Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tendulkar vs. Bradman: Unfair to compare

With the Master Blaster having completed a half century of test centuries, the media has predictably begun doling opinions (less of experts, more of amateurs) comparing Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. Let us try and see how both of them compare:
  1. Pitch Conditions:
    During Bradman's times, playing pitches used to be left open overnight and were hence prone to be affected by the overnight weather conditions.
    Tendulkar: Pitches are well covered with water-proof material and are, hence, less affected due to changes in the weather conditions overnight.
  2. Bowling Conditions:
    In Bradman's era, bowlers could, legally, bowl six bouncers to the batsman. Moreover, with uncovered pitches, the conditions could tilt in favour of the bowler on every morning of the test. There were no restrictions on field placements. Fielders could be placed anywhere the bowler wanted.
    Tendulkar: In test matches, two bouncers per over are allowed. In one-day internationals, one bouncer per over. So, no more rattling the batsmen by hurtling down an over full of bouncers. No more than five fielders can be placed on the leg side of the batsmen, thereby limiting the nature of attack.
  3. Sports Gear:
    No protection over the chest and no helmets. Imagine facing Larwood when your head is exposed and your heart, ribs and lungs have no protection against the thud of the ball which could hit you at around 140 km/h. And then, you would realise Bradman's situation.
    Tendulkar: All sort of safety equipment are now available. Helmets, elbow guard, chest guard, etc. Not that cricket has become easy, but batsmen can think of risking being hit, without having to worry too much about how grievous the injury will be.
  4. Fielding:
    Watch those grainy videos of the test matches involving Bradman, and you will realise that the fielders in that era didn't dive around or run their heart out, to save a few runs or to get the crucial wickets. Hence, runs were a little easy to come by.
    Tendulkar: In the modern era, cricket has become heavily competitive. It not only matters how many runs you score, but it also matters how many can you save. You can see fielders diving around to save singles, latch on to catches that would have the opposition down by one more wicket. Hence, Tendulkar has had more hard work, while compiling those runs.
  5. Oppositions and conditions:
    Bradman has played most of his cricket against England and in two countries: England and Australia. He hasn't played on the turning tracks of the subcontinent or on the ferocious pitches of South Africa.
    Tendulkar: He has played test cricket all over the world, against nine countries. This means his runs have come against different types of opposition and many more different conditions than Bradman. From the placid pitches of India, to the bouncy pitches of SA and Australia, to the seaming pitches of England, he has conquered them all. From Abdul Kadir to Warne, Ambrose to McGrath, he has tamed almost all of them.
  6. Statistics: In cricket, statistics are always biased. They comment on the results, but ignore the efforts that went into them. A century on Motera, Ahemdabad is far less difficult than a one on WACA, Perth. But statistics places equal value on both. Hence, these should be seen only as a formality.
    Bradman: Tests: 52, Runs: 6996, 100s: 29 (includes 12 double hundreds and 2 triple), Average: 99.96.
    This means, almost every time he went out to bat, he scored a hundred runs.
    Tendulkar: Tests: 175, Runs: 14513, 100s: 50 (includes 6 double hundreds, but no triple), Average: 56.91.
    Sachin's stats are as of 26th December 2010, before the start of the 2nd test match between SA and India, at Durban.
Now, these were individual parameters on which the two greats were compared. But, in no match, does it happen that only one of the parameter dominates and the rest don't. Hence, if we were to analyse a combined effect of all these factors (multivariate statistical analysis) coming into play together, it would be much more difficult to come up with a conclusion. So, it is better we stop demeaning either of the two by saying one is a greater batsman than the other. Bradman, is as great as Tendulkar is. Both batsmen have taken cricket to new frontiers in their respective era. Both have set new benchmarks to achieve for their successors. Hence, I would say, it is unfair to try and compare the two greats. Fair, would be to savour all those exciting cricket that Tendulkar continues to generate.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

New business/employment opportunities spawned by social networking websites

When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, or when Twitter was launched, the founders were sure that they are launching a revolution in the way people connect to each other and dispense information. But, what they did not know, is that they this would also lead to opening of new entrepreneurial and employment avenues for those who could cash on this innovation. And it is surprising for us too, to see such avenues opening up. Of course, now there are companies which develop apps that can enhance the visibility of your products and service on social networking websites, but the fact that such an arena has opened up is astonishing. Let's see a few examples
  1. Twitter analysers: Various news dispensing websites now have twitter analysers. Some of it is automated, e.g. tracing the hash-tags  or twitter handles and displaying them on the website. But there are people employed to collate tweets from various sources and then display the most interesting ones. Almost every website or newspaper has a section dedicated to celebrity tweets. These can be movie personalities, sports-persons, politicians, social workers or anybody who is a "celebrity". Because there is a section of people who would devoutly consume the news generated by these tweets.

    Customer-care departments of various organisations have started keeping a look-out on twitter feeds to identify adverse comments and see if they can be addressed. So, you can either have a person who does this work, or write a piece of app or software that can do this job for you. Infact, the app can perhaps sort out complaints based on the product and forward it to the customer-care of that handling the particular product.

    Insurance companies too have begun using twitter and facebook analysers. These analysers try to see what were upto, during the time the incident, for which you have filed an insurance claim, occurred. A case in Bengaluru was reported, when the insurance company denied accident claim to a driver because he was DUI. And they traced it to his tweets, when he had posted about being at a friends place and enjoying the alcohol. The timeline of the tweets matched with the time of the accident. And insurance generally doesn't cover for claims if the driver was DUI at the time of the accident.
  2. Facebook: XYZ likes "This person should be killed for what he did to the girl". I bet you do not want to "like" such frivolous pages. So, what do you do? Try and search whether that link is available elsewhere. And invariably you would find it on This website has spun a business around Facebook users' dislike to "like" frivolous pages and yet see their content.

    Now, companies that design and maintain websites also have a Facebook arm, which designs the clients' content on a Facebook page. So, there is a need for personnel who can design content on the Facebook pages for the clients.
  3. Thieves and burglars: Thieves and burglars have now begun to hunt through facebook status messages and tweets when they plan for their next heist. So, be careful, when scream on your page "Offfffff for a week to Maldives". Information is being mined for such potentially dangerous use too.
Have you come across any such interesting leverage of twitter, facebook or any other social networking sites to build a business around it?
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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cafe Koolar and Co.

Those who value their money, eat at Cafe Koolar and Company. This is the tag line of the Irani restaurant situated on the busy King's Circle (now Maheshwari Udyan) on the busy Dr. Ambedkar road. A look on the board outside, says it was established in 1932. But, there is a sharp difference between the pace of life inside and outside the restaurant. From the fast-paced life of Mumbai on the streets and foot-paths just outside the restaurant, you step into an idyllic world inside.

Manned by the owner and two waiters, the restaurant serves its customers at its own pace. Its interiors are typical to those of an Iranian restaurant.Old wooden chairs and tables, perhaps not changed since they were installed, a glass pane on the table top, with the menu sandwiched between the table top and the glass pane. And no waiters standing on your head for you to blurt out your order. Take seat, sit down and relax. Adjust yourself to the cool environs of the restaurant, courtesy the high ceilings. They have framed the New York Times front page which carried the news of the Titanic sinking. Once you have settled, the waiter will ask you for your order. The best stuff to get in an Irani restaurant are brun maska (special Irani bread and butter) and tea. If you are in for a nice hearty  breakfast, go for the double omelette-pav. Few can prepare an omelette like the Iranis. Not spicy, with just a little bit more of oil, to get the smoothness.

That the Mesopotamians and Persians were trading spices with India, is evident from the composition of spices in the Irani food. The kheema-pav had whole black pepper to spice up the taste. The only word to describe these preparations is awesome. The omelette and kheema, just melt into your mouth. The food is just rightly spiced. After having a heavy meal too, it doesn't leave you with the "overburdened" uneasy feeling that you get in those Shetty-run hotels.

The orders do take their own time to come. But then, Irani restaurants are known for their idyllic pace. Take a seat near the window. Though most seats in this restaurants are by the window side. Enjoy the view outside. Keep wondering about the fast-paced life outside the restaurant. Enjoy Mumbai from the cooler atmosphere in Koolar.

P.S. I have taken pics, which I'll upload on the blog, once I'm able to take them back onto my PC.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nothing Indian about Airtel's new tune

What has happened to A. R. Rahman?His 2010 CWG theme song was trashed by everyone, right from officials to the general public. Even in Robot, they say Rahman was not at his best. And now, it is this Airtel tune. The company earns most of its revenue from India. And yet, it is hard to find anything Indian in this tune!! The lyrics appear from a foreign language.  Now, it is not clear to me, whether they are lyrics or only blabber used to fill up the space. They say India has hundreds of languages (only 17 are scheduled, rest aren't) and each language has thousands of dialects. It would be great to know, what language/dialect do these lyrics belong to. The older Airtel theme song too was shot abroad, but was completely instrumental. An Indian customer would find it hard to connect to this tune. Come on, we have so many instruments and lyricists within India, that can create a tune that would sound more Indian. Then, why rely on such techno stuff? This is beyond my understanding!!
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mr. Obama, will the US lead by example?

