Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Digital gift cards

The festive season in December has a unique charm. It’s not only Christmas but also the turn of a new year. Like all such joyful occasions, it’s a season of giving; an opportunity to renew and reinforce bonds, of family, friendship or togetherness. It’s also the time to loosen the purse strings, and surprise our loved ones with gifts.

But not all have the luxury of time and convenience to wind through chocked traffic, and trawl crowded markets and malls in search of the perfect present. Cyberspace is a good alternative enabling us to sit in the comforts of your home, and sift through products, review prices and specs.

Online malls have been proliferating as shoppers feel there is more variety in terms of categories, products and prices online. Some of them are: Indiatimes, Ebay, Naaptol, Myntra, Futurebazar, Tradus, Homeshop18, Indiaplaza; the list goes on. There are also category-specific malls like Flipkart for books or Seventymm for movies.

When our loved ones are far away, often our plans to present them a gift remains just a idea, given the hard logistics involved in picking up a gift, getting it packed, and couriered. Digital gift cards, which are popular abroad, are now fast catching on here. One, it gives you the advantages of online shopping; two, it’s easy and quick; and three, it gives the recipient the choice to get himself or herself something that he or she really loves.

Gifting online is hassle free. Go to one of the websites, like Giftcardsindia, Giftbig or Infibeam, and pick up the favourite card of the desired denomination, enter the shipping address and pay. Websites allow sorting gifts by category, occasion or price. The gift card can also be electronically sent by email. The recipient can redeem the card at the outlet physically or shop online and get the gift couriered.

Buyers can customize and add personal messages. These cards have validity period of 3 to 12 months giving recipients liberty to wait to get their gift of choice. May be nothing like personally visiting a friend to give a gift, but given the fact that not all our loved ones are nearby, digital gift cards are fast becoming popular.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Serious Networking

Besides buzzing social networking sites, there is a segment that’s quietly growing and becoming popular -- the professional networking sites. It’s a platform that shares characteristics with social media but conversations are serious academic and business issues,

“Are you on LinkedIn?” is a common question. One of the answers is: “Well, I am; but not so much into it. By the way, is it like Facebook?”

In a way, it’s: the Facebook of professional networking. With 135 million members worldwide and 12 million in India, it’s huge database of employees. With LinkedIn recently opening an R and D centre in Bangalore, the focus on India is bound to Increase. It also sees India as region where it can grow exponentially.

Since a full profile is important to make LinkedIn work well (by getting the right contacts and networks), many see it as a job portal. Though it does help in career advancement, the site is much more.

There are many interesting features, like Answers -- where questions can be asked and answered. Users can post questions related to any subject. Queries could be like: “What are the options available to control high inflation in India?” “What are the terms and conditions for health insurance in India?” Specific queries stand better chances of getting accurate answers. And, answers could come from anyone in the world. Users can also showcase their expertise by answering others’ questions. The section can be searched in-depth with key words.

Another feature that works well is Groups. It’s like other online communities, Yahoo! Group or Google  Group, but the difference here is the members are a niche crowd, and conversations are serious and targeted. Users can discover the popular talk points in their industry, follow views of influential people and even win their attention by taking part in the conversation.

There are company pages on LinkedIn. For members, it's a great way to research companies, see what kind of people work there, and even review the company products and services that are used. For companies, it provides a peek into the individuals behind the brand and highlight how members use your products.

There are other similar networks. Six or seven years back, Ryze was very popular in India. Besides LinkedIn, Apna Circle and Silicon India are networks that are popular. They work much the same way, but with different focus areas.

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Notebook of a different

Not all good products are popular; many are under-rated, under-utilized. Microsoft OneNote, for example -- a store-room where you can put everything from random notes and documents to photos and videos; and even audio and video clips. Contents can be backed up online, organised and searched.

This eight-year old product is quite user-friendly after many revisions; and comes with Microsoft Office suite. There are many reasons why this is such an excellent tool for anyone who handles large volumes of data of various forms.

Write anywhere
OneNote is like a real notebook. You open a page, click anywhere and type or draw anywhere on the page! You can’t do that on your MS Word or Notepad or on the email. Also, what you have scribbled, can be clicked and moved to another place on the same page! You can insert photos, tables, screenshots, links, symbols, mathematical equations, time and date stamps; and attach web-links and files of any form.

The best part -- use OneNote as a tape recorder or video recorder to capture a song, speech or conversation. New notes are linked to the time the audio or video recording was done. The recording can be fast-forwarded or rewound 10 seconds or 10 minutes.

Within one page, new sections can be opened. The page or the section or the notebook can be saved on the web, on a network or on the PC, and set to private or public. Pages can be shared with others, who can review or edit the contents, a handy option in collaborative projects; and multiple versions of editing can be viewed. Pages are saved online on Microsoft Skydrive, which can be accessed using the Hotmail or Messenger or XBox Live password. The Hotmail homepage displays the Skydrive link.

Evernote & Google Docs

There are similar products. Evernote came after OneNote, and has similar features, and caught on well, mainly because it’s easily accessible across devices and platforms. The big advantage of OneNote is, it comes with MS Office and can be accessed with Hotmail account. Another product is Google Doc, which can be accessed with Gmail password. But its use is limited to creating documents, presentations, speadsheets, drawings and tables, and sharing them to view and edit in collaborative projects.

In January, Microsoft launched a OneNote app for iOs, but we are yet to see one for Android, which Evernote has. Seeing the Android popularity, it wouldn’t be long before Microsoft has one for it.

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life in IM yuga

It's eons since we last wrote a letter, took the pains to go to the post office, buy stamps, stick them, and post it. Email is the order of day, or that's what we thought. But when I heard this confession of my friend -- "I don't send long mails to anyone. I either sms or IM or call" -- I wondered if humankind had turned another corner.

I checked my email’s “send folder”, and was surprised to find that in the past six months, there were just 4 long emails I had sent -- 3 of them to my cousin (who is abroad, and not on chat) and another to my friend (who is mostly available on chat). The rest of the emails were official correspondence or forwards or greetings; none of the personal mails were more than three or four paras long. Mails -- the snail variety or the email -- were, once upon a time, ran into a couple of pages.

Communication has become not just easier but shorter. With a variety of ways to share messages, there’s a feeling in the back of our minds that all our friends are just a phone call or an email away. Their proximity, virtual though, is taken for granted. No one has ever gone away; they are around, as blobs on the chat list. Lost threads of conversations are picked up and carried on effortlessly, many months, and even years later; as if there never was a break.

There’s no going down the memory lane, trying to bridge the passage of time. There’s no catching up with each other’s lives, simply because there’s so much of our lives on display on social networking sites -- career changes and holiday visits; even family alliances and visits of stork. If ever you plead ignorance about them, get ready to be greeted with embarrassing exclamations like, “O, you didn’t know?! You didn’t see my Gmail status message?” Or, “Where were you? I had put up photos on Facebook and there were so many comments!”

In this instant messaging yuga, there are no conversations, no discussions, no perspectives, no contexts. Everything is instant, to the point, to a purpose. Life on the info-bahn is a pause-less cruise bereft of thought process. Patience has worn out. Don’t we all go through this urge to update others or to receive others’ updates?

Life’s progress has now been compressed into a series of status messages and tweets; comments, and more comments. When is the last time we sat down to write a long mail to a friend or relative, long narratives and vivid descriptions, of crests and troughs of our lives?
Last year, when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook’s revamped messaging platform, he famously said, “Email is dead.” Has it, finally? May be we all log into our emails. But what do we end up reading, and what do we send one another?

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cluttered Facebook Wall

Little do we realise that many of us are on social networking sites because of their “share” feature. We get to see --  and presumably benefit from -- what other people have shared --  like their thoughts, photos, videos, and links to interesting articles.

Mark Zuckerburg was very sure -- quite justifiably, in hindsight -- about our inclination to know about others, and to let others know about us. Just as Google is to Search, Facebook is to Share -- the premise many other networking sites have tweaked, customised and built upon, There are niche sharing sites such as for videos, photographs, travel info, websites, songs, books, worksheets, documents, you name it.

