Vantage point




Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What About Agarkar?

Orkut communities are a great source of entertainment for one and all. But this community totally cracked me up!

I think I am going to start an Orkut community called "Jo Agarkar Nahi Woh Insaan Nahi".




Monday, May 29, 2006

Aamir on TV

Sreenivasan Jain hosted a show on NDTV about the Aamir Khan-Fanaa-Gujarat controversy.

Jain seems to be suffering from some kind of disease which is eating up his grey cells at an alarming rate. I know it doesn't seem possible, but every time he appears dumber than the last.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the way in which Aamir Khan put forth his point of view. Logical, concise, and calm. He was not blabbering, not playing to the gallery, and not being emotionally evasive like some of his industry-mates have been. Until now the best Bollywood could come up with in terms of a socially relevant discourse was Mahesh Bhatt. If someone as idiotic as Bhattsaab was the most cogent voice Bollywood could produce, then it comes as no surprise that an actor-turned-MP would not know what PIL means.

Aamir Khan proved how he was different from the film industry with his assertive erudition.




Fresh Bhurjee

My Marathi blog has been updated after what feels like ages.




An Avalanche of Nostalgia

Normally I use my bike to get around Pune. This weekend I had to use auto rickshaws since the bike's horn refused to blare. Coming back from M G Road to my house near Vanaz, I was hit by a strong avalanche of nostalgia.

I don't know if any of you has had such an experience. Memories, one after another, in no particular chronological order, started refreshing themselves. They always had to do with the building, or the street corner that my rickshaw was passing by. And they tumbled down many times faster than the rickshaw was moving ahead.

A burst of nostalgia as I passed my old engineering college wasn't surprising, and was in fact expected. But even afterwards, they kept hurtling on.

Institution of Engineers... the place which hosted a book fair every other day. This is where I bought The Complete Sherlock Holmes, one of my most cherished books. This is also the place where I conducted a couple of quizzes for Rotaract. Modern Cafe was our favourite haunt during Engineering, but for some reason the memory that jostled ahead of others was the fact that on 26th January 2001, I was sitting at Modern cafe when the earthquake hit Gujarat. Jangli Maharaj Mandir.... that droll cartoon in some marathi magazine's diwali issue I read as a kid. Three men sitting in a PMT bus - a guy dressed like Tilak saying "Tilak Road", a guy dressed like Gandhi saying "M G Road", and a guy dressed like a sadhu from a forest saying "Jangli Maharaj Road".

Medinova... isn't this where Chinmay's dad went for consultation sometimes? Then the memory of a Ganpati Visarjan night spent in the Tilak Road clinic of Chinmay's dad. The "Best of Ganpati Visarjan Nights" suddenly rushed through my head in ten minutes, astonishingly compressing two decades worth of memories.

WIE Badminton Complex. That inter-college match in which Mitali was playing, and we had all gone to cheer her. Nice girl that she is, she would actually mean it when she earnestly said 'sorry' every time the shuttle cock hit the net and plopped into her opponents' court. At times she would say sorry just for a brilliant shot, and rubbing it in without meaning to.

Calcutta Lodge... the place where we tasted Bengali cuisine for the first time. And inside the lane after that, there used to be some coaching class. I didn't attend it, but many of my friends did. It was an old guy teaching engineering maths...somewhere near Congress Bhavan. What was his name....?

Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir. Of the hundreds of memories I had associated with that place, for some reason I remembered that day in 1997 when Roger Penrose held a lecture there. IUCAA was hosting him, and had organised a lecture at Bal Gandharva where they invited interested students to attend. They underestimated the response, and the hall was so packed that at least a couple of thousand students, including Ani and myself, could not even get an entry into the hall premisis.

Memories were ambushing me from every angle, engulfing me, almost threatening to spirit me away to the past. They were trying to make me pine for those days, yearn for a simpler and nicer time gone by. To say to myself "if only I could have those days back" and declare today as a loser and all the yesterdays and the days before as winners. To make the past seem a lot more significant than it actually is.

As the rickshaw crossed a memory-packed Karve Road, and descended the Paud Phata flyover, I was feeling overwhelmed by that blitzkrieg of memories, maybe even a bit choked up. I did the only thing that could calm me down and put the memories into perspective. I did the only thing that could let me savour the memories of yesterday without making my today and tomorrow seem unpalatable.

I put my arm around the person sitting next to me, the person whose presence ensured that my today was just as special, if not more. I squeezed her shoulder and drew her close to me, feeling contented that some day in the future, today would be very prominent in another avalanche of nostalgia.




Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reservations in Primary Education

One result of the reservations debate has been a lot of people making a lot of statements without really thinking them through.

I am baffled at the frequency with which the idea of reservations in primary education has been put forth.

Even coming from the most statist and socialist premise, i.e free primary education is a fundamental right which should be ensured by the state, the idea of such reservations is absurd and self-contradictory. In fact coming from the statist premise, it is all the more absurd and self-contradictory.

A longer post explaining this will follow when I return to Bombay. But until then think about why the idea is so absurd. One clue to show why it is absurd, consider this - there is no affirmative action in American schools though it exists in American universities.




Silly Point

I am one of the contributors to Silly Point, the definitive sports blog spearheaded by the young and effervescent Abhishek. Other contributors are the wise and bubbly Ramanand, the erudite and pacy Harish, the knowledgeable and raunchy Samrat and the articulate and puny(intended) Shamanth.

We already have posts about Usha, Kumble, Football and a solitary quiz question.

If you are a fan of any sport, you need to visit Silly Point everyday.




Friday, May 26, 2006

Allah Ke Naam Pe...

Amit asks - what would you do if you actually had a foolproof invisible cloak?

Become a blind beggar perhaps? And being a blind beggar would be very tough, since no one can see you if they want to give you money. Because if all light and electromagnetic radiation would just "flow around" the coat, how would light enter my eyes to enable me to see anything?

Or maybe there will be holes in the cloak for eyes? So you will just see 2 eyes walking around. Actually "walking eyes" is a lot more fun than total invisibility.




Here Come The Excuses

We must give credit to the West Indian bowlers. They have bowled well up front with the new ball, and their spinners have controlled the game in the middle overs, at the crucial stages, by not giving us singles and keeping the pressure on.
[...]
A lot of our guys, and they are all young guys, haven't played here at all.
[...]
The one-day games come thick and fast, and we just haven't had the time to review things. The young guys also need some time to get used to the slow wickets here.


and he also says

It is not an excuse.

While Rahul Dravid's captaincy started with a whiff of freshness, one wonders if it had to do with the fact that the team was winning every one dayer in sight. When you are winning, you don't have to answer too many uncomfortable questions.

Now that India have been whipped 3-1, Dravid is coming up with the same predictable and tired excuses. We don't have the experience. We didn't get used to the pitches. Etcetra etcetra.

As for exprience, where has it gone, you ask? Tendulkar is injured, but others? Considering that your last series in the West Indies was barely 4 years back. Considering that a side which was then truly inexperienced managed to take the ODI series 2-1. And the equally inexperienced team became the first Indian team to win a test match in West Indies after 26 years.

You have just ended most of the careers of members of that team in a bizarre witch-hunt. Ganguly is now not even considered. Neither is Kumble. Laxman, an all-surface batsman is also never considered. And Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, two bowlers who did a commendable job last time around, may as well announce premature retirements.

And the one bowler who has actually gotten a measure of the wickets and is bowling with some decent pace (he was consistently around 87-88 mph yesterday) and troubling the batsmen, Ajit Agarkar, is being sent home after the ODI series and will not be playing the tests.

So please, Dravid & Chappell. You can not have your cake and eat it too. If fresh blood, young legs, baggage-less players are your mantra, you can not abandon it at the first whiff of defeat and make predictable excuses.

You need to look at the reasons behind every defeat and work on them. In the second ODI, half the team got out skying the ball when there was no need. The required run rate was below 4 and the team was holing out like madmen. Why? Then in the third match the team scored 42 runs off the last 15 overs. Did Holding and Garner return to bowl? How can a run rate of less than 3 in the last 15 overs be explained? Just by saying Dhoni was run out early and Yuvraj was injured?

In the 4th match, the team never showed any urgency whatsoever to step up the run rate. The "experimentation" which was supposed to prepare players to fit into any situations was not able to prepare anyone to take the score to 250 and beyond?

And what is the deal with the way the Windies spinners were handled? Not even taken for 4 an over! No use of the feet, no clever nudges, nothing. It was as if the boundaries were being shortened only when Ramesh Powar was bowling.

In general, I have not been a fan of Dravid opening in ODIs. He does not have that swash-buckling attitude to be a productive opener. Plus he is more useful in the middle order anchoring an innings.

I have said once before that the real test of cricketing skills happens in ODIs where the score is between 200 and 250. It means that the bowlers have a more challenging job to do than just bowl at an economy rate of slightly under 5 an over. The captain has to do more than just position fielders on the boundary. The batsmen have more to do than just get in line and swing. And typically just one player can't win the match on his own. He needs assistance.

And in such matches, India has been thrashed by a team which is in the bottom half of the ranking table.

One good thing about this tour is that the ODIs are first. In the last season or so, the tests have been first. So India loses or underperforms in the tests, but then wins ODIs and all is forgiven. This time it has started by losing the ODI series. So hopefully the team will be jolted into motivation for the test series. The World-Cup-centric Greg Chappell (I am willing to bet a thousand rupees that if India does not win the World Cup, he will not seek extension of his contract) will hopefully be shamed into looking at winning test matches as well.