The President was here. He came, he spoke and he went. The media frenzy was there to see. It appeared as if God was descending on earth to guide his followers. To shower his blessings and generosities (read: the $10  billion plus business deals) for the progress of the Indian nation. The Lord was followed obediently and care was taken to see that he wasn't offended due to any incident. So much, that Pritish Nandy feels that the CM and deputy CM of Maharashtra were nothing but a bunch of cribbers, when they protested against the US consulate's demand for providing passport and other documents of identification 'as a matter of security'. This is what the former MP had to say
 They were invited to meet Obama at a gathering organised by the US Consulate and were requested in advance to provide their identification through PAN cards and whatever ID our own Government demands of us whenever we enter an airport or any other place where security's an issue.
We mortals thought that Chagan Bhujbal's outrage was justified. After all, Shri Ashok Chavan and Shri Chagan Bhujbal are the heads of Maharshtra state, which was welcoming the Lord on his first descent to earth from the skies. We thought it was improper and rude to question the host's credentials. But Mr. Nandy feels offended. The ever forgiving Lord didn't mind.

And before ascending back to the skies, the God addressed the fair, just and beloved rulers of our 1 billion plus nation. Obama spoke about a lot of things, many of which can be taken as a sign of India's coming of age on the world stage. The White House has done an excellent job of posting the transcript of Obama's speech on its website. No, do not intend to criticise or praise Obama's speech. Just would like to tell him, that like Jesus Christ, he too could lead by example. Let's look at this part of the Lord's sermon
Now, we all understand every country will follow its own path.  No one nation has a monopoly on wisdom, and no nation should ever try to impose its values on another. But when peaceful democratic movements are suppressed —- as they have been in Burma, for example -- then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent. For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of bankrupt regimes. It is unacceptable to steal elections, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see.

Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community —- especially leaders like the United States and India —- to condemn it. And if I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from some of these issues. But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It is staying true to our democratic principles.
The Lord is not known to forget. Perhaps it is an oversight. Why choose Burma/Myanmar, O Lord? It is a tiny nation, with no known trade with your nation. However, it has a neighbour, known has People's Republic of China. There, the country has jailed the your successor, the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiabo. And why? Because Xiabo tried to promote those same democratic values that the Lord was talking about in the Indian parliament. But O Lord, why didn't you say anything to China, when you were there? Your nation itself has shied away from this issue. You haven't spoken out for your own successor to the Nobel Peace Prize. Your nation hasn't till date officially demanded for his release. How can you impress your followers, the Indian nation and polity to act as per your sermon?

There is one more 'democratic' nation, that USA treats as a friend and  close ally. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  This country, O Lord, doesn't have any democracy, and is ruled by an autocratic king. Its law agencies follow a perverse interpretation of Islam, which treats women as slaves. There are numerous reports of violations of human rights, especially those of women. Infact, there was a case where a woman was raped, but the rapists were let free by the courts. Instead, the woman was awarded a punishment of 150 lashes, because at the time of rape, she wasn't accompanied by a male relative. The generous king of Saudi Arabia, reduced this punishment to 50 lashes. Yet, my Lord, USA didn't raise its voice for that woman.

I plead to you my Lord. Please lead by example. It is blasphemous for devotees to question their Lord, but once in a while questions need to be raised. At this moment, the question is, whether you will choose to lead us only through sermons or by setting examples. You have a ripe opportunity to do that if you could say to China and Saudi Arabia, all that you expect us to say to Burma. Your idol, Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world." Hope you follow his advice.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Will the legitimately rich be left alone?

For the past few weeks, there has been a lot of news being made about Mukesh Ambani's new abode, Antilia. And as are many things associated with the Reliance Group, Antilia too has been amongst controversies, right from the beginning. First, was the controversy about the land itself. Accusations flew past the entire city, about how it was illegally transferred to Mukesh Ambani by the Waqf board. Once that died, newspapers have been writing realms of articles about how this mansion/building is a a shameless show-off by the country's super rich and how it utterly disregards the poverty that surrounds them, etc. Then, we find comparison between Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. We are told how Tata still prefers to live in his small flat in an apartment in Colaba, while Ambani is splurging more than a billion dollars for his residence. But, no one tells us that Tata owns more than 10 cars, ranging from the humble Indigo to the super luxurious Jaguar.

A similar protest was once organised when diamond mughal Bharat Shah had organised his daughter's wedding at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. The protestors accused the diamond industry of being insensitive to the financial condition of those around them and spend lavishly while people were dying of hunger. The diamond industry shot back, saying that they employ a lot many people and generate a lot more wealth than those who were protesting outside the Wankhede. Similar things can be said about Ambani and Reliance Industries too. Various arms of the Reliance Industries have been generating thousands of direct and lakhs of indirect jobs in the country. And Mukesh Ambani's income and Reliance Industries' profits are there with SEBI to be inspected by anybody to be seen. So, why this hue and cry when Ambani decides to spend the money for his abode?

He and his family have legitimately earned that money, it is their right to spend it in a manner deemed fit by them. Atleast, they are not like the politicians, whose assets double or quadruple within one five-year term of the Parliament or legislative assembly. We never see newspapers raise such comments about them. How much legitimate employment do these politicians generate?

Perhaps our aversion to such opulence comes from our socialist conditioning for the past sixty odd years. When, the rich were regarded with disdain. Those who amass fortunes only by cheating and exploiting the poor. Recall the movies of the sixties and seventies, when the rich landlord or money-lender used to exploit the poor hero or heroine. The rich could never do anything good, they were always exploiters. And they always disregarded anything that had to do with the poor. Such movies were a hit amongst the people, who could see the poor hero rise to the occasion and either finish of the rich villain or cause a change in his heart and prod him into donating his wealth for the cause of the poor.

The CEOs or owners of listed companies have a major portion of their income legitimately recorded as per the rules of the government. Many of them are legitimately rich. They have the right to spend their money as per their wishes, till the point it is in accordance with the laws of the country. Why should they be forced to take a moral stand? When Antilia was being constructed it provided employment to thousands of labourers, architects construction engineers and ofcourse, all those reporters who were busy writing against it. And even after it is occupied, it will continue providing employment in terms of various goods and services that it will be consuming. If there is poverty around us, it is the society's failure and the failure of the government, whom we have elected to rule us. It is the government's role to look after the welfare of it populace. The rich in the society too should play their role, but then they cannot be the primary drivers of poverty eradication. Let us leave them alone and ask the government, what can be done to minimise the deep wealth rift between the two sections of the society.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Maddened by doughnuts

Yesterday, we were at Mad Over Donuts, a doughnuts parlour, that has opened at Hiranandani in Powai. They serve lots of varieties of doughnuts, including ones which are almost unheard of!! You can say, what Cafe Coffee Day is for coffee, Mad Over Donuts is for doughnuts.

I had never been there, and had previously eaten only what can be termed as an apology of doughnuts. Hence, I agreed to go there, but to have doughnuts, more as a dessert, rather than as a primary food, for the evening.

The place is nice, and like the usual coffee parlours, the ambiance is definitely targeted towards the youth. They have a huge variety of doughnuts, ranging from chocolate dipped to pineapple flavoured ones. And they have a few good offers. Like, buy nine doughnuts, get three free. And combo offers for less, etc.  But, ever since reading Predictably Irrational, I feel these offers are not genuine ones, but decoys to induce us to buy more. And, there is a problem. All their doughnuts are excessively sweet. I ordered a dark-chocolate doughnut. Now, my near and dear ones would know about my weakness for dark chocolate. I like it, because it has that bitter tinge to it, which leaves me craving for more. It has more of cocoa and less of processed milk. And I like to believe all those studies that say dark chocolate is good for health. But, alas!! This dark-chocolate filled doughnut is sweeter than the regular milk chocolate. So much of sugar into it, that I didn't need to have sugar the next day!  Thankfully, I did not have any sugar test scheduled, else the doctor would have surely declared me diabetic.

