Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dear father, you will be remembered forever

It's a month since my father passed away. I am still coming to terms with his absence. This, in spite of the fact that he was very realistic and practical about what he could and he could not do.

During the last few months he had virtually signed off from all activities, and even spoke about his departure; going as far as telling us that he might not survive October.

Probably, thanks to the strong value systems he practised, and the strength of his mind and intellect, he was up and about, albeit with support, till the very last day. He passed away in sleep around 3.30 am, on November 29.

36 years of teaching

My father, N. Balakrishnan Nair -- or NBN as he was fondly referred to in Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram, where he taught for 28 years -- was born in North Parur, Ernakulam, on October 22, 1929.

He did his primary and secondary school education in North Parur, and completed his Intermediate and B.Sc. from University College, Thiruvananthapuram from 1943 to 1947.

He worked as lab chemist in FACT Aluva, Ernakulam, from 1947 to 49; and did MSc in Chemistry from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, from 1949 to 1951. From 1951 to 59, he worked as a lecturer in Chemistry in NSSH College, Changanessery, Kottayam. From 1959 to 1962, he worked as a junior scientist in Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs in Delhi and Chenganoor, Alappuzha.

His stint in Sainik School was the longest: from Feb 14, 1962 to April 14, 1990. Post retirement, from 1990 to 1996, he worked part time as a volunteer in two orphanages near North Parur teaching children craft work.

A role model, father figure

For my father, students were the first priority. He used to say that it is the duty of teachers to be as helpful to students as possible. Because of his sincerity, commitment, and patience, he was a favourite of his students.

In Sainik School, which is a boarding school, where children join at the age of 11 and leave at the age of 18, he was a guide, mentor, and a father figure. Children always felt comfortable to approach him, confide in him and seek solutions to their issues. They looked up to him as a role model.

The Chemistry laboratory

He loved being in the Chemistry laboratory. Thanks to him, children right from the age of 11, when they were in sixth standard, got laboratory hour during the Chemistry classes. Each student had his own table, with all equipment and solutions for himself. Father used to say no student should have to borrow even a match stick from another student. From learning how to light a Bunsen Burner oneself at the age 11 to doing complicated salt analyses at the age of 18: children did them all themselves. Probably in no other school, students get to work in a chemistry laboratory for seven long years at a stretch during their schooling.


He was extremely humble, and always remained in the background. When students expressed gratitude for the help he had rendered, he used to say, good students make good teachers; all the credit should go to the students and not to him.

Alumni association

My father was instrumental in forming the Old Boys Association in Sainik School way back in 1969, when alumni associations and meetups were not much heard of. He wrote letters to former students, buying postal material from his own salary.

Every letter or greeting card sent by students was replied to without fail. He kept a notebook, a despatch register of sorts, in which he entered the name, address and date on which letters were received, and the date on which he replied to them.

His letters are considered a priceless gem, for the thoughts he articulated, and the way he presented them. Many of his students have preserved his reply to their wedding invitations.

Father used to say that a school should never forget its students, and he painstakingly built the OBA, as the alumni group was called. Today it's a very strong and well-networked association of all past students, and contributing in multiple ways to help out other alumni as well as the alma mater. There are innumerable anecdotes on how ex-students have reached out to fellow alumni in times of need.

The very latest is this: a few days ago there was mail in our email group, about a alumnus losing his baggage during a flight, and that he wasn’t getting proper answer from the airlines. Within a few hours of posting the email, another alumnus, a pilot, who saw the mail, worked his contacts, and replied saying the baggage has been found, and that it’s being sent to him. There are so many anecdotes like this.

Lessons in life

Very organised and disciplined in his daily routine, father helped inculcate good value systems in students. We thank him not just for the lessons in Chemistry, but for lessons in life as well. One of his principles was that we must always be ready to make small sacrifices so that we can achieve a larger good, and move forward in life. And he made a number of sacrifices, big and small in his life.

Another of his principles was never to judge people, and he never proclaimed his opinions about anything. He believed in giving every individual her freedom of thought and action, and was he was critical of people, mainly politicians, who insisted what languages children should learn or what dress they should wear, or what food they should eat.

He was very reticent, guarded in speaking out, probably because he himself was very sensitive about what others spoke about him. One must be very careful and think through before expressing our views about something, he used to say.

Busy and active life

He truly believed in the old saying: "Idle mind is a devil's workshop", and made sure that he kept himself occupied always.

He believed that there are four aspects to our being: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual; and it is important for us to pay attention to each of them equally, and keep them strong.

He exercised regularly. He never went to the gym, or went for walk in a park. He practised yoga (mainly breathing and stretching exercises) at home.

Importance of diet

He maintained a very strict diet discipline. He avoided sugar, salt and oil, especially after retirement. His food was mainly made up of an assortment of boiled rice and cut vegetables like bitter gourd and beans.

My father was an admirer of Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 for peace in 1962. The scientist had advocated the power of Vitamin C to increase our immunity and also protect us from diseases. Quite naturally, my father regularly had vitamin and mineral supplements, to make up for the possible shortfall in the normal food.

