Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Delhi's Uber, rape and the ban

First, it was the outrage against the rape of a young woman by the driver of a cab she hired using the Uber app in Delhi on Friday night.

Now the outrage is against the banning of some of the cab services in Delhi.

If the authorities act, they are damned.

If the authorities don't act, they are damned.

Will we get anything right, ever?


One, Delhi, and the rest of the nation, had only in the recent past -- in December 2012 -- witnessed a massive outpouring of frustration and anger over the dangers women face, following the rape and murder of Nirbhaya.

The driver involved in Friday's incident, Shiv Kumar Yadav, would obviously have known about all these. He should have known what is okay and what is not okay. He should have by now learnt to behave himself. And, he should have also known what lies in store for him, if he doesn't. So, what explains this incident, in spite of all that happened over the past two years?

It may be a very cynical and pessimistic thought: but I think how much ever tough the law is, for the determined criminal nothing is a deterrent. He commits the crime and shows no remorse. While we have tough laws on one side, the onus also lies on us to be careful. (This is not to suggest, that when accidents happen it's the victim who has to be blamed. If anyone has to be blamed, it's the perpetrators of the crime.) Our society isn't a safe one. There seems to be danger lurking in every corner. Good souls are exceptions rather than the rule.  


Two, the young woman in her mid-twenties had used a safe (or what we always thought is a safe) method to book a cab -- the Uber app. The San Francisco-based company had of late attracted a fair amount of admiration for their innovative method of running a taxi service, which is highly technology driven, with very less human intervention in the operations. For its highly customer-friendly approach, Uber has also attracted criticism from established taxi services especially in the UK, and to some extent in India.

I know many people, especially women, who repose lot of faith in Uber because they think the service is not only very customer-friendly, but being one headquartered in the Silicon Valley, it will have the best practices in place, especially regarding safety.

I don't think the company understood the extent of trust customers reposed on it. Definitely not. If it had, it would have also ensured that its cabs were not run by any Tom, Dick and Harry -- the one in question was run by a criminal.

Uber should have ensured that the drivers matched up to the standards the company has set for itself. Did Uber forget basic issues of safety in its race against competition?

Three, where was the GPS tracking of the cab? All bunkum. What is the point of talking of great technological innovations, if you can't put them to real-time use?


Yesterday, the Delhi governent discovered that Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi, have not been recognised by the Transport Department to run taxi service. Only Meru, Mega, Chanson, Yo, Air and EasyCabs have the permission.

So, Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi have been banned. This is being described as a needless knee-jerk reaction. I don't think so. The government did the right thing. If the cab services didn't have the permission to run, how could they be operating the service?

To argue that ordinary black-and-yellow taxis or autos are not banned when a crime happens in them, is a totally misplaced argument. There's a certain amount of trust and credibility one associates with Uber and other well-known branded taxi services.

In fact, this tragic incident should be taken as a wake-up call and other State governments should summon the operators of all taxi services and ensure they are functioning within the confines of the law.


This is not about a "blanket ban on all services", or akin to "throwing the baby with the bathwater". This is about banning somthing that is unlawful. Indeed one shouldn't ban something that lends itself to subjetive interpretation. But here it is not so. It's about not being on the right side of the law.

While the government has acted, belated though, it owes an explanation on how it allowed thousands of cabs that didn't have permits to run. It's also amazing that no one raisesd this point ever. Probably becaues everyone was benefiting from it. Then, at least the authorities should have woken up earlier, and regulated the cab service system, and updated the laws.    


Law needs to be clearer on what cab services or radio taxis are. And, it needs to keep pace with technological innovations that are changing the public transport landscape.

Different taxi companies have different methods of operation. There are companies that own cabs and employs drivers to run them. Drivers are paid a salary, besides a proportion of the fare.

The revolution that Ola brought about was the concept of aggregation. The company doesn't own any cab. Individual taxi drivers get registered with them, and companies like Ola, only function as a platform to bring the cab driver and the passengers together.

But what is extent of ownership that the company takes to ensure the safety of the traveller? Not clear. Matrimonial sites and dating sites, prominently carry a disclaimer saying they are in no way responsible for what comes out of the users' interations.

The innovation that Uber has brought in is in the technology sphere. There is minimal human intervention -- from booking the cab to paying the driver.


1. Bring absolute clarity to the burgeoning cab service in India.

2. Update the laws so that customer-friendly operating models like that of Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber too are also recognised as legitimate taxi services.

3. Irrespective of the method of operation, basic safety guidelines have to be put in place.

4. There has to be continuous, random and surprise checks on cabs to see if they are complying with laws or not. Violators have to be booked.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sainik School doctor-alumni lend a caring touch

(From Mathrubhumi TV Channel -- watch the video)

Responding to misery beyond the call of duty a band of 15 physician-alumni of Sainik School, Kazhakuttam trooped to Vallikunnu Village PHC in coastal Kadalundi on Sunday.

They were attending a medical camp organised as part of CSR activity of National Institute for Research & Development in Shipbuilding {NIRDESH}, initiated by its Project Director naval Capt. (Retd.) Ramesh Babu and Dr. K P Sreekumar.

Dr. K P Sajeev, Prof of Cardiology in Calicut Medical College said the choice of the interior made him attend.

The youngest, Dr. Asish Bens came with family, as did retd. Col Josey Joseph from Bengaluru. The 641 people who turned up were given medicines supplied by other alumni.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Names of cities haven't changed

From November 1, Bangalore is written in all English communication as Bengaluru.

Besides the capital city, 11 other cities too have dropped their English names for the actual name.

They are: Mangalore to Mangaluru, Bellary to Ballari, Bijapur to Vijayapura, Belgaum to Belagavi, Chikamagalur to Chikkamagaluru, Gulbarga to Kalaburagi, Mysore to Mysuru, Hospet to Hosapete, Shimoga to Shivamogga, Hubli to Hubballi and Tumkur to Tumakuru.

I doubt, how right it's to say that the names of the cities have changed. The cities are in Karnataka, and they have always been known by their local Kannada names. In Kannada, no one said Bangalore. All India Radio always said Bengaluru and Mysuru. Kannada newspapers have always written Bengaluru. So, too government communications and signboards in Kannada.

Thanks to our British rulers, officially the cities were referred to in English by their Anglicised versions. Now, the government has issued a gazette notification saying officially too the cities will be known by their actual names.

More precisely, post-November 1 in English communication too, the names of the cities will be known by their local original names.

The names of the cities haven't changed, have they?

Similar was the case of when Madras became Chennai or Calcutta became Kolkata or Trivandrum became Thiruvananthapuram.

The name of the city was and is Chennai. The British in their English communication called the city Madras. Just because many people referred to the city as Madras didn't mean the name of the city was Madras. So is the case with Thiruvananthapuram, or Kochi or Kolkata.

So, let's get this right -- the names of cities don't change. What changes is the way the city is referred to in English.

Friday, October 31, 2014

30 years ago, this day

It's 30 years today since Indira Gandhi fell to assassin's bullets, when an era also ended.

I was in the classroom in St Xavier's College, Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, where I was doing my undergrad course in Chemistry. Around 11 am or so, a group of Kerala Students Union members came into the class to tell the professor that classes need to be suspended, as Mrs Gandhi has been shot at. There was hushed silence as we eagerly sought more details of what had happened.

There were not many details. The students themselves had got to know about it from someone in the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. Those were the days when terrorists managed to break through the security and strike at prominent personalities. And then, it was just four months after the sensational Operation Bluestar when Mrs Gandhi ordered Indian Army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out the militants.

Classes were suspended and we all streamed out discussing among ourselves what may actuallly have happened. Then, someone broke the startling news that her own security guards had opened fire at her. That was unbelievable, too shocking to be true.

Our effort was to get a transistor and tune in to BBC. There were two classmates who stayed in hostel, within the college premises. One of them, not sure if it was Stephen or Thomas, got a radio, to the staff room. I was the radio buff, so they handed it over to me to tune in to BBC.

We listened to 12.30 pm news. BBC announced that Mrs Gandhi had been assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. We were all stunned to silence. She had been riddled with bullets pumped into her from very short distance. She was taken to AIIMS but she would have passed away immediately.

She was walking from her house to be interviewed by Peter Ustinov. She was shot when she was at the wicket gate by the guards. Beant Singh was killed by the ITBP guards and Satwant Singh was arrested.

After listening to the news I left for home. Quite puzzlingly All India Radio news at 2 pm did not say that she had been assassinated. The news only said she had been admitted to AIIMS after being shot at.

