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Monday, December 18

25 or no 25

The cake has been cut, the Orkut messages are raining, phone has done its own share of ringing and I am writing a blog post. In few hours from now, I would complete my 25 years of existence.

Although 21 is the age at which you become adult in India for all practical purposes, 25 seem to be a landmark in its own right. So in Indian tradition, I am officially out of Brahmacharya part of my life and in US, I can now rent a car everywhere. Hardly sound like things to care for !

When we were young, we all dreamt of growing up. I think 25 is closest to the dream age to which every child wants to grow up. This is the point when you are supposed to have grown up and ready to take on the world. I feel like the life till now has been spend in a kind of preparation and now is the time to go ahead and do what you want. Irony is that in the last years of all the preparation you realize, you have taken the wrong road may be ! But as the Led Zeppelin said,

Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on

And so 25 or no 25, It doesn't matter. How long have you walked the road, doesn't matter. How many walk beside you, doesn't matter. Where does the road go, doesn't matter. There is always the time, there is always the chance and there is always the courage, to walk the road you want. Just look into your heart.

Somebody taught me a beautiful thing in this last year. Here it goes.

"There may be thousand reasons for not doing something but there is always one reason for doing it - because you want to !"

25 or no 25, Dream on !

Saturday, December 16

Language Digest - 3

Sorry for the long delay but somethings in life just cannot wait and semester end seems to be rather full of them. but back we are and here we go.

Madras HC sees little use for Tamil without proper infrastructure being in place. This is in responce to Govt's move to make Tamil as the court language.

In the education field, Kannada and Marathi are now compulsory in their respective states for 10th and 12th standard kids. It is not very clear is this is for state boards only or for ICSE and CBSE also. In Kashmir also, efforts are on to introduce Kashmiri in the private schools.

Urdu medium schools in Delhi are not able to find Urdu speaking Science and Maths teachers and so students are having problems.

Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages has been accorded University status. I hope now the research section on their website will come out of being "under construction".

After schools, it is sign boards in Karnataka.

The national association of the Deaf wants official status for Indian Sign Language.

Even the strong opponents of missionary activities will have to concede that their work in native languages has been phenomenal. The whole SIL and Ethnologue is the result of years of Christian missionary work in the field. The gospel for Asia is now broadcasting in 11 new languages. These guys know how to talk to a man, literally.

In news from the center, independent India is going to conduct its very first linguistic survey. The last one was 100 years back commissioned by the British.

Delhi cops brush up their English skills and learn foreign languages for coming Commonwealth games.

In technical news, C-DAC is launching its software tools package for 7 more languages, Webduniya content becomes available in 2 more languages and ByIndia launches search in 5 Indian languages.

There is more but I think I will end now with two items. First one about how mother tongues and love marriages are getting along and second about how Jharkhand is having problems with its linguistic diversity.

Friday, December 15

Gareebi me aata gila !

Though it looks like there was no damage, it has left me feeling utterly insecure. Before entering any password I think twice what if he left a backdoor or Trojan or keylogger and would be back later to pick up all the goodies nicely stored in a file somewhere on my disk? Anybody having any ideas about detecting a Linux keylogger running, please get back to me.

The only good part is that I actually saw it happened and so was able to get in the damage control mode immediately. When we came here, we were told that computing environment here is extremely hostile and that any vulnerability will be exploited within a day of being exposed. My VNC server could survive may be 10 hours. A look at the /var/log/messages shows consistent attacks on ssh every 4-5 hours. Living in the famous parts of IP namespace has its own disadvantages.

And this happened when I was still trying to recuperate from the yesterday's misadventure with new Airtel call home service. I tried to register at their website and they did a Air Deccan to me i.e. charged my account but said that there had been an error ! I don't mind this very much what with the huge traffic and unreliable network connections but what annoyed me was that the 24x7 phone number advertised boldly on the website is *not working*. And no replies whatsoever from the customer care email address also.

And as a follow up, I discovered that out of the two solutions to a problem in a final on Tuesday, the one I chose to pen down is the wrong one ! I thought the other one was elegant but not necessary but turns out that was the right one. Should I say karela vo bhi neem chada or Sone pe suhaga or may be icing on the cake !

Sometimes it is just too much fun !

Thursday, December 14

Lucknow University crackdown

There are several interesting news stories from back home today, some of them good, some of them bad and depressing.

The good news comes from my home town Lucknow. Lucknow University (LU) has long been a den of criminals of all kind of hues. There are student leaders there who are always in the jail. Due to the strong backing of the political parties, administration is hardly able to do anything. LU has gone down steadily in the quality of education. Now the current VC of LU has decided to take the bull by the horns. He has closed the university sine die and has suspended around 135 students with criminal records. This despite the hoopla in the assembly against him. No wonder a majority of the suspended students belong to SP, the ruling party and that head of SP, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the most vocal critic of the VC, Dr. R P Singh. Anyone who knows the situation in LU would have to admire the courage required to do such a thing. You can read about it here, here and here .

Specially amusing is the old rant of politicians this time coming out from Mr. Yadav bemoaning the death of democracy. I have two comments. One is that politicians have become a self appointed guardian of democracy in the country. Anything against their wishes happens and it goes against democracy. Second is I fail to understand why University has to be a model of democracy? I agree that being socially aware is good for students and that many of the future leaders emerge from the student politics but essentially universities or any other institutions can only be a sandbox democracy, a demonstration system. And these setups will have to play second fiddle to the primary function of an education institute and that is providing education. They can play a important role in the education but should never be allowed to overtake it. This theme has come up in IITK also in the past and I have said it there also. The assumption that the institute should follow the democratic principles in its dealings with students has to be a qualified one. So just saying that AIIMS director has become a dictator or LU's VC has become a dictator is not enough. A dictator may very well be what the place needs right now !

Also I can see the recent AIIMS fiasco coming into play somewhere in the background. If we set aside the reservation issue for time being, the fight there was essentially between a academician and a politician, both had their own agenda and either may be right and wrong, I am not gunning for anybody here. But the the way it unfolded, it demonstrated that it is possible to take on politicians and stick to your stand even if the politician happens to be a cabinet minister at the center and in fact a very well connected one. The message coming out was very clear, if you have a problem with political interference, go ahead and fight it and you have a reasonable chance of success. I sincerely hope that this message becomes even strong after LU incident and more heads of our beleaguered university system stand up to face the politics. What is needed is ample media coverage because the dangers in this process are very real and they would need all the cover they can get !

Good Luck Dr. Singh ! Even if you go down fighting, you have shown that fighting is still an option !

Welcome back?

Well, I must admit that I am given to the vice of over-dramatization but I take care to always have a premise !

So the question is, are you at a new blog or are you at the old blog? Should I welcome you or should I welcome you back? Is it "nayi botle me puraani sharab" ya "puraani botel me nayi sharab"? Nevermind as Kurt said, we have labels now and we will be putting them over everywhere so that nobody gets lost in this basket case ever again. But till that is done, you are advised to tread cautiously and heed to what I said in the first paragraph. I am given to over-dramatizations !

The track will be back in a short while !

Sunday, December 10

Before change !

This post is the last one on this blog. Blogspot has been a pretty good host but now it goes to where it belongs, hall of fame.

Here comes Blogger 2, just in time for the new year party with all the new goodies ! Let's party !!

Sunday, December 3

Faces of Democracy II - Your name is Justine

"Where is love? Where are dreams? Where is the bloody justice?"

These are tough questions, questions which lurk just around the corner but we avoid asking them. Because facing them means questioning the most basic assumptions of our lives and then everything threatens to just fall apart. Not something we can afford to. Right?

But what do you do when life forces you to ask these questions and refuses to answer? This is the point in the life of Mariola when we leave her at the end of the movie. The life has turned a full circle for her, she is back in her familiar surroundings, among friends and well wishers but what has changed is her. She is no longer the little princess who just wanted to be happy. The movie is the story of how that happens, how the psych of a simple polish girl is damaged beyond repair, how the heart is hurt beyond healing. A story that is not unique to Mariola but to thousands of girls all over the world who are pushed into flesh trade by those very hands whom they choose to trust.

The pattern is repeated all very often. A girl embarks on a journey with his lover/boyfriend/well wisher and ends up in flesh trade. But this seemingly one line story contains inside it a frightening journey from that first moment in which the whole world suddenly collapses to the moment when she finally "gives in". That is the journey that is chronicled in "You name is Justine" , Justine being a possible allusion to sade. It records the violence in enough detail to shock you but stops before becoming too gory.

But the main challenge in such an effort is to bring out the psychological violence, the destruction that is happening inside victim's mind. The movie succeeds in that but there is definitely room for improvement. Some scenes really stand out, like when Meriola realized what is happening to her and when she just sits near a small opening in the apartment talking all by herself to the people traveling by train passing underneath. The movie starts in a ham factory showing how a pig is pickup, dazed, killed and converted to ham. This is a very strong allegory to everything that happens in the movie afterwards, that small sequence in the first 2-3 min is played out in its full gory details in next 90 min albeit with human victim this time.