He read a lot, and was very knowledgeable. One reason students liked his chemistry classes was because, in addition to equations, compounds and chemical reactions, he used to narrate interesting anecdotes related to historical events and personalities.

He was a member of the British Library in Thiruvananthapuram, and he got me also enrolled as a member soon after my 10th standard. Once in a month we used to go the library. This landmark institution in the Kerala capital was shut down in 2008. (British Library, Thiruvananthapuram, to close down, Hope for British Library, Thiruvananthapuram)

Father believed in the need to have engaging hobbies. Solving word and number puzzles like Sudoku was one of them. He learnt Russian, and spent some half an hour reading Russian books. He read some religious text; and kept himself emotionally strong by being realistic and practical about everything that happened around him.

Hobbies should also be something that involves physical work. He played the violin. He knew bookbinding and introduced it as a hobby for the school students. He also made boxes out of discarded paper containers of toothpaste, cereals etc. He gave these boxes to his former students and their family members when they visited them. They are treasured as priceless souvenirs.

After retirement, the time for these activities increased. He devoted some time in the kitchen as well, especially after my mother became too old and weak to cook food and wash vessels. For him, the kitchen came closest to what a laboratory was.

The downslide

The extent and intensity of his activities reduced over a period of time, but he carried on doing most of these till around October-end. The turning point came on October 10 when he lost balance and was about to fall when he bent down to put the violin back in the box. I was around and held him. From then on, he gradually lost confidence, and began to feel weaker and weaker.

But even a day before he passed away, he mustered enough strength to get up and walk up to the dining table to have lunch and dinner on Nov 28. As usual, after dinner, we went up to bathroom, brushed his teeth, and went to bed.

For about a month, his breathing had become a bit laboured, and one could hear him inhale and exhale, often through his mouth. I would ask him if he had any discomfort, and he would say, no nothing. And, in a sense, that sound had become a reassurance of his presence.

Around 3.30 that night, I didn’t hear that familiar breathing sound. I, for moment, thought he might have turned over to one side. But I didn’t want to take a risk, and decided to check on him. There was no response. Life went out of him; very quietly, peacefully.

Dear father, you will be remembered forever. May your soul rest in peace.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000: Could Modi have done it differently?

On November 8, just when a large number of Americans were queuing up to cast their votes in, what would turn out to be a historic presidential election, here in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise and unscheduled appearance on national television at 8 pm, in what would turn out to be a startling economic policy pronouncement that made as much as 86 per cent of India's currency invalid.

His aim was to wipe out the massive amounts of counterfeit banknotes in the denomination of Rs 500 and Rs 1000; and also to render invalid huge stacks of these currency that have been set apart to fuel unlawful practices like street protests, terror activities and corruption.  

Modi, who has survived cataclysmic social upheavals in Gujarat as its chief minister, knows well not only the power of symbolism but also that for anything to have a lasting impact it has to be swift and strong. The November 8 'surgical strike' on people who are wrecking India's economy and financial well-being, fitted well into the Modi style of governance.

The severity of Modi's decision can be gauged from the fact that it took at least one full day for the new economic order to sink in. Almost immediately, the stark reality of what is in every Indian's wallets struck each of them -- invalid Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes and very few valid Rs 100 notes. Indians simply ran out of cash. And, to make it worse, banks and ATMs too ran out of cash. So, Modi's assurance that the invalid notes can be exchanged in banks for new ones amounted to not much.

Today is the ninth day; and instead of things getting better, seemingly it's getting worse. For example, today, the revenue secretary announced that the old notes can be swapped for new ones in banks only up to a maximum of Rs 2,000 per person. It was Rs 4,500. Since many ATMs aren't working, there is no point in depositing in accounts, since the money can't be withdrawn. 

While Prime Minister Modi deserves credit for taking this bold step, the lengthening queues outside banks and ATMs are fueling discontent among people and making both purchases and selling difficult. In short, it's hurting the economy, may be in the short term. But how it will play out in the coming days is not known.

Why Modi is correct

* Corruption is endemic in India. When the going gets tough, reach out for the banknotes, seems to a national mantra. Though it is commonly associated with government-related services, people bribe their way to convenience very often. While in some instances, cash can speed up matters, on other occasions it can mean serious compromise in quality. And, when government services are corrupted, nation's financial health weakens.

* Black money is in plenty. This is a large amount of unaccounted wealth. The beneficiaries are individuals, and groups of people who run organizations. The losers are the country (the government) and institutions, both private and public. Basically Indian financial culture is such that it promotes illegal wealth. For example, people don't mind forgoing the bill in return for a discount. They fake bills and financial agreements to escape tax. Many resort to cash transactions to avoid leaving a trail which would result in payment of tax. Poor people are only too willing to accept wads of currency from political parties who seek their votes. It's a huge ugly mess.

* Fake banknotes in the denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 were so many that banks themselves were dispensing them and honest people too had them in their wallets.

* India has to reduce its dependence on hard cash. There has to be more of cheque or electronic transactions that will leave a trail. Unless people are pushed into it like this, the lethargic, complacent average Indian will not change.

Could this have been done differently?

