July 06, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

From Air India' 'toilet abuse' to Sri Lanka's bizarre restriction on protests; get all the juicy bits from the neighbourhood...

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
The Subcontinental Menu

Toilet Abuse Grounding National Carrier

Poor Air India! The national carrier, if reports are to be believed, has been grappling with an unusual menace known as “toilet abuse”on its international flights for quite some time. Clogging of the toilets caused by wanton throwing of objects, such as plastic bottles, diapers and what not by passengers on board, have not only caused inconvenience but also delayed flights on many occasions. It is extremely difficult for the maintenance team to clear the toilets in newer aircraft such as Boeing 777 and Boeing 787, which are  equipped with vacuum flushes. On a recent Delhi-Chicago flight, only eight of the 12 toilets were functioning when it took off because of this shameful problem. But they, too, reportedly went out of order soon. Last year, 14 international flights were delayed because of clogged toilets and one US-bound flight had to make an unscheduled landing at Istanbul airport. Reason? All toilets were found to be unfit for use.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Spending five years in the opposition in itself is bad for any political party in a parliamentary democracy. But it’s worse when the situation they find themselves in is a result of a self-imp­osed exile. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) seems to have learnt its lesson the hard way. As the ruling Awami League’s main conten­der, the BNP had boycotted the 2014 general elections in Bangladesh. But, if it was expecting an international upr­oar to follow its decision, declaring the last parliamentary elections in the country null and void, it just did not materialise. Sheikh Hasina had a free run and became the PM for another term. This time, the BNP is more cautious. Despite its demand for holding the 2019 elections under an independent dispensation, it has decided not to stay away from the forthcoming polls. The party has been out of power for nearly a decade now. It surely does not want to wander another five years in the political wilderness.

Our Cities Best And Worst

The city of Charminar remains the city with the best quality of living in the country for the third consecutive year. According to Mercer’s Quality of Living rankings for 2017, Hyderabad ranks higher than Mumbai and Delhi. The national capital, in fact, continues to be ranked among the worst. At the international level, Vienna is on top for the eighth consecutive year, while other European cities grab the majority of the top ten slots. In South Asia, Mumbai and Delhi can take solace from the fact that other prominent cities, such as Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Dhaka have actually fared worse. Colombo, however, has emerged at the top among metropolises in south Asia.           

One Protest A Week

Street protests and rallies are par for the course in one of the most chaotic democracies in South Asia. Pol­itical activists and civil soci­ety members come out in hordes in Colombo whenever they want to register their protest against a government policy. In the process, they also cause a lot of inconvenience for common people, especially to office-goers. Since most big cities are prone to traffic jams and snarl-ups, such street protests only add a sticky layer to the existing chaos. But now, the Sri Lankan government has decided to act. It has restricted the number of such demonstrations in the city to only one per week. A new legislation is soon to be brought in by the government to stop the disruption caused by daily public protests in Colombo. If it works, maybe it will also allow others to follow suit and come out with similar laws in their respective countries to deal with unr­uly demonstrations in future.

No End To Quake Victims’ Woes

The harassment and trauma for those affected by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal seems to be an ongoing saga. Over 9,000 people were killed and more than 22,000 were injured in the tragedy. The quake survivors had to wait for months to get the money that the government had promised them to rebuild their houses. But even after they got the long-awaited compensation, they could not go ahead because of an acute shortage of masons and carpenters in the country. The 11-year long Maoist INS­urgency had driven many of them to leave and look for work either in the Gulf, Malaysia or in big Indian cities. The earthquake drove away the remaining ones. The few trained hands who remain are much in demand and have predictably raised their rates, adding to a new phase of distress for quake victims.

A Heavy Problem Gets Lighter

Almost all airlines refused to fly her before she travelled to India in a specially modified Airbus. Egypt’s Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty, who weighed about 500 kg, wan­ted to visit Mumbai for a bariatric surgery in a last-ditch bid to reduce weight. Initially denied a visa, she got here when External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj lent her a hand. The 37-year-old from Alexandria, the world’s heaviest woman, has already lost about 100 kg under the treatment of a medical team led by Muffazal Lakdawala.

Simian Mourns Loss Of Parent

Who says only humans feel a sense of loss. A video of a baby monkey crying over the body of her mother, killed in a road mishap on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka highway, went viral and was featured in top dailies across the world. In the video, the baby lies next to her dead mother after she was knocked down by a speeding car. After ini­­tially trying to wake her up, she began to sob inconsolably when she sensed her tragedy. The mother’s last rites were later performed by locals; the baby watched the rituals from a distance tearfully. Viewers across the globe had a lump in their throats.

Humour’s Afterlife

South Asian leaders, unlike their western counterpa­rts, are often criticised for the lack of humour in their speeches. Mostly, their public addresses are bereft of wit or comments that can lighten the mood of their audience— something politicians in the US or in Europe do regularly, and with practised ease.

Ironically, on the rare occasions when some of them do try to be funny, it leads to complications—inevitably sowing the seeds of a controversy, as a recent event in Pakistan showed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech on Holi in Kar­achi was meant to stress inclusiveness and protection for min­orities. Talking about his responsibility tow­­ards the minorities, Sharif also highlighted efforts made by his government to restore peace in the strife-torn port.

Many fear Sharif’s poking fun at Kohistani will usher in a new level of nastiness in Pakistan’s often rough political discourse.

But, according to The Dawn, Sharif’s speech took an awk­­ward turn as he tried to rope in local PML(N) leader Khi­­aldas Kohistani into the conversation. Initially, he asked him to confirm whether what he (Sharif) said about an improvement in the law and order situation in Kar­achi was true or not. But when Koshistani agreed, Sharif went on a minute-long riff about the leader’s weight.

“Tell him to lose a little weight,” the premier exhorted his audie­nce. “When he was giving his speech, he could barely breathe. When I saw that I decided to tell him to lose weight.” Just to show that he meant no malice, Sharif added, “I’m saying this in his int­­erest. I have a lot of love for him and I want him to be healthy.”

 Kohistani, who surely must have been aware of his generous girth, decided to take the remarks in his stride. ”People say if I lose weight, the prime minister will not notice me any more. They say you notice me because I am fat,” he quipped gamely.

The banter between the two went on as Sharif made it clear that the development in Kohistani’s area was linked to the leader shedding weight, drawing guffaws from the crowd. But this did not stop tongues from wagging—many raised questions on whether the prime minister or any other leader should be commenting in public on ano­­­ther poli­tician’s weight or other physical attributes.

In Pakistan, political debates often turn nasty; on occasion, they have even degenerated into physical fights betw­­een rivals. Sharif’s comments, therefore, fear commentators, could encourage others to run down their opponents by making fun of their physical attributes in public.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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