One positive fallout of Tendulkar being injured is Laxman's test career, almost bizarrely under threat, gets another lease of life. One hopes he can make this series his own. The bowling will be completely to his liking.




Seinfeld = South Park???

This entire post came about because of a flippant comment by Sarika while we were watching a rerun of the Seinfeld series finale. Watching Newman (Wayne Knight) let out a vicarious laugh as he is leaving to watch the trial, Sarika said Newman seemed a lot like Eric Cartman at that moment. I then remarked that a grown up Eric Cartman would be a lot like Newman.

We tried to delve deeper into it, and came up with many similarities. Firstly, both are corpulent. Cartman is a very smart kid but his intelligence is always used for some sinister motives. Newman too, despite being well read, intelligent and articulate, is a mere postal worker. Which means he has not been able to apply his intelligence in helping his career prosper. But his guile and wit is at its most productive when it comes to cunning things like manipulating people. As a kid, cartman holds high hopes of somehow obtaining ten million dollars. The grown-up Newman knows it's a lot harder than a kid would assume. However he still tries to make a fast buck through schemes like the bottle deposit, the old records etc.

Who is Newman's greatest nemesis? the Jewish boy Seinfeld. Who is Cartman's greatest nemesis? The Jewish boy Kyle.

We tried to find commonalities between Kyle and Jerry. However, apart from the Jewishness, there was nothing we could think of that would not appear too contrived.

Stan however is most certainly the childhood George. Stan's father Randy is a total nutcase getting into the weirdest situations, as is George's father Frank. Whenever Wendy, the girl he likes, comes near him, Stan pukes. George after all these years is still very uncomfortable around girls. As a kid, Stan has had a few brushes with religious cults. He was heavily influenced by the Mormons, but fought off that influence. He was later influenced by scientology, but denounced it. Religious cults thus marked him as an unresponsive target, and so a grown up Stan, i.e George, was ignored by the cult-members-disguised-as-house-cleaners. Why the cult never tried to indoctrinate has been a mystery. It is now revealed. Stan was the lead singer of the band the kids formed named "Moop". When George saw "Moors" misprinted as "Moops" during a game of Trivial puruits with the Bubble Boy, it rekindled old memories, and he adamantly held on to those memories by insisting that the answer was in fact "Moops".

Kramer is of course Kenny. Firstly, the original Kramer is called Kenny Kramer. Kenny's family is poor, and no one knows exactly how they make ends meet. No one knows exactly how Kramer pays the bills. Kenny keeps getting into accidents and gets killed. Kramer doesn't get killed, but keeps getting into accidents, bumping into things, falling down, being kicked by crazy people. Kenny is the only guy whom Cartman regards as a friend, though Kenny is friendly with Stan and Kyle. Kramer is the only guy Newman regards as a friend, though Kramer is friendly with George and Jerry.

See, it all fits! Seinfeld is nothing but South Park 30 years later.

P.S - This is fun. Try to think up more such parallels and mail them to me. For instance, I think there's a great case to be made for Butters growing up to be Kenny Bania.

Update: A couple of you emailed me the link for the Calvin & Hobbes - Fight Club parallels. Have read it before, and have in fact blogged about it a couple of years back.




Thursday, May 25, 2006

Arch Enemies?

I am sick of being forwarded the link of Karan thapar interviewing Arjun Singh. Yes people, I get it. I know. I too inhabit the same world as you. If you think that there is still a soul in india with internet access who hasn't read that interview, it's probably you.

I bet even the real Karan and Arjun facing off in the Mahabharat didn't get this much attention.




The Real Sin

Thought I'd make my first guest post on this blog with a quote from a fabulous book I'm reading these days - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

We libertarians often talk of victimless crimes not actually being crimes. This passage from Kite Runner lays down, what according to me, is the best definition of sin that I've ever come across.

In the story, this little kid, Amir, sees his father drinking whiskey and is confused from what his religious teacher, the bearded Mullah Fatiullah Khan, has been telling him about drinking. "... if what he said is true then does it make you a sinner, Baba?", he asks.

And this is what his father tells him:

"... no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft.
... When you kill a man, you steal a life,.. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness
... There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir, A man who takes what is not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan....
... If there is a God out there, then I would hope he has more important things to attend to than my drinking scotch or eating pork."




Tuesday, May 23, 2006

This Is Not A Joke

It is serious. Students from Pakistan occupied Kashmir want reservations in India's educational institutions.

The first reaction is obviously one of incredulity. But listen to their reasoning -

"Indian maps always show Gilgit and Baltistan as part of India. The Constitution of India mentions that we are part of India. In your eyes, we are Indians and Pakistan has 'occupied' Indian territory. Then, why should we not get admissions in the IIMs and the IITs?" he says, adding, "I am an engineer, but now, I want to study law in the best of Indian law colleges. Help me get admission."
[...]
"India should either accept us as Indians or give up claim on the territory."


Very true! What do you say to that? The official stand of the Indian government, reinforced by a parliamentary resolution in the early 90s, is that PoK is Indian territory occupied by Pakistan. residents of PoK then, would obviously be Indians. How can you deny them reservations?




SomeAchaar - Additional Seats in Instis Donated By UN

Here's another bit of news from the Daily SomeAchaar, the non-periodical with news that you can savour and preserve. Any philosophical similarities with The Onion are purely intentional.

New Delhi May 24 - A huge consignment of benches landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport today. The benches, numbering in a few thousand, were sent by the United Nations to help in ending the reservations debate that has raged in India for almost 2 months.

Ubhaka Baski, a UN official who accompanied the consignment told reporters, "We have been following the reservation debate very closely. We came to know from the Indian Government that the problems will be solved by increasing the number of seats in all institutions by 27%. We at the United Nations were surprised to learn that such a simple solution existed but was not being implemented. Hence to put an end to the problem, we have sent thousands of benches."

"These additional benches will lead to an increase in the number of seats in colleges", Baski added, "and hopefully everyone will be satisfied. In fact we have budget sanction to buy many more benches, so India can increase the quota as much as it wants."

The UN hopes all protests against reservations will now be called off, since they have donated to India the additional seats.




The Great Khali!!!

As dhoomketu has written on his blog, Dalip Singh a.k.a The Great Khali demolished The Undertaker with rare ease at Judgement Day. WWE has always pushed Taker aggressively and usually most of his opponents have to "job" to him (i.e lose). Which is why, considering Singh's limited mic skills, I thought he would immediately have to job to Taker. But the turn that the Khali story has taken shows that WWE probably sees some long term potential in the guy. He was even shown making easy work of the current champion Rey Mysterio a couple of weeks back.

I still suspect that Undertaker will be shown as the eventual victor in this feud, mostly at Summerslam. But this extended run of domination shows that WWE has at least decent medium terms for Dalip Singh.

In terms of height or even weight he may not be much bigger The Big Show, but there is something ominous about his appearance that just captures your attention. He used to be a body-builder, and so his body is quite proportionate and well-toned. He is very easily the most captivating wrestler in WWE today.

As I wrote a few weeks back, this guys used to be a daily wage labourer working on the highways of Punjab and Himachal. To come from there to demolish the Undertaker is just phenomenal (pun unintended). What surprises me is the Indian media still hasn't discovered him or gone nuts over him. The market for WWE is big enough in India for them to cover him extensively.

And yes, one great effect of The Great Khali's victory has been a spurt in traffic to my blog. Daily visits have gone up by 50%, because my previous post on The Great Khali is ranked 2nd in google searches for his name. Who woulda thought?




Monday, May 22, 2006

Guest Bloggers at Vantage Point

Five friends are joining Vantage Point as guest bloggers.

Sarika
Pushkar
Sunil
Satyen
Tony




Insidious Poison

A lot of you mailed me the link to this interview of Arjun Singh on CNN-IBN. Yes, the man comes off looking like a completely clueless double faced and chicken-hearted moron, not willing to talk about anything at all. He had no answer to give to so many of Thapar's questions.

I was especially interested to hear about his response to the NSSO survey. Thapar asked -

the NSSO, which is a government appointed body, has actually in its research in 1999 - which is the most latest research shown - that 23.5 per cent of all university seats are already with the OBCs. And that is just 8.5 per cent less than what the NSSO believes is the OBC share of the population. So, for a difference of 8 per cent, would reservations be the right way of making up the difference?


The NSSO survey is one which rightly points out the concerns of many people, that the claims of the OBCs, as defined by the Mandal Commission, are nowhere close to those of the SC/STs, and just replicating the reservations by increasing the quota is wrong. Even avowed pro-affirmative-action thinkers have raised an objection to Mandal-2 on these grounds. However, Arjun Singh, like many pro-reservation thinkers (and bloggers) chooses to ignore studies that are inconvenient to what he is saying. His answer was as idiotic as could get -

Well, I don't know I have not come across that far.
I have said what I had to say and the point is that that is not an issue for us to now debate.


How brazen can a man get? He is crazily pushing this proposal, and I don't know what he intends to achieve. The flaws in his proposals are obvious. There are studies like the NSSO's which are being ignored completely.

The supporters of this decision are choosing to take on the easiest argument only. The argument of "merit". I personally find the merit argument irrelevant, presumptuous, and missing the basic point. The next time I hear protestors saying "merit is compromised" and their opponents saying "merit is not the preserve of the upper castes" I am going to kill....an ant.

