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Saturday, February 29, 2020

An Ode To Arrogance!

Arrogance is one of the defining characteristics of human beings. Arrogance can be easily discerned or felt by us in every word or act or posture or gait displayed by the inflicted persons. We confront them everywhere—at home where the arrogance of the head of the household is as ancient as the homo sapiens; at workplace where the arrogance of the boss percolates down the line very often apart from the others in various sycophantic roles; at educational institutions where the most scholarly often displays the most arrogance apart from the others in various emphatic roles; in the ruling class hierarchy arrogance has been a trademark notwithstanding the transformation from monarchy/dictatorship to democracy in many nations of the world; and so on. Of course, no generalization has been attempted here: else, how on earth can we have the magnanimity of discussing it!

The word ‘arrogance’ has, logically, numerous synonyms. Here we’ll mention a few examples so that our discourse is easier to understand. These are: Haughtiness, Condescension, Egotism, Swagger, Snobbishness, Superciliousness, Mocking, Sneering, and Big-headedness. Based largely on these we can list out a few characteristic features of the arrogant as below:

·    The ideology or the ideals they adhere to are the perfect which everybody should follow unquestioningly. They know everything, and are absolute scholars, philosophers and writers.
·            What they do or say or imply is always right and no living soul should ever vouch on the contrary.
·         What they eat, what they wear and what styles or standards they adopt are the most discrete ones, and no one should ever think disobey.
·         They are extremely intolerant of others’ opinions, forget about dissent which you only think is the hallmark of a democracy, and anyone who dares to contest gets condemned as unfaithful or criminals or traitors.
·          They are also extremely capable of making fun of others—that they possess an indomitable appetite to go on mocking others with an omnipresent all-knowing grin; if they are forced by circumstances to give befitting replies to daringly democratic voices.

As we had mentioned earlier we meet arrogant people at every walk of life. At best, we can get over them with slight inconveniences; at worst, we get affected by them so grievously that our life gets derailed or even damaged—all such situations being at a personal level though. However, if arrogance takes over at the macro level, meaning at the level of state administration or governance then it’s a recipe for absolute disaster. Unfortunately, such kind of ‘governance with arrogance’ has been happening in many places across the world: bulldozing public opinion or protests or democratic traditions or basic principles of humanity. The tragic consequences are all there to behold: use of the time-tested divide-and-rule policy, particularly during elections; unparalleled display, preaching and spread of hatred; racist and communal violence; mob fury, lynching and riots; and of course, tragic loss of innocent lives—so unnecessary and so eminently preventable.

Why then ‘an ode’ to such an undeserving phenomenon? Well, democratic sentiments are still embedded in numerous souls of numerous hapless subjects like this writer, and so, we, some of the people, still strive to respect the spirit of a democracy. We’d earlier said about the unfortunate phenomenon of  ‘governance with arrogance’ seen in quite a few countries of the world, and what is doubly unfortunate is the fact that large chunks of subjects tend to support or vote for the phenomenon. These large chunks often prove to be the majority in respective countries. In a democracy we respect all sections of the society—their needs, interests and opinions, and therefore, if the majorities themselves are with the ‘change’ then how on earth could we ignore such overwhelmingly democratic spontaneity!

It’s altogether a different matter if the majorities fail miserably to distinguish the ‘right’ from the ‘wrong’. And, it’s altogether a very justifiable matter if we decide to use the ‘an ode’ prefix.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

I Don’t Know!

Although the phrase ‘I don’t know’ seems to be a straightforward and simple expression of human ignorance, at times its connotations, hidden meanings and subdued emotions can vary dangerously. At the simplest level it’s a frank and honest admission, and we good people mostly adhere to it while making such an expression. However, it differs with the persons one makes this admission to: if you’re forced to make it to your teacher or boss you’re a little ashamed of yourself, and you try always to make it the briefest, and the mildest expression as far as your vocal chords are concerned. To your parents or siblings or friends you tend to be a little angry as if they deliberately selected the areas in which you are deficient—to tease or taunt you. Sometimes, in general, you give a broad grin as if it were a joke at you being asked a certain question to which your answer ‘I don’t know’ cascades out in turbulent of waves of uncontrollable laughter: of course, such a reaction of yours need not always be factual. Reactions emanating from the other parties involved would be dependent on various factors, in all cases. The utmost efforts ‘to hide your ignorance’ are mostly rampant; also, a weak smile defends your ‘answer’ the best with robust pride.  