Here we are, paying between Rs.40-45 for the doughnut, and yet we get the stereotypical sweet chocolate doughnuts. Why? Because Indians like their chocolates to be sweet. But then, they are charging a premium for those doughnuts and they need to break the stereotype. Hope M.O.D. realises this and improves its dark chocolate doughnut. I would definitely go there once again, if they make that correction.
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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Predictably Irrational: Dan Ariely

Picture this scenario: You walk into a McDonald's outlet, and you are hungry. You see the menu which reads, Rs. 30 for a regular burger, Rs. 45. for a medium sized burger and Rs. 52. for a large size one. What would you order? Now, obviously, you cannot gauge the extent of your hunger. And hence, you would buy the large burger, because it is highly likely that you have made the calculation that the large size burger is just Rs. 7 more than the medium sized one and you get to eat a lot more in the bargain. But did you ever realise that the medium sized burger in the menu might just be a decoy? To entice you into buying the large one? It creates an illusion that you are getting a good value for money by buying the large burger. Sounds irrational? Predictable so!!

Predictable Irrational, by Dan Ariely, describes various such social behaviours, where despite being informed and knowledgeable we make choice that cannot be justified by logic. E.g., why would it be rude and perhaps damaging, if you try to pay your mausi for the wonderful dinner she invited you for during Diwali? When, she would be elated, if you were to give her a gift like a box of sweets, which is way lesser in value compared to the 'cost' of preparation of the food. Or, do we have the capability to make the same decisions, irrespective of the state of our mind? How common is cheating? Does the fear of punishment prevent people from cheating? Or do other moral pressures work better?

Dan Ariely and his co-workers have tried to analyse these social behaviours after conducting scores of experiments in various places across in the United States. Some of the conclusions about social behaviours and decision making in the social environment are specific to the US, because of the way the society functions there. Nevertheless, the book is a wonderful read, and might be of some help to reduce our irrationality and improve decision making.

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our DecisionsOne point to consider. Now, that I have placed a and link, to make it easy for you to buy one, if interested, would you still believe that my review of the book is impartial? Or do you think, I have some benefit in promoting this book and hence, the review need not be impartial? The first thought that you get, might be predictably irrational!!
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Friday, October 01, 2010

Yes, we can

The Ayodhya verdict, for once, showed that we are a mature democracy. The promise given by leaders that no party would celebrate or indulge in riots irrespective of the nature of the decision was kept by the leaders. Many may claim that they said this because the option of going to the Supreme Court was available to both sides. And because there could be political implications of wild celebrations or riots. But, whatever be the reason, the promise given was kept. India, as a nation, desires to move on towards development and prosperity. Sensible youth are hungry for more opportunities in the new Indian economy. They have the desire and energy to build a career for themselves. All stakeholders in the story of India's economic success should strive to channelise this desire and energy in a way that would benefit the country, both, socially as well as economically. While this does not mean that we discard our faith, it means that people desire to practice their faith in a manner that is minimally intrusive to others.

For once, India showed that we can digest a particular verdict in a manner such that there is peace in the society as a whole. Murmurs in some corners are bound to occur, but the leadership should stand up and try to see that these murmurs do not come to mainstream. Ofcourse, the media has a role to play, but then today's media does not desire to take any such responsibility.

And, there is another event where we need to show, we can. The Delhi Common Wealth Games (CWG) 2010. Yes, agreed there is a huge scandal involving the games, taxpayers' money has definitely been swindled, brazen corruption has taken place, payments made for works that haven't met specifications, funds for other causes have been diverted to the Games. Poor people have been uprooted from their shanties and dumped on the fringes of Delhi. Lots of injustices and bad practices. We have been snubbed and taunted about the way the preparations have gone. But, all said and done, we should be solidly backing our athletes who are depending on the support of the home crowd to give them the extra edge in performance. We should show them, that we back them, despite this callous government and the tardy preparations for the Games. We should show them, yes we can be enthusiastic about sports apart from cricket. Ditch the Australia-India test series. Go out, watch the CWG, only for our athletes. Support them, they are playing for the nation. Remember, BCCI admitted in the court that it does not send an Indian team, but a team representing BCCI. If the time for India has really come, we should support those who truly compete for India, not only for namesake.

Let's us show the athletes, yes, we can thumb our nose to cricket. Yes, we can support sports despite every controversy that surrounds it. And yes, we can help them inspire others, which will create a fresh set of talent in the country.
Yes, we canSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, September 27, 2010

What happened, honey?

What happened to you? How could you change so much? I always believed that I could blindly trust you, because you were the most pure in the entire world. If anything went wrong with you, it could be easily detected. We would take corrective steps, so that you maintain that pure and pious nature of yours. So pure, I thought, you were that man's best friend stayed away from you and did not dare to cross your path. For the past seven years, my day has begun with you only!!

But then, this greedy and ignorant world overcame you. You got pulled in its drive to derive the maximum benefit in shortest possible time. I was so naive, that I couldn't realise that someone as pure as you could be dragged into this trap. It was a bolt out of the blue for me. A, rude jolt, a wakeup call, that none in this world is untouched by its character.

The Indian society's ecological guardian, Centre for Science and Environment, and its director, Sunita Narain, announced to the nation about your adultery. Yes, my dear honey, their extensive survey and tests declared most of the honey being sold in India is laden with antibiotics. A further jolt was that these antibiotics have been banned in most of the developed world. Those who trade you as a product, injected the innocent bees with such antibiotics, so that they do not fall ill and continue producing.

Sunita Narain says that your downfall began when a few ill-informed people thought that imported bees are a better proposition, as they can produce more of your ilk. But, those imported bees were not familiar with the Indian conditions. They started falling ill and dying. To avoid this, they were injected with antibiotics and over generations they still continue to consume such stuff. Perhaps, not realising that they are spoiling (and have now already spoilt) our relationship. These antibiotics have now percolated into my body and have probably caused irreparable damages. You were supposed to keep me healthy by detoxifying my body. But, you have contaminated it.

Dear honey, with a heavy heart, I would like to tell you that I am ending our relationship with immediate effect. It can only be restored if you restore back to your former self. Pressurise your masters to reform and to restore you back. Only then, come to me. I will welcome you with open arms.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amen: Autobiography of a nun: Dr. Sister Jesme

What happens when the rakshaks (protectors) become bhakshaks (tormentors)? We have to either bear it silently, because no one would believe us, or rebel against the system.

Sr. Jesme's book, is the story of her rebellion against, what she terms as atrocities of the Church against the nuns of the congregation. In her book, she talks about the unexpected activities that go behind the closed walls and doors of the convent and the Church. She talks of the illicit, and many times, forced relations between nuns, physical relations between priests (Father, Brother, etc.) and nuns and how sometimes these relations affect the nun's progress in the congregation.

A place of religious activity should be free from the five enemies- lust, anger, greed, attachment, jealousy and ego. However, the priests and nuns of the Church do not seem to have conquered those. The sadder part is that nuns in the congregation are involved in political one-upmanship and try to plot against one another.  On top of that, there is a class (and caste) conflict within the convent. Sisters coming in from poorer (or less educated) backgrounds are treated as lesser humans and are engaged only in menial and physical activities. The sisters from upper class and those well-educated, keep away from them and encourage the new entrants to behave in the similar manner. All this, when they preach that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. The Church, as expected, has denied all the allegations levelled by Sr. Jesme. They have tried to label her an mentally unstable, and its official publication in Kerala has gone far to call her a prostitute. The Church has constantly stone-walled attempts to investigate the allegations. What is it afraid of? Let the place of religion be cleansed of the deviants.

As a book, the writing is not too much to be talked about. Sr. Jesme doesn't give a time-line of the events. This is perhaps because it would allow a trace-back of all the persons involved in the incidents. What, therefore, happens is that you do not get a feel of the duration for which she suffered a particular incident. The incidents too are written in a manner, their enormity never dawns upon you. You get a feeling that they are written in a haste and hush-hush manner. Only, since you know that these persons are bound by vows of chastity, such acts are entirely unacceptable. Similarly, acts of irregularities in colleges do not seem very dangerous, when you read it, but only when you analyse it, the enormity dawns upon you.

Another problem is that, if your a not a Christian, it is very difficult for you to understand the terminologies involved. Is Mother Superior higher than a Priest in hierarchy or not? Who has to obey whose orders? There should have been a flowchart of the hierarchy of the congregation in the book. This also would allow non-Christians to realise the extent to which unacceptable behaviour has spread within the congregations and priestly orders.

Overall, the book is an eye-opener. Unless the Church openly investigates all the allegations, more such allegations will continue to turn up. It should realise that after all, the nuns and priests are humans and occasionally a few might give in to the temptations. But it doesn't mean that they should treat themselves as above all and infallible. Instead, investigate the causes, rectify the situations so that fewer people repeat the mistakes.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

R.I.P. cyber cafes

The year 1996, saw the internet coming to India. In the initial stages, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) was the only entity allowed to function as an ISP. And like all those things that came from the west, the accessibility of the internet was restricted to a privileged few, as the cost were tremendously high. Then, came competition. With private sector ISPs roped in to provide services, the cost of acquiring an internet connection dropped, but was still very high, compared to today. There was another problem, though. The cost of owning a PC was still prohibitively high. So, penetration of the internet into homes still wasn't that great. To own a PC with an internet connection was a status symbol in those days.