And of course, in the defence of Mandal-2, standard arguments supporting affirmative action are forwarded. Either people don't understand affirmative action, or then they don't understand the nature of Arjun Singh's decision and the amendment. Tying the two together might work in arguing against a few inflamed bigoted idiotic anti-reservationists who use the same cliched merit argument. But it isn't going to cut ice with people who are raising real questions about the issue.

Avowed supporters of affirmative action and liberal thinkers Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre Beteille quit the National Knowledge Commission because of the intransigent attitude of the government in general, and Arjun Singh in particular, who said the NKC doesn't understand the constitution.

Mehta, who started off by clarifying that he is a believer in affirmative action and believes we need to think creatively of ways to increase the representation of the underprivileged in educational institutions, also said that claims of OBCs and SC/STs are of a completely different nature, and hyphenating the two is wrong. He further says

They (government) have violated four cardinal principles that institutions in a knowledge-based society will have to follow: they are not based on assessment of effectiveness, they are incompatible with freedom and diversity of institutions, they more thoroughly politicise education process and they inject an insidious poison, which will harm the nation’s long-term interest.

As a society , we focus on reservations largely because it is a way of avoiding the things that really create access. Increasing the supply of good quality institutions at all levels (not to be confused with numerical increase), more robust scholarship and support programmes will go much further than numerically mandated quota


Beteille, who supports affirmative action, but opposes Arjun Singh's move said

Affirmative action is based on respect for autonomy of institutions, it is based on trust, on the fairness of the admissions process. There is a vital distinction between numerical quotas and affirmative action. Affirmative action allows for socially more inclusive institutions and the natural process must be encouraged. Universities have taken the lead in becoming socially inclusive.


Their resignation is a big blow to the NKC which was created by Manmohan Singh last year ostensibly to sharpen India's knowledge edge and promote excellence in education.




Bang Bang

The chase for an absconding murderer ends right outside the gate of my alma mater, and the man is gunned down in an encounter.

This is not fair. Nothing exciting happened outside the campus gate when we were there. :(

Well, that's not true really. This guy who ran the UTI branch in our campus was held up at gunpoint and relieved of several doubloons. Since he was the typical babu who was rude to us, and took an hour off for lunch even when the timings for his branch were 11:30-1:30 and we had classes until 1. The news of his stick-up brought a lot of mirth to campus.

But nothing like a shootout after which a hindi channel's correspondent sticks a mic under your mouth and says "Aapke institute ke saamne ek khooni ko maar giraya gaya. Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?"




Fait Accompli, Catch 22, Hobson's Choice etc

Meira Kumar, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, has said that if the private sector does not introduce reservations for SC/STs voluntarily in two years, then the government will bring legislation to that effect.

Talk about tragicomic.




Sunday, May 21, 2006

Privatisation of Primary Education

Everyone agrees that primary education in our country is an abysmal state, especially so for the poor. But talk of privatisation in primary education and squeamishness sets in. The inertial mindset resulting from a socialist upbringing makes most people equate privatisation with exploitation, dishonesty and a certain inhuman element which is mever rationally justified. People argue that though privatisation in primary education may lead to swankier schools for rich, it will do little to help the poor who dwell in slums and in villages.

It shows how little they understand the term "privatisation".

Through Naveen Mandva's blog, I came across this superb study by James Tooley which talks about the role and the effect of privatisation in primary education in slums in Delhi.

It is long, but worth reading, and shows how the only cure for the ailing primary education system in a rickety governmental delivery mechanism is free markets. Not "big evil capitalist corporations", but actual free market, where the customers (parents) can exert desired pressure on the service providers to ensure superior quality of education for their children.

The study compares 4 sorts of schools in slums - government, private aided, private unaided recognised, private unaided unrecognised.

Private unaided unrecognised are the schools which are rendered illegal by the licensing and excessive regulation. These schools are not funded by the taxpayer, and in fact, people running them might be thrown in jail.

Now a statist would say that government schools, which are answerable to the people, through government, would have the most accountability and would thus be the most efficient, sincere and successful. While the unaided and unrecognised school, are not accountable to bureaucrats, and since they are not recognised, they are not answerale to any education board either. Thus this lack of accountability would make them inefficient, and greedy.

The results are startling, and prove that the most effective accountability is that of the market.

P.S - While reading the report, remember that the 2% education cess that you pay on taxes goes into funding the government schools and the private aided schools. Sorry, I meant that's where you are told it goes.




Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Bit About Reservations

The current anti-reservation agitation has very frankly left me cold. The disappointment is on several levels.

Most intensely, it is in the manner of the protests. Until they were rallies and marches, one could understand. With the decision of doctors to strike work however, they lost me.

By striking work on an ideological issue, the anti-reservationists doctors have committed the same mistake of punishing Peter for Paul's mistake. I fail to see how inconveniencing thousands and thousands of patients is fair when the folly is from the government's side.

I have always found strikes by unions in airports, banks, and public transport to be idiotic and immoral measures. Applying the same standards, I find the strike by medicos in Delhi to be no less idiotic and immoral. They deserve to lose their jobs, just like bank employees and AAI workers did.

Reservations in government-owned institutions are something I oppose, not on philosophical grounds, but on utilitarian grounds. i.e I do not question the government's right to reserve 22 or 49.5 or even 95% seats in entities it owns. I just question whether the stated objective for doing so is met, since the implementation process has so many gaping holes which persist even 55 years later.

However reservations in privately owned institutions is something I vehemently oppose on philosophical grounds. And I continue to be disappointed that this flagrant violation of freedom is not getting even an iota of attention because everyone is obsessed with the IITs and IIMs.

Sanctity of private ownership, or property rights, is a cornerstone of any free society. The 104th amendment strikes at that cornerstone by saying that the government can dictate quotas in privately owned entities.

I wonder if anyone has filed a PIL against the amendment. I would really like to see if the amendment has complete constitutional validity.

If such a PIL is rejected, and the amendment is upheld, it will further strengthen my belief that the Indian constitution is, in letter as well as in spirit, socialist, and has scant respect for private ownership and individual rights.




Aadisht in China

Aadisht ends his travelogue with a very sobering message



About two years ago, I had written rude and mocking things about Track II diplomacy and people-to-people contacts. At that time, it was about a Youth Initiative for Peace thingummy being organised in Pune, with twenty students from Pakistan and twenty from India being invited to meet each other. Back then I had called it naive and idealistic (though admittedly I was doing so mostly to irritate my brother).

Now that I’ve returned from China, have I changed my mind? Am I now convinced that people-to-people contacts are important and useful ways to bring countries whose relations have deteriorated closer together?

Hell no. In fact, the realisation that people are the same actually makes me more convinced of the utter uselessness of people-to-people contacts.


Previous posts from his China travelogue -
Home Improvement
Shook Lee Ya
30 April: A Travelogue
The Joy of Literal Translations
Four Chinese Puzzles




Friday, May 19, 2006

Will The Worm Turn?

Like any Indian cricket fan, I want the team to win the test series in West Indies. The last "worm-turning" for the Indian cricket team happened on our last tour of the West Indies in 2001-02. For over 15 years, the Indian team had not won a single test match (forget series) outside the subcontinent, except in minnow-land Zimbabwe. Most teams don't travel well, but not winning a single test match is shameful. Those were the low standards prevalent in Indian cricket those days.

This drought of test match victories at respectable venues ended with a win in Port of Spain. We lost the series of course, and heartbreakingly so, but it was a baby step for Ganguly's men. Later the team would win tests and draw tests series in England and Australia. And conquer the only corner of the subcontinent they hadn't been able to beat - Pakistan.

Since then India has had a tough time in tests. It was thrashed by the visiting Australians, held to embarrassing draws by obviously weaker Pakistani and English units, and beaten narrowly in Pakistan. There only-face saving series was the thrashing of Sri Lanka in India. It was the first time a full-strength Indian team was facing the post-doosra-Murali and the efficiency with which the Lankans were taken apart was heartening.

The Indian team is now in the next stage. Having moved from a good-player-bad-captain to a match-fixer-captain to an out-of-form-player-good-captain to a great-player-good-captain, the team is ready for its break-out moment. Most of the middle order and the bowling line-up is now experienced and yet youthful. The time has come for India to register a test series win abroad.

What started in the West Indies last time, continued in England, Australia and Pakistan. A more amplified start this time round may even lead to more amplified successes.

Dravid does have his hands full at the moment though. Tendulkar's fitness is looking suspect, and Sehwag is still looking a bit suspect. Chappell's insistence on the five-bowler combination puts extra pressure on the batting line-up and his dislike for Laxman sees Yuvraj being chosen packing the middle-and-lower order with inexperience. The bowling line-up does not look threatening, though the pacemen do perform well with kookaburra balls. The indifferent quality of the seamers would also make Dravid and Chappell wonder whether to go in with a solitary spinner or two.

There is some good news too though. Dravid himself is in fine form, as is the dangerous Dhoni who can change the game within a session. Pathan's batting has improved exponentially, and his bowling is fairly consistent too. And yes, India finally have a genuine quick bowler in Munaf.

Marshalled well, the team could make the worm turn. Let's get this irritating matter of ODIs out of the way first.