The dangerous levels of ‘I don’t know’ manifest themselves in at least two typical cases: 1. When your spouse is involved in this process you tend to become ferociously indignant that s/he may choose that types of questions—so often, repeatedly and with derisive pleasure; 2. In the second case it may amount to a brazen display of abominable arrogance even, when an expert or a scholar or a politician has to make this expression after being asked a question. The reasons, the second case, for such unwarranted arrogance could be these: that s/he really doesn’t know the answer and is dismally irritated at being forced to respond; or that s/he may think it’s ridiculous to be asked such a glaringly plain question and her/his expression ‘I don’t know’ could cross the permitted decibel level so as to convey ‘how dare you ask me that question, don’t you know who I am’, the factual position be anything, as always; or lastly that s/he’d rather make a shrieking arrogant mockery of  you for your supposed impudence or ignorance to put such a question, whatever be the factual position.

If you pester me for more details, I’d also respond, “I don’t know!” in perfect calm though.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

No Eating Standing!

Kolkata (Calcutta of yore) is still called the city of joy, in my view, for one basic reason: things are very cheap here considering the fact that it is one of the four metro cities of India—apart, of course, from its treasure house of classic and progressive literature, three Nobel laureates, its enriched culture and heritage. To retain our emphasis, it offers the cheapest options in almost all fields of life: for example, metro train fare is still pegged at minimum five rupees which you’ll find nowhere else; other public transport fares are also the lowest in comparison with other Indian cities, it is a different matter altogether if the comfort quotient here is probably pushed into oblivion; auto-rickshaws are mostly shared for which you need       only a few coins in your pocket, and the app cabs are also forced to abide by low fares due to which the aggregators indulge often in orgies of mad surge prices, picking any occasion or the time; if you are a voracious reader you can find all of types of books at throw-away prices with a novelty of book-vendors enticing you to shop books; and of course, the culinary delights at mouth-watering prices. Basically, it seems that the enlightened people of the city are averse to paying high prices for the basic amenities which they consider their rights, and for that life-support system they are ever ready to sacrifice all thoughts about comfort or luxury. The governments or the authorities, therefore, think thrice before deciding to increase any public utility charges, and there ensues the politics of pricing, if we can say that. This is public knowledge that the metro railway fares in the city could recently be increased only after decades of indecision: interestingly, some of the people who think too much about the indignity of being pushed or crushed on a daily basis had been crying hoarse for years urging the authorities to please increase the fares. Anyway, here we intend to deal only with the eating part—that is, eating outside, to be specific.

Most of the public eating places here consist of road-side joints, mobile vendors and make-shift claustrophobic interiors claiming to be restaurants. When you look at metros like Mumbai you find restaurants of all grades offering a range of prices for various categories of customers at almost every street or lane or stations. You realize the crux of it the moment you compare the cost of eating outside: here in Kolkata road-side joints you get even tastier and steaming-hot items at one-third of the price you pay in a Mumbai restaurant. Locals here, of course, caution you: the kind of oil that the eateries use is of the lowest quality and the kind of meat they cook is of a very suspicious nature which can make you sick, if you gorge on the incredibly-priced dishes of all kinds; but as far as they themselves are concerned they say they have got immune to it through decades of gastronomic economy and so, nothing happens to them. Whatever be the way of life here, you’re bound to get angry, irritated and disconsolate at times, because it doesn’t suit you all the time.

That day I had an errand to accomplish in the afternoon session, and after a gruelling three-hour engagement I finally freed myself. As I pondered whether to head straightaway to the metro train station or to try fulfill an uncontrollable desire building up inside my noble soul I finally voted for the latter which was very simple and humane: I just wanted to sit at a nice eating place and have a steaming cup of tea with perhaps a snack. And then the ordeal!

I walked up and down, across, and around all the streets or lanes in the congested locality—searching for a restaurant where I can sit in comfort. An hour elapsed, my legs aching in protest; and I could find not a single place where I could sit to drink-eat. All the while the road-side joints, the stalls displaying all kinds of food and vendors carrying five-buck teas and cakes beckoned me, invited me or even mocked me. But no, I’ll not eat standing, I need to sit and eat like a human being who really needs to sit down on various other occasions, I decided firmly. My decision was to no avail as the city dogmatically refused to yield me a place, and finally I had to trudge up a distance again to the metro station to take a train home—joyless.

On another day, to make matters worse, I had my wife with me. We went to visit a museum, and my wife having taken extreme pain to inculcate the ideals and meanings inherent in all the architects on display our sojourn got expanded to several hours of moving around standing with the pangs of hunger suddenly starting to torment us. When, finally, we hit the narrow and high-traffic street outside we were ravenously hungry and desperate to sit down, again at a nice restaurant, and have a meal. Someone advised us to take a stroll towards the nearest metro station by means of which we would definitely find a hotel—he was sure one good hotel existed.

