Friday, November 5, 2010

I must be their scourge and minister...

Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests was in one of his Hamlet moods recently - 'I must be their scourge and minister', he seemed to say, referring to what people have come to regard as a lovable wizard and his friends. Like Hamlet, Ramesh manages to find some fiend lurking behind the curtains, and metes out his summary justice. Unlike Hamlet however, our worthy is completely unrepentant.  

That in that process he has managed to ruffle a few feathers and put his foot in his mouth should surely not matter. What if he goes to China and criticizes our Home Ministry to the embarrassment of the Government? Of what consequence is it if  he will over-rule scientific bodies and impose his own prejudices, like on the Bt Brinjal issue? Or that his own colleague Praful Patel calls him 'obscurantist' for having managed to scuttle plans for a much needed airport at Navi Mumbai? If you think his wrath is limited to airports, think again. Kamal Nath, another of his colleagues has Ramesh to blame for the tardy progress of road building in the country.  

Navi Mumbai airport is not the only project to have got stuck at the environment ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh. Among the ‘on-hold’ projects in and around Mumbai are a helipad for Nariman Point, the Pedder Road flyover, reconstruction of a children’s hospital in Parel, the Kharghar-Taloja link, a Mhada camp at Cuffe Parade and a film studio in Chembur. All told, almost 25 projects in Maharashtra are stuck with Jairam Ramesh's ministry.

It is difficult to believe this IIT-B alumnus understands complex scientific issues, or takes his responsibilities seriously.  How else do you explain the fact that he went to Copenhagen and agreed to match China's emission cuts? Fortunately, he was forced to retract when faced with flak from the PM.

One wasn't very surprised therefore when this time he chose the young and old fans of Harry Potter for his vituperation. "Harry Potter blamed for fuelling India owls' demise", announced the BBC. Almost every news source reported that Jairam Ramesh had said that Harry Potter books and films featuring his feathered friend Hedwig are popular in India and had contributed towards the demise of owls. He was reported to have remarked that there had been an increase in people wanting to buy them from illegal bird traders. 

Very soon, Ramesh's reprimand was being picked up by TV Channels and newspapers not only in India but all around the world. "Harry Potter Fans Are Decimating India's Owls", screamed a Fox News Heading. "Potter blamed for Vanishing Owls", the Brisbane Times informed its readers, and similar sentiments were echoed by the Malaysian Insider and many others.

Having a Harry Potter-crazed teen-aged son myself, I was a bit perplexed, as I had neither seen nor heard of this obsession to own owls. I was also very concerned at what seemed like a morbid fascination. Since the learned minister referred to a research report by Traffic, a wild-life NGO as the source of his information, it seemed prudent to read it. The pdf is available for download here.  

The report sets out to document the illegal trade in owls, and notes that the birds are used in black magic practices. It describes the utilization patterns of the owls, and the various tribes and communities that are involved. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List) is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. Naturally, one was curious to know the red-list status of these Indian owls, which is provided in the report. 

It came as a huge relief to know that the Red List status of all species of owl recorded for trade within India was Least Concern. This is the lowest list category and means that members of the species are widespread and abundant.

Then how did our Honourable minister manage to set the whole world afire? Because this ignoramus of a minister read nothing but the preface of the report, and that too wrongly. The author of the report mentions that a certain wealthy lady wanted a live white coloured owl to be present at her son's birthday party. Being a minister, perhaps Jairam Ramesh could not help interpreting the word present in the context of a gift and jumping to the conclusion that parents wanted owls to gift their children !!!

Hearty congratulations, Jairam Ramesh, for giving an entirely new meaning to this Edmund Burke quote -' Fraud is the ready minister of injustice'.

Worth watching - how owls put their acute sense of hearing to use while hunting for prey -

Friday, October 29, 2010


Let me start by way of an aside. Via a forwarded e-mail that begins, "Perhaps largely because of reading Times of India....." and ends up labelling the ambiance in Mumbai as "anti-intellectual". Mind you, this guy is a guru. Not just a guru, but The गुरु. This smart, brainy, nerdy, techy guy called Guru was raised in Mumbai - and now we know why he moved to Bangalore. 

What surprised me was not so much his diatribe against the IQ of Mumbai, but his partiality towards the Times of India. While we are happy that the scales have at last fallen from his eyes, we are happier still of the lesson this teaches us.

Very often, things begin within us (like our desire to subscribe to newspapers whose USP seems to be the answering of questions of the most intimate nature, in the most brazen fashion). And before we know it, we end up blaming entities that don't even remotely connect - like the cerebral quality of cities.

To be fair, I have to admit I've been guilty of the same offence I accuse Guru of - and not just once, but millions of times. 

Wouldn't it thus be ok to say that we are apt to get so entangled it becomes easy to lose perspective? So then, what is the antidote, the atonement? Let go completely, says Valluvar wisely -
யாதனின் யாதனின் நீங்கியான் நோதல் 
அதனின் அதனின் இலன்    
My rough translation - You no longer suffer pain from that you have renounced.
The Rev. G.U.Pope's - 
From whatever, aye, whatever, man gets free, 
From what, aye, from that, no more of pain hath he

So much for the entanglement that arises from our attachments, our biases and our prejudices.  Over the past few months, I have been exposed to some compellingly different ideas about our minds, bodies and the way we perceive reality. Quantum entanglement (or non-locality) is one such very counter-intuitive but reality-changing concept. I do hope to explore this and other ideas here on this blog, so watch out!