Blogger-MSM Partnerships

The Harper Collins correction episode where Clinton ended up with a pai on his face because of the hard work of a blogger and a journalist perfectly illustrates the constructive role blogs can play in the world of news. All talks of bloggers replacing MSM are a bit too grandiose and divorced from reality. MSM runs on resources and will continue to exist and be the main source of information for people.

Bloggers can play a supplementary role, unturning a stone that might have not come to MSM's attention. As Nitin writes,

Indeed, it is Chidanand Rajghatta who was at the business end of this. I don't think HarperCollins or Albright's office would have responded with any urgency if not for the fact that it was a journalist from a big newspaper that was doing the asking. And I'm not saying this out of modesty.

What I gather from this episode is that, more than the just the blogosphere itself, it is the connections and the parterships that come about in the online world that can make a difference.




Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Acorn Effect

A few days ago, Nitin Pai wrote about a howler made by Bill Clinton in the introduction he wrote for Madeline Albright's new book. Clinton, bizarrely, blamed 'Hindu militants' for the Chittisinghpora massacre.

The publishers Harper Collins have acknowledged the error, and a news report in The Times of India today acknowledges The Acorn of having first highlighted this error.




Commie Dramas

If you are competing in a race, there are two ways of winning. Either you make sure you are faster relative to your competition. Or then you ensure your competition is slower than you.

When the competition is for FDI, these two ways translate as follows. You either improve your infrastructure, offer investors cheap land, tax benefits, labour flexibility, etc to make your territory attractive. Or you sabotage your competitor's infrastructure to make your modest one look better.

A prime example of the latter is the attitude of the Indian Leftists towards airport privatisation. When it was the question of privatising Delhi and Mumbai airports, the Left screamed bloody murder and caused a strike. Some clueless columnists were tricked by the Left into believing that a fear of job losses was driving the strike. But a day later, after thousands of innocent passengers had been inconvenienced, it was clarified that job losses was never an issue. The demand of the AAI was that it should be handed the contract for modernising the airports. No competitive bidding, tender opening, anything. Just hand them over to the AAI, which has been making a hash of our airports for decades.

But now when it comes to their own territory, i.e Kolkata, the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya wants privatisation. He is of course, playing the role of the "pragmatic" communist pretending to represent a new-wave in Indian communism. And of course, most are being fooled by it. This whole game of difference of opinion between the hardcore-red commies like Karat-Basu-Yechury and the "pragmatic" Buddha-Bhatta is as genuine as the kayfabe enmity between babyfaces and heels in WWE wrestling. Carefully scripted and meticulously executed.

So Kolkata will see airport privatisation and other improvements to help it attract investment. While privatisation in Mumbai and Delhi will be opposed under some ridiculous pretext.

That's the way the CPI(M) wants to win the race.




Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gold for Chocolate

International politics, while utterly absorbing, is not known for clever quotes. Either you will hear measured diplomatically approved and rehearsed dialogues or then you will hear mindless bluster. Which is why the latest riposte from Iranian President Ahmedinejad is even more enjoyable. He said about EU's offer -

"They say we want to give Iranians incentives but they think they are dealing with a four-year-old, telling him they will give him chocolate or walnuts and take gold from him in return".


Nice! Now if only I was devoid of common sense, a desire for national interest, and blinded by hatred for America like the Indian leftists are, I may even have supported Iran in this face-off.




OLE!

The Flying Spaghetti Monster seems to be a Spaniard this week.




Slippery Slope and The Das Munshi Code

As we see a wonderful display of competitive fundamentalism in its full glory in the wake of The Das Munshi Code episode, I can't help but recall these profound words of the greatest Prophet, thinker, philosopher and leader of our generation -

It's simple television economics, Kyle. All it takes to kill a show forever is get one episode pulled. If we convince the network to pull this episode for the sake of Muslims, then the Catholics can demand a show they don't like get pulled. And then people with disabilities can demand another show get pulled. And so on and so on, until Family Guy is no more! It's exactly what happened to Laverne & Shirley.

Yep, no one can be pithier than the great Eric Theodore Cartman.




Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Catholic Than The Pope

That's our I&B Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi. He has put the screening of The Da Vinci Code on hold until a bunch of Catholic organisations watch it and give their nod. Mind you, the Censor Board has already cleared the movie. No country in the predominantly Christian world, not even the Vatican itself has spoken of a ban or such a sanctimonious screening process.

I had written a few days back about TDVC not being banned because Christians aren't as big a votebank as Muslims. Looks like I was wrong. You don't have to be a votebank to get anything banned in India.

But the Indian state is unique. It bends over backwards to not offend communities, carelessly brushing aside the piffling matter of fredom of expression. Thus Dasmunshi and his ilk will be more catholic than the pope, more shia than the Ayatollah, more Bangladeshi than Mujibur Rehman, and more soviet than the politburo.

Incidentally, I remember someone telling me that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets which was banned in left-leaning India because it poked fun at USSR, is still not available in India because no one has cared to lift the ban. I tried to google around and confirm this but didn't find any references. But I have never seen the comic being sold in any bookshop in India. Does anyone know about this for sure?

Are we still banning a book for poking fun at an entity which ceased to exist 16 years ago? Given the past record of our government, I wouldn't be surprised.

Update: Turns out Tintin in the Land of the Soviets IS actually available in India. It is stocked in Landmark and is also sold online.




Monday, May 15, 2006

Aphorism of the Day...

... was expressed by Ravikiran in a mail -

Insanity is much more common than is commonly assumed. I always used to hate the Freudian style of offering psychiatric diagnoses as arguments. ( i.e. instead of asking "Why do you support the war?", you ask "Did you have some psychological trauma in childhood that makes you support violence?") But it is becoming increasingly clear to me that a knowledge of insanity is much more important to understand human beings than I thought.




Heh

Why don't IPO ads come with the notice - "Offer Valid Until Stocks Last"?




You Travel, They Pay!

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

LOL!!

Where are those fearless and rhino-skinned flamebaiters of yore? Those who really used to get under your skin and were never short for words? In other words they could take what they dished out.

Flamebaiters today are just sensitive sissies. I already wrote about the blog I called "phlegmbait" which...get this...had comments moderation enabled. Imagine a flameblog that has comments moderation!! That's like a Hell's Angel whose favourite musician is Bryan Adams. Or a Viking barbarian who collects knitting patterns. Well, the blog has been started by a kid barely out of college so I guess we can cut him some slack.

But today is a sad day for reverse-voyeurs like me who take a keen interest in the quality of flamers baiting us. Today the last of the flamebaiters has also turned effete. The 'Blue King' has chickened out and abdicated the throne. Once upon a time he showed serious potential to be the Maddox of the Indian blogosphere. Alas he didn't have the mojo to last the distance. Or maybe it's the 2-rs-rice showing its effect.




Pleasures of a Shaved Head

Everyone must shave their heads at least once in their lives. Especially before nature decides to shave it for you. I shaved my head recently and have been thoroughly enjoying the time since.

Immediately after your head is shaved, it feels like sand-paper. Rub your hand against it rapidly to derive a feeling of immense satisfaction. You also discover the lumpy contours of your head. It's like being introduced to a side of your self that you neglected for so many years.

Then come the responses from people you know. Some will be very concerned. Since traditionally, hindus shave their heads when a parent dies, the cursory query comes "Everything OK at home?". Once that is assured, the next quesion - "Balaji?". I am not a very religious person (as religious as an atheist can get) so the name "Balaji" doesn't ring the intended bells (pun intended). I wonder if person is implying that by shaving my head I am protesting the continued exclusion of Laxmipathy Balaji from the team. Or if this was done at the behest of Ekta Kapoor. The questioner helpfully adds "Tirupathi?". Light dawns. Refusal follows.

My stock reply has been a very lame joke - "Oh, forgot to wear my wig today!". But it is too lame even by my standards. Hence alternative suggestions invited.

Within 3-4 days the hair grows to a few mm. Running your hand slowly over your hair then gives a feeling of even immenser satisfaction. In fact I am considering charging people 10 rupees for doing that. I know I always want to run my hands over a just-shaved head. There has to be a huge market for it.

So if you want to run your hands over my head, you know what it will cost you!




Ban Code

I have read The Satanic Verses as well as The Da Vinci Code.

After reading TDVC I wondered, how can the Indian state explain why the book has not been banned whereas TSV has been banned. I am a free speech fundamentalist, and do not believe in the concept of bans. However if one is to play by the rules, what explains these double standards?

It doesn't require mastering rocket science to answer the question.

Muslims at approximately 16% of India's population, are a very crucial 'votebank' and play a key role in deciding electoral outcomes in a vast number of constituencies. Whereas Christians, at about 2% of the country's population, have hardly any "value" for politicians in the democratic process.

I am sure Orwell would have said, "Some minorities are more minor than others".




Friday, May 12, 2006

Tata Motors in Hartal-land??

One can't help but wonder which infinite-optimism-inducing drug is responsible for the almost-finalised decision of Tata Motors to set up a car plant in West Bengal. Yes, Buddha-Bhatta has worked hard to create a business-friendly image for the state and single-handedly injected a sense of optimism into the proceedings. But that optimism is driven by the IT industry which has set up offices in Kolkatta because of cheaper land, and most importantly, and this can not be emphasised enough - no unionisation. In a cruelly funny twist of irony, Buddha-Bhatta put IT under "essential services" to ward off fears of the unionisation which was responsible for turning West Bengal into industrial ruins over the last half century.