We later realised that President Giani Zail Singh was in Zimbabwe at that time and was flying back. Vice President too was not in the capital. Apparently the news was not officially announced on AIR because of the power vacuum in Delhi. Her son Rajiv too was away in Kolkata and got to know of the news from BBC.

The news was broadcast only in the 6 pm AIR bulletin. We then started hearing on foreign radio stations that riots had broken out especially in Delhi.

Next thing we looked forward to was who will be the next PM. Rajiv was elected unanimously. Pranab Mukherjee who was the natural choice was edged out.

Next came Rajiv's address to the nation. And the infamous reference to riots.. to the effect that.. When a big tree falls the earth is bound to shake.. But then few understood the enormity of the backlash against the Sikhs that unfolded.

Indira Gandhi was definitely a strong PM India had. She meant business. And things moved, though we may disagree in which direction it was. She was variously described as a dictator, tough task master, visionary, nationalist etc..

India hasn't had a PM like her since then. Of course the world too changed in many ways later.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

5.9 inch Nexus 6 on Android L launch expected in October

In the last 24 hours there have been more information trickling out about the much-anticipated next Nexus phone. (Though Moto G and Moto X created lot of excitement because of stock Android, Nexus still spells magic.)

An earlier post on the next Nexus phone is here.

One of the first things I look for is the screen size, because I read a lot. At 5.9 inch, Nexus 6 will be a giant phone. Incidentally, HTC One Max has the same screen size. A phone of this size will be difficult to hold. I would have preferred a maximum of 5.5 inch. May be reading experience would be better.

That reminds me: When Galaxy Note (now referred to as Original) hit the market end of 2011, an enthusisatic sales guy tried his best to make me buy one. But I found the screen size of 5.3 inch too big. I even remarked to that guy, who would buy such an huge phone!

In Jan 2013, at one of the elctronic stores, when I saw the same Galaxy Note, I was surprised seeing the size of the screen. I asked the sales guy, "Is this really Galaxy Note, the original one?" (By then Galaxy Note 2 was in the market.) He said, yes. I thought the size of the screen looked smaller than what I thought it was. Of course, it was just perception. 5.3 inch in 2011 was huge. The same 5.3 inch in 2013 looked quite normal.

So, though now I think the Nexus 6 screen size of 5.9 inch is huge, may be I will have to revise my opinion a couple of years later, when most phones would be of around 6 inch!

Nexus 6 will have top resolution of 2560x1440.  LG G3, Oppo Find 7 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have similar resolution. Galaxy S5 has 5.1 inch screen with display of 1920x1080. Galaxy Note 4 has 5.7 inch screen.

Another spec that I look for is the processor. Nexus 6 is rumoured to have Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset, and will pack 3GB RAM.

Some other features are: 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization and a 2-megapixel front camera. The battery will be a 3,200mAh one, and it's said, a mere charging of 15 minutes will give it a life of 8 hours. That sounds simply unbelievable.

Like HTC One M8, Nexus 6 is rumoured to have front facing stereo speakers.

But the best part is it will run on Android's latest operating system, now called Android L, the successor of Kitkat. That will kickoff the Android 5 version.

The launch of Nexus 6 and Android L is said to be in a couple of weeks, in mid-October.

Now, we just wait for more clarity on all these rumours.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jayalalithaa gets 4 years jail term; Rs 100 crore fine

1830: Jayalalithaa barred from contesting elections for 10 years.

1734: Jayalalithaa disqualified as MLA

1730:  Jayalalithaa will have to be imprisoned immediately, it's said. 

1720: Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa sentenced to four years in jail and Rs 100 crore fine

1700: There were lot of fears of violence in Bangalore. But the city is absolutely peaceful.

1600: The arguments for sentencing still on.

1426: Jayalalithaa convicted of all charges.

1400: Conflicting views on what's happening inside court room. Lack of official information fuelling rumours.

1333: Hope there won't be any violence in Bangalore after the verdict is pronounced.

1330: The timeline of this case

1313: Before we know the verdict, first AIADMK celebrated, and now DMK is celebrating.

1303: Rumours of Jayalalithaa being found guilty.

1250: AIADMK workers are running berserk near Hosur on the border as well.

1241: Even before the verdict is pronounced, there is lathicharge outside the court premises. Now imagine, what will the situation be after the pronouncement of the verdict?

1230: Police will have tough time controlling DMK and AIADMK workers, irrespective of whichever way the verdict goes.

1215: Really strange that AIADMK workers are bursting crackers and distributing sweets. But the verdict isn't out yet.

1200: Now the wait gets longer as the court has put off the verdict to 1pm

1130: Even if she is convicted, I doubt anything much will change in Tamil Nadu. She will have a trusted confidant to step in

1110: The verdict was supposed to be pronounced at 11 am.

1030: The entire news media have descended outside the special court premises.

What this case is all about:

It's that Jayalalithaa acquired wealth worth Rs. 66.65 crore while she was the chief minister from 1991 to 1996, that she was abetted by her aide Ms. Sasikala along with tow of her relatives, V.N. Sudhakaran (Jayalalithaa’s ex-foster son) and Ilavarasi. The case was filed by the DMK in 1996. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Successful Mars mission and unsuccessful earthly missions

The nation erupted in joy yesterday as India's Mars Orbitor Mission decelerated to the right extent to descend to the Martian orbit.

It would have been a failure if the Orbitor didn't slow down enough. Then, it would have shot past the planet.

It would have been a failure if it had slowed down too much. Then, it would have crashed into the planet.

How much the speed should be, and when it should begin to slow down and many other related actions of the Orbitor were calculated and uploaded by our scientists about a week in advance -- on September 14 and 15.

What we saw yesterday was a vindication of the ability of our scientisits to plan so many complicated calculations and manoeuvres in advance so that they got executed precisely, not anywhere closeby, but 65 crore kilometers away.

It's not a surprise therefore that the unparalleled success of the mission in our first attempt, also attracted a few cynical reactions. Some said this achievement has any real meaning, only if we are able to plan and executive our actions on Earth, in our neighbourhood. Let us first succeed on Earth, they let us look at Space. When we aren't able to have good roads, water supply, electricity, food and shelter for all, clean surroundings, good healthcare, good administration etc etc., what do we gain by spending crores of rupees sending an object to Mars. ... So went their arguments.

Of course, it is true that we are way behind in having basic amenities for our citizens. We are indeed one of the poor countries in the world; only a small segment of our country is rich.

There are a few reasons why our missions in space are a great success, but our missions on Earth aren't.
  • The task and the road map are clear.
  • There's an unhindered way ahead when it comes to space missions.
  • There are no bureaucratic redtape or politicking.
  • There is a strict timeline and scientists put in best to achieve the objective. Many of them haven't taken an off day for last 15 months. Such has been there commitment to achieve their goal.
  • There is a sense of national pride when it comes to space projects.
But, consider our earthly missions. Be it any project concerning social welfare, healthcare, or electricity or transportation or industry or agriculture. The path to realise the objectives when it comes to these projects aren't often clear. There is no timeline, no accountablity, no national pride, no dedication or sacrifice; and to complicate matters there are some lumpen elements who will sneak in, and spoil the entire show only for thier own benefit.

If our space missions have been a success, there are reasons for it.

If many of our earthly missions have been a failure, there are reasons for it.

Our scientists have quietly sent out a message -- if a project has to be a spectacular success there is a price to be paid. 

They paid that. They got the result.

Applaud them. Don't take credit away from them for our failures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too much hype: Android One is not one of its kind

Spice Android Dream One
Photo from Flipkart
Yesterday at a much-publicized event in New Delhi Google unveiled its Android One phones in India. There is quite a hype about it. Understandable. Don't be surprised if Android One gets dubbed as the poor man's Nexus or Moto X, as it has stock Android.

But there are other phones in the Android One category.

To begin with there's nothing so great about stock Android. What it means is that, those phones with stock Android will get the software updates directly from Google as and when they are released. In all other phones, the manufacturer like Samsung or Micromax will have release it for you. Phones with stock Android are Nexus, Moto G, X and E, and now the Android One.

For all practical purposes, these updates and upgrades aren't going to make any huge difference as far as the routine uses of a smartphone are concerned. All the common apps function perfectly well even on an Android 4.1. There are some apps that run only on the newer versions of the OS. But now all phones give you at least a 4.3.

Even if you thought you needed a stock Android phone, there is already one for around Rs 7,000. That's Moto E.

