More of the Delhi Zoo

It’s no surprise that I found myself once again wanting to visit the Delhi Zoo (having not that long ago been to the London Sea Life Aquarium). I simply love watching animals – their beautiful gaits, their fantastic plumage and coats, their seeming don’t-give-a-rat’s-behind attitude towards life – it’s simply a joy for me to watch. Even in a fairly small Zoo like the National Zoological Park I can easily while away several hours just clicking away and talking to myself (which is why its a good thing my friend decided to tag along with me today – or the other tourists would have had another strange creature to gawk at today). I really enjoy just watching the animals roam about their enclosures or even just loll about, basking in the sun.

What I cannot stand is people who do not treat these beautiful creatures with the respect they deserve. I mean, I understand that people pay the gate to come and see animals and take a break from their troubles, but I have no patience for people who treat the place like a circus! It was sad and frustrating to watch how much people disrespected the facilities – littering away; or the animals – with their shrieking and hollering. So what if the Tiger isn’t waking up and entertaining you – that’s not its job! And when the hooting turned into some dumb fool throwing a small stone at the Bengal Tiger (I kid you not it missed the animal by a foot and a half) I simply snapped and gave some people a piece of my mind. I had half a mind to spend the rest of the day following him around and chucking small pebbles at him. It was appalling. And there was no one around to even report him to.

That one negative experience aside, I loved my day out at the Zoo. From the big cats to a couple sparring Macaques and one really loopy acting Elephant, it was entertaining and truly fun. Maybe it’s just because of the kid in me, but I still see such magic and majesty in these animals. Bars or no bars. Those of you out there who haven’t visited because “it’s so lame” or “its  a waste of time” please believe me, you’re wrong. While I admit that some of the enclosures are more scantily inhabited than one would wish and it’s not the wonderful place you may remember as a child, it is still worth a half-day of walking about with a good friend.

I hope these pictures help persuade you to go support your local Zoological Park and maybe reclaim some of your own lost wonder : )

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The Delhi Zoo

A few days ago I put up pictures form my visit to the London Zoo, which made me realize that I hadn’t shared my shots from my visit to the Delhi Zoo a couple of years back, so I looked through my archives and picked out some old shots to share.

Sadly I didn’t get nearly as many shots as I wanted because it was so hot that half the animals were inside their draped cages with air coolers on ; p

What struck me comparing the pictures from the two visits was that while the London Zoo is far better maintained, the Delhi Zoo isn’t all that far off. Delhi definitely had a larger collection of exotic animals, especially the big cats!

NaPoWriMo – Day VIII – Dreams of Summer

The days are getting longer
The nights thus shorter so
The seasons at last is changing
It’s that Spring we’ve been waiting fo’
The cold winds still are a blowin’
Even though the sun does show
I’m afraid it is mine to say
That blest Summer is still far away

I long for the warm embrace
Of a sun and sky left far behind
Memories of lazy Sundays
Planted firmly in my mind
And once I am done searching
What is that I will find?
The warmth of home and hearth and heart
From which I have been too long apart

Till then I must focus energies
T’wards most enlightened labour
Make this quill upon my hand
Mightier than any saber
And hope the gods will grant me
This one desired favor
Give laurels to take make the waiting proud
And feel victorious when homeward bound

But even in happiness long-awaited
Cruel fate inserts a sadness
To say farewell to friends dear made
Who were there through all the madness
Time it seems flows too fast
Leaving brief interludes of gladness
Once I’ve finally returned to my home
I fear I’ll miss the cold, the wind, the snow

I’m ‘Fast’ Losing My Patience

I have bitten my tongue again and again as one man pretty much turns the Indian political scene into a joke (and that’s saying a lot considering how messed up things are in that particular area already). Arvind Kejriwal, the “activist turned politician” (as the media loves to dub him – I beg to differ, in part) has announced that he is going to fast in order to drum up support for his latest “cause”. He is asking people not to pay their water and power bills, saying they are illegal and unnecessary hiked up.