Each time FB fine tuned the share functionality, it courted controversy over cluttering of the wall and privacy issues So too with the latest offering of what is called “Frictionless Sharing”. It means, whenever you click the link of a FB partner app, it will show up on your wall. It could be an article that you read on Washington Post or a song you listened on Spotify. Users, of course, opt in or out of it, but the moot point is how many are aware of it.

Leave aside frictionless sharing. Take wall postings. There was this recent instance, when I saw on my wall, postings of K on S’s wall, when neither K nor S is my friend! More than my wall getting cluttered, why should I know what K is telling S? Since they are my office colleagues, I went up to them to check their privacy settings.

It turned out that S had set “Who can see Wall posts by others on your profile?” to “Friends of Friends”, while her own wall postings were visible only to her Friends. I was getting K’s postings (but not S’s) since S and I had mutual friends. Confusing? It is. No wonder, sharing norms are treading on privacy concerns.

Tagging pictures is another aspect where photographs become visible for people whom the original person never intended to. Notification of comments is also commonly perceived as an irritant.

This applies to not just FB but to all such networks. We tend to pick on FB since it uses the share functionality the most. Sharing in itself is nothing wrong, because that’s the way information is passed around. What should be in place are good filters, especially when it becomes more easy to share more stuff among more people.

To begin with, users must head to Privacy Settings (click on the little downward arrow beside “Home” on top right of the FB page) and spend some time learning how not only your privacy can be safe-guarded but also how other users’ privacy can be respected.

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Audio magazines on internet

Podcasts -- does that ring a bell? Not so long ago, around 2005, these online magazines in audio formats were a rage; so much that New Oxford American Dictionary selected it as the word of the year. Many websites had podcast links on them, people bookmarked podcast directories and downloaded applications like Apple’s iTunes.

Are podcasts still around? Yes, they are very much around; only that they are not in the limelight: having ceded the centre stage to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Far from having disappeared, reports say that the number of people downloading these online audio/video magazines is on the increase.

Podcasts are nothing but audio blogs which are periodically updated. It could also be the audio versions of the contents that are uploaded at regular intervals on websites like the BBC. The new issues get downloaded on to the PC or mobile phones or tablets. Many people think podcasts are associated with Apple. Not so. The suffix ‘pod’ caught on, since this technology followed the success of iPod.

When podcasts first burst into cyberspace, many pundits saw an imminent boom of amateur radio stations on the internet. Many believed that just as some blogs had grown to rival traditional print medium, podcasts could give a stiff competition to established radio stations. Though many amateur bloggers began podcasting, it’s the podcasts of established radio and TV stations that were much sought after. A big challenge for amateur podcasters is the quality, and that’s where established organisations like BBC or ABC score.

How does one listen to a podcast? Typically, websites that have podcast version of their content would have a link indicating it. Click on it to download the clip. We can also subscribe to the programme feed on Twitter, Facebook or Google Reader by clicking on the link. Once we do that, we get a notification every time new podcast content has been uploaded.

There are also directories where one can access a collection of podcasts on a variety of subjects like news, sports, technology, business, comedy, travel, science, parenting, etc. The best known directory though is iTunes of Apple. It can be downloaded from “apple.com/itunes/download/”. The iTunes has a section on podcasts, besides it also has radio, TV shows, music and movies. Take for example BBC Global News podcast. Once it is subscribed, each news bulletin will get downloaded to the PC when it becomes available.

During its initial days, podcasts struggled to establish themselves, because downloading audio and video clips were expensive. That’s not the case now, with the availability of affordable plans that allow unlimited downloads. So, be it the podcasts of Scientific American, or TED Talks, or BBC or comedy shows like Kab Banega Crorepati (a spoof of the popular game show), there’s plenty to choose from.

Magazines that talk on internet

Podcasts -- does that ring a bell? Not so long ago, around 2005, these online magazines in audio format were a rage; so much that New Oxford American Dictionary selected it as the word of the year. Many websites had podcast links on them, people bookmarked podcast directories and downloaded applications like Apple’s iTunes.

Are podcasts still around? Yes, they are very much around; only that they are not in the limelight: having ceded the centre stage to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Far from having disappeared, reports say that the number of people downloading these online audio/video magazines is on the increase.

Podcasts are nothing but audio blogs that are periodically updated. It could also be the audio versions of the contents that are uploaded at regular intervals on websites, like the BBC. The new issues get downloaded on to the PC or mobile phones or tablets. Many people think podcasts are associated with Apple. Not so. The prefix ‘pod’ caught on, since this technology followed the success of iPod.

When podcasts first burst into cyberspace, many pundits saw an imminent boom of amateur radio stations on the internet. Many believed that just as some blogs had grown to rival traditional print medium, podcasts could give a stiff competition to established radio stations. Though many amateur bloggers began podcasting, it’s those of established radio and TV stations that were much sought after. A big challenge for amateur podcasters is the quality, and that’s where established organisations like BBC or ABC score.

How does one listen to a podcast? Typically, websites that have podcast version of their content would have a link indicating it. Click on it to download the clip. We can also subscribe to the programme feed on Twitter, Facebook or Google Reader by clicking on the link. Once we do that, we get a notification every time new podcast content has been uploaded.

There are also directories where one can access a collection of podcasts on a variety of subjects like news, sports, technology, business, comedy, travel, science, parenting, etc. The best known directory though is iTunes of Apple. It can be downloaded from “apple.com/itunes/download/”. The iTunes has a section on podcasts, besides it also has radio, TV shows, music and movies. Take for example BBC Global News podcast. Once it is subscribed, each news bulletin will get downloaded to the PC when it becomes available.

During its initial days, podcasts struggled to establish themselves, because downloading audio and video clips were expensive. That’s not the case now, with the availability of affordable plans that allow unlimited downloads. So, be it the podcasts of Scientific American, or TED Talks, or BBC, Free Health Tips, there’s plenty to choose from.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Android, for whom

We never walked into a mobile retail showroom and asked for a Symbian or a Bada or a Windows phone. Did we? We asked for a Nokia or Samsung or HTC phone. But of late, many people are going in for an Android phone. But, why is everyone now seeking this particular operating system (without realising it is one) when they wouldn’t care to know if the phone is on Symbian or Bada or Mango?

Over the past one month, five people have asked me, “What’s an Android phone? Now that I have to buy a new one, you think it will be a good idea to try out an Android?” The surge in numbers of phones having the Google’s operating system isn’t surprising going by the near-cult following it’s amassing by the day, much like iPhone in the US. But do we all actually need an Android phone?

The rule of thumb when going in for any gadget is: what do I need it for? The question should be increasingly asked, more so now, when the market is swarmed by a huge variety of models with confusing permutations and combinations of specifications.

Let’s first get this clear: if you are using the phone merely to text and call, and if you hate GPRS, you don’t need an Android (which is a smart phone as different from the simpler feature phone). Instead of worrying about Android or any other OS, you could look at keypad or voice clarity or price or design.

What make Android phones attractive are the applications. If you are an app freak, go for Android. And there are tens of thousands of them in the Android Market -- anything from breaking news and cricket scores to astrological forecasts and currency converters. There are also those that help you see stars and planets. And, if you are shy of popping that all-important question to your partner, well, there’s an app for that too.

Don’t others phones like Nokia, iPhone and BlackBerry have apps? Yes, they do. But not the variety and numbers that Android offers. Why? Mainly because Android is an Open Source platform, meaning app developers in any part of the world can write the codes to develop the apps, and put them on the Android Market. Nokia has lately woken up to the app power, and is proactively forming a vibrant developer community.
If you are a fan of Google products, like Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, Calendar, Reader etc, then too it makes sense to go for Android. The phone contacts, for example, get synced with Gmail contacts; and serve as a good back-up.

Even if you are only texting and calling, an Android smart phone can significantly enhance user experience. There’s, for example, Gesture Search that lets you quickly find a contact, a bookmark, an application or a music track on your device by drawing on the screen. The, there’s the translator app that can work as an interpreter if you are a new place where you don’t understand the local language.