Now, let us weigh some of the specs of Spice Dream Android One phone, with Moto E, Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2 and Micromax Unite 2. All four of them are in Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 range.

* All four have dual SIMs. Spice Dream and Moto E have micro SIM.

* Spice Dream, Moto E and Micromax Unite 2 have Android 4.4 but the other has Android 4.2. But that should not really matter, unless you badly want to be with the latest version of Android, and you want to download some niche high-end apps.

* Duos 2 has 4 inch screen, Moto E 4.3, Spice Dream 4.5 and Unite 2 4.7 inches.

* Dream and Unite 2 have 1.3GHz quad core processor, while Moto E and Duos  have 1.2 GHz dual core. So, all are fairly powerful.

* All have 5 mega pixel camera. Only Moto E doesn't have front camera.

* All have 4GB and option to expand memory.

* Regarding battery, while Dream has 1700mAh, Unite 2 has 2000mAh, Moto E 1980mAh and Duos 1500mAh.

So, basically Android One is not one of its kind. I randomly looked at three phones for comparison, but any e-comm site will give you options of many other phones with good specs in the same category.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kerala Diary 4 - Jew Town, Dutch Palace and boat ride

I have been planning a visit to the Jew Town in Mattancherry for long. Since it was bandh yesterday, we rescheduled it for today. As it was pouring since early morning, we abandoned the plan to go by boat, and instead hired an autorickshaw.

Mattancherry is about 15 km from Elamkulam. We started at 9.15 am and reached there at 10 am. Bordering the coast, Jew Town is a relatively quiet area. The roads were neatly asphalted and the building architecture of days of yore. On either sides of the road are showrooms selling curios, artefacts, clothes and antique materials.

One of the primary attractions is the Synagogue. It's known by various names: Cochin Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue (called paradesi because it was built by Spanish-speaking Jews, and was primarily used by Sephardim, the Jews of Spanish-Portuguese descent. These settlers were known as Paradesi Jews).

The synagogue was built in 1567 on a piece of land to given to the Cochin Jewish community (also called Malabari Yehuden community) by the Raja of Kochi, Rama Varma. This is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth, and is one of the seven places of worship of the Cochin Jews, who are the oldest group of Jews in India. The first batch of Jews came to Cranganore (now called Kodungallur) in the year 70.

The Cochin Jewish traditions have been influenced by Hinduism, and they have no rabbis, instead are led by elders.

The synagogue is open from 10 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 5 pm on all days except Friday, Saturday and Jewish holidays. There is a ticket fee of Rs 5 per person. Visitors have to enter barefoot. Photography and videography are banned.

Dutch Palace

Adjacent to the synagogue is the Mattancherry Palace or the Dutch Palace. It was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, in order to please him after a nearby temple was plundered. In 1663, the Dutch renovated it, giving it the name.

In the courtyard of the palace, there is a temple dedicated to Pazhayannur Bhagavati, the goddess of the Kochi royal family.

The palace houses the portraits of all the kings of Kochi from 1864, the ceremonial dresses, ivory palanquin etc. It also has very impressive mythological murals.

There is an entrance fee of Rs 5. Photography and videography are banned.

International Tourism Police Museum

This is a unique museum, which can do some publicity. It shows the evolution of the Kerala Police. It has a good collection police uniforms and weapons that date back to the colonial and Travancore State days. It's well maintained and functions as a police station too. There is no entry fee.

Willingdon Island

There is boat jetty in Mattancherry from where there are tourist boat rides as well as a Kerala government transport department's boat serivce for passengers. The first one is available for different durations and takes you to different tourist locations along the coast. The second one plies to Ernakulam via Willingdon Island and Fort Kochi.

Since the weather had cleared we decided to return to Ernakulam by boat. We did it in two legs. First we went up to Willingdon Island.

Willingdon Island is an artificial island created using the soil dredged out while deepening the Vembanad Lake for the construction of Kochi Port in 1936. It's named after Lord Willingdon, the then governor of Madras. The island belongs to the Cochin Port Trust and the Indian Navy.

We walked around a bit to see the place, and returned to the jetty to board the boat to Ernakulam.

Thanks to the crowded and poorly maintained roads, the water transport on this stretch is still very popular. It takes less than 30 minutes to travel between Mattancherry and Ernakulam, while it takes anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes by road.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kerala Diary 3 - Modiji, please end the bandh culture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Japan on a day when his party has shut down Kerala. In Japan, people work hard on any normal day, and work harder when there is a reason to protest.

Today's snap state-wide bandh is in response to the killing of an RSS worker in politically sensitive Kathirur near Thalassery in Kannur district, allegedly by CPM workers, yesterday. The region has a long history of tit-for-tat violence between the RSS and the CPM.

Incidentally, BJP president Amit Shah's arrived in Kerala yesterday to reinvigorate the party in the state where his party hasn't been able to do well.

No one likes bandhs. Political parties too know that. No one knows what bandhs achieve. At best, parties only have a misplaced sense of power. Vehicles keep off roads, and shops down shutters because of fear of being attacked for disregarding the call. Bandhs are clearly a lose-lose proposition.

Though forceful shutdown of a city or nation is disruptive, I do agree that parties and people are fully entitled to organize peaceful protests on any issue of public importance. Supreme Court has upheld this right. But what matters is how and when it is organized.

Bandhs are most disruptive and most annoying when organized without any advance information. Most bandhs in Kerala are snap decisions. Yesterday's is a good example. Originally, the bandh was planned only in Kannur district. By late evening, it became a state-wide shutdown. How it happened, no one clearly knows.

I am furious. I am stuck at home today. We had planned visits to tourist spots, and homes of relatives and friends. The plans have been ruined.

Modi keeps talking about making India a powerful nation and bettering the standard of living of every Indian. I am told he works very hard, and expects others to work very hard too. I am sure, he will abhor the culture of bandhs, not just in Kerala (where it is a fairly frequent phenomenon), but anywhere else in India.

Every party is equally guilty of organizing bandhs and even indulging in associated violence. Can Modi make a difference? Fresh from Japan, can he prevail upon the party to unilaterally declare a moratorium on  bandhs? Can he get the party to say, "Bandhs don't serve any purpose. It only ruins the economy. BJP is declaring a moratorium on bandhs and disruptive strikes. We will not call for a bandh, even if other parties do."

Modiji, can you walk the talk?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kerala diary 2 - Rain, more rain, and then a pause

It has been raining cats and dogs. Typically it doesn't pour for too long. When it rains it rains heavily. After about 10 minutes it reduces to a drizzle. Then it stops. After may be a couple of hours, clouds gather all over again and it's heavy rain again.
Here even though it rains so heavily roads don't get waterlogged. Water runs off to either side and sinks through the loose mud. But puddles of water can be a nuisance for pedestrians.
Considering the water and mud footwear can carry into the shop floor, some retail outlets expect you to leave your footwear outside. Some shops have an umbrella stand and some others provide you a plastic cover to put your wet umbrella in while you shop.
Monsoon arrived a bit late. This spell started on 28th and has been on since then. Rainfall  has been more than average this time, so say media quoting met dept.
It was my niece's wedding today and mercifully, rain paused till evening much to the relief of everyone. Such social gatherings are the perfect rendezvous to meet relatives and friends. Today's function was no exception.
Such occasions also make us pause and ponder over how time has flown by. I remember the day when my cousin got married. During my visits her daughter played with my son. Today, she has grown to share her life with another.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kerala diary 1 - Confusing numbers and ticketless travel

Train journey is always more lively than one by flight. And a day travel is better than one by night. The view from the window, of hills, barren land, rivers, bushes and trees, is an ample and welcome relief from the clutter of vehicles and concrete buildings of the city. The journey itself is a sort of perfect getaway.

Where is my coach?

While boarding the Inter City to Ernakulam this morning, I found the numbering of coaches confusing. Though coach D followed coach C, the numbers went in the descending order rather than ascending. That is, after C1 came D11 then D10, D9 etc.

This is confusing. A person looking for coach C would end up in the wrong end of the train if he followed the numbers. Since alphabetically C comes before D, he would look for C coach before D1. But actually the C coach was before D11. That's absolutely strange.

If alphabets followed a particular order, it would make sense for the numbers too to follow the same order.

Now you don't need a ticket to travel

As the ticket examiner did the rounds, I saw that many people had the printed paper ticket, though while booking online IRCTC clearly discourages you from printing out the ticket. A few of us showed our mobile phone. But he did not look at the SMS confirmation. He only checked our identity card -- PAN card in my case. He asked me which was my seat number and he verified what I said on the list he carried. He wanted to see the identity card of passegers who brought printed tickets too.

