Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sachin's helmet

If you've been watching today's cricket, and you have paid attention, you would have noticed a little patch on Sachin's helmet, right below the India crest. If you thought it looks like some sticker has been removed from that place, you are right. And what is missing is a small, rectangular tricolour.

Why would Sachin do that? Well, according to the grapevine, the Home ministry asked Sachin to explain why the tricolour was below the India (BCCI) logo. Being the sanctimonious pricks that they are, the minister and the bureaucracy asked the BCCI to explain why the players were using the tricolour on their helmets - Sachin, being the non-controversial person he is, promptly had it removed.

Just imagine - the tricolour flying on corrupt, criminal politicians' cars is does not violate it, but India's greatest champions (Sachin, Narain Karthikeyan, Rahul Dravid and others) wearing it on their helmets (note: not underwear) violates it.

What crap. And to think that my tax money is going to fund these idiotic fancies while bigger issues remain on the backburner. And if you read my "Freedom of Speech and Expression" post, you'll recognize the same feudal instinct at work here - no other democratic country prevents its sportspersons from wearing their national flags. No other democratic country creates two classes of citizens when it comes to the right to fly their own flag.

Yes, _I_'m back.

Hypocrisy - thy name is Google

Every competitor of Microsoft has used one theme to distinguish themselves from the Redmond giant - that of good v/s evil. And each time, they've just shown that they are either as evil as Microsoft or that they are supplicants of other evil forces. Apple went to town with how bad Microsoft was before letting it take a nice part of its pie. IBM tried doing it, but didn't cut much ice. The latest in the fray is Google - with their motto - "don't be evil". Yeah.

But as recent events have shown, Google is as willing as its corporate friends to throw human rights out of the window when the right amount of money is shown to its executives. A company that refuses to bow to the high and mighty US government has finally met its match in the People's Republic of China. Yes, Google will censor search results for searches emanating from China to suit the PRC's political masters. Yes, don't be evil, but just so long as you don't get the right amount of money.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A team and a group of people

What is the difference between a team and a group of people? Can we call any group of people a team? Obviously not. So, does a common purpose make a team? Well, mobs have common purpose - and we don't call mobs teams...

So what is a team? In a team-building programme I attended, Maj. Gen Oberoi, a former Indian Army person said that TEAM means Together Everyone Achieves More. Indeed. No team was ever built without synergy. A team which does not inspire its members to go beyond their potential is not a team.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, today, on Aaj Tak, the nine finalists of "Indian Idol" were with our Army jawans, trying to go through a simple obstacle course. They were quite successful at it too. That reminded me of my own experience with an obstacle course in a team-building programme I attended. We were faced with physical tasks which I thought were impossible to perform, at least by non-professionals. In addition, even one member failing in the task would mean that the entire team lost. Surprisingly, each member in the team rose to the occasion. We completed the tasks with more than enough time to spare and boy, were we pleased with ourselves!?

What made that team work? I wish I knew. I do know that the people in the team led by example. No one would ask the others to do a task which they wouldn't do themselves (think Dravid v/s Ganguly). Everyone wanted to win - each one of us had a thirst to quench (think Indian team under Ganguly/Wright or Dravid/Chappell). No one wanted to be a drag on the others - in other words, no one wanted to be a passenger. We would navigate - or we would row. There was no third choice.

Now the question is: How do you make this happen in the work place? How do you deal with people's egos, their problems, and their prejudices? How do you create a team of individuals whose effect is greater than the sum of their potential? How do you bring together people from disparate backgrounds and weave them together in a manner that a friend likened to this: "Individual threads of silk are all very beautiful, but they pale in comparison to the beauty of the saree"

I really don't know. And I can say with utmost sincerity that I haven't come across such a team ever again. And I don't know if I ever will.

Three cheers to that team!

(PS: To get back to my standards, let me just point out that team and meat are mirror-images of each other. So do teams have meat? :D)


No, this is not about the TV series. It is about real friends. The ones we meet in life - with whom we share the good and the bad, with whom we learn, from whom we learn, and essentially enjoy being with. Have you noticed that the only relationships we choose in our lives are those of our friends, and the rest - parents, siblings, children e.t.c are all ones we are stuck with (particularly if you are not as lucky as me)?

Wives are a different story - lets not go least not yet :)

Anyway, here is an ode to friendship that a very dear friend of mine sent a long while ago.

Friendship Forever

Sometimes in life, you find a special friend;
Someone who changes your life just by being part of it.
Someone who makes you laugh until you can't stop
Someone who makes you believe that there really is good in the world.
Someone who convinces you that there really is an unlocked door just waiting for you to open it.

This is Forever Friendship.

When you're down, and the world seems dark and empty, Your forever friend lifts you up in spirit and makes that dark and empty world suddenly seem bright and full. Your forever friend gets you through the hard times, the sad times, and the confused times. Your forever friend holds your hand and tells you that everything is going to be okay. And if you find such a friend, you feel happy and complete, because you need not worry. You have a forever friend for life, and forever has no end.

So, again, heartfelt thanks to all those friends, who brought sunshine to a rainy day, who lent a shoulder to cry on, who listened to my meaningless rants, who patiently taught me to ride a bike, who tolerated my less-than-comfortable coding skills while doing projects with me, who fought with me because I didn't watch a film they wanted me to, who laughed silly at my nutty jokes, who were my teammates on the cricket field, who recognized my potential better than me, who...well, you all know. Thanks also to those friends who in sharing their feelings made me feel better, who made me tougher by narrating their woes, who made me understand people by understanding me, and who helped me become a better tutor by being willing (usually scapegoat) students.

It is said "We meet to make memories and part to preserve them". Indeed. Thanks to all my friends for all those wonderful and yet painful memories.

Readers, don't worry, I'll get back to my normal topics soon. :)

Monday, January 23, 2006

What a movie!

I got to watch the movie "Black" on Star Plus tonight. Wow - what a movie! This has to be one of the most powerful cinematic statements ever made in Hindi films. Sanjay Leela Bansali has created magic - ofcourse with the able support of Amitabh, Rani, and the little girl who played the role of child 'Rani'.

The theme that runs throughout the movie is one of determination, of achieving your goals against all odds, and of using your life to make someone else's a little (in this case, a lot) better.

I had seen the movie earlier on VCD, but somehow this screening on Star Plus got me. I mean, imagine teaching a blind and deaf girl anything! And she goes on to get a BA degree! Acting is top-notch too. Particularly the little girl (just found out that her name was Ayesha Kapur) is simply fantastic. The sensitivity with which the story is handled is also top-notch. There are no song-and-dance routines, a staple of Hindi cinema. There isn't even a lullaby that the little girl's mother would conveniently sing in other movies. There are no love stories...and the sinking feeling that Amitabh gets after kissing Rani, his protege, is quite different from any run-of-the-mill Hindi film. And there are no "all is well that ends well" either.

Just goes to show that given the support, the guts and the audience, Indian movie makers can make serious cinema. Too good...SLB - take a bow.

If you are interested in learning more Helen Keller, the person on whom this movie is based, see

Friday, January 13, 2006

Freedom of speech and expression

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Voltaire.

This one line sums up for me, the whole essence of democractic behaviour. Disagree, disagree vociferously, but jaw jaw instead