Thursday, September 22, 2016

Did India avenge Uri attack?

Three was a lot of buzz on social media and messaging groups like WhatsApp regarding a military offensive Indian defence forces are supposed to have made across the Line of Control as a response to the attack on the Indian Army base in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on 18th.

While initially the talk was only in the social media, later The Quint, a popular online magazine, ran the story after checking with sources. Since many doubted the veracity of the story, The Quint rechecked with their sources, and now they stand by the story.

The story, if true, is quite a newsy one. It says that 20 suspected terrorists in camps in PoK were killed after "two units of the elite 2 Paras comprising 18-20 soldiers flew across the LoC in the Uri sector in military helicopters and carried out an operation." The total casualties, including those injured, is reported to be 200. This operation is said to have taken place in the intervening night of on Sep 20-21.

The whole thing apparently started with a tweet by one Sumann Sharrma [@SumannSharrma], and also a series of them from Anshul Saxena [@AskAnshul]. Both are stressing that it's not a rumour that it is confirmed development. There was also a tweet that PM Modi was closely monitoring the operation.

Other news media like India Today and Indian Express followed up on the tweets. They ran stories saying the Army or the Government aren't confirming the account.

But then why no word on it from Pak side?

Of course, no one in the Indian military or political establishment will come on record authenticating a covert operation. But surely Pakistan is not going to keep quiet. The relatives and friends of people who died or injured aren't going to keep quiet. Nawaz Sharif would have made it a big issue in his UNGA speech yesterday. And India too wouldn't have risked such a thing when UN is in session.

It difficult to say whether such incidents are true or just conspiracy theories. There have been some incidents along side that seem to be giving credence to this story. One is that Pakistan International Airlines suspended its flights to Gilgit and Northern Areas. That was to apparently to keep the airspace free for a retaliation just in case Indian forces launch an attack. Two, Nawaz Sharif spoke to the Pakistan Army chief before his address to the UN. And three, India's defence minister Manohar Parrikar said sometimes there is nothing wrong with "knee-jerk reactions".

My doubts are:

- When there is such a public clamour for Indian retaliation, why should India be quiet about this operation, and still take the flak from people for not doing anything?

- If such covert operations can done like this, why couldn't it be done long back; or even as and when it is deemed necessary secretly smash all the terror camps along the LoC? We won't be having this big problem in Jammu and Kashmir in the first place.

Let us wait till something concrete emerges on this.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Donald Trump's immigration policy - Utopian or practical?

I got up early to watch Donald Trump make that much-awaited, much-postponed speech on his immigration policy. It was to start at 6.30 am IST (9 pm ET) but started half an hour late.

He didn't disappoint. There were lot of speculations as to whether he will soften his approach and try to win back the moderates. He didn't. In his forceful, ultra-nationalistic and blunt style, he laid out a 10-point plan to rid the US free of the danger stemming out of undocumented, unlawful migrants.

Some of the points he made:
  • The Mexican wall will come up, and Mexico will pay for it
  • The wall will be a high-tech one with sensors and all to monitor movement
  • No sympathy and amnesty for migrants
  • Out of 11 million illegal immigrants, 2 million are criminals. They will be deported.
  • Law enforcement officials who know who and where these criminals will have to act immediately. 
  • Many countries have refused to take back immigrants sent back from the US. They will have to take them back. US won't keep those criminals, just because the countries from where they came from won't take them back.
  • No visa for people from countries which have no proper vetting system. He named Syria and Libya
  • Immigrants will be subjected to extreme vetting
  • Welfare of Americans will come before welfare of migrants
At the outset, there was a huge precipitous gap between what Trump spoke alongside Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at a joint press conference in Mexico City, and a few hours later at Phoenix. Does Trump really mean what says, and is he saying what he really means?

For his constituency, today, he gave some clear solutions to what he sees as the gravest threat to America - the problem of illegal migrants. But how much of it is practical, and attainable is left to be seen. Talking of plans is one thing, making them work is another.

