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I think Sachin Tendulkar's Bharat Ratna is a milestone in Indian history. A time when the Indian government has finally stopped its politics of denial and stood up for what it stands for. It is a feeling of great relief, verging on euphoria. A clear statement that the government respects most those who fleece the country and ignore its laws. This is a beginning, in spite of the national shame. A beginning of being truthful, if not acting in the best interest of the country.

This post is not about Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer. It is about the Sachin Tendulkar who casually took the country for granted. Over and over. It was probably his only real qualification for Rajya Sabha.

A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.
A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.

The Bharat Ratna is a farce. A farce perpetuated at the cost of the dignity of this country. A clear statement that Sachin Tendulkar may deliberately evade custom duty on a gift Ferrari that he later sells for profit. Sachin Tendulkar may register his car in Navi Mumbai where he doesn't live to save the higher tax of Mumbai - a measly 4.5 lakh more on a BMW M5 mega luxury car. Sachin Tendulkar may disown that profession he is getting the Bharat Ratna for, by calling the endorsements because of it "acting" to avoid paying taxes. And Sachin Tendulkar will get the highest honor in the country for becoming famous for a career that paid him well, and rewarded him aplenty in any case.

This has to be worth some mega recognition in a country where the finance minister expresses regret in a budget speech that the country has only 42,800 people with taable income more than a crore. Bharat Ratna for sure. Never mind the cricket, it should be for creative accounting.

Sachin Tendulkar may casually see himself over legal procedures like obtaining an occupation certificate for your home before doing a puja in it and prevent queries under the RTI about it. Or inaugurate an elite Mumbai Cricket Association club named after him, built on leased land beyond permissible limits, ignoring plea after plea by activists to refuse, because it was built on land that should have been a playground for local children. Or perhaps local kids need a bar, restaurant and card rooms? At least the lack of occupation certificate was consistent. Probably embarrassing to look like he had to wait for it like common people.

The highest honor of the country conferred on someone who repeatedly violated it for grandeur or profit. And this is after decades of completely legal opportunity to amass money, honor and mega lucrative advertizing contracts by playing in India's name. Some days it seems there is no end to the humiliation this Bharat mata must endure at the hand of her rogue children.

Sachin Tendulkar is perhaps representative of the ordinary entitled elite who see having plenty as the reason to feel entitled to even more. The rogue children are those who add insult to injury by conferring the nation's highest honor with such little regard for the nation's honor.

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Yesterday, there was a bizarre news. It hit in two parts. One news headline was Sachin Tendulkar going to meet Sonia Gandhi. The other was the President nominating him to the Rajya Sabha.

The gaga media immediately mentioned him as the first sports person to be nominated to the Parliament. Well, there is a reason for that. No one had noticed that there was an area of the  constitution left unsullied until now. This has now been taken care of. As Rohit Bansal quotes the Election Commission of India, in his article on Governance Now:

"Article 80 (3) of the constitution of India provides that the members to be nominated by the president to Rajya Sabha should have special knowledge or practical experience in matters like literature, science, art and social service."

But that is just one part of it. I suppose, like Sachin called himself an actor for tax purposes, he could call himself one for Parliament purposes as well. The real questions are, who is Sachin Tendulkar as a whole person beyond the sportsman, what is his utility to the Parliament, and what does it mean for the country.

Sachin Tendulkar is a cricketer. He is the world's best batsman. He has a clean image in cricket so far beyond a 2001 accusation of ball tampering, which is rendered irrelevant at this point through sheer performance. So far, so good. His image as a citizen took a solid trouncing when he claimed duty exemptions for the Ferrari he received as a gift. It is true that the customs duty was 120% which kind of defeats the idea of a gift, but the whole point is that this is what it is for all Indians. Please note that he also sold it.

Further shameful evasion was on display when he used his celebrity endorsements in ads to call himself an actor and pay less tax, under section 80 RR of I-T Act. Then, he violated the MOFA (Maharashtra Ownership Flat Act) when he performed the "grihapravesh" of his home without an Occupation Certificate from the builder. Considering that we do have MPs with far worse cases filed against them, this is not exactly earth shattering. However as a public personality, it is a visible disregard for the laws of the land and the spirit guiding them.