This situation presented a unique opportunity for business. People bought or leased out PCs, got an internet connection and started providing access to others who couldn't afford. These entities were termed as cyber cafes. Depending on the location, speed and ambiance, they charged anywhere between Rs. 20 to Rs. 45/- per hour. They were a boon for the teens (who were the first to latch on to the internet wave), who couldn't afford to own a computer at home. And it was convenient, because you could access the internet from anywhere in the city, without too much worry.

Then, the inevitable happened. Sensing business opportunity, cyber cafes started springing up like mushrooms in the monsoon. There was a time when two or three cyber cafes would be located within a distance of half a kilometre. The good thing was that rates dropped to Rs. 10- Rs. 20 per hour. This caused a reduction in margins and business was more dependent on volumes. Prices of hardware too dropped, thereby allowing scale-up of business easily.

Then came the second inevitable thing. Beginning somewhere in 2003, prices of hardware dropped drastically. Computers were now more affordable to individuals. From 2005, internet connectivity improved, with broadband access becoming available at a very less premium over dial-up access.  In big cities, this dried up the flow of people to cyber cafes. People started accessing the net from the cosiness and security of their homes. Slowly, cyber cafes started closing down, giving way to other booming businesses like mobile phone handsets, restaurants and retail stores. From two-three cafes in half a kilometre radius, the number came down to one every one kilometre or more. They too are struggling for business and have to keep up the revenue by providing other services such as gaming, or selling pre-paid phone refills, computer accessories like CD/DVD pen-drives, etc.

I too didn't seem to miss the cyber cafes too much. Till, the internet at home was down and there was no chance of the technician visiting home for rectification and restoring of the connection, as there were three days of holidays. Grudgingly, I trudged down the familiar lanes around my house, searching for a cyber cafe, so that I could check my e-mail and reply to the ones that needed urgent action. But alas, where there existed five cafes three years ago, only one was left and that too, tucked away to the extreme end of the lane. The cyber cafes have played an important part in familiarising the internet to lakhs of people in the country. In small towns, they still do that. All, we can say is, R.I.P., cyber cafes!
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Idli House

So, it was time for another eating excursion in the city. And after a long long time. And it was again, in Matunga. Idli House is a sister concern of A. Ramanayak, which, as the name suggests, serves only idlis of various kind. It is a fairly recent outlet (though must be more than 10 years old) and serves more than ten types of idlis.
It is located in King's Circle (now known Maheshwari Garden) in Matunga. The restaurant is a fairly small place, with only three tables laid out. Of course, there is a table lined along the wall, where you could stand and eat, if you are super hungry and/or do not want to wait till the tables are cleared, which may take considerable time.

We went there, hungry as ever at around 8:00 AM on a rainy Sunday morning. And were just amazed at the variety of idlis on offer. Kanchipuram idli, Mysore rawa idli, pepper idli, etc. I began with ordering a Kanchipuram idli, shown on the left. Served hot and fresh, with unlimited sambar and coconut chutney to go with it, the idli tasted awesome. It was garnished with cashews and raisins, the chtuney was awesome and the sambar too was tasty, typical Udipi style sambar. Of course, one idli isn't enough to fill my stomach, and that too when it is such a tasty idli. So, the next dish I ordered was a khotto. This idli is steamed in kekdi (kevda) leaves and, therefore, there is a nice aroma and taste of those leaves when you eat the idli. The idli was super soft and just melted into the mouth. The other kinds of idlis available are Mudho, which is idli steamed by wrapping the batter in jackfruit leaves, Mysore Rawa idli, pepper idli and of course, the regular steamed idli. They also have dish called idli upma.

And, the accompaniments are not limited to sambar and chutney. You can choose from rasam, GSB daalitoya or Madras style sambar. And the famous red powder (called gun powder as a nick name) is also available instead of the regular coconut chutney.

Top this sumptuous breakfast with a piping hot filter coffee and you are done. The only thing remaining is a nice bed to lie down and digest all that delicious food.
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Friday, August 27, 2010

IIPM's accreditation paradox

It was probably spoken in hushing undertones, but everybody was quite sure that there is something fishy about the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). Otherwise, why would any B-school come out with full page advertisements almost every month bragging about their so called "achievements", grand course work and daring innocent students to think beyond the IIMs. Throw in a few goodies like free laptops, etc. and call yourself a self-styled management guru, a youth icon and you would have gullible people believing you. But the principle caveat emptor applies to everybody, though most are not cautious and fall into the trap unknowingly.

Notice how IIPM advertisements never carried a list of companies where their students were placed. If you brag about your courses, you can surely brag about the companies that pick your students. But no, in a recent advertisement that appeared in ToI, here's what IIPM has to say
Though almost all students have found placement in the past, we do not guarantee job since we are not a Placement Agency.

Well, they are right in one sense. But then, people definitely expect to be placed in good companies (like ICICI, Tata, HUL, etc.) as IIPM claims that its courses go beyond the IIMs. And in this advertisement, they claim to think beyond Harvard!! When, they do not have even a single faculty who holds a doctorate or conducts any research. So, placements too might come from companies who want to recruit from beyond Harvard!! Who are those? The Professors in-charge of placements at various IITs and IIMs discuss with newspapers about the previous year's recruitment including the companies that came on campus. Never saw Arindam Chaudhari doing it.

Enough of this introduction, I guess. You might know all these things about IIPM. The clincher in IIPM's advertisement is its following statement on Accreditation:
We have never attached any importance to accreditation by national/international bodies. Institute teaching only 600 contact hours have high ranking whereas others teaching around 1200 contact hours have been ranked low by criteria which has nothing to do with the knowledge imparted by such institutes. We have confidence in our own academic standard. Our competition is with our own excellence achieved in the past. Those, who seek statutory recognition, need not apply.

Now, I do not know what excellence they have achieved in the past, going just by sentence construction, whoever writes their advertising scripts, surely, isn't excellent enough. This statement is like Nokia saying, we do not go for regulatory approvals because we believe in our manufacturing capabilities. Surely, organisations like FCC, EU, etc. won't buy this argument from Nokia. Nor, will the customer, who would like an independent standards body certifying the quality and safety of the device. So, why shouldn't we be bothered about such blatant over confidence. Why doesn't IIPM openly say, "We do not offer any kind of degrees. Our so-called degrees are not recognised by AICTE, UGC or any other technical and higher education body in the country." The UGC has finally woken up from its slumber and put an advertisement in the newspapers, declaring that IIPM is not a university nor is in any position to award any kind of degree under the present laws that govern higher education. But then, UGC's mickey-mouse size unattractive advertisement comes nowhere close to the marketing onslaught of IIPM!!

But IIPM believes in the ranking system, as they have quoted it in their statement on accreditation. They believe that higher ranked institutes can do with less course work, because such institutes impart better knowledge. Now, if accreditation itself is not believed in, how can they claim the differentiation between two institutes. The accreditation process might be flawed, rankings might go wrong, but they serve a useful process to help people make informed decisions. All this stuff, makes IIPM nothing more than a private coaching institute. It is not a management institute. Still daring to think beyond Harvard, Mr. Chaudhari? First, try and get beyond Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

So, is Sehwag really the best?

Today, I was going through Aivjit Ghosh's blog post on the recent news in the world of cricket. Amongst all news, he talks on Sehwag in high esteem. Not that I do not hold Sehwag in high esteem. Infact, someone who has consistently appeared and performed well at international level, deserves an applause. But then, is it really the right time to start calling him the Indian best bastman of all time?

But, Avijit thinks he is the best. And here are the claims that Avijit makes in Sehwag's favour:
"Others can keep piling methodical hundreds, they can never dream of a 80-plus strike rate in Test cricket. Now even research papers show that he is better than anybody in India."
Oh yes, probably no one can dream of such a strike-rate. But then, stirke-rate is a deceptive statistic. It is not an unbiased measure of performance. This only means that Sehwag scores 80+ runs every 100 balls he faces. Which means, he might get out at a score of 8 or 9 after playing 10 balls in an innings, for 10 consecutive matches, and still end up with this strike-rate. In such a case, methodical hundreds might be more useful. I have blogged previously about the deceptive nature of statistical figures. This is yet another example of use of incomplete statistics to arrive at a conclusion.

