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An Indian making the most of life in sports-crazed Melbourne

Far Pavilions

Rubbishing the East

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The first plastic cup made its way to the floor by 11 AM. After some cheering and clapping, two more cups bearing the logo ‘Victoria Bitter’ tottered to the floor, slightly imbalanced, like those who had drained them. Diversity was soon added. Paper bags containing discarded remains of fat and slimy Potato Planks here. Some plastic ice-cream wrappers there. At the end of the first day’'s play at the MCG, I looked around and noted at how the concrete footsteps were padded with assorted litter.

However, when I returned the next day to see day 2 of the test match, I was surprised to see no traces whatsoever of the garbage-carnage.

The western world is often disgusted with the filth they see in the developing or under-developed world. Some are even moved to philosophise on it. Scott Seligman, an American, has this to say on the Chinese in his book “Chinese Business Etiquette”

“Relatives, friends, neighbours, classmates, co-workers are all people to whom one bears some form of obligation. No obligation is felt to those outside of one’s circle, which explains the paucity of philanthropy in China and the tendency of people to show little respect for public property or commonly held property.

Apartment dwellers in China may live in lovely flats, but the stairwells and hallways resemble those of a New York tenement – dark, dirty and generally not maintained. In Taiwan, you can tell there has been a day off by the amount of litter strewn in public parks. The near total lack of civic responsibility, to my mind is explainable by the circle theory, because appropriate civic behaviour requires a respect for others outside of the circle – something that is rare indeed in China.”

If my experience at the MCG and elsewhere is any indicator, our basic nature of not caring for public property is not too different across cultures. What differentiates the West is the willingness and ability to correct the consequences of the littering – not always littering in itself.

Recently, Australian visitors to Gallipoli – the Turkish city where several Australians, New Zealanders and Indian soldiers lost their lives in a futile war launched by Britain - were accused of desecrating the site of the ANZAC day event with litter. However, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard went on to defend the behaviour of the ANZAC day visitors by asking the critics to compare the litter on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour after New Year's Eve celebrations.

John Howard is pragmatic. Correcting human behaviour is never easy. Managing waste collection is. Back home, the parts of Chennai covered by Onyx, a private waste collection operator, are visibly cleaner than before.

Till such time as we evolve from relying on inefficient municipalities, we'll have to endure these East vs. West theories!

Tales from a neighbour

Thursday, May 19, 2005

"India se ho bhai?" greeted the taxi driver who was assigned to me at the Sydney airport taxi rank. I was running late and developing familiarity with a patronising driver was the last thing I was looking forward to. "Mai Pakistan se hoon ji. Mera naam Ali hai". My anxiousness didn't dull the raconteur in the man. The roads were clogged with rush-hour traffic. The anxiety of tardiness soon mellowed, giving way to banter.

Ali expressed his undisguised glee at the recent success of Inzi's men in India. Not content with being one-up, he quickly switched topics to enquire why Jayalalitha was as popular as she is. That stumped me -- not the fact that he knew of Amma -- but indeed, why is she popular? I couldn't provide a convincing sociological hypothesis in response to that question, but then, he wasn't looking for one. He was merely intrigued by the film stars who chose politics as part of their career path: Sunil Dutt, Govinda, Hema Malini.

Ali then reminisced about his 15 years in Australia in about 15 seconds. The commitment to home and togetherness of the family was what he thought made us distinct from the westerner. In an endearing Punjabi drawl, he got nostalgic about the various occasions that bind families "Wahan tho shaddi hoti hai, bacche hote hain, koi marta hai -- kuch na kuch hote rahta hai".

That sentiment is not something that I always value and I was beginning to worry that Ali would decry everything Australian and eulogise everything from home, as many immigrants do here. To my relief, he showed more balance. He resented government officials who unfailingly sought pomp when they used the roads, much to the inconvenience of the masses. Ali was critical about how roads were washed thoroughly in preparation for the burial of Musharraf’s father – especially when roads are never cared for in other times.

In his last tale, he recounted that he was once sent to pick up a passenger named Howard in the suburb of Kiribilli in Sydney. After getting through armed guards at the house of his passenger, it turned out that his pick-up was the son of the Prime Minister John Howard. Ali asked the young Howard why he didn’t use his dad’s car. The bemused passenger told him that his dad’s car was only for official use.

Ali turned to me and asked if I could imagine this happening in India or Pakistan. Yeah, right. I can just about picture Sasikala haggling with a Chennai auto driver as he drops her off at Poes Garden.

Public Transport: From Mumbai to Melbourne

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

In Melbourne, complaints abound that the city is getting more and more impersonal. This is often a complaint against Mumbai as well. However, a couple of events made me realize that Melbourne is no Mumbai.

Two commuters in Melbourne were indignant that no one came to their aid when they were confronted by a bag-snatcher. This, when there were about 50 people witnessing the lone snatcher in action. Something like this is unlikely to happen in Mumbai. In the two years I lived in Mumbai, I have seen occasions when passengers vent their day-to-day frustrations by raining merciless blows on pick-pockets who are unfortunate enough to be caught.

The other event made me wish that Mumbai would take a lesson from Melbourne. As I stepped into a tram one morning, the journey began with this reassuring announcement from the driver:

Good morning passengers. This is the 7:30AM tram service to St. Kilda. Unlike other tram drivers, I am accessible to all passengers. If you are unsure about your stop, please come and see me before you make a mistake.

Passengers with delicate constitutions should be aware that this tram might swerve dangerously around curves and can reach top speeds of 20kmph. You are advised to close your eyes and pray if you have a fear of speed.

During the course of our journey it is likely that the tram may go off the rails and come to rest against the nearest available object. In such an event, there is a real possibility that our destination might be severely altered. Please wait until the tram comes to a complete rest before getting off.

I am sure Mumbai could use drivers with such a sense of humour.

On second thoughts, if train drivers were to make such an announcement in a Mumbai local, the harried passengers are likely to take the announcements seriously and rain blows on him.

Pop and Pope

In Australia, the most popular religion is the religion of Sport. Then again, there is only that much worshipping you can do of sportsmen and women. So the news that Kylie Minogue has been diagnosed with breast cancer , is now keeping Australia's newspapers and TV channels breathless. One certainly wishes Kylie a speedy recovery from the dreaded ailment. However, nine stories on the pop diva in today's local Herald Sun seems a bit over the top. As a colleague pointed out, even the present pope and his predecessor didn't make as much news in the last month.

Thorpe's oil slick

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tamil movie followers have long worshipped their stars with fanatic fan clubs. Just when I thought I had escaped the fan club culture by shifting to Melbourne, I come across a cloying fan website for Ian Thorpe.

With 'Thorpedo' taking a break from competitive swimming till the Beijing Olypics, his newly styled hair made news.

Melbourne's evening tabloid Mx reports that most callers to a local radio station gave the new hairstyle a thumbs down. One caller suggested that George Bush had ordered an invasion of Thorpe's hair--to take control of the oil.