Sunday, 10 June 2012


A bus driver refused to let a woman travel as she was short of £0.20p of the fare amount. That was the last bus home and so the woman who decided to walk back was attacked and raped. This article reports that the student was pleading with the driver for about eight minutes but still the driver had "turfed her off". Also the article indicates that none of the passengers who boarded the bus offered to make up the fare.

It looks like this news got a bit sensationalized because of that 20p. The drivers action and the fellow passengers inaction became a debatable topic. According to the above article, the bus company has also dealt with the driver through their disciplinary procedure.

It surprises me how this 20p has become the highlight here. What if the person had only 20p and the driver had refused him or her to travel and something similar deplorable incident had happened? Would it have evoked a similar response criticizing the driver or the fellow passengers for not letting a commuter to travel with just 20p?

Similarly how much is the driver's or fellow passengers act is consequential to the incident followed? Should they be the one to be blamed or punished in this case? Instead of becoming a victim, if the person had been lucky and got some fortune while walking back home, should he or she be expected to share it with the passengers and the driver for letting him/her walk?

Unless the driver had violated the company policy to be followed in situations like this, I don't think the driver is the one to be blamed. Talking about rest of the passengers inaction, it is a case study to understand human nature. Aren't people helpful by nature? Don't normal people rush to help others?

The "helping experiment" conducted by Richard Nisbett and his student Eugene Borgida has surprising results. The experiment shows that individuals feel relieved of responsibility when they know that others have heard the same request for help*. The original experiment was conducted with a seizure victim, but I think parallels can be drawn with the way how we react in situations like this.

I don't see much point in trying to find someone to blame for. For me one the of the key lessons to be learnt from this incident is to improve the ticket purchasing options in buses in general. A better system would reduce the amount of passengers left stranded off due to incorrect fare or shortage of fare.

Some bus operators accept only exact fare. They do not provide you the remaining change as the ticket fares are dropped directly into a box. Bus companies like Cardiff Bus provides a voucher for the balance amount, which can be exchanged at the customer service center. But still, the current buying options affects the commuters and also the tourists.

A better way is to start accepting card payments within buses. With the way the cash cards have evolved, especially in the developed countries, the usage of actual currency is getting reduced day by day. Lots of shops accept card payments for purchases even less than a pound,  but still its a surprise to see why the bus companies have not followed this. And now with contactless debit cards coming into the market, its not even required to chip and pin like a standard debit or credit cards.

Bus companies should start working towards providing better buying options for its customers. Improving the ticket purchasing system will help the commuters a lot and might avoid embarrassment and incidents like this.

* Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman, Penguin Books, P170

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Hay Festival 2012

Hay-on-Wye is a small town along the England-Wales border. Called as the 'Town of Books', Hay is also the host for the annual festival of Literature and Arts - Hay Festival. The festival is a ten day event that runs during the months of May-June, hosts some of the best writers, musicians, artists, scientists, film makers, politicians and speakers from various fields.

Historically the festival has been conducted in different parts of the town. In recent years the festival is being organized just outside the town with makeshift tents, pavilions, stages and caravan toilets providing a decent protection from the constantly unpredictable British weather. The twenty fifth edition of the festival is being held from May 31 to June 10, 2012.

Festival Entrance
This is our first time at Hay and we managed to spend around three days in the town and the festival, thanks to the Spring Bank Holiday and Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebration. Different events were organized simultaneously at different venues making it difficult to choose which one to attend and which one to miss. Some highlights from the events that we attended.

The event that I was keen to attend was Daniel Kahneman's discussion with Jesse Norman on 'Human rationality and irrationality'. The discussion was based on Kahneman's recent book 'Thinking Fast and Slow'. The psychologist, who has won the Nobel prize in Economics, ironically has never attended a course in Economics. He talked about the two systems of thinking, system 1 and system 2 and how they influence our decision making. As most of the topics and examples were taken from the book itself, the discussion was very familiar and only very little discussed was unknown. Still it was nice to listen to Daniel Kahneman in person.

Daniel Kahneman with Jesse Norman
'The way we live now' is one of special events for the 25th anniversary of the festival. In the first event of this series, Salman Rushdie - British Indian Novelist, Niklas Frank - Author of  'The Sins of the Fathers : In The Shadow Of The Reich', Elif Shafak - Turkish Writer, Tishani Doshi - Indian poet - journalist and Jim Al-Khalili - Iraqi born British Theoretical Physicist discussed with John Kampfner a British journalist,  about what freedoms the panelists were prepared to trade for security.

