Transport Woes!

When I decided to come to London, my relatives in the States, praised the highly efficient public transport system here. Yet I have seen four tube strikes since I came here!

Although the strikes do come into news, there is almost never a decisive conclusion to them. Political big wigs chose to play the blame game and steer clear from any thing that could be construed as controversial.

While talking to Ken Livingstone, the ex-mayor of London, he described the previous strikes as ‘absolutely ridiculous’. Agreed, but what has been done about that.

I dread to think of the situation tomorrow. As it is London is not entirely traffic free, tomorrow it will be chaotic. The last time there was a tube strike, it took me nearly three hours to reach the destination that I usually reach in under an hour.

While the world may continue to sing praises of the London underground, the reality is that there is much to improve here as well.

It might seem a bit rich coming from an Indian, where transport is chaotic at the best of times. The difference is , we are aware of our shortcomings and trying our best to improve the situation.

While the transport system here, might have been sufficient enough all this while, there is a real need to tackle the situation. Two strikes within a month is ominous.

If London needs to preserve its reputation as being a good provider of public transport, the demands of the tube workers need to be addressed, at the very least.

I hope I can waddle through the chaos tomorrow!

The Plot Behind The Protests

A year after Europe witnessed a wave of students protesting against impending rise in fees, students in the UK have decided to follow suit.

(picture by Chandni Sehgal)

Germany

In November 2009, more than 90,000 German students launched a series of protests across the country over the proposed introduction of university fees of up to 500 euros per semester.

In a country that had previously enjoyed free education this caused a major shock. Students protested for four to five days without a pause until they were forced to withdraw by police.

Stefanie Soehnchen, an international student at the University of Westminster, confirmed that the protests resulted in a ‘deal’. The students would pay the fees but only if they knew what it was used for.

Italy

There were large-scale protests in Italy at around the same time. Some of the clashes between students and police turned fierce with intense fighting. According to libcom.org, more than 150,000 students protested on the proposed cuts to education.

Students alleged that the presence of fascists in the universities caused these kinds of cuts. At a press conference, the ministers Brunetta and Germini called the students guerrillas.

France

According to libcom.org, in March 2009, students in France clashed with police in Paris after a demonstration over the university reforms that they said would create a ‘two-class’ public education system.

Universities across the country had to be barricaded in an effort to prevent the student protests from escalating.

UK

And now nearly a year later, students across UK have taken to the streets, protesting over the three-fold increase in university fees. On 10 November 2010 hordes of students marched on the streets.

Despite the governments repeated claims that these changes are beneficial in the long run, students appeared to disagree.

While the protests in other European countries managed to create a response from the authorities, if reports are to be believed, the UK government will hope to remain unaffected.

The Wonder that is Winter

The strains of christmas carols mix with the sizzle of sausages cooking, and the serene calm of London’s famed Hyde Park clashes with the vibrant air of the winter wonderland.

The Winter Wonderland is back! And according to visitors from last year, its brighter, bigger and better.

On a cold British afternoon, I saw the usually calm Hyde Park transformed into a beehive of activity. Everywhere I looked there were people- couples holding hands, frail old men with their frail old dogs,  and the very obvious tourists.

The sights and sounds are overwhelming at first. People on rides screaming their hearts out, shoppers haggling for christmas decor and a general air of cacophony prevailed.

Major attractions

Ice rink : The most famed and anticipated part of the Winter Wonderland is the ice rink. It is the largest open air ice-rink in London. Of course I did not venture on this, thanks to my famed co-ordination!

Angels Market : Welcoming you right at the entrance, are over 100 stalls with knick knacks for every kind of person. Dazzling silver jewellery, delicate christmas decorations, kitschy bags and lots of other goodies are lined up on either side.

It is easy to find that special christmas gift for someone here! And prices aren’t too bad either. My friend picked up a cute little keychain for under £5!

Food : German Waffles, giant pretzels, juicy sausages and a plethora of other yummilicious offerings are spread over the markets. If you like your chocolate, this is the place for you!