The advent of internet and mobile phone has done away with the physical, printed ticket that was once upon a time mandatory to travel. Now you just need to know your seat number and have your identity card.

It's too cold

The chair car is too cold and I can't find a  regulator. There isn't one, it looks like. There should have been one for the blast of cold air streaming out of the two vents overhead. The train has reached Dharmapuri. The sun is up and the warm rays are finding their way in. Hopefully it will help matters.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shamu, Nexus 6 and Android Silver

If you say Shamu, most people will relate it to the whale that was captured in the 1960s. But for the few gadget geeks it's the name of the new Google phone that will hit the market later this year.

It's making waves because many people think Motorola Shamu, or Moto S, will be the successor to Nexus 5.

But what has added to confusion are reports that Google will discontinue the Nexus series, and that Moto S will be an Android Silver phone.

What is Nexus?

Nexus series (of phones and tablets) is Google's flagship Android mobile devices. These are informally called Google phones or tablets because though the devices are manufactured by Samsung or LG, they haven't been customized by the manufacturer. Additionally, since there is no third party intervention, so to speak, Android updates will flow in directly and immediately from Google itself, rather than being pushed by the device manufacturer. There are pluses and minuses of that.

What is Android Silver?

That is the new range of stock Android phones, which will replace the Nexus range. Reports say that these phones will have newer standards, different from what Nexus phones have, that will be of premium nature. What these standards are and how Google will enforce it is not known. For this range, Google is said to have tied up with Motorola, and the first device, Moto S, is expected to hit market in early next year.

A lot to watch out for in the coming days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A father's choice -- save child or family

Imagine the plight of a father, whose only son, a six-year-old boy, has fallen into an unused borewell, and after a couple of days of futile rescue attempts, says:
"I know my son is dead. You can't get him out. All your efforts to bring him out only resulted in destruction of my sugarcane farm. Now please don't spoil this place further. Please call off the rescue efforts, and close the borewell with my son inside." 
The six-year-old unlucky boy is Timmanna, and the incident happened on Sunday in Sulikere village of Badami taluk in Karnataka's Bagalkot. The well is on the premises of his father's sugarcane field.

Children falling into unused borewells is quite common in India. Most such accidents happen in remote villages or small towns. And not all of them become national news items, only people in that particular state or region get to know of it.

There was one celebrated case of Prince, which gripped the nation's attention. That was in July 2006. The 5-year-old boy fell into a well. He survived on biscuits and chocolates thrown to him, and after Army-led resuce operation that spanned two days, he was brought out alive. Here is an NDTV footage of it.  Prince's case was an exception. Rarely children survive.

But this is the most distressing story I have heard. Father Hanumantappa Hatti's emotional appeal is really moving. He has taken loan worth lakhs for digging borewell and also for the sugarcane cultivation. Now that his field has been dug up and crops destroyed, he can see only a dark future ahead of him -- son gone, his filed and crops too gone. The Hindu report on it.

What has driven him to this state is the extreme poverty. For the villager, who is struggling to make both ends meet, the loss of his son is just another of the misfortunes. Borewells are dug after paying huge amounts of money due to severe water shortage. Closing the well is also not easy. It costs huge amounts of money to buy the sand.

Many such people are also used to living with risks all around them. The fear of someone falling into an open borewell is not so different from many other fears they already live with daily. For him, the loss of the child is another loss life has handed over to him. Just as he has moved so far, he will hope to move on from now on too.

Borewell business is a huge unregulated one. Hopefully, the government will open its eyes and bring in some order, accountability into this business.

Let's hope that no more children lose their lives in this manner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rape fallout -- fear, suspicion, loss of innocence

These are really bad times.

Most people say incidents of rape haven't gone up. We are only seeing increased reporting of such crimes. Earlier, girls and women suffered in silence. Today they speak up. They go to police stations, file cases, and battle in courts to get the criminals punished.

To say that only the reporting of rape incidents has gone up, is to skirt the real issue. It's no consolation, it's just the opposite. It's like all the dirt, which was lying covered, getting exposed now.

How many of us really understand the enormity of what is striking us every day?

One, the much-spoken-about feeling of insecurity. Women don't feel safe any more, in any place. If every woman hasn't already begun seeing every man a potential molester, it's only because she still has hope in humanity, she still has faith in man. In the midst of all these, we still see couples lost in the warmth of togetherness. Nevertheless, fear, very much in the background, is only growing, and not diminishing.

Two, the loss of innocence of the child. The years till teenage are blissful; or they are supposed to be. Children don't know anything wrong. Everything is right for them. There is only love and happiness in their lives. Even when the toy car rams against the wall, she squeaks in delight. Because she can only see it as good fun.

That innocence, is in great danger of being lost, if not lost already. Children as small as four and five are being told by their parents about "what is good touch and bad touch". Many mothers -- who are forced into going down this lane -- frustratingly concede that they only end up confusing the kids rather than making them feel safer. One mom says her kid asked a counter-question, why she was saying all that.

It's very natural for anyone to smile when they see a child. Today, parents are telling their children to be careful if they see anyone smiling at them. Children are being told not to trust anyone, to tell parents if any stranger has spoken to them or held their arms. They are being told not to be friendly with the uncle down the lane, and not to play with him always, whenever they return from school early. Kids are being told that if ever they need any help, to call only the parents and not anyone else.

Three, parents are getting more and more paranoid. It's very normal for parents to get worried when their kids fall ill, or show unusual symptoms, like lack of sleep, or lack of appetite, or pain in the stomach. Those are, as any parent would know, usual problems every growing child faces. Nothing of any great consequence. But today, parents have begun factoring in the possibility of someone having violated their kids' privacy. Lucky if "possibility" doesn't turn into "probability".

Children after seeing "R or Rose and not Rape" on placards in TV news, ask their parents, what is rape. They enlighten their parents, that it was not R for Rape anyway, and that they have always learnt in school that it's R for Rose only.

I  don't know if anyone of us really understands how our society and a whole new generation is getting spoiled. What sort of society are we living in? With what frame of reference these children grow up? Where are we all heading for?

How do we end this terribly bad run? When will it end?

Any answers?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Train travel is still affordable

How poor you think is the average Indian train traveller? I don't think he or she is very poor. And, if he or she can afford to travel by train, he or she can also manage to put in an extra of a maximum of around Rs 60, following the increase in train passenger fares announced by railway minister Sadananda Gowda on Friday and due to take effect on June 25.

Let us take one example, from the lowest class.

According to South Western Railway, Rs 60 is the increase in fare for General 2nd Class seat from Bangalore to New Delhi. It's currently Rs 395, and it has been raised to Rs 455. If the person, who has to travel to Delhi can manage to save Rs 395, I am sure he will find ways and means to put in another Rs 60, for his Delhi trip. I don't think an increase of Rs 60 is so prohibitive that he or she will have to cancel his travel plan. It may be hard, no doubt, but it is manageable and not impossible.

In the same class, the fare from Bangalore to Chennai is Rs 105. It will henceforth be Rs 119, an increase of Rs 14. Similarly to Mysore the hike is Rs 5, new fare is Rs 60.

I do understand that for the poor, even Re 1 is valuable. Why for only the poor? Even a sensible rich guy will greatly value his one rupee. My contention is that the average hike of Rs 14.2 per cent is not so steep that large numbers of people will have to actually stop travelling by train. That would probably have been the case if the increase was 100% or even 50%.

When everyone is coping up with price increase in consumer durables, and even essential commodities, why increase in train fares alone announced by the Narendra Modi government should be such a huge burden on common people, I don't understand. Look at the price of sugar, salt, rice, wheat, etc. In fact, the increase in those segments have a far greater impact on people's budget.

The protests against the train fare hike are largely political. And that too is not surprising, since even when Mallikarjun Kharge raised the fare by a nominal 2% last year, there were howls of protests from political parties.

It's also a common trend in India that when government raises prices of its services there are howls of protests. But we don't see protests when private sector manufacturers or service providers raise prices. Even poor people make use of services and goods of private players. Why should government be prevented from generating revenue for its services, I fail to understand. And no one has any complaints when private sector increases prices.

(By the way, everyone, the richest and the poorest pay the same rate for the ubiquitous mobile phone services -- even the guy who can afford to buy only the duplicate model from the grey market. May be the rich use it more than the poor.)