Before the main movie they showed a short film from Poland that was an entry in the short film competition organized along with the film fest and I was really amazed by the quality of cinematography and the wonderful narrative structure in a small 5 min short ! I hope it wins something :-)

Friday, December 1

Language Digest - 2

Let us start by 3 statements all coming from different conflict zones, typical of the role languages play in such scenarios. Manipur, Nepal and Kashmir.

Taking forward the theme of conflict, here are some other effects of language antagonism: Asaam. In his new book, Subramanian Swamy asks Hindu's to vow to learn Sanskrit. Look towards the end of the review.

And contrary to what I said, here is this blog post from Bangalore in which police refuses to help since the complainer was not able to speak Kannada.

To bring back some cheer, efforts to promote languages: Bhutan and Konkani

UT Austin launches Hindi-Urdu program and Cambridge recently closed its Sanskrit Dept. But academicians speak up for Sanskrit.

Sindhi Language is doing fine and so is Dakhani in India.

In Hindi Literature, translations are in vogue these days.

On technology side, Tegic released predictive text for Hindi.

To end, here is Pratap Bhanu Mehta on lessons from 1956 linguistic reorganization of states.

Faces of Democracy - I

Having an isolated office at the fringe of the campus has its pros and cons. So while I just need to walk about 50 meters from my office to catch the escort back home, being a corner graduate student place, not a lot of notices make it to the notice board of the building.

This isolation had almost insured my missing the CMU's very own film festival, that is being called "Faces of Democracy" this year. It has a wonderful collection of documentaries form across the world relating to the theme of democracy and the best thing about it is that is the outcome of a semester long course taught here ! Imagine that ! Getting academic credit for designing and organizing a Film Festival ! Bliss !

So having already missed the opening yesterday, I made it to Avi Mograbi's Avenge But One of my Two Eyes, a look at the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The festival broacher told me that Avi is known as Israel's Michael Moore and is an ardent critic of Israel's policies. No need to say that this movie is yet another strong statement.

However contrary to what you may think, even after watching the movie, this is not a movie about the Occupied territories, about the plight of Palestinians and Israel's handling of them. This was my first time of seeing a docu on this topic and I kinda remained absorbed in the extremely heart breaking incidents unfolding on the screen. The desperation of the situation is overwhelming. The sheer humiliation faced by the Palestinians, by ordinary civilians everyday is enormous. What do you do to a tank or a jeep that just says no through a speaker without listening to whatever you have to say? Where there is no leeway of any kind to help adjust the problems of daily life? So in Bangalore when a ambulance comes, everybody leaves the road for it, traffic is stopped. How do you handle a situation in which a ambulance is returned back, not allowed to pass, not allowed to reach to those who need it?

And for a moment it is not about taking sides. Not about thinking who is correct and who is wrong. It is about a urge to defuse such a situation. If this continues, there is only one way for it to go, to disaster. As the friend of Mr. Avi talking to him on the phone says that he wants to live but the line between life and death keeps getting blurry with every passing day. After a point, it doesn't matter anymore. When Avi tries to ask him what can be done about solving this, he replies that he cannot see anything to be done on his side. It is something that has to happen in the Israeli society.

Which brings to me the point of the movie. Yes, it is a movie with scenes of ground situation but the main point of the story is more inwards and it achieves that through contrasting the treatment of the legend of Masada and Samson the hero in today's Israeli society with the actual ground situation. People do not seem to realize the irony inherent in celebrating the myth of Samson on one hand who can be called the first suicide "bomber" of the world and calling Palestinian suicide bombings as a crime against humanity on the other. The footage from the ground brings out the situation perfectly. How the Arabs are humiliated by making them stand on a stone just like how Samson was put on stage for the amusement of his captors. Or how the fence put up by Israel resonates with the wall built by Romans to besiege the zealots at Masada.

Bringing out this irony of popular discourse is what Avi is trying to achieve in the movie and in this way doing his bit in response to his friends statement that the realization has to start from within Israeli society. It is by scrutinizing and questioning our own believes that we can begin to understand others. True for Israelis and true for everyone of us.

Another aspect of the movie is worth mentioning. At many points in the movie, Avi takes a provocative stance against the Israeli soldiers. In fact in the very last scene of the school children, he starts abusing the soldiers who just listen quietly and remain very restrained and for a second even I felt that he is messing up all the good work. But on second thoughts it seems more deliberate and not an act of desperation. It is clear that he is safe and is treated rather well by the soldiers even when he is openly provoking them because he is a Jew. Any Arab in place of him would have had a very different fate. And the harmless school children standing across the closed gate provide the strikingly contrasting background. As I read somewhere, it is irony with capital I.

Monday, November 27

Language Digest - 1

Let us start with a news that is a little old and was well covered in media for its absolute shock value. This is Chandra Bhan Prasad celebrating Lord Macaulay's B'day in Delhi. Here is a follow up post from Kafila. If we are able to get over the sheer recklessness of the whole thing, there are a lot of questions that demand a better answer than those being provided by Prasad and Co. .

Recently, there have been two interesting stories from the legal system of the country. The first is the announcement by Karunanidhi to make Tamil the official language of Madras High Court. It is also covered here, here and here. This is a continuation of his other steps to promote Tamil in all spheres of life. Here is a op-ed in ToI.

The second is a decision by the Calcutta High Court that a dying declaration can be used as an evidence if it is recorded in victim's mother tongue. Also covered here .

Jharkhand announces introduction of tribal languages in schools.

From Pakistan, murder of Urdu.

Sunday, November 26

Language Digest - The idea

Human Languages play a role so basic in our lives that most of the time we fail to even notice it. The only other thing of comparable importance might be economy, not the stock market and big corporations, but our personal financial state and activities. Together these two cover a vast spectrum of issues.

On one hand stands linguistics, a scientific study of human languages, trying to under stand the current state of languages, how does human mind handle them, how do they develop and evolve and affect each other. Then we have the whole field of literature having authors, prose, poetry, translations, publishing. And then there are political issues, as Max WeinReich put it,
"A language is a dialect with an army and navy."

Languages play an important role in defining today's nation states. They both unite and divide people like few other things. The catch the fancy of people like little else, just lookout for number of people lamenting death of Hindi and other vernacular languages at the hands of English. The linguistic movements in the southern India have played the decisive role in defining the political face of the area.

And not to forget their social aspects. Specially in India where languages associate with social status. A lot of prosperity coming to the Indian middle class in last 10-15 years has been by virtue of their familiarity with English. Simultaneously, it has been a bottleneck for the dreams of millions of people who don't have facilities to learn the language.

And the big question of language preservation. Should it be done? Is it only natural that language fall out of use as has been happening through out human history or are we witnessing some extraordinary epidemic where almost 90% of the existing 6100 languages of the world face extinction by the end of next century? In the times of globalization, how do we achieve the balance between the needs of global communication and preservation of diverse cultural identities because languages form the most important component of cultural identities?

In the light of the above, it seems surprising how little coverage the linguistic issues get in the mainstream media. Not only that but the kind of ignorance and myths that abound about all aspects of languages in common discourse is astonishing. Specially in India a country full of so much linguistic diversity, we need to do better. We need to give more attention to our linguistic treasures than treating it as a mere curious fact ("You know we have 22 official and 600 overall languages !!"). A lot of that diversity is slipping away from our hands right as we showcase it to the world. And most of all, we have to understand how to handle and leverage our linguistic wealth for the welfare of the masses and building of a better country.

As a small step towards that, I will attempt to collect and post on this blog, language related news and views from Indian subcontinent, published in mainstream media. It will start as a digest of links at periodic intervals as of now and will only contain stories from news sources. Later on, I may include blogs and other sources also.
The hope is to make that news more visible. Contributions are welcome and can be left as comments at the moment.

With due acknowledgment to Language Log, Slashdot and Google News.

To a lovely morning !

Today was a lovely bright sunny morning ! The kind of morning that takes away a bit of the pain and makes you want to buy a bunch of flowers for no reasons at all (as if we should need any reason to get ourselves some flowers !). Yesterday night, I fell asleep reading the following:
"She descended the garbagey stairs, went out into the morning, a spanking-fresh June one, all spangly on the fire escapes. She paused for a moment on the stoop, taking it in. On a morning like this, you could believe the world was safe and promising. You could imagine that nothing harmful, nothing toxic, could flourish. Not when early light slanted down so purely from an ice-blue sky. Not when the window-box geraniums of the first-floor widow were incandescently red and a passing truck said PARTY PLANNERS in glittering gold letters."

-- Michael Cunningham, Specimen Days

Saturday, November 25

The Culture Shock II - Cycling

When coming back to academic life, I was pretty excited at the thought of going back to having a bicycle as my mode of transport. The romantic appeal I find in riding a bicycle is matched by no mechanized vehicle. All of them feel too fast, just the means of reaching someplace. A bicycle is adequately slow and uncomplicated, leaving you a lot of time and attention to give to your surroundings. Walking is the nest best thing but bicycle provides the right amount of speed of commuting without compromising on other aspects too much.