So, do I need an Android phone? Well, it’s the same old question: What do I need the phone for?

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uncertainties of getting official work done in Kerala

If you have to get any official work done in Kerala, or attend a public function, or write an exam; just be warned about the unforeseen disruption.

A few years ago, one of my friends in Tiruchy had to write a competitive exam in Kochi. He missed the exam since there was a bandh on the previous day and he couldn't reach Kochi in time. I won't be surprised if someone told me a story of a wedding getting postponed because of hartal.

Not a very nice thing to say about my home state, but the fact is that it's simply difficult to get work done: the biggest threat being the strike. Any of the two dozen parties or unions can call for a hartal anytime on any issue.

So, when I had to go to Ernakulam (from Bangalore) to get some documentation work relating to property done at the village office and the subregistrar's office, taking a cue from others' experiences, I took a few days' extra leave.

And my fear turned real.

On Sunday night, a Kerala minister T M Jacob, a very senior, respected and popular politician, passed away. As a mark of respect to the departed leader, the state government declared a holiday across the state on Tuesday, the day of his funeral; and an extra day's holiday on Monday only for offices in Ernakulam district. With the result I could not get anything done on Monday and Tuesday.

To a certain extent, bandhs and hartals can be foreseen, though not always. Deaths can never be foreseen.  For me, this was a totally unforeseen tragic event. Since I had taken a few days' extra leave, 90% of what I had to do, I could complete, and I am leaving back for Bangalore today. If it was a bandh I could blame the political parties. Here, in my case, I couldn't blame anyone for the untimely tragic event.

But the fact is even when there is no bandh or such disruptions, the amount of time that is lost in getting official work done at government offices is huge. Too much of documentation and paper work is one major factor. A good networking of all government offices will help. Details of property and such other particulars should be easily available at the click of a button.

Hopefully, the universal identity number that we all would get one day, will ease matters.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bangalore Metro: small step, giant leap

Not in the recent past has Bangalore seen such a celebration as on October 20, when the city’s Metro Rail service was opened to the public. I was at the Baiyappanahalli terminus for the inaugural run at 4 pm. Another train started at the same time from the other end of the 6-km stretch at M G Road.

There was cheering, hooting, whistling and clapping, as the decorated coaches pulled into the platform, then when the train began to move, then at the arrival at each of the stations; when the other train crossed ours near Indiranagar; and finally when it ended the journey in around 15 minutes. Everyone posed with friends and family to freeze the ‘first day first show’ moment on their cameras; as if that was the only day the train would run! It was as if we all had landed up on some fantasy land! On the inaugural day, the service had to be extended to 11.30 pm, due to the huge rush.

Yesterday, the second day, was quieter, there were less joy riders and more genuine passengers. The trains ran packed to capacity. Authorities are expecting a huge rush during the weekend, mainly of shoppers. The good start will hopefully give the authorities enough momentum carry on the project much faster.

The celebration would remain etched in history as nouveau Bangalore continues to rediscover itself and come to terms with its rapidly evolving social and economic landscape. It’s not difficult to fathom the reason for the average Bangalorean’s “we-are-there” feeling. Transportation is one of the basic needs of a society; and this IT powerhouse has been woefully short on it; so much as to ruin the rosy picture of the Garden City.

Bangalore has been a traveller's nightmare: the agony of having to go over a hump or a pothole every 200 metres on an average is compounded by the seemingly eternal wait at a traffic signal every 500 metres on an average. The collateral damages being loss in productivity, revenue and health hazards like back pain and spondylitis.

Probably  because of the frustration caused by choking traffic, there are some in Bangalore, who think the Metro project is overhyped, too little too late, and is no solution for a rapidly growing city like this. I think it’s an uncharitable reaction to an ambitious project. True, this Reach 1 is just a 6 km stretch connecting a small part of East Bangalore to the Central Business District. It took over four years. But this is a phenomenal achievement, considering the hurdles it had to surmount, and the fact there are very few stretches of good roads. No one can discount the fact that this small beginning is a huge relief to countless people. It is also a symbolic turning point in Bangalore's growth story.

Progress is a continuum. The synergy of small incremental steps forward is greater than the effect of one long step. No one believes a fully Metro-Rail-connected Bangalore will see very few cars on the roads, or that Metro is a magic wand that will in one sweep solve all of Bangalore’s traffic woes.

Transportation solution in any city in the world is multipronged; and mass rapid transport systems like Metro Rail is just one of them. It has to be complemented by many development parameters. What Metro obviates is the struggle to get through the chocked main roads. What Metro obviously doesn’t solve is the connectivity between the many residential localities and the main road. All these years, more Bangaloreans would have used buses if this point had been addressed.

One by-product of Metro Rail is the sudden realisation of the need to have efficient ‘last-mile connectivity’. This should have been taken care of the moment Bangalore hopped on to the information highway, some 15 years back, resulting in thousands of residential layouts springing up on city fringes. Hopefully, this point would be addressed before long, as Bangalore grows at a phenomenal pace.

There are so many other solutions like better quality roads (potholes and humps slow down traffic), relocate squatters (a lot of free space would be instantly available), widening roads (traffic will move faster), encourage public-private partnership in development of city outskirts (so that all are not forced to travel only towards the city), and even disincentivise vehicle buying by individuals (so that private vehicle are less of an ornamentation). But all these will work only if there is across-the-board political commitment, especially at the grassroots level, and discipline on the part of citizens to make solutions work.

For now, I am happy that my travel to office is an effortless exercise in less than half the time I used to take. I am sure that's the case with many other Bangaloreans too.

(This has been crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

See also: Bangalore Metro feeder buses important

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Making sense of Occupy Wall Street Movement

The protest by Occupy Wall Street Movement group has now gone on for quite some time, almost a month. Interestingly it hasn't created a traction across the world, as probably one would have imagined. But, I think it's quite a significant landmark in the post-Soviet, post-socialist era.

We all depend on businesses in one form or the other, directly or indirectly. Even the most communist and the most socialist of human being has no way of escaping a business organization, however big or small. Take the very simple instance of daily shopping.

One hard reality I have always understood is that no business is out there on charity. Even a recognized charity organization! If anyone is selling you anything for 100 bucks, then the cost of that item actually is much less than that, because that guy has to make some profit out of selling that stuff to you. Making profits is part of the game.

Is that cheating? No. Right? After all, businessmen too need money to survive. Their salary is the profit they get, right?

Then when does business become cheating and looting of our money?

Probably it is when the margin of profit is too much? Probably when businessmen don't care for the welfare of the very people to whom they are selling their products or services? Probably when in an organization there is a huge disparity in income between the top management employees and lower level employees?

I guess so.

What I understand from my friends is that in many organizations the income gap among employees is very wide. Top management officials earn a huge sum. And the general impression is that they do much less work compared to the lower level staff who are paid much less and end up doing a lot of work. The disparity and the disproportion is all too glaring.

This is not a new development. This has been the way, for a long time. But then, why these protests now?

Because, in these times of recession, when hard cash, the liquid cash, that we all turn to when we actually need money, suddenly seems to have vanished. No one seems to have money. All the guys who were rich till yesterday, seem to have become poor!

In Japan, I am told, the income disparity among employees in an organization is very less. Not that there is equal pay for every one, but the margin of difference is far less than what one would find in the US or Europe.

Occupy Wall Street Movement, I guess, is not a protest against big business houses or corporates. It's not that no one wants them. It's not that they haven't done anything for the society. They have. Of course. The whole movement is more about the resentment and frustration of middle class people, who feel cheated and looted by the top bosses in big corporates.

It could be a matter perception, as a big corporate executive told me. This is a critical time for the US. Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg says, “The Constitution doesn’t protect tents ... It protects speech and assembly.” He was referring to the tents put up by the protesters. His remarks show a sense of frustration in the administration.
As the saying goes: "If US sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold". May be the US isn't so much concerned about the rest of the world, as much as it is about itself. Fair enough. That should solve the problem. At least in the interest of the US, there has to be an intensive introspection about how the whole ultra-capitalist methods of management has brought the corporates and the Americans to this pass. The earlier some solution is found, good for America, good for the world.