Indian Railways, the largest network in the world, also offers the least expensive fare for the passengers compared to many other countries. There is always a reluctance to increase the fares because trains are seen as the preferred mode of transport for the poor and middle class people. The poor financial resources has left serious infrastructural and safety issues unresolved. Our trains need to be cleaner and travel needs to be safer, Actually, it should go to the credit of the Railways that the number of accidents are quite minimal for the network of this size and complexity. But, that is no reason for complacency and passengers definitely deserve a better deal.

Railways, as a public service, and should not get caught in politics. It is as much the responsibility of the opposition as that of the government that the people get an efficient train service. Whichever party is in power, periodically there has to be increase in train fares. Train fares alone can't insulated.

One option the Narendra Modi government can try out is to have market-driven differential pricing for Super Fast and Express trains. That will bring in more revenue, without seriously affecting the lower middle class people.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Involve entrepreneurs to solve Bangalore's garbage problem

Waste disposal has become a major issue in Bangalore. Every year once or twice the issue hits headlines with people residing in areas near the landfills complaining of health hazards, and refusing to let garbage trucks into their areas.

Only a few days ago the government managed to pacify the people of Mandur in Bangalore outskirts, who were on a protest, resulting in garbage piling up all over the city.

It's not that there are no solutions. But there are many extraneous issues related to land that are thwarting attempts to implement a solution. All advanced cities around the world have adopted mechanical processes to either harmlessly incenerate the waste or turn waste into organic manure.

There is also lack of determination to look for solution and make them work. Deccan Herald has an article today on how an entrepreneur is running 170 Organic Waste Converters. One of the converters in Jayanagar, sold to the city corporation, is maintained by this entrepreneur Narendra Babu. The people of the area are  helping him to keep it going.

So it'sn't that there are no solutions. Taking a cue from the good work done by this entrepreneur, the government must get private players and citizens involved in the process. Such OWCs can be set up at various locations and a self-sustaining model devised to have the manure distributed. A win-win solution that is crying out for adoption.

It's an irony that a city like Bangalore, which has a huge number of innovators and entrepreneurs, doesn't have an effective way of handling waste.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Use and misuse of hashtag

The first time a hashtag was ever used was around 7 years ago. Today it's very common on Twitter updates and even on Facebook status messages. Some people use it even on WhatApp and SMS messages. And, it's very evident that not many people clearly understand what a hashtag means; and when and how to use it.

What is a hashtag?

It's nothing but a hash followed by a tag. The tag is a label, or key word(s) that indicate(s) a topic of discussion. So, hashtag comprises a word, or a group of words without space in between them, and prefixed with the hash symbol, #. (Wikipedia entry on hashtag)

For eg: #bbcworldcup, #BringBackOurGirls, #Firstboss

The hashtag was first used on Twitter, and works best there. It serves to group together messages on a particular topic. It makes it easy for people to search messages on that topic by entering the hashtag in the search box on Twitter.

But why have a hashtag when we can search for tweets by simply typing out a word or a phrase like we search for websites in Google?

That's right. If you want to search for all tweets on Obama, you can key in Obama in the search box and get all the tweets with the word Obama in them. So is the case with any other word or phrase. For example: healthcare, MH370, Iraq fighting etc. Indeed, you can search for tweets on Twitter exactly like you search for websites on Google.

Why use hashtag?

A news organization like the BBC or the New York Times, or institutions or advocacy groups, or individual Twitter users, may create a hashtag for an issue or an event. They publicize this hashtag, calling on people to use that hashtag with their tweets. The aim is to bunch all the tweets on that issue or event under one hashtag. It also helps people looking for tweets on a particular issue or event or a person.

For example: for the world cup football matches currently on in Brazil, BBC has created a hashtag #bbcworldcup, So all tweets on BBC related to the world cup has this hashtag. By tweeting with this hashtag, you also stand a chance of getting your tweets featured in the live stream on the BBC site.

The most famous hashtag in recent times was "#BringBackOurGirls". It was created after the abduction of over 200 schoolchildren by militants in Nigeria on April 14. (More from BBC)

There was intense debate online about who created the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. The BBC, after a thorough check, says it was first used on April 23 by Ibrahim M Abdullahi, a lawyer in Nigeria. (More)

The BBC has some interesting statistics about the #BringBackOurGirls

The purpose of creating that hashtag was to group all tweets on this important incident under one label. Whether the online activism achieved anything tangible is still being debated.

Anyone can create a hashtag. For example, you can tweet about your first boss, with the hashtag #FirstBoss. Popularize it, and get people to tweet with this hashtag. So, if you search Twitter for this hashtag, you will get to see all tweets on this topic.

Wrong use of hashtag

Merely putting a hash sign in front of a word does not make that word a hashtag. It serves any purpose only if it's clickable. So, no point using it in WhatsApp messages and SMSes. Though it's most commonly used in Twitter, Facebook too lets you see a feed of all posts with a particular hashtag.

Remember this

  • Hashtags should be as short as possible. Because, longer the hashtag, fewer will be characters in your tweet.
  • If a hashtag has more than one word, then there shouldn't be any space between the words.
  • It should be unique, or else it defeats the purpose of creating one.
  • Hashtag works only on the website it has been used. You can search on Twitter hashtags that are used on Facebook.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Memorable start to football World Cup

Brazilians weren't at their best at all. Croatia didn't capitalize on that either. Thankfully, there were some good actions in the opening match of the football World Cup final yesterday.

The first goal was (technically) an own goal by Brazil in the 11th minute, as a shot from Olic touched Nikica and rolled off Marcelo into his own net. Then came the first yellow card in the 27th minute, to a Brazilian player, of all players, Neymar. I wondered what was in for Brazil?

But quite expectedly they came good. They had to. Neymar equalized in the 29th minute.

Then the controversy in the 71st minute. Japanese referee awarded a penalty after judging Lovren to have fouled Fred inside the box. But replays from multiple angles didn't show any contact at all for Lovren to have Fred falling down. Neymar converted, eluding the outstretched arm of the Croatian keeper. That got Brazil ahead. And the crowd exploded.

Finally just seconds before the final hooter Oscar scored giving the home team 3-1 win.

Today's second match will be special: it will be a replay of 2010 final - between Spain and Netherlands. Then, the 1-0 win gave Spain the crown. Let's see how it plays out today. Spain is expected to win.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who will win 2014 FIFA World Cup?

The world's most popular sporting extravaganza is all set to kick off in Brazil. The opening match is between Brazil and Croatia tomorrow night (at 1.30 am Friday in India) at Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo. Thanks to the time difference, it will be hard to follow all the matches live: they are at 9.30 pm, 12.30 am at 3.30 am. Sadly, some of the good matches are at 3.30 am.

A graffiti depicting human hands holding the earth
with the Brazilian flag in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
(Photo credit: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
It will now be a full month of fun. As 32 nations in 8 groups vie for the most coveted trophy in football, all the talk will be about who is playing whom, who will score, the deadly saves and strikes, who will top the table, and finally who will take the trophy home.

The hosts, Brazil is the only nation to have played in all the editions of the prestigious tournament. They have also won the cup a record five times -- in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They are always in the reckoning, more so now, to strike the jackpot. Spain comes as defending champions, but not much hopes are riding on them.

Though on paper Germany looks good to triumph, I have a gut feeling that it'll be a Latin American party. Though there were a lot of protests and strikes in Brazil, the country will finally rally behind their team on home ground, and backed by a good lineup, I think the holders of Confederations Cup will go on to lift the Fifa Cup too. From Latin America, expect a good fight from Argentina. If I have to look at Europe, my feeling is, it will be Germany, and the surprise will come from France.

Anyway, let's see how it plays out. Lots of time to discuss and debate.

Easy search on Google

By the way, Google -- as always -- has made it very easy for us to keep track of the fun.

Type or say "2014 Fifa World Cup", under the head "Matches", you get to see who is playing against whom and when. In the tab "Groups", you see the points table arranged group-wise.

Google Search result page for FIFA World Cup.
Under the tab "Matches", if you click on a match, you have details like Timeline, Match Stats and Lineup. When you click on a team, you can see more details about the team and the other matches the team will play, besides the current standing of the team in the group.

If you click on "match preview", you are taken to the Fifa site, where you have a slew of information.

Who, you think, will win the cup?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Scary drive in rain at night

Last night's drive back home after work around 1.30 am won't be forgotten too soon.

Up to M G Road it was like any other day, or rather night. After I crossed Trinity Circle, I could see lightning in the far sky, and it was becoming windy. About a km ahead, it began drizzling. That became a steady downpour when I reached the S V Road Metro station.