Now given the distance and unusual times of commuting, it was quite infeasible for me to use a bicycle in Bangalore but I was hopeful that in the less hectic academic life I would be able to afford the luxury. Alas ! it was not to be or at least not yet. The reason being the nicely managed traffic of Pittsburgh.

Now if you read any sarcasm in my last sentence, please don't. After Bangalore, traffic in Pittsburgh is like heaven. However it is the sheer micromanagment of the traffic here is the reason that I am finding it difficult to pick up a bicycle. So at some places there is a bike lane, at others you share it with cars. Some places, you can ride on sidewalks, some places you cannot. And this changes not from area to area but from street to street ! To add to the perils, there are very few other riders to be seen around to look for any clues about if you doing fine. There are just so many signboards everywhere, about parking, no parking, speed limit, left turn, right turn, diversions, street cleaning that my untrained eye finds it really difficult to spot the relevant signs.

Now I understand that there need to be traffic rules and that they make road safer for everybody but looking at the arrangements and the population (or lack) of riders on the road, I have a feeling that the rules are really not rider friendly. It might be that bicycles are seen more as a nuisance on roads that are primarily meant for fourwheelers. But here I must add that pedestrians are treated very well, at least here in Pittsburgh. I am beginnign to fear that I might get spoiled and will not be able to cross roads when I go back :-).

But that is not the end of the problems. Apparently, cycle thefts remain as big a problem here as they were in IITK. So most of the people actually carry their bikes to their offices rather than leave them outside and similarly in their apartments. The bikes are a whole new story themselves. So, there are no plain vanilla bicycles. Most of them feature gears upward of 10 and so many other things to choose from that it seems like you are not buying a bicycle but taking a major decision of your life ! Also forget about just jumping on your bike and racing away. You need a helmet. Not a lot of problem but then if you are riding in night, you better put flashers not only on bicycle but also on your cloths or shoes or backpack. In short, you can forget about the simplicity of biking. It reduces to just another mode of transport and is just as fussy.

After all, if you are on the road, you must be going somewhere. Right?

Thursday, November 23

India, mathematics and beauty !

"...if India didn't exist, no one would have the imagination to invent it."
An article by Mukul Kesavan in Telegraph about why India matters more and more in today's prejudiced world.

Again from Telegraph, For a True Flowering of The Mind by Partha Ghosh. I quote,
"Fourth, we must insist that they learn language and literature well. Without that, they will remain insensitive, incapable of understanding other people and other cultures, and nothing creative will ever emerge from them. Language creates the world we live in. The more sophisticated the language we use, the greater the freedom and power of our thoughts and the better the grasp of reality around us. This is why science had to invent the formal and abstract language of mathematics. Also, without the ability to read, hear, analyse and understand the constant bombardment of our ears and eyes by the media and politicians, and without the ability for clear and logical understanding and self-expression, there is no hope of any freedom of thought or democracy. Without these fundamental conditions there cannot be any scientific development."
And now time for some connection hopping ! While reading the quote above from Mukul Keshvan's article, it sounded errily familiar. A search on google reveled the famous words of G H Hardy about the theorems that Ramanujan's 1913 letter to him contained.
"Only a mathematician of the highest class could have written them. They had to be true, for if they were not, no one would have the imagination to invent them."
It so happened that I recently read the excellent essay A Mathematician's Apology by G H Hardy in which he argues passionately about mathematics as a creative art. According to him the only reason why Mathematics is worth pursuing is because it is beautiful just like the work of a painter or a poet. By an extension of this argument, though Hardy would hardly approve of this since he characterized most of the applied mathematics as dull and ugly, even science is not very far away from the creative arts. Inside the strict framework of scientific methods lies a world where individual imagination and creativity push the cutting edge of science to discover and explain various aspects of physical reality. A cold uninspired mind may be useful for doing second rate work but surely the great strides forward don't come from them. In India, we can blame our education system to a large extent where we manage to do just that, kill the curiosity, kill the sense of amazement and either scare away our young from science or produce second rate researchers. The few success stories of India can safely said to have happened in spite of our education system and not because of it. Even at the level of top technical institutes like IIT, our system is not flexible and liberal enough.

The second article above suggests some measures to cure the problems and incidentally, I came across this post by shunya some days ago. Visit the comments section for some half cooked but good discussion.

Friday, November 17

Judicial activism: Good or bad?

Sometime ago I posted my rather withheld reaction to the conviction of Santosh Singh in Mattoo case. A recent comment on that post led to this post.

We live in the times of Judicial Activism in India and I can either say that it could not have come at a better time or I can observe that perhaps this was in the natural order of things. Passing through the Nehruvian era, Emergency, unsuccessful Junta Party govts when the public trust in the legislature and executive has deteriorated increasingly, judiciary remains the last hope of the Indian middle class. Is it something to be celebrated or even relied upon is the question I want to explore.

Every activist is motivated by a ideology and it although it is easy to believe that the driving ideology behind the Judicial Activism is one of justice for one and all, we would be naive to do so. No doubt it remains the primary guiding force but the question is not about the intention to seek justice for all but about how one perceives the justice. In a big and diverse country like India, national interests do not always match with regional or local interests. And these matters are also not always state vs people. These are often much more thorny issues like big dams, mining, encroachment etc where the interests of a large chunk of people are posed against another large chunks. There are issues that have inherent in them emotional aspects. Now there is a catch. If courts argue and decide such issues without the considerations of such aspects, they are bound be seem unjust to one party or the other. One example would be if court settles the matter of Ram JanmBhoomi based on land records. On the other hand if courts do try to take into account the emotional aspects, they are prone to populism.

The problem of an active judiciary is that it has to encounter more and more such cases. Sometimes it has to over stretch its own mandate to deliver what it must and sometimes it just have to disappoint the people. And executive and legislature not only hide behind it but also take advantage of it. Instead of doing their own job and take unpopular decisions, they pass the buck more and more to the judiciary. People feel happy that courts have set the things right whereas they should actually feel angry that their appointed representatives are doing such a shody job ! So it takes a court to question the completely unscientific numbers on OBC population, the whole parliament attack case is reduced to a court case with politicians merely using at first the incident and later on the court verdicts to further their own agenda. And the court must do all this while still bound in the legal framework ! At the end of day, an active judiciary cannot fill in for a dysfunctional executive or legislature.

Seeing the conditions around us then it is no wonder that even the courts have fallen prey to increasing amounts of populism. Arun Shourie describes in his latest book "Bending over Backward" how step by step, one by one reservation decisions have moved in a particular direction. Reading those decisions along with his commentary is very eye opening as in how the individual ideologies are bound to creep in when issues are so complicated. This perhaps is a proper warning. An active and fair judiciary is must for a democracy, one of its corner stones but an activist judiciary may not be. Before we start putting too much hopes on Judiciary, we ought to remember that those sitting as judges come from our own society, born and brought up here. They are subject to same influences as we are and sooner or later that is bound to show up.

Thursday, November 16

Generalizations Galore !

Today I heard someone giving a talk say

That’s a mistake that creolists make all the time…to generalize what they have found to all creoles or some kind of language universal.

It’s ok. Impromptu speakers always make the same mistakes that they are faulting everyone else for making, especially when it comes to overattribution. What? I’m tired.

From here.

Should I add that linguists are all good at catching such mistakes ;-) !

Tuesday, November 14

Aise hi kabhi !

One of those days, one of those times when that sudden feeling of melancholy takes over ! So sad yet so hauntingly enjoyable ! What is it that the heart longs for? What fires this craving? What old dreams haunt the open eyes? How can one say and yet, how can one keep quiet but for lack of words ! goonga keri sharkara, baitha hi muskaaye ! And the reason can be as simple as a song that you have heard hundreds of times before. That ever so thin line between hearing and listening and it is so suddenly crossed ! Every word becomes pregnant with meaning and every movement of voice becomes a door to a whole new world. Blessed are those who gave voice to the human pain and longing !

Song: Tera mera pyaar amar, Phir kyon mujhko lagta hai darr.
Singer : Lata
Movie: Asli Naqli
Music : Shanker-Jaikishan

Enjoy it here.

Monday, November 6

The culture shock I - Banking

One of the standard question popping up during conversation with friends these days is about the culture shock. When somebody first asked me the question, I found it a bit strange and my response to it a little stranger. Probably culture shock is a word too strong because I really can't find things which I could describe as "getting over the cultural shock". No doubt this place is very different from India but most of that was known and expected what with so much of US reaching our drawing rooms and bedrooms these days. Having a sister and numerous friends over years living in US also make a difference I guess.