Now Tata Motors is planning to set up a plant there, and not just any plant. The 1-lakh-rupee-car plant, which will obviously have to maintain high volumes of output. Considering the union problems Tata Motors(formerly Telco) has had at their plants in comparitively un-unionised places like Lucknow and Pune, you would expect pink elephants to be ice skating over a frozen hell before the company would set up a plant in the mother ship of trade-unionism. Especially since the 1-lakh-car project is widely considered as over-ambitious, and will be facing challenges on every front possible. Why would the Tatas add another potential battle-front by risking a protracted strike?

While Ravi Kant, the Tata Motors MD, was cautious and merely mentioned West Bengal as one of the shortlisted states, Buddha-Bhatta has enthusiastically gone ahead and announced to the world that the decision has been made. The Hindu which obviously forgets journalistic propriety and caution when it comes to cheering Commies, has the headline "Tata Motors selects West Bengal for car project" even though all other news sources noting Kant's statement have used terms like "may set up" "to consider", "likely to". Buddha-Bhatta is obviously pressurising the Tatas and thinks he can force their hand by announcing the decision.

Ratan Tata should read this as an ominous sign of things to come. If even the announcement of the decision is being appropriated by the Commies themselves, he can imagine what kind of control they will wield on the actual plant. The plant will of course have a labour union, since Tata Motors comes under the manufacturing sector. When the Tatas faced labour problems in Pune in the 80s, the state government led by Sharad Pawar was proactively helping the Tatas and doing its best to defuse the situation. Ratan Tata in fact shot into limelight by his deft handling of that petulant strike led by the commie-supported union-dada Rajan Nair and it is widely acknowledged that the event helped him upstage Darbari Seth and Sumant Moolgaonkar to be chosen as JRD's successor.

Having such rich experiences with labour troubles and the knowledge of what a defining role sympathetic state governments can play in the same, I find it hard to believe that the Tatas will set up such a crucial plant in West Bengal.

Let's see how this story unfolds. If they do announce the plant in WB, it will be interesting to see how the Tata Motors stock moves.




Well, Finally!

Finally what? Finally I see some good coming out of the commies winning an election. It has just been announced that VS Achuthanandan will be Kerala's Chief Minister.

So now whenever Keralites are bugged about the government and they want to let off some steam, they can justifiably say,

"Our Chief Minister is Achut!"




PC Bullshits PR

Saw something absolutely hilarious and yet infuriating on NDTV yesterday. The election results had been declared and the DMK alliance was a clear victor in Tamilnadu (are there ever unclear victors in Tamilnadu?). Prannoy Roy, sitting in a studio asked Chidambaram, sitting in some other studio about the "populist" free TV scheme.

Chidambaram then gave a classic performance. He clucked his tongue, increased the condescension settings of his face, and said something whose gist was(and I try my best to recall from memory here) -

See Prannoy, why are you looking at it as a purely populist scheme? There could be ways in which the scheme could be so designed that it will cost nothing to the exchequer. one needs to speak to the television manufacturers, other parties involved, explore how the payment and the other aspects are examined, like whether if we explore the options of amortised payments over 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, what will it cost? One can not dimiss it as outright populist without examining closely how it will be implemented. For all we know it could be packaged and designed creatively in a way that would cost the government next to nothing. What if I resent it to you as a commercial project than as a populist scheme? Then its feasibility changes.

This is not what he exactly said, but it was similar semi-gobbledygook. The smoothness and the speed with which he spouted whatever he did, and ended it by stating that the scheme may not cost anything at all, and could be a commercial project, probably left Prannoy Roy flabbergasted. Perhaps he had no idea whether Chidambaram was serious or whether he had just been bullshitted upon.

Prannoy Roy of course is an experienced hand. He did not betray the confusion in any way, and responded with a statement which would be an appropriate response, whether PC was bullshitting or not. He said,

"Well, that is the cleverest defence of a populist scheme I have ever heard anyone give"

But not wishing to dwell on the subject further, he moved on. I would have loved it if Roy had asked Chidambaram to elborate how giving free televisions to lakhs of people could be designed in a way that it won;t cost the exchequer anything. That would have been fun.




Thursday, May 11, 2006

Watchmen

While on the subject, I am currently reading Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. I'm just about halfway through, and I can't wait to see how it ends.

A few days back, I wrote a postabout how I realised after reading 'V For Vendetta' that the Wachowskis had mangled the story. I also wrote that generally, film-makers make a hash of the book and the only exception seems to have been sin City. Nishit Desai wrote me an email about Sin City saying -

Robert Rodriguez has setup an example to follow when you adapt a novel. Nice little history behind it. Robert Rodriguez was a big time fan of Sin City graphic novels and he wanted to make a film on it, but Frank Miller won't bend because of his previous bad experiences with Hollywood, but Robert kept insisting. He made a small movie based on one of the short stories of Sin City "Customer is always right". He told Frank Miller that he can have a look at it and if he likes then it will be opening scene of the movie, otherwise he can have it is a short film to show his friends. And finally after watching that piece Frank Miller gave go-ahead signal.

During production in 2004, Rodríguez insisted that Miller receive a "co-director" credit with him because he considered the visual style of Miller's comic art to be just as important as his own in the film. However, the Directors Guild of America would not allow it, citing that only "legitimate teams" could share the director's credit . Rodríguez chose to resign from the DGA, stating, "It was easier for me to quietly resign before shooting because otherwise I'd be forced to make compromises I was unwilling to make or set a precedent that might hurt the guild later on."

That's how he was dedicated to the film and these graphic novels. I have both seen the movie and read the novel and I can say, this is the best adaption I've seen. You can atmost find one or two minor deviation from the original novel. Not only that, he also maintains same dark environment as in the novel. Cinematic adaption feels just like you are reading the novel. Although movie/novel sound weird to lots and lots of people, it has huge cult fan following. and fans of novels have become fans of movie too. I have gone through lots of movie boards of the movie and never found disappointed novel fan.


Indeed, only a true fan like Rodriguez can turn novels into films properly. His dedication towards maintaining the sanctity and integrity of Sin City (yes, I know how paradoxical it sounds) is an example that should be followed by everyone. In fact in Sin city, there was no screenplay credit! That's how loyally he followed the novel.

The film adaptation of Watchmen is being directed by Zack Snyder who made 'Dawn of the Dead' a couple of years back. I haven't seen DOTD so have no idea how hopeful/pessimistic we should be about the movie. Maybe the Lord of the Films or the Lord of the Graphic Novels can enlighten us.




BJP, Enough with the Night Watchmen

We all know what a night-watchman means in cricketing terms. For those who don't follow the game, a night-watchman is somewhat of a low-cost sacrificial lamb sent in at a precarious position. If he falls, as he is expected to, the damage isn't much. If he sticks around a bit and scores some runs, it is an added bonus. The main purpose driving this concept is the wish to protect a top order batsman, who might fall cheaply.

The BJP has been using night-watchmen to combat Sonia Gandhi in elections. In fact, reading the names of BJP candidates who fight parliamentary elections against Sonia is an excellent indicator of whose stock is descending within the BJP. Many years back, they made Sushma Swaraj contest from Bellary, of all places. Despite her valiant efforts, she was no political equivalent of Jason Gillespie(the only night-watchman to score a double century). Sonia thumped her and Swaraj has since been on the fringes of the powers that be within the BJP. She s not getting the role she deserves.

In this by-election, the BJP forced an extremely reluctant Vinay Katiyar to contest. He was a pathetic failure, and the only moment of any note in his campaign came when he cried himself hoarse about dance-girls being used to entertain a crowd before Sonia's rally in Raibareilly. If the electorate was made up of a million men named R.R.Patil, then Katiyaar would have romped home. As it happens, he lost his deposit and was whipped by over 400,000 votes.

The BJP has probably played the biggest role in Sonia being built up as a massive monolith of a politician. She keeps suckering them and they keep getting suckered, flogging too many dead-horses. "foreigner....pulling the puppet strings....dynastic politic..." the BJP folks whine and whine. In the process they create an aura of invincibility around her. They have made her a martyr.

SOnia Gandhi interestingly enough, gulped down the deposits of her opponents in a place where the Congress was unable to win a single seat in the Assembly elections.

The BJP keeps getting whipped and yet they don't learn. They need to think up another strategy to regain the "psychological advantage" that Sonia has wrested away from them. And just flogging horses who are not just dead, but even fossilized, isn't going to help. The people do not care about the videshi factor. Let it go, and find something more credible.

In charting their future course of action, the BJP should again learn from a cricketing analogy. Towards the fag end of 2003, India was locked in an absorbing test series with Steve Waugh's Australia. India had taken the lead by winning the Adelaide test, and the Aussies had come roaring back in Melbourne, getting a huge first innings lead over India, ably assisted by Bucknor and Parthiv Patel. In the second innings, as the end of the day drew closer, India lost it's second wicket in the second innings - an in-form Virender Sehwag. Customarily Tendulkar batted at 2-down, but out walked the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, much to everyone's surprise. Sachin had been going through a rough patch, and might have been at risk this late in the day. Ganguly, in one of the most amazingly defiant, and yet the most forgotten instances of courageus captaincy, walked out to bat himself. He didn't send in a night-watchman, and he didn't send in Tendulkar. He walked out himself.

