive reactive entity with them. Performers and audience each supply and feed off the others’ energy. Here, these youngsters were already captivating their audience with their music! Music is indeed a great way of simply having fun, providing enjoyment and connecting with people!

Music, the great Plato told us, “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”! George Eliot said, “music infuses strength into our limbs and ideas into our brains! With music, life seems to go on without effort!” That pre-eminent man of science, Einstein, also a reasonable player of the violin, declared “I live my daydreams in music… I get most joy in life out of music.” Martin Luther King said music “makes the people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable”. Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” opined Berthold Auerbach. To top all that, What we play is life!” said Louis Armstrong.

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Do you really see the things that exist or happen around you, and maybe think about them? Have you marveled why the sky is generally a beautiful blue? And not blue at sunsets? Are you intrigued by the aroma from the soil when it rains? Does the trill and warble of birdsong fascinate you? Are you amazed by why birds fly in formation and how they seem to know their way around the world with no GPS? Did you ever think about why eggs are, well, egg-shaped, before wolfing down that omlette?  Or perhaps the seemingly infinite variety of colours in flowers, birds, and yes, fish and coral too, astounds you? And so on…, because there are wonderful things around us to be seen and thought about, if only we open our minds!

It is a fact that mostly, scientists performed well-thought-out experiments, made observations, compiled results, and thought of inferences and explanations that earned them their spot in human learning and history. But there are many instances where accidental observations helped people formulate profound theories and make useful inventions. This happy ability of making desirable discoveries by accident is called ‘serendipity’. Quite a few such lucky observations have turned out to be of great benefit to humanity. Continue reading

De-constructing our Killing Fields*

Our roads are killing fields! India is the accident capital of the world! Whether on highways or on city roads, the sheer number of deaths on our roads is unacceptably high. Moreover, those surviving traffic accidents with serious injuries and disabilities (like head injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs, eyesight etc.) arguably end up in plights worse than death!

Nobody has the right to endanger others! Lives are are at stake both on our highways as well as on urban roads! Entire families are destroyed when their bread-earners are killed on the road! Roads are for travel, not murder! We must make our roads safe by educating road-users and implementing corrective measures immediately!

To ensure safety and to secure innocent lives in future, the following steps can be considered:

  • Firstly, all our roads must be made completely safe: pot-hole free, with good visibility, signs and signals, well-lit at night, with sensible and scientific speed-breakers which are not back-breakers, with clearly indicated safe pedestrian crossings (perhaps with railway-style barriers), with good security to prevent crime, equipped with excellent dedicated first-aid, emergency and medical facilities, ambulances and rescue infrastructure with routes to cope instantly with emergencies. And, it must be said, even if unrelated: clean, usable public toilets are a must on any road to preclude the vulgarity that happens now!
  • Area-wise, interconnected, proactive and reactive monitoring systems should be set up throughout the country, wherever population and traffic density warrants it. Continue reading

Our Roads – Killing Fields!

Our roads are killing fields! Indian roads have more road accidents than any other country in the world, with a death every four minutes. Callous driving and/or jaywalking often leads to this sad loss of lives, and must be tackled. For 67 years now, our governments, road traffic authorities and the police have proved criminally indifferent to the killing/ slaughter happening daily on our roads. The Supreme Court of India thus deserves our gratitude for appointing a panel (on 22nd April, 2014) to scrutinize and monitor enforcement of existing road safety laws. 

Since the RTO’s and Police have been ineffective in ensuring road safety, it’s time to look for alternative solutions to safeguard lives on our roads! Perhaps one solution is to outsource all or part of Traffic Safety duties to people/entities who have a stake in it and/or will actually ensure it. Everyone has the right to safety on our roads! 

If at all the whole road system doesn’t collapse, it’s because the majority of road users, bless them, drive sensibly. But there’s a veritable jeremiad otherwise! Ambulances with emergency cases are NEVER given right of way, and are often actually overtaken, even incredibly, from the left! The specimens who actively prevent free movement of ambulances contribute to the deaths of many people who may be saved if they are quickly ferried to hospitals during The Golden Hour. Our cops never catch and punish this rabble, who cannot be termed human!

People are yelled or horned at if they stop at red signals, give way at a circle to traffic coming from the right, or refuse to drive at breakneck speeds through busy narrow streets overflowing with humanity! Rules are now broken recklessly and with impunity.

Insanely fast, criss-crossing rash riders/drivers on roads put everyone’s limbs and lives in danger, including those of policemen. These speed goons take sudden unannounced  turns, go the wrong way on one-ways, routinely run through red signals, drive across road-dividers, go/turn everywhere including on footpaths, overtake at intersections, disrupt orderly traffic lanes/ queues, and generally make a nuisance of themselves in every way possible.  Such madmen are surely the only ones in the world to actually overtake pedestrians crossing  roads at designated zebra crossings, and, at traffic signals, overtake straight-moving traffic from the left and even more insanely cut across it to move to the RIGHT, or overtake from the right to cut left! Bangalore Metropolitan Transport buses often cause grievous accidents in Bangalore. However, a couple of days ago, a half-witted motorbike rider with pillion cut across a signal light he was supposed to stop, and was crushed to death by a Bangalore Metropolitan Transport bus, while the pillion suffered serious head injuries. Strangely, the bus driver was arrested by the police!