Will such a thing happen in India? Can't be ruled out. Already we saw it some form as Anna Hazare led huge masses of middle class people in their a campaign for Lokpal. Issues are not same, but very similar. Here also there is a groundswell of frustration and discontent among the middle class, as people think corporates and politicians have joined hands to take everyone for a ride.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bangalore Metro Feeder Buses important

It's gladdening to read that Bangalore Metro Rail authorities have tied up with Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) to have as many as 62 feeder bus services plying nearly every 10 to 15 minutes between Metro stations and nearby localities, like bus stations and residential localities.

The success of the highly cost-intensive, eagerly awaited, Metro Rail (Namma Metro, as it has been christened) squarely depends on the last-mile connectivity.

If a person has to take the Metro but he has no way of reaching the nearest Metro station that is say, anywhere from 1 km to 3 km, then he wouldn't be encouraged to travel by the Metro. Instead, defeating the whole purpose of having the Metro, that person in all likelihood, will take his own vehicle.

I am eagerly looking forward to Thursday, Oct 20, when south India's first Metro Rail system will be inaugurated in Bangalore. Good riddance to auto-rickshaws, a universal subject of hatred, thanks to insensitive, arrogant and rude drivers; and badly managed auto-rickshaw unions.

See also: Bangalore Metro: small step, giant leap

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address

This is from the official Youtube channel of Stanford University -- http://www.youtube.com/StanfordUniversity

A clipping of the great, memorable Commencement Address by Steve Jobs at the Stanford University in 2005. The whole of this inspirational speech is full of Quotable Quotes. He talks of three simple stories from his life... "Joining the Dots", "Life and Loss" and "Death", and the famous "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" quote.

A must-listen... even if you have heard this before.

RIP Steve Jobs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tributes paid to 2/Lt Radha Mohan Naresh

Tributes were paid to 2/Lt Radha Mohan Naresh, who laid down his life for the country in the 1971 operation in Jammu, on Friday. He was an alumnus of my alma mater, Sainik School, Kazhakootam. Much senior to me. But we students grew up hearing about him, the first martyr from our school. The saddest part is that he had been commissioned into the army only a week before the tragic event. It's 40 years since then. The school is currently celebrating its golden jubilee, and the school and the Old Boys Association are jointly paying special tributes to the brave young Indian.

More from Malayala Manorama, The New Indian Express, The Hindu, The Tribune, The Statesman

Sunday, October 2, 2011

TRS chief begins fast at Rajghat

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K Chandrashekhar Rao began his fast at Rajghat on Sunday as a mark of protest over the crisis over separate statehood.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back to Sainik School - Day 2

September 24 was a momentous day in the history of my alma mater -- the day when 20 former teachers were felicitated during a programme called Guruvandanam, by the school and the Old Boys Association as part of the school's golden jubilee year. The senior-most teachers, who are now over 80 years old, joined the school right at its inception in 1962.

Pending construction of the 500-acre sprawling campus, then defence minister V K Krishna Menon laid the foundation stone at the Pangode military campus in Thiruvananthapuram. The school moved to Kazhakootam, about 20 km north of the capital in 1964. Much of the present campus was forested area. A few years ago, quite a lot of the 'waste land' was handed over to the Kinfra (Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation) by the defence ministry. I feel sad that the forested area has now been barricaded from the school. As kids we used to go to those areas as part of childhood adventure and boast about having seen the 'pond' where tigers used to come to drink water!

Alumni meetings began in 1969!

Alumni meetings are now common, thanks to easy networking. But Sainik School's Old Boys Association was formed in 1969. Every year the OBA has been meeting, usually in June-end or early-July. In those days, forget mobile phone, there were no proper landlines even. All the networking was done by post, usually through the card, which during those days cost 10ps or so.

On 24th, the programme began with laying of wreaths and lighting of torches in memory of departed alumni and teachers. We all then moved to the auditorium, where the Guruvandanam programme began with a presentation: 'Down the Memory Lane"; then followed presentation of mementos to the former teachers. Some of them made short speeches recalling their days in the school and offering inspirational thoughts to staff and students. This was followed by a musical programme by a troupe led by an alumnus, in memory of late P C Satish Chandran, former director of All India Radio. After lunch, former students and teachers got together for informal interactions. In the evening there was a friendly volleyball match between alumni and school teams.

Kazhak bonding

What sets Sainik School apart are the quasi-military routine, a team of very dedicated teachers and administrative staff; and the extra-curricular activities. The invaluable formative years spent together in the campus have created a strong bonding among the students and the alumni. There are now Old Boys Association chapters in almost all cities of India, and many cities abroad. The Kazhak spirit is something we all can bank on any time. Recently, when I had an occasion to travel to Japan on an official assignment, the first thing I did was, like many others who travel to a new place, to put out an e-mail in the alumni e-group asking if there is anyone there. And there was; Prageeth, many years junior to me, working as software engineer in Osaka. And thanks to him, I was encouraged to extend my stay to take a holiday and tour places like Hiroshima, Kobe and Kyoto.

After tea, my father and I moved to the residential quarters side of the campus. I went to B-2 quarters, where I spent the first 23 years of my life, from 1965 to 1988. This is one place I never miss when I come to Sainik School. As usual, it's always very emotional. The pathways, roads, culverts, drains, trees, houses and other buildings, doors and windows – everything seems to have a story to tell. I spent some half an hour near B-2. We spent some 15 minutes in the house. I paused occasionally as a long train of thoughts passed through my mind.

Those two days seemed like some 20 years; gave me a feeling as if I had been to an entirely different world; an enriching and reinvigorating trip.

(Photographs will follow soon)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to Sainik School - Day 1

Had an emotional trip to my alma mater -- Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram -- this evening. My last visit to the school was in 2007. As part of the school's golden jubilee this year, all former teachers are being felicitated tomorrow at a function called Guruvandanam, organised jointly by the School and the Old Boys Association.

On the eve of the function, today evening there was a lec-dem of Manipuri dance forms by a SpicMacay (Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth) team led by renowned dancer Darshana Jhaveri. Couldn't believe that she is 71 years old! She explained patiently and elaborately the history, traditions and customs associated with various dance forms, as members of her group demonstrated. It was as much entertaining as informative.

At the end of the function, when I sang the national anthem along with the school students and others in the auditorium, it made me very nostalgic, reminding me of the same routine in the very same auditorium, during the eight years in school.

After the function, we all went to Kazhak Club of the alumni association for dinner. It is located near St Xavier's College where I did my graduation. The route we took was the very same one I used to cycle my way to college for three years. Nothing much has changed during the past 26-29 years. In fact, there has been very little change anywhere except that small stretches of roads have become broader, and a few big shopping complexes have come up. The only place where there has been a major change is Kazhakootam junction, 1 km from where is the Techno Park.

During the day, I met a number of my teachers. It was an emotional moment. For all of us students, Sainik School has a unique place in our hearts, the place where we spent our formative years from Class 5 to 12. It was a more than a school. The quasi-military routine and the extracurricular activities played a crucial role in moulding us. Teachers did more than teaching, and we students learnt much more than what was taught.

Looking forward to tomorrow, the day of Guruvandanam.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Anna Effect: People take over reins of power

(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

Few would have thought that the Anna Hazare-led agitation against a system that is neither accountable nor transparent, that breeds corruption, would ever reach the state it has now. One thought a full-blown confrontation would be averted. But that was not to be.

The turning point was August 15-16, when an unnerved government blundered, badly. The whole issue shifted from Lokpal Bill to whether citizens have the right to protest or not! The sea of humanity that has since converged on Delhi has pushed the government into a cul-de-sac from where there's now little room for it to escape.

What we are seeing now is no spur of the moment, intemperate outburst against a democratic system. It has been in the making for a long time. There has been enough and more warning, that people who man our administrative and government machinery have to mend their ways. The restrictions that the government imposed proved to be the last straw. Somewhere it all had to end. And, it looks like this is the beginning of the end.

