Friday, December 31, 2004

Kollur - the surprise

At Kollur there is a bus stand. Quite a big one, though there aren't many buses. But good planning considering that the number of buses will go up as the temple gains in popularity. The surprise was the immaculately maintained toilets for gents and ladies. It has a 5-star look about it. I was so impressed that I told the man at the counter outside (where he collects Rs 2 per person), "The toilet is maintained very well. Good to see it this way..."

But the man looked the other way. Probably, he thought I was making fun of him. Never any one would have complimented him this way. I persisted and said, "Usually, public toilets are so dirty, it feels so nice to see a place a like this. Who maintains this?"

Then he seemed to realise that I was serious. "Tourism department," he said. But there wasn't anything writtent to indicate that. I then asked him how much should I pay. He said, "People like you who understand ('samachdar log') take care to pay. Many people who come here refuse to pay and I have to fight with them. They should understand that it is their toilet and they have to participate in a small way to keep it clean. I am happy that you understand it..."

Then I said paying is not a problem. It is disgusting when inspite of paying the toilets are poorly maintained. The man was so visibly happy that I made this little comment about cleanliness. After I paid the fare, he thanked me profusely.

Kollur - first impression

May be my expectations were very different. Kollur isn't like Tirumala where you also get breathtaking views of the surrounding scenic beauty. There wasn't also the sort of milling crowd I thought there would be. When we went in for darshan at 9 am there was a long queue of some 200 odd devotees, many of them school children. Within an hour there were just a few dozen people, that we went in again and again for darshan, just going to the nearby temple out here.

The temple may be very old and grand, but the place, Kollur, is the typical small temple village. It's tucked away in a forest at the foothills of Kodachadri and on the banks of Souparnika. Typical old houses, lots of trees, shrubs and herbs. Narrow and undulating roads. In some ways it took me back to my father's home town of North Parur in Ernakulam district. Incidentally, Parur is the only place, other than Kollur, in the country where there is a temple of Mookambika Devi.

This is supposed to be a very old temple. I was told that only recently good guest houses and hotels came up. Until then people used to stay at Udupi or Kondapur and make a trip to Kollur. It is growing in popularity. With more popularity more people may flock in, and there will be chances of the place become dirty. The administration should be alert to that.

Kollur has a special significance for Keralites. The Mookambika Devi is the household deity in many Kerala homes. I don't know if it is because of the association of Adi Shankaracharya of Kaladi with the Kollur temple. Mookambika Devi is supposed to have appeared before Adi Shankara, and he is said to have installed the idol of the goddess.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami - three days hence

Today is the third day after the Black Sunday. The toll is said to be 65,000. When the news of earthquake in Chennai broke on Sunday morning I was busy setting things up for a family function here. And as I am on leave, I had to follow the events on TV, and in between the personal preoccupations. It has been a tale of suffering, still continuing. Some of the films of slamming waves shot by tourists in a hotel in Phuket, Thailand and in Galle, Sri Lanka are just numbing. Tell tale pictures.

Events such as these are no doubut tragic. But for a journalist they are also very challenging part of their work. In that sense, I am missing my newsroom in the office.

I read that the US and Canada have equipment to monitor activities on the sea bed. They had them as early as 1965. Here we are nearly 40 years later, with no such equipment. Today's reports say that India was even offered some of them. Expensive as these equipments are, and occurence of Tsunamis being rare, the Indian government preferred to keep itself busy with other pressing needs. Yesterday, Kapil Sibal was heard saying that the government is now considering to import these equipment. Better late than never.

I am off to Kolur Mookambika temple this evening.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Narasimha Rao's death

Narasimha Rao's death seems to be going almost unnoticed! There aren't many people talking about it. Maybe because he was a PM only for five years, and he was not charismatic.

But, he was
- a non-contender who became PM
- the first non-Congress PM outside Nehru clan to rule for 5 full years
- head of a minority government but managed to last a full term
- bold enough to appoint a technocrat like Manmohan and give him a carte blanche on economic reforms
- one of the few PMs to preside over a momentous time: India's trasition to market economy
- the PM when Babri Masjid was pulled down
- an erudite and scholarly PM unlike other politicians.

