Saturday, December 31, 2005

Au revoir 2005

Turning points are always moments for reflection.
Change of calendar year is one such moment.
Time to look back at the hits and misses.
But effort should always be to look ahead.
As Peter Drucker said:
"Follow effective action with
Quite reflection.
From the quite reflection
Will come more effective action."
Live in the present.
Learn from the past.
Look to the future.
May there be less of hatred, anger and violence.
May there be lots of happiness and fun.
Wish you all a New Year 2006
That will see you realise your dreams, and
Bring in lots of Happiness and Success.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Attack on IISc Bangalore

So, the much-feared terrorist attack in Bangalore has happened. Mercifully, only one life was lost. But the bigger tragedy is that we had to have this happen (inspite of intelligence reports, and media follow-ups) for our government, and IISc itself, to realise that the terror threat is real indeed.

Interestingly, IISc director Balram refused to comment when asked whether his institution had learnt lessons after the security breach during Chinese PM Wen Jiabao's visit to the IISc in April. In March newspapers had front paged a story on how Lashkar was targeting Bangalore.

Nothing happens to VIPs. It's always only the innocents who suffer.

One refrain was: "We will learn only if such a thing happens." It's a very sad commentary on our administration. IISc was very much on the Lashkar radar (newspapers had spoken of it.), though sadly like always only IT companies were in the focus.

But terrorists are no fools. It didn't need our CM, Dharam Singh, to say today morning that yesterday's attack was a planned one. Terrorists obviously knew that Bangalore doesn't care for anything beyond IT firms. (In some respects not even IT firms.) IISc was an easy target. It's one of the dozen of so national premier institutions in Bangalore.

Only three days back all newspapers reported on page one the news of three terrorists being arrested and how Bangalore was among the cities they planned to attack. Now it needs to be found out whether yesterday's attack could have been much worse, had the arrests not been made.

M G Road, Brigade Road and malls are packed with people especially in evenings. Foolproof security in open places is virtually impossible. But at least specific targets need to be made more secure. Bangalore is not used to such things. But better late than never. We need to change.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Srirangam-Thanjavur diary

One of the most striking features of south India, is the large number of temples. They open to a visitor the vast artistic heritage of our country. Some of the prominent temples are the ones at Kancheepuram, Chidambaram, Thanjavur and Madurai.
The one in Srirangam is a huge one, in fact I am told that this temple which is spread over 150 acres is the only one in the country with seven enclosures: symbolic of the seven elements that make up the human body. Interestingly, the main entrance to the temple faces the south, which is exceptional since normally it should face east. Of course, there is a complicated local legend that accounts for it.
We were here on 21st. The architecture is simply breathtaking, especially considering the fact that building science hadn't evolved to the extent it is today.
We then moved to Thanjavur, one of the most prominent temple towns of India. Because of lack of time, we had to do a hurried tour. Brihadeeswarar Temple or the Big Temple is one of the four temples in the region. It's so vast it takes about three to four hours to go around the whole area. The temple is within a huge fort, and the gopuram is about 200 feet tall. The octagonal shikaram, I am told, rests on a single granite stone that weighs 81 tons. There are lots of inscriptions, and Bharata Natayam dance postures.
We went to the Maratha Darbar Hall, Royal Museum, Maharaja Serfoji Memorial Hall and residence of S Babaji Rajah Bhonsale Chattrapathy, senior prince of Thanjavur. We went to cooperative handicraft emporium, where there were excellent artefacts.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nagapattinam diary 2

J Radhakrishnan, collector extraordinaire
When you think of reconstruction of tsunami-ravaged Nagapattinam, the name that comes uppermost in mind is that District Collector J Radhakrishnan, an IAS officer of sterling qualities. He smashes all myths about a bureaucrat being subservient to politicians. He has been instrumental in the rebuilding of Nagapattinam.
After the tragedy struck, relief flooded in. As the head of the district administration, he put in place a completely transparent coordination network among the NGOs. He survived the usual allegations of religious bias, conversions etc, with calmness and firmness. He has been described as the "people's collector" and is perhaps the most well-known person in this district.
When we journalists shot question after question, sought details of each and everything, sought facts and figures, Radhakrishnan was cool, composed and patient; and most importantly extremely polite. Rarely you get to meet such public servants. One interaction, and he leaves an indelible feel-good impression on you.
May he be blessed, and may he have lots of energy to continue the great work he has been doing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Nagapattinam diary 1