In the high-voltage political crucible of Washington, there is a many slip between ideas and execution. Even if Trump gets elected, and many of his solutions are sure to run into political roadblocks. This is a campaign speech, and one needs to take it only on its face value.

Problem of migrants is not just an American problem. Every country faces it. And no doubt, it's a grave one. No country can afford to have undocumented illegal migrants enjoying the benefits meant for law abiding citizens. But to paint all immigrants with the same criminal brush will create more problems than solutions.

Trump is looking at a very US-centric approach to problems. But he forgets that America is part of a global community. America needs the rest of the world, just as the rest of the world needs America.

It remains to be seen if one campaign speech can do a world of good for Trump, after he made a series of reckless gaffes and slipped in ratings.

Anyway it will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton and her campaign responds.

Monday, August 29, 2016

WhatsApp panic over sharing of account info with Facebook

Flood of messages, asking me to go to WhatsApp settings, accounts and uncheck the box that says I am sharing my WhatsApp account information (which means phone number) with Facebook.

Even without Facebook and WhatsApp, my (and possibly yours too) phone number is already with many random strangers, especially in call centres, if one goes by the unsolicited messages and phone calls we get.

Social networking sites and e-commerce sites already have tapped a lot of our personal information.

So, why panic and uncheck that box?

Is anything disastrous going to happen?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Talking to myself

The other day I was walking along the road talking to myself.
Suddenly, I realised the presence of a man walking beside me, on the right.
I looked at him.
He too was talking to himself.
Relief.
I actually ventured to say Hello to him.
He didn't respond, but noticed that I had said something to him.
I saw him remove his earphone from his right ear.
Sorry, I was talking on the phone, he said.
Caught on the wrong foot, for a moment I didn't know what to say.
I said, Hello.
He had a broad smile on his face.
And replied, Hello.
We moved on.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two surprises

A few days ago, I wanted to withdraw some cash and reached the ICICI Bank ATM in Kasturinagar.

It was the third one I was coming to that morning: one wasn't working, and the other had a long queue. 

There was one person already waiting, and another was inside the kiosk.

On seeing that there wasn't anyone in front of the SBM ATM, which is very close by, and I went there. But the sensor on the screen didn't seem to be working. I came out, and headed back to the ICICI ATM.

The man who was in the kiosk was still inside. Probably, he was making multiple transactions, or facing some problem. Anyway, a couple of minutes later, he came out, and it was the turn of the person who had arrived before me, to go in.

But that young man surprised me with this suggestion: "Why don't you go in? I need to generate PIN, and it might take some time ..."

Though I was taken aback, I told him, "Thank you so much. You are very kind," and I walked in.

It didn't take me more than a minute to withdraw some cash.

As I stepped out and exited, I thought, there was no need for him to make that offer. He could have gone in, and I would have waited for, may be, a few more minutes.

Parking fee

Yesterday evening, I had to make a few purchases, and I parked my car at a paid parking lot in Kamanahalli. I was handed a small red slip of paper with the time written on it, by a young man who guards the place. The fee is Rs 10 per hour for two-wheelers and Rs 20 per hour for four-wheelers.

I finished my shopping and was back in 15 minutes. Just as I was giving the attender Rs 20, he said, "Rs 10."

I was surprised. He then said, "You just came.. " Meaning, I had parked the car for only a short time.

I said, okay, and put back the Rs 20 in my purse and gave him Rs 10.

As I drove back home, I wondered: he could have taken Rs 20. What was the need to give me a concession?

Or should I have insisted on going by the actual rate, and paid him Rs 20, instead taking a discount?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What Orlando shooting means

Worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. Fifty killed and scores wounded, many critically.

The victims were in an LGBT nightclub Pulse. The killer also swore his allegiance to Islamic State, in a call to 911.

Thus this is a homophic, terror attack. First time we are seeing one like this.

Since the killer has been killed we don't know what exactly his motive was. He has been identified as Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan origin. It is no-brainer to figure out in which direction the needle of suspicion would point.