Again, Avijit relies on some research papers that have claimed to have analysed that he is better than anybody in India. Frankly speaking, the reliability of research papers that combine human abilities and statistical data to arrive at conclusions should be sceptically looked at. I, definitely find in difficult to trust in such research, as we are never sure if the statistical data used is completely unbiased. And that the final conclusions are not sensitive to addition or removal of parameters.

Perhaps, the best comparison comes from Harsha Bhogle. His crininfo article on comparison between Gavaskar and Sehwag can be found here. And, quoting Harsha, here is the clincher
"But at the corresponding points in their career (79 Tests each), a mere 88 runs separate them. The difference in batting average is but 0.68."
I had once heard Shirish Kanekar on comparing different cricketers. Like every sane person, he said that it is impossible to compare players of different era, as playing conditions were different. Ranjitsinghji, Don Bradman, etc. never wore helmets or protective gear. They played differently and had to defend themselves against the possibility of getting injured due to a swinging delivery ramming into the body. The pitches were never covered, as they are today and hence batsmen were much more exposed to the vagaries of nature. Today, with protective gear, the batsman can be more aggressive and hence in turn score more runs. Kanekar had an interesting anecdote. He said, "There was no concept of nuclear warfare and its counter strategies during Shivaji Maharaj's era. That doesn't mean he was a king of lesser abilities than today's war strategists."

So, instead of pondering over which individual is best, there should be more concentration on building a team that is best.
So, is Sehwag really the best?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, August 16, 2010

East India Company rises(?) from the ashes

The wheel of time has turned around and the East India Company (EIC), which was dissolved in 1874, is back in business, this time with an Indian owner. The company was a legend in its time. It was once said that the sun never set over the British Empire. The seeds of having such a vast territory were largely laid by the EIC.

In its time, the company was involved in trading all kinds of goods. From cotton to muslin and spices to opium, thereby controlling around half of the global trade. As the industrial revolution spread, the company became a reverse outsourcing company. It would export cheap cotton and cloth dye to England and import high value product like processed cloth. Its processed cloth was priced way cheaper than the indigenous cloth, like the fine Dhaka Muslin. This policy of the EIC drove traditional Muslin and handloom weavers into bankruptcy and led to a decline of many traditional trades. Corruption was so rampant in the company that every officer retiring from the Company, would buy sprawling estates in country side England. Its policies induced large scale devastation caused by a famine in Bengal in the year 1770. And it was the EIC, which introduced cartridges smeared with cow and pig fat, thereby causing great resentment and triggering the First War of Indian Independence. Due to its excesses and irregularities, the company was dissolved in 1874, though it managed to maintain minimal presence in tea and coffee trade.

Now, in 2010, Sanjiv Mehta has purchased the company and is the owner of the brand name "East India Company". And what does this company plan to do? Similar to what it did 400 years ago-- trading. It will buy "luxury goods" from India and sell it in its stores in London. What are Mr. Mehta's views about the Indian company? According to him

"Without the company, Britain would not have tea on its tables and in Mumbai and Bangalore, people would not be having jams on their toast for breakfast."

Of course, without the Company, there wouldn't have been the great Bengal famine of 1770, when forget jam and toasts, people didn't even have basic food like millets and rice to eat. Without the company, cartridges wouldn't have been smeared with cow and pig fat, thereby causing deep hurt to the religious sentiments.

And we would be fools to consider it a victory for India, that an Indian now owns a company that was once upon a time a force to reckon with. The East India Company is a spent force, its brand has no recall in the world, except in the South-Asian subcontinent, where it has wrecked havoc. And in major cases, it evokes negative, bad and horrendous memories. If we are not able to forgive Dow, because it owns UCC that wrecked havoc in Bhopal in 1984, how can we forgive EIC, which did so much harm to the South Asian subcontinent?
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mr. Gumaste, Belgaum is not about the city only

By now, most of the net-savvy people must be aware of the border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka, related to the district of Belgaum. And every nationalist has something to say against "regionalism" and every regionalist has something to say about the importance of local language and the injustice meted out to the disputed areas in Karnataka. In all this, took efforts to publish an article by a common man from Belgaum, Vikas Gumaste. He argues how language shouldn't be at the centre-stage and that development is more important and all other nationalistic and historical clichés.

And of course, I would like to differ with Mr. Gumaste, not only because I am a Maharashtrian, but also be the issue needs deeper thinking than what Mr. Gumaste has written about. He begins the article, bragging about how he cornered a family member with unanswerable questions like
Does it really matter if Belgaum becomes a part of Maharashtra or not? Are you prevented from running Marathi schools or learning Marathi in Belgaum? Do you feel like an outsider when you walk down the streets of Belgaum? And are you discriminated against when you apply for jobs because you speak Marathi?
Well, Mr. Gumaste, it may not matter to you. People might not have been prevented from running Marathi schools. But, what if all state government documents are published in Kannada only? Will your Marathi education help you in grasping all that those documents have to say? Now, you might be able to read the English part of the document, since our governments would be proud in publishing the text in English, but not publish it in a language that is locally dominant. But, what about those people in small towns and villages, where vernacular language is still the dominating medium of instruction? Or where, they do not have people who can speak or understand the impeccable English in government documents? For them, it is most convenient if it is published in Marathi. Now, won't you feel like an outsider, if the government does not give you its documents published in Marathi language?

Then, Mr. Gumaste goes on to point out how he is a Marathi from his father's side, but Kannad from his mother's and hence he is confused about the identity of a Marathi. Well, Mr. Gumaste, for that purpose, we all evolved from monkeys (if you believe in the Theory of Evolution). Does it mean, we forget our regional identities? And you may be of such mixed ancestry, but what about people who know their ancestry upto a large extent? Just as you put forward being confused about what constitutes a Marathi and hence argue that Belgaum need not be a part of Maharashtra, some one can come and argue about being a Marathi and hence Belgaum should be a part of Maharashtra. Yours is an individual case, and a movement cannot be based on individual considerations.

And finally, Mr. Gumaste points out to the provisions in the Official Languages act, 1963 and 1981, which say that "areas where the linguistic minorities constitute 15 per cent or more of the local population arrangements have to be made to translate government circulars, orders, extracts and land records into the minority language." Well, acts in India are good on intention but not on implementation. While local bodies may do that, but what if the state level bodies refuse to do so?

These violations might be open and therefore difficult to commit in the days of news-hungry media channels, but there may be subtle discriminations. Like, enforcing the necessity of Kannada language for state level jobs, or not putting up official boards in Marathi language, etc.

All, in all, Mr. Gumaste, I would like to say that you are skimming the surface. You may never feel discriminated, because you speak English and Kannada, and fortunately, Marathi. But, Belgaum is not only about the city, but hundreds of villages that surround it, where there are people who have no access to English language education and Marathi is probably the only language they know. By forcing Kannada upon them or marginalising them by not accepting Marathi language, the Karnataka government is definitely making a case for the merger of such places with linguistic minorities into Maharashtra.

P.S. Before any reader tries to educate me in nationalism, please realise this: You may feel I am a regionalist and anti-national, but then isn't the Karnataka government too anti-national? When it suppresses the border area people and their aspirations by not accepting Marathi as their medium of communication and hence getting official work done in Marathi too? Isn't it promoting regionalism?And no one raises an eye-brow, when Karnataka government contemplates to make Kannada education compulsory even in CBSE/ICSE schools.
Mr. Gumaste, Belgaum is not about the city onlySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One for a healthy heart

"All the first year students should report in the seminar hall for a medical check-up." The notice-board on the college walls made this announcement. It is compulsory to record the medical history of every student in the college, so that it is easy to administer medical care in case of an emergency.

"So, what all will they record?" This was Leena's first question. Height, okay, blood-pressure, pulse, allergies, anything else except weight. She dreaded that part, because she had been overweight (on the borderline of being classified obese) right since her school days. Not that she didn't exercise or try to reduce her weight. She tried jogging, skipping, aerobics and many other things. But, she always did it under parental pressure. Surprisingly, she didn't pay heed to peer pressure.

"Leena, don't worry, you won't have to give your weight details," said Sumati, mischievously. "Why?," asked the others around her. "Well, you see, her weight is beyond the limits of the weighing scale!!" Everybody standing around poured into laughter. Leena, took it sportingly, but it always hurt her. Not that she was a lazy-bum, couch potato. She stood 5'8" tall, could walk for miles together or any given day, but her weight still was a concern to her. After college had begun, under pressure from her parents, she joined a gym, where she diligently followed their workout programme, hoping that she will lose weight. But, again, she dropped out of the gym at the very first excuse available.