* The Prime Minister had to make it a surprise announcement, since any inkling of this would have resulted in people turning black money into white, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.

* It was common knowledge that - considering the amount of fake notes in circulation - demonetization was the only option. The most intuitive of the businessmen might have seen this coming, sooner than later.

* While the announcement of demonetization would have had to be a surprise, at the backend the government could have set the stage to minimise the hardship for people. 

* The RBI (Reserve Bank of India, the banking regulator) could have increased the supply of Rs 100 notes and instructed the banks not to put Rs 500 and Rs 1000 back into circulation. Instead new Rs 500 notes could have been put into circulation. It would have been a gradual process, and no one would have found anything amiss there. 

* May be a month into this quiet backend operation, the Prime Minister could have made the announcement of demonetization of the "old" bank notes. This way, while the end objective of curbing black money (it can't wiped out totally) would be achieved, the subtlety of the operation would have ensured that people had minimum inconvenience. 

What is at stake?

* This has both political and economic implications. Modi's advantage is that the opposition is fragmented, rudderless and leaderless. Elections in UP and Punjab could end up as a referendum on Modi's governance.

* Undoubtedly, business across the board has been hit. There isn't any cash around. Many people say this is just a temporary phenomenon. But how things would be dramatically better after a few months is not known.

* Nothing will totally wipe away black money from the economy. It can be reduced to a considerable extent. The government will have to follow this up with raids on tax evaders, bringing them book or even imprison them. Otherwise, this will just go down in history as a political stunt which amounted to nothing but inconvenience to the people.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton: stunning but not surprising

What has happened in the US today is not what was probable but what was possible. Donald Trump had promised a Brexit like outcome and that has come true.

What's stunning is Trump's win rather than Clinton's defeat. But I am not surprised. What has mattered finally is the frustration of the grassroots of the society like middle class and working class with a system that simply didn't work for them.

His win has followed a familiar pattern where anti-establishment forces have prevailed over status quo-ist, and politically correct conformists. We saw that in the Brexit referendum. We saw that in the rise of Narendra Modi and of Arvind Kejriwal; and also of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines.

This is more of Trump's victory than that of the Republican Party, because another reason for the historic result is the yawning gap between political parties and the people.

Trump and Clinton stuck to the script. He blasted the elitist Washington coterie and promised moon to middle class, factory workers, delivery boys and gas station employees. She attacked Trump, focused on women, immigrants and educated elite. Finally his script worked.

The way Trump controversially but steadily worked his way through the primaries to the White House is remarkable. He began as nothing. And as he progressed, no one seemed to like his ways. But he was progressing. That was a reality, which a vast majority of people, and the media, either were blind to, or thought would peter out finally. But that was not to be.

What we now need to see is how far Trump will be able to bring the fractured Republican Party and its supporters together. Because without that unity, he won't be able carry through many of his grandiose plans. Actually he will need to reach out across the aisle as well. There is a limit to how much confrontation can achieve.

The first indications of what the Trump presidency will be came in his acceptance speech. He is doing what inevitably he has to -- sounding Presidential, conciliatory and inclusive.

But still we really don't know what his plans are. He has broken many rules already. So we can expect quite a few out of the box policy plans from him. Exciting days ahead.

Donald Trump's acceptance speech


Hillary Clinton's concession speech


Barack Obama's speech on Trump victory



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Book Review: The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair
It was the catchy title of this book that made me check it out on Kindle Unlimited.

But, even before getting over 25% of the book, I was impressed by a very unlikely aspect of it: there were no typos or grammatical errors. I have spotted many mistakes in e-books even by well-known authors, and I wondered if the physical books too had them, or these errors were there only in the e-version, due to some technical issues. Kudos to the publishers, Readomania!

The book made very easy and good reading. The theme is a socially relevant one. Urban or rural, there are many families that give traditional customs precedence over individual comforts and happiness. "What will people say ... " often determines decisions. This book deals with it at different stages.

The story revolves around the life of Sangita. How much ever we are advanced in terms of money, education or technology, there are many 'Sangitas' around. They are trapped by the diktats of family elders who take false pride in adhering to some age-old customs, at the cost of the happiness and well-being of their own daughters or sisters. Some remain trapped for their entire lives; some manage to escape. The author has done well to not only focus on the life of a Sangita, but also give a positive spin to her story, and debunk a few myths.

The plot is well-structured and the story line generally flows well, though I thought at a few places the author could have detailed the scene a bit more, for emphasis. I shall refrain from mentioning those, lest it will be a spoiler.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Trump should have told Chris Wallace when he was asked if he would accept election result

In the third and last US Presidential debate today early morning, Indian time, I thought Donald Trump performed much better than the previous two debates.

He was calmer, he didn't interrupt Hillary Clinton or the moderator (Chris Wallace) as often he did on the previous two occasions; and he seemed to be more focused and prepared. He seemed to be putting Hillary on the defensive on quite a few occasions.

The Republican presidential hopeful's trump card has always been that Hillary has experience, but it's a bad experience. Another is that Hillary only talks, never does or gets anything done.