But even in these days of global village, there are surprises. Some of them are presented here for your perusal. Interesting point to note is that some of them can in fact be described as "reverse cultural shock" in the sense that I expected them to be something based on the image of this place I had formed in my mind and they turned out to be the other way.

My very first encounter with any institution in US was with the banking services and after a really bad experience in Bangalore when trying to open a bank account, it was a pleasant surprise. It hardly took 15 min and a very short form to open the account for a foreign national who had stepped in the country 1 day ago. Perhaps all the immigration checks and strict visa processing makes the while-in-US processes easier. In Bangalore, it is virtually impossible to open a first bank account in private banks like ICICI and CitiBank unless it is a salary account. They even refused to take cash to open the account and told me on record that "I need to have a account in another bank in order to open one in ICICI". If you want the details I can tell you the branch where this happened.

On the other hand the internet banking facilities in India were much more comprehensive and better. Counter intuitive, isn't it? But with the account I have, I cannot electronically transfer fund which was the single most used facility in my accounts in India. Another thing that really took me by surprise is the ready acceptance of checks here. You write checks for everything and they are readily accepted. Back home, checks are most suspicious form of payment with DDs being the norm in most of the places. This might have something to do with the credit rating thing here.

So the deal is that every financial transaction you perform contribute towards your credit rating. Well not every transaction but those related to paying bills, writing checks, paying loans etc. You are located by your SSN and so that is a very important detail of your identity here. Now your access to many services depends hugely on your credit rating. So for taking a simple mobile connection, you need good credit rating. For getting a credit card again you need a good credit rating. For getting loans, of course you need a good credit rating and even for getting a electricity connection, you need a good credit rating ! While this makes perfect business sense and may be makes people more financially disciplined, I didn't particularly like it.

First reason is that I am a little uncomfortable with any kind of credit (with due apologies to gsharma and Chandel but really :-) ) and with this system, you are forced to use credit even if you have money to spend in cash just to build up the credit rating.

The other reason is that it is kind of circular, a closed loop system where being inside gives you everything while being outside leaves you completely stranded. At least that is my understanding till now. I am sure there will be avenues for those who cannot afford to have a "good credit rating" but they don't seem to be a part of main system which is not a very good thing according to me. Infact most of those seem to be involve higher upfront costs to safeguard business but that is rather ironical.

For sake of completion, let me mention that the concept of credit rating exists in a rather fragmented form in India also. So you have a credit limit based on usage in your mobile phone and on your credit cards but it is yet not centralized enough and it is not yet the single point criteria which it seems to be here.

Coming UP:
Class rooms

in no particular order :-)

Thursday, November 2

The Joke !

Brian: 'Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, you don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for yourselves! You're ALL individuals!'
The Crowd (speaking in unison): 'Yes! We're all individuals!'
Brian: 'You're all different!'
The Crowd (in unison): 'Yes, we ARE all different!'
Man in crowd: 'I'm not...'

-- From Monty Python's Life of Brian
Are you or are you not?

I have a right to know ! - Links

Following up on my previous post about RTI, here are some links:

Parivartan : This is the NGO started by Arvind Kejriwal which is heading the RTI movement in India. The site has all kind of info.

The Indian RTI blog.

Taz writes about Arvind Kejriwal's visit at Sepia Mutiny.

And while I am at it, let me recount a vivid example of how the international institutions like WB impose their will on the administration. So all your doubts about the evilness of WB may not be far fetched after all. The story goes that Delhi Govt has a project about the privatization of water distribution in Delhi. The project was funded by WB. The project was being run secretly for 5-6 years ! And when Parivartan tried to get information under RTI, they initial response of the Govt was a complete denial of the existence of the project. However after a extended confrontation, they were able to get all the files related to the project and the details that came out were shocking. The project was finally scrapped after experts form leading technical institutions of India equivocally pleaded against it.

The information received also included all the correspondence exchanged between WB and Govt agencies and shows the extent of bullying that goes on. So WB wanted a particular firm to get the contract for the initial research. When the tenders were opened and each of company assessed, the said company failed to make the cut. The WB in a series of letters forced the Govt agency to scrap the process/ change the scores/ remove the person who gave lower marks to that company etc . There were letters from the WB that said things like "Change the last line of 3rd paragraph in the document to include a the. Delete the 4th line from the last paragraph.", virtually dictating everything. And this was a project that was going to change the water distribution network of Delhi completely. There was no participation from the major stake holder i.e. the citizens of Delhi. Probably a big disaster was averted by the timely intervention.

Everyone of these incidents points to only one thing, that each one of us has to start participating more actively in the things around us and that we have to go ahead and claim our stake in the things that affect us.

Thursday, October 26

Weekend Diwali !

Happy Diwali to the readers of this blog ! I called this post Weekend Diwali because of an interesting rounding off phenomenon that is present in the Indian social circle here or may be I guess it is present everywhere where your festivals and celebrations are not officially recognized. What happens is that every festival is rounded off to the nearest available weekend. So when it is celebrated here, it is either still 3-4 days away back home or it already got over 2-3 days ago.

But this year, the Diwali fell on a weekend and so it was nice to give in to the festive mood right when the fun was on. Infact I had quite a lot of fun over the weekend, more than I expected. The weekend started with a surprise half an hour fireworks show at UPitt (No, they were not celebrating Diwali but had their homecoming weekend). Since even back home I never buy firecrackers and just like to watch them, it was a nice treat. Next day we had a pooja and dinner in the SV Temple which is the main stay of most of the religious activities in Pittsburgh and is some kind of pilgrimage from Indians living in this area of east coast. It is always nice to go back to the smells and sounds of temple and this time we had the add bonus of a big crowd around that really made it fun :-).

And Sunday was our own CMU IGSA celebrating the Diwali with a pooja, cultural show and Dinner (you can see the weekend effect creeping in but I am not complaining). The cultural show which was essentially music and dance was pretty good. To their credit, they sang Maa Rewa from Indian Ocean which I think was quiet a decent performance. There were some classical pieces and dance performances. The evening ended with a tasty dinner and a disc afterwards. It kind of reminded me of the Diwali functions that we used to have back in college.

One of my profs here while talking about Diwali remarked that it must suck to live in a country where nobody recognizes or celebrates yours festivals. I kind of agree and disagree. On one hand it surely sucks because the scale and mood never attain the same pitch as back home and because a lot of people with whom you would like to be are not around. But on the other hand they make you feel very special and make you realize all the culture, traditions that you carry with yourself and which enriches this diverse world in a unique way. Back home it was the same for everybody around, everybody did a pooja, everybody had sweets, everybody lighted their houses. Watching a lone lighted house in a whole row of dark houses (courtesy Eakta) gives a very different feeling. And when you realize this for yourself, it only takes a little effort to go ahead and realize this for everybody else. How the minorities, those who are different, those who come from different cultural background must feel in the society where I belonged to the majority. It is a strange mix of pride, anxiety and may be a sense of responsibility. Though I think their experiences would be more intense since I know I am here only for a finite period of time and not forever as is not the case with many of them.

Friday, October 20

I have a right to know !

Just returned from a talk by Arvind Kejriwal who is a well known social activist and works towards creating awareness for RTI act and using it to fight corruption. He gave a brief background about the RTI as to how it came about and then went on to recount several stories where they successfully used RTI to fight corruption.

Indeed the fact that an act like RTI can be passed gives me a strong reason to not loose faith. Although govt was already planning on amending the act which would have amounted to almost killing the act, a huge public uproar made it stop. Another interesting thing about RTI act is that this act was written by people themselves, those who were fighting for it and not by some bureaucrat and now government has conceded that whatever amendments will be done to it will be done by taking all the stakeholders in the loop.

Although RTI can be a big tool in the hands of those who are at the receiving end of corruption, I see its role to be much bigger than that. It is a tool that allows users to engage actively with the government and participate if by force, in the governance and its decision making processes when they have a stake in it. So now if you see a bridge being built near your house and you think that it is a bad idea, you have a tool to go ahead and find out if proper studies have been done about it. If you think the contractor who is building the road in front of your house is not doing a good job, you have a way to take account from the concerned govt department. There is now no excuse for just cribbing and going on with your life. In fact without the citizens who are willing to use it actively, RTI is as good as not.

In his talk, Arvind described many obstacles that RTI is facing and may face in future. One that he didn't mention but I think would be very crucial is the kind of image govt offices have in people's minds. In the lower strata of society, it tends towards awe and fear while in the more literate strata, it tends towards disgust. And this has the effect that they want to keep away from govt offices. Those who can, prefer to pay an agent so that they never have to set a foot inside and those who cannot pay, try to carry on as much as possible without interacting. But at the end of the day, it is almost impossible for a citizen to avoid government offices what with the electricity, water supply, PDS, education etc etc. The challenge would be to make people take the first step and engage with the officials instead of seeking the easy way out of agents or bribes. It is not about saving money only, it is about a trust that has deteriorated over so many years. Can RTI prove to be the soothing balm that will heal the wounds?

