Thursday, March 27, 2008

Surrogate Advertising

Much is argued about the ethics of Surrogate Advertising, whether cigarette packs should have pictorial representations of the effects etc etc. In the beginning, the topic really did enthuse me and I got involved to the extent that my final thesis in Post Graduation was on ‘Surrogate Advertising’. I was vehemently against any sort of promotion of something that is so obviously harmful to us. The fact that an alcohol company could legitimize an airline business which was started off to promote it’s alcohol brand in the first place is just one of the examples of the extent to which companies go today. The laws are all confusing and hardly ever enforced so they get away with the loopholes.

So where does this leave my argument? Nowhere, to be exact. The reason Surrogate Advertising exists and flourishes is because the products are allowed to be manufactured, distributed and sold but not promoted. This double standard has it’s basis in economics. The Indian tobacco industry India is the second largest producer of tobacco in the world after China. According to a recent report of the Economics of Tobacco Use (ETU), sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the tobacco industry today stands at Rs.70,000 crore and around Rs.10,000 crore as export earnings. In addition, tobacco provides employment to over four million people. The tobacco lobby in India is one of the strongest. And these are only statistics for tobacco, alcohol is yet another story.

So it’s quite obvious why the government will not even think about hindering the production of these industries. And then also comes the entire ethical question of ‘free will’. The citizens of India should be allowed to make their own decisions and choose whether they want to smoke or not.

The problem, I feel, is in the simple human belief of ‘These are just statistics, it wont happen to me’. They believe that perhaps the research reports and data they see are just heresay…after all, they know so many people who smoked and lived to see their old age.

So for all of you who think like that, here are some thoughts:

Each cigarette contains approximately 4000 chemicals in it. 400 of these substances are toxic- poisonous – and 25 of these on the other hand cause cancer. Within the list are nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, arsenic, acetone, DDT, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia. Eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are effects of smoking, as well as 20% of all deaths related to cancer. One in two lifetime smokers will die from their habit. Tar coats your lungs like soot in a chimney and causes cancer. A 20-a-day smoker breathes in up to a full cup (210 g) of tar in a year. Here’s the clincher - if you know four people who smoke, two will die because of this habit and one of them between the age of 30 – 60. And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing probably will. At present, however, only 2 percent of adults have quit in India, and often only after falling ill.

So what is my solution? I say, let them advertise. Open the media and allow the companies to try to make these into lifestyle products. But at the same time, the government/ health organizations should go all out in the media and show numbers and exact cases of how this habit is bound to kill you. If the picture of a rotten lung or the thought of you being the cause of your wife having a miscarriage does not deter you, then you really should be given the freedom to make this choice. It is after all, your life!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Life and ambition..

Ambition - "What you want to achieve and at the cost of which you want to achieve it!"

My contentment is sometimes mistaken for lack of ambition. The fact that I do not want to be the next Ambani seems incredulous to some. I am repeatedly asked - 'Dont you want a huge house with an even bigger garden? Or long cars to drive in? To travel the world or to buy masterpieces?" And what a strange question this is.

Ofcoure I want all that, who wouldn't? But I dont want it at the cost of other things that are more important to me - like peace of mind, like time to take an evening walk or play with my children when they come back from school. I rather drive a smaller car and take dance lessons than drive a BMW to go to work 50Kms away. I see no point in existing that way! And you know what? I am not the only one who feels this way....most of us want this peaceful life. But society conditions us such that wanting the simple things in life are seen as a sign of lack of drive in life.

So then, how can I blame someone for thinking of me as one without the will to succeed? After all, the only problem is that our definitions of success are poles apart!

Rafting and thoughts...

Let me confess at the onset – I am not one of the bravest people around! Darkness scares me and so do ghost stories. But the one thing that can completely freak me out is the fury of mother nature. However rich/poor, strong/weak, popular/unpopular you may be, when nature strikes, everyone is brought down to the same level!

My latest encounter with the same was on a trip to Rishikesh. Rafting sounds like an exciting and adrenaline pumping adventure .. but all said and done, when I sat in the raft and we saw the fury of the ‘Golf Course’ rapid rising in front of us, there wasn’t a throat on the raft that did not go dry.

Rafting is like life. It seems like a great journey and we all look forward to having a great time! Experts (read people who have been through this already) tell us of the pitfalls that lie ahead and caution us not to be too confident, but we don’t give them much credit and think we can face anything – after all, countless people have done this before. The lull before the rapids rock us into a false sense of security. And then, we hit the rapids. While in the rapid, the mind goes blank…you just row like mad and pray that you don’t fall out. But once the worst is over, the fear vanishes and it doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect after all!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Haridwar on foot!

A long weekend, a spur of the moment plan (OK 2 days planning is also quite spontaneous in my dictionary) and cameras ready, we were all set to go explore the jewels of Uttrakhand - Haridwar and Rishikesh. Anyone who was made privy to our plan would have a very predictable reaction - people our age would exclaim "Why are you wasting 2 days in Haridwar?? Rishikesh is where the action is man!" and our elders would be so happy that their blasphemous children have finally chosen the correct path! I'm glad we trudged through the affection, criticism, sympathy and all that came our way and stood our ground!

If your trip involves only Haridwar and Rishikesh, the best way to travel is by train from Delhi. The morning Shatabdi was as efficient as ever, and before we even knew it, it was noon and we were on the holy soil of Haridwar. A small town by most standards, Haridwar like most places in the world has two faces to it. The face that the residents see and the one that travellers explore. We were lucky to be in the middle of the action as we got accomodation in an Ashram directly on the Ganga just a km away from Har-Ki-Pauri. The views from the balcony were good enough to take your breath away...the waters of Ganga flowing below you, the hills rising from the plains on the other side.

Haridwar is a sightseeing delight. Our intention was not purely religious but more curious and thus the intrigue of the town enveloped us. The Chandi Devi and Mansa Devi temples offered gorgeous views from hilltops and a nail-biting jouney up in the cable car! A combined ticket for both the temples including the cable cars and transport between them costs Rs.150 per person. The centre of action ofcourse is at the famous Har-ki-pauri during the morning and evening aartis. This place is famous for being the spot where the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Bhrama were formed. There is a natural shivling in one of the temples here as well as a marble slab on which it is claimed that Vishnu's footprints are imprinted - the credibility of the same may be questioned by some though. The evening aarti is an experience that will stay with me for a long time. Swelling crowds singing in unison, pundits praying with fire almost half as tall as a man and diyas floating in the water, it had the capacity to mesmerize you completely. Ofcourse, you are not spared the exected commercialism with everyone who put a tika on you asking for money or 'collectors' catching you and asking to donate. But taken in the right spirit, these dont act as a deterent to one's experience.

The part that we enjoyed most was perhaps walking the streets of Haridwar. The market runs on two levels, the twisting turning lanes of the lower market and the paved road of the upper market. As can be expected, we fell in love with the lower market. You never knew what you are going to find at the next turn - a lipsmacking samosa, one in a kind handbag, chandan sticks or quaint wooden artifacts. We walked through those lanes morning, noon and night and I doubt we would have taken the same route even once!!

Our 2 days done here, we packed our bags and left for our camp further from Rishikesh. But it seems like a shame to mix the wonder of this town with the adreline rush of Rishikesh in the same blog...the latter will come soon...keep checking this space!

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