Trump has no experience, and, therefore, has no baggage. People who are backing Trump are the ones who are willing to take the gamble to entrust the leadership of the US to someone who is not an original politician; and the hope is that he will fare differently, taking America out of the current problems.

But all the ground Trump seemed to be gaining finally, he lost with one answer: his refusal to say that he will accept the verdict of the election.

It was a very dangerous statement. I am sure Trump and even the audience didn't immediately get the full implications of that. What he said sounded more like what we are used to hearing in nations where democracy hasn't really taken root or in nations ruled authoritarian rulers.

Trump's pronouncement (like a few earlier too) didn't fit into the image of America the world has. In fact, his non-commitment has turned out to be the only real highlight of the debate. The rest of the debate was all on predictable lines.

For the record, here is the transcript of the relevant portions, which I am sure will go down in history.

Chris Wallace: ".... Your running mate Governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely, sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of the selection?"

Trump:  "I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking anything now I will look at it at the time. What I've seen, what I've seen it so bad. First of all the media is so dishonest  ..... "

Wallace: "But, sir."

Trump: " .... We will find out on November eighth but I think they’re going to see through it. ... "

Wallace: "But sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact one of the prides of this country, is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner, not saying that you are necessarily going to be the you loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country, are you saying that you are not prepared now to commit to that principle?"

Trump: "What I'm saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?"

Of course, Trump isn't categorically saying that he won't accept the verdict.

However, he could have said something on these lines:

I am sure I won't have to make a concessions speech because I won't be the loser. It's Hillary who will have to. But since you asked the question, even though it's been a rigged election, I will make the same commitment that I will absolutely accept the result of the election. That's a great American tradition that I will honour.

If Trump had said this, he would have gained a few undecided voters, who knows may be even a few Democrat supporters sitting on the fence. He wouldn't have lost anything. And Wallace wouldn't have had to ask the more pointed supplementary question.

But then, that wouldn't have been Trump -- the aggressive, unpredictable, wildcard politician, who has progressed this far.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Trump dream of mending a broken America

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again
If you have been following Donald Trump's campaign speeches, you wouldn't find anything extraordinarily new in this book. However, the book elaborates on some of the pet themes of this realty mogul and reality star.

Trump's premise is that America resembles a Third World country. Everything is broken. But not beyond repair. And he alone can fix it.

His arguments are superficial; and often unidirectional. On the face of it, some of the things he talks about seem to make sense, but when you are talking of a huge, multicultural nation like the US, its Presidential aspirant can't have blinkers. He needs to have a holistic and a macro view of different aspects of the nation.

Somewhere towards the latter half of the book I began getting the feeling that he has just one solution: create more and more business opportunities for people. So create more and more hotels, resorts, malls etc etc. even if heritage structures or whatever have to be broken down.

That way, he will bring in more jobs, and prosperity. His route to fixing America is only via more and more dollars. Not surprising, because, he is basically a businessman. And, I doubt if he has any interest in or understanding of any other facet of a multicultural society.

At the same time, he says somewhere in the book, that getting rich is no guarantee to becoming happy. He talks of American values, which are not elaborated. And, there is somewhere a disconnect.

The book is more about his dreams, of mending a broken country. But the full, long road map isn't there. Just elect him as the next President of the US. That's all. Leave the rest to him.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton gains from Donald Trump's errors

The expectations ahead of the second US Presidential Debate that took place today was akin to one ahead of soap operas. Much of the blame must be taken by the Republican nominee Donald Trump.

It all began with the 2005 video tape that surfaced on Friday, in which Trump bragged about how his celebrity status allowed him to grope and make other sexual advances to women. That this 11 year-old tape should come to light only a few days before the debate and less than a month ahead of the poll, is more than mere coincidence. Also, it's not the first time presidential candidates have had to face ghosts from the past at the most wrong time. It's politics that a democracy gives room for.

Understandably, there was huge uproar. Trump was forced to apologize. Anyone else would have sought this unseemly distraction to end there. But not Trump. At the end of the apology, he made it plain clear that the topic would be discussed in the coming days, and signed off sounding a bit ominous, see you at Sunday's debate.

Trump then turned his focus on Bill Clinton. He got four women who have accused Bill Clinton of transgressions, on stage before the press, a couple of hours before the debate. And according to Washington Post and NBC News, there was a plan to get the four women to confront Bill just as they were to walk in for the debate. But the whole plan was nixed.

As expected, Trump raised the topic during the debate. but Hillary, who was well prepared, refused to take the bait, and steered clear of this non-topic, and focused on current topics of importance to the public.

Trump had come to the debate so much on the defensive and in negative territory, it was pretty easy game for Hillary. She knew Trump was already messing things up further; and she had to only ensure that she didn't make any mistakes. There was no need for her to push Trump deeper into the mess.

It was a dead pan performance by Hillary. She didn't score any major points; and there were no knockout punches. But thanks to Trump's conduct, Hillary seemed to be the winner today, without making winning strokes.

As I write this, it's the day after in the US; and news is breaking that House Speaker Paul Ryan has declared that he will not support Trump. But he hasn't withdrawn his endorsement. Things are so bad, that running mate Mike Pence has had to declare that he hasn't still quit the race.

