Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Loneliness & communication revolution

No one to talk to?

They are all just a tap (on-the-screen) away, aren't they?

Look at the ease with which we can connect with friends and acquaintances.

There is no need to write letters, go to post office, buy stamps, stick them and post the letters.

No need to even make telephone calls.

There are non-intrusive messages that we can send: long or short or anything in between too.

But are we really making use of these easy communication tools to keep in touch with our friends and relatives?

In WhatsApp groups, I find more of monologues in the form of 'forwards', than conversations.

These groups are like people sitting in the same room. How odd it will be if no one spoke to one another.

Let us make use of technology to initiate conversations, share happiness and sorrows, and exchange views and ideas.

It's not difficult to break free of loneliness.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Hope scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status will usher in a new era there

The right-wing Union government led by BJP's Narendra Modi, today took a hugely important decision regarding the status of one of the most sensitive states in the country, Jammu and Kashmir.

It's a decision that no previous government in the 72 years of independent India has dared to take: to revoke a provision that was incorporated into the Indian constitution in 1954.

That provision, contained in Article 370, conferred on the state a huge amount of autonomy, so much so that the state, unlike the other states of the Indian Union, had its own constitution and its flag. There were also limitations to the applicability of the Indian federal law in the state.

Basically, the provision enabled the state of Jammu and Kashmir to be a part of India but without having to follow all the laws of the Indian government.

WHAT DID THE GOVT DO

Today, the government delivered on its good-old promise, and revoked the provision, stripping the state of the preferred treatment it enjoyed all along, ever since it came into being in the late 1940s.

The government went beyond just that: it split the state into two Union territories: Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature, and Ladakh without a legislature.

A Union Territory is an administrative division of India, wherein the federal government holds a lot of administrative powers, unlike in the case of States which have far more administrative powers.

The sensitivity of this momentous decision can be gauged from the preparations the government did over the past week in J&K. There has been a huge induction of Indian Army troops, yesterday the government snapped all telecommunication networks - landline, mobile and internet - and late last night, it placed major political party leaders of J&K under house arrest; and declared curfew in Kashmir.

Not surprisingly, the government move has set the cat among the pigeons.

THE PROS AND CONS

Three key arguments for keeping the special status

- The provision was part of a solemn guarantee granted to the people of J&K considering the special circumstances surrounding the way the state became a part of the Indian Union, immediately after the British left India in August 1947.

- People and its leaders value the autonomy that came along with the special status, and removing it should have been done only with the concurrence of the people.

- Jammu and Kashmir state is not like any other state in India; it has a different history and that must be taken into account while deciding the policies of the state.

Three key arguments for removing the special status

- The special status created a dichotomous situation wherein J&K, a sensitive border state of India, is a part of Indian Union but had its own administrative and governance mechanism thereby limiting the control of the Indian government -- be it for security or for the development of the state and its people.

- There was a context in which the provisions were incorporated into the Indian constitution. After many decades, those situations have vastly changed, thereby necessitating a new look.

- The autonomy provision was a temporary one incorporated into the constitution with a purpose. It has not been able to bring about peace in Kashmir, and it can be said that the provision has failed to achieve any purpose.

MY TAKE

For me, today's development is just another turning point in the tumultuous journey the state, its polity and people have had for close to 80 years, pre-dating the exit of the British.

What has happened today is only a change in the law; what finally matters is a change in the hearts of the people of the state. How they take the changes remains to be seen.

Hope the new law will help the Union government to bring in the much-needed reforms in the governance of J&K and thereby bring about the required change in the hearts of the people.

We all know that there is tacit support from a section of the people of J&K for the decades-long militancy. Will it end with the development and prosperity of the people? Only if that happens will we be able to say that what the government did today was right.

As of today, we can't totally blame the government for exploring an out-of-box solution to find a way out of the problem that has been simmering for decades, costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

We have to just patiently wait and watch.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Kerala trip - Day 3, 4 - Old Boys Day

July 12-13, 2019

(This post has got delayed, and I have been off Blogger because my laptop wasn't working and it had to be given for repair. It's back in good condition.)

Every year, in July, my alma mater - Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala - celebrates its Old Boys Day. This year, there is an added importance, it's 50 years since the Old Boys Association was founded, in 1969.

For me personally, it's a bit emotional too: the alumni group was founded by my late father, N Balakrishnan Nair, or NBN Sir, as everyone used to call him.

These public schools, which focus on military-style discipline, were started since even after many years after India won independence, there was no pan-Indian representation in the defence forces as a good majority of the soldiers and officers were largely from the north of the country, that too from a few states.

In order to correct the imbalance, the then defence minister V K Krishna Menon came up with the concept of Sainik Schools in every state of the country. Kerala state got its near Kazhakootam, a small town some 25 km north of the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. The primary objective of these schools was to train students to join the defence forces. Though not many of us ended up in the forces, the training we got has always stood us good stead.