After about 500 meters, the downpour became so strong that I could barely see what's ahead, even after putting the wiper in full speed and turning the AC on to keep the moisture out. There were no lights on the street. Long and bright streaks of lightning helped me see the road ahead. It was a relief to see a few vehicles plying too.

Close to the Baiyappanahalli Metro Station, the rain became stronger. I could see a few vehicles sheltered under the overhead Metro rail track. But I decided go carry on, for two reasons. One, my house isn't too far off, and two, a kilometer or two ahead, there could be no rain at all! But, I began to get a feeling that I am really struggling against heavy odds.

I rolled down the windshield so that I could peep out and see what's ahead. I was also getting a bit claustrophobic with huge rain drops pounding on the car and total darkness all around.

Then on, for about half a km, I drove with just the gut feeling of where the road was. I seriously thought of what I should do in case of an eventuality like the car getting stalled or the car falling into a drain or some such thing.

Another kilometer so, and then miraculously, the rain abated and the streets was lit, though there was considerable water on the road.

The roughly 2-km drive was an unforgettable experience. Reached home, safely, actually.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When All India Radio delayed its news bulletins

1984, June 3

In the evening, All India Radio kept announcing that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would address the nation at 8 pm. Those days no one had even heard of internet or mobile phones. Television itself was just making a beginning. Black and white ones, that too in a few homes.

Breaking news happened in either one of the three main news bulletins on AIR or in the morning newspapers. There were no expert panelists on televisions to speculate on why the PM was unusually addressing the nation. Discussions were restricted to neighbourhood friends.

Mrs Gandhi was in her fifth year as Prime Minister after spending over two years out of power. Any major policy announcements? Was she going to call early elections? But why should she? Or has there been some major crisis?

At the stroke of 8 pm, instead of the PM's address to the nation, there was an announcement that due to some technical problems the Prime Minister's speech is delayed. AIR began playing instrumental music.

8.15 pm. No speech.

8.30 pm. No speech.

8.45 pm. No speech. No Hindi news.

9 pm. No speech. No English news.

Only repeated announcements that the address is delayed, and that the news bulletins would be broadcast after the Prime Minister's address to the nation.

Suspense mounted. I don't know if that was the first time ever AIR had missed its major 15-minute Hindi and English news bulletins at 8.45 and 9. Most unusual. No clue to what was happening.

If I remember right, around 9.30 pm, Mrs Gandhi finally came on air. My father and I intently listened to know what was the speech all about. It was an anti-climax of sorts.

She said (using words to mean that) the nation was in the throes of a crisis, riven by fissiparous forces (an expression I learned those days) who were bent of splitting and destroying the nation. She called on the people to stay together to preserve the "unity and integrity" (two words she always used) of the country. She said disruptive forces (another common phrase those days) would be crushed with an iron hand. She sought everyone's support to uphold the "unity and integrity" of the nation ....

Escalating violence in Punjab

She went on and on for about 15 or 20 minutes. There was no major announcement. The big internal crisis she had been battling for about two years was the large-scale violence in Punjab. A wedge had been driven between Sikhs and Hindus. There were killings almost every day. The person everyone spoke about was a young revolutionary named Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale.

He was leading a fight for a return to original Sikhism. The history is complex, and the roots are partly religious, partly political. Though Punjab was created as a state for the Sikhs, politically Congress dominated over the parties that spearheaded the movement. Akalis lost elections. There have been constant complaints that Sikhs were being discriminated and Punjabi language was being sidelined in favour of Hindi. A few Akali Dal leaders created the Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973 that called for a number of steps to restore the pride and place of the Sikhs.

The resolution was never talked about much, until early 1980s, when Bhindrawale, leader of the Damdami Taksal group took it up. He said fighting for all the things mentioned in the resolution will solve a number of problems of Punjab -- one of the critical ones was the demand for larger share of irrigation water. The demand for return of Chandigarh to Punjab too cropped up.

Mrs Gandhi saw red. She felt the Anandpur Sahib resolution and the agitation (which subsequently took a violent mode) were divisive and disruptive in nature threatening the "unity and integrity" of India.

What was initially started as a peaceful agitation, soon became quite radical and then militant in nature. Intra-Sikh rivalries played out on the streets. There were many instances of violent clashes between police and agitators. In 1982, Bhindranwale and his armed supporters moved into premises of the Golden Temple.

Violence was becoming the order of the day. In 1980, Baba Gurbachan Singh of Sant Nirankari sect shot dead. In 1981, editor of Hind Samachar group Jagat Narain was killed. The same year a plane was hijacked to Pakistan. In 1982, Punjab CM Darbara Singh escaped assassination attempt.
In 1983, deputy inspector general of Punjab Police A. S. Atwal was shot dead while he was leaving the Golden Temple. In 1983, there were a few instances of Hindus being killed, and there was a feeling that things were spiralling out of control.

Though, things were looking alarming, Mrs Gandhi didn't announce anything related to Punjab in her address to the nation. What she said wasn't anything different from what she used to tell at every public function or when she spoke to reporters.

But I went to bed with an eerie feeling that something was happening or was about to happen. The hint was the delay in the PM's address and the consequent late broadcast of night news bulletins. It was very unusual.

1984, June 4

The next day morning we got to know in the 8.10 am English news that Indian Army had launched a full-scale military attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in a bid to flush out the armed people. Heavy artillery and powerful guns were used. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers took part.

The operation was planned and coordinated by Army chief Gen A S Vaidya and vice-chief Lt Gen K Sunderji.

There were not many details in the 10 minute or 15 minute news bulletins on AIR. The next day's papers too did not carry much information. Not surprisingly, as we came to know later that the entire operation was planned and coordinated in total secrecy. There was complete censorship on news from June 3 with large parts of the fortified city under curfew.

The only alternative to the AIR was the BBC and the Voice of America. There was in-depth coverage in BBC's South Asia Survey at 7.15 am, Radio News Reel at 7.45 am and at 8.15 pm (BBC discontinued both the programmes later).

It was a full-scale battle in Amritsar as Army faced fierce resistance. The operation was over only on June 10. Bhindrenwale died on June 6. Casualty figures were disputed. Unofficial figures are close to 1,000 armymen and over 10,000 civilians died in various parts of the city during the 10-day operation that began on June 1.

We also got to know that Indira Gandhi's speech was delayed as it underwent revision after revision as her advisors differed on what the speech should contain.

Controversial decision

All the conversation everywhere was about Operation Blue Star. There were two sides to the dabate, and what was right depended on which side you were on.

Mrs Gandhi's argument was that it was right to send armed personnel into the temple since the temple itself had been used for storing arms. She said it was wrong for Sikh groups themselves to take arms into the temple in the first place.

But the counterargument was that it was okay for Sikhs to take arms to their temple. But it wasn't right for others to do so. The temple belonged to the Sikhs and not to the Army. Many Sikhs I spoke to felt the forceful entry of the Army with arms into the temple was definitely not right. They felt government let the situation escalate, and they could have explored many other options to get the militants out.

In fact, it's said Indira Gandhi had been earlier advised against the move by some top Army personnel. She was told to use alternative methods to get them out of the temple. It was also said Mrs Gandhi with political considerations in mind had allowed the situation to fester for long time in the beginning.

But at the end of it all, it was sad that such a beautiful temple had become a battleground. Impressive structures were riddled with bullet marks. Some buildings were completely destroyed.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in five months. The Army chief Gen Vaidya was assassinated in Pune in 1986 by Sikh gunmen six months after his retirement.

But the troubles weren't over. Infiltration of separatists continued. On May 1 and 2, 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had to send in paramilitary troops to the temple to arrest separatists. But this time, there was no media blackout and it was far less controversial.

It has been peace since then. How the cycle of violence in Punjab was put down is a different story altogether.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No degree is better than having one

The controversy over the educational qualification of Union HRD minister Smriti Irani is quite needless. Apparently she hasn't studied beyond Std XII. My take is -- it's good.

It all started with tweets from Madhu Kishwar and Congress spokesman Ajay Makhen, questioning her competence to head the education ministry. And, it backfired, with a barrage of countertweets. Columnist Swapan Dasgupta said: “Someone remind me. Did Rabindranath Tagore go to university? He certainly established one & had enlightened views on education.’’ Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah tweeted: "To say that someone needs to be educated to be HRD Min is like saying one needs to be a pilot for Civil Aviation or a miner for Coal Min".

I wonder when did educational qualification become an imperative to join politics or to become a minister. Not just in politics, elsewhere too everyone is looking beyond degrees. We have infinite examples of under-qualified people doing well, and well-qualified people under-performing.