I was back at Nagapattinam on Tuesday, 20th. Last year in January I had been there. This district -- which accounted for 6,065 tsunami deaths, with 3,378 in the town alone -- was the worst hit in India.
But as I travelled around the place, I just couldn't believe this was the very same place I had been to last year. So much has changed. As collector J Radhakrishnan said the district was lucky to get plenty of relief material. And all that the government had to do was to coordinate the efforts of NGOs.
I attended a public function at which 375 families were handed over houses constructed by Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt under the guidance of IIT Madras engineers. The people got not just houses, but a fully integrated township spread across 11 acres -- complete with stormwater drains, roads, effluent treatment plant, children's play area, reading room. Wow! It's an incredible township, and Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt is the first NGO to complete such a township for the villagers.
Brahmachari Abhayamrita Chaitanya said that their aim is not just to build houses, but provide all the benefits to the villagers. The social activities of mutt must be seen to be believed. In fact, in the beginning I was quite sceptical. But no longer. When tsunami struck, the first thing the mutt did was to set up a number of kitchens. Their logic: you can survive without clothes, you can survive without a roof, but not without food.
For the function people were in such a festive mood. They turned out in their best clothes. Streets were all decorated. For the survivors of tsunami, in a way the tragedy was a blessing in disguise. Because the district is flush with funds and dedicated NGOs; besides, an able administration is doing a fantastic work of rebuilding broken homes.
It's sad that a place had to pay such a heavy price for development.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Twists and turns in life

Life is often compared to a long journey, like a long, long ride in a car. There are twists and turns; upslopes and downslopes; terrains, rugged and smooth. We take them all in our stride. We halt for a break, and resume the journey.
Sometimes I feel we all get too bogged down with these twists and turns, without realising that the journey goes on.
What matters is not the different turns that our life takes, but what comes out of that new turn the life has taken.
Life may not turn out the way we want, but we can always make the best of the way life turns out.
Am I right?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rape, murder of IT professional in Bangalore -- Lessons

Yesterday the news spread like wild fire through phone networks, emails and TV channels. And, a shocked Bangalore -- from CEOs to some semiliterate cab drivers -- had only one subject to discuss -- the rape and murder of a newly-wed young software professional, Prathibha, by her cab driver, Shivakumar, after she was picked up for work at 2 am.

Coincidentally, tragically, on Dec 13, the day Prathibha was murdered, I wrote on sexual harassment, and why such incidents take place, and what can be done.

IT employees of Bangalore have been soft targets for some time. It started with snatching of mobile phones, cash, jewellery etc. And, now the worst has happened.

Prathibha had a cellphone (considered by many girls as an important safety device), she used to call up her husband, Pavan, before leaving office and after reaching office. When Pavan didn't hear from her, how on earth would he imagine that the worst had happened? Do we now always suspect the worst when someone doesn't pick up the cellphone? See the level of panic in this hi-tech world!

Prathibha did allow herself to get into a cab whose driver wasn't the regular one. In fact, the cab itself was a "fake pickup cab"; meaning, her regular cab with the regular driver was actually on its way. Two colleagues of hers, Archana and Latha, were lured in the same manner into the fake cab, before Prathibha was contacted. Archana was already sitting in the regular cab. Latha refused to get into the alternative cab. It was Pratibha's fate that she had to walk into this stranger's cab.

I am sure hundreds of men and women would have got into cabs which might have been arranged as the regular one wasn't available. There must also have been umpteen cases of new drivers ferrying employees. Do we now suspect that there will be something wrong, next time such a thing happens?