My dad was among the first group of teachers who were recruited. After the first batch passed out in 1967, he felt that the school needs to continue its association with the alumni since many of the students would one day reach eminent positions and the school, its staff and students should not squander the opportunity to learn from them. Secondly, the alumni should also have a way of connecting back with their school.

For my father, the OBA Day was a like an annual pilgrimage: he longed to see his students and they longed to see him. Even after retiring from active service in the school, he continued to attend the event, until 2012. I have also been attending the Old Boys Day quite regularly. This year, the event was over two days, because it's the golden jubilee.

On the 12th, among the events were a motorcycle show by an Army team; and a helicopter show by an Indian Air Force team. There was also an impressive rifle drill by an Air Force team and an Army dog show.

That night, we all got together at the Army Officers Institute in Thiruvananthapuram for dinner.

On the 13th, there was a homage to the martyrs, the old boys who laid down their lives in combat; a tribute to the teachers (called Guruvandanam), general body meeting of the Old Boys Association, and lunch.

All these events got dwarfed when compared to the interactions we all -- the alumni -- had with each other, and with our beloved teachers, past and present. Some of the alumni have been very regular at the Old Boys Day but some others have come after many many years. There were some friends whom I met after nearly 10 years.

Altogether it was a very energising couple of days at my alma mater.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Kerala trip - Day 2 - Train timing, friends, relatives

A pleasant surprise early in the morning. The train reached the Kochuveli station, our destination, 25 minutes ahead of time - instead of 6.35 am it arrived at 6.10 am.
Thanks to the transportation requirements of the British Empire, they set up a wonderful railway network in India. It's one of the largest in the world. And running it is a mind-boggling operation.
Trains especially long-distance ones were known to run late. But in the last few years, they have been keeping time, possibly because of advances in technology. But reaching the destination this early was quite a surprise.
That reminds me what a friend once told me about airline timings. I was told, I am not sure if it's true, that the airlines add a few minutes to the expected arrival time at the destination, so that passengers are impressed that they reached their destination ahead of time. Also, just in case there is any unforeseen delay on the part of the airline, passengers won't scream at the airline for wasting their time; because the flight would have still landed on time!
The first engagement of the day was meeting an uncle of mine. He runs a school for autistic children in Thiruvananthapuram, and we met him there this morning.
Now there is a lot of advancement in the way differently-abled children are looked after. I was quite impressed with the thought that has gone behind the way the school has been designed and the various facilities for children. It was such a pleasant sight to see children play with different types of toys, which are designed specially for them.
We then went to meet a cousin of mine and her family. It's nearly two years since we met them last.
Then in the evening, we headed to the Thiruvananthapuram office of the media organisation I work for. I have a good friend there - we were colleagues in another media organisation as well, at the beginning of our careers some 30 years ago. So we ended up chatting about our other friends and some memorable days of yore.
A big surprise was that a colleague of mine here had worked with my wife, again long back at the beginning of their careers some 30 years ago!
Media circle is a small world... You talk to someone and it turns out that he knows a good friend of yours, or he has worked with someone you know.
Though we all could have chatted for hours, we didn't want to cut into their work hours. My and I then went for some shopping, had dinner and headed back home.
It was a day well spent, catching up with relatives and friends.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kerala trip - Day 1 - Train journey

I am in a train along with my wife. We are heading for the annual alumni meet of my alma mater - Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram district, south Kerala.
For my trips to Kerala, often in the past, I have taken the flight, owing to lack of time. It's just about an hour by air from Bengaluru.
But this time, we decided to take the train. It's 15 hours by rail. Since the climate is quite pleasant now, we chose the non-air-conditioned coach.
If I have the time, I always prefer the train to flight. And if the climate is good, nothing like the non-a/c cars. Unlike in a/c coaches, I don't feel claustrophobic.
Open windows that provide unfiltered view of the landscape -- lush greenery, undulating plains, hills and valleys, lakes and rivers. And the cool breeze that blows in makes it all the more worthwhile. The close proximity to nature: It's extremely refreshing.
The sound of the train racing on the tracks provides a sort of feeling of travel or movement. It takes a break only when the train stops at stations: the brief pauses in a journey.
If the halt is for some five minutes or more, it's also a chance to step out, have a look around the place, quickly grab a cup of tea or coffee, and then hop back in when it's time to move.
It's nearing 10.30 pm. Most of the lights in the coach are dimmed, with passengers reclining on their berths for a good night's sleep.
I am posting this via Blogger app. And I can't see an option to post photos, unlike on the website.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Crown, Sports and Blockchain

I took a three-week break from Blogger and visiting other blogs. We all need a break, don't we?

So, what have I been doing? Well, quite a bit.

Watching movies, cricket world cup, reading books, listening to lots of music ...