Along with Dravid, he batted till the end of the day's play, and scored a respectable 73. India lost the match, but Ganguly's gesture in Melbourne, as much as his scintillating hundred in Brisbane, inspired India. They were back in the driver's seat, and dominated the Sydney test, again denied a win by the Bucknor-Patel combine. But that series saw the Indian team grown like like never before.

BJP needs to do something similar. Ideally they should have done it in these by-elections, since the risk would have been lower. They need to make sure a giant faces up to Sonia. Give young Rahul something to really think about. Vajpayee, Advani, Kalyan Singh or maybe even Rajnath Singh himself should contest the Lok Sabha elections against Sonia. Engage her in a real battle, and make her worry more about winning her own seat than winning the overall elections.

That will truly demonstrate to the BJP cadre and to the world that Sonia Gandhi is beatable....and beatable by BJP. It is a high-risk game, but a necessary one.




The Quote First Amendment

George Will takes apart the convoluted world-view of Presidential hopeful John McCain. McCain said - I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government.

By adding "quote", McCain disparages what is probably the most elegant constitutional text in the universe, and one which Indian lawmakers could learn a lot from.

George Will asks that if McCain becomes the President, and he has to take the oath sewaring to "protect and defend the Constitution", what exactly will it mean? Would he be thinking "the quote constitution"?

(Hat-tip: My biggest fan :))




The free 'Save The Tiger' Poster

There are some moments in Seinfeld which make you go ROFL even if its the millionth time you are watching the episode. This bit from 'The Reverse Peephole' is one such roflitive moment -

Jerry: (holding up George's wallet, next to a hamburger) Look at this thing. It's huge. You've got more cow here than here.
George: I need everything in there.
Jerry: Irish money?
George: I might go there.
Jerry: Show this card at any participating Orlando-area Exxon station to get your free "Save the Tiger" poster!

The last line is the one that gets me really hugging the floor. In fact I am pretty sure I'd like my epitaph to say - "Show this card at any participating Orlando-area Exxon station to get your free "Save the Tiger" poster!"




Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Abid Nabi and Muslims in Indian Cricket

The optimistic buzz surrounding Abid Nabi, the young paceman from Jammu & Kashmir set me thinking about a topic not many are comfortable discussing - Indian Muslims and Indian cricket.

A few weeks back, when demands were made from certain quarters that a survey be carried out to ascertain the percentage of Muslims in the Indian Army, there was a lot of dust kicked up. Some said any such survey would be tantamount to colouring the Army communally. Others said such a survey would be very important in showing how well or poorly represented Muslims are in one of India's most respected institutions.

In general, it is observed that the representation of several underprivileged communities and castes in all walks of life in India is not even close to being proportional to their population. The reasons for this can be manifold, with the main one probably being a lack of access to resources. Another reason, a more sinister one, is stated to be discrimination. Some feel that Indian muslims are discriminated against, at least while being admitted to the army, because of the tumultous history India shares with Pakistan, the Muslim majority part of the former undivided India that broke away.

In a country like India where most institutions are seen as rickety and untrustworthy, very few command respect and admiration. The army is one. The film industry is another. And of course the Indian cricket team is the third. It would be interesting to see how Indian Muslims have been treated in the world of cricket.

Indian cricket seems to have been largely "secular", both the administration as well as the fans. The Nawab of Pataudi, Mansur Ali Khan, was the youngest Indian captain. It was under him that the Indian team is said to have gelled cohesively and played as a unit for the first time. He also led India to its first series win abroad. All through the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were muslim players who did well, and were also very popular. One of the first crowd favourites was Salim Durrani, whose non-inclusion in the team was protested by Mumbai fans with threats of "No Durrani, No Test".

The first casualty of his religion in Indian cricket, at least if whispers are to be believed, was Abbas Ali Baig. He scored a century on test debut in England, then played well against Australia at home, but failed badly in a series against Pakistan. There were murmurs about how he might have played badly on purpose. The partition was just over a decade old and the wounds were still fresh. Baig was dropped after the series, and was never given an extended run in the team. It is widely believed that it was his failure in the Pakistan series that ended his test career.

With the exception of Baig however, most deserving Muslims got their due in Indian cricket.

However it can be argued that most Muslims who played for India in those era were from the privileged classes, starting from Mansur Ali Khan, who was a bonafide 'Royal'. The privileged Muslims have always gotten their due in all walks of life. It is the poorer Muslims who are under-represented.

The first underprivileged Muslim player to hit the big league was Mohammad Azharuddin. He was a popular batsman, and even captained India for a decade. Though his captaincy coincided with an extended poor run against Pakistan in ODIs, his loyalties, at least in terms of his religion, were never questioned. Of course, his overall loyalties came under the scanner with the match-fixing scandal. But Azhar's religion was a non-issue, remarkably so in the 90s, when Hindu-Muslims problems came to a boil.

The last few years have seen the overall median of Indian cricket shift from the big-city-upper-middle-classes to the small-town-lower-to-middle-classes. We have also seen an influx of Muslims players, almost all of them from modest backgrounds. Zaheer Khan grew up in a small town called Srirampur in Maharashtra. Mohammad Kaif is from Allahabad in Eastern U.P. Irfan Pathan is the son of a mosque caretaker from Baroda. Wasim Jaffer is the son of a Mumbai bus driver. Munaf Patel is the son of a farmer from Gujarat. And the Indian cricket establishment as well as the Indian public have embraced them with open arms. Munaf and Pathan, two of the most "buzzing" players in the team, are from Gujarat, which has been the 'Ground Zero' of Hindu-Muslim trouble in the last few years. But their religion seems to be a complete non-issue.

How much of a non-issue religion is in cricket can, in a small way, be gauged from the Bollywood film 'Iqbal'. Whenever Bollywood films show Muslims, there are some cliched platitudes thrown in about how they is very loyal to his country and all that. The compulsion to put in such a line elated to Muslim characters is felt even more severely when the movie is about the army. Even the "young and pathbreaking" director Farhan Akhtar, himself a Muslim, could not resist putting the cliched dialogues in his movie army-centric 'Lakshya' and the latest potboiler 'Rang De Basanti' could not resist the "message" either.

What makes 'Iqbal' refreshingly different is that though the movie is about a young son of a Muslim farmer (almost mirroring Munaf's life story) who wants to become a fast bowler, there is absolutely no reference made to his religion. None at all.

So far all practical purposes, it seems like Indian cricket has been secular, and Abbas Ali Baig was the tragic exception to the rule.

Why then did the news about young Abid Nabi prompt me into writing this post? Because he is from Jammu & Kashmir, and more specifically, from the Kashmir valley. The Kashmir valley is almost unanimous in its desire to secede from the Indian union. Pakistan covets the kashmir valley too, and has its strongest supporters from the region.

All the other Muslim players are from the rest of India. Even if there have been riots, terror attacks, and other problems in places like Gujarat, Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh, there is a widespread consensus that these are internal and often largely localised problems, which are fuelled by local politicians. The bad eggs, be they the Hindu rioters or the Muslim rioters, are supposed to be a minicule but muscular minority. With relation to cricket, yes there have been allegations from the Shiv Sena about the celebrations in Muslim neighbourhoods when Pakistan beats India but these are again aberrations.

Kashmir Valley is a different matter altogether. One of the breakout moments for expression of the discontent in the Kashmir Valley was a one-dayer between India and West Indies at Srinagar in 1983 when the crowd jeered India, supported the West Indies, and several sections of the crowd waved Pakistani flags. It was probably the first time that the magnitude of sentiments in the Valley were thrust into national limelight.

When Abid Nabi plays for India(people who have seen him bowl assure me he will) against Pakistan, I can not begin to imagine the historical baggage he will be carrying. The pressure on him to perform well, especially in crunch situations, will be tremendous. The danger of his being Baig-ed would be very real. I hope the Indian public, the Pakistani public, the media and the cricket establishment are mature enough to not let it happen.

But a Kashmiri Muslim fast bowler from the Valley playing against Pakistan will be an occasion loaded with possibilities that I can't wait to watch unfold.

cross posted on Different Strokes




Get a Life, Shah!

The BCCI started off dominated by the royal families which were the the patrons of cricket in those days. The snooty royal attitude still survives. The way they want to keep a tight leash on what players say is so regressive! The board can pull up the players for anything and everything. The fact that the board is usually run by good-for-nothings who have occupied their post mainly due to wheeling-dealing and backdoor-politics makes it even more frustrating.

Another thing one notices is how the arrogance of the officials is inversely proportional to their ability. Those officials who are truly good for nothing will be the most obnoxious of the lot. Perhaps they want to display to thew world their power. Folks with some ability and accomplishment, like Indrajeet Bindra, Sharad Pawar, etc, who are by and large respected, don't feel the need to go headline-grabbing. Jaywant Lele was a prime example. And nowadays that void has been filled by Niranjan Shah, who probably gets some sort of an ego boost by rebuking players publicly.

Let us take his rebuke of Sehwag. He has told Sehwag to not talk about player burnout and Sourav Ganguly. And what were these sedetious, treasonous statements Sehwag made?

About Ganguly -

"He [Ganguly] supported me a lot. He backed Yuvraj [Singh], Harbhajan [Singh], Ashish [Nehra], Ajit Agarkar, Mohammad Kaif," Sehwag told Press Trust of India. "He is still playing first class cricket and hopefully he will get a chance again. It will be good if he gets back because he has got 10,000 one-day runs, 5,000 Test runs and 22 ODI hundreds. Most of the time India won when he got a hundred. He is a fantastic player and sometimes we miss Ganguly." Sehwag added that Ganguly was his favourite captain after Steve Waugh.