The fact that the target was an LGBT congregation makes one suspect if the killer was homophobic. In fact, CNN is now quoting sources to say that the family of Omar told police that he had anti-gay feelings.

Since this single shooter opened fire on an LGBT club, it also raises doubts their security. Freedom to be oneself, and to live and let live, also seems to be under threat.

Security sources are saying that the killer has been on an FBI list of IS sympathizers. But apparently there wasn't anything to indicate that he was about to commit such a crime.

If the terrorist connection is established, there will be a whole lot questions asked. If he was on a watch list, why did he go unmonitored?

But having said that it's also practically impossible to keep a 24/7 watch on a huge number of people who could be on such lists.

Apparently the killer called 911 during the attack and said he has been inspired by IS. CNN also says he referred to Boston bombers.

The terror link also gives an implication that this is an attack on American homeland and an attack on the values that Americans cherish.

There will also be questions raised on the ease with which people, especially those with suspect credentials, can obtain deadly arms. Once again there will be a debate about the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution that gives right to carry arms.

This being the second worst terror attack after 9/11, one can expect some tough restrictions coming into a liberal and tolerant American civic life.

Someone said the killer could have been inspired by radical ideology. If that is true, we should seriously introspect as why such radical messages are finding followers. And we have seen that some of the people getting swayed are people who are financially well off and also who are well educated. Really something is wrong somewhere.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How to handle examination-related stress and fear among students

Another girl has tried to end her life, frustrated over her school examination tribulations. This happened in front of The Goa University Vice-Chancellor yesterday. The V-C declared the examination the students took null and void, as they didn't have the requisite attendance in classes.

Attendance issue is a common problem. But if the way the problem has been handled has led to a student trying to commit suicide, then there is something drastically wrong in the way in the whole manner the issue was handled.

It is not the first time, that students have attempted suicide. Mostly it relates to poor performance or fear of examination.

According to this news item in Huffington Post earlier this month, 57 young students have taken their lives on Kota. That is the city in Rajasthan which is renowned for the private education centres that coach students who are preparing for various competitive examinations in order to get into prestigious institutions like IIT, IIM etc.

Here is another news item from May 2008, which says that exam pressure is leading students to commit suicide.

Hopefully the one that happened in Goa will be the last.

Examinations, especially in school, are notorious for the amount of stress they give not only for the student but also for the parents, who take leave from office when their children have examinations.

I am not trying to argue that parents need not bother about their children's academic performance or they should just turn a blind eye when kids get very low scores.

What is driving mad these children is not the examination but the amount of pressure parents, relatives and the immediate friends' circle puts on them.

They all should help children rather than torment them. For example, if kids aren't interested in studies, parents should explore ways to get them interested. And also tell them, nicely but firmly, that studies and examinations are important, and shouldn't be ignored.

Parents should not force children to get high marks. Different children are endowed with different capabilities. Every parent should know their children very well.

High marks are good. But if a child doesn't get high marks, that doesn't mean that her future is doomed. Most parents, wrongly and with disastrous consequences, convey that view.

If children get low marks, parents, instead of shouting and screaming at them, should be with them, helping them out. Tell them, "You have done your best. It's not the end of the world. We shall see where and why you lost marks. We will make up, and show everyone, that I am able to get good marks."

If parents think that they aren't able to handle the situation, they must reach out people who can assist them. There are plenty of professional counsellors who can help. Sometimes, children tend to listen to what some others say rather than what their own parents say.

Let us hope that this alarming trend tapers, and finally no child ever has to take her or his life because of examinations.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

RIP, Muhammad Ali - Greatest boxer, champion of human rights

It is just about an hour since news broke that Muhammad Ali is no more. And it is already trending on Twitter and Facebook. I thought the present generation, the ones who are mostly on the social media, might not know much about who this great man is. But I am wrong.

Muhammad Ali was a name that many in my generation grew up with. That he was a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion was just one of the reasons. He was Black. And like any Black in those times, had to face huge struggles to live like a normal human being.