THE CROWN

Matt Smith as Philip and
Clair Foy as Elizabeth / Netflix
One day I was giving a search on Netflix to see if it has the 1984 British TV Series 'Jewel in the Crown'. It is about the final days of the British reign in India.

I don't think it is available on Netflix. What showed up instead right on top was another British series The Crown.

I have been reading a lot of positive reviews about this epic of sorts, a biopic of Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch.

Without much ado, I began watching it. Soon, my wife joined me; and we have been restraining ourselves from getting into binge watching.
It's addictive, not without reason. Top class acting, direction and photography. At the last count, the film has fetched 15 awards under various heads.

Great performance by Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth and later the queen, Matt Smith as her husband Prince Philip, and Vanessa Kirby as her younger sister Princess Margaret.

We have completed Season 2 Episode 3. The third season, with different actors as Elizabeth and Philip, is to be released later this year. There will be six seasons of 10 episodes each.

It's as much about the queen's life and British politics as much as it is about her sister's. What a contrast between the two siblings!

The innate personalities of the two, how the rigid royal rules come in the way of their personal lives, the role of the monarchy in the evolving world -- it's all portrayed so well and powerfully in the series.

SPORTS

Two weeks of tennis extravaganza / Wimbledon
There is so much happening in the sports arena. Today the third Grand Slam of the year opens at Wimbledon.

While it will be the predictable trio of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafel Nadal in the men's section, it will the new world number 1 Ashleigh Barty who will be the cynosure of all eyes.

Cricket World Cup is inching close to the semifinal stage. India lost for the first time yesterday against England.

Of course, I would like India to bring back the cup, which they have won twice. There will be stiff opposition from England, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan. Let us see how it goes.

BLOCKCHAIN

Blockchain is a new type of internet / Equinix
Blockchain and bitcoin are not the same. Blockchain is like internet and bitcoin is one application like email or Facebook.

I had the good fortune of attending a two-day conference on this fledgeling technology.

It's already working quietly in the background of many services and product companies. But it's yet to take off in a big way.

It is a new way of computing or a new type of internet, wherein participating members of a network communicate to each other rather than via a central authority.

It's like sending an email directly to another person instead of routing it through Google or Microsoft or sending money directly instead of via a bank.

Another property of blockchain is it's immutable - data once approved and sealed, can't be tampered with. In case, someone breaks in, each member of the network gets a notification. This property is finding application in digitizing land records, medical records etc.

The third property of blockchain is what is called the 'power of provenance'. Which means the entire history of all activities is logged in and recorded.

Imagine, when you shop for fruit in a department store, how would you feel if you could scan a barcode and get to know, how was it cultivated, when and where the fruit was harvested, what fertilizers were used, where the commodity was stored, from where was it transported and all such details.

Blockchain is finding applications in many areas, especially in the retail business, empowering customers, and serving to increase the trust people have in the companies and the products they sell.

This news report says the French retailer Carrefour has seen in an increase in the sale of some products after they began using blockchain, customers now trust the products more.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ashleigh Barty, confidence personified

Ashleigh Barty. Photo source: Tennis World
There were plenty of sporting action during the past 10 days that kept me hooked to the television. Besides the French Open tennis championship and the Cricket World Cup, the ones that I was following keenly, there was also the Women's Cricket World Cup and Women's Football World Cup.

The biggest takeaway of the tennis tournament was the astounding display of determination and skill by a lady from Australia, named Ashleigh Barty. She is now ranked number two in the world, just behind the Naomi Osaka.

When the tournament started, not many had Barty as a favourite. But she quietly emerged to be in the reckoning and finally walked away with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

The victory of Barty is not just the triumph of her tennis abilities, but also about her supreme confidence. I was looking at her biodata. She trained from childhood in tennis and did impressively in different matches. She turned professional at 14 and got into the Grand Slam circuit a year later.

She began to make her mark in doubles, and in 2012, at the age of 16, she became the youngest finalist in Australian Open since 2004; and as a team, she and  Casey Dellacqua became the first Australian duo to reach an Australian Open women's doubles finals since 1977.

TENNIS TO CRICKET AND BACK

But the best and the most interesting part of her career graph is that in 2014, she quit tennis and took to cricket, and even played in the league games for Brisbane Heat.

In 2016, she thought she was done with cricket and came back to tennis. The point to be noted here is that it's not easy switching from one game to another like this. In spite of doing that to win a Grand Slam tournament like the French Open is truly an amazing feat! 

CRICKET WORLD CUP

The World Cup cricket is on, and we have seen some very interesting matches. England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies and India are I guess the favourites.

In a bad coincidence, both the Wimbledon final and World Cup cricket final will be on the same day, July 14. Not the first time. Last year, the tennis finale clashed with World Cup football final.

In a big dampener, the matches yesterday and the day before got washed out because of rain. Nothing like bad weather interrupting an interesting match or tournament. Hope the weather over different match venues clear up and we will have interesting matches.