What has Sehwag said here that Shah finds so wrong? Does Shah deny the fact that Ganguly supported all those players a lot, regardless of which region they belonged to, and whether their state associations got along well with Jaggu dada? Is it a crime to state that Ganguly is playing first class cricket, and hopefully he will get a chance again? Is it wrong to express a personal opinion hoping that he will return to the team, and mentioning his career stats? Is it sedetious mentioning the opinion that he is a fantastic player and sometimes he is missed?

I am really baffled by this BCCI-led-Media-amplified witch-hunt against Ganguly. People are treating him as if he was a match-fixer who deserves all this derision. He was India's most successful captain and did inculcate in this team a fire for winning and a self-belief. no one can deny that. His personal form has suffered, and he is deservedly out of the team. But why is it a crime to hope that he can play his way back into the team?

And it is not like Sehwag has criticised the current team management. He says -

"Dravid is a very good thinker, someone who never panics in a pressure situation," he said. "Maybe, hopefully, Dravid will be the best captain by the end of his career." On Chappell, Sehwag said that he was a great player with a great knowledge of the game. Comparing him with John Wright, India's coach before Chappell, Sehwag pointed out that the difference between them was their attitude. "Someone who has been aggressive in his batting is also aggressive in his coaching," he said. "Wright would be tense and unhappy if we did badly whereas Chappell is very cool and calm because he knows all players face pressure situations." When quizzed if Chappell was a control freak, Sehwag denied this. "That's not true. As the coach he is the head of the family," he said. "He can instruct you, guide you but he is not forcing us to do this and that. I do not think he controls the players too much."


So apparently, the BCCI's stance is, you can not say anything positive about Sourav Ganguly.

Pathetic! Niranjan Shah, get a life!




This Sucks!!

There is a power crisis all across the country. Maharashtra, the most industrialised state, has been reeling under severe power-cuts for a few years now. There are two main reasons for it. One, the fact that the government-run monopolistic electricity board has not added any additional capacity in the last 15 years. Second, the fact that 35-40% power is lost or stolen.

The illogical, dogmatic and even stupid opposition to any type of opening up of the power sector is frustrating. One example that demonstrates how the powers that be are pig-headed in their ignorance and arrogance is the way the CII's proposal regarding Pune's power has been treated.

Pune, which houses several manufacturing and software companies, faces a daily power shortage of around 100 MW. The CII came up with a very well-devised and imaginative proposal a few months back. Their proposal was submitted to the government a couple of months back, well in time before the summer started, since summer is when power demand is at its peak.

What the CII had to say was very simple. There are several manufacturing units in and around Pune which have captive power plants(CPPs), i.e in-house facilities to generate power. This power is used to supplement the power they get from the state electricity board. They have a lot of surplus capacity in these CPPs. The excess capacity is around 100 MW, which is the shortage being faced by Pune. The CII proposes that the companies will use their CPPs at full capacity, and thus not draw 100 MW from the state electricity board, which can then be supplied to the citizens of Pune.

The CPPs run on diesel. So all the CII asks is that these companies be compensated for the extra cost they will incur by running these diesel CPPs. No profit no loss. Just compensation.

Now if this extra cost is to be recovered from the consumers, the rates would have to be hiked by 34 paise per unit consumed. The MERC proposes a graded plan. Under this plan, the smaller/poorer households, which will consume less than 300 units of power, not be charged at the extra rate. The households consuming more than 300 units should pay 34 paise per unit and the government should subsidise the sub-300-unit households, and pay the money from its own pockets.

And what is the grand amount of this subsidy? A piffling 30 crore rupees for the entire year.

Yes! If the government allows this plan and agrees to shell out 30 crores for the whole year, then there will be no load shedding in Pune. Households consuming less than 300 units a month, will not pay any extra charge. Households consuming more than 300 units will pay 34 paise extra.

Let me put these numbers into perspective.

300 units per month. My house in mumbai, which is a 1BHK with a TV, fridge, a comp which is on 24 hours, and fans in each room, consumes on an average 200 units a month. My house in Pune, similarly equipped also consumes about 200 units. Most middle class households in Pune do not have an AC since nights are not hot. So most middle class and lower middle class households would be consuming less than 300 units and will shoulder no extra burden.

Houses and shops consuming more than 300 units will have to pay 34 paise per unit. i.e if you consume 500 units, you pay 170 rupees extra. If you consume 1000 units, you consume 340 rupees extra. Note that to have a power consumption in excess of 300 units, the house would have to be big and/or have AC etc. For such a house/shop, even 340 rupees a month would be a paltry sum.

The government subsidy of 30 crores. To put this into perspective, if I recall correctly, the time lost due to interruptions and adjournments in the last parliament session cost us 40 crore rupees.

So the CII proposal seems like a win-win situation right?

WRONG!!

Look at some of the objections put forth by politicians and NGOs -

Representatives of political parties suggested the power saved due to captive generation by some companies could be directed to the rural areas of Pune district as the load shedding problem there was much more severe there than the city.

Member of Legislative Assembly Girish Bapat, while expressing his dissent, said "Industry should treat the matter as a corporate social responsibility initiative and should bear the additional cost out of their own profit. If the industry can provide food, water, clothes as a donation in the situation of draught and other natural calamities, why not power," Bapat asked.

Calling the proposal 'anti-consumer', social activist Vivek Velankar asked MERC to review the efforts taken by MSEDCL for controlling power theft. "As per the data made available by MSEDCL the collection against power theft is just Rs 50 lakh while the reports on loss due to power theft show the figure of Rs 1.50 crore. Thus, MERC should examine the anti-theft initiatives of MSEDCL," Velankar added.


It is due to such objections, and a lack of initiative on the part of the government, that the CII proposal has been lying around for so long. The CII is making a very sensible, practical and yet simple point

Pradeep Bhargava, former CII chairman, said CII and other companies involved do not intend to make any profit out of this project. For us this would be a major landmark in public–private partnership.

"We are ready to pay extra charges for railway ticket under 'Tatkal' scheme and there are several other examples of similar kind, then why we are not ready to pay additional cost for our necessity," he asked.

"We have requested the government to reduce sales tax on diesel used for CPPs so as to bring down the power generation cost. If there is any other effective option we are ready to adopt the same," said Pramod Chowdhary, chairman CII.


I hope better sense prevails and this proposal is implemented.

Facts and quotes given above taken from these news sources -
Tackling load shedding, Pune industry body shows the way
NGOs oppose CII`s captive power plant
MERC lowers tariff for uninterrupted power
News link from Sakal(marathi)




Sunday, May 07, 2006

Abhijit

For some reason, this "blast from the past" struck me yesterday.

On a day three years back, when I was a young, impressionable and promising youngster pursuing my MBA at IIM Lucknow, I was sitting on the third bench as my head grew heavy and my sat grew dim, and I had to stop for the night. Except that it wasn't night. It was day, and the MIS class was in progress. The official version for public consumption is that I had been working hard on 3 projects and 4 paper submissions the previous night and had not slept a wink. Just as the twain eyelids were about to meet, the Professor pointed at me and said.

"Kaam hiyaaaar!!" That's Bonglish for "come here". Our Prof, while being a splendid teacher, had an accent that was as Bengali as it could get.

I obeyed him and walked towards the blackboard where he had been drawing some flowcharts or some thing. I vaguely remembered that a case study regarding Hospital MIS systems(redundant?) was being discussed.

The Professor boomed,

"Draw Abhijit!"

That well and truly woke me up. Abhijit? Draw Abhijit? Am I dreaming? Abhijit who?

"Pardon Sir" I mumbled, trying my best not to let the sleepiness reflect in my voice.

"Draw Abhijit!" he re-boomed.

That was a rather curious command, made curiouser by the fact that there was no Abhijit in our class. At least I thought there wasn't. I cast my eyes on the first row of the class, since we were seated alphabetically. Sure enough, there were Abhineet and Abhirup seated towards the left, but no Abhijit. Even more disconcerting was the fact that the entire class was poker-faced. No one seemed as confused by the command as I was. They seemed to have taken the proceedings as perfectly normal. As if we were asked to draw unknown people on a daily basis.

The Professor was glaring at me, so i felt compelled to say something.

"Who, Sir?" I queried, wishing to ascertain the identity of this mysterious Abhijit.

"Whoooooooooooooooooooooo????" he asked in an irritated yet lilting tone, not unlike an owl I know.

The question seemed preposterous to him. Even the class was looking at me suspiciously, definitely wondering whether I was the beneficiary of an undetected CAT paper leak in the previous year. How could I not get something so simple. A couple of guys clucked their tongues, and the CP-Addict (you know who you are ;)) was almost itching to raise his hand and volunteer to render an exact image of Abhijit.

I looked at the blackboard, and two innocuous words struck me like a bolt of lightening and enlightenment dawned at once. Written next to a hospital, a patient, a doctor, was the protagonist of our story -

a visit

Joi Bonglaaa!




More on Mac

As I expected, several people wrote in great emails in response to the Mac OS Virus Vulberability post. All of them were very useful in dispelling some of my vast ignorance. :) Reproducing them.
----
Eswaran wrote -
Gaurav,

I think you are missing several points here.

