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?