His obvious legacy is unshackling of the economy and the benefits of private enterprise that we are enjoying. Some say economic reforms would have happened anyway since its time had come; that it happened not because of Rao. I would disagree. There are many nations around the world which have simply not moved with the times. Kerala is an example where disruptive trade union politics still rules the roost even though socialist nations themselves have bid goodbye to the type of unions we have known.

By the way, this year has seen a number of prominent people passing away:
Suraiya - Jan 31

Kelucharan Mohapatra - April 7
Dom Moraes - June 2
Ronald Reagan - June 5
Yash Johar - June 26
Marlon Brando - July 2
Mehmood - July 24
Nafisa Joseph - July 29
Raja Rammana -Sep 24
Shobha Gurtu - Sep 27
Mulk Raj Anand - Sep 28
Christopher Reeves - Oct 11
Nirupa Roy - Oct 13
Yasser Arafat - Nov 11
M.S. Subbhalaxmi - Dec 11
Narasmimha Rao - Dec 23

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Time's Blog of the Year

Time magazine announces every year "The Person of the Year". This year it also announced "The Blog of the Year". It has gone to Power Line. This is one blog that is trying to challenge the established media like print, radio and TV.

It was Power Line that ended the journalistic career of the celebrated CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather -- who is seen as a survivor of the higest order, having lasted a record 24 years despite repeated attempts to unseat him by people inside and outside CBS.

But one story of Rather -- during the Presidential campaign, -- that questioned Bush's National Guard service during Vietnam war, has proved to be his Nemesis. It was Power Line that reported that some of the documents Rather used to base his story were dubious. It soon snowballed into a controversy.

Yesterday (Tuesday), CBS television and Dan Rather
announced that the anchor will leave CBS on March 9 . That will be 24 years to the day he succeeded the avuncular Walter Cronkite in CBS's anchor chair.

"It's time to move on ... It has been and remains an honor to be welcomed into your home each evening," Rather told viewers of his newscast on Tuesday night. "I thank you for the trust you've given me."

Of course, neither CBS nor Rather say his departure is related to the scandal.

From Outsourcing to Homesourcing

We have had enough of outsourcing, haven't we? Now comes homesourcing. This is catching on the US. What companies are discovering is instead of getting jobs done by Indians, Chinese or whoever, get it done by Americans themselves. But they will work from their homes and not offices.

Which means the person who is going to help you out with your credit card problems or computer malfunctioning may well be in his or her night dress on the bed!

This trend has been reported in a
press release issued by IDC which is a global market intelligence and advisory firm in IT and telecom industries.

Some consolation for Americans who are worried that jobs are going out of the US. Not just the loss of jobs. Outsourcing was at one point some sort of a joke in the US and the UK, since many felt people in Bangalore or Chennai or Mumbai are just not familiar with the US or the UK to help out -- like when British Railways outsourced part of its work to Bangalore. Apparently, following widespread complaints, Dell stopped sending US technical support calls for two of its corporate computer lines to a Bangalore call centre last year.

Proponents of homeshoring or homesourcing say it is in tune with giving more flexibility to workers in the way they do their jobs. They say productivity goes up.

But, I think as long as outsourcing to Bangalore or anywhere makes better economic sense to comapnies, it will stay.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Two lives gone: their Time had come

On Saturday, the 18th, we had this tragic incident of a student of Mount Carmel College being run over and killed on the spot by a truck. It happened as she was crossing the road right outside the college. The incident has focussed attention on the chaotic traffic in Bangalore and the need for regulation that is badly lacking in the city, be it traffic or education or construction of buildings.

Pondering over the tragedy, I realise how each one on Earth has a Time allotted. When the Time comes we go. Whatever we may be doing. It may sound fatalistic. But what else? I was just seeing the multitude of people and vehicles on the road. Life is no normal, is it not?

Just that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

A life gone. For, the Time had come.

Today evening, I heard of another incident. Four boys and four girls of a city college went for a picnic to a place called Chunchi Falls some 120 km from Bangalore. On the top of the hill, one of them slipped and fell down. The place was so remote the others couldn't even call Bangalore for help immediately, even though chances of any rescue were so remote. The place was such that even divers refused to go in, instead they went to the other end, hoping the body will surface there. It did after two days.