Photo credit: BBC
We all kept hearing and reading stories about how this man, who was born Cassius Clay, stood up for people who were being persecuted merely for the colour of their skin. He converted to Islam, took the name, we all now know him as. And most famously refused to join the US Army to fight against Vietnam. He was later stripped of the World Boxing Championship title he had won.

He set the trend for many Black American sportspersons. He taught them that their colour wasn't anything to be ashamed about. He taught them to look beyond such things and believe in their sporting skills.

He later came to be celebrated as a great human being, feted by George Bush in 2005 with America's highest civilian honour.

Muhammad Ali's India connection


Boxing in my school

In school, we had boxing as a sporting event. In fact, my alma mater Sainik School, in Thiruvananthapuram, was the only school in Kerala that had a professional boxing ring. All of us had to learn boxing as a part of sports, and take part in bouts. The best among us represented the House in the Boxing Championship. There was such aggressive competitiveness in that tournament every year that it became so prestigious. And, we were all inspired by Mohammad Ali in some way.

Rest In Peace, The Greatest

Signing off with one of the popular songs on Mohammad Ali. I love this so much.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

ESPN launches multi-sport India-specific website and mobile app

Sports websites are dime a dozen; and one of the popular ones is ESPNCricinfo. But it is only about cricket. Early today, ESPN launched an India-specific, multi-sport website and mobile application.

The website is branded SONY ESPN but the URL is http://www.espn.in/ and the app, available for now on Android and iOS, is called ESPN.

The ESPN mobile app existed before. What has changed today, with an update, is that it's got India-specific content too, besides the hitherto, predominantly American content.

It's like the ESPNCricinfo website, but it has got a much sleeker look, and has got a whole lot of content, drawn from the huge data repository of ESPN, which has only gotten much larger after its collaboration with Sony. So besides cricket, football, tennis, there are also NFL, NASCAR, shooting, chess, hockey, badminton, wrestling, kabaddi, etc.

Like all good websites and apps, this too can be personalized. Once signed in, we can choose our favourite  sports, leagues and teams. We can go to the favourites tab and follow scores, news, images, videos etc related to them. And like all the other good websites and apps, the selections sync across all the other devices -- mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop.

Besides all this, both the espn.in website and the app, will stream live sports events for which Sony has the broadcast rights. This is in association with Sony LIV. We can look forward to live video of the UEFA Euro 2016 on the espn.in website and also on the app, besides of course Sony ESPN TV channel.

ESPN International has 26 television networks and additional businesses like radio, print, internet, broadband, wireless, consumer products, and event management, in over 61 countries. Globally, it is headquartered in Bristol, and in India it is headquartered in Bengaluru, with offices in Mumbai and Delhi. ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc., which is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. The rest is held by The Hearst Corporation.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tony Cozier: the authoritative voice of West Indian cricket

With the passing away of Tony Cozier in Barbados yesterday, the world of cricket commentating has lost a grand, melodious voice.

He was one of the great commentators who made up the BBC Test Match Special team. And, I grew up listening to him, among other like Brian Johnston, Don Mosey, Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Johnathan Agnew etc. I still listen to Test Match Special.

Tony Cozier, being from Barbados, had the typical accent of that region, referred to sometimes as the Bajan accent. It was a pleasure always listening to him commentating, be it when a batsman cracked the willow and the cherry flew over the ropes, or when the bowler was right on target and blew the stumps away.

Here is a clipping, via Sound Cloud.


Tony Cozier had a phenomenal knowledge of cricket, and it came through in all his writings and commentaries.

West Indies cricket has a romantic charm about it, the Calypsos just being one part of it. Tony Cozier took us closer to that wonderful land far way from here, and entertained us. He was there when West Indies cricket was on top of the world, with Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Gardner, Colin Croft etc. He was there when the great team began to slide, and plummeted to embarrassing lows.

Tony Cozier's voice will forever resonate in memories.

Rest in Peace.