Polls are showing that Hillary is gaining now. It will be too difficult for Trump to close the gap or even overtake, unless there is a miracle.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

India avenges terror attacks with surgical strike. Now, what next?

Finally, the long-awaited avenging of the Uri attack has taken place. Remember the the buzz on the social media a few days ago? See my previous post.

The day's excitement, which began with the news that the Prime Minister had cancelled a meeting to discuss the status of the Most Favoured Nation status of Pakistan, has lasted right up to the end of the day.

Instead of the meeting on the MFN status, the PM chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs. At that time it was also announced that there were will be a rare joint press conference by the MoD and MEA. There was immediate speculation on what is going to be announced.

The announcement of the “surgical operation” came at that press briefing by the DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh. (Surgical strike is a military operation aimed at hitting their targets precisely with little or no collateral damage to surrounding areas.) He said that the Indian troops crossed the Line of Control and destroyed several launch pads. Many terrorists died, and there were no casualties on the Indian side. When journalists wanted to ask questions, it was announced that the officials won't take any questions, and the press meet ended.

Officials seem to have briefed journalists off the record; and through the afternoon a number of details of the operation filtered out. At least 38 terrorists were killed. Seven launch pads were destroyed. The troops went up to 6 km inside the Pak-occupied Kashmir. And the operation began around 12.30 am and lated till around 4.30 am. In the night, more details of the operation are emerging.

Pak reaction

Interestingly, Pakistan in its reaction, said the Indian claim was a lie. “There was no surgical strike. It was just a cross-border shelling in which two Pakistani soldiers died,” is the gist of that reaction.

In a way that shows their “guilt”. Because if they didn't have anything to hide, they would have reacted saying, “India, without any provocation crossed the LoC, smashed infrastructure resulting in many deaths.” Nothing of that sort.

In these days of rapid information dissemination, it's difficult to hide anything. And wonder if the people of Pakistan will believe their government's reaction that nothing actually happened.

More surgical strikes?

I don't think there will be any immediate major retaliation by the Pakistan defence forces. Because, Pakistan isn't even saying that India conducted surgical strikes. So, for what should they retaliate?

But Pakistan, terming last night incident as only s cross-border shelling, says they will not brook any further aggression. That is significant. Because, that is like a warning to India. “Once it's okay, We will look the other way. But if you are going to make this a habit, don't think we will keep quiet,” That seems to be what they are meaning.

It will be naive on India's part to assume that Pakistan will not hit back. That is why Indian defence forces are at maximum alert; ready to take on even any surprise retaliation.

The government sources are saying that this will not be a one-off surgical strike. There will be a sustained bid to end the cross-border infiltration and the terror that is flowing into Jammu and Kashmir.

That means there is a change from in our policy from being a passive witness to an active combatant. It is only natural that there is such a change, as the moralistic high ground based on peace hasn't exactly brought about any tranquility at all. It is only being seen as a weakness, and capitalised on.

But in the long run, military strikes can't actually solve any political or social issue. It can neutralize a combative situation, and create a climate for a civilian agreement. That's what Prime Minister Narendra Modi should finally aim at – end this decades-old problem once and for all, using all means, military and civilian.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Presidential debate goes to Hillary

The much-awaited first presidential debate in the 2016 election took place today at the Hofstra University, in New York. It was billed as the most-talked about event. A huge number of people watched the debate. Still no official figures; but some 100 million people are said to have watched it.

How did Hillary Clinton perform

- She was calm and composed.
- Initially she seemed to be on the defensive and having to do lot explaining
- But later she took on an aggressive tone without sounding offensive.
- She effectively and forcefully put her points across
- She never interrupted when Trump or the moderator was speaking
- She presented a pleasant demeanour often smiling
- She was to the point and was very articulate
- She managed to deflect inconvenient questions very effectively.
- At times her confidence was bordering on I-know-it-all sort of counteance.
- She didn't have effective answers to some of the negative images Trump painted about present-day America. There wasn't a clear answer to why things have come to such a pass.

How did Donald Trump perform

- He used well the advantage of his non-politician status, and not having been in any position of power to question Hillary on the ills plaguing the US today.
- He came across as a no-nonsense go-getter whose only agenda is to fix issues.
- He kept talking about having the interest of America uppermost in any policy decision
- He was impatient and looked quite aggressive
- He was constantly interrupting both Hillary and the moderator
- He was seeing everything from trade to tax and diplomacy to terrorism only through the prism of money. He was constantly coming across as a businessman talking.

At the end of it all, I felt Clinton ended ahead of Trump.

There were many interesting quotes. But what I liked the best, came at the fag end.

Donald: She doesn't have the look. She don't have the stamina. .... I don't believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country you need tremendous stamina.

Hillary: Well, as soon as he travels to one hundred and twelve countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, and opening of new opportunities and nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.

NPR has the entire text of the live debate, and the fact-checks.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Did India avenge Uri attack?

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

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

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

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

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

But then why no word on it from Pak side?

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

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

My doubts are:

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

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

Let us wait till something concrete emerges on this.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Donald Trump's immigration policy - Utopian or practical?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

WhatsApp panic over sharing of account info with Facebook

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

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

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

So, why panic and uncheck that box?