What we saw on the streets of Delhi yesterday, and the unceasing overwhelming, almost reverential, support for Anna Hazare, is in fact, symbolic of the people's frustration with the system. People have lost confidence and hope in all constitutional institutions like elections, government, parliament, and even judiciary. This as much a reactive backlash as much as it's a proactive revolution.


In a democracy, it's the politicians who hold the reins of power. And, that's why it's said that democracy is only as good as its politicians. Sadly, over time, during the past 64 years, our democracy has been eroded by its very guardians -- the politicians whom the people voted for, to run the country.

It's an open secret that many people enter politics because they know a lot of easy money can be made out there. Not surprisingly, the quality of political class deteriorated over time, and people, each time they were presented a set of leaders to vote for, had little choice. During each election, the frustration was very much evident -- the increasing demands for either an option to mark "none of the above" or the “right to recall” legislators. Indian democracy has been trampled over and converted into a free-for-all joke.

The entire political class has now been brought to its knees. For the first time ever, the government and Parliament -- the august body people elected -- is being told what to do by the people themselves. Team Anna wants the official Lokpal Bill withdrawn, and "people's" version -- Jan Lokpal bill -- introduced and passed.

Anna, backed by the surging humanity has presented Parliament with not many options -- pass the Jan Lokpal Bill within a time-frame. The government says this is tantamount to blackmail, undemocratic, and unconstitutional. But then, who cares -- people had since long lost its faith in government, parliament, and the politicians that it comprises.

What we may see over the coming days, could be historic, seeing the buoyancy Team Anna is getting. The politicians -- who till now have been either hiding or scoring political brownie points -- will now have to come clean. For the first time, politicians have been held accountable. They will no longer be able to hoodwink people. They will have to answer quite a few tough questions. This agitation has left them with no options.

It will be interesting to see how the government wriggles out of this highly embarrassing situation, and also how the entire political class will react, now that it's clear as daylight who really holds the reins of power, the people.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Centre vs Anna: A Dangerous Standoff

(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

This is not the first time in India that the issue of corruption has taken centre stage. There have always been allegations of wrongful financial dealings. Indira Gandhi, famously dismissed corruption, as "Nothing unique to India, it's a world-wide phenomenon". Over the years, it has grown in scale, proportionate to the nature and volume of business transacted.

Unlike before, the ghost is looming larger than ever before, and the reasons are not far to seek. From the "jeep scandal" during V K Krishna Menon's time to "Bofors scandal" during Rajiv Gandhi's time -- it was all about individuals currying favour and benefiting in the process. That's no longer the case. The feeling now is about the entire nation being looted.

The protests that Team Anna is spearheading go beyond mere individuals making money. It has struck at the root of India's administrative machinery. It's not just about a few contracts being given out of turn, and a minister getting a few crores. It's now about how the nation's governance process is being subverted.

Earlier, though people knew they were being taken for a ride, they seemed to take it in their stride. "O, what can we do about it", was the refrain. But now, no one seems to be ready to take it lying down. The perception has changed from "they are making money" to "we are being looted".

The huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled now lies exposed. And this gap only seems to be widening. The inability of the government and Team Anna to resolve the stand-off is making matters worse, and has dangerous portents.


Sadly, this has dragged on for too long. The whole movement, which started with good intentions, is in danger of descending to a game of one-upmanship, if it has not become already. It's high time both the government and Team Anna paused and did some serious introspection on the path they are racing down. They run the risk of being carried away by the momentum and losing control.

There's a huge groundswell of support for the fight against the corrupt system, putting at stake not a few individuals but the entire system and the governance processes. The government must not underestimate people's discontent and must see the writing on the wall. For example, if PM's post has to be brought in the ambit of Lokpal, why not? If he is above board anyway, why hesitate? Manmohan Singh himself had offered to be brought under the Lokpal.

Team Anna should also realise that Lokpal per se won't end all problems relating to corruption. Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in States are at best powerful watchdogs. The state of Karnataka, for example, has had two very proactive Lokayuktas – Justice N Venkatachala and Santosh Hegde. But has corruption in Karnataka been brought down to near zero?

Corruption exists at many levels. The one question that needs to be asked is: why do have corruption? People take bribe because they need money. People give bribe because they want their basic necessities. In our society, these two factors perfectly suit one another.

The administrative systems are so complicated, that for the simplest of necessities people have to run from pillar to post, and get permission from so many people, who themselves are in no way accountable. And on the other side, so much is the deprivation that people, especially at the lower levels, are looking at every opportunity to make a few rupees.

Lokpal and Lokayuktas are powerful deterrents. They have to go hand-in-hand with all-round development of the society which will improve the life-style of people, so that the root cause of corruption itself is eliminated. One hopes that the current debates, finger-pointing and scoring of brownie points won't dilute the overall objective of having in place a transparent and accountable administrative system.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A sad case of mob justice

Today's newspapers had a chilling story of how villagers of Chintamani, 60 km from Bangalore, lynched some people suspected to be robbers. It was a horrendous incident. Five people travelling in an auto-rickshaw were stopped and clubbed, three of them died. At another spot, six people traveling in a Tata Sumo were pulled out and killed, and the vehicle set on fire.

The story is like this: a few people tried to rob a woman working in a field. Since she didn't have any valuables, the attackers tied her to a pole and fled the scene. She raised an alarm. People from nearby fields came and rescued her.

Based on her account, villagers began looking for an auto-rickshaw and a Tata Sumo. Once they found them, and got reasonably suspicious that the passengers were the attackers, they mounted an assault and killed them.

Apparently, people in the villages are quite upset with their security. Few trust the efficiency of the police. And they have formed vigilante groups to make sure they are secure.

But is this the way to render justice? Villagers may have their justification, but don't we have an institutionalized process to make sure that grievances are redressed? Mob justice belongs to uncivilized societies. They have no place in a modern society.

Having said this, the local administration and the government can't miss the cue. If villagers have resorted to a macabre act to render what they think is justice, then there must be a reason. The efficiency of our police system is really open to question. In many places, they are hand in glove with local power centers that have their own axes to grind.

People's confidence and faith in government machinery has to re-established. The villagers may have committed a gross crime, but the government has to see the writing on the wall, and mend its ways.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Japan tour - Day 6 and 7

Shrines, temples, geishas

Kyoto was the former capital Japan, where the emperor lived from 794 to 1868. It’s now the cultural capital of Japan. Japan has two major religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. And interestingly most people are both Shintos and Buddhists, and many of also Christians!

That’s what people are if one looks at the customs they follow: the naming ceremony of a child is a Shinto one; most marriages are largely Christian ceremonies; and when one dies, there’s a Buddhist ceremony. So, it’s very difficult to find out to which religion a Japanese person belongs to! There are around 1,600 Buddhist temples and 360 Shinto shrines in Kyoto.

Ninjo Castle

Saw many shrines and temples. One of them was Ninjo Castle. It was the home of the first one of the Shogun rulers in 17th century. During their rule, all administrative and military power was with the Shoguns, the emperor was just a reverential figurehead. Just like the PM- President relationship.

In 19th century, when the Shoguns handed power back to emperor, the castle became the property of the imperial family. It was later donated to the Kyoto city administration and renamed Nijo Castle.

While in a Buddhist temple the deity is obviously Lord Buddha, in a Shinto shrine, there’s no one particular deity. The shrines are where the Shinto god or the kami resides. People come to shrines to pay respect to the kami and also pray for good fortune, that may be related to any aspect of life.

The sacred objects of worship are kept in a chamber and it’s not visible to the devotee. This is unlike the statue of Buddha in a temple that is visible to everyone. The kami represents Nature and there are thousands of shrines dedicated to many Shinto gods.

Exam shrine

For example, the Kitano-tenmangu shrine is one that is associated with education and there is a huge rush of students before examinations. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician, who was exiled by his rivals.

There were a number of disasters after his death. The shrine has been built to appease his soul. This scholar Michizane is associated with the Shinto god of education.

India connection

We next went to Sanjusangen-do temple. There are 1,001 statues of arranged on a slanting raised platform, which is an amazing sight. 124 of them are original and the rest were made when the temple was renovated, after a fire destroyed the temple in 1266.

There is an India connection here. There are 28 statues of guardian deities which are Hindu gods placed in front of the 1,001 statues of Buddha. The temple hall is 120 meters, the longest wooden structure.

Find your love luck

From here, we headed to Kiyomizudera temple. It’s up on a hill from where we get a good view of Kyoto. Behind the temple’s main hall is the Jishu shirine, dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking.

In front of the shrine are two stones placed 18 meters apart. It’s said that if you can walk blindfolded from one stone to the other, then you will successfully find a love. If you can’t find the stone, and you need assistance of another person, then it means you will need an intermediary to find your love.

3-Stream Waterfall

At the base of the Kiyomizudera is Otowa waterfall. There is a raised platform over which water flows in three streams. People walk up to the platform, drink water from one of the streams using a long spoon (cup).

Water from each of the stream is said to have a different benefit: one for scholarship, one for love and the third for longevity. You are not supposed to drink water from more than one stream. The cups, after use, have to be tucked back into an ultraviolent cleanser.


Kyoto is also the place where you find geishas. They are not prostitutes as some people think. They are professional entertainers. It’s tough to be a geisha. Girls have to undergo tough and strict five-year training. Lots of girls, unable to withstand the rigour, drop out.

They learn dance and music and other art forms. Their job is entertain guests with performance arts and conversation. The geisha dinners take place typically in tea houses. It’s a very secluded, private and expensive party.

It’s not easy to walk into these places. You need a recommendation from an existing customer. Customers are not usually billed at the end of the dinner. Instead all the costs are added up and deducted every month in equal instalments from the customer’s bank account.

In Kyoto there are 200 geishas. There are also apprentice geishas, who can be distinguished from the fully trained geisha by the way a particular knot at the back is tied. There are also fake geishas, who are merely dressed up as geishas, just encourage to tourists.

They can be spotted fleeting across streets, and tourists merrily photograph them, and go back with the satisfaction of having seen a geisha. Unfortunately, because of lack of time, I couldn’t see any geisha, though I did see many people dressed up in kimonos. But everyone dressed in kimono is not a geisha, though a geishas wears kimono.

After an overdose of shrines and temples, I headed back to Aino, three stops after Sanda, to see a local festival. Residents of the area had gathered at a large ground. There were many entertainment stalls and eateries around. There were games, music and dance performance. One of them very much resembled Garbha dance during Navratri.

Interestingly, a group of software engineers from Kerala working in that area put up a food stall. There were chicken, samosas, pappadams and payasam. It was a run-away hit with all items being sold out very fast.

Quite exhausted, there is hardly any energy left to pack by baggage. My Japan tour has come to an end – leaving tomorrow, from Kansai airport back to Bangalore via Bangkok by Thai Airways.

Day 7 – July 24

Left Sanda for a station near Osaka by train. From there took a Kansai Airport Bus. Left Kansai at 11.45 am. Reached Bangkok at 3.15 pm. The connecting flight was at 9.20 pm. There was lots time to roam around.

I was dumbstruck at the beauty and expanse of the Bangkok airport. Hundreds of shops. But what is most striking is the landscaping. Never seen an airport more beautiful than this – floats and statues that depict Thai culture and tradition. An amazing work. You really don’t know whether to shop or just admire walk around admiring the beauty of the artistic works.

Back in Bangalore at 11.30, last night.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Japan tour - Day 5

A-Bomb Dome and Trams

Didn’t want to miss Hiroshima, the city that was reduced to rubble on August 6, 1945 by the atomic bomb dropped by America in retaliation to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour. Took a JR train from Sanda to Kobe at 7 am. From Kobe took a Shinkansen at 8.45 am to Hiroshima. Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, I didn’t have to pay anything.

Hiroshima -- just can’t believe that there were no human beings alive in this entire city 66 years back. Well-laid out, spaced-out, beautiful city just takes your breath away. And trams – our idea of it is a slow-moving relic on rails on the road. Far from it, in Hiroshima. It looks like a modern, swanky tourist bus, only that it runs on rails. And they are called Streetcars here.

The tram from Hiroshima railway station stopped right in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome or locally Genbaku Dome. This was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel.

The bomb exploded right above the hall, and portion of the building along with wire framework was left standing amid the ruins all around. It has left as such as a grim reminder of the tragedy.

Nearby is the Flame of Peace, lit on August 1, 1964, for the peace for victims and to pray for world peace. The flame was used at Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994.

There is also Children’s Peace Monument. This was built in memory of Sasaki Sadako, who was exposed to radiation when she was 2 years old. She died 10 years later of leukaemia. When she was ill, her many friends and well-wishers folded 1000 paper cranes, a Japanese custom when someone is ill. But she died.

Went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Paid a ridiculously low (by Japanese standards) entry fee of, I think, 50 yen. A walk through the museum is as much an educative experience as it is saddening.

There are lots of photographs and videos explaining the history of the development of the atomic bomb, and its horrors. A huge pair of photos – of Hiroshima before and after the bombing – is a stunning illustration of the unimaginable effect of the atomic bomb.

Remains of loved ones, like pieces of clothing and letters, donated by relatives and friends of victims are displayed. One of them is the school uniform worn by a boy. Very ironically, Japan, though campaigns for abolition of nuclear weapons, relies heavily on nuclear reactors for electricity. The story of how it all went wrong tragically at Fukushima, post-tsunami, is recent history.

From here, took a taxi to go to the 16 century Hiroshima castle. It’s a beautiful structure. The original castle was destroyed in the bombing, and what stands is the reconstructed one. On display are history of the Hiroshima, of the castle, life and culture of castle town, and weapons that were used during that period.

The typical dresses of the samurai are separately displayed for visitors to try and take photographs. On the 5th floor is an observation platform that gives you a panoramic view of the locality. There is an admission fee of 360 yen.

Kobe's Ropeway and Herb Garden

It was around 2pm and my friend and I headed to a restaurant at a nearby mall for lunch; after that took a Shinkansen to Kobe, the city that was ravaged by an earthquake in 1995. Nearly 6,000 people had died. Once again, the city gave no impression that it had been reduced to a rubble.

This city has a number of ropeways or cable cars. One that is most famous is just five minute walk from the Shin-Kobe railway station. (Shin in Japanese means new.) There is an entry fee of 1,400 yen for up and down cable car ride and entry to Nunobiki herb garden. Some people use the cable car only one way, and prefer to trek up or down the other way.

The cable car ride presents a breath-taking view of the forest below and of the city. There is the beautiful Nunobiki herb garden, where I am told, there are around 75,000 herbs of 200 varieties. Right up the slope is the herb market, a small herb museum and performance hall. There are a number of herbal products in the market. You can relax with snacks and drinks. The museum gives you peak into the science and uses of herbs. There is also a hall for aroma therapy.

We then took a train to see the Kobe airport. It’s a beautiful ride overlooking the port. It’s an amazing story of Japanese farsightedness in planning. There’s a fledgling IT and Biotech park. To ensure quick connectivity to the area, the authorities have a rail link and also built an airport. Interestingly the airport is also being developed as a tourist destination.

You don’t need to a air-ticket to enter the airport building. Walk through the building, shop if you want, get into restaurant and head up to the top floor. You will reach the vast expanse of the rooftop that has been beautifully landscaped.

Sit there to enjoy the cool breeze, and see planes taking off and landing. One can also see the sunset. Unfortunately, we missed it because of clouds. All for free, as of now. I can visualise this presently quiet airport becoming a popular get-away spot.

It was around 7 pm, and we headed back home. Decided to take a bus ride now: since is not direct bus to Sanda, took one to a place called Flower Town. These buses are like our Volvos, very comfortable. Most of these inter-city buses take the expressway, so the travel time is reduced. From Flower Town we took a train to Sanda. An amazing day that began around 7 am. Saw a lot, enjoyed a lot, learnt a lot.

Now looking forward to the trip to Kyoto tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Japan tour - Day 4

Meiji Shrine

In the morning, I set off for Yoyogi Park. It’s located at the site of the 1964 Olympics village. I was told that nearby there is a Shinto shrine. That’s what made me choose this over Shinjuku, more of a commercial and entertainment hub. What I missed though was walking through and getting lost in the world’s busiest railway station at Shinjuku.

I took a subway from Ikebukuro to Yoyogi station. I asked the ticket inspector as to from which side I should exit in order to go to Yoyogi Park. He replied in broken English that I had got down one station earlier! Yoyogi Park and the shrine are near the next station: Harajuku.

Quite perplexed as to why Yoyogi Park should be so far away from Yoyogi station and closer to the next station, I nevertheless exited the station and thought of walking around Yoyogi. I met two college students, a boy and girl, and I asked them how far is the Park from the station, and if I could walk.

She made a painstaking attempt to tell me in English that it’s quite far. (Very few Japanese can speak English.) They took me to the nearby junction, where there was a map of the locality. They very patiently showed me the route I should take. Their effort at helping me was typical of Japanese. They are very kind and considerate. These two were rushing, probably for their morning classes, but patiently spent five good minutes to explain to me the route.

I took a deep bow – the extent to which you bend shows the extent of your gratitude. I was really short of time, so I traced my way back to the Yoyogi station and took a ticket to the next station: Harajuku.

The Meiji shrine is indeed close to the Harajuku station. Later, I realised that this was the southern entrance, and the northern entrance was near the Yoyogi station. The tranquil forest within which this shrine is located took me by complete surprise – a world of difference from the busy city area.

Immediately after the massive Torii gate (the typical entrance of a Shinto shrine), there are thick trees on either side, fully blocking any sunshine. The shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken.

Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan in 1867. It was during this period that Japan became a modern and westernised state fully integrated with other countries.

This shrine is open on all days, but admission to the Treasure House and the Inner Garden is after payment of a fee of 500 yen.

It took nearly 3 hours to walk around the premises. There was little time for Yoyogi Park. Just had a quick short round of the place, and I headed back to Harajuku station. Around 1 pm, I was back at Ikebukuro, and after lunch, took a train to Tokyo for my onward journey to Osaka.

Bullet Train and Japan Rail Pass

We all grew up reading about the Japan’s technological marvel on rails called Bullet Trains,  Shinkansen in Japanese. It’s an amazing success story. Ever since the first one began running in 1964, there has not been even one fatal accident.

It’s Japan’s answer to saving time to increase productivity. Afterall they value time so much. The train speed reaches almost 300 kmph. The inside ambience is close to that of a plane. It runs so smooth on the dedicated railway lines.

The bullet train is costly, so for a tourist – who is planning to do a bit of traveling around Japan -- it’s advisable to take a Japan Rail Pass. With that you can travel unlimited on Bullet trains, Japan Rail trains and in buses operated by Japan Rail. These passes are not available in Japan but only abroad.

I obtained one from the Japan Airlines office on St Marks Road. You can take one for 7 or 14 or 21 days. The one for 7 days, that I bought, cost close to Rs 17000. It depends on the exchange rate.

After I reached Tokyo station, and headed to the Japan Rail pass exchange counter to swap the coupon I got from Bangalore for the pass. It’s a 5-minute process that includes filling up a form with some personal and passport details. Take good care of the pass, since if it’s lost there’s no replacement.

The Shinkansen for Osaka left Tokyo at 3.30 pm. There is one almost every half or so. Not just this train, there are plenty of Shinkansens connecting major cities of Japan. It’s an amazing network of trains, not just the Shinkansens, but the entire train network.

By the way, the entire train network is private. Nearly 70 per cent of it is owned by Japan Railways and the rest by a few dozen other private firms.

Trains are the most popular way of getting around places in Japan. It’s very reliable. After all, the success of public transport depends entirely on reliability. You never find too many people waiting for trains. Everyone reaches just 5 minutes before the departure time.

On the platform there is a clear demarcation as to where the doors of the train will be, and people line up there. And, unmistakably, the train stops in a way the people are right in front of the door. Everyone waits for the passengers to disembark, and then people board. Remarkable discipline!

I reached Osaka – some 550 km southwest of Tokyo -- at 6.30 pm, in three hours. On the way I saw Mt Fuji at a distance, partly obscured by clouds. My friend and school mate Prageeth was at the station. We then travelled to Sanda, some 35 km northwest of Osaka, where he stays and works.

Looking forward to the Hiroshima trip tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Japan tour - Day 3

The first thing I did this morning was to call up the front desk of the hotel for an update on the typhoon that was to hit Tokyo today. There was good news: hurricane had changed direction. But there was still threat of heavy rain in the evening.

I was moving from Tokyo city centre to Ikebukuro today. So the threat of rain meant, I had to move early afternoon. I was planning to move only in the evening. Now I had to do any sightseeing in the forenoon itself.

Since Google event was in Roppongi, there was nothing more to see of this international business and entertainment centre. It has some of the tallest buildings in Japan. Roppongi Hills is 48-storey tall (need to check that figure) and houses offices of some of the best known brands in the world.


Since the weather in the morning was clear, I decided to head to Akihabara. I took a subway from Roppongi on the Hibiya line. That’s the Electronics capital of Japan. I am told post-World War II this place was the hub of blacketmarkteering in electronics goods. Gradually the place developed into a well-organised commercial centre. The products leave you more confused and bewildered because of their sheer technological superiority.

There was one 5-floor book shop. My search for English books took me to the 4th floor, and all that was there were books like Obama's The Audacity of Hope, Harry Potter series, Advanced Javascript and Indian Face Massage!


Around 2 pm, I moved to Ikebukoro for an overnight stay there. I took a subway again on the Hibiya line but now in the opposite direction. Changed line at Ebisu and shifted to Japan Rail's Yamanote line.

At Ebisu station while I was looking at the map, I heard someone asking me in accented Hindi: "Mushkil hey kya?" I looked back surprised and saw a western looking late middle-aged man in black pant, white shirt and black shoes, waiting to move on while waiting for my response. I quickly said: "Looking for JR line to go to Ikebukoro." He said, "I will show you. I am also heading in the same direction."

A bit skeptical of this sudden development, I nevertheless followed him. We got talking while he helped me get my ticket. As we travelled, he said he had been to India many times, to Goa, Shimla, Delhi and Mumbai. He said he was an engineer and works in England. He checks oil pipelines, and said he was looking at the prospects of joining ONGC. He also said, "My wife is an Indian, so I must take care of her fellow citizens."

He was mighty impressed when I said I was a journalist and more so when I said I work with The Times of India. He spoke excellent British English and said he was in Japan for some business work.

He got down at Shinjuku and asked me to visit the town. He suggested that he could give his phone number. But I wasn't sure if I would visit the place. He exuded all the courtesies and benevolent nature one associates with a Japanese.

Shinjuku, the guide says, has the busiest railway station in the world. There are over-ground and underground railway lines, over 100 exits and handles over one million passengers a day, I am told. I wanted to see the station, if not the city, but there was no time.

Lively night life

In 20 minutes, I was in the commercial hub of Ikebukuro. The city seems to have two sides: one quiet traditional area and the other busier commercial hub. In the quieter area is a Shirdi Saibaba temple.

There are lots and lots of shops, plenty of eateries and entertainment hubs. It's lively in the night with lights, sound and lots of people. There are plenty of Family Mart department stores. There are so many that you can’t use it as a landmark! Co-existing with these family stores are KFC, McDonalds, cloth marts, pubs, men's store, massage parlours and other sleazy entertainment houses. Some of these spots announce their services so explicitly.

I am told these are perfectly okay, as long as no law and order problems are created. Police are at the spot within seconds of being alerted. That happens very rarely. Whatever they are doing, the Japanese are a disciplined and law-abiding set of people.

I saw an unusual sight: a fluttering Indian Tricolour. That was in front of an Indian restaurant. Later I realised that most of these Indian restaurants display the Tricolour outside, so it’s difficult to miss. Waiter Prasad Adhikari told me that Japanese love Indian cuisine; especially nan and chicken curry. I found one of these places full with no place to sit.

In the evening, I walked around the place. Saw a huge building resembling a mall. I decided to go in. It was indeed a mall. I took an escalator down, and ended up in the Ikebukuro railway station! I was puzzled. It was another exit of the railway station. Later I realised that most of the railway stations have huge stopping complexes and lots of eateries: the railway station and mall merge into one another.

Planning to go to Yoyogi Park and nearby Shinto shrine tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Japan tour - Day 2

The day of Google's Mobile Revolution event. It was a show casing of multiple uses of the smartphone bringing the world to our palm as it were. There were presentations by many Googlers behind Android, translation, voice recognitions etc.

The refrain was future is all about Android and smartphones. Speakers illustrated how the OS was becoming popular by the day and how it is making our daily lives easier. India journalists met with some of the key speakers for separate interactions in the post-lunch session.

It was a rainy and windy day here. There is forecast of storm hitting Tokyo tomorrow morning. Hope it passes fast and weather clears.

If the weather is clear I hope to go around the city tomorrow. Keeping my fingers firmly crossed. crossed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japan tour - Day 1

Airlines customise menu for passengers still I was pleasantly surprised to be served idly-vada-sambar in Bangkok-Tokyo Thai Airlines flight.

Very good sevice on board. Don't know if it should go to the credit of the pilot, the landings at Bangkok and Narita, Tokyo, were smooth. Smooth as silk as the ad goes. If you weren't looking out of window, you wouldn't know you landed!

I thought I would read during the Bangkok-Tokyo leg of the flight but quite deprived of sleep, I could hardly keep my eyes open. Reached Bangkok at 6 am local time and at Tokyo at 4 pm.

Like airports of any big city, Narita overwhelms you by its sheer size. It's about 70 km from Tokyo.

The taxi drive on 6-lane track was done in less than an hour. The lush greenery closer to Narita is replaced gradually by giant concrete structures closer to Tokyo.

The many flyovers, total absence of any garbage or even litter on the streets, noiseless, orderly traffic... What a world of difference!

Saw a bit of Tokyo by night as we walked from hotel to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Roppongi is a youth hangout and has a vibrant night life.

If you are a strict vegetarian, Japanese menu can be very difficult. Though I prefer vegetarian ended up having non-vegetarian here. Interestingly, many things we consider non-veg passes off as veg here.

I was asked today, how many Indians don't have egg but are ok with milk and other dairy products though they are all animal products! So it's all about perception and mindset.

Looking forward to the big Google 'mobile revolution' event tomorrow.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Twitter hands over user details to court in libel case

Twitter has handed over to a US court the account details of a twitter user against whom a UK city council has slapped libel case for posting defamatory remarks against council members.

This is perhaps first time a social media group has revealed user account details of a user in a libel case.

Interestingly a UK city council has gone to the US to fight a case agsinst a twitter user since twitter is based in the US. Rarely non-US organisations or individuals have travelled to the US to fight libel case against a Facebook or Twitter user or a blogger.

Will this be a trend setter?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Freak shower & disaster

Over the last few days it has been raining heavily in Bangalore. Very unusual to have rains at this time of the year. In India monsoon itself begins only by June from Kerala.

But the saddest part is the death and destruction even this freak shower brings about in Bangalore. Yesterday a 14 year old boy was washed away when trying to retrieve the cricket ball which had gone into a stream.

It is two days and no signs of the boy. How sad. I can just imagine the plight of his parents.

It is a different matter to say that the boy should not have gone to retrieve the ball from a dangerous area.

But the unfortunate incident having happened, it is the responsibility of state machinery to have an effective search and rescue machanism. That is the basic essential of disaster management, is it not?

Gmail to have images in ads


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trinity circle-Ulsoor stretch is two-way

This partcular stretch of road in Bangalore was always two-way. Then sometime in mid-last decade it was made one way because of the huge volume of traffic. Traffic could flow only from Ulsoor to Trinity circle.

That became quite a pain for lots of people who stay near Ulsoor market. They had to take a long detour via Gurudwara and Murphy Town to reach their destination.

Then everyone put up with it as an inevitable compromise for Bangalore's development. Now after a long time the stretch is again two way much to the relef of many people of the area.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Supreme Court ruling on Aruna Shanbaug

This was a much-awaited verdict. The Supreme Court of India yesterday rejected writer Pinki Virani's petition seeking the euthanasia of Aruna Shanbaug. Mercy killing has always been a hotly debated issue around the world. And this case, among a few others, has kept the issue raging in India as well.

Aruna, while working as a nurse in Mumbai, was the victim of an assult and has been lying in a permanent vegetative state for the past 37 years. The crux of the apex ruling was that she is not on a life-support system, though she may be in a vegetative state.

In a landmark ruling, the court also used this occasion to legalise what is called "passive euthanasia", which is removing the life support system, but not "active euthanasia" that will mean injecting a drug or something that will lead to the death of the patient.

I think it is very good and thought-out ruling by the learned judges. Aruna is not in any sense dead. Her system is working. May be some faculties of hers aren't not working like for others. The court was right in making a difference between active and passive euthanasia. I don't think a lot of people thought the court would make a fine distinction between the two. It was a very good move by the judges to do that.

For a long time, passive euthanasia has been in practice. I know a couple of cases where the doctors told the relatives of the patients, who were brain dead, that there was no point in sustaining life artificially on a life-support system, since there was absolutely not chance of the patients ever recovering. Basically, a part of the patients' system had died. The doctors gave the option to the relatives to turn off the life-support system. And in both cases, the relatives discreetly let the doctors turn off the life-support system. And, for public information it was said that the patients died of serious internal injury and heart failure.

Now the Supreme Court has legalised passive euthanasia. But still it'sn't going to be a very easy to tell everyone that "ok, we let the patient die, by turning off the life-support system". It's a very emotive issue. What the court ruling gives is a great relief for thet doctors to pull the plug, after getting necessary consent from relatives. Because earlier, there was a slim chance of someone protesting and the issue becoming a messy thing.

Aruna's plight is too tragic to describe. But she has life within her. And, amazingly, she hasn't developed bed sores even after being bed ridden for so long. Of course, no one wants Aruna to stay this way for longer than what she has endured. But it's crossing limits to snuff whatever life she has, under the pretext of reducing her misery. One can only hope that her time to leave will come soon. But that's a decision God will have to make.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First rains of 2011 in Bangalore

Yesterday around 7 pm Bangalore got its first showers of 2011. The moment people heard the pitter patter of rain drops and they sensed the smell of damp earth, they rushed to the windows to enjoy the sight. Going by previous years, there will be intermittant showers in the evenings after warm afternoons. For today though it's lightly overcast - the perfect Bangalore weather.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A town changes name for road safety awareness

Changing names of cities is a fad among politicians in India. The reason is to junk Anglicised versions and revert to original Indian names.

Thus Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta is Kolkata, Madras is Chennai etc. The plan to change the name of Bangalore to Bengaluru is stuck in bureaucratic redtape.

This has given rise to tricky problems. While the changed name, it's still Bombay high court. On the other hand, while it's Bengaluru International Airport, the city still keeps the anglicised Bangalore.

In Australian state of Victoria, a small town has changed its name,but with a purpose. The place called Speed will henceforth be called Speedkills on order to raise awareness about road safety. Really interesting and sensible. BBC has a very good story on it.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another scandal hits UPA govt

We now have another corruption scandal hitting the UPA govt as if all the existing troubles aren't enough. And this involves India's premier space agency Isro which is one of the world's highly regarded technology institutions

And to make matters worse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh handles space portfolio. With the opposition still not relenting on the need for a JPC probe into the telecom scandal, things are hardly looking bright for the UPA govt.

Earlier I thought the govt was winning the PR battle with the opposition. But now the pressure is so much more on the govt. If the govt does not get into some serious damage control measures without losing time the raging corruption scandals could very well cost the Congress the Lok Sabha election.