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.
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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.
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