Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Release the Kraken!

The land of the free has many pet shops. In fact, in every strip mall, that has a Blockbuster video store, a Subway sandwich corner and a mom and pop's Chinese restaurant,  there is a possibility that you will find a store that sells some kind of pets' supplies. And some, also sell pets. Once, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a store like that, which specialized in reptiles. They only sold snakes and lizards -- of all kinds.

I still remember a lazy copperhead in a glass display case, staring at me with its beady eyes. The look had nothing to do with a caged reptile. In fact, I could sense contempt and pity -- as if, the snake wanted to tell me, "There could be another time and place. With you, running in the forest, and me, lying down on a bed of dry leaves. First, you would run by me. And then, I would bite you. And of course, you would die -- quickly. Pity you."

I have always wondered what type of pet store ends up being more efficient. The neighborhood mom and pop's pet store, or the multinational with supply chains running all the way to African mamba nests and South American piranha colonies. While the moms and pops would be frugal with their supplies, sometimes catching rattlers in their backyards with butterfly nets, the multinational would negotiate volume discounts with field mice suppliers -- to feed the snakes. Somehow, my findings on who would ultimately win, have always been inconclusive.

For the last few weeks, the corruption debate in India has heated up once again, with the government trying to bring Wal-mart into India. To sell me cucumbers and cheese, and make my sandwiches cheaper. And then, all hell broke loose, all around the country. With the political left and the right united against an idea, that could probably have made my sandwiches cheaper. But then, in all my years in the land of the free, I seldom shopped at a Wal-mart. I remember buying a couple of avocados from a Wal-mart once. Those green things, stayed green for a month, and no insect in our house dared to attack them. Compare that to the avocados that we would usually buy from an organic store, which would start rotting in a few days, and you would probably start calculating how much pesticide went into the multinational avocado. To give it the long shelf life that improves Wal-mart's bottom-line, and balance sheets. And of course, they also have a pharmacy in the store, just in case you need anticancer drugs. At a huge discount, of course.

The public reaction in India against foreign retail chains, has been quite intense. And many, have tried to tie the ubiquitous graft issue around it, as if corruption, is somehow involved in all of this. But the ongoing anti-graft movement has called this entire issue a distraction, with which, the government is trying to delay pending legislation against corruption. 

In all of this, an anti-corruption news story that caught my eye, was that of a disgruntled snake charmer from the heartland. The man had apparently been granted some land to raise his cobras, but the local officials would not release it to him without a bribe. And so, he took a cartload of snakes to the government office, and released them there. The rest, is history.

In fact, the recent trend all around the world, of throwing shoes and slapping public officials who are perceived the be corrupt, has not really impressed me much. It does bring out basic human emotions of anger and frustration in all of us, but somehow, to me, it has never been elegant enough. If you want sophistication, you somehow need to bring the animals in. Pull them apart with horses, trample them with elephants, throw them to the lions. If you will.

I remember reading an old novel, in which an English lord responded to trespassers on his property, by barking to his butler, "Release the hounds!" And then, if you watch the recently made Hollywood movies on Greek gods, you will invariably find Zeus ordering Poseidon, "Release the Kraken!"

And so, I keep wondering, did the poor snake charmer from Desi-land do anything wrong by releasing his cobras in a government office? He may have been on the wrong side of the law, but you have to agree with me, that it was quite elegant. Wasn't it?!


  1. yes.. pretty elegant :)
    very nicely put forth..

  2. I am confused on this FDI thing. May be Walmart is using pesticides; i have never seen a walmart store, to improve bottom line but i know that my street side Desi vendor of vegetables and fruits also uses chemicals to improve shelf life. What would you say to that, Desi Babu.
    Walmart or Desi mart, we the average customer is cooked, isn't it?

  3. Dear Desi Babu,
    Although you have expressed your displeasure with royalty in previous posts, in India we happen to be ruled by Royalty too. Forget the IPS or the IAS babu, the lower division clerk of the municipality is no less a member of the royalty – he (or she) can hold your life to ransom with the greatest of ease – and, you cannot even vote them out.

    So, you can lighten your hoard of doubloons, release your version of Kraken(s), or, stand in a queue and rot. I can only envy, and wish I had a snake or two to release at appropriate times. Those throwing shoes and slapping public officials are fools, for they severely underestimate the thickness of the skins of those they wish to shame.

    Regarding Walmart & Co., I have a more fundamental question. It has always been a mystery to me, why in India, any person who assumes a position of ‘some’ (government) authority also gets the brilliance and moral authority to lecture down on other mere (non-government) mortals? Also, why do all politicians automatically become the custodians of morality & culture? Does anyone know?

  4. Yes, the snake charmer's protest was quite unique. The video clips looked quite alarming, though...I hope the man knew how many snakes he had let loose!!

  5. Dreaming Wanderer: Thanks!

    Dear Laxman: I think you are right. Always look for the apples with the maggot-holes my friend, if a worm survived in it, we probably will survive chomping through it too!

    Dear Sudeep: In my recently reinvented avatar, I have chosen not to comment on our politicians any more. BTW, I sent you a response to your email, not sure if you received it...hope things are going well!

    Dear Soumya: I think the number of snakes was ninety nine! :-)