He is from Kolkata. His elder sister is mentally challenged, and the family was pinning hopes on this boy. And, he was living up to their expectations -- he was good at studies and among the toppers. His teacher was telling me, he was not the type you expect would get into trouble. She was explaining the complications after the incident, since the police wouldn't rule out that it wasn't an accident. How do we know they weren't drunk? How do we know they didn't have a quarrel and he was pushed? All sorts of questions. And, the worst: why four boys and four girls should go to such a remote place? And the police had to be paid, so that all unnecessary, but very plausible (according to them), angles are not opened and investigated.

And, life goes on doesn't it?

Just that he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another life gone. For, the Time had come.

Technology pangs

A boy of a posh Delhi school shoots on video sexually explicit pictures with a girl-classmate. He sends to a few friends, more as an evidence of his bravado. It later lands up with a IIT student in Kharagpur, in the Delhi market and later on an auction site. All hell breaks loose. The portal is also in trouble, though they say for no reason.

One, this needs to seen more as birth-pangs of technology, than anything else. It should be remembered that it is difficult to send this two-and-a-half minute clip on mobiles. It is a very high-end operation. Let us not get into this impression that such incidents are going to be rampant.

Secondly, and more importantly, we should come to terms with today's information revolution. Shooting of such photos is one thing which should be dealt with separately. The other thing is the availability of such material on mobiles and internet. There are plenty of wallpapers and the like of similar content available for download. There should also a relook on the hauling up of Baazee. There are plenty of porn stuff available for purchase on the net.

Why pick on Internet when similar stuff is available in print and video all over. The unique nature of Internet needs to recognised, especially with regard to the freedom to post information and access them too. That's an advantage, which no mass medium has. India's IT Acts too need to be looked at from this angle.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Stolen foetus found alive

This is truly bizarre. Crime has invaded the womb.

A 23-year-old woman was murdered and her 8-month old female foetus stolen in Missouri. Luckly the baby was found alive and a 36-year-old woman

Friday, December 17, 2004

The smooch debate

Privacy is back in public.

No, there is nothing like privacy in public, so says one section. Yes, even in public there is room for privacy says the other section.

The issue is Mid-Day publishing photos of Shahid and Kareena smooching during a party.
They deny they ever did it, are suing the daily. But the publication stands by the story.

For purposes for debate let us assume the paper is right.

It is really difficult to conceive how a party hall can be a private place. It is public. It's not that the camera had invaded their bedroom or bathroom.

What's newsy in the photo? That's the other question. The word news has a number of definitions. One of them is "an event that is interesting, or attracting the attention of the reader". And, the definition also depends upon the publication. What is news for a science journal, is no news for a film journal.

The very fact that the photo has created such a ruckus is proof that there is a good element of news! To say such photos don't attract (a good many) readers' attention is very far from truth.

The problem as I see it is not in smooching, it is also not in publishing the photo either. It is in the way we react.

If such a thing had indeed happened, the couple should have just asked, "So, what is big deal!" And just kept quiet. And, the public who had a good look at the photo, should have just seen it and also kept quiet realising well that we are all very human.

Don't you thing we should all be much more angry about many inhuman things that happen around us?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Finally, Karnataka has a govt

Karnataka cabinet has been finally expanded and ministers handed out portfolios. Now, hopefully, there will be some administration, worth its name. Bangalore has particularly suffered because of non-administration.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Stupid questions

This afternoon I went to the Barton Centre. (That's a commercial complex housing shops and offices on M G Road in Bangalore.)

As I was coming down the lift from the seventh floor, I overheard this conversation between two young women who were standing beside me.
"What questions they asked ...?" 

"I can understand if they had asked something on customer care, how to take care of the customers' questions ..." 

"... or even regarding the bank ... I would have got full marks..." 

"What was that ... that footballer who died on the field ..."

"Who will know ...." 

"Why should they ask all these questions ..." 

"Yea ... that Indian woman who went to space and died before coming back to earth ..."

"Really stupid questions..." 
By then the lift reached the ground floor. Obviously, they had attended an interview or a test for call centre executives for a bank.

It looks like they didn't make it.

Whether call centre executives should have good general knowledge is a different question!