Is anything disastrous going to happen?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Talking to myself

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parking fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What Orlando shooting means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How to handle examination-related stress and fear among students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muhammad Ali's India connection


Boxing in my school

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

Rest In Peace, The Greatest

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

Thursday, June 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tony Cozier: the authoritative voice of West Indian cricket

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

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

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

Here is a clipping, via Sound Cloud.


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

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

Tony Cozier's voice will forever resonate in memories.

Rest in Peace. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

More Railway stations get high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity

There are now 15 railways stations in India that have free high speed Wi-Fi connectivity. Interestingly most of them are not the big cities. There is no Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, so far.

Other than Mumbai Central, where the service was inaugurated in January, none of them are very big metros.

After Mumbai Central, the stations which got the service are: Pune, Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Ranchi, Raipur, Vijayawada, Kacheguda, Ernakulum Jn, Vishakhapatnam. From yesterday, people passing through five more stations benefit: Ujjain, Jaipur, Patna, Guwahati and Allahabad.

Google keeps it word

It's interesting to note that Google is, not only focusing on mid-tier cities and towns, but also, more importantly, Google is keeping its word; unlike most pronouncements by the governments and politicians.

The internet major promised in December last year that it will in association with RailTel, the telecommunication wing of the Railways, set up free Wi-Fi in 100 railways stations by the end of the year.

This announcement followed an earlier one in September by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the company's Mountain View headquarters, that the company plans to enable 400 railways stations with free Wi-Fi.

Google now plans to extend the project to cover key suburban Mumbai stations, like Dadar, Bandra Terminus, Churchgate, Thane, Kalyan, Panvel, Vashi, Kurla, Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus, Borivali and a few others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Uber drivers in Austin have to undergo fingerprint verification

A law in Austin, Texas, regulating the way Uber and Lyft cab services are run mandates, inter alia, that drivers have to take a fingerprint-based background verification, and wear 'trade dress'. It was put in place by the City Council in December 2015.

But there has been strong opposition to this strict security measure, from various quarters.

Proposition 1 -- to take down the law -- was put to vote and the results have come in. The people have voted to keep the fingerprint verification.

In response to it, Uber and Lyft have now suspended their services in Austin. Their argument is that their own screening is good enough, and a screening by a governmental agency will only make it harder for part-time drivers to operate.

Though this is a very local development in Austin, it's interesting, especially in India, where Uber services are very popular, though not always without controversies.

Drivers running cabs for Uber have got into many criminal cases, in not only in Bengaluru, Delhi and some other cities of India, but also in many places in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. Though personally, I have never had an issue with a Uber driver, I have heard of people, especially women, having problems.

Secondly, Uber and Lyft had jointly spent $8 million in campaign advertisements urging people to support the proposition (against the law). On the contrary, a group that is opposed to the proposition spent just $100,000.

The results show that the people value their security much more than anything. Expensive advertisements may not really help. When it comes to issues that affect people directly they take independent decisions.

References:

In Forbes, Daily News, TechCrunch

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Celebrating Bengaluru's Namma Metro

The way we (Bengalureans) are celebrating the opening of the full stretch of the East-West corridor just shows how frustrated we are about the traffic. It was inaugurated on March 29, and it was thrown open to the public the next day.

Finally, the bogies are running to packed capacity. Not surprising, considering it runs across around 18 km from one end of the city to the other end, touching key spots like Indiranagar, M G Road, Vidhana Soudha, City Raiway Station etc. It's also proving to be a good feeder service for the Indian Railway and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation,

I only wish the remaining portions of the Phase I are also completed as quickly as possible. The government has said that it will be over by November 1. That would mean the North-South Corridor also be fully functional. And a good segment of the fledgling city will be covered.

Mercifully there are fewer protests against the Metro now, compared to the run-up to the completion of the very first segment from Baiyappanahalli to MG Road, which was inaugurated on October 20, 2011.

After so much dithering and long discussion on the pros and cons of having a metro, the detailed project report was submitted in 2003, work should have begun in 2005, but the final clearance in the form of Union cabinet approval came only in 2006. Then, followed endless protests and court cases. And for the construction of mere 6 km stretch of railway it took five years! Not that it could be done in a jiffy. But lots of time and money was needlessly wasted. Delay means cost escalation.

After the first phase was inaugurated, there was much less protests. Probably, many people understood that the metro is after all good for the people.

But still there are vested and selfish people stalling the project, on some silly issue or the other. Like, who should decide how many trees should be cut.

When we all know that the metro has to come one day or the other, why don't we get the thing up and running fast?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: Beyond Love Lines: Do You Know Jeevan Who Loved Nancy? by Krish

Beyond Love Lines: Do You Know Jeevan Who Loved Nancy?
The disclaimer is that author, Krishna Raj, is my schoolmate. Last month, we had an alumni meet, and during the event, he got a few copies; and all of them were sold out among the alumni.

The book revolves around the life of Jeevan, who had a crush on his neighbour and childhood friend Nancy. But he reads too much into every action her or absence of it, and mistakes them as love. There are many other characters too who come into the story.