Now, let us fast forward. Two years into college, Leena had made a nice group of friends. Everytime after the results were out, the group used to gather in a restaurant just to celebrate their success. Even if somebody had failed in a subject, (s)he would join the celebrations. But this time, they decided to go out on a trek to the small hillock just on the outskirts of the town. Excitedly, they all rushed to the hillock on their bikes and started trekking up the hill. While the group was moving ahead, Leena was stuck behind, because her weight didn't allow her to make quick moves up the hill. Sumati, who was with her because she always used to be, asked her to speed up. "But..... hmpf, hmpf, I can't go up any further," said Leena gasping for every breath of air. "It is too tiring. " "Come on, Leena, you can make it," Sumati couldn't think of anything better to encourage her. Leena continued, although she felt like her legs would break up into pieces, she had decided she wouldn't give up on the trek. The pain was too much to bear. Finally, almost an hour after everybody had reached the top, Leena managed to tumble up the summit. And she wasn't left with any strength to proceed further. She just gulped 2-3 glasses of cool lemon juice, which had a refreshing feeling.

At the summit the entire gang just sat and had lots of discussions over all possible issues under the sun. Suddenly, realising that they would need to start now, if they were to reach home in time, Leena and Sumati ushered the group to wind up and start the downward journey. It was a bit early, but Leena needed extra time than others to complete her downhill expedition.

When she came home, she withdrew to her room and tried to think what could be done about her weight? Dinner time came and went, but she wasn't able to make up her mind. She was completely embarrassed by today's outing. Something within her didn't want to take it lightly. She wanted to be fit and fine for every physical activity. For the first time, she realised the importance of all those health related articles she'd read on the internet. They always warned about eating right and exercising so as to stay fit. It finally dawned upon her that if she didn't take efforts to stay fit, not only would she end up at the back in treks, but also end up with heart problems, diabetes or blood-pressure. She desperately wanted to follow some of the fitness tips offered on the websites, but knew she couldn't stick to them as these tips never ever addressed beginners.

She then devised a plan for herself. Firstly, she would bring her diet under strict control. Not the kind of diet that aspiring models indulge in. She would limit the quantities of food she takes. Breakfast, which was normally healthy and sumptuous, needed no attention. So, during lunch it would be just two chapatis and a serving of rice, supplemented by ample amounts of salads like cucumber, carrots, etc. It shouldn't matter how favourite the vegetable is, the amount had to remain fixed. Dinner, would mean three chapatis only. Nothing more nothing less. And a strict cut down on intermediate munching. If she was hungry, it would be fruit juices, for she couldn't carry fruits to college. For the first three months, she would be just ensuring a discipline in her diet. Physical exercise was necessary if she wanted to reduce her weight. Leena decided to participate in the monsoon mini-marathon, which was 8-9 months away. To prepare for the mini-marathon, she would have to practice jogging. Since, it was a target for her to complete the marathon in respectable time, she would be forced to practice for it. And, to avoid embarrassment at college, she wouldn't be able to withdraw at the last moment. But, will she be able to run? She was determined to try!

Three months later.... Leena was sticking to her schedule. Her diet was under control for 6 out of 7 days of the week. Once in a while, she did give into the temptation. Her jogging efforts too were taking shape, albeit slowly. She was able to jog for 1 k.m. before tiring out. A good progress, for some one who had detested the idea of running around without purpose. Over time, she had realised improvements in herself. Although her weight wasn't coming down quickly- she lost only half a kilo in three months- she was feeling better. She felt fitter, lighter and quicker. Out of curiosity, she had got herself tested for blood-pressure and other conditions. She found out that everything was well within limits. Her blood-pressure was normal, sugar and cholesterol well within limits. And her exercise schedule continued like before, diet under control, jogging distance increasing gradually.

Now, almost a year has passed since Leena embarked on her fitness plan. It was totally self-motivated. No parental pressure or peer pressure. Just self-motivation. It all began with her desire to stay along with the rest of the pack during their trekking excursions. She realised the power of positive emotions. Previously, all weight-reduction plans had failed, because they were thrust on her. This time, it was she who had undertaken the task herself. And she couldn't let herself fail!! She completed the mini-marathon, 12km, in 1 hr. 45 min, a respectable time for her. Her weight too, had come down by 6 kilo, but her frame appeared still leaner and fitter and her waist was down by three sizes. This time, when they went to trek the hillock, she wasn't far behind the rest of the group!

Note: This post was written as a part of "20000 Bloggers for a Billion Hearts" contest for Through this post, I wanted to convey the importance of self-motivation that can drive obese/lethargic people into doing the impossible. You can see my pledge on the extreme right gadget bar. I urge you to take the pledge too and spread the message for a safe heart.

One for a healthy heartSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, July 19, 2010

European diaries, Part 3: Rules, regulations and human rights

Now that I have written a few good and humourous things about Europe, let me also talk about the "bad" things in Europe. Here, in India, we keep on commenting how clean the western countries are, how they follow rules and regulations, etc., etc. Well, mainland Europe is clean, its streets are bereft of any dirt or garbage. People carry leftovers in their bags and drop them off only in bins kept at frequent locations and cleaned at regular intervals.

But, to say that (western) Europeans have highest regard for rules and regulations, is far-fetched. In Europe, smoking is banned in public places and public transport. So, while Europeans do not smoke on trains, you should watch them at railway stations. Before boarding the train, the passengers smoke incessantly. And as the guard blows the whistle, to indicate closing of doors, they stub the cigarette on the platform and get into the train. These stubs are left on the platform, to be collected by the cleaning staff, whenever they do their rounds. Even at intermediate stations, passengers get down from the train, take a few puffs and then get back in the train. It is common to find numerous cigarettes stubs at station entrances and exits.

In the Louvre museum in Paris, there are strict instructions, written on the entry ticket and atleast one wall of every gallery, to not use the camera flash while photographing the artwork inside. Yet, you will find everybody, majority of whom are Europeans and Americans, violating this rule and nonchalantly using the camera flash to click photographs. They do not even spare the cathedral, where others have come in to offer their prayers.

And finally, while the European Union champions itself as an organisation that strives for enforcement of human rights, it falters in its own backyard. One of the most basic right of any human is access to potable water. Even in India, (supposedly "third world" and having a bad record of human rights violations) there are free water fountains in cities, towns, railway stations, etc. where anybody can drink water. And restaurants are bound by law to provide potable water free of costs to their customers. But, none of this exists in Europe. You are required to buy your beverage at the restaurant, whether it is water or Coke. And both are priced at the same rate. Of course, tap water in Europe is so potable, that you can even drink from the wash basin tap. But then, isn't it necessary to provide for free (or cheap) access to water to commoners? Why should water be priced at the same rate as cold-drinks or slightly cheaper than beer? I do not see any of the European countries acting on this issue any time in the future. Even the USA has a law which makes it compulsory to provide free potable water at every place that serves food.*

While we brood about our uncivilised ways and their civilised ways, let's thank God for the things we already have.

*About the free potable water in USA, I was told about this by a US citizen. I personally do not know if such a law exists and do not hold me responsible if this information is incorrect.
European diaries, Part 3: Rules, regulations and human rightsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

European diaries, Part2: Confusions galore

In my previous post, I had written about how the politeness of Belgians and, in general, most of Western Europeans left me baffled. There are a lot more things in Europe that can confuse you, especially if you are coming from tropical South Asia.

Since the young age of seven or eight, we are taught about how to safely cross the road. The teacher used to instruct- look to right, see if there is no vehicle approaching. Then look to your left and see if there is no vehicle approaching. Then cross the road only if there are no vehicles approaching from both sides. Over time, we gained experience on how to cross the streets safely, even if there are vehicles approaching. And over time, our necks first turn right, then left, as if it were a reflex action. But, this would never work in mainland Europe. In the first two days, I used to do that almost reflexively. And when I began crossing the road, a car used to honk at me. It takes you time to realise that the traffic here is always travelling from left to right. So, you need to first look left, then right and then cross the road. Till the day I left Europe, it always happened to me atleast one a day.