Let her do her job

As a minister, Smriti and others are more of managers and leaders. What she needs is a good set of advisers. And she should have the will to push the policies that are good for the teachers and the taught, and generally for the educational setup of our country. And for all that, a PhD or an MSc or an MBA is hardly required. In fact, a highly qualified person may prove to be a disadvantage, since he or she won't be able to look beyond his or her field of specialization. Such people very often have a constricted view, while a minister of education of the country should have a very broad view.

Let Smriti be allowed to do her job. If she has come this far, she must be smart enough to figure her way ahead too. If we need to criticize, let us do that for her omissions and commissions as a minister.

(Picture credit: The Hindu)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Judge not Modi too soon

Narendra Modi being sworn in as PM by President Pranab
Mukherjee. (Photo credit: Rajeev Bhatt/The Hindu
Narendra Modi has just been sworn in as the Prime Minister of India in a grand ceremony in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. For the first time ever, leaders from all the seven Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations and Mauritius, besides 4,000 other invitees attended.

It should normally have been just another transition of power -- for the 15th time, if you didn't include two stints of 13 days each when Gulzarilal Nanda was the acting prime minister after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. But there has been so much of excitement this time around.

In the recent past, perhaps only two other transitions created so much excitement -- in 1977 when Morarji Desai became PM heading India's first non-Congress government that too after both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were defeated in the election; and later in 1996 when Atal Behari Vajpayee led a BJP-led minority government, for 16 days, just 4 years after the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Given the way the UPA-2 government was drifting rudderless courting one controversy after another -- under a competent man, who unfortunately never got to do what he wanted to (unlike in 1991 when he was the finance minister, Narasimha Rao was the PM and Sonia Gandhi hadn't entered politics) -- Narendra Modi becoming the PM was very much foreseen.

Why the excitement?
  • The hope that we will have a government that will be also seen to be functioning.
  • After 16 years, we have a prime minister who has campaigned and led his party to victory.
  • After 30 years, a single party has got majority in the Lok Sabha.
  • Regional satraps who have only a score or two MPs won't hold the entire nation to ransom.
  • The talk that Modi is an efficient and tough taskmaster who gets things done.
  • We have a PM who is backed by a reasonable set of achievements, though he has quite a lot of negative attributes as well. But in the absence of any alternative, many seem to have decided to focus on his pluses than minuses.
While the excitement is understandable. we are too presumptuous in judging Modi. I guess, we must allow him and his government to settle down. We have seen only a number of symbolisms, during electioneering and after, from Modi. Nothing wrong. After all, politics is a lot about perception -- formed not just by tangible substantive actions, but by intangible tokenism too. The most talked-about symbolism is the invitation of foreign leaders to the swearing-in, particularly Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

I am sure Modi wouldn't restrict himself to token gestures, as he and his team gets the wheels of effective governance turning again. Expect not just sweet symbolisms, but quite a few harsh and unpopular decisions as well that are needed if our country has to scale heights of economic and social excellence. Hopefully, sloth, lack of accountability and indiscipline in governance will be things of the past.

Eager anticipation

It's more anticipation than excitement; anticipation on how the future would be. Going by the way votes have gone, it has been established on multiple fora that people who voted for the BJP had chosen to look at economic issues over communal and religious issues.

One important area that has suffered over the past few years is investment. We are not talking about the more controversial foreign direct investment, that too in retail. We are talking of investment in infrastructure, education, science and technology, agriculture, industry, tourism etc. And we are not talking of foreign investment. We are talking of Indian investment. Many Indians, wary of investing in India itself, have been turning to foreign countries.

The biggest change most Indians are looking forward to is this. Because, it will have a great bearing on jobs, state of the economy, and by extrapolation, the standard of living.

But the huge flip side of the mandate is that very other Indian who voted, didn't vote for BJP. Its vote share was a little over 30%. The majority of those voted, the nearly two-thirds, will be keeping their fingers crossed with a lot skepticism.

Hopefully Modi will keep them in mind, the huge majority who didn't vote for the BJP. Finally, his image and success, will depend on how he takes care of them.

Test of crisis

It's said the strength of a chain is its weakest link. It means, when pressure is applied on the chain, it's weakest link that will snap first. So, how long lasting the chain is depends on that weakest link. Similarly, how good Modi is will depend on how well he can handle a crisis. It's during a crisis one's abilities are put to test. So, we will be able to judge best, when he is faced with a crisis, by looking at how well he resolves it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We will miss you, MP. Rest in Peace

Flying Officer (Rtd) M P Anil Kumar, the unbelievable source of inspiration for countless people, left for his heavenly abode at 8.15 am today. He turned 50 on May 5.

Funeral will be at Bopodi crematorium near CME (Harris) Bridge, about 2.5 km from Paraplegic Rehabiliatation Home, tomorrow, Wednesday, May 21. The body will reach the PRC at 9 am, where tributes will be paid by PRC inmates. The body will be moved to the crematorium at 10 am. From 10.30 to 11.30 friends and well wishers will be able to pay their tributes. The funeral is at 11.30 am.

From June 28, 1988, to today, a stretch of 26 long years, MP (as we all called him) fought his adversities so bravely. He was a fighter pilot, flying MiGs. But ended up fighting a different battle from his wheelchair and bed.

MP was one year senior to me in school: Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala. He was there for the games and parades. He got into NDA like many of my schoolmates, shone like bright star, won medals and accolades, until that fateful day in June, by a strange quirk of fate he was rendered immobile from neck downwards.

With the IAF chief.
I will let MP himself tell what happened, in this highly inspirational essay: "Airborne to Chairborne", which he wrote for the Indian Express. Click here. (In case the link is not working, you can also read the full essay at the end of this post.)

His home was the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Kirkee, Pune. Whenever I had a chance to go to Pune, just like many of his friends, I too made it a point to call on him at PRC. He would just keep talking about politics, defence, sports, media. He had an amazing depth of knowledge and was well tuned into all that was happening around us. He wrote many articles on defence related matters in Rediff.com, and middles in Indian Express. Despite his limitations, he was always cheerful, with a great sense of humour.

Once when I met him in 2000, I was amazed to see the books on computer that were stacked in his room. That was the time, when personal computers were getting affordable and popular. He got on to the cyber world to keep himself active, and be in touch his friends. He kept himself engaged, visiting schools, giving inspirational talks. Many school and college projects have been done on MP.

When I met him on February 21, 2012
Two years ago, when I met MP, he was telling me how age had caught on, how his body had become weak, and how he wasn't able to read for long, how he became too tired too fast etc.

Things were getting more difficult for MP, but the most tragic blow, after all that he had suffered, came last month. He was having frequent bouts of fever, and on April 12 he was admitted to Military Hospital Kirkee, Pune, for detailed tests. A few days later, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (it is one of the more dangerous forms of blood cancer). Due to his quadriplegia, severe treatments were ruled out. He was administered one round of chemo.

I visited him on Sunday, May 11. I was a bit skeptical as to how the meeting would go. But the moment I saw him, all my worries vanished. He was smiling, instantly started talking to me, with that sense of humour he had. He just put me at ease. I was there for close to 2 hours, from around 12.15 pm. He also spoke on phone to my father, who taught him in school. I wished him speedy recovery. He thanked me. After one final caress on his forehead and cheeks, and I left, with the fervent hope that I will be able to meet him again.

Talking to me, when I met him on Feb 21, 2012.
He was okay, and a few days later, he was shifted back to PRC from the MH. But soon his condition worsened. On Saturday, May 17, he was moved to ICU in MH, Kirkee. Doctors put his condition under DIL (Dangerously Ill) category. Last night, one his friends messaged me that his condition had got really worse. And, today morning, that valiant struggle ended. An irreparable loss.

There are very few who touch people's hearts the way MP did; very few who are looked up to for their strength of mind and their determination, very few about whom children study as a part of their curriculum in schools, when that person is alive.

MP was an unbelievably true fighter. God had scripted this different life for him. But, MP taught us that there is plenty of life even with the worst adversities. He taught us many many invaluable lessons.

Life is not about longevity. It's about what you mean to others, people around you. MP, you achieved so much, in spite of all your hardship. You meant so much to every one who knew you.

You have been a true guide, an invaluable inspiration. Will never forget you.

Rest in Peace, MP.