In the mean while, it would be a good idea and great help to start talking about it in your social circles and let as many people know as you can. Sending a mass mail is not enough neither is leaving orkut scraps. Bring it up when talking to people face to face, bring it up when you are talking in public, in trains for example. When you see some opportunity where RTI can be used for something good, for stopping corruption, for getting things done, step in and suggest it. Learn how to file a RTI application and teach as many people around you as possible, may be hold a small workshop in your office. Let this become deeply ingrained in our citizenship, let this become the beginning of a change !

Wednesday, October 18

It is only the second round !

Today morning started with the much awaited news of the conviction in Priyadarshani Matoo case. I feel happy but not relieved. This was only the high court. There is still supreme court to appeal to. And while the re-trial in High Court got on the fast track because of the public out cry, I do not know what will happen in SC. May be another 5-6 years followed by a public outcry will be the cycle there also with the only difference being that SC may consider the public outcry as a interference in court's working and pass a gag order barring discussion of the matter in the public.

No, I don't think that our justice system has gone to dogs completely but I do think that our SC takes itself a little too seriously. But anyway, today's conviction should bring some cheer to the Matoo family.

I was particularly interested in this case because of another reason. To give some background, CBI filed an appeal in high court way back in 2000. And although it is not a big deal for a case to stretch on for 5-6 years, the ground reason for these delays are often shocking. It turns out that in this case, it took 5-6 years to translate the case's paperbook which had around 300 pages of documents relating to case, from Hindi to English ! I work in Machine Translation and reading this disgusted me. I just wish I could go and deploy a MT system in the courts thus atleast removing one component of the whole delay process ! And though the story in this case has taken a happy turn, not everybody is as lucky and I really hope someday, I would be able to help some of them by removing at least one obstacle that this corrupt system places in their path.

Sunday, October 15


मृत्यु के झंझावतों के पार का व्यवहार साथी,
हाथ मैं जोडूं तो समझो कर रहा व्यापार साथी ।

मंदिरों मे घंटियां और महफ़िलों मे तालियां,
है अलग मुद्रा मगर दोनो जगह बाज़ार साथी ।

शाम सिंदूरी, हवा ठंडी, गिरे पत्ते, धुआं सा,
आज फ़िर तेरी कमी लगने के हैं आसार साथी ।

है नजर का पेंच ये, मिलती नही धरती गगन से
हमने कितनी बार झांका है क्षितिज के पार साथी।

मन की आशायें, नयन के स्वप्न, जीवन लक्ष्य तुमको
हैं समर्पित, तुच्छ सी ये भेंट हो स्वीकार साथी।

चंद किस्से, चंद नगमे भर के दामन मे अभागे,
चल पडे हैं बांध कर दिल से तुम्हारा प्यार साथी।

Monday, October 9

Gandhigiri and Genocide !

Having watched "Lage raho MunnaBhai" and "A Force more Powerful" recently, when I came across the Rawanda Genocide on wikipedia today, it was kind of a rude jolt to all the nice and cosy dreams of Gandhigiri.

Now everybody knows about "Lage raho MunnaBhai", a movie that has managed to bring Gandhian philosophy and methods back into everyday talk of everybody. Suddenly Gandhigiri is cool . Chain mails have already started describing the instances when somebody managed to fix a annoying person using the tool of Gandhigiri. Good for them !

Not everybody knows about "A force more Powerful", a documentry about various non violent struggles that happened across the globe during 20th century including सविनय अवज्ञा आन्दोलन led my Gandhi ji himself and many others. I watched only two stories, one about the civil disobedience movement in India and another one from Nashville, US that proved a major stepping stone in the civil rights movement. The stories, to say the least, fill you with hope because these are the tools that have given power to those who had none. People with no other recourse, no other option have turned to non violence and have defeated social evils, big evil regimes and what not.

However when one comes across incidents like Rwanda Genocide, the hope starts to look so blasphamous ! In Rwanda, between 6th of April and mid of july, 1994, alleged hutu militia killed an estimated 8,00,000 to 10,00,000 Rwandans, mostly tutsis but severel hutus also. What does one do in such a situation? Does non-violence even makes sense in such scenarios? Even Gandhi ji was faced with the same question during the second world war when holocast was going on. I am not sure what his stand was but he probably stuck to his stand saying instead of hiding, jews should come out in great numbers on roads and protest. Something to this accord. Of course, jews chose not to heed him.

But the question remains. What does one do in such conditions? The most basic assumption underlying the whole concept of satyagrah is the basic goodness of human nature, even if he is your enemy. Infact, one reason as to why satyagrah and nonviolence were so successful against british, may be attributed to the pride that they took in being very "fair" and "just" and that they wanted to at least pretend that they are good rulers. But what happens when that pretence of even basic humanity is dropped? When the other party is working with the single aim of eliminating you from the face of the earth and has no moral pangs about it?

Saturday, September 16

We the choicemakers !

The comments on last post deserve more than a reply. The deserve a post :).

Yes, the question is dreaded because we ask it to ourselves. Akshaya thinks that we have to take a stand, we have to pick a side and I wonder how? How do we pick a side? Can we pick it by tossing a coin as I did? What's wrong in that? Is it possible to reason out your way to one of the choices? Isn't there always that last but, that last if and that last maybe? Is there a final decisive purpose that would tilt the scales without doubt?

But may be we have to depend on our gut feeling after a level. I think gut feeling is a over hyped concept, nothing but your biases which you are too ashamed to accept that you have. And what if your gut feeling was wrong? Doesn't matter right? So why does it matter if I toss a coin? If I refuse to entertain any biases I may have? Please note what works for me, may not work for you because it ultimately reduces down to what you value most, what puts your heart at ease. It varies from person to person and this is what makes the world such an interesting place !

Somehow for me, it never makes sense to choose a position too firmly. I will give two examples here. One is of a colleague in my last company. We were having some problems with the product. And it was not immediately clear how to resolve the issues. This guy thought of a new way of doing things which would require radically changing everything. I knew that he is strong technically and that his hunch may be right. But I was a little hesitant in taking the leap. And then one day in a heated discussion, came out the golden words that he was not able to see any problems with his new approach and we should take it asap. I lost my trust in him on the spot. Anybody who is not able to see any problems, any issues with his stand, with his approach, I think doesn't understand his stand. And it applies to both technical and other issues. And while in technical issues, it might be possible to estimate and choose one thing over another, the situation is much more difficult in real life.

Another example is of the famous linguist Noam Chomskey. He has been one of the most influential thinkers of last century and his contributions to many fields are really innovative, fundamental and good. However one thing that I really find frustrating about him is that in his hay-days, he not only furthered his theories, he virtually destroyed others'. There are fields of enquiries that literally got shut after he attacked them with one paper or one review. No aid, no jobs, whole bunch of people changed loyalties. For 50 years, Chomskey's theories in linguistics have eclipsed everything else. It is only now that people are beginning to realize that his may not be the last word. There are problems with his approaches and slowly the things which were completely neglected, are making a comeback. I am not sure how he feels about it but if I would have been at his place, I would have surely asked myself, was it all worth it?

And anyway I think it a man's ego that makes him believe that he can actually make a choice and it is his ego that makes him suffer later when the choices come out to be wrong or makes him proud when the choices turn out to be right. I want to let go of both, of joy and of sorrow. I live without the burden of having made choices. Yes, I realize that this may precisely be the route of escapist but then again, it may not be ! And I don't think I know.

And Ragini, I really liked how you put it: "Sometimes it is not about why? It is about how."

Friday, September 15

Why am I here?

Quite unknowingly on her part, one of my friends happened to ask me the dreaded question few days ago - "Why have I come to USA?". There are some easy answers to the question, answers that I can pretend to be enough and behind which I can conveniently hide. "Easy ! Of course I have come to get my PhD. It would help me in realizing my potential... blah blah blah". But a man can deceive the world but not himself and I ask myself why? Why am I sitting thousands of mile away from home among these strangers? Do I care so much about getting a Phd that I should agree to forego so much so essential in my life? Do I care so much about the money that I should trade my most youthful years for it? What is it that brings me here?

Honestly speaking, I don't have an idea ! Just like I had no idea when I entered IIT ! Just like I had no idea when I stayed back in IIT for one more year ! Answers I always had for everyone but inside me, somewhere I knew, it all came down to a coin toss ! Too afraid to make a choice, to take a decision, what better way was there but to leave it to a coin?

But whenever I tossed the coin, I was fully aware what would lie on either side, what would it mean to make one choice or the other and a determination to make the best of it. That is how I think life is or should be. You don't choose your role. Remember the old bard? "Life is an stage and we are the actors"? We don't control the roles we get and we will never be judged by the roles that we play. What we will be judged by is how well we play them, what freshness we bring to them and how devotedly we get into them.

And so if you ask me today why have I come to US, I have no answers. But what I know is that now that I am here, what am I going to do. And believe me, it has little to do with getting a Phd or making money. The opportunity is too big and costs paid too high to waste it on such minor issues of life.