What would Sachin Tendulkar contribute to the Parliament is an important question with no real answer. He has shown no particular interest in the well being of the country beyond the occasional messages for vaccinations or autism awareness tweet - which pretty much everyone does. He hasn't shown any particular opinion on politics or development in the country. He hasn't had any particular affiliations in politics either.

However, the idea of the nominated posts is presumably so that non political influences of excellence in areas needing development in the country are available in the governance of the country. Sachin's career as a cricketer is still on. When is he going to attend the Parliament? Even if he did, cricket has to be among the most well spread influences in the country already - in fact, to the point of crowding out other sports, including the National sport hockey - not something that particularly needs further reinforcement in government policies as such.

With this information in mind, it becomes difficult to ignore the more cynical view of his neutrality and lack of outspokenness as well as his tremendous crowd pulling capacity being the real assets in this nomination. That this nomination has been suggested by a party floundering in both politics and credibility makes this look like a "match fixing" move on the National level, rather than any particular contribution to the country.

What do the people get? Nothing in particular. Sachin is not a National hero for anything related to politics, and unless he does an Imran Khan, the nomination is unlikely to damage his fan base across political parties. On the other hand, his popularity is going to make opposing anything he supports difficult for reasons that will have nothing to do with good or bad decisions and everything to do with popular hero having a mass following - the question really is if he manages to retain autonomous opinions, or if he becomes part of endorsing political stands - a reasonable apprehension seeing as who suggested his nomination. Looking at where we are in our journey toward evolving as a democracy, we have had a year of turbulence related with corruption, disillusioned with people in power writing their own rules, and dazzled by the aura of a National hero, we are still supporting the same traits to power. Still turning a blind eye and excusing them selectively in the name of popularity. After all, isn't popularity how the corrupt politicians got elected too?

Perhaps this move of the politicians is brilliant only because it subtly psychological-pushes citizens back in the direction of a status quo they briefly tried to fight, where you get some "good qualities" pointed out and the erosion of National interest is the "acceptable price". If we swallow this, then the next pill will be slightly bigger, and slightly bigger till we are back to swallowing the entire Parliament again.

On a personal note, he should be made Prime Minister, because he speaks about as much as our current one. He should be made president because he followed the great con man promoter of blind faith - Sai Baba like our previous president, and thinks nothing of bending rules for personal profit at the expense of the country like our current one.

Today, the 14th of July 2011. 3 blasts in Mumbai. Kabootarkhana, Zaveri Bazar and Opera house. 21 dead and 101 injured at last count.

So, by now, newspapers, TV Channels are all blaring news about the blasts, the dead, injured, speculation, accusations, allegations, and what nots. So naturally, I will not talk about it.

What I want to talk about is Mumbai's response. We read about blasts all the time. What makes Mumbai AAMCHI MUMBAI is our response to difficult circumstances.

I was on Twitter when the news broke. Within seconds, the #Mumbai hashtag was blazing with information so fast, that I couldn't even scroll, forget read it on Tweetdeck. I had to go to the Twitter site, which doesn't update without clicking.

What is special is the nature of the information. Sure, there was shock, anger, concern.... but the way the people reached out to help is something that will leave me with a memory of support. Rumors were squashed quickly, correct information was promoted responsibly - and not just on Twitter, on other social networking sites too.

As the horror of the blasts came into more focus, the spirit of Mumbai emerged before it. People were already rescuing the injured, moving them to hospitals, at the sites.

On Twitter, assistance self-organized. Here are some of the amazing ways in which people contributed.

  • Ascertaining facts, squashing rumors.
  • Organizing help for those who tweeted for it.
  • Asking people to minimize use of phone and rely on social networking and messaging, to keep lines free.
  • Advising people as to what to do - ranging from staying where they are when the police wanted the roads to be free of traffic for movement of emergency vehicles, to Tweeting updates on the condition of roads to facilitate smooth movement.
  • When people were advised to stay where they were, hundreds of people freely offered their homes and resources to assist those who may need a place to stay. Accommodations ranged from humble bachelor pads to homes with families and even some office spaces.
  • A blog was setup within an hour of the tragedy to assist coordination of information.
  • Someone took the initiative to compile all the offers of havens to stay and other help in one database according to locality.
  • Others spread information on blood donation needs
  • Clear thinking minds provided advice to keep heads clear and people out of trouble. Uncountable volunteers made sure it spread far and wide. People helping spread the information ranged from Mumbai, to India, pakistan and the rest of the world in a few cases.
  • Others compiled rescue and hospital related information - Police helplines, hospital phone numbers, etc
  • Mid Day did a splendid job of confirming rumors and tweeting only verified information, which was a big help in keeping things sane.
  • Some offered to coordinate finding out about people their families couldn't reach and vice versa.