Every misfortune, every tragedy, however regrettable, is an opportunity to learn a few lessons.
  • Never go along with a stranger, especially at night: This point looks like the weakest link in Prathibha's case. Women employees who are picked up and dropped should be accompanied by someone (either a male colleague or a security staffer) whom she knows very well and she is willing to trust.
  • Be cautious. It's a bad world out there -- not everyone, but one is enough to mess it up. They say discretion is the better part of valour. Strange driver, strange timing, strange call "from the office"... even if there is a thin element of doubt, trust your instincts, play safe. Confirm the genuineness of the call or the person with whom you are going. In case of doubt, stay put where it is safe. May be you will be late to office, may be you will lose a day's pay for logging in late, may be you will be accused of being timid and lacking in confidence, may be you will be sacked. Even all of them put together is better than getting raped and killed.
  • Never panic. Because, then you lose your power of cool judgement, and probably make blunders.
Around May-June this year, when a number of IT professionals were being waylaid and robbed, a chain mail was doing the rounds. It contained a number of safety precautions to be taken to avoid being robbed or attacked. Of course it never spoke about the possibility to your "replacement cab driver" being a rapist and murderer, though it did say: "And for all the women, don't you ever travel alone in night, if it's really necessary... take the help of your friends or family (males)." I fished out the mail from my archives and in the interest of all, I am reproducing it below. Probably we all in our own ways -- wiser with each unfortunate event -- make improvisations to the points given below.

"What we can do to take precautions?
  • Call your home or friends or your boss if you are returning late at night.
  • Always travel in the main roads which are brightly lit.
  • Never ever give drops to strangers at night.
  • Don't stop/park your vehicle in deserted/dark roads.
  • Tell your family to get back to home before 9 pm.
  • Don't pull over your vehicle for a smoke or tea. Most of the small shops who sell cigarette, ghutka, tea in the night are surrounded by drunkards and thieves.
  • If you are travelling on a deserted road and if you spot a group of men at the end of the road, then stop your vehicle and take a different road.
  • Don't wear gold chain, ring etc especially if you know that you are returning home late in night.
  • Never underestimate anyone... in a recent murder of one Bhupati Kumar in Rammurthy Nagar by a group of 4 people, which included a 15-year-old boy!
  • Don't send you family (women) or friends (women) alone either in city taxi or auto. And for all the women, don't you ever travel alone in night, if it's really necessary... take the help of your friends or family (males).
  • Police will not give a FIR for the chain snatching and mobile+cash robbery. Police won't help you for these incidents. So, always be very very careful and always protect yourself. Please educate your family/ friends.
What to do in case of attacks?
  • Don't resist the robbers, try to save your life in the first place. You can purchase a new mobile, not your life.
  • Don't get in to any talks with them.
  • Most of the times the robbers threaten you with a knife... try to be calm.
What to do after attack?
  • Generally the victims of the robbery will lose the confidence and feel-good factor. Try to distract their minds in to some useful activities like hitting gym, yoga, gardening, playing with pets, etc.
  • Spend most of the time with family and friends.
  • Never get into depressions ( specially women).
  • Try to get the courage and confidence to fight against evil.
  • If possible take 2/3 days off from your work and go to some other city or place.
  • Crime, armed robbery, theft, burglary, murder, kidnapping, rape, acid attack are like AIDS. There is no cure for it. So, we have to be always smart enough to protect ourselves and our dependents."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The glass of water

The following anecdote came to my email inbox as a forwarded mail. It's one of those inspirational ones that do the rounds on the web.

A professor began his class by holding up a glass with some water in it. He held it up for all to see and asked the students, "How much do you think this glass weighs?"
"50gms... 100gms... 125gms..." the students answered.