Airborne to Chairborne

All my attempts to move my limbs were futile. The pain in the neck was excruciating and it intensified by the second. I was stumped for a moment but quickly recovered to realise the seriousness and significance of my inability to get up. I do not remember whether I screamed involuntarily, then, in sheer desperation. On that abominable night, my mind was in a medley of intense frustration, utmost dejection and extreme disappointment. For some timeless moments, I wished I were dead.

On 28 June ’88, at around 2300 hrs, whilst returning to the Officers Mess on my motorcycle after night flying, I drove onto a road barrier just ahead of the technical area gate, inside Air Force Station, Pathankot. The impact of the helmet on the wooden bar wrenched my neck and broke the cervical spine. Fifteen minutes after the accident, I was taken to the Station Sick Quarters in an unconscious state. While being carried, my head was left unsupported. The base of the helmet (rear side) which was resting against the nape of the neck pushed the fractured vertebrae into the cervical spinal cord. (The casualty must always be carried in a stretcher, after immobilising his/her neck with a cervical collar.) The resultant spinal injury completely paralysed me below the neck.

After overnight’s stay in Military Hospital (MH), Pathankot, I was transferred to Army Hospital, Delhi (AHDC). Neck surgery failed to mitigate my predicament. Though I had brief spells of consciousness during the fortnight’s hospitalisation in AHDC, my memory fails to recollect my fight for survival. On 12 July ’88, I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of MH Kirkee, Pune.

Two weeks after my admission, I gathered my wits and eagerly inquired about the prognosis. The medical officer looked up and motioned his hands skywards; perhaps he wanted me to adjure divine intervention. This charade instantly deflated my hopes but it lucidly conveyed the enormity and helplessness of the incurable nature of the incapacitation. Inconsistencies of life have always bemused me but not even the wildest nightmare presaged that one day I would fall prey to such a quirk of fate. The modicum of faith I had in Providence got shattered when I failed to show even an iota of improvement.

The cervical spinal injury (quadriplegia) necessitated me to lead a totally dependent life, tethered to the bed and wheel chair. Now, I am like a man fettered for life; unable to use my hands and legs, incontinent and spoon‑fed. Ironically, the most painful aspect of quadriplegia is the painlessness! It isn’t mere loss of tactile inputs and outputs but absolute dependence on someone else to accomplish mundane necessities and domestic chores that yoked me; even for things like swabbing ears and swatting flies.

Disuse atrophy had set in within a couple of months and took its toll by altering the geometry of my torso and limbs. The mirror replicated the image of a human skeleton swathed in a layer of wizened skin. Two years’ stay in MH Kirkee taught me how to battle the numerous encumbrances and how to conquer the bouts of depression. With a smile on my face, I managed to dissemble the pangs of the heart. The Indian Air Force (IAF) realised my uselessness and discharged me from the service on 12 April ’90. The silly accident dealt coup de grace to my aspirations and terminated my fledgling career in the IAF. In August ’90, at the young age of 26, I got admitted in Paraplegic Home, Park Road, Kirkee, Pune, as an inmate to begin the second phase of my life afresh.

I was born and brought up in a village by name Chirayinkil, 35 kms north of Trivandrum. At the age of nine, I entered Sainik School, Kazhakootam. A slow learner and an unobtrusive student by nature, I had excelled consistently in both academics and sports. Later on, I was found worthy enough to be adjudged as the best Air Force cadet of 65th course of National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune and as the best in aerobatics of 134th Pilots Course of Air Force Academy, Secunderabad. In Dec ’84, I was commissioned into the IAF as a fighter pilot. I had 700 hours of flying experience (including 500 hours of flying in a magnificent flying machine called MiG-21) during my truncated career in the IAF.

All my efforts to rationalise personal catastrophes have always mystified and at times stupefied me. To adapt to the new challenges posed by the debility, I had to unshackle myself from the self‑imposed stupor. Therefore, in Sep ’90, I decided to learn the art of writing by holding a pen in my mouth (because of dysfunctional hands). I began scribbling illegibly but was chagrined to find little progress even after 3 weeks’ laborious efforts. Then, I decided to change tactic and wrote a letter to Sheela George, the person who kept on chivvying to start mouth‑writing (earlier I had paid little attention to her exhortations). My joy knew no bounds when I completed the few lines that embodied my first mouth‑written letter. Initially, I found my hard work to be a mere pie in the sky; but, 4 to 5 months’ assiduous efforts resulted in attaining a readable style of writing. This modest achievement enabled me in reviving the chain of correspondence and begetting new friends.

In May 1991, I was presented with an electrically operated wheel chair, with chin controls for manoeuvring, thanks to the benevolence of the IAF. Motorised mobility, though only a poor substitute for natural one, has enlivened my lifestyle considerably.

It was Wing Commander PI Murlidharan, my former flight commander, who mooted the use of a personal computer (PC), as a writing tool. He added that it would assist me to utilise my mental faculty to the hilt. Hitherto unsuccessful attempts in procuring a keyboard (modified to suit my requirements) have somewhat emasculated my resolve. Nonetheless, my hope of acquiring a PC remains undiminished.

In the meantime, I toyed with the idea of teaching. For some untenable reasons, I kept on declining the offers by bringing one imaginary reason or another as an ad hoc excuse. Aforesaid setbacks notwithstanding, I’m very hopeful of converting the second phase of my life into something as meaningful as the one I would have had from the confines of a cockpit.

"Believe it or not, every dark cloud has a silver lining. To surmount even seemingly insuperable obstacles, one has to muster the remnant faculties and shun the thought of disability and then canalise one’s dormant energies purposefully and whole‑heartedly. It isn’t just physical ability and average intelligence but an insatiable appetite for success and an unflagging will power that would texture the warp and woof of the fabric called human destiny. Greater the difficulty, sweeter the victory."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Congress 44 seats out of 543. What next for Sonia?

As poll surveys and exits polls dominated television, and everyone seemed to be pretty convinced that Narendra Modi would be the next prime minister, I wondered if there would be any surprises yesterday, the day votes were counted. Exits polls on most previous occasions, overestimated the winner. So the fear was if NDA would end up just around 272, allowing smaller regional parties to have a field day. Anticipating that, BJP started even looking for more allies a couple of days before counting.

But I was proved wrong and there were plenty of surprises yesterday. The biggest of them all was the the sweep of the Modi storm. Though Modi would have dreamt of this, and worked strenuously for the result, I am sure he himself was taken by surprise. So too millions of voters, who voted for BJP but just kept their fingers crossed. My random guess is that many people who don't basically agree with BJP ideology (including Muslims) would have have voted for BJP. Why they voted for the BJP could be the subject of a debate.

The other big surprise was the depth to which Congress plummeted yesterday, which didn't get highlighted so much, thanks to the blinding effect of the BJP gust.

Congress managed to win just 44 seats in a House of 543. Simply can't believe this.

Their worst performance was in 1999, when Vajpayee-led NDA restricted them to a mere 114. In fact, that itself was worse than the 1977 tally of 153, when a hurriedly cobbled together combination of Janata Alliance dealt a body blow to Indira Gandhi-led Congress -- a punishment for the severe excesses during the Emergency: a particularly black chapter in India's independent history. Then, both Indira and her son Sanjay lost the election. At least the family members have won this time. Some consolation for Congress.

Yesterday, as one saw Sonia and Rahul come out to meet the media, and valiantly put up a smile and graciously accept the result in all humility, it was difficult to suppress a surge of sympathy for the plight they find themselves in. To be fair to Congress, their government did launch a number of social initiatives aimed at helping the disadvantaged, besides a slew of economic policies to benefit the youth and career-minded burgeoning young middle class. But the barrage of negative tidings for the top leaders of the party was so strong, Congress had time only to keep themselves afloat rather than counter the BJP. No one understood or took notice of the few good things the government did.

The Sonia family will have to seriously introspect why such a fate befell their party. Congress is just riding on the family tag. That will have to definitely change. Congress doesn't have a leader. Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka are always in the background. They need a strong leader: both Sonia and Manmohan were weak. Rahul just made sporadic appearances. Priyanka came in too late to make any impact.

Rahul was simply no match for Narendra Modi.

Also, the Congress experiment of two heads -- one for the party and the other for the government -- has failed. It was made worse with the two leaders who could make no impact.

Congress needs to project as their leader, someone who has strong grassroots presence and is a leader in his or her own right. Neither Sonia, nor Rahul, nor Priyanka can take that position. The family's first task will be to identify that person, and groom him.

The family also needs to consider if loosening their grip on the party, would help in any way. It would be a tough call to take.

But things are so bad for the Congress, any decision to revive the party would be better than no decision at all.