Half way into the book, I realised how apt the title of the book is. The story is not actually about the love/ infatuation of Jeevan and Nancy. It is all about the militant uprisings in Kashmir and how Jeevan as an officer in the Indian Army deals with it. The entire relationship issues of Jeevan and others are narrated as flashback.

The author has done well weave the plot and many subplots, the present and the past, without confusing the reader too much. Probably, at a few places, the flashback portion could have been separated with asterisks, as has been done in a few other places.

The story also juxtaposes the ironic difficulty of Jeevan to deal with emotional turmoils with the life-threatening situations in the valley to which he squares so boldly and effortlessly. The novel is truly all about love lines and what lies beyond them.

I found the initial portions a bit slow and lumbering. The narrative is a very easy one, without heavy literary expressions or syntax. A good start for Krishna with his first book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, March 28, 2016

The lady and the coin

A few days ago, I wanted an envelope to place a small gift in it and give it to a friend, at a farewell function. So, I went to a nearby gift store to get one.

On my return, after buying the envelope, just as I entered my apartment block, an elderly gentleman asked me which was the exit in the building. No sooner I had pointed at the door than he asked me where he could get an envelope. (It turned out that he too was heading for the same farewell function, and he too needed a gift envelope.) I told him there is a shop behind the apartment complex. And that I am just returning after buying one for myself.

While I walked a few steps towards the exit to show him the direction to the store, he popped a question: "Could you just come with me?"

The gentleman, who must be in his sixties, was very apologetic. I agreed to to go to the shop with him, but I also suggested he could use the envelope I had bought, and that I shall quickly go back to the store and get another one. Why should he walk all the way to the store, I thought.

But he said no, and cheerfully agreed to walk along with me. As we walked, I told me where he had worked in Bengaluru, and asked me where I lived, where I worked, how long I have been in the city etc. We just quickly got to know each other.

Back at the store, I asked the lady at the counter for anther envelope. The lady is the wife of the man owns the shop.

"Give me a simple cover," the man told the lady, who then offered one which cost Rs 3.

Seemingly satisfied, he took out his purse and offered her coins of Rs 2 and Re 1.

However, a few other coins too dropped on the desk, and the woman's eyes fell on a shining one.

"What is that coin?", she asked.

Before he could reply, came another question: "Can I see it?"

A bit taken aback, he put the coin hurriedly back in the purse.

But the woman was insistent and assured him that she won't take it, but only wants to just see it.

Then he took it out and handed it over to her. She examined it.

"Is it a silver coin?" she was curious.

"No, it's an American cent, a penny," he explained.

She didn't seem to have understood. So, I said, "It is a coin of a foreign country, and not ours."

Then in a sudden turn around, she asked, "Can I have it?"

Why she abruptly wanted to own it, I wondered.

I asked her, "I wonder if it's right to ask for something personal from a customer in this manner!"

She then turned a bit apologetic, and reasoned out. "When I go to Rajasthan, I can show my friends the foreign coin."

"But still, isn't it a personal thing?" I asked her.

She then quickly said, "Uncle might have more such coins at home."

The elderly man, probably not wanting to have with him something that someone is longing for, readily parted with the penny, saying there are many more such coins at home, and that his son works in the US.

As we walked back, the incident left both of us thinking why she suddenly wanted to have the coin for herself.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It is back to cloth bags

No more plastic carry bags in Karnataka. The ban came into force on Monday, March 14.

I am happy that the government is enforcing this rule very strictly, to the extent that corporation officials are visiting shops and confiscating the bags they have. Many shops have put up boards that it's illegal to use plastic bags.

Look at the plastic bags in garbage piles on roadsides. In fact, two years ago, the Supreme Court had urged people to be sympathetic to animals and called for a complete ban on plastic bags, as stray cattle ended up consuming them.

According to the The Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, 15, 000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day, out of which 9, 000 tonnes is collected and processed, but 6, 000 tonnes of plastic waste is not being collected.

Efforts like the recent one, wherein the Union government increased the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 microns to 50 microns, aren't really going to help. The government brought in this change because the thicker bags will be costlier, so that will be a trigger for people to switch to green products. But such efforts aren't going to yield any result. People will just start using the thicker version.

OTHER STATES TOO

In Gurgaon, the municipal corporation is offering discounts for people who shop with cloth bags, under 'Bring your own carry bag' drive.

Two years ago, California became the first state in the US to ban single-use plastic bags as a way to address litter, primarily in waterways.

Punjab and Tripura have banned plastic carry bags.

CLOCK COMES FULL CIRCLE

In a way, the clock has come one full circle. You remember the days when plastic carry bags weren't this popular, and all of us carried cloth bags, before we stepped out to shop?

Then, it was a more organized lifestyle too. No one shopped just because there wasn't anything else to do. Most people shopped because they wanted to buy something, not because they wanted to spent money.

Earlier, many people had a fixed day or a couple of days every week when they made the purchases, and they went prepared for it with a cloth bag. Today, we buy stuff randomly as and when we remember. That could mean shopping on way to office, or way back from office, or at any random time. Needless to say, we wouldn't have a bag to carry stuff back home. And quite naturally, the plastic bag culture set in with our haphazard and erratic shopping culture.