All this was a spontaneous civilian response. Mumbai, with its linear layout knows its vulnerability very well. It knows it must flow again, or face massive crowds to manage and even more difficulties. And so it was. The spirit of Mumbai rang clear through the most amazing spontaneous support I hear from this city. Be it floods, or the train bombings.

Every step of the way, the people cared for their own. From helping fight fires to loading the injured on to every available transport to urgently get them to hospitals and later helping the paramedics.

Some said that Mumbai was nothing special, and to stop calling it the spirit of Mumbai. I disagree. I experience something in this response that I don't in other places. I have followed many crisis situations, I have been caught in Mumbai's floods myself.

While everyone rises to an emergency, what makes Mumbai special is the extra mile people unhesitatingly walk. There is no need for someone to spontaneously think of offering the comfort of his home for whichever stranger chooses to stay. People can stay anywhere for an emergency night, as long as there is a roof.

And it is not only terror attacks and rescues. For example, during the floods, there was no life at risk in most places. People already at home could happily wait it out at home without harm. Yet, entire families were leaving their cosy comfort to set their dining tables in inches of water in order to create stalls and offer people plodding home water and snacks. Small kids, grown ups, all kinds of people. Tea, sherbet, biscuits, snacks. Stop by any table and take what you need. I spent the night in a film editing studio that suffered heavy damage in very expensive equipment. Its ground floor had three feet of water at the height of the flood and two overnight.

We watched the owner's fancy Ferrari submerge in the building compound, and circuits shorted, its lights lit up under the water. And this man ordered food for the people stuck there. A local restaurant sent a man wading through waist deep water well after closing hours to deliver it. The fancy hi-tech telecine room, had muddy, drenched kids sleeping on its sofas. Kids that the guard had rescued from water that was overwhelming for them as they returned from school. Later, when water receded a little, people volunteered to escort the kids safely home. All of us strangers, caught together by circumstance.

When the entire rush hour crowd hit the streets after the train bombings, utter strangers gave lifts to other strangers for free. Again, many people weary from walking were invited to stay over in homes all over Mumbai. Again, many, many stories of people not just providing immediate rescues, but going out of their ways to create comfort for others in suffering.

I think this is for a reason. With our linear structure, somewhere, we are very conscious of the need for the life line of travel to remain unclogged and collectively experience the discomfort of it being blocked. Mumbai is one of the few places in the world, where a few well placed blasts can bring the whole city to a halt while it figures out its response. Somewhere along the line, we have learned to keep functionality over personal preferences and comforts. We have no hesitation to reach out to another with the shared identity of the city. Aamchi Mumbai is not just a catchy phrase, it is a sense of larger shared belonging - a family of sorts.

This also comes with its own drawback - we have a very short attention span. We flow around crisises so easily, reaching out, adapting, that we stop looking for ways for the crisis to not happen. All that is left of the tragedy within hours is the injured, the families of the dead and injured, and anyone who suffered a property loss. The rest of the city moves on as normal.

Perhaps, as many people argued, other places do what we call the spirit of Mumbai. They will have their own flavours. More important than negating all uniqueness to claim that people are the same, is to see what they are doing. If they are doing it in the spirit of love for their city, that is good enough as the spirit of Mumbai for me. It doesn't have to be "better" or "worse" or for that matter even "different" or "same". It doesn't need compared at all.

All it needs is that applause it deserves for rising to the occasion in staunch solidarity. I don't see at all why it can't be appeciated if other places help their own too. I also don't see why applauding the spirit of Mumbai means we are pretending that Mumbai doesn't hurt. It is possible to reach out in grief too. I know, because that is all I did this night. And I did it for Mumbai. I'd have done it for other places too, but not in the spirit of Mumbai.

Repeating words I'd shared on Twitter:

You speak as though a hero can't weep. Yes, Mumbai weeps her torment, and aids her own and stands in fierce defiance.