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 na├»ve 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.