Not all shops have green alternatives, so we have to first remember to have a cloth bag in hand before we step out to the nearby provision store.

Just wondering if the ban will end up in increased online shopping.

Friday, March 11, 2016

DataWind sold more tablets than Samsung in India

DataWind quotes an IDC Report to say that it shipped more tablets in India during the fourth quarter of last year, than its competitors.

As many as 20.7% of the tablets sold in India during that period were by this Canada-based company that makes computer hardware, mainly for emerging markets. It had hit headlines in October 2011, when it manufactured Akash tablets for Government of India priced at just $60, under Rs 3,000 during that time.

According to the report, DataWind was followed by Samsung (15.8%), Micromax (15.5%), Lenovo (13.8%), and iBall (10%).

DataWind quotes another study to say that the company holds 58% market share in the sub-Rs 5,000 tablet segment (approximately $75).

An obviously ebullient Suneet Singh Tuli, president and CEO of DataWind, says the IDC report "demonstrates how our transition to local manufacturing and improvements in our sales channelshas allowed us to meet the phenomenal demand”.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Will you shop online if there are no discounts?

Most of us have shopped online - either on Flipkart or Amazon or Myntra or any other e-commerce site. But why do we shop online? Everyone says it's convenient. But my gut feeling is it's the price factor.

If we plan to buy something, most of us check the online price. The general impression is it's cheap online. Most of us fall for the discount (even if it'sn't very substantial), and click "buy".

Many people buy something online (even if they don't need to buy it) only because they have got a good deal. I know a few friends, who keep looking for them.

After giving lots of discounts, most of these sites, aren't making profits. They are just managing to stay afloat, aided by funds from venture capitalists, who are investing based on extrapolated growth curves.

The moot question is: if the online price is the same as offline, or not considerably less than offline, or if there were no more "daily deals", will people still shop online?

What is your take on this?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Li-Fi: Connect to the Internet using an LED bulb

Imagine an LED bulb doubling up as an access point for connecting to the internet and ordinary light being used as a medium to carry data.

A whole new world wherein a bulb would not only give us light but also help us access the web might not be too far way, if a new technology called Li-Fi (or Light-Fidelity) goes mainstream.

Prof Harald Haas of the University of Edinburgh, who coined the term Li-Fi in 2011, demonstrated the new technology to a packed auditorium at the Wipro’s Electronics City campus on Wednesday. He streamed a video from the internet on a laptop using light from an LED bulb to access the web.

Prof Haas said Li-Fi is a disruptive technology that could transform business models, create new opportunities, and is poised to be a $113 billion industry by 2022.

He said that the RF (radio frequency) spectrum will not be enough considering the rate of growth of wireless data communication. The visible light spectrum is much larger. The use of the light spectrum for Li-Fi overcomes the issues in traditional wireless communication, like the shortage of spectrum and network disruption because of interference.

In Li-Fi, anyone who has access to light can access the internet. The system also allows users to move from one light source to another without losing their network connection. What about connecting to the internet in the night? The stream of photos can be reduced to a minimal level that won’t produce visible light but enough to carry data.

Prof Haas said though Li-Fi was poised to compete with Wi-Fi, it is not meant to replace it. “We are not looking at an either-or situation.”

Though the inability of light rays to pass through walls and similar structures is seen as a major drawback of this technology, Prof Haas has a totally different view. He said it’s an advantage since restriction by walls provides more security to the network and eliminates the risk of the signal leakage to eavesdropping.

The Li-Flame, described as the world's first true Li-Fi system, was displayed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in March last year. The third generation of products have now been developed and will be on display at the MWC later this month.

WHAT IS LI-FI

Light-Fidelity is a new technology that uses light waves, instead of radio frequency waves, as a medium to carry data. An improvised LED bulb functions as a router

HOW DOES LI-FI WORK

  • An ordinary off-the-shelf LED bulb connected to an device, which in turn is connected to the internet.
  • Internet data flows in via the device into the bulb, and is carried by light waves.
  • At the other end, light waves carrying internet data falls on a receiver or a dongle which is connected to the computer.

BENEFITS OF Li-Fi
  • Visible light spectrum is available in plenty, unlicensed and free to use.
  • Double benefit of a bulb giving us light as well as internet access
  • Low interference leads to very high data speed
  • Li-Fi works under water as well
  • Not harmful, unlike RF that can interfere with electronic circuitry
  • Light won’t pass through walls, making eavesdropping nearly impossible
  • LED illumination is already efficient and data transmission needs very little additional power.
  • It can achieve about 1,000 times data density of Wi-Fi, since light can be contained in an area

PROGRESS CARD
  • July 2011: Prof Harald Haas coins Li-Fi at TEDGlobal
  • Jan 2012: PureLifi founded
  • Sept 2013: Launch of first product Li-1st
  • Dec 2014: Second product Li-Flame developed
  • Nov 2015: Prof Haas demonstrates Li-Fi using solar cells at TEDGlobal
  • Dec 2015: Latest product LiFi-X developed