European summers too add to a lot of confusion. Being from India, where the longest day isn't more than 13 hours, it is very difficult to digest the fact that the sun sets after 10:00 PM in the summer. Even at 8:00 PM in the evening, the sun is shining as it would at 4 PM in the afternoon in India. And the mind cannot prepare the body to have dinner while the sun is still shining high in the sky. Or to go to sleep when it is so bright. I've ended up being half sleepy all through my Europe trip, just because I couldn't adjust to this very fact. But, otherwise, Europe is enjoyable and the life is definitely good.
European diaries, Part2: Confusions galoreSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, July 05, 2010

Europe diaries: Part 1

In Belgium, every one is too polite. It freaks me out, when the person at the ticket counter says "Bon jour". Not only in the morning, but any time of the day. Especially, when you are used to the thumping, that indicates "next please". For the first two days, I wasn't able to return the greeting. I could only smile in surprise. But, somehow, I managed to say "Thank you" at the end of the ticket purchase transaction.
The same goes with the travelling ticket examiner. In Belgium, there are female TTEs too. He or she first greets you with "Bon jour" and then politely asks you for your ticket. These people might be greeting more than 100 people in a single journey. A sea of change from India.
Europe diaries: Part 1SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, June 28, 2010

England vs. Germany: Comparison of football match and WW-2

The 2010 FIFA World Cup finals have brought out a lot of comparisons and analogies. The most famous one is the comparison with World War II. I would like to jump this bandwagon of comparisons and analyse the game between Germany and England in the knock-out stages of the 2010 FIFA World Cup played on 27th June. Just trying to judge the similarities and differences between the game and WW-II.

  1. Blitzkrieg format: Germany relied on the blitzkrieg form of war in WW-II. It was this very tactic that gave it victories in the initial stages. In the game too, the mid-fielders and forwards launched a blitzkrieg and caught the English defence by surprise. Remember, the second goal scored by Klose. This helped them demolish the English defence completely. And Ozil's run from mid-field to the penalty area in the 69th minute, to create a chance for Muller was just too fast for England to realise what is happening.
  2. Germans' initial dominance: Both in the WW, as well as the game, the Germans dominated initially. Although England had more possession of the ball, the German attack was breathing down the English defences' necks.
  3. English rally around one person: In WW-II, the English rallied around one person who inspired them to fight. That was Winston Churchill. In this match, the attack strategy revolved around Wane Rooney. While both names start with a 'W', alas, Rooney couldn't inspire as Churchill did.
  4. Germany's leading men from Munich: In WW-II, the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, made his political career in Munich. Germany's football captain Philip Lahm, too, made his career with Bayern Munich.
  5. Weak neutral authority: The League of Nations was weak to undo any injustice, and the referees in the game had weak eye-sight, thus acting as a morale-booster for Germany.

  1. German dominance continues: Unlike the war, the Germans dominated till the end of the game. The German attacks demolished the English defence. And the German defence managed to cage the attacking Rooney.
  2. English Channel: While the English channel acted as a natural defensive structure in the WW, the channel (gap) between the mid-field and English defence, worked to Germany's advantage in the game.
  3. Role of USA: In the WW, US helped England crush Germany, but in the world cup, US were the reason England faced Germany. If England had emerged victorious against USA, they would have faced Ghana and USA would have faced Germany.
Finally, at the end of the 2010 Football World Cup, there is a great probability that Europe's power will be diminished and the (South) American continent's power would be on the rise.
England vs. Germany: Comparison of football match and WW-2SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, June 25, 2010

Junior Sardi-man's unabashed pro-Cong opinion

Ever since the trial court in Bhopal has delivered its judgement on the gas-leak case, everybody has begun writing his or her own opinions about it. And the million dollar question is, "Who was responsible to let Warren Anderson go scot free?" For twenty four odd years, nobody has bothered to ask this question. But now, suddenly, everyone seems to have woken up to the fact that Andersen was whisked away in a government car and taken to Delhi in a government plane.

Fingers are being pointed from then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then External Affairs minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. But, the fact is we shall never know who truly helped secure a free passage for Andersen.

One of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds is that Ronald Reagan called up Rajiv Gandhi and pressurised him to release Andersen. Rajiv Gandhi's supporters have come out in his defense stating that such a thing never happened. And those who believe in this conspiracy theory say that Rajiv could have done nothing, except accede to Reagan's demands, because the US was a superpower at that time and the USSR was on the verge of a collapse. One such person, is the ever pro-Congress Rajdeep Sardesai. In his blog titled "Denials, Contradictions and Bhopal tragedy", he says
If the decision was taken by Rajiv Gandhi - and it is impossible to believe that a prime minister would be unaware of it - then it was one of the wiser decisions he took. You can blame Rajiv for opening the Babri Masjid gates, for allegedly conniving in rigging elections in the Kashmir valley in 1987, for his handling of the LTTE problem - all issues which had disastrous consequences - but on the Anderson question in Bhopal, he probably took the right option.

Moreover, 1984 represented the high noon of American 'exceptionalism' - the belief that the United States alone has the right to bring civilization, or democracy to the rest of the world. With Ronald Reagan as President, the US military-industrial complex was dominant and on the verge of winning the Cold War. A country beset with internal strife and a Hindu rate of growth could scarcely have challenged a mighty superpower. If Reagan did ring up Rajiv as has been suggested and ask for Anderson to be released, then letting him go was a pragmatic decision taken in the best national interest at the time.
Well, so junior Sardi-man feels that Rajiv was pragmatic in releasing Andersen, because India was too weak to stand the might of the Americans. Did someone tell him about Cuba and the Bay of Pigs saga? A tiny country beat the hell out of forces trained by the USA. Even Iran, which is facing economic hardships, is resisting the US. Then, why is it that India couldn't bear the brunt of US anger? Are we so weak, to meekly surrender before the US? Sardi-man says that our economy wasn't strong, there was internal strife. I agree to that situation. But then, Rajiv's decision of releasing Andersen, if taken under the above circumstances, is still wrong. Why is he trying to find the "right" things about Rajiv's decision, when it cannot be absolutely justified. And, what was the guarantee, that despite releasing Andersen, the US would not have adversely acted against India? Particularly, when it has a track record of attacking allies after the purpose has been served. After all, Reagan didn't send a written note through official channels. Just an alleged conversation over the phone. But Sardi-man tries to valiantly protect Rajiv Gandhi. And he of course, asks a good question in the end, but not without blaming the BJP
The fact also is that both Congress and BJP have ruled Madhya Pradesh since 1984, the Congress for a lengthy 19 years. If you travel through Bhopal's JP Nagar colony where more than 300 people died and several more were affected by permanent limb and respiratory diseases, its apparent no government has made a serious effort to reach out to the victims. When two years ago, some of them held a dharna outside the prime minister's residence, they were whisked away and spent a week in Tihar jail. Who let Anderson out is a red herring, the real question to ask is: why did it take 26 years for the Indian state to wake up to the plight of Bhopal?
Well, Rajdeep, your intentions are good, but why do you always try to soften the blow on the Congress and more specifically, the Gandhis?
Junior Sardi-man's unabashed pro-Cong opinionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My 101th post: this one is for Mother Nature

Alright, my blog is 101 posts old. I completed a century with my last post on the Bombay blood group. What began impulsively in 2005, has now become some sort of a passion. My blog allows me to thrash, trash, praise and do all sorts of things without caring too much about the results. That's probably because my blog isn't influential enough to stir some heads.

So, I thought, I should dedicate this post to Mother Nature, who has been unrelentingly providing us with everything we need, asking nothing except to care for her and nurture her, so that she can continue with her largesse. And don't be mistaken. I'm not smitten by the "Go Green" brigade. Rather it is frustrating to hear those guys, who keep on proposing incremental changes but nothing path-breaking.

The inspiration for this post came after hearing and reading all the talk about why bio-fuels are expensive. Most people say that bio-fuels are expensive, because the process of breaking down complex carbohydrate compounds, present in the feed-stock like corn, sugar cane, into smaller alcohols is difficult and contributes significantly towards the final cost of the fuel.

This is what happened with fossil fuels too. Today's petroleum based fuels have come about due to anaerobic decomposition of dead organisms. The process of decomposition has been going on for over hundreds of millions of years and was undertaken by Mother Nature. But, we haven't paid her anything. Instead, we are recklessly consuming these fuels and causing an irreversible harm to Nature. If there was some mechanism, to pay the Nature, the charges of breaking down dead organic matter into fuels, probably we would have seen more sensible use of fossil fuels. We are currently enjoying free fossil fuels, that are provided to us by Nature herself. Perhaps, this cost of conversion should be charged to the user, and the money put to use in environmentally beneficial activities.

Of course, we humans do not have the patience to allow nature to do its job. These fossil fuels have been formed over hundreds of millions of years. But we want to produce maximum amount of fuel in a given time. Therefore, we have to pay the cost of accelerating the decomposition process. This is a water-bed effect. Increase the time of production, cost will reduce and vice-versa.

So, when people talk of costly bio-fuels, remember that we are freeloading on the fuel that Nature has converted for us. She isn't charging us the conversion cost, but, on the contrary, bearing all the collateral damage.
My 101th post: this one is for Mother NatureSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bombay Blood Group: A rare and interesting one

Trust me, when I say that tabloid newspapers can throw up interesting pieces of news. Today, I came across this interesting piece of information in Mumbai Mirror.