Mr. Kejriwal has promised that his supporters should not fear any legal action in not paying their bills, because all such actions will be withdrawn once his party comes to power in the city. Wow. I really have to say, that I would actually be impressed by this man’s confidence, if I didn’t think he was rather full of hot air. What burns me up even more than the fact that he is basically telling people to break the law, is that he is using the words of Mahatma Gandhi to justify it. He states that Mahatma Gandhi said that people should not obey a Government/law that is against them and be prepared to face the consequences. Right, well, Mr. Kejriwal I would but point out two things. First, Gandhi spoke of rising up against a tyrannical alien government where people had no voice over the law that imposed upon them. I don’t think he had in mind protesting against any, and in your case, every, government action that upsets the public. Secondly, it’s hardly asking people to be steadfast and face the consequences if you’re offering them what amounts to a get out of jail free card, as long as they support you. While some people will hear a proposition like that and dismiss it as ludicrous, many will presume that this is a promise that will be fulfilled. Let us be realistic here, do you actually think that dozens (if not scores or hundreds) of actions will magically disappear the day Mr. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi party takes power (IF they take power)?

Does anyone remember when all this started by the way? When the name Anna Hazaare was on the tip of every tongue in Delhi? Does anyone remember the promise “our movement will NEVER enter politics”? Does anyone know where Mr. Hazaare is today?

I have no doubt that Mr. Kejriwal has many ardent supporters who will defend his actions and take offense to my words here. They have that right. It’s a free country right? And to many extents I am absolutely pro the message Mr. Kejriwal says he stands for, as I was in support of the message of the movement that launched his new career. But I fear my support for them stops there. Using fasts and dharnas to try to hold the government hostage; taking advantage of disillusioned people who feel like no one is looking out for them and making promises like his latest one to dismiss all actions against people who don’t pay their bills; I’m sorry, but it’s just not kosher in my mind. I’m not saying that the Congress or BJP or any other party doesn’t do the same thing. Its politics right? People make promises. Some they live up to, some they don’t. But painting yourself as above all that, while at the same time making even grander promises, that’s just hypocritical. Mr. Kejriwal, you have already entered the political arena, something you said you would never do. If you insist on flinging mud, kindly get off your high horse.

I will also openly admit that I have some personal animosity towards Mr. Kejriwal. But I have done my best not to let that influence anything I have said here. If anyone feels bias has clouded my judgment, I am open to listening to your opinions, as long as they are expressed in a calm manner and make no personal attacks. Please keep in mind, everything I have said here is a judgement of Mr. Kejriwal’s politics, and not his humanity. I’ll leave that to someone more familiarly acquianted with Mr. Kejriwal, something I do not wish to be.

Well It’s Okay For Me To Say It!

I found myself in a tube compartment today with a group of men who seemed to be having quite a riotous laugh. What did they find so funny? Well one of them was putting on a particularly heavy “Indian accent” for their amusement. I purposely put the words Indian accent in quotations mind you because, even though I have lived in India all my life (with the exception of the time spent since I moved to London in September 2012) and have met people from pretty much all over the country – Assam, Bihar, U.P, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi, Kashmir, Karnataka – I have never heard this accent. You know the one I mean – the “comical” one that your English friends put on while bopping their heads – the Peter Sellers “Bombay” accent from The Party – or for those of you unacquainted with classic comedy, Russell Peters’ rip on Indians. Anyway, when I heard it I instinctively angled my head to get a look at the speaker, to see if he was Indian – as if, in my brain, if he was, then it was ok.

This raised an interesting question in my mind. Do people inherit a right to make certain jokes or use certain words or phrases by sheer virtue of their family tree? Take Russell Peters for example, he’s not Indian. He’s Canadian. But he looks Indian, so he’s made a great career off making fun of Indians – calling us cheap, hairy and obsessed with dancing in fields. But it’s for a laugh. He’s not racist (to be fair he doles out plenty of punishment on the Chinese, Jamaicans and Americans). Many, if not most, Black rappers and comedians use a certain N word freely and loosely, but damned if a Caucasian person ever use that word! In fact it ended the entire career of Michael Richards (TV’s beloved Kramer). I’ve even had friends who are NRIs or descendants of Indians put on the accent and say they can because “they’re Indian” – and I’m like, “No you’re not! You’re English! You just look Indian!” So does that mean, I can do the accent if I feel like it? Does the fact that I actually grew up in India and identify myself as an Indian make it okay for me to make fun of Indians?

Now I’ll admit that I actually enjoy putting on/experimenting with accents. I might even take the piss with an English or American or Irish friend by attempting (and rarely, succeeding) to talk to them in their own accent. But of course I’ll do this for a laugh with good friends. And if they mimicked my accent (which they don’t – they of course do the stereotypical Peter Sellers) I’m okay with that. We’re all just having a bit of fun.

But that’s not how I felt about the encounter that sparked this little meandering thought. For two reasons. First, the person putting on the accent wasn’t actually Indian. He was quite obviously English, possibly of Arab descent. Now this isn’t particularly something that I would be so peeved about, but the second reason was. He was speaking in broken, grammatically incorrect English, saying things like “You want drink? What you want? Coke (pronouncing it Cock). Water (pronounced Vaa-ter)”. Now this I didn’t appreciate. He was obviously making fun of someone who worked at a food outlet and was taking shots at his unfamiliarity with the language. Maybe that person wasn’t born here. Maybe he’s trying his hardest to acclimate and learn. It’s one thing to have fun and just use the accent, but he was making fun of a real person, to the hilarity of his four White friends. Why does it matter that they’re White? I don’t know. But I’m agitated and it just sort of does. I apologize if this offends you.

I’ve already admitted that I indulge in stereotypes myself sometimes. Ask my friends and they will tell you that I’m rather blunt and open and not a particular fan or abider of Political Correctness. “Plainspoken” I believe is the polite way of putting it. But I’m always mindful that my humor is not at the expense of someone else. Well, unless that someone else is a friend who has made the mistake of becoming close to me, then its fair game ; p

So does this make me a hypocrite? Quite possibly. Will this experience make me change my ways? Quite unlikely. I say, have a sense of humor about yourself. I try my best to. But don’t let a joke hide something more sinister. Humor is supposed to be a vehicle of fun and love and good feeling and sunshine and rainbows. Don’t be a tool and be nasty.

I will leave you now with a joke, to try to take the sting out of this whole post and bid farewell with some mirth:

Did you hear about the lawyer whose client was arrested for prostitution?

He got her off and she repaid the favor!

Ba-dum-tiss!

 

You ARE Welcome – Why Aspiring Students Need To Re-Think Not Applying To The UK

Last month the BBC news, through a correspondent in Mumbai, did a piece stating that more students from India are re-thinking coming to the United Kingdom to study because “[They] don’t feel welcome”. Now its true that frequent (or at the least more frequent than preferable) changes to Visa rules and the recent problem with the London Met has led to a feeling that coming to the UK to study as a full-time student may be more trouble than its worth. Well on behalf of myself and other students studying here in London, I’d like to tell you that this is not the case, but I do agree that the process for applying for a Tier-4 Student Visa can be quite frustrating, so here are a few tips from my own experience to help you along the way – a lot of these tips may apply to you specifically for Post-Graduate Degrees or if you’re coming from India, but even if you don’t fall in those categories, read through, hopefully they will help:

  1. Get Ready Early: Most of you will hear from your desired Universities between January-March, so that actually gives you a lot of time to get your application ready, but most of us tend to think, “arre yaar, bohat time hai!” (Aww man, there’s plenty of time) and we let a lot of the stuff slide till a month or so before our Term starts. Don’t! There are some documents which you need to get closer to the application date, such as your Bank Statements and Health Certificates, but get the rest of it done early and you’ll be a lot less stressed later on.
  2. Clarify your doubts: In India the applications are not made directly to the Embassy, rather you go to a collection agency that accepts the documents and passport on your behalf and then forwards them to the Embassy. The problem here is that the people looking through your documents when they collect them aren’t going to make any decisions, and they may not actually know the specifics of each required document. So if you’re not sure if something is just right, email the Embassy early on and ask for clarification. In my experience, they are quite about responding, but since they probably get bogged down by a lot of queries around the same time, make sure and give them enough time to respond.
  3. Read the Fine Print: The consideration process, unfortunately, is very detail strict. That is to say, that it works on a point/list system – so if a document isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be you might get an automatic rejection. Now there is an appeal process, so it can be corrected, but prevention is better than cure. I was rejected myself because the required funds were in the account I linked to my application for 20 instead of the required 24 days – you can imagine that I was quite peeved about this – don’t let it happen to you.
  4. Dealing with D.U: Dealing with the bureaucratic procedures of Delhi University or one of the many other Universities in India,can be a bit slow and annoying. So remember to apply for the required provisional degrees or certificates right away, should something go wrong and you need to re-apply.
  5. Back-Track: My approach to dealing with deadlines is to look at the final one and then move backwards in terms of what I need to do and how long it will take. Try this. Make a timeline so you can track your progress and know what needs to be done. And put it down on paper – I’m sure you’ve got a great memory but at some point something will fall through the cracks and you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the foot.
  6. Don’t Panic: The worst thing that you can do to yourself is freak out. Just be sure to read all the information thoroughly and make sure your documents are in the proper formats and proper letterheads. Make a list so you can tick stuff off – trust me, it’ll help you feel more prepared as the process continues. Keep everything together and create bundles so you don’t end up tossing your room around last-minute. And breath.