"I really don't know unless I weigh it," said the professor. Now let me ask you another question: "What would happen if I held it up like this for a few minutes?"
"Nothing," one student said.
"Ok, what would happen if I held it up like this for an hour?" the professor asked.
"Your arm would begin to ache," said one of the students.
"You're right, now what would happen if I held it for a day?"
"Your arm could go numb, you might have severe muscle stress and paralysis and would have to go to hospital for sure!" ventured another student.
"Very good. But during all this, did the weight of the glass change?" asked the professor.
"No," the students said.
"Then what caused the arm ache and the muscle stress?" the students were quite puzzled.
"Put the glass down!" said one of the students.
"Exactly!" said the professor. "Life's problems are something like this. Hold it for a few minutes in your head and they seem okay. Think of them for a long time and it becomes a problem you can't carry. You are stressed out, and paralysed.
It's important to think of the challenges (problems) in your life, but even more important than that is "to put them down".

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sexual harassment

This posting stems out of Ranjit's December 9 posting on eve-teasing, sexual harassment and other perverted deviant behaviours. Giving links to some victims' traumatising experiences, he says, "Such men (who indulge in sexual harassment) deserve to be castrated - without anaesthesia, and with a numb saw - slowly, with the intent to inflict maximum damage."
He says girls should react more and more rather than succumb meekly; and "most of all, we - the men who condemn so easily - ought to express our outrage more publicly".
During my college days in Kerala, guys who travelled by the government road transport's (KSRTC's) crowded "college buses" used to brag about how they got to disgusting proximity to girls' upper torso, and rubbed their excited members on girls' bodies.  (Unlike private buses, women are at the rear of the government buses near the door. So, at peak hours men and women get huddled together.) And, scared girls never did anything, leave alone scream, which was conveniently misunderstood as compliance.
Screaming by victims, raising voice, beating up the guy or even castrating him are immediate solutions in the short term. To carry on from where Ranjit has left, I think we need to look beyond and see why guys do this. Remember all guys don't indulge in this disgustingly perverted act.
Some who indulge are absolute criminals and they need to be treated as such, and they require very little consideration. But a large majority who do it are otherwise decent guys. And, it is with these guys we have to make a distinction, and seek the rationale behind their actions.
From what I have learnt, such assaults are acute behavioural problems stemming out of bad childhood, poor upbringing, wrong ideas imbibed during early and mid-adolescence etc. Often the culprits are their own parents or other immediate peer influences. When adequate emotional care isn't given to children when they really need it, the deficiency surfaces later in life in ways like such deviant behaviour. Such sexual behaviour is only one among many other relationship problems that surface in early youth and mid-life.
As I said earlier, screaming or jailing the deviant guy is only a short-term solution. Other such deviant guys who hear about this are -- yes -- deterred in one way, but worse, they are totally confused as to what they should do. (Like that guy in the train -- who groped the girl who was sleeping in the lower berth -- said: 'I couldn't control myself.' The point to be looked into is if other guys could control, why couldn't he?)
Like the emancipation of the suppressed sections of society (women included), the solution is a long-term one. One is to send the guys to counselling centres, try to get at the root of their deviant tendencies,  and resolve it. Better still is to prevent boys from growing up into such guys. And, much of the onus lies on none other than parents. Many parents make the mistake of taking the boys for granted. "O, he is a boy.." sort of attitude. They need as much care and love as girls are given.
Respect and appreciation from elders within the house is a rarity for children. Parents go to great lengths to praise their children in front of others; but not privately in order to boost the child's very self-confidence. Some boys (and even girls) are sharply cut off when they talk about girls/boys or even about sex. Instead they must be at least heard patiently; if not commented upon in a sensible manner.
Finding out reasons for deviant behaviour is not in anyway condoning the act. Crime has to be punished; but punishment is only that, and not a solution for the problem. Instead of stopping at punishment, some effort should be made to address the root cause. Or else, the problem will never go away, and we will just end up screaming and screaming; and jailing and jailing.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Violence over bad road

Yesterday's incident on Kanakapura Road in South East Bangalore where a protest by residents over bad state of roads is a pointer to how things can deteriorate. People were fed up with lack of any improvement in the state of roads and angry that politicians' promises of betterment have remained just that.
Ironically, it happened on the very day Bill Gates was in the city expounding the immense potential of Information Technology, and our shameless Dharam Singh and Deve Gowda pleading with Gates for more help in improving the rural sector. (What is Singh and Gowda doing with all the help that is already coming in, not just from Gates but many others too?)