The footballer who died was 25-year-old Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. The tragic incident happened a few days ago, on Dec 5, during the final of the Federation Cup football championship in Bangalore.

The woman astronaut they were referring to was not an Indian citizen, but a US citizen of Indian origin. She was Kalpana Chawla. She was one among the seven onboard Space Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated while re-entering earth's atmosphere in February last year.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

How honest people are

Nurses get top marks when it comes to honesty and ethics, and car salesmen are the least trusted people, according to Gallup's annual U.S. survey of professions released on Tuesday.

Nurses were given a "very high" or "high rating" by 79 percent of those surveyed nationwide in telephone interviews with 1,015 adults, aged 18 or older, conducted Nov. 19-21. Grade school teachers were next highest on the chart of 21 professions at 73 percent, one point higher than pharmacists and military officers. Car salesmen brought up the rear with only 9 percent rating their honesty and ethics as high. That was one point lower than for people in advertising.

Journalists did not fare much better in public approval. TV reporters (23 percent) and newspaper reporters (21) ranked below auto mechanics (26) and nursing home operators (24) on the list. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, Gallup said.

Reuters despatch from New York

Chicken gives up genetic secrets

Scientists have published a detailed analysis of the chicken genome, the biochemical "code" in the bird's cells that makes the animal what it is.
The data should help us understand better our own biology and may give us fresh insight on avian-borne diseases such as salmonella and bird flu. It could also lead to a step-change in the food industry with the development of more productive and healthier birds.

The International Chicken Sequencing Consortium reports its work in Nature.
"The chicken is the first bird as well as the first agricultural animal to have its genome sequenced and analysed," said Richard Wilson, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, and a lead researcher on the project.

Sharp focus

The primary subject for the study was the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus), the wild species from which domestic poultry was bred several thousand years ago.
For their research samples, scientists used one particular hen, now more than seven years old and living out its days on a Michigan research facility utterly unaware of its place in history.

The consortium's investigation shows the chicken to have approximately one billion base-pairs, or bonded "letters", of DNA. This compares with roughly three billion found in mammals, such as the human. The analysis reveals that just 2.5% of the human code can be matched to chicken DNA.

It is an important finding. This small portion contains genes that have been largely preserved over the 310 million years since humans and birds shared a common ancestor. "We believe that the bits of the genome that are most resilient to change are those that have been most crucial to our survival throughout evolutionary history," said Chris Ponting, from Oxford University, UK, who has been comparing the chicken and human data.

"This 2.5% corresponds to 70 million letters of DNA and among these is where we can look first for mutations linked to human disease. In effect, the chicken genome has helped us condense the human genome to something more manageable."

Future tools

The chicken has long had important roles in science. Developmental biologists have used it to study embryonic growth. Biomedical researchers have also made important advances in immunology and cancer research by studying chickens. The first tumour virus and cancer gene were identified in chicken research.
All of these areas will be advanced by knowledge of the bird's genome.

Of particular interest currently is the threat posed to human health by illnesses that can afflict both chickens and humans, such as bird flu. The new data may give science an insight into the genetics of resistance, something that would perhaps help researchers develop better vaccines or identify the poultry strains least likely to be susceptible to pathogens.

"What this research does give us is an incredible set of tools to study the genetic variation of these birds," said Ewan Birney, from the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, UK. "We know there's a lot of difference between different strains of chicken and different types of birds in the way they transmit these diseases, but we don't know which genes are really involved in helping prevent transmission of, say, the flu virus," he told BBC News.

"With the genome and the genetic tools that that gives us, we'll have a much better platform to do this sort of research in the future." Other researchers expect there to be big pay-offs for agriculture, too, with the possibility of identifying the underlying biochemical drivers of traits such as bigger eggs and tastier, leaner meat. On a pure research level, though, there are some real gems in the chicken genome.

These include the realisation that the birds have a keen sense of smell. Scientists can also see genes related specifically to feathers, claws and scales - code sequences that are absent in humans.

(From BBC)

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Brazilian striker dies on the field

Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior collapsed during the final of the Federation Cup football championship in Bangalore today some two hours back. HOSMAT hospital said he was brought dead to the hospital. It's not known if he died on the field or on the way. Postmortem report awaited.