It turned out to be an endless stroll; and again, only the vendors or tea-makers accosted us. My wife starting to curse, and we nearly out of patience, finally we did find that good hotel. My discerning eyes, however, could find nothing ‘good’ about the much-hyped place: the lone hotelier or the manager or the cook was crouching behind a glass-paned wooden box displaying a few cooked items, and there were only a few metal stools looking up to an elongated desk across the side wall—supposedly the sit-and-eat positions. I took a courageous step inside, and asked the person as to where be the menu or the items available at that late-lunch hour. The hotelier or the manager or the cook, chewing a paan (betel nut-leaf mix) in delicious abandon, looked annoyed, and asked me to read the board displayed outside. In fact, I noticed the longish board fixed quite high up outside while entering the place. Unfortunately, reading the board would involve craning the neck to such an acute upward angle that there was the risk of falling backwards and that was even more dangerous as the traffic roared just by the side of the tapered stone pavement. I decided to give up; my wife having already taken the decision to walkout on hygienic consideration—the paan-chewing visage of the hotelier or the manager or the cook presenting a rather dirty picture for her.

However, we were still firm on our stand—we won’t stand and eat. Finally, again, we had no option but to trudge up to the metro station to take a train home—joyless.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cricket Of Whitewashes—Now New Zealand ODI-Swamp India 3-0!


After India whitewashed New Zealand by 5-0 in the T20I Series now New Zealand whitewash back with a 3-0 triumph over India in the 3-match one-day international (ODI0 Series. In the third and final match today at Mount Maunganui New Zealand thrashed India by 5 wickets, despite a challenging target of 297 put by India. With NZ openers Guptill and Nicholls going-great-guns the Kiwis overtook the target with relative ease. In the first match the hosts assailed India’s target of 347, the stiffest and highest of the series, with quite a few balls to spare exposing the visitors’ bowling woes. Some Indian commentators have once again played with the word ‘complacency’ saying that perhaps the Indians were a bit complacent after the T20 whitewash! Well, over the decades this writer has been utterly unable to understand how a professional team affords to be complacent against another professional team in very competitive international matches. The hyped products of experimentation like the Sainies or the Thakurs hardly able to do anything to justify the exclusion of Test pacers. We’d also like to know what has happened to Khaleel Ahmed and others who were experimented relentlessly in a two-year countdown to the ICC World Cup-2019.

Of course, you can say Team India is depleted with both the openers—Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma—out due to injury. Of course! But if you’ve been experimenting consistently over the years where are your performers then? This proves again that the selectors have been just blindly trying to help the IPL youngsters without getting into the ‘performance’ track. The set No.4 batsman Ambati Rayadu was banished into oblivion before the World Cup and thus artificially creating the No.4 syndrome. Moreover, why are Test-tested batsmen like Ajinkya Rahane and some of the bowlers are permanently dropped for the shorter formats? Again, if we look closely into the ODI series it is more of bowlers’ failure than batsmen’. I still stick to my view that excellent Test performers can always excel in any format of the game. As for New Zealand, they have set in order the inexplicable batting blues displayed in the T20 series.

Now with the two-match Test Series between Indian and New Zealand coming up, the same ‘dropped’ veterans will be inducted into the team, and the selectors would want them to perform instantly while depriving them of good exposure in the shorter formats. If you’re doing experiment which you’ll continue doing since the T20 World Cup-2020 is coming up, then why restrict it only to IPL ‘talents’, why not open it up to veterans too? Anyway, now over to Test cricket! Should we expect the hat-trick of whitewashes? Nothing wrong in having great expectations!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Brown Sugar And The Olden Rage!

We had about ten minutes before joining the boarding queue. Although we had a good breakfast at the hotel the running-around packing, carrying/arranging the baggage and the fairly tedious taxi drive to the airport made us hungry again. The prices on board are exorbitant which means we will remain hungry for at least three hours before we reach our destination—not to mention one more tediously long taxi drive home, I reason. Therefore, we decided to have a quick bite; accordingly, leaving my wife with the bags I ran to a fast-food stall at the airport lounge.

I ordered two chicken puffs and a cup of tea: cannot pay so much for tea, and so one cup will have to provide the rudimentary sips for the two of us. After taking custody of the puffs and large paper cup of tea I looked around for the sugar sachets. I picked up a sachet, tore it up and as I started pouring it over the cup of tea I suddenly stopped. The contents that came down looked brown and I found the color suspicious: thought it could be some kind of spices. I threw the packet away, and finding another tray with other sachets picked up one, and to my satisfaction this time it was white and homely.