The Bombay Blood Group is a rare blood group, called so because it was first discovered in Mumbai (then Bombay), by Dr. Y. M. Bhende and his co-workers around the year 1952. This study of theirs has been published in the medical journal Lancet. It is estimated that only 1 in 2,50,000 people are of this blood type. If regular blood testing methods are used, this group type gets classified as belonging to the O-type. That is because they are neutral to reactions related to both, anti-A and anti-B antibodies. This, typically ends up classifying the blood as O-type. However, this category of blood, does not contain or produce the antigen-H, which is found in O-type blood. The blood type gets detected only by cross-matching with other O-type bloods, where blood from the Bombay blood group will show incompatibility to the O-type blood group.

People with such blood can donate blood to anybody (all ABO type), but can receive blood only from their own type. Therefore, if you know anybody who belongs to the Bombay blood group type, ask him/her to contact the NGO, Think Foundation which tries to maintain a database of people of the Bombay blood group.
Bombay Blood Group: A rare and interesting oneSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Denouncing Hindu traditions is ticket to being "cool" and "progressive"

While the debate and outrage about the Khap panchayats in Haryana banning same-gotra marriage continues, many of the so-called neo-, liberal-Hindus have jumped on to the Hindu tradition bashing wagon. What the Khaps do, or prescribe is not appreciable at all, but why start bashing Hindu traditions on a whole, even without trying to understand it?

I came across this article by "youth icon" Chetan Bhagat.

What's Gotra Got To Do With It?

The great literary genius of today opens the article by saying, "I don't know why it was invented, or why it is still relevant. As if it wasn't good enough to divide people on caste, we needed one more level of sub-caste slicing to ensure as many Indians hate each other as possible." Well, honourable Chetan Bhagat, if you do not know, why are you commenting about it. Even Wikipedia has an explanation about the gotra system. If you do not believe in Wikipedia, it has a set of references given at the end of the articles, which you are free to explore. But no, you choose to bash the Hindu traditions left, right and centre. Because, that is what makes you the "modern", "progressive" and "cool" person that you are. That is what makes you the "youth icon". And it is you, who is making a baseless claim that by sub-dividing into gotra, we are making humans hate each other as much as possible. No sir, we do not "hate" any person from other gotra.

Remember, Hindu religion is the only one which gives mere recommendations and guidelines to its followers. You can be a Hindu even if you do not believe in Ram. But, if you openly express disbelief in Mohammed, you'll be persecuted. Or, in the Christian world, be thrown out of the church.

The gotra system was devised to identify people according to a set of genetic composition. How did this system evolve, may still be a mystery, but it doesn't mean that it was born out of thin air to satisfy someone's ego. There is a rationale behind it. Try to explore that. But, you do not have the time to do it. It is easier to bash the tradition rather than explore the logic behind it. And marriages within the same gotra were avoided so that the diversity of the genetic pool is maintained and there is less chance of aggravation of the weaknesses that people belonging to the same set of gene pools would have.

Sir, in the kind of social circles that you live, you might be meeting wildlife activists and conversation experts. If you sit and talk with them, they would tell you how dangers inbreeding is. That is, the dangers of allowing a pride of tigers to breed amongst themselves. The mother of the pride forcibly kicks the young ones out of her zone so that they do not inbreed with the females. You see, nature too has its own way of ensuring genetic diversity. And this is why, when a tiger and two tigresses were transferred into Panna National Park, they were chosen from different sanctuaries. So, let us leave all your mathematics and calculations of only 0.1% of DNA may be sibling like. All the mathematics and computer simulations of your fellow MBAs and investment bankers couldn't prevent the financial recession.

Many of the ancient Indian customs and religious activities have a reason for existence. The responsibilities of "educated" people like you is to try to search the reason behind it and weed out all that is not correct. For e.g., the ghungat system, dowry, etc. But, you choose to bash and berate every tradition of the Hindus. To add, you are an IIT engineer and an IIM-A MBA holder. You should be scientifically decimating the theory that same-gotra marriages are harmful, but you choose to play with emotions. And you play to the gallery of the neo-Hindus.

I would have liked your article if it was against the dictator-like rule of the Khaps. That is completely unacceptable. That high-handed rule of the Khaps has got nothing to do with the gotra system. It is just that this is one of the issues they are using to flex their muscles. But you choose to centre your article around "regressive ideas" of the Hindus.
Denouncing Hindu traditions is ticket to being "cool" and "progressive"SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ripping the Fabric, The Decline of Mumbai and its Mills: Darryl D'Monte

Realms of paper, hours, days and years of policy making (or changing), scores of protests have been spent analysing, dissecting and brooding over the Mumbai mills and its workers. Most of these point at the great textile strike of 1982 as the reason for decline of the mills. What has been made popular is that the workers were responsible for the decline, as they struck work in difficult times.

Darryl D'Monte's book is a refreshing change. D'Monte takes a holistic view of what caused the decline of Mumbai's production industry. The only problem (probably) is that D'Monte focusses on what has been done to make use of mill land, now that the mills have closed down. So, for those who are looking at what has been the effect of the 1982 strike on workers' lives, you will be disappointed.

D'Monte points out all that was wrong with the government- both state level and central-- policies that triggered the downfall of the manufacturing industry in Mumbai. He points out that the socialist India's policy of promoting handloom and cottage industry was the starting point of declining of mills. Organised mills, like the ones in Mumbai, were placed with restrictions that didn't allow them to compete freely in the market. On the other hand, unorganised powerlooms sprung up in the villages as cottage industries, which didn't have workers' unions, and used government policies to undercut the mills. Coupled with this, was the Maharashtra government's policy to not allow mills to expand but ask them to setup industries in the backward areas to develop those places.

Then, there were the mill owners, who did not reinvest the profits they earned, for modernising and improving productivity of the mills. Instead, they gave way hefty dividends to shareholders (of which, they were the largest). As time went by and as machinery became technologically backward, it made economic sense for mill owners to shut it down and sell off the land.

And last of all, the political parties. In 1946, the Bombay Industrial Relations (BIR) Act ruled that there would be only one union, the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS), that would be allowed to represent all the mill workers. This union went into the control of the Congress, which was the ruling party of the day. And slowly, corruption crept into the union and union officers started colluding with the mill owners. D'Monte highlights the case of Khatau Mills, where the owner, Sunit Khatau, engineered the defeat of sitting mill president and brought in a person of his choice. This was done so that the new president would consent the sale of the mill's land in Byculla and Khatau would restart the mill with a reduced number of workers.

Now that the mills were closed, and the government and mill owners not interested in getting it started, what can be done with the mills? The mill redevelopment policy came in too late. By that time, even genuinely interested owners had lost the zeal to restart the mills. D'Monte goes into details of all the studies- official as well as unofficial- that have been done to make use of the mill land. Mill land measures upto 600 acres, and that too in the heart of Mumbai, most of it in Lalbag, Parel. He points out how different studies recommend using land for setting up convention centres, five-star hotels, hospitals, developing commercial spaces and open public spaces. The money from the proceeds were to be used to pay the workers. But, most of these plans do not address, what can be done to restore the workers' jobs? Only a few mention using the mill buildings to run non-polluting industries, where workers should be re-trained to take such jobs. The book points out to the rise of the underworld, which found its foot soldiers and bosses from the ex-workers in the mills. With no jobs coming their way, they joined the underworld to make money and help families survive.

D'Monte also describes the unscrupulousness of the mill owners, who twisted the redevelopment policy to make money out of selling the land. Like showing that they didn't have 15% open space and selling the land off. Then, demolishing a few buildings and selling it off further. Phoenix Mills owners, the Ruias, even went to the extent of setting up a bowling alley and spa in the mill compound, after telling the BIFR that, it was the workers who have demanded these 'recreation facilities'. Naturally, workers are angered by such plans , as the areas that they once worshipped as their workplace, were being turned into amusement and entertainment areas. And they didn't have any place in these plans.

D'Monte closes with what can be done about the docklands in Mumbai, which too occupy large swathes of lands that may come up for development. He points out that since this land belongs to the public (government), there should be an all inclusive plan to develop it. Left to the market forces, this would see nothing but commercial structures and high rises for the rich coming up in the place of the docks. While this has happened with the mills, something needs to be done to prevent further use of land by speculators and realtors. The public needs to have something for it as the government has doled out enough concessions to all the industries in Mumbai.

After reading this book, we realise that the mill workers were least responsible for closure of the mills. It was a lethal combination of flawed government policy on priorities for industries, unscrupulous mill owners, corrupt union and politicians tying up with the mill owners to grab their share of the pie in the mill land. The hapless worker became a mere spectator in the bigger game for the mill lands.
Ripping the Fabric, The Decline of Mumbai and its Mills: Darryl D'MonteSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend