Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review -- Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank

Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi
An 'unputtdownable' biography. It's studded with lots of information, not surprising, considering the in-depth research Katherine Frank has done. The book starts with Motilal Nehru and ends with the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

The books gives a great insight into the person Indira Gandhi was -- as granddaughter of Motilal Nehru, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, husband of Feroze Gandhi, mother of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, mother-in-law of Sonia and Maneka Gandhi, grandmother of Rahul, Priyanka and Varun; as a freedom fighter, unofficial hostess of many world leaders who came calling on India's first PM, as hardcore nationalist, a hard-to-beat politician, a go-getter Prime Minister and, as a teenager and a woman.

How much ever the members of the Gandhi family try, they are unable to break free of a centripetal force, as it were; and get sucked into the vortex of politics, and that too riding on a family name, ironically seeming to do more harm than good. Indira Gandhi too was a reluctant politician to begin with. She stuttered and was booed during her first time on a stage in England. She wanted to leave India and she had intensely contemplated buying a house in England. Unfortunately, for her, before she could finalize the deal, someone else had bought that house. The way the highly reluctant Rajiv and Sonia were forced to embrace politics is recent history.

Even though Indira Gandhi ruled the country for a long time, ushered in quite a few reformatory changes, and kept India's flag flying high on the global stage, she never had it easy. She wanted India to progress rapidly, and didn't like people putting spokes in her plans, citing one reason or the other. She didn't believe in dragging things over a period of time in search of a consensus. She would rather get things done without wasting much time. That gave the world an impression that she cared little for democracy, didn't consider divergent viewpoints, and didn't carry everyone along. Surrounded by men, it wasn't easy at all, governing the large, diverse, often riotous nation.

There was trouble from the moment she became the Prime Minister in 1966, to her last days in 1984. Even though the opposition parties in those days weren't so strong, many of her decisions were opposed. With the result, she had to adopt strong and often unpopular measures to push her decisions through. She often seemed to exude the oxymoronic image of a "benevolent dictator".

I liked the book for its every interesting narrative style and loads of information. Definitely worth reading, at least to know a person, a woman fighting all odds, who strode over India's political, economic, social and cultural landscape with a telling impact.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Book Review - Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think
The book tells you a lot about Big Data, the ubiquitous term nowadays.

There is so much of data being generated in the form of text, photos, and videos. Add to that the tons of personal data relating to whenever we do on our phone, like our location, what and how we are reading, listening, surfing the net, using different apps, etc.

Every minute detail of the way we use different apps are relayed back to the developers to get an understanding of the efficiency of the product. Everyone, not just Google, Amazon and the government are gathering data and analysing them, but everyone, including Goodreads.

Big Data is replacing the old cause-and-effect theory of 'if something is done in a particular way, it will have a particular effect", with correlation theory of "if most people are doing a particular thing in a particular way, then most others, if not everyone, are also likely to do that in the same way."

In the earlier era of small data, there was lot of importance to accuracy, but today, in the era of big data, there are more chances of inaccuracies, but that is compensated or nullified by the huge wealth of information that Big Data analyses provide.

The authors also rightly talk about the tyranny of data. Everything doesn't work according to numbers. There are many non-quantifiable and intangible, qualitative and contextual variables that affect analyses.

A good book, written in an easily understandable manner, especially for anyone who wants to know what Big Data is all about and how it's changing our lives.

On the flip side, the authors, in their attempt to explain different aspects of Big Data, tend to get too repetitive.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My search for a BBMP office to get a death certificate

This morning, it took me a good one hour to locate the corporation (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, or BBMP) office in Ulsoor, from where I had to get my mother's death certificate. But little did I realise that there was a pleasant surprise awaiting me.

I knew a BBMP office in Ulsoor. When I reached there, I didn't find the usual crowd, apparently because of the council elections, coming up on August 22. But on the first floor, where the office is, I found an elderly employee.

"No, we don't issue certificate. You have to check with the post office down," he told me firmly.

But, post office? I cross-checked with him. "Yes, post office, in the ground floor," he repeated quite calmly. So, I went down. But, I didn't have the guts to ask someone selling stamps and envelops where could I get a death certificate.

There was a man sitting on the steps at the entrance to the post office. Could be a localite, so I asked him if there was a BBMP office anywhere else nearby where I could get a death certificate. He said the BBMP office upstairs issues only ration cards, and the one in the Utility Building on MG Road issues birth and death certificates.

I headed there, not too far. May be about three or four km away. After looking around and asking a few people, I located the kiosk. There was a board 'birth and death certificates'. When I showed the documents to the gentleman there, he had a good look at it, and said, I had to go to Ulsoor.

I said I did go to the Ulsoor office, and that they had told me they don't issue death certificates. He looked a little puzzled. Then, I asked him if there was more than one office in Ulsoor, and if I could know which one exactly issues the death certificate. He dismissed me saying, ask someone there.

I was back at the very same BBMP office in Ulsoor. But instead of going up to the first floor again, I asked a seemingly knowledgeable man sitting outside on the steps (you always find a few outside government buildings), where I could get a death certificate. He guided me to a BBMP office, about a kilometer away.

I reached there, without any difficulty. But the person there said, the concerned office is another one, half a kilometer away.

Finally, I was at the right office. This was the BBMP Health Office. I walked into a small room, where there were two gentlemen sitting, one of them in front of a computer. With much anxiety on how many more times I would have to come there, I approached one of them.

"Please sit down," he told me with a smile as he took my documents. He read out my mother's name to his colleague sitting beside him at the computer, as I looked around the small room. Even before I could form any thoughts in my mind, he asked me, "How many copies?

With a triumphant look, he also added, "In no other office, you will get things done this fast!"

I was a pleasantly taken aback. "Three?" he suggested.

Apparently three originals is the norm, assuming these originals would be required for official purposes at places like banks. I said, "Yes, three," (so that I wouldn't have to come again, in case I needed more copies). I was still struggling to come to terms with the speed with which things had moved in a corporation office, which is normally associated with bureaucracy and lethargy.

In less than two minutes of me walking into this office, my work was done. All the particulars were there without any mistakes. Obviously, they had dutifully filled them all in well in time.

What's the fee, I inquired, with an obvious glee on my face.

"Rs 100, plus anything extra if you wish," he said, as he resumed his work.

I handed him Rs 120, congratulated him for the highly remarkable level of efficiency, profusely thanked him, and exited.

All the pessimism and the feeling that things will never ever improve in India, which had welled up within me during the past one hour, vanished into thin air in less than two minutes.

Despair not. Things have changed, they are changing, may be slowly. But there is hope.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Midnight courtroom session and death penalty

The last time I stayed up so late, till 5 am, was when Mumbai was attacked in 2008.

The story broke around 11 pm, and it was well past 1 am when we got any idea of what was going on. I finished my pages and sent them to the press, by 2.30 am. By then three top police officers of Mumbai had been killed; and when I came home, I switched on the TV to see what was going on. I went to bed around 5 am unsure of what was happening to Mumbai, and if I would get to know about any more tragic developments in any other part of the country, when I got up next day morning.

Yesterday, when I was leaving office, news alerts came in saying the Supreme Court would hear at 2 am yet another challenge by Yakub Memon against the decision to hang him today morning. After I reached home, I switched on TV to keep track of what was an unprecedented act of the Supreme Court being opened up 2 am to hear a petition.

Apparently, the court entertained the plea to ensure that Indian judicial system was fair and transparent in considering an important appeal like this one.

Though it looked unlikely that the same three judges who had rejected earlier appeals would find merit in a new line of argument put forward by Yakub Memon's lawyers, I sat glued to the television as a tense sequence of events seemed to play out. I didn't want to miss out this one.

What a night it was for the legal and media fraternity! Apparently most of the people inside the court room were media personnel. There was virtually a live coverage of court proceedings. I thought the whole thing will end by 3 am or at the most 3.30. But arguments began only by 3.

Some of my friends too were up tracking this unprecedented apex court room activity, and we discussed the whys and hows, and the possible implications of this.

Finally, around 4.30 news came that the judgment would be delivered shortly. And just before 5 am, two hours before the scheduled hanging, verdict came that the appeal had been dismissed.

DEATH PENALTY

When it comes to death penalty, I have mixed feelings. Actually, my thoughts tend to be with people, wherever in the world they may be, who have had to suffer and even pay with their lives for no fault of theirs.

Most of these acts of crime or terrorism are part of a chain of tit-for-tat or eye-for-eye actions. Every thing is supposed to avenge a past crime. But, eye for eye makes no sense. I always wonder, can't we just forget the past, focus on the problems of the present and get on with our lives.

There has been a raging debate world over, not just in India, on the ethicality and morality of death penalty. There are many arguments for and against it.

In one view, how can one person who has elaborately plotted a crime with the objective of killing people, himself think that he can't be executed? What is the logic behind the thought that a murderer can only kill others, but himself can't be killed? 

THE MANY DOUBTS

Having said that, the fact is that capital punishment is one on a much different plane compared to all other punishments. It always leaves a number of questions unanswered.

At a very basic level, for a layperson, it is difficult to understand what crime exactly qualifies for a death penalty. What exactly is "the rarest of the rare" case? Many times we have seen the death penatly being commuted to life sentence.

My doubts about the righteousness of death penalty stems from how conclusively are we able to prove that an individual has to die; what about others who are party to the crime; there are also so many other related issues.

Court judgments are also a lot about how lawyers argue out their case, and how they are able to convince the judges, who, based on evidences presented, come to a judgement regarding the crime and the punishment. In the whole process, it cannot be denied that there is a lot of subjective interpretations coming into play at various levels.

In a sense, the death penalty can also be seen as an eye-for-eye approach. When a mistake or crime has been committed, the punishment makes little difference to the damage that has been committed. Lives lost don't come back. Properties destroyed aren't restored. Punishments are retributions. I doubt if they even serve as a deterrent.

MY TAKE

I don't think there will be much loss if we reimpose a moratorium on death penalty, if not altogether abolish it.

The Supreme Court in India has made execution a difficult option, with many layers of review. But that process in itself throws up umpteen questions.

My reasoning is simple: most often many questions are asked whether we have been able to conclusively prove the crime has been grave enough, whether it is the "rarest of the rare" to warrant death. Then there are also questions like: if A has been given death penalty, then what about B or C or D. Wasn't their crime also bad enough? Why haven't they got the death penalty? There are appeals and counter-appeals, and it goes on and on; which doesn't look good at all.

Instead, can't we jus opt for imprisoning the convict for the rest of his life with no option for remission, as the toughest punishment?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Windows 10 - my first impressions

Around 11 am today, I opened my Outlook Mail to see if I had got any mail regarding availability of Windows 10 for my PC. There wasn't any. Then I clicked on the small "Get Windows 10" icon on the right end of the Taskbar, the icon that has been there ever since I reserved a copy of the new operating system.

When I clicked on that icon, a small window opened saying that Windows 10 has been downloaded on to my PC, and I had the option to instal it right away or at a later time. Impatient that I was, I clicked on Instal.

The process lasted around an hour, with multiple restarts. And finally, I got the free upgrade to Windows 10, and was good to go.

The Start button

The Desktop -- including the Wallpaper and Shortcuts -- remains as I had customized earlier. That means, I didn't have to make any customization all over again. The Taskbar at the bottom is now a black strip, with the Windows icon on extreme left (reminiscent of the Start button, we all were used to seeing). To its right is a small box to "Search the web and Windows". That's a good new addition.

Somewhere to the middle of the Taskbar are the apps that I have pinned to the Taskbar. This has that very vague resemblance to the Mac feature. (I know Apple fans will be outraged to see any attempt at comparison with their greatest gadget on the face of Earth.)

On the extreme right of the Taskbar are the same stuff, like time and date stamp, notifications, WiFi, battery indicator etc -- only that some of the icons look now different.

The first thing that I did -- well, Microsoft would have expected that from anyone who upgraded -- was to click on that Windows icon, or the Start button, on extreme left bottom. This was touted as the single most important feature of Windows 10, the restoration of the Start button.

Yes, the very same pop-up appeared, only that this time it's a bit broader, with all the most used app on the top left, and below that File Explorer, Settings and Power button. I remember how I struggled to find that Power button in Windows 8.1. Below Power button is "All apps".

To the right of the pop-up is the old live tiles that used to occupy most of the screen in 8 and 8.1. On top is "Life at a Glance", comprising Calendar, Mail, Photos, Weather etc. And below that block is "Play and Explore", comprising Games and and other leisure apps.

Minimize and Close

The other feature I found restored and felt quite happy about was the Minimize and Close buttons on top right when one opens a window. In Windows 8 and 8.1, once you opened a window, if you wanted to minimize or close it, you had to hover the mouse, for the buttons to appear, and along with them, in the most confusing manner, a vertical Menu also would appear on the right, making it all so cluttered and chaotic.

Mercifully, that's all gone, and you don't have to struggle to minimize or close a window that you have opened.

Windows Store

The app store is now available on the computer. That's very much in sync with Microsoft's aim of better integration among all devices. But it's a different matter that all Windows apps aren't as good as their counterparts in Android or iOS.

Cortana

I looked around for Cortana, the personal digital assistant (similar to Apple's Siri and Google Now). But it was nowhere to be found. I gave a search, and Microsoft website told me: "Cortana is available in the following countries/ regions: China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States." This was a disappointment as I was looking forward to chatting with my PC.

Edge

This is the rebranded Explorer. One new feature is the "Make a Web Note", on top right. Click on it to make notes, draw lines or make a clipping. Otherwise, on first look, Edge looks very much the same. Nothing extraordinary about speed.

Different look

Most of the features, like Settings, File Explorer, Time and Date Stamp, and many apps have a much sleeker and nicer look about them.

Overall, first impression

Good. It looks like a natural progression from Windows 7. It's not confusing and cluttered, and the simpler interface is a big relief for people who are struggling with Windows 8 and 8.1.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Abdul Kalam, a beacon of inspiration

When I saw the three-word announcement "Abdul Kalam dead" on PTI Twitter feed close to 9 pm yesterday, I just couldn't believe it. There was an earlier news item that he had been hospitalized in Shillong. But his end was too unexpected and shocking. It took some time for it to sink in.

What a way for a man like Kalam to depart. He was doing what he likes the best: talking to students at the IIM in Shillong.

While I was watching television visuals of the official ceremonial tributes being paid to Kalam as he lay in State at the Palam airport this morning, one thought crossed my mind: Atal Behari Vajpayee is unable to come and pay his tributes. After all, it was the Vajpayee government that nominated him to the President's post.
In this extract from Turning Points: A Journey through Challenges, that appeared in Scroll, Kalam describes the moments that led up to him becoming the President. 
The fact that Kalam became the President, an unusual President, went a long way in all of us getting to know more about this amazing human being. Had he not become the President, we still would have known him, as a Missile Man. But the role of the President gave him a lot more of opportunities to influence all of us.

Abdul Kalam was more of a teacher, a scientist and gentle human being, than the 11th ceremonial Head of State of our nation. And because of those unique qualities, he was able to breathe fresh life into the role of the occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

As a President, whenever Kalam attended events, he was not the stereotypical Head of State. He identified with the common people, especially children and students.

He came very close to what many of us see as a very desirable scenario of academicians and intellectuals getting to have a greater say in the running of our country. His speeches were not the typical long-drawn out ones dripping with political rhetoric. He had a vision for the country, to see India as a great nation; and he worked tirelessly for inculcating the right ideals and value systems among all of us, especially the students.

Kalam is gone. But his teachings and the invaluable thoughts he shared with us will always remain. And he will continue to be a beacon of inspiration, someone we can always look up to.

Rest in Peace, Kalam.

Here is a moving account by Srijan Pal Singh, an associate of Kalam, on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/SrijanPalSingh/posts/1036964249687030

If the link isn't working here it is:

What I will be remembered for.. my memory of the last day with the great Kalam sir...

It has been eight hours since we last talked – sleep eludes me and memories keep flushing down, sometimes as tears. Our day, 27th July, began at 12 noon, when we took our seats in the flight to Guhawati. Dr. Kalam was 1A and I was IC. He was wearing a dark colored “Kalam suit”, and I started off complimenting, “Nice color!” Little did I know this was going to be the last color I will see on him.

Long, 2.5 hours of flying in the monsoon weather. I hate turbulence, and he had mastered over them. 

Whenever he would see me go cold in shaking plane, he would just pull down the window pane and saw, “Now you don’t see any fear!”.

That was followed by another 2.5 hours of car drive to IIM Shillong. For these two legged trip of five hours we talked, discussed and debated. These were amongsthundreds of the long flights and longer drives we have been together over the last six years. 

As each of them, this was as special too. Three incidents/discussions in particular will be “lasting memories of our last trip”. 

First, Dr. Kalam was absolutely worried about the attacks in Punjab. The loss of innocent lives left him filledwith sorrow. The topic of lecture at IIM Shillong was Creating a Livable Planet Earth. He related the incident to the topic and said, “it seems the man made forces are as big a threat to the livability of earth as pollution”. We discussed on how, if this trend of violence, pollution and reckless human action continues we will forced to leave earth. “Thirty years, at this rate, maybe”, he said. 

“You guys must do something about it… it is going to be your future world”

Our second discussion was more national. For the past two days, Dr. Kalam was worried that time and again Parliament, the supreme institution of democracy, was dysfunctional. He said, “I have seen two different governments in my tenure. I have seen more after that. This disruption just keeps happening. It is not right. I really need to find out a way to ensure that the parliament works on developmental politics.” He then asked me to prepare a surprise assignment question for the students at IIM Shillong, which he would give them only at the end of the lecture. He wanted to them to suggest three innovative ways to make the Parliament more productive and vibrant. Then, after a while he returned on it. “But how can ask them to give solutions if I don’t have any myself”. For the next one hour, we thwarted options after options, who come up with his recommendation over the issue. We wanted to include this discussion in our upcoming book, Advantage India. 

Third, was an experience from the beauty of his humility. We were in a convoy of 6-7 cars. Dr. Kalam and I were in the second car. Ahead us was an open gypsy with three soldiers in it. Two of them were sitting on either side and one lean guy was standing atop, holding his gun. One hour into the road journey, Dr. Kalam said, “Why is he standing? He will get tired. This is like punishment. Can you ask a wireless message to given that he may sit?” I had to convince him, he has been probably instructed to keep standing for better security. He did not relent. We tried radio messaging, that did not work. 

For the next 1.5 hours of the journey, he reminded me thrice to see if I can hand signal him to sit down. Finally, realizing there is little we can do – he told me, “I want to meet him and thank him”. 

Later, when we landed in IIM Shillong, I went inquiring through security people and got hold of the standing guy. I took him inside and Dr. Kalam greeted him. He shook his hand, said thank you buddy. “Are you tired? Would you like something to eat? I am sorry you had to stand so long because of me”. The young lean guard, draped in black cloth, was surprised at the treatment. He lost words, just said, “Sir, aapkeliye to 6 ghantebhikhaderahenge”. 

After this, we went to the lecture hall. He did not want to be late for the lecture. “Students should never be made to wait”, he always said. I quickly set up his mike, briefed on final lecture and took position on the computers. As I pinned his mike, he smiled and said, “Funny guy! Are you doing well?” ‘Funny guy’, when said by Kalam could mean a variety of things, depending on the tone and your own assessment. It could mean, you have done well, you have messed up something, you should listen to him or just that you have been plain naïve or he was just being jovial. Over six years I had learnt to interpret Funny Guy like the back of my palm. This time it was the last case. 

“Funny guy! Are you doing well?” he said. I smiled back, “Yes”. Those were the last words he said. 

Two minutes into the speech, sitting behind him, I heard a long pause after completing one sentence. 

I looked at him, he fell down. 

We picked him up. As the doctor rushed, we tried whatever we could. I will never forget the look in his three-quarter closed eyes and I held his head with one hand and tried reviving with whatever I could. His hands clenched, curled onto my finger. There was stillness on his face and those wise eyes were motionlessly radiating wisdom. He never said a word. He did not show pain, only purpose was visible. 

In five minutes we were in the nearest hospital. In another few minutes the they indicated the missile man had flown away, forever. I touched his feet, one last time. Adieu old friend! Grand mentor! See you in my thoughts and meet in the next birth. 

As turned back, a closet of thoughts opened. 

Often he would ask me, “You are young, decide what will like to be remembered for?” I kept thinking of new impressive answers, till one day I gave up and resorted to tit-for-tat. I asked him back, “First you tell me, what will you like to be remembered for? President, Scientist, Writer, Missile man, India 2020, Target 3 billion…. What?” I thought I had made the question easier by giving options, but he sprang on me a surprise. “Teacher”, he said. 

Then something he said two weeks back when we were discussing about his missile time friends. He said, “Children need to take care of their parents. It is sad that sometimes this is not happening”. He paused and said, “Two things. Elders must also do. Never leave wealth at your deathbed – that leaves a fighting family. Second, one is blessed is one can die working, standing tall without any long drawn ailing. Goodbyes should be short, really short”. 

Today, I look back – he took the final journey, teaching, what he always wanted to be remembered doing. And, till his final moment he was standing, working and lecturing. He left us, as a great teacher, standing tall. He leaves the world with nothing accumulated in his account but loads of wishes and love of people. He was a successful, even in his end. 

Will miss all the lunches and dinners we had together, will miss all the times you surprised me with your humility and startled me with your curiosity, will miss the lessons of life you taught in action and words, will miss our struggles to race to make into flights, our trips, our long debates. You gave me dreams, you showed me dreams need to be impossible, for anything else is a compromise to my own ability. The man is gone, the mission lives on. Long live Kalam.

Your indebted student,

Srijan Pal Singh

Monday, July 13, 2015

RIP, dear mom

She had been sinking; her weak lungs and heart trying their best to function normally. She had already drifted away into unconsciousness. When I came to see her today, I remembered and cherished the conversations we had till a couple of days ago. Then, in the evening, the doctor called me. "Have one last look," he said. They showed me the multiple lines on a pink graph paper, pointed to the time and said the end came at 5.56 pm.

My mother had been fighting old age even as her body was getting weaker and weaker. She was fiercely independent. She had amazing reserves energy to keep herself going. She tried her best, until she just couldn't.

She enjoyed the reputation of being a fine cook. Everyone in family always spoke of the many curries, sweets and other delicacies she made. Her tea had a unique taste; no one knew how she managed to get the right taste. A gift, I am sure.

Slowly, she stopped cooking. Then, she stopped washing vessels. She just used to prepare a cup of tea in the night. One day that too stopped. During the last few days she was just eating barely enough to keep herself going.

On the first of July, she seemed to have contracted a chest infection. We got a nearby physician to examine her. Since it looked like she wasn't getting better, on the eighth, we moved to her to a nearby hospital. On the next couple of days, she seemed to be getting better. But the doctor said the infection had weakened her lungs. She also seemed to have had a very mild heart attack a few days earlier, because of which the heart too was weak. The doctor was just hoping that things would get better, especially since two important organs weren't working to their full capacity.

During the last couple of days, her condition worsened, and today evening, she left for her heavenly abode.

One regret, if at all, was that she never wanted to be in hospital. And sadly, her last days had to be in one. But, mercifully, she didn't have to suffer much. She was 84, and lived a full life.

You leave behind tons and tons of good memories. You will never go away from my thoughts.

Rest in Peace, dear amma.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

40 years on, India is different now

Here is Emergency, 30 years ago

A few other points that come to my mind. The India then and now are vastly different - politically, economically and sociologically.

There was just one Congress, under Indira Gandhi, that dominated the political spectrum. Today, we have a plethora of parties, many of them regional ones. At one end, she was seen as a strong-willed leader who could get things done, and who kept India's national interest uppermost. At the other end, for Indira haters, she was an arrogant dictator.

At that time, there was hardly any private sector, that catered to our essential daily subsistence needs. We just had government-owned behemoths, the efficiency levels of which left a lot to be desired; and concepts like accountability weren't much heard of.

Forget internet, mobile phone or social media; there was not even television then. There was just one All India Radio, and a couple of newspapers and magazines for us to know what was happening in our country. There was little knowledge of what "other cultures and traditions" actually meant; the only source was a few foreign radio stations like BBC, Radio Australia, Voice of America etc, that were available on Short Wave bands.

The world itself has moved on, quite a distance, in the past 40 years. Most significantly, there is no USSR now. There is only one USA. With the fall of the Soviet empire, the Berlin Wall too came down. And along with it all the barriers that separated different ideologies and cultures too. (However, we are yet to figure out some way on how to co-exist in a world full of diversity.)

There is still this talk about whether Emergency, as it happened 40 years ago, will ever happen again. It is extremely difficult, for many reasons. In retrospect, we can see that there was a context then.

There was already an External Emergency in existence, due to the 1971 war with Pakistan. There was a bogey about foreign forces trying to break up India. So, Mrs Gandhi saw everything through that prism. No one had the guts to stand up against her, or put across a different view point. When opposition political parties and activists finally stood up, she could only see it as a deterioration in the state of the nation.

Another reason is the Constitution has been amended to make proclamation of Internal Emergency a difficult process that needs the approval of the Cabinet and both Houses of Parliament.

All said and done, there was lot of suffering during those days, which are now referred to as the Darkest Days of Democracy. Still there is little tolerance for contrarian views; some people have had to pay with their lives for standing up to strong power centres, so much so that there is often fear among many people to speak out. But what we then saw was an institutionalized, government-sanctioned suppression of any contrarian views.

It was a turning point in India's history, no doubt; a period many would like to forget rather than remember.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Missing, last seen on WhatsApp

Recently, my friend from Kolkata narrated an anecdote that happened in his neighbourhood.

A 20-year old college student went missing. He had returned after studies, but went out soon after, saying he was going to meet a friend. But neither did he mention anyone's name nor people at home ask. When he wasn't back even after 10 pm, folks at home began to get worried.

They called him on his mobile. But the calls repeatedly gave an 'out of coverage area' reply. Friends too tried, but to no avail. Messages too evoke no response.

A friend thought of checking WhatsApp. The Last Seen time stamp was only 10 minutes behind the actual time. That meant he was active on the messaging app. But the friends couldn't figure out why he hadn't bothered to inform where he was, but "was happily" WhatsApping.

A quick explanation was he might have tried to call or message but the mobile connectivity might have been bad. He might have been online as his data lines were more stable or he was on someone's Wi-Fi.

No sooner his friend noticed the missing boy's time stamp change to 'online' than he shot off a message.

"Where the hell are you? All are worried."

To the delight of everyone, he replied.

"I am at (a friend's) house. Don't worry. It's raining heavily here. Can't step out. Will come once rain reduces."

"Then why the **** you didn't tell anyone at home ...."

"Chill. Nothing to worry. Call wasn't going through. Will call now. Or you also tell them."

Apparently it was true that in the other part of the city, it was raining, and he was genuinely stuck.

He was back home around midnight to a lecture on how he should remember to keep someone posted on his whereabouts if he wasn't where he normally should be.

But the other takeaways from this incident were: one, how internet-based messaging platforms can help when the default phone call and SMS don't seem to work; and two, perhaps, more significantly, the clue the time stamp on Last Seen can provide about your status.

The above anecdote was narrated by my friend during a recent dinner get together we had with a few of our common friends, when he visited Bengaluru. His story triggered a debate on whether the Last Seen feature is an invasion of privacy or it is helpful.

Here is a gist of the arguments: some on predictable lines, some new lines of thought.

Against Hiding
  • Since when is WhatsApping a crime?
  • Why should I care if someone knows when I checked WhatsApp last? How does it matter to anyone? I might check at 1 in the afternoon or 4 in the night.
  • WhatsApp is not like Email. It is an instant messaging platform used for quick communication. So Online and Last Seen are important indicators, that show how easily I can be accessed.
  • Hiding doesn't serve any purpose anyway, because the double tick will indicate that I have got the message. And the blue tick (if I haven't disabled that) means I have read it too. So, what is the big deal? What am I trying to hide anyway?
For Hiding
  • Since it's an instant messaging platform, I am online most of the time. Then, why publicize additionally the precise timings too?
  • It's a system prone to technical issues, and not reliable. One, if the app is running in the background, especially on Android phones, I might be shown as online, when I am not actually. Two, if I only opened the app, and not read or typed a message, sometimes the Last Seen gets updated. Three, when using the web version, sometimes you are shown online, even when you have minimised the browser. The Last Seen feature is flawed and misleading.
  • Some people expect a reply from me immediately (on seeing that I have been online), when actually I haven't had time to type out a reply. 
  • Suppose I was chatting late at night with my friend in the US, my mom wants to know why I wasn't sleeping, and with whom I was chatting late in the night! Mom I can handle, but why should everyone else too know that I was up late into the night. It's total invasion of privacy. A provision to make oneself invisible is what is actually needed.
All of these finally got washed down with a few drinks and a generous helping of some Continental and Chinese delicacies.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Her dreams and their expectations

The visit was long overdue, and finally I got time one evening to drop by my friends' house.

Let's call them Sithesh and Sarah. They are bank executives, and they have a daughter Sangeetha who has just completed 12th.

One flip side of a bank job, is the transfer. You are liable to be moved from one to city to another anywhere in the country. And when both husband and wife work in banks, it can sort of wreak havoc with the family life.

Sithesh and Sarah have had their share of the problem, which proved to be quite troublesome especially after Sangeetha came. They had to be in different cities for years. Somehow, they have managed to pull it off, thanks to their parents and friends.

As soon as I landed up in their house, we launched ourselves into a non-stop conversation. There was so much to catch up.

Some half an hour later, Sangeetha came in. She had gone to her neighbour's house. It's about two years since I last met her.

In a while, she too joined our conversation. She spoke about her school, her teachers, her strict headmistress and her friends. Quite an opinionated girl, she had her own views about topics as varied as our education system, corporal punishment, dress code, traditions, taboos etc.

A little later, she brought a book in which she had drawn beautiful pictures; some of them pencil sketches, some them water-coloured drawings. There were images of landscape, objects, people --  a wide variety of the life we see around us. As I turned the pages, I could sense her eagerness for my nods of approval.

I was immediately reminded of what she had told me when I had come to their house the last time -- her ambition to make it big the world of design and arts. As she turned the pages of the scrap book of her creative work, she told me how she had read up on successful people in the field, the courses she could pursue and what lay in store for her in the profession.

When I told her that her work was good, it was neither by way of mere encouragement or blind flattery. I had meant it, for her works were stunning.

It was dinner time. While having the sumptuous spread that they had prepared, her parents spoke about what they made of their daughter's interests.

For them, it was merely her hobby, a pastime, or even a waste of time, as it was cutting into her study hours. She would be reading some article on design and art, instead of reading something related to school work, they whined.

I summoned my diplomatic skills, and merely nodded in approval, as a debate on turning hobbies into careers ensued. I took my own example, of how I consciously chose to do a post-graduation in Journalism though I had got admission to PG courses in Bio-Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Applied Chemistry.

But, I had to be careful here not to infuriate my hosts, after all it was a sensitive subject; and it should not appear that I was trying to "wrongly" influence my friends' daughter.

Both Sithesh and Sarah want Sangeetha to be a doctor. They have their own reasons.

"She is good in studies; even top scores in biology. There are so many children who want to be doctors, but their parents don't have the money to educate them. But here there is no such problem. Sangeetha is so lucky to have everything. Children of 12 Std need to be guided to the right profession; and not allowed to choose one based on someone's recommendations or based on what they read on the internet. Parents know their children well, and therefore they are the best people to guide them to the right profession." They went on and on.

Now, I couldn't help making murmurs of disapproval. Without sounding crass or cut-and-dried, I gently suggested to them that though it was the duty of the parents to guide their children through the right path and give all support they need; after all, it's the children's career and life, and it should be left to them to take the final call.

Soon it emerged that the parents were opting the doctor's profession not just because Sangeetha was good in biology, but it was as a safe choice (for the parents), and given her academic brilliance, it almost looked as if Sangeetha's career in the medical profession will be stellar success.

There might be good career prospects in design and arts, they agreed with me. But why take the risk, why mess with life?, so went their argument.

I felt a bit sad, when a little later Sangeetha told me (without her parents hearing) that she would pursue medicine, because that is what her parents want. "After all, they have to support me in my education; it's not practical to rebel against them, when I am dependent on them."

She will soon be writing entrance examinations to medical colleges around the country. Knowing her, I am pretty sure that she will pass with good marks, and ultimately choose a good college (on suggestions from her parents, rather than anyone else), and do well in the medical course too.

However, I wonder if she is making the right choice. Should she pursue her passion or merely follow what her parents want her to do?

How will it all pan out for her when she is done with academics, and steps out into the real, hard world of patients, doctors and hospitals? That's the time your passion will be the only driving force. At that time, will the dormant interest for design and arts rear its head and spoil the chances for Sangeetha?

I don't know.

As of now, I can only wish her well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review - Kashmir: The Unwritten History by Christopher Snedden


Kashmir: The Unwritten History
I have for long been wanting to read this book, since Kashmir issue has intrigued me.

While many divisive problems around the world have either been resolved or are slowly inching towards a solution, this has defied one. Every time someone makes an attempt, ironically, it only seems to get worse.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is not sure of what the Kashmir problem is all about, especially its genesis.

The author, an Australian politico-socio researcher, provides an alternative history of the region.

For example, what is popularly known in India and Pakistan is that it's the raid of Kashmir by Pashtoon tribesmen from Pakistan, immediately after Independence, that forced the Maharaja to join India. But Snedden, with extensive documentation, says there was already widespread discontent in Poonch and Mirpur against the Maharaja.

He also talks about the communal polarisation in areas like Jammu and Poonch.

Besides the anti-British struggle for India's Independence, there was a parallel anti-Maharaja agitation for Kashmir's independence spurred by the sense of Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri pride).

Add to these, the creation of Azad Kashmir.

Given these and many other complex ground realities across the province (a lot of them, not widely known, which the author elucidates very clearly and elaborately), the decision for the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority province (to join India or Pakistan) wasn't an easy one. He dithered and dithered; until he had to take a decision, to join India, in October 1947.

This book probably has the most number of appendixes: the entire second half of the book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

An afternoon of food, books and friends

I am part of a Facebook group of bibliophiles. When I saw a post a week ago, about plans for a get together, I had mixed thoughts running through my mind.

Images of striking up conversations with, and getting to know people with whom I had interacted only online, began flashing. That's exciting for me. Moreover, I have always felt that bonding with people having common interests is easier, than randomly saying Hi to a stranger and striking up a conversation.

But another thought seemed to be weighing me down. After all, they are strangers. Nowhere it's said bibliophiles are also the most affable human beings on earth. (In fact, I know some with airs of huge diameter around them, and attitudes that poke you everywhere.)

Fighting off skepticism, and with fingers crossed, I replied to the post, telling the organizer to count me in.

On the appointed day, yesterday; a few minutes after the appointed hour of 12.30 pm, I landed up at Toit, a popular joint on 100 ft Road in Indiranagar. As I reached the 2nd floor, I was guided to the far corner, where tables had been booked.

I was neither the first to arrive nor the last. But the body language of the few who were already seated seemed to convey the impression that they knew me or recognized me (obviously via the FB profile photo.) Broad smiles, shake of hands, and self-introductions. As everyone else trouped in, the protocol carried on for a few more minutes.

We took out the books we had brought for either exchange or giveaway, and spread them on the table. The focus quickly shifted to that as each one of us lounged forward to pick them up, flipped pages and exchanged notes. Ice had broken even before we realised. Comments about how possessive we are about our books ... jokes and banter ...

Before landing up there, I had thought no one would find me interesting to talk to, and I would myself be struggling to make conversations with strangers. (My social skills are pretty bad.) I was completely wrong. We found many topics (besides books) to talk about. In fact, I was talking so much, I wasn't eating; so had to shut up and focus on food.

The best part, some of them were friends of my friends -- two of them are good friends of my ex-colleague; and the cousin of another is married to my schoolmate and family friend. What a pleasant surprise!

As the drinks arrived - from water to cocktails to beer - the conversation centred around how Indian and western cultures look at drinks... And, when the food - broccoli, pasta, pizza, burger etc - started landing up, the focus shifted to vegetarian vs non-vegetarian. How beef is Kerala's "favorite food", and what would happen if it were banned in Kerala.

Meanwhile, I realised quite late that it had been raining cats and dogs. A gentle reminder was the few drops, which found the gaps in the ceiling, falling on me. O, by the way, toit in French is roof.

At the end of it all, around 4 pm, the most remarkable takeaway was the bonhomie: I didn't feel anyone was a stranger. The only flipside, if there was one, was that the seating arrangement at the corner didn't make it quite comfortable for all of us to move around and mingle with one another as much as we would have wanted to. But we all had resolved to catch up, and keep in touch.

As the evening gave way to night, my Facebook notification pings wouldn't stop buzzing, with friend requests, posts and comments in the group.

So long. ... The buzz now is that the next meet-up will be a potluck party.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trials and tribulations of life

Life takes its own twists and turns. Not everything is in our control. Probably, very few things are in our control.

For some, life is a steady journey, with not many ups and downs. But not all are so lucky.

But irrespective of how big each one's ups and downs are, for each one of us, the hardships we endure are very severe, and challenging. As they say, everyone bears his own cross.

I chanced upon this blog piece on NDTV - My Mother Doesn't Know My Name Anymore - by the familiar news anchor and reporter Um-E-Kulsoom.

It made painful reading. It must have taken enormous effort and courage to share the trauma. One can imagine the pain and hardship they all must have gone through. Hats off to their courage with which they have faced it all.

I was also reminded of similar instances.

Here's one of them.

It would be unfair to wish for a problem-free life. So, The least we can do is to face the challenges life throws at us with equanimity.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review - How Google Works by Eric Schmidt

How Google Works
Just in case you think this book is all about geeky software jargon on how Google works, it's not.

The book by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman, and Jonathan Rosenberg, the adviser to CEO Larry Page, is a gripping, well-structured, description of the core principles that underline the work ethics of the company. The authors were CEO and senior vice president during Google's formative years.

Don't expect an objective assessment of Google as a company, because the authors are still employees!

The book is about the legendary transformation of a startup to a mega multinational. After reading it, I am not surprised that Google is what it is: one of the most successful and employee-friendly IT companies.

The book talks about what type of workers the company employs, how some of the most acclaimed products were born, how major crises were resolved, etc.

Google must be one of the unique places to work in: where almost everything is done differently -- order and perfection are looked at with worry and disappointment, chaos is welcomed, failure is not frowned upon, the dress code is: 'wear something', employees can work on bizarre ideas that they come up with during their off-duty hours, they can continue to pursue a project even if the bosses have rubbished it, the usefulness of a new product to the customer takes precedence over any discussion about the money it will bring to the company, etc.

It's a book worth reading, at least to know that there are ways of working, different from the ones practised by most firms, and such unconventional methods can also be successful.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Review - Saville - The Beast: The Inside Story of the Greatest Scandal in TV History by John McShane

Saville - The Beast: The Inside Story of the Greatest Scandal in TV History (Large Print 16pt)
I grew up listening to the BBC. I still do. Don't exactly remember Jimmy Saville's shows, though I have heard recordings later. But I do remember those of Dave Lee Travis. I was a regular listener of his A Jolly Good Show.

Jimmy Savile was a famous radio host, largehearted philanthropist, and well connected to big names. But the seedy side of his personality, remained hidden all through his life. Only after his death hundreds of women, now in 50s and 60s have come out in the open recalling how Uncle Jimmy molested or actually sexually assaulted them.

One aspect is the horrendous crime. But the intriguing aspect is, how Savile and many others got away with it for so many years. In fact, it looks like he had to die for his victims to even make anonymous claims. And all that took place on the most revered BBC premises.

The book would have made better reading if the accounts of victims were interspersed with better insights into the social mores prevailing in those days, and what held back so many hundreds of victims from speaking out. Also, some more details on BBC of those days, which didn't do anything, though many people there knew about it.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review - 2014: The Election That Changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai

2014: The Election That Changed India
If you need an introduction to the recent political history of India, then read this book. Good reportage by Rajdeep. Easy read. No heavy political analyses.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Online liberty and tolerance

Section 66A of the IT Act has been struck down. But does it mean that people can make objectionable comments and get away with it?

There are sections in IPC like 153, 153A, 504, 506 etc which have been invoked in the past, and will continue to be invoked in the future too.

What has been struck down is only a section that was introduced specifically mentioning electronic communication.

Since more communication today happens online rather than offline, undoubtedly we need clear idea of what is okay and what is not okay.

NEW AGE DILEMMA

I remember being told when I was a child how I should be careful while talking when elders are around. That's no longer the case now. The new generation particularly is very outspoken. However, not all their comments are objectionable.

Very often, what we see online is only an extension of what we see offline, probably a bit more as the virtual setting works as an incentive to open the minds out.

Free expression of thoughts, ideas, comments, suggestions, criticisms, alternative ways of approaching issues and problems should be seen as healthy rather than objectionable. They might look on the face of it cut-and-dried or irreverent or sometimes even outrageous. But as long as the intentions are good, it should be okay.

What should actually be seen as objectionable and clamped down strictly are incitement to violence, hatred, enmity among sections of people, statements that are coloured and discriminatory from the point of view of caste, religion, gender, language etc. made to show sections of people in poor light etc.

NEED FOR PRUDENCE

We may all have the freedom to speak out our minds. But we should also be mature enough to exercise discretion and ensure that we speak the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner.

All of us do that in our daily lives. So many times we would have decided not to say something to someone at a particular time in a particular place, because we thought it was inappropriate. So exercise of such prudence and discretion is nothing new or unusual.

On the internet many of us tend to get carried away because we are physically way from the real world. In one way that is good, because some fresh, original thoughts flow out of our minds. At the other end, when we see such postings and comments, we need to understand that these are unfettered, true feelings of people. We need to acknowledge the genuineness behind the thoughts.

As we see more free expressions of thoughts, parallely we also need to develop greater amounts of tolerance. They are interlinked.

Sometimes I see people who actively support free speech are highly intolerant when other people exercise their right to free speech. That won't do.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Advance Reservation Period -- How early can you book a train ticket

Which is the farthest date you can book a train ticket for, is a common doubt people have especially during the holiday season. All of us want to be right there at the virtual ticket counter when the window opens at 8 am.

The most important thing to remember is -- what matters is not the date on which you begin your travel. What is counted is the date on which the train begins its travel.

Even the railway website is not clear on this important point, though regular travellers, especially who board a long-distance train midway, might be aware of this.

Probably because it depends on the date on which the chart is prepared, at the station where the train originates.

Anyway, I discovered this by chance, when I saw that I could book for one train but not for another on the same day. Thought, I must share this, for people who might not be aware.

Here is an example.

The farthest date for which you can book today (March 19), is May 18. (Currently it's 60 days in advance, but from April 1, it will be 120 days in advance.)

Assume you are booking a ticket from Bhopal to Thiruvananthapuram for May 20.

There are two trains available on that day -- Himsagar Express and Kerala Express.  But you will find that you are able to book a ticket in Himsagar Express for May 20, but you can't for Kerala Express for the same date. (The booking should be possible only for up to May 18, and at first look it might look strange why it's possible to book for May 20.)

My guess is (there is no one to confirm officially), this is because, Himsagar Express begins its journey from Jammu on May 18, and reaches Bhopal on the Day 3, that is May 20.

On the other hand, Kerala Express begins journey from Delhi and reaches Bhopal on the same day.

So, you can book in Himsagar Express for May 20, but the farthest date for which you can book for Kerala Express is May 18.

So, so if you are looking to be at the virtual ticketing counter right on the day the Advance Booking Period commences, (now 60 days in advance, from April 1 it will be 120 days), check if you are boarding the train on the same day as it leaves originating station or on Day 2 or 3.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

RIP, Vinod Mehta

The news of Vinod Mehta's passing away today was a shock. In many ways he was one-of-a-kind journalist.

My friends who have worked with him have spoken about his unique way of approaching news stories. A rare journalist, he started off his career as an editor, an editor who only looked for the merits in a story, and not whom it will hurt and whom it will please.

He had a down-to-earth, straightforward, simple way of arguing out his points of view. There were no complicated intellectual theories or roundabout deductions. No surprise, his pieces were a treat to read.

He had golden hands that made the publications he touched sparkle. He relaunched Debonair when he was just 32. There was no looking back.

He infused fresh ideas into newspaper reportage and design, as he launched the Sunday Observer, India's first weekly newspaper. Some of the design elements that he used (might have been borrowed from foreign newspapers) in Sunday Observer were a first in India and are still being used in all newspapers.

Two examples: One, on the front page, the rectangular boxes you see below the masthead (name of the paper) containing pointers to inside page news articles; and two, "briefly" group of news summary in the first column.

Then followed the Indian Post, the Independent and the Pioneer (relaunch). His policy of seeing news as only news, not bothering about whether it hurt or pleased anyone, brought him into conflict with not only political powers but also other editors and proprietors. His stints in none of the newspapers lasted long.

He launched Outlook weekly in 1995. Till then we all had only one India Today (which was a fortnightly) to look forward to as a current affairs news magazine. The fact that India Today was forced to become a weekly sums up the impact Outlook had. The newbie reflected Vinod Mehta's way of doing journalism, and quickly gained popularity.

Another remarkable feature he introduced in the Outlook was in the Letters to the Editor column. Letters critical of him and the magazine were highlighted with a boxed display, sometimes even with a cartoon. A very unusual tack for any publication to take -- the general tendency is to trash or underplay views of readers who don't agree with the editor or the line the publication has taken.

His Delhi Diary column on the last page of the Outlook was very popular.

Indian journalism will miss Vinod Mehta. Rest in Peace.

Some of the tributes:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

India's Daughter -- ban, revulsion and hope

It has now been conclusively proved that banning anything that can be online simply doesn't work. I am still clueless why the film -- India's Daughter, produced by Leslee Udwin for the BBC -- has been banned.

Is it because the government was angry that a foreign film producer managed to interview a convict on death row inside the Tihar Jail? If it was against law, no one knows who gave the permission and how the crew pulled it off.

I am told one reason for the ban is that the government couldn't allow a foreigner to “defame India and show Indian culture in poor light”. I doubt if there is a more lame excuse. What about the litany of crimes, of all varieties, that happen all cross the country every day? Aren't we shamed already? Is India in a cocoon that prevents the rest of the world from knowing what's happening in our country, so much so that there had to be a Leslee Udwin film to do all the damage to our culture?

Instead of banning the movie, every one from Narendra Modi downwards should watch it. Praise it or trash it – there's no rule that every one should praise the movie -- but why ban it?

Whether you agree or not with the way Udwin has made the film, it's indisputable that the documentary deals comprehensively with a very serious social malaise. The reasons for rape put forward by perverts are nothing new. But the normality of such people, showing no sign of remorse, while they justify their macabre deeds is numbing, to say the least.

One big shocker in the film are the views of the two defence lawyers. One of them likens girls to diamonds, which if left on the street would be taken away by dogs. Another says women are like flowers and they should choose be in the gutter or be in a temple to adorn a deity.

The brouhaha over the movie will die soon. But is there any way forward, to stem the slide?

My thoughts are oscillating between cynicism and hope.

The malaise is a deep-rooted one with its tentacles extending in multiple directions. Gender relations isn't so simple, and no such social problem has a ready-made or tailor-made solution. At the heart of it, is the way a man behaves with a woman. And, there are any number of influences: education, upbringing, surroundings, behaviour of friends and elders including parents, financial and living standards etc.

But I am just hoping, as awareness spreads, there will be a change, for the better. And, let that be sooner than later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Careers in Social Media

I attended the Careers in Social Media session at the Social Media Week in Bengaluru today. The main reason I went for it was that I am frequently asked by youngsters, what jobs they can hope to get in online media.

Here below are some of the points I gleaned from the talks by the members of the panel and answers they gave to the questions from the audience.

Types of jobs

There are three types: Creative, Communicative, Analytic.
Creative jobs have got to do with design and visual appeal.
Communication refers to textual content.
Analytical jobs are about crunching numbers and analyzing them.

How do you know you will fit into this type of job?

Ask yourself if you have a passion for working on these lines. You should be comfortable with online social media. May be you should intern in one of the companies and check out if the job excites you.

What does the job involve?

It's about managing a company's social media presence. The generic designation is Social Media Manager or Director, who has a team that looks into various aspects of how business is publicized through social media, and how people respond to it.

What qualifications should an aspirant have?

A good knowledge of the domain area. If you are into creating textual content, then you should have good command over the language. A formal degree would no doubt add value; but what will matter is not the degree but how good are you at work.

How big is the demand?

Social media management is still evolving. The requirements of different companies are different. But the fact is that all companies are trying to scale up their social media presence. And, all of them are looking for competent hands. There is lot of opportunity out there. There is a huge demand.

How does one look for jobs?

Make sure you yourself have a good social media presence. Lot of recruitment nowadays take place via LinkedIn and Twitter.
Update your LinkedIn profile, with lot of details of what you do. Use the right key words, so that your profile shows up during search.

How good is the pay?

It's getting better and better. Right now, there are people who have been hired for around Rs 3 lakh. However, pay varies from company to company, and depends on what job you are actually doing. In about 3 years time, Social Media Managers can hope to be on a par with software programmers. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vanishing ballpoint pen refills

You don't get them in most stationery stops.

"That's weird," my friend exclaimed, when I told her about it. "Students still use pens, so you should get it everywhere no?"

Though near the place where I stay, there is a well-known college and a school, the stationery shops there don't sell them.


Lack of replacement refills has led to accumulation of unusable ballpoint pens in my house.

So, today I took them all to the Supreme store near Ulsoor bus stand. The shop is popular as they sell stationery and binding material at very affordable rates.

But, even he has only refills for Reynolds.

I asked my friend's question to the shopkeeper. This is what he said, "When there are cheap use-and-throw pens, no student will bother to go around hunting for refills. And many college students use Gel pens."

These one-time-use ball pens come for as cheap as Rs 3. And if you buy in bulk, you get it cheaper. These may not be stylish, but they are good, and serves the purpose.

So, no surprise it's very difficult to get ballpoint pen refills.

The flip side of use-and-throw pens is environmental degradation. But when did anyone put ecology ahead of convenience?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review - Steve Jobs: an Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs: an Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson is a well-researched life history of a rare icon of the software industry. The author has interviewed hundreds of people -- ranging from Jobs' relatives and friends, to colleagues and competitors -- for this book, and not surprisingly the book has lots of details about Jobs: the person and entrepreneur.

My knowledge of Jobs was all picked up at random from articles on him, especially a surfeit of them that appeared when he passed away four years ago. But nothing to beat this book in terms of the depth of details.

The book is worth reading because of the innumerable anecdotes and quotes that reveal who the real Steve Jobs was.

I found Jobs a paradox. Because, he had traits that were quite conflicting. He had plenty of negative habits in his personality, that we all associate with sure disaster. But probably because of the strength of his positives, Jobs was able to not only get away with all that, but even reach commanding levels of success.

In many ways, Jobs isn't the typical role model. Rarely showered, and had a strange belief that if you are a vegetarian the body kept itself clean. He had erratic food habits -- sometimes he starved himself, sometimes he indulged in a few chosen food which he abandoned altogether later.

