100 is a significant number. It’s a number that’s a big milestone for a lot of us, and gives us a sense of fulfillment, closure, satisfaction and joy. Like age is just a number, so is 100, but it is an important one. At least, that’s what I feel as I type out my 100th blog post. I’ll take this post to write about two things (continuing from this last post, I think writing about two things is my forte, much like talking about Two things is my friend Menon’s). GE, then TISS, both had an adverse impact on my habit of reading, and as days have gone on, I felt both my knowledge and ability were on the decline. So, these vacations have been spent reading anything I can lay my hands on. From books about Cricket (which will get a mention later in this post), to reports of Standing Committees of parliament, this time I’ve devoured stuff like a madman. And, every time my Dad sees a new book at home, he reminds me, that once I start working, then he’ll stop paying for any book, ever again.
A book I absolutely am loving reading is Ramachandra Guha’s ‘A corner of a foreign field’. A fabulous book about cricket’s impact on social change in the Indian subcontinent, it is one of those books that you dislike reading, because the farther the bookmark travels in the book, the more you realize that there’s lesser of it left to read. A section of the book deals with the Palwankar brothers (Vithal and Baloo being protagonists) and how they fought against caste discrimination to pursue what their true love was, playing cricket. Baloo was a fabulous left arm spinner and Vithal, an amazing batsman. Guha has also included a lot of social commentary in the book, and one of the most peculiar things I found about Pre-independence cricket was the Bombay Quadrangular, which had 4 teams, Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and Europeans battling it out year after year for what was then, India’s premier cricket competition. With stories about the remarkable battle of European Polo versus Indian Cricket, this is a fabulous book. The description of players like C.K. Nayudu is such that you feel they’ve literally walked out of the book to stand by your side. It is an ambitious book, and a must read book for every INDIAN cricket fan, because the making of India, did, and always will have a lot of cricket in it.
Today was one of the most remarkable days in my life, because I finally got the opportunity to attend a debate in Parliament. No, I’ve not abandoned my fledgling career for a jump into politics, but I did get the opportunity to sit and watch the entire proceedings of the Lok Sabha today, perched atop the house in the Speaker’s viewing gallery. Unlike the usual visitors gallery, which allows people to attend a debate for only one hour, this gallery has no time limits (but it must be vacated at the time of voting), and has equipment to hear simultaneous translation of speeches into English/Hindi, as they are made. The Sansad Bhawan is a magnificent building, but as always, TV channels do not do it justice, and it is simply a sight to behold. As we took our seats in the Gallery, the house was just being called into session, and then, the treasury benches were slowly occupied by the government. Mr. Modi also dropped in for a few minutes, while Dr. Harshvardhan answered Member’s questions in the Question hour about Nepal, our preparedness for disasters, our technological progress etc. A very entertaining passage of events was when a member questioned the Telecom Minister, Sh. Ravi Shankar Prasad about the sorry state in which BSNL is today. The sparring that took place between members of the government on these issues was very entertaining indeed. The opposition was very lively too, with Jyotradiya Scindia playing the role of disruptor-in-chief, by ensuring that he made interjections at appropriate times. Sonia Gandhi’s pointed questions about non-appointment of a Chief Information Commissioner Chief Vigilance Commissioner had the MoS (Personnel), Jitendra Singh reeling out red tape as an answer. However, the truly majestic part of the debate was when Sh. Arun Jaitley introduced a Constitutional Amendment for the passage of the Goods and Services Tax. A detailed discussion followed, with Veerappa Moily, Bahrthruhari Mehtab of the BJD and Thambi Durai trading punches and counter punches with the FM. And then, the Congress Party did stage a walkout, with a BJP MP shouting out “Madam Sonia Ji, aap inke behkave me na aayein” (Madam Sonia, please don’t fall into the traps of your leaders), as she and Rahul Gandhi were followed out by a bunch of Congress MPs. An interesting bit of the debate was on inclusion of Tobacco within the ambit of the GST bill, whereas Alcohol had been left out. Mr Jaitley humorously quipped “Saugata Roy ji, you are the most frequent user of the MPs Smoking room, it is good that the West Bengal government charges you a luxury tax for it.” What was interesting to see was that every MP who asked a question, or a supplementary had put in a lot of effort. Their were multiple files they carried with them, with flags, post-its and even highlighted text (Yes, Mallikarjun Kharge had a document with him, with his pertinent points highlighted in Blue). As we met one of the officials from the Lok Sabha secretariat, he said that there is a huge misconception about MPs. Most of them do actually put in a lot of effort in Parliamentary debates, which was a point that was reinforced by the staff at the Parliament library.
A tour of the Parliament is never complete without a visit to the Parliament museum, which took us through the history of the Indian Constitution, how it was drafted, some memorabilia of previous speakers, and a massive auditorium dedicated to the Late G M C Balayogi, the NDA speaker who met his demise in a helicopter crash. Another fabulus attraction is the ability to sit among life size models of the members of the First Constituent assembly (S. Radhakrishnan, Sucheta Kripalani, Vallabhbhai Patel, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee), and hear Pandit Nehru’s life size model read out the Tryst with Destiny speech as Dr, Rajendra Prasad’s model looked on. I chose a seat next to Vallabhbhai Patel, as I heard the speech that has been imprinted in our minds from when we were children. As we reached the memorial for the people who gave their lives up for this democracy in December 13th 2001, true realisation of how sacred this democracy is sank in.
Finally, we concluded the visit by polishing off highly subsidized food at the Parliament Canteen. The Fish Fry and the Mutton Curry are to die for. Setting foot into the heart of Indian democracy further strengthened my resolve to be a responsible Indian, to follow my duties, protect others’ rights and be the citizen our forefathers wanted us to be. And as I walked out, a renewed sense of delight, inspiration and a Marble Pen Holder (bought from the Parliament Souvenir Shop) accompanied me back. “We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”
Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, 15th August 1947
(For those who wish to attend proceedings of the Parliament, the best way to do so is to get authorization from the MP of your Lok Sabha constituency, and a magnificent experience in the Lok Sabha awaits you. The Parliament Museum, Library and Canteen (which are all housed in a separate building), are open to general public)