Salman Rushdie said that there is not many that he would sacrifice."There is no such thing as perfect security. We should not swap freedoms for supposed security". He was also very critical about the current situation in India and how historically the freedom of speech has been suppressed. He cited incidents of M.F.Husain, banning of Rohinton Mistry's 'Such a Long Journey' and A.K Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas to indicate the state of freedom of speech in India.

Niklas Frank, Elif Shafak, Salman Rushdie, John Kampfner, Tishani Doshi and  Jim  Al Khalili
Niklas Frank and Elif Shafak spoke about their idea of freedom and security from a German and Turkish background. Though Niklas Frank insisted on the freedom of speech, he took a step back when a question was raised about laws against Holocaust denials. Niklas Frank insisted the need for such laws as Holocaust is a truth. Personally I think such laws are still against the freedom of speech.

An interesting question was raised in the audience about the freedom to opt out of vaccinations and other disease preventive measures. Jim Khalili was of the idea that such freedoms might have to be sacrificed for the greater good as a child who is not vaccinated could possibly impact other children in schools and public places. Writer Tishani Doshi spoke about the Unique Identification cards being introduced in India. She was kind of skeptic about sharing so much personal information like retina and fingerprint details which might actually fire back as these information are very sensitive.

When the panelists were asked to suggest one book or cinema of their liking, Salman Rushdie suggested Ulysses and Pather Panchali, Elif and Jim went with Brazil and Tishani with Charlie Chaplin's Dictator. The event was quite interesting with views from the people in public space and coming from different background.

The next day we went for an Hedgerow Foraging Walk with Adele Nozedar. The weather was so bad that we thought the walk would be cancelled. But Adele was happy to take us around the Hay Festival camp for a short foraging walk exploring edible plants and flowers. It was about an hour and half walk tasting leaves and flower buds along the countryside. On any other day I would have hesitated to touch or taste anything like these, but on this ocassion I decided to give it a try, which was not bad actually. Though it was kind of drizzling throughout the walk, it made the plants and trees look more green and beautiful.

Sheared Sheep with the Festival tents at the background - during the walk
Next event was the screening of the Hindi movie - Khosla Ka Ghosla at the Booth Cinema Hall. Booth Cinema hall is part of Richard Booth's bookshop, and is being used as a venue for the films screened at the Hay Festival. The movie was about a father's dream of buying a plot and how he was cheated by an estate agent. The rest of the movie revolves around how his children plan to trick the estate agent to recover his father's plot. Featuring Anupham Kher and Boman Irani, the movie was a lighthearted entertainer.

Anupham Kher at the screening
The final event for us was the British council series discussion about perceptions and cultural visions of 21st century India. The panelists were Anupam Kher, Nandita Das and William Dalrymple talking to Nik Gowing a British Journalist.

Anupham Kher talked about his recent autobiography and how Bollywood has grown in the recent years. He believed in the idea that cinemas are more about entertainment and means to escape for common man's everyday struggle. Nandita Das, on the contrary, felt that cinema is not only for entertainment and spoke about independent film making. Though she agreed that independent films like her own movie Firaaq are not as popular as the mainstream cinemas, she insisted that there are audience for such movies.

William Dalrymple, Anupham Kher, Nandita Das and Nik Gowing
William Dalrymple, writer and co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival felt that in spite of its growth, Bollywood hasn't produced much word class movies that could compete at the levels of Oscar. When compared to countries like China, the quality of movie making is still not at the best. The event was chaired by Nik Gowing who seem to have a fair understanding of politics and culture in India. Anupam was witty, a bit defensive about Bollywood and spoke passionately about India. The highlight of the show was Nandita's clarity of thoughts and her perceptions towards Indian culture and cinema making.

Besides talk shows and movie screenings, there were variety of events for different age groups and target audience. There were lot of shops merchandising the 'Hay Festival'  brand as well. In addition to Oxfam's book shop there was also a festival book shop promoting the books of the festival authors and hosting book signing events.

The Lawn at Hays
The festival was quite crowded which was a bit annoying at times, but still it was a good experience.

More information and photos about the festival here and here.