Here are some of my favorite lines. They come from the title song of a serial called Junnon.

ना जाने ये कैसी है दीवानगी, कि कान्धे पे लादे हुए ज़िन्दगी,
भटकता हूं मैं बेसबब बेनिशां , मेरे साथ है मेरी आवारगी।
कहां दिल जले को सुकूं चाहिये,
जुनूं के लिये बस जुनूं चाहिये,
जुनूं के लिये बस जुनूं चाहिये।

(I really set out to write something else, something more concrete about what I wish to do here. May be in a later post.)

Monday, September 4

While I am thinking !

One reason for almost no activity on this blog is a dilemma I am facing. There are lots of things that I would like to write about but somehow they do not seem to fit in this blog. Sometimes they are quite technical, sometimes quite out of context for many.

Anyway while I resolve the dilemma, here are some tidbits.

1. Saga of the intelligent kids and languages

In the beginning, whenever I used to come across kids here, somehow they always felt quite mature and, for lack of better word, "intelligent" to me and I wondered why. The hypothesis that they are actually in some ways different from our kids back home was too dumb to entertain. Then why? The way they would talk, the kind of things they would say all seemed too good for their ages. Then one day, it occurred to me. A major reason for that feeling was that they were speaking in English ! I was really amazed at the kind of prejudices we have and how they come into play even when we are not really aware of them ! In India, English speaking is considered such a prestigious skill to have, specially by the parents of small children. They would be so proud when their little one learns his/her first English rhyme or learns to answer basic questions in English. Now, I think that learning a new language is one of the best things that one can do but the kind of value that we have come to assign to English in particular and the way it is projected back on the capabilities of a child is not very healthy. I hope as parents, we would be more careful in this regard.

This also reminds of a sad story that I came to know some months back. Apparently one of my nephews goes to a school where they start teaching English from the beginning and Hindi, only from standard one ! I was shocked to hear that and guess what ! The school is situated in the heart of Hindi belt, in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow ! I really hope something can be done to bring those idiots back on track.

And while we are at it, one of my niece, actually used to speak in 4 different languages around a year back. She could speak Hindi, English, Kannada and Tamil. Of course the abilities were pretty basic. This was the effect of coming in contact with a Kannada cook and a Tamil aaya in day creche. Now in the absence of any constant input, she has started to loose that ability slowly. The best thing was that she could keep all the 4 separate.

2. Why do we discriminate?

This observation came from Eakta while talking about racial discrimination in US and caste discrimination in India. She noted that in US, the African-Americans look so different from others, they are dark skinned and so one can see why somebody would think about discriminating against them. Not that the discrimination would be justified in any way but one can see why it might have originated. On the contrary, in India we discriminate even when all of us look so much like each other and there are hardly any differences in skin colors. Something to think about ! One hint is that while race discrimination started as discrimination, caste discrimination didn't.

One thing to know about this is that some idiots in India who claim to be dalit activists have tried to project the Indian caste problem in the terms of skin color and races. Their claim is that higher castes are of Aryan origin and lower castes are the natives of India. Caste system was the invading Aryans' way of oppressing the natives. Now I wonder if they know that it is scientifically proven fact that most of the Indians belong to same race and that the Aryan invasion theory is highly debunked now. But they go on nonetheless ! I am not giving any links to them since I don't want to give them any more exposure through my blog atleast !

Wednesday, August 23


वो जगते हैं, हम सोते हैं, वो सोते हैं , हम जगते हैं,
अब सारे रात और दिन अपने, बस आंखों मे ही कटते हैं ।

क्यों हर लब है ख़ामोश यहां, हर आंख मे क्यों वीरानी सी,
है आग कहां जज्बातों की, क्यों दिल ना यहां तड़पते हैं ?

बचने को सवालों से जग के, आंखें सूखी ही रखते हैं,
दो बूंद बहा लेते हैं बस, जब झूम के बादल फटते हैं ।

अपना आवारा दिल भी अबकी बार बड़ा संजीदा है,
आये हो इतनी दूर कहो, घर वापस तो जा सकते हैं ?

क्यों राह लगे पहचानी सी, क्यों हर आहट पर कान लगे?
अब कहां अभागा यार यहां, हम किसकी राहें तकते हैं ?

Saturday, August 19

The long last day !

One thing that I have always felt about the social circle I move in, is that it consists of almost everybody with similar backgrounds and similar career paths, more or less. Most of my friends have taken a engineering degree and most are working in a software company. The scarier thing is that a large percentage of them have MBA as the next goal in life. Even at home, between my and my brother-in-law's family , all 5 of us are in software industry.

Perhaps that is the price one pays for studying in a engineering institute in the time of a booming software industry. While the elements of humanity subjects in the IIT curriculum try to mitigate the problem to some extent on an individual basis, it helps little in correcting the social situation.

But the times are changing :). Not for the world but for me. As the time goes by, people around me have started to find life partners. And this is where things get interesting.

On my last day in India, I get to meet baba and his fience, longtime friends, they got engagged just one day before. Me,Chandel and gsharma formed the crowd next day. While baba is one of the few whose company I cherish no matter what they are doing, she also comes from the interesting background of social work. Now I cannot claim to have done anything sincere in that area but I had some occasional brushes during 1 year I spent at IIT as an RA. And it was really nice to talk to her and listen to her experiences in the tribal areas where she worked. Of course time ran out pretty soon and we had to break. But I really enjoyed it and hope that not only I will get a chance to talk more with her but may be even to get my hands wet at somepoint in life.

And I think the last day would remain incomplete without the mention of gsharma's new car. It was a ulti cool swift. It is apparent that gsharma really loves his car and likes to give rides to people. I also think it is very cool to be able to go to airport/train station to pick somebody up in a car. I don't know why but this is one use of car that I find really enticing :). So thanks to gsharma, we had a lovely ride from Noida to Delhi.

And the finshing touches had to come from the master blaster Chandel ! Since I was getting late, we decide to ride to Ghaziabad on his bike. Now as the name suggests, Chandel likes to ride his bike fast and steady. So while slow and steady wins the race, fast and steady just kills the competition :P. Anyway, on the way, came the God's blessings in the form of rain and we both got drenched. If anybody noticed Chandel walking around in my cloths that day, please rest assured that he didn't run away with them :).

And after that it was the trip to airport and flight to US. The next day proved to be the longest day of my life, almost literally, running for 28 hours due to the west bound travelling. And at the end of it, I, for the first time, set foot on a soil completely disconnected from my own. On the way, I managed to catch a view below the clouds when the plane crossed the eastern coast line of USA. Someday I would like to fly really low on atlantic and cross that shoreline. But till then, this will remain as a consolation.

And so has started this new life. I know not what all it will offer me, who all it will introduce me to and what all it will have me do. And this time things are also different. There are things to hold on to amidst all the changes and turbulations, there are promises and commitments to keep among all the activity and there is a vision, however vague, to realize.

Good Luck abhaga !

Friday, August 18

I gotta..

.. be cool,
get hip,
Get on my track's !

Distance moved is in thousands of miles and tens of hours but the heart has remained more or less in place, as have remained rest of my body parts. Watched the largest gathering of Indians for celebrating Independence Day in my last 7 years. The old cliche' of valuing what you have lost may be? But it was nice. Somehow made me felt better from the ironical situation of enrolling in the foreign university right on the independence day.

But there is never a clean cut. Life is like cheese, no matter how sharp the knife is, something remains connected. Similar is the case for this blog. And so with the next post will come the memories of the last day spent in India, I couldn't have asked for a better one I guess !

Do tell me when you notice I have started to change. I might be too busy to notice !

Monday, July 31

Bangalore Gone !

2 years ! I am sure if I would take the countless moments and countless memories and put them side by side, they will cover my life severel times over ! I found things I never set out to look for and I lived a life as varied in its texture as the indian peninsula itself. And somewhere, I left a part of me in the garden city ! The connection is too strong to be broken, the link too crucial, the attachment too palpable.

Dear Bangalore, stay alive ! stay safe !! I'll be back !

Friday, July 14

Blasts and clean chits !

My boss commented yesterday that now even India has a 7/11. Somehow the little indication of smile on his face made me feel very bad. First thing is that I didn't like his tone which was something like "See, now even you have this problem of terrorism. So you better align with US." I wanted to say "No ! thank you" but I only said "we already had many of them" and I wanted to add "the fact that you were not awake before 9/11 doesn't mean world was also sleeping" though I didn't. And I felt both good and sad about the whole thing.

Good thing is that my country is not like US which goes on a frenzy of "war on terrorism" using terms like "crushing the enemy" and not be sincere about even that. The bad thing is that we are much too tolerant and our politicians spineless. No, we don't have to go and attack other countries but what stops us from beefing up internal security. Somehow in the war of selfish interests, we have lost the notion of good for the country. While on the one hand nation is crying under pain and looking for the suspects, politicians are issuing statements keeping the forthcoming elections in view and not a single politician has the guts to stand up and ask him to shut up.