But it’s not just about the Visa – You should also know what you’re through the process for. Studying in the UK, particularly in London, can be a very rewarding and eye-opening experience. And there are many reasons to come study here, some of which you may not have considered, but may be more important than you know – some of these may be targeted specifically at Law students, as I myself am currently doing my LLM at Queen Mary, University of London and so that is the experience that I’m speaking from:

  1. Cultural/Social Life: London has an infinite amount to offer when it comes to Music and the Arts. It has several Museums that are dedicated to niche topics and issues, which may give you an outlook you never encountered before. It has a host of venues that offer something for everyone, making it easy to immerse yourself in new cultures and experiences. And there’s really no point going abroad to study if you don’t make this an important part of your time – don’t just go to a new country to bury your head in a book – live and grow!
  2. Networking: The exciting part of studying in a Metropolitan city is that you will have access, both through and independent of your university/college, to immense networking opportunities. As a student of the University of London you have free access to several events every month, whether they are organised by your own college or one of the other ones. These can be a great place to meet people from various backgrounds/jurisdictions, which not only provides you with perspectives towards your field you may have not considered before, but future professional also contacts from around the globe.
  3. A Cure for Homesickness: London has a significant Indian, Pakistani and Bengali presence, so if you feel homesick or want to celebrate your favourite religious or cultural rites or just want some authentic native cuisine, you will not go wanting. Walking around in Southhall you’d almost forget that you weren’t back home in India and the city even had an immense Diwali celebration in Central London last year – I suppose these are the benefits of having had a vast number of Indians migrate here during/after the British Raj ; p
  4. Working Opportunities:One of the main complaints that people are making is the changing of the Visa rules that earlier allowed Indian students to stay on in the UK for two years to look for work post-study. Admittedly this is a significant factor, but people are under the wrong impression that the UK has taken away the opportunity all-together. Students can still apply to stay on by changing their Visa from a Tier 4 to a Tier 2 visa and they need not fly back home to do so. Yes it is more difficult than earlier but Prime Minister David Cameron, during his recent trip to Mumbai, assured the public that genuine students wishing to come to London to study would be given Visas and also allowed to stay on if they secured proper employment.
  5. Getting Around: London has one the best public transport systems in the world. From 6 am to about 12:15 am you can easily get to any part of the city using the intricate system of Underground or Overground lines. And if you’re out having a late one with friends, no need to worry, certain bus lines run 24 hours so no matter which part of the city you’re at, you can still get home safely – having taken the bus home at 4 am more often than I’d like to admit, I can vouch for that ; p
  6. The People: Possibly the most important – the people here are friendly and considerate. Sure they have their eccentricities, as any culture does, and you need to learn the everyday etiquette or you may annoy someone – but other than that people are always happy to hear you out and point you in the right direction. Coming specifically to the LLM Department at Queen Mary, they were immensely helpful in getting us settled in and helping us ease into our courses. The college provides a lot of academic and non-academic support and they make it a concern to make sure that students don’t get bogged down or fall through the cracks.
  7. Opportunity to Travel: Another great thing about studying in the UK is that the rest of Europe is just a bus or train ride away. Yes you have to get a Schengen Visa, but it’s not that difficult if you’re residing here full-time. I recently applied for an Irish Visa and got in just 7 days. I was even exempted from making any payment. Later this year my friend and I are planning to go through France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands on a proper back-packing trip – I can’t wait!

Well I don’t want to prattle on forever. I hope I’ve given you prospective applicants out there some food for thought. It’s understandable that a lot of people are going to Australia or the US for their degrees now, but personally I’m really happy I made the decision to come to London. I just feel so much more at home here. And its close enough that once in a while my family from back home still comes and visits. Good luck to all you applying for your visas. And remember – Relax! : )

Makin’ it Legal: Is it High Time?

“Yeah I’ll take some Filter Tips, a pack of Rizlas and some Skunk” This is the image that popped into my head when I opened page 10 of The Standard today – that of a 20-something man, with a paper under one arm and a blackberry in the other, popping down to the off-license around the corner on the way back from work for some Weed to help de-stress after a long day. And though this seems absurd to some, it might not be that far in the future.