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Working vs non-working parents

Yesterday I happened to watch on TV an all-woman discussion programme. I missed the initial part, but the topic seemed to be "Difficulties of Bringing up Children".
I heard one woman say: "When mothers work, the children are deprived of love. Often the father is always in the office. Imagine if the mother is also always in her office! The role the mother plays for her child is unique and she fails in that if she works. Children are definitely at a disadvantage when their mothers work...."
There was near unanimity among the 15 or so women in the group, since there was no counterargument; except from one.
This is what she said: "Even if both parents work, they can definitely find time to be with their children. Cases of fathers almost always missing from home because of work are exceptions rather than the rule. In most cases working parents are able to make some arrangement by which children are looked after well...
"... What is important is not the amount of time but the quality of time that is spent with kids. If children of working parents are cared for in the proper manner, then such kids, turn out to be far more independent, mature, and better developed in an all-round sense, than kids who are constantly propped up by parents, especially by their mothers."
This lady also countered the earlier speaker saying the role of not just the mother is unique, but that of the father too is unique. A perpetually missing father is as bad as a perpetually missing mother, she said. A very crucial point often underestimated, well stated by that woman.
Sadly the importance of what this lady said was completely lost in a very poorly compered programme, and among the majority of women who didn't seem to have a full understanding of what parenting is all about.
Let me add a couple of points. It's often considered that money is the one criterion which drives mothers in India to work. A rich man's wife would rather prefer to be at home. It could be true. But to say that, is totally unfair and insulting. Not just mothers, even fathers shouldn't just be working for money. There's a world which no amount of money can buy.
Leave aside money. Mothers work also to keep their intellect alive and occupied. A working woman is often much better acquainted with the ways of the world than a mother who doesn't know what it means to commute to office and back, and work under a Boss.
Also, working parents, who fruitfully manage their time and resources are a source of inspiration for their children.
A good set of parents are able to mutually come to an understanding on how they can divide their working and home hours among themselves and with their children. This is not some sort of Utopian situation; but I know a parents who are able to strike this magic balance quite well. And, it shows in them and their children.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Science demystified

I am back after a break. But, meanwhile, I have been reading this fascinating non-fiction: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. The book was kindly lent to me by my friend: Shripriya.
The introduction to the book begins thus:
Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy. I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realise.
And, he explains why I need to be congratulated.
... for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialised and particular that it has never been tried before... For the next many years... these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally under appreciated state known as existence.
Bryson demystifies the world around us -- from our immediate surroundings at home or office, to the distant cosmos. But to enjoy the book, you need to have at least a passing interest in science.
One thing Bryson helped me discover was...
... atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting -- fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours.
This 6 and a half lakh hours, is equal to what is considered around "75 long years"!
The book has a number of interesting information about well-known scientists of yesteryear. Besides Newton and Einstein, references to names like: Michelson, Morely, Dalton, Doppler, Hubble, Rutherford, J J Thomson, Heisenberg, Mendeleyev, Kelvin etc took my memories back to school and college (B Sc Chemistry) days.
One reference to Max Planck was very touching:
Planck was often unlucky in life. His beloved first wife died early in 1909 and the younger of his two sons was killed in the First World War. He also had twin daughters whom he adored. One died giving birth. The surviving twin went on to look after the baby and fell in love with her sister's husband. They married and two years later she died in childbirth. In 1944, when Planck was 85, an Allied bomb fell on his house and he lost everything -- papers, diaries, a lifetime of accumulations. The following year his surviving son was caught in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and executed.
There are other interesting references. Newton often couldn't get up from the cot, because, after waking up, he used to be struck by a wave of ideas; and he used to just sit there weighed down by these thoughts!
John Scott, father of J B S Haldane, was famous for his absent-mindedness. Once his wife sent him upstairs to change for a dinner party. But, he failed to return. And, he was found asleep on his bed. On being woken up, he said, he found himself disrobing and assumed it was bedtime!
Truly interesting book.