SIMI is not the representative of Muslims of India. But playing it that way is easiest for the politicians. So they will make everybody believe that way. SIMI may not be guilty but when it is under scanner, what purpose does it serve to issue a statement in its favor? A "secular" govt is in power, so there should not be a fear of oppression also. Why then?

Wednesday, July 5

बुझी बुझी रही सहर

बुझी बुझी रही सहर, उदास शाम रही,
हुई ना नाम तेरे, ज़िन्दगी बेनाम रही।

यही गुमान था मुझे कि पीछे आते हो,
रवानगी हमारी बिन दुआ सलाम रही।

ये कैसा मुल्क यहां दुश्मनी हो सडकों पर,
और कहे प्यार का इज़हार सर-ए-आम नही।

ना असरदार दुआ और ना काम आयी सदा,
जब हुआ वक्त तो हर शै यहां नाकाम रही।

नही हासिल अगर पैमाना लब-ए-साकी तो,
तरसते होठ की किस्मत छलकता जाम सही।

उलझते रहना उनकी याद से तनहाई मे,
अभागा इसके सिवा अपना कोई काम नही।

Tuesday, June 6

The question of merit

The single biggest argument both in favor and against the current policy of reservations in educational institutes is of merit. Thousands of students marched on the streets declaring this to be the death of merit, many prominent personalities expressed concerns about the dilution in merit in the top Indian schools. Many on the other hand pointed out and rather correctly that merit is not genetic and it does not belong to one particular group. Also in context of a country like India, merit cannot be based solely on academic performance, it has to include other things. The mere fact that we are not finding enough meritorious students from large sections of society, is an indication that our system has anomalies. I couldn't agree more with this point of view.

Unfortunately, supporters of the reservation, after making this excellent observation, make the mistake of hasty decision. In simple terms, current reservation policy says that for the top n students, only the academic performance matters and suddenly after the first n student, caste becomes the deciding factor with academic performance being the tie breaker. I wonder why a category student who has worked hard and qualified outside quota, finds himself bereft of any concessions acknowledging his underprivileged background? Why shouldn't a underprivileged student scoring equal to a GC student get a higher rank? Are we really trying to encourage the talent, the merit here or just trying to fulfill population quotas?

Moreover, I think the rampant abuse of merit argument has robbed it of the little essence which is actually present in it. When we are talking about merit at the professional, post-graduate and higher levels, it is not about the raw talent or intelligence. It is more about the preparedness of an individual for the course of study which is the task of 12 years of schooling. IIMs' flagship course and MTech courses in engineering are 1.5 years in duration. In this short amount of time, they cannot makeup for all the short comings in the previous education of a candidate, be it week undergraduate education or lack of communication skills or lack of proficiency in English. Some amount of difference in preparedness is however bearable but that has to be decided relative to the others who are entering the course. One good example is the JEE rule of SC/ST cutoff being 2/3 of GC cutoff and no less. A blanket quota policy overlooks all such issues and forces the wastage of precious resources that lie unused because the quota could not be filled.

Argument of diversity in the classroom is another strong argument in favor of affirmative action but we need to ask ourselves what kind of diversity are we bringing to the class room by admitting a urban middle class OBC over a urban middle class GC? Where are the points for being from a rural area, for coming through a government school system and for being a girl, who incidentally have much poorer representation in higher education (Engineering) ? I read in one of the articles that having a tribal with the knowledge of traditional medicine system would be a very enriching experience for others in the class. This is an excellent idea but that is where it ends because the person coming to medical school under that tribal quota more often than not, share little more than the caste name with that dream boy. The point is that if we really care about the diversity, it has be judged at the individual level and has to be carefully nurtured by educationists. A high handed legislation can only harm the cause.

The main objection to the caste based reservation policy is however much more fundamental. The form that it has acquired today, it inculcates a culture of mistrust and caste loyalty in the youth of the country. SC/ST students are told that Brahman or upper caste teachers would be partial and that their poor performance is not because they may be lacking in something but because teachers are not letting them perform. All the achievements of a person evaporate in air the moment it is discovered that he belongs to upper castes, he no longer remains a role model of hard work and determination but becomes a symbol of privileges that 5000 year of history bestows upon him. This is where the real merit gets killed when instead of providing the young and aspiring with role models, we provide them with dosage of hate and demons. We limit the scope of role models to narrow boundaries of caste. The sheer negative pitch that has been acquired by pro-reservationaists sometimes makes me wonder if reservation can be called affirmative action any longer. To me it sounds like negative action.

As I have said above, in the resource constrained scenario of today, the resources should be invested in those who are best prepared to make use of them. How should we measure that preparedness by taking into account the social and economic realities of our country is always open to debate but what ever criteria we evolve, we must apply it to everybody equally without making arbitrary exceptions on the basis of one factor or the other. The long term focus however should be to correct this resource constrained scenario itself. As a nation, it is our duty to make sure that every aspiring child should get an opportunity to pursue his/her dreams. We need to drastically expand our education system at the higher level and cultivate more centers of excellence. Another thing to focus on is to provide support to underprivileged at a more basic and fundamental level so as to improve their competency and strength rather than spoon feeding them through reservation at every level. This would require beefing up our now defunct government school system. This will help in more ways than simply fixing the percentage of every section of society in education. Even those who would not be able to make it to top institutes, would be well prepared and good students. This will help in raising the standards of second tier institutes.

The suggestions I am making are not new and in fact they are repeated so often that many see them as mere rhetoric of anti-reservation camp. They point out that when quotas for OBC were being implemented in jobs, we complained that quotas should be in education and not jobs. Now when the quotas are being implemented in higher education, we are demanding that primary education be improved and that when it will be the turn of turn of primary and secondary education, we will again run away. But what else can a sane person say when he sees the ladder of reservation being constructed in the opposite manner? Isn't it common sense to see that first you give people good schooling, then you give them good higher education and then you give them a job and not the other way round? But nobody seems to question the proposals that education cess money that was supposed to go to primary education will be diverted to increasing seats in Institutes of higher education. This is another example of a knee jerk decision by the state in a long series all of which are wrapped in the name of social justice to make them more palatable.

The affirmative action policies of our state have gone on the wrong track. We neither know how much we have achieved through them till now nor do we have any idea about where we are headed to next. I think now the time is ripe for us to stop and take a good look at what we have done till now and also fix our aims for future. The opportunity has come before us when we can either take a historical step in the right direction or make a historical mistake. Let's not be hasty and deceive ourselves in the name of social justice. It is the right of both, pro and anti quota, to have a transparent, rational, directed and a monitored affirmative action policy. It is time we put in some real effort at providing social justice.

Thursday, June 1

Of democratic means and debates !

People are angry. Few thousand students in some major cities, most of them from forward castes, have hijacked the reservation issue and have denied space for a "all sided debate on this complex issue".

I appreciate these people. They atleast contend that the issue is complex and that it needs a debate unlike our government which is "bound by the constitution" and gaged by the pro-reservationists.

But I am not sure what debate these people are mourning about. Probably the one that happens in the TV Studios in late night shows or the one that is fought by experts through editorials in papers or may be on the blogs and its comments. But the debate is anyway on in all these places. I think they are talking about the debate that happens in parliament but a debate would need two sides. Right? How many politicians can you see on this side of the fence? And the debate that should have happened in the ministries of HRD and Education and Social Justice by involving the sociologists, educationists, administrators of the affected institutes? Yes that is one debate that is missing that could have happened. But it was supposed to have happened much before Arjun Singh decided to open his mouth and PM decided to keep his shut !! A policy decision that affects such large and prime parts of education sector done on the basis of a report written 26 years ago which used data from 75 years ago. I am sure a debate is missing.

And let me say that if a debate will happen, it will happen because these few thousand students are on roads today. If policy will change and become even a little bit more rational, it will be because these students, may be enthused by their own selfish interests, are on the roads today. But I am sure history will talk about them as misguided, selfish, detached from the reality youth. After all, freedom of the country was won by congress and Mahatma Gandhi and not by Bhagat Singh.

Let me end by registering a strong protest to the tag "anti-reservationists". Y4E is not anti-reservation. We fight for more rational, directed and monitored reservation/affirmative action policies. You can call us reservation-reformists.

Saturday, May 27

The wooden horse of reservation !

One thing common to almost all the front line pro-quota arguments is an image of one affluent, well educated, greedy boy and another of the most underprivileged, oppressed guy you can imagine and as you can very well guess, the first one carries the label upper cast and the other one OBC/SC/ST. Please note the second label, it is not SC/St or OBC. It is SC/ST/OBC.

This is an ad that has sold its product like no other. It sells you reservation. In oppressed, it manages to create anger, in well to do upper cast, it manges to create a sense of guilt and they all buy the idea of reservation that would help the underprivileged kid get his due share from the bad guy. And the the get busy, get along with life, bothering little to ask what happened to the poor kid. I don't need to tell you what happened, you already know if you care to think beyond your false sense of having done something.