Rides : No matter what age you are, there’s a ride for you at  the Winter Wonderland. Steep slides, roller coasters, and free fall rides can be seen even from a distance. And the best part, the tickets cost as little as £2!

And there are plenty of other fun things to do in the Winter Wonderland. And don’t forget to listen to the ‘only speaking tree’ in London lamenting about his lack of clothes!

Still not convinced? The entry is free, my good people. So get on the tube to the Hyde Park Corner and have a fun filled morning, afternoon or evening at this cosy little festive affair!

Image Courtesy: Chandni Sehgal

In Ireland lies the heart of the EU

The flowing rivers and lush greenery hide the chaos and despair of a nation that has accepted defeat. In the heart of intriguingly picturesque Ireland, the fate of the entire European Union has been exposed to the harshest of elements.

After weeks of denying the possiblity of a bailout, Ireland, caved into the economic crisis, seeking an international rescue package for an estimated £90 billion. This poses the threat that the glorified Euro and the European Union might find its very foundations shaken.

Ashok Shah, chief investment officer at London Capital, said to the Guardian: “The Irish problem is already spreading, but it could get more violent and volatile.”

The European Union is in utter turmoil with other deficit stricken countries such as Portugal and Spain spinning towards an end as catastrophic as that of Ireland. With Greece surviving on the £95 billion bailout the picture this paints for the future of the EU is bleak at best.

The Guardian reported that pressure was mounting on the EU with Portugal too edging closer to a huge deficit. Portugal’s finance minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos said his country was at risk of a possible contagion, as this was no longer a national problem but one facing the EU as a whole.

The Threat to the EU

Maria Koutroumpa, a Greek student at the University of Westminster, brought up how the persistent bankruptcy across Europe, erodes the nature of a Union. And the threat of stronger economies infringing on the interests of weaker nations is very real now.

With the number of afflicted nations escalating, will the concept of the European Union hold sacrosanct? According to the Guardian, the German leader already caused something of a crisis with her comments about debt reconstructing.

“Angela Merkel’s broadside comment was in itself a form of bullying directed towards the more vulnerable sovereigns in Europe,” said Donal O’Mahony, global strategist at Davy Stockbrokers in Dublin.

Is this going to be the fate of the famed European Union? Will nations with the money and backing try to intimidate others into sublime submission

Eurozone crisis

The bailout initially caused markets to smile, with stocks actually going up. But the euro erased its gains, trading at $1.3638 recently, after Ireland’s Green Party, the junior partner in the coalition government, called for an early general election in the second half of January 2011.

According to Reuters, The European Union stemmed the first wave of debt crisis in May with “shock and awe” tactics by rescuing Greece along with the International Monetary Fund and creating a $1 trillion financial safety net for other euro zone states in distress.

And now in an effort to save the fate of the Euro, nations across Europe have joined together to salvage the fate of their affected counterparts. But the threat of debt is merely escalating wth cuts and deficits increasing.

Make no mistake about it, the risks are real and the stakes are high. As the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told her parliament :

“This challenge is existential and we have to rise to it. The euro is in danger. If we don’t deal with this danger, then the consequences for us in Europe are incalculable. If the euro fails, then Europe fails.”

Entrenched in the pitfalls of the bailout lie the future of a union that created history. If the authorities don’t tread the path with caution, the dream that is the European Union could crumble into yet another Utopian unreality.

Plastic emotions

Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently read Jug Suraiya’s post on Indians and their obsession with plastic. This is so true! Never in all my 22 years have I seen my mom and grandma relinquish their mad passion for PLASTIC.

In fact their bizarre love for it is so much that they even collect it. In all forms and sizes plastic has taken over our household. From plastic containers to plastic bags to plastic spoons and so on. I bet if there were plastic clothes we’d have them too.

The pinnacle of this plastic obsession was, an occasion in which I caught my mom actually washing a zip bag for further use! My family alone must be contributing to half the plastic choked poor marine creatures’ untimely demises.

