The Filter

An Uncouth Audience

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The audience at lectures, talks and conferences is there for pure self-indulgence. This may seem like a fact of life, but I’ve only started understanding this recently. Here’s a snippet of this seminar I was at earlier this month:

Host: Ms Youngest-Person-To-Be-Awarded-A-Nobel-Prize will now take a few questions. Please keep them brief.

Audience member 1: I have been running an NGO for the last twenty years working on making sure animals have equal rights as birds. This is very difficult, because in our study, we found out that humans treat animals very differently. Some of them are even okay with eating pigeons as a form of pest control! The first time I saw such an instance was in 1983 and my daughter told me that I was right to be horrified…

Host: Could you please restrict yourself to the question? We’re running out of time.

Audience member 1 (Oblivious to interruptions): … And then I told my daughter that I would fight for all living creatures. Our NGO is called ‘Birds=Animals’. We provide emotion counseling and healing to all living creatures but humans. Now Madam, you tell me, if birds and animals are equal, shouldn’t we take them to Mars with us?

And he was one of the more normal hand-raisers. The second set of questioners are enthu-cutlet students:

Student 1: Madam, I am only 16 but I am attempting the UPSC. I want to change the world and be the head of the United Nations. But I am having a very hard time between pimples and board exams. Please give me your tips for winning Nobel Prize.

Ms. Youngest-Person-To-Be-Awarded-A-Nobel-Prize: Um….Hard work, I guess. Best of luck. (Thinks privately to self, “Is anyone going to ask me a real question?”)

Those are just two off-the-topic queries. Others include sceptics who contend her 20 years of research, some people who want her autograph, a girl who even had hair styled like her and one guy who wants to prove that he’s just as smart. (They give these Nobel prizes to anyone, yaar.) That’s why you should leave when the floor opens for questions. You can order a cab before surge pricing hits and be home by the time the speaker hurls her Nobel Prize trophy at Audience Member 1. But then, you would have missed all the real fun.

Other than that, the government called for the army to repair the Elphinstone footbridge, which collapsed last month after a stampede killed 29 people, as well as two other footbridges in Mumbai. But it is not the duty of the army to help construct the bridge, particularly when the government as well as private agencies are more than capable of doing the job. Sushant Singh points out that using the army is an affordable option, but has long-term costs for the country:

The government must also realise the institutional dangers inherent in employing soldiers in non-emergency civilian duties. Such employment is an acknowledgement of civilian institutional failure to the larger public, and reinforces the belief that only the army can provide an effective substitute. Besides forestalling a badly needed reappraisal of civilian institutions, it is a trend which holds potentially negative consequences for the delicate balance of civil-military relations, if extended to other spheres of governance.

People are still trying to wrap their heads around the bank recapitalization. You can read about how we need to address the failures of banking regulations, whether the reform comes three years too late, and the future of HR and governance reform. Ajay Shah lays down the principles to guide bank reforms. All of this becomes particularly important because India jumped ahead of 30 other countries in the ease-of-doing-business ranking this week. As Ajit Ranade points out, the recap project consisted of four moves: recognition, recapitalisation, resolution and reform:

Without reform of credit functioning, culture, treatment of delinquencies and even ownership structure in banking, this recap effort will only be stopgap. Assuming reform is coming (witness the huge increase in India’s global rank in ease of doing business), let’s raise a toast to the bank recap.

The real news this week was the rumour that khichdi would be made India’s national food. Sure, khichdi is great when you’re running a temperature of 102 degrees but do we really have to choose something that looks like vomit? It’s like they were searching for an iota of an Indianness that would connect us all but realized how political our cuisines are. So they chose the most non-controversial food of all — and also the most boring. Even curd rice is more interesting than khichdi.  Here’s a compelling read on why we should now serve khichdi in all movie halls. I’m sold on the idea of course. I always thought caramel popcorn was an aberration.

Some of the links in this article were compiled by Shristi Chhajer.

About the author

Hamsini Hariharan

Hamsini Hariharan is the Associate Editor at Pragati. She is the host of the the States of Anarchy podcast. Her research interests include Chinese foreign policy, Asian geopolitics, and India's worldview.