He had a fiery and unpredictable temper; and was very bad at managing people. Very often he was curt and rude. He could easily make people dislike him rather than like him. He curtly rejected new ideas for no rhyme or reason, but accepted them later when it came from someone else. Worse, he sometimes appropriated as his own, some ideas of others.

What made him successful in spite of all these, was his sharp focus and determination to achieve his goals. He wanted his creations to be different, and he was obsessed with details, with a sharp eye for design.

He was a shrewd businessman, and knew which side of the bread was buttered. He was fiercely protective of his products which he wanted to look good as much as efficient. He had near contempt for anything other than Apple. He wanted the users of his products to get everything from the Apple ecosystem. He hated to let anyone else in to the Apple Store.

Jobs differed with Microsoft's route of licensing Windows. He also had contempt and strong hatred for Google's philosophy of open source. That in fact laid the groundwork for one of the most intensely fought software battles. The world is divided on those lines: to be open and accessible to everyone, or be protective, exclusive and privileged.

The book also deals at length with Jobs's struggle with cancer. Even while he was losing the battle there was only one thing that brought a sparkle in his eyes: Apple.

Jobs was a completely complex personality. Definitely one of a kind. He knew often he wasn't being fair in the way he was dealing with people but he didn't know any other way to deal with people.

But at the end of it all, he created products that achieved cult status, products that dramatically changed the way people read books, listened to music, communicated with each other.

Isn't that a great legacy?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AAP landslide victory: random thoughts

Surely even Arvind Kejriwal and AAP supporters never thought they would win all but 3 seats in the Assembly. That's almost 96% of seats. Is that a record for any election in India? Remember, AAP didn't win a single seat in Delhi in the Lok Sabha elections.

This is what the voters said: "Dear Aravind, you asked us to pardon you. We have done that. You said we didn't give you a clear mandate, last time. We have given you that now. Let's see how you deliver on your promises."

Kiran Bedi and BJP leadership in no small way contributed to the party's rout. She was crticising BJP and Modi till a few months ago. She walks in to that same party, heaps platitudes on the party and Modi; and gets anointed as the party's chief ministerial candidate. Huge goof-up by party leadership.

This is not the first time voters have spoken decisively. In 1977, Indira Gandhi was swept out of power, and totally untested Janata Party came to power. When people saw that the alternative simply didn't work out, in the first available chance, in 1980, they voted her back to government.

Another example is the defeat of the urban-centric trio of Atal Behari Vajpayee at the Centre, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and S M Krishna in Karnataka in 2004. Anyone following the media -- that was bristling with the India Shining campaign -- would have felt that these three would easily come back. But it was not so.

Even now, the voters have said that they know clearly the difference between Central government and State government. Many, especially the BJP thought that having won the Lok Sabha election, it should be a cakewalk in Delhi. Complacency has done them in.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review - Adultery by Paulo Coelho

Adultery
The book is about Linda, a 20-something journalist, who is extremely successful in her career. She has a loving and caring husband and two children. But deep within her, she has a very unsettling void. The fissure is filled by images of a steamy relationship in college days. She goes chasing those images, which only drives her crazy, forces her to do weird, immoral and at times illegal things.

The theme is indeed adultery, and the narrative has a few graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. But it's not just about that. It's also about peace, love, happiness and contentment. Or, rather the lack of them. She is on a journey trying to find out why she is feeling let down by herself.

This is the second book of Coelho I am reading. The first one being the much-acclaimed Alchemist. This doesn't fall in that league at all. This easy-read book is not a classic either. It's all about Linda's introspective conversations, and her interactions with friend and her husband. The book captures a widespread reality. But only Linda's emotions are described in great detail. So you get a feeling that it's all from her perspective. I felt that the book fell just short of making an emotional impact.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Serendipity of a musical kind

I was in a train travelling from Kozhikode to Mangalore today morning. I was lying down on the upper berth. Just when the train was pulling into the station, I was struck by a very rhythmic music. I looked around to see who was playing it. In fact, instead of getting irritated, I was only getting more curious.

Soon, I found that a boy aged around 5 on the upper berth beside mine playing it on a mobile phone. He was blissfully enjoying it and playing it over and over. I sat up to see what it was. It was an animation clip. The music was so captivating; but I had no clue to what it was.

Just when I was about to ask him about it, his parents began scrambling the luggage, and the boy was summoned down. He was carefully descending the steps from the upper berth. Later, he began talking to his mother even while keeping that music on. There was no way I could interrupt them with my question. That would have been very odd.

I was reminded of a similar incident many years ago. When I had gone to a mobile store, I heard a very nice Tamil song. I asked the person who was playing it what song was it. He said it was some Tamil song; and he wasn't quite sure of the first line either nor the movie.

I never heard that song anywhere else; and it was lost forever.

Today, I didn't want to make that mistake. So, I quickly took out my mobile phone and recorded a small clip of it, so that I could play it to someone who could then tell me what song that was.

At my friend's house, later in the day, I played the music; and she knew what it was. "It's Cleopatra Stratan's famous Zunea-Zunea."

Here's the original song from YouTube.

Here is a Wikipedia entry on Cleopatra Stratan.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

House for Rema - Sainik School Alumni Social Project

Rema being interviewed
Destiny is not just about misfortune. It can also be about good tidings. Rema, a young budding poet in a remote Pallikkar village in Payyoli of Kozhikode district, knows.

For this youngest of seven siblings, first, it was misery in the form of family squabbles, physical infirmity and emotional trauma. All of that ended in she and her TB-inflicted father being reduced to a nerve-racking state, and forced to live in a shed on a piece of land susceptible to waterlogging.

The Malabar chapter of my (Sainik School, Kazhakootam) alumni association got to know of her plight from media reports, and drew up a plan to build a House for Rema, as its second Social Project. The first project was a free medical camp conducted by all the doctor-alumni from in and around Kozhikode, a few months ago.

The House for Rema
The House for Rema project was taken up in May last year. After surmounting innumerable hurdles of different kinds during the next eight months, the house, the dream the talented young girl nurturned for many years, was ready for occupation.

Hari Ashwin handing over key
to Rema. Behind to the left
is Mr Poonacha and to the
right Capt Ramesh Babu.
She took possession of it at a simple ceremony today evening. The key was handed over to her by Hari Ashwin, a 6th standard student of Sainik School. He was there for Christmas vacation. There was a crowd of around 250 people, including 23 old students, five current cadets, and former Geography teacher Mr M K Poonacha who as the chief guest unveiled the plaque. Rema acknowledged the effort by reciting a poem, that moved many to tears. The entire project was driven by a group of alumni led by Capt Ramesh Babu.

We may not be able to help each and every needy person. But all of us can make some effort, in our own way, to help some people.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year To Do List

The first day of another new year. Woke up around 7 am to a strange sound. Rain? Looked out through the window. Indeed it was the pitter patter of the rain drops. Very unlikely on a New Year Day.

Last year was a significant one. I changed my job. This year too will be momentous. Because I will pass a milestone in my life. More about that some other day.

New Year resolutions? No. Never believed in them. I think in school, I used to have them. But they never worked out. Probable reason: they were decisions I was forcing myself to take because it was January 1. So, no ambitious goals. I am restricting myself to small tasks. I have made a list of things to do in 2015. Easier to keep track, accomplish and feel gratified. What are they? That will be the subject of my end-of-year post.