I was not aware of a customer standing alongside me. His words addressed to me made me look at him, found him to be a security or police person as he was in that khaki uniform.
He was saying to me, “Don’t throw that. This is brown sugar, and it is very good for you old guys—very healthy indeed!”
His expression ‘old chaps’ hit my eardrums with an absolutely adverse impact, and it made me angry instantly. How dare you call me old! However, I kept my decency; but I had a point to catch him off-guard, so I cried in feigned surprise.
“Brown sugar! How do you mean?”
“No, no! It is not that brown sugar! This, you know, is made of gud (jaggery) which is good for people even with diabetes. In your age you must know about this!”
“Yes, I do know. But I don’t like it with tea, I like the rosogollas made with gud, no doubt!” I neatly collected my precious items and left in a hurry—more to avoid speaking again to that ‘insulting’ personage than for the time constraint. As I was walking away with long strides I could still hear him commenting on various other sweets made with gud.

I rejoined my wife with a grave expression on my face, but this apparent oddity at that hour escaped her attention altogether as she was busy talking on her mobile. The serpentine queue at the boarding gate was already formed, and so we started attacking the puffs furiously while indulging occasionally in the limited sips available with the tea. All the while on this act I couldn’t help myself muttering within mouthfuls, ‘you loathsome fellow! Call me old, damn you! So openly, brazenly! Old will be thy father, not me, dude! Will see you when your time comes, it’d serve you well!”

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Union Budget-2020: The Optional Personal Income Tax Regime In India!

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today presented the Union Budget for 2020-21 in Parliament. A few novelties are seen immediately: the Minister’s budget speech of more than 160 minutes proved to be the longest one in history; for the first time the Budget was presented in three innovative categories—Aspiration India, Economic Development and Caring Society with their divisions and sections; a new scheme of setting up solar pumps for farmers having barren lands thus allowing them to earn even without cultivation; identifying 100 water-stressed districts of the country for action in light of the looming water crisis; and a lucrative income tax regime of lower rates which only turns out to be optional. While economists and corporate stalwarts had been shouting all these months about boosting up the demand factor in view of a slowdown and growing unemployment the Budget didn’t list out specific measures to increase consumption or to provide more employment opportunities apart from continued focus on infrastructure investment, continuing with lower corporate tax rates, special emphasis on rural development & agriculture, abolition of the Dividend Distribution Tax as a relief to companies, the direct tax concessions and a few others. The opposition parties slammed the budget on these grounds with a few economic experts also joining in saying that it is another missed opportunity for Modi 2.0 to check the slowdown. While the details of allocations will give the final picture on this we will here concentrate only on the complexities inherent in the optional personal income tax regime.

People of India, particularly middle-class salary earners, have been expecting some income tax benefits since years. The government also from time to time promised reforms in personal income tax structure and its simplification. Today, people got ecstatic while watching live television where the Finance Minister announced major tax cuts. Unfortunately, they were blissfully unaware of the rider attached to the concessions. It was only after the news channels started elaborating on the issue that they finally seemed to see the real picture.

The proposed income tax rate cuts come in these slabs: for annual income of Rs 5—7.5 Lac it is 10% as against the earlier rate of 20% for income slab of 5—10 Lac; for income of 7.5—10 Lac it is 15%; for income of 10—12.5 it is 20% as against the earlier rate of 30% for any income above 10 Lac; for income slab of 12.5—15 Lac it is 25% and for income above 15 Lac it is same as the earlier rate of 30%. The earlier decision to exempt taxpayers having a total income not exceeding Rs 5 Lac per annum has been retained while for others the new rate is 5% for income of 2.5—5 Lac as earlier. Straightaway, we can arrive at sizable cash benefits for taxpayers at every income level, and this was bound to cheer the salary earners. But then the rider!

The Finance Minister, after announcing the huge benefits accruing from the rate cuts, clarified that to simplify the tax structure she had removed about 70 exemptions associated with income tax, and that the new tax regime means taxpayers would no longer be able to avail of such exemptions. She further said that taxpayers are welcome to choose—they can stay on with the old tax regime or can opt for the new one. This has set in motion a calculation spree among people which may well continue or even intensify in the coming months.

We will take a few examples of exemptions not to be granted in the new tax regime which include deductions under 80C or 80D, Leave Travel Concession (LTC), house rent allowance, entertainment allowance, professional tax amount and so on. Now, for a big family the LTC amount, if they want to avail the facility at least once a year, will be quite high and if the salary earner of the family opts for the new regime this full amount will be taxable, as per the rate applicable depending on his/her total annual income; this holds for other amounts too relating to other abolished exemptions. Similarly salary earner of a family living in a rented house will not be able to file for house rent exemption if s/he opts for the new regime. Therefore, it is bound to involve complex calculations as to which regime will be better under what conditions or lack of conditions.

For the first time in India an option is being offered for different income tax regimes, and the taxpayers at the moment are unable to rejoice at the proposed ‘bonanza’. The Finance Minster asserts that this is only the beginning of direct tax reforms in the country and of a simplified tax structure to be realized in near future.  

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