Junior had scored a brace to help Dempo Sports Club, Goa, defeat Mohun Bagan in the finals 2-0. He scored the goal in the 78th minute. He collided with Mohan Bagan goalkeeper and collapsed on the ground. All efforts to revive him were futile.

Friday, December 3, 2004

'Blog' Tops Dictionary's Words of the Year

The word "blog" is the most-requested definition by users of Merriam-Webster's online dictionary.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, defines a blog as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."

Eight entries on the publisher's top-10 list related to major news events, from the presidential election -- represented by words such as incumbent and partisan -- to natural phenomena such as hurricane and cicada.

Springfield, Massachusetts-based Merriam-Webster compiles the list each year by taking the most researched words on its websites and then excluding perennials such as affect/effect and profanity.

The company said most online dictionary queries were for uncommon terms, but people also turned to its Web sites for words in news headlines.

Americans called up blogs in droves for information and laughs ahead of the Nov. 2 presidential election. Freed from the constraints that govern traditional print and broadcast news organizations, blogs spread gossip while also serving as an outlet for people increasingly disenchanted with mainstream media.

It was mainly on blogs that readers first encountered speculation that President Bush wore a listening device during his first debate against Democrat John Kerry. The White House, forced to respond, called it a laughable, left-wing conspiracy theory.

Bloggers also were among the first to cast doubt on a CBS television news report that challenged Bush's military service. CBS later admitted it had been duped into using questionable documents for the report. Last week CBS anchor Dan Rather said he would step down in March, although the network said the move was unconnected to the scandal.


"While most of our online dictionary lookups are for slightly difficult but still generic non-specialized vocabulary, it does sometimes happen that words in the headlines so grab people's attention that they become a most frequently looked-up word," John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, says in a statement.

"That is what occurred in this year's election cycle, with voluminous hits for words like 'incumbent,' 'electoral,' 'partisan,' and, of course, our number one word of the year, 'blog.'" Initially, people were requesting a definition for blog, and the word was not even officially in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the company admitted.

"Most of the words in the top 10 list that people look up are in our dictionary," Arthur Bicknell, senior publicist at Merriam-Webster, told NewsFactor. "But 'blog' was not in the dictionary, as it was scheduled to be included in the 2005 annual updates of Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary due out early next year. So our lexicographers placed a definition of 'blog' on our Web site."

A Merriam-Webster spokesman said it was not possible to say how many times blog had been looked up on its Web sites but that from July onward, the word received tens of thousands of hits per month.

The complete list of words of the year is available at

(Compiled from Reuters and despatches)

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Who is at fault: People or the system?

When someone doesn't obey traffic rules, who is at fault? The perpetrator or the indifferent policeman or both?

Well, the other day, I got into this debate with an elderly gentleman. He felt it's the citizen's duty to obey rules. He quickly brought in Singapore, Europe and the US. And said, "Look at them, how well behaved they are."

Then I told him, "Look Sir, there the laws are not only very strict, they are also strictly imposed. Policemen don't look the other way, when you overspeed or cut the lane or jump the light. Here not only citizens are indisciplined, the police too are inefficient."

This gentleman is one who always believes that "We have to be always right, even if others are wrong." So, my argument that the system was also at fault didn't cut much ice with him.

For good measure I threw in my observation of how foreigners cross the road at Cauvery junction (between MG Road and Brigade Road) even when the pedestrian light is red. I am yet to find even one among the many foreigners on MG Road who deliberately waits for the pedestrian light to turn green evenwhile the natives cross the road regardless. Thus I am yet to be convinced about this argument that the Westerners are by nature law-abiding citizens.

They are, yes, law abiding, in their countries. Because, they have to be. We too are law abiding in other countries. Because, we have to be. We are not in our own country, because we don't have to be.

My gentleman friend was too gentlemanly to carry on the argument.

But this is my point: If someone out there is waiting for all citizens to turn spiritually enlightened to be on the righteous path on their own, please wake up.

Enforce discipline strictly. There will be some uneasiness, murmurs and protests. Within a week a good majority will fall in line. Within a month almost all will fall in line. Within a year, we will also be law abiding citizens. Like foreigners.