It is the same story that is repeated any number of times everyday on every red light crossing of India, a poor little kid asking for money. We sitting in the AC cars, riding on expensive bikes give them money and we feel relieved. We think that finally we have done something and saved our soul. Only that none of that happens. What happens is that whatever you give him is snatched away by the adult goon who is standing just outside your sight. He gets nothing. What is even worse is that the child is compelled to live like that for he makes money for the goon. Not only him, many after him suffer the same fate and those who want to buy peace of heart by spending money contribute to that.

I never (lately I have become a little soft on my stand but still) give any money to these children. Not because I am heartless but because I don't want to buy that false sense of having done something. Someday when I will be able to, I will do much more for some of them, something that would actually change their life and not compel them to be a poster boy. Same is my logic with reservations.

The creamy layer that exist on the top of both OBCs and SC/STs lets very few advantages to trickle down to actual needy sections. In the beginning the benefits went to a larger section of the society that helped them move to the forward rungs but now the process is near saturation. And the creamy layer judgment given by the supreme court is still not implemented by a large majority of states citing reasons like the absence of creamy layer in their state, it being very difficult to skim out creamy layer etc etc. Tamilnadu that is cited as the prime example of the success of reservations, is the prime example of what can happen by implementing such blanket reservations without proper monitoring and proper accountability.

I would hope that the well educated friends of mine, even those who think that reservations should be there, should not just fall for the ad that is presented to them. When you decide to buy reservation make sure and demand solid proof of that it indeed helps those for whom it is intended. Please don't become like our dear FM whom "life tells" that reservations are working. I am sorry to tell him that life is exaggerating to say the least. Please stand up for a more well formed and nuanced reservation policy something that is actively monitored, is time bound and that helps those who need help.

Wednesday, May 24

A Black Day, A new beginning

Despite thinking about it many items, I never ended up writing a post about reservations. But today I must write for even though whatever happened was bound to happen, the callousness of the government never fails to hurt.

Yes let me say today that I am against reservations, in letter and in spirit. The reasons are many and I have collected a list of my questions and observations during last 15-20 days but I won't raise any of them today. Only thing that matters at the moment is that in a country and society like ours, reservation are almost irreversible and that is enough for me to be against them. There has to be affirmative action, there are people out there who require special help from the establishment but reservation doesn't make the cut.

And I am against reservations because they force me to be casteist even when I don't want to. At one level they assume that only Dalits will care about dalits. That is why they need equal representation in everything. It says that one needs people from their own caste everywhere if they want to get things done. And it teaches people to look only at small, short sighted gains. As somebody says, they produce a false sense of empowerment.

However the biggest disappointment has been our PM and our FM. Even if I didn't agree at times with their views and acts and choices, I thought them to be rational and upright people. Manmohan Singh might be both but he lacks a backbone. I can see no reason why he would behave the way he did during the whole thing and still continue as PM. It is a national humiliation for him. And Chidambaram thinks that we don't need a evaluation of reservation policy because life tells him that they work. I flushed down any respect for him down the drain today morning.

But let me not get into the anti-reservation mode here. Many people have already done a very good job of articulating the problems with the scheme. This post is supposed to be more personal in nature. Many times during the last 1 month, I imagined about today, the final day when finally we will know that reservations are going to be implemented or they are not going to be implemented. I wondered what would happen in either case.

Suppose reservations are implemented, law is enacted, students are admitted (which is only a matter of time now), till what time will the protest go on? What happened after Mandal I ? Will people forget about everything and go ahead with their lives, probably a bit more cynical, a bit more bitter but they will go on nonetheless? Right? Will the war end with one battle lost?

And for a moment suppose if the battle was won, what would happen even then? Will the menace of reservation go away? Or every time when a short sighted politician will decide to bring up the issue, people will have to go on strike, start the protest again and likewise? Will the pro-quota people sit silently? Will that be a stable state of affairs?

And even more important is the question, if we won, if quotas didn't get implemented now, will we remember all the cries for primary, secondary education improvement that we make? Will we strive for finding the alternative ways of affirmative Action or leave that job for the government, the same government that we know has failed us again and again? And if we found out that it is not doing anything, will we come down on the streets?

These are the questions that I ask myself and I think everybody needs to ask herself. My heart tells me that irrespective of what happens now, it is a war that needs to be fought at a larger scale of time. If we lost this battle, it is only going to take longer. It is a long drawn struggle where the most difficult step is to show the otherside is that they are not on the otherside at all. We are supposed to be on the same side and strive for a better life. It is this war that is much more important for a country. Of course for a person with 60 years of lifetime, this may be irrelevant but this is what we need to start now, today. This is the morale of the story for me.

And so lest I forget, I have taken a vow. What it is I will not disclose but I hope it will keep reminding me that there is a war to be fought and battles to be won. My only appeal is, ask yourself those questions and prepare yourself for the struggle and join it in whatever way, whatever capacity you can. That is if you actually cared for the country at any point of time during the whole protest at all.

Today is a black day. It is difficult to see if it is a beginning or the end. I have made my choice. You make yours.

Monday, May 15

The Hindu - End of a love affair !

I am a sad man today.

Coming to Bangalore, one of the best things that I got introduced to was, The Hindu, newspaper. Apart from having a lot of quality content, what I liked most about it was its social and cultural commitment. It is a paper which feels so connected to things around it. After TOI, it felt good not to find front page covered with all the sensational news which 8 out of 10 times would be related to sex or women or something like that but with things more important. And good and informative articles on the editorial pages always forced me to think. I didn't always agreed with them but I found myself thinking about them and questioning my assumptions and believes. It was a healthy process.

Yesterday night I came to know about what all happened in Bombay with the medical students. The belligerent Arjun Singh was all over the news channels . But even after watching all that, I wanted to read it all in the next day's newspaper. There is a kind of satisfaction associated with print media that news chanels can never provide. So I waited for the Monday morning Hindu.

And look at today's Hindu (or try their website). The front page carries the news article about Arjun Singh's statement. That's it. No protests, no strike nothing. On page 12, you will find news about student's hunger strike but no clear mention of the strike called by IMA. I checked last 2 days' papers, the lathi charge in Bombay gets a mention in an article on page 12, no front page. On the page 3, the Bangalore Protest is covered but with no context to other protest reports.

I felt shocked and betrayed. This is the paper I trusted. To which I asked everybody to convert to. I do not expect them to always say things or express opinions that I agree to. But I assumed an honest attitude that is not afraid of belonging to some ideology but which is rational and balanced. They call themselves India's National newspaper. I think they need to wake up to the sensibilities of a lot more people before claiming that.

It is often that I have found useless articles on TOI front page while important news items completely missing. But then I know that TOI really believes that all the crap they publish is really the way to go. Hindu on the other hand carries a much more mature and respectful image. Such ommision coming from them can be nothing but intentional, motivated by political leanings. It wouldn't have felt bad if they had reported it and written in the editorial that this is nonsense. That way they would have left the choice of decision on me. But instead they chose to make that decision for me and block the news.

I am really heartbroken and sad today. I really am ! It is my apeal to everybody who reads Hindu, to please send a letter to the editor or atleast a note of dissent to let them know how you felt.

Saturday, May 13

अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा

(There is a window right behind where I sit in my office through which I can see a small patch of sky.)

मेरे पीछे की खिडकी मे रहने वाला,
अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा,
मुझसे बात किया करता है ।

सूरज की किरणों से तप कर,
श्याम वर्ण जब हो जाता तो,
अपने कुम्हलाये चेहरे पर,
फ़ूट फ़ूट रोया करता है ।

अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा,
मुझसे बात किया करता है ।

कभी कभी अपने संग अपनी,
चिर प्रेयसी वायु को ला कर,
फ़िर वितान मे छिप लज्जा से,
टुकुर टुकुर देखा करता है।

अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा,
मुझसे बात किया करता है ।

कभी जो धुन्धलाती शामों मे,
मन एकाकी सा हो जाता,
खोल पिटारे,ला कर तारे,
साथ मेरे खेला करता है।

अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा,
मुझसे बात किया करता है ।

पूछा नही कभी पर अक्सर,
ये सोचा करता मन ही मन,
कभी सुना होगा इसने भी,
मेघदूत का प्रणय निवेदन?
समझ सकेगा क्या ये अल्हड,
मूक वेदना मेरे मन की?
और कभी क्या झांकेगा ये,
दूर देश,उस घर की खिडकी ?
और कहेगा आतुर जन से,

दूर देश मे बसा अभागा,
तुमको याद किया करता है।
पास नही तुम हो तो मुझसे,
दिल का हाल कहा करता है।

मेरे पीछे की खिडकी मे रहने वाला,
अम्बर का छोटा सा टुकडा,
मुझसे बात किया करता है ।