Currently, we are lucky if we get back home unscathed at the end of the day after a to-and-fro commute through the killing fields! Accidents and offensive driving abound. Most people aren’t even aware of what’s to be done when an accident happens, allowing perpetrators to gleefully go scot-free. Road rage has led to murders, even in Bangalore, and the murderers often get away! It must be mentioned that rash driving and road rage have become even more frequent in Bangalore after our brethren from other parts of the country have moved in!

The police do monetarily penalize innocuous rule-breakers, even if no one knows how much goes into their own pockets (yeh hai India!). Their campaign against drunken driving has achieved some results. But they have NO intent or mechanism of catching the mindless hit-men who drive in a constant frenzy, using their vehicles, big and small, as macho weapons, overtaking dangerously when and where it is most risky and/or not lawfully permitted, weaving madly through traffic and generally stressing everyone else on the road. This seems the only way these losers can make any impression on this world! And we know that one uncaring indisciplined idiot is all it takes to cause a major traffic jam, and we have lots of (both of) these!

But all this inevitably causes the horrendous traffic tragedies reported almost every day! To add to the crazy tension of extremely unpredictable traffic, lots of morons are (loudly) horny where it just make a difference, and at least half of whom are constantly and criminally driving erratically because they’re on their cellphones! One hopes the cops will actually do what they say, which is that they’ll suspend licenses of those drunk, speaking on phones or doing wheelies.

The police can never catch the nut-cases who, say, ride triples (all helmetless!) while doing wheelies going the wrong way on a busy one-way road outside a popular women’s college, because they are just not conditioned, or available, to be there! Often, the police impotently allows a bunch of maniacs doing wheelies to ride through some of the busiest parts of Bangalore city,  especially after midnight, though there’s a lull when the Police van comes around, siren and all.

The police department just doesn’t seem to realize that its primary duty is to prevent innocent people from being endangered by traffic deviants! It does nothing proactively, and only reacts in a punch-drunk way. Its prime concern is traffic flow, not safety, even though there have been traffic fatalities in the police force! Yes, we realize that it is tough for traffic cops to stand day in and night out in the suffocating heat, smoke and grime of city traffic! For some idiotic reason, the police in our great republic don’t have anywhere near enoughnumbers. The police-to-people ratio in our populous land is probably the worst in the world.

More importantly, our police definitely do not have the mindset that they are actually our protectors and helpers! Instead, they prefer to function as petty harassers! They of prefer not to stand prominently visible at traffic signals, which would prevent idiots from ignoring the signal. Instead, at least in Bangalore, the traffic police often prefer to lurk around corners, away from signals, encouraging these idiots to wantonly break signal discipline, then try to catch them, often for moolah! It does not seem to concern them that this silly traffic drama endangers the lives and limbs of safe-driving citizens.

The RTO’s, too, play a major role in the mad mayhem of our streets and highways because they hand out licenses routinely to those who directly or indirectly grease their palms (guess even illiteracy, as in inability to read or understand, is no obstacle for these kings-of-the-road-to-be!). In addition to the hormonally driven, most auto rickshaw, transport and commercial drivers in cities (specially those of BPO pick-up vehicles and taxis) show extreme contempt for the rules and a complete absence of respect towards other road-users. The so-called Driving Schools are nothing but institutionalized collection agents for RTO personnel, who even openly sell expired Army stamps or some-such whatchamacallits to those who are supposed to be taking driving tests! Is it then any wonder that maybe 90% of vehicle-users on our roads have no clue at all about common sense traffic rules, so don’t know of them or follow them, leading to valuable lives being lost or destroyed almost daily?

Some sad specimens of parenthood even break traffic rules in the presence of their child/children, giving the message that it’s unnecessary and unfashionable to follow rules. Someday perhaps, if this parent-imparted contempt for traffic rules causes the death of this child after he grows up, who else but the foolish parent is responsible?!

On our nations highways also, accidents are caused due to over-speeding, faulty brakes, senseless driving, changing lanes, weaving through speeding traffic, bad roads/visibility, not using seat-belts or helmets, overtaking without checking whether it can be done safely, wild racing with other vehicles, driving beyond exhaustion, sleep-deprivation, drunken, haphazard, wrong-lane driving (some slow drivers/ heavy vehicles stick to the right like limpets!), not slowing down for crossing pedestrians, lack of visible and rational road signage, all mean that a lot of people die needlessly. The high speeds on highways make fatalities almost certain.

However horrendous the traffic accident deaths on our highways or urban roads, those surviving traffic accidents with serious injuries and disabilities (head injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs or their use, eyesight etc.) often arguably end up in plights worse than death!

Nobody has the right to endanger others! Lives are invaluable and limbs are irreplaceable, not to mention heads. All these are endangered both on our highways as well as on urban and rural roads! Entire families are destroyed when their bread-earners are killed by arrogance, stupidity or carelessness on roads. Roads are for safe travel, not murder. We must make our roads safe!