1. Mac OS architecture is entirely different from Windows (even
Vista), it is almost a flavour of BSD. The nature of viruses in both
platforms are entirely different. In Mac OS, the virus will typically
masquerade as an email attachment asking you to open it. In windows,
there are many viruses which spread without any user action - which
spreads more effectively that something that depends on the user to
do something. This is not to say that there will never be viruses in
Mac. Application writers can get stupid.

2. Virus writers have real financial benefits. Almost all viruses now
install spywares which are used to show popup ads in windows PCs
based on search queries.

3. Apple moving from PowerPC to Intel has nothing to do with viruses.

4. McAfee says Mac viruses will increase in the future. They have a
big incentive to scare customers.

5. Marketing managers at Apple will definitely don't want more
viruses. That there are no viruses in mac is precisely the reason why
the market share increasing, and it will go right back down if and
when there is a big virus outbreak.

----
Mitesh wrote -
Hi Gaurav,
I read your post about Macintosh. I own an Apple iBook running Mac OS
X. It definitely has some advantages over Windows:

* Mac has a very stable OS...never crashes...nor do I get the "blue
screen of death" (Read wiki for more about blue screen in case you
want to know). I have never had one application bring down my system
in Mac and force me to reboot. Never. And I use it everyday. I have
never had to do maintenance stuff like disk defragmentation, cleaning
off, reinstaling, formatting etc.

* Safari is a robust browser..unlike IE which crashes sometimes if you
open more than 5-6 windows.Safari has built-in pop up blocker plus
tabbed browsing..something whcih IE still doesnt have. Firefox of
course is another good browser.

* No anti-virus product on Mac. The core of Mac OS is that it is based
on Unix BSD(berkely standard distribution) which was developed in 70's
i believe. Its a very stable core. I agree there are no viruses for
Mac because its usage in market is very less. Outside US, its almost
negligible. But beleive me, its even difficult to write viruses for
it. Virus writers are of two types: one you mentioned - brilliant
programmers who spend crazy hours trying to break the Windows OS and
in their desire to find the flaw and exploit it, they unintentionally
(or intentionally, most of the time) cuase damage to millions
worldwide. The other types are hired secretly by companies. Lets say
McAfee hires bunch of such nerds, pays them, to make a virus or worm.
It then releases a patch in a few days, and sells it for say $50 for
downloading..It will generate lot of revenue. I am NOT saying McAffee
does this or any other company, but I think there is a strong
possibility something like this happens. Its all business. Sometimes
it is also possible that competition drives this. I mean maybe a
competitor of say McAfee releases a worm that McAfee cannot detect and
then the competitor releases a patch that fixes the worm before McAfee
releases it. Mac as of now has no viruses whatsoever that I know of.
It may change in future if they get more popular but believe me the
Unix kernel is very strong to break. Windows has miliion

Some more software differences:

* Apple's Preview software opens PDF files in seconds..ever noticed
how long Adobe Acrobat takes time to open. (its Adobe I know not
Microsoft, but then Microsoft doesnt have its own in-built PDF viewer
like Mac).

* Apple provides full operating power of Unix commands (like in
Linux). In windows, you have the ancient DOS command prompt which is
useless for active s/w development. People have to download tools like
Cygwin on Windows. In Apple the commands r inbuilt.

*Have you ever noticed how in Windows when you click 'Start' the first
thing you see is 'Shutdown'. How intuitive? Also, all software tools
in Windows have menubar at the top of the window...like File.Edit.View
.Help etc. Then why the start toolbar is at the bottom in Windows by
default. Mac OS is very intuitive and easy to use. One has to just use
it once to know it. It has very friendly GUI. Windows has it too, but
it is not a success because of that. Its popular because of the
brilliant marketing by Microsoft in mid-90s when it released Windows
95. (and i really appreciate Microsoft because of that). But other
than that, the product they are marketing does have technical flaws.
Look at their history on Wiki or elsewhere. Even their first product
MS-DOS. Microsoft never made MSDOS; they only commercialized it.

* there are many many small things in Mac that are way better, both
aesthetically and technically. Example, uninstalling an application in
Mac just means dropping the single application file in Trash bin. In
windows, it asks you bunch of questions, then it may pop up a message
some files are shared with other applications.."Do you want to
delete?". Then there are those registry entries to worry about. Its
totally cumbersome. Nothing in Mac.

There are many differences, but its so difficult to quantify...best
solution will be to try it once. I know your post was just about
viruses in Windows and Mac; not their fundamental differences. But I
so love my Mac that I cant just stop talking and distinguishing. Sorry
about the long email.
I had used Windows all the time when I was in India and then in US
too, but after buying Apple laptop, I use it whenever I have the
option.


- Mitesh.

----
Vishnu wrote -
Hi,

The market share argument is complete nonsense (or atleast mostly).
One counter-example, Apache is the web-server that has the biggest
market share in the web-server space and inherently, IIS is still less
secure. So the market share argument is something thats atmost, only a
minor reason behind why windows is less secure (my estimate is that
it contributes to less than 20%).

Secondly, despite being contrary to popular opinion, windows machines
can be secured. things like Use NTFS with journalling not FAT32, use a
firewall, use a seperate administrator a/c and a seperate user a/c.
etc.. etc.. etc.. I could go on. This is probably more of a marketing
deficiency rather than a purely technical one,
in my opinion, they should probably use completely different
code-bases/architectures for the home user .Vs. the business user. But
I am afraid I know why it won't work.

The reason that windows is open to such vulnerabilities is because of
the ignorance of its users. Users of other operating systems like say
linux are more technically adept, so at the least are atleast aware of
these issues, compare that to your typical windows user. Mac OS X, the
code base is based on a type of unix, very similar to linux, hence
most of the technical arguments apply to both linux and mac os x.

However, putting the blame entirely on the user is not a solution.
This is one of the biggest problems in software engineering today. Try
adding a completely transperent security model to outlook express
without adding anything more than a simple switch to disable it.

'How not to alienate your users and at the same time not complicating
your product', is the biggest puzzle of this century (I would probably
go to the extent of calling the the fermat's last theorem of Software
Engineering). The linux way is something like build all the
complexity you want, then sugar-coat it with usability. The microsoft
way seems to be the exact inverse - start with a simple, as intutive
as technology allows system and then integrate complexity, without
losing "the windows user experience", marketspeak for windows
usability. imho, both seem to be failing.

Second reason is microsoft's obsessive need to be backward compliant.
Long long ago, so long ago, when you had to dial into vsnl to get
online, a lot of programs were written without any assumptions about
security and they need to run on your brand new, windows xp media
center pc. So, what do you do? pop a unhelpful dialog saying, "sorry,
but this software won't work", or let it work and violate security?
Microsoft (could be read as market-dynamics) chose the second way, but
what's the right answer to that question! I wish I knew, so do
probably every one at redmond.

So, the biggest flaws of the flawed windows security model in my
opinion is "not-being-default", and "obsessive need to support old
applications". This is not to say that windows is completely secure
devoid of technical faults, but the ones being focussed popularly are
smaller side effects of the bigger issue.

The biggest advantage that Mac OS X has(d?) over Windows is
Objective-C. Objective-C is a sort of java. The reason why O-C is such
an advantage is that it has automatic memory management. The lack of
which is the biggest reason behind the prevelance of 'viruses' and
worms and exploits, etc.. etc... This gap is being fixed with
microsoft's .net. But still, legacy code, old programs, etc.. would
still keep this gap pretty big, for quite some time.

----
Mukundad wrote -
Hi Gaurav:

Reg. your latest post, Mac OS has become vulnerable not because of a switch in processors but because Mac OS X is essentially running Unix as its engine that lets you do all the Unix stuff like Telnet, FTP etc. from within the command line OS. All the previous versions of Mac OS were closed in (no command line options) even though they offered networking support and even if they could have been technically hackable to write malicious code, the degree of difficulty was remarkably higher (just as someone would find it difficult to penetrate Mainframe code to target Big Blue's boxes). As rightly pointed by you, Windows has been targeted due to its widely installed base but also because Windows grew out of its DOS moorings which essentially was Unix simplified and rehashed that meant everything from opening ports for access to networking to compromises earlier on with respect to the water-tight security vs. interoperability question. Lest you start thinking I am a Propeller Head :-), let me clarify that I am of your ilk (MBA from Marketing and Finance in India and MBA from MIS in the US but have been dabbling in computers for the last 18 years and so can be thought of to be reasonably dangerous :-)).

Warm regards,


So a couple of very important points I learnt -

- Virus writers are not just of the "project mayhem" kind. A vast number now write viruses for financial gain too. This point also reinforces what I was saying about virus attacks being good in market terms because it shows that your product is actually doing well enough for virus writers to make money from them. That was the main point of the post really, that a growing number of virus attacks is, in some way, good news. Regarding the inherent superiority of Mac OS, as I said, I am not sufficiently equipped technically to go into it. But having worked inside the hardware sales industry for a while, and knowing how the dynamics of inter-corporation co-operation work, I will be keenly following how the Mactel platform does in the market.
- While widespread marketshare is a reasonably big reason, the vulnerabilities in Windows are a much bigger reason for the widespread malware attacks. The explanation has been given in the mails above.

I am thinking of buying an iBook myself in a couple of months, so these mails have been very enlightening.