It amazes me how even educated households continue to be so blase  with the use of plastic despite endless lectures on how its choking the planet and killing all of us!

And to top it all we are advertising this grotesque fetish by liberally distributing the said plastic all over the country. We are doing our best to slow down rivers and heighten mountains etc.

Like charity begins at home, saving the environment too should begin at home.

Of course using piles and piles of paper is not really going to help the trees any better. So it is time we began to minimise the rampant usage of either of these as packaging material.

Instead of wraping that sandwich in plastic or paper, invest in a lunchbox. And dont have plastic covered dustbins in every nook and cranny. make the effort of walking to the kitchen dumpster.

It is not so difficult to curb this love affair we have with plastic. Every so often there is a huge campaign to save the planet, but these things need to be extended over a considerable time.

In London there is the concept of recycling. Maybe we too could explore that option seriously in India. It is time that a real step was taken to stop the years of relentless choking.

Sorry Ma and Granny. I’m afraid you will have to give up on the plastic soon.

SOLD

Image Courtesy :Timeless Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“How much?”

The question that was asked to a father fixing the date of his daughters wedding. Not how many guests were coming, not how much food to be ordered, no. How much money a father was willing to give for his daughter…

Dowry, that dirty word, entrenched in the male dominated Indian society, has reached alarming proportions today. And scarily enough, it is not restricted to a specific section of society.

It is everywhere. Educated families argue that it is their right to ask for dowry, given the fact that they have big strapping boys who can take care of the girls. Well if they are so great, why would they want the money in the first place?

Dowry began as a custom to ensure a young married couple had the capital to build their lives. But in todays world, where most couples get married after the groom is already well settled, it makes even lesser sense to continue with this preposterous tradition.

If there is such a dire need for money, there is the option of the woman working and bringing in the extra income. Why resort to a medieval custom to load the pockets.

And just because, biology delivered a boy to your household, how does that justify your taking money. Isn’t that like purchasing a reproducing, sexual partner for your son?

It does not stop with the ‘gifts’ that come during the wedding. It escalates into demands of ever increasing proportions. And a failure to meet with these demands results in mysterious fires or accidents. There is one dowry death in every four hours in India.

I had always imagined that these things happen to people who are ignorant and illiterate. But I saw my uber cool friend and her affluent family put through this very same practice.

Yes, her folks said no. But they did not report the incident to the police.  According to Indian law, since 1961, the taking or giving of dowry is illegal.But the number of dowry deaths have gone on increasing, clearly indicating that the practice is still rampant.

Only when we become part of the problems of society do we realise the magnitude of the problem. Never for once think that such things cannot happen to you.

Be on your guard, my female Indian friends. We do not want to be sold

The state of the second citizen

She inched her way towards the crown, a smile spreading across her face. She held it; she wore it. And then it was unceremoniously snatched away from her…

This, dear friends, is how it feels like living in country that you cannot call your own. Days after days of being the runner up. Years and years spent knowing that you are the alien, the outcast.

Then why do so many of us chose to do this? Surprisingly enough it is not difficult to analyse the patterns of human migration.It boils down to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Food and shelter, the most basic of human needs are not available in most developing and undeveloped societies. Hence the fascination with the affluent west where dreams come true.

When confronted with the need to survive people chose to give up their freedom to explore what they expect would be greener pastures.

But are all expatriates the result of poverty and lack of opportunity?No. For some it has become a mere way of life. Ignorance really is bliss for such people, completely unaware of what they might be missing out on.

With countries becoming increasingly conscious of their own populations there is a real threat for the large expatriate communities in countries across the world.

While the hubs of human migration, The United States, Europe and the Middle East are closing doors to enthusiastic job seekers, the number of people craving to live abroad are increasing by the minute.

According to the GMAC Global, the expatriate workforce is changing shape drastically and with increasing speed – certain key demographics which have not changed much for decades have suddenly begun to slide.

Will this signal in hope for countries like India and China which lose a wealth of its manpower to their western counterparts?

Can we hope for our men and women to be brought back home… or will they still want to be second citizens?