A cross-party groups of peers in a report submitted today has recommended that low-harm drugs, such as Marijuana, should be decriminalized and their use regulated through sale in shops. This report has been introduced to try and revive the debate over the need for the reform of the UK’s 40-year old Misuse of Drugs Act. Peers involved in pushing these recommendations apparently feel that the UK’s current Drug policy just isn’t working and according to Ex-government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, what is needed is more “sensible,rational” Drug regulation. The PM however begs to differ. He feels that the policy is sound and said speaking at Cambridge today he said that the numbers are coming down and the focus of the policy needs to continue to be on treatment. So even though there are people out there who want to enjoy a safe legal high and don’t mind the idea of the profits going towards the NHS, like with cigarettes, they are going to have to wait a bit longer.

Now most countries in the world are pretty united when it comes to the hardcore stuff – Heroine, Cocaine, Meth. But policies the world over differ when it comes to what are considered low-risk, recreational drugs such as Marijuana, Mushrooms or Ecstasy. Amsterdam is known the world over for being a haven of the high, with permitted sale and use of some recreational drugs in designated areas. However even they have made moves recently to restrict the particular circumference of the zone where such use is permitted and have cracked down on tourists who abuse the freedom. The United States, which has long been involved in the “War on Drugs” has legalized Marijuana for medical purposes in a number of States, including California and even the capital Washington DC.

This debate is just as prevalent in India, where as recently as November 12, 2012 The Times of India, one of India’s largest and most-respected News agencies, advocated a more “enlightened” approach to Marijuana usage, suggesting that it should be legalized following the legalization in Washington and Colorado. The truth is the recreational use of Marijuana was not traditionally considered a “social evil” or as deviant behavior. In fact it use and sale was legal right up till 1985 when the, now still in force, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, came into force. On Holi, the festival of colors, many people throughput the country freely and openly participate in the consumption of Bhaang (a by product of the female Marijuana plant) as a part of the festivities – from your average “lower class” villagers to the “elite” of Metropolitan societies at their fancy and lively Holi parties. Many arguments have been put forward in India for legalization (and they are similar if not identical to those put forward in other countries) – Taxing the, till now unregulated, flow of recreational drugs would mean a new and high source of income (India is considered to be one of the top exporters of Marijuana and its by product Hashish in the world); Bringing the sale of such drugs out of the shady underworld would make it safer for those who experiment and often suffer due to mixing or “cutting” of such drugs with other harmful adulterants (an argument that would bring such products under supervision similar to that provided by the Food Adulteration Act, which provides strict penalties for this involved in harm caused by mixing of outside pollutants into food grains);and of course, the protection of minors (if sale were age-regulated sale of Marijuana would be restricted just like Alcohol or Cigarettes).

However there are just as many arguments against legalization – Age regulation is not an infallible control mechanism (ask yourself truthfully if the first drink you had was after you turned 18 or 21 or 25, whichever is applicable to you) and while there are many studies which suggest that Marijuana usage is not strictly physiologically addictive, personal experience will probably suffice for many people to know that a lot of people, especially at ages when they are at risk of falling into anti-social trends, can show signs of psychological addiction to such recreational drugs.

Both sides have an opinion. Neither stands infallible. The truth is it is a decision a society and its people must make for themselves. If people truly believe that they are ready for the legalization of such things, and they take personal responsibility for themselves and their children; to educate and protect them; to equip them with the mental fortitude to resist using drugs as a crutch; to allow themselves to be high but not get lost in the clouds; then it is their prerogative to speak up. Legislators are not gods or oracles that can see the future. They are men like you and me, tasked with the (often more difficult than we would like to imagine and mostly thankless) job of making rules and guiding society. But a society if nothing but its people.

I personally choose not to chime in on this debate just yet. I don’t think I am personally well-versed enough to authoritatively comment on the evil or acceptable nature of recreational drugs. Nor do I personally encourage anyone to use such drugs. All I would say is, if you choose to use or experiment, take responsibility for yourself. Don’t say you get high because society made you, don’t say you light up because the movies programmed you. And be safe. If the point of getting high is to feel good, then don’t do things that harm your body. Don’t over indulge. Like many others I like to pop down to the pub once in a while and relax over a round, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend planting yourself there 7 days a week and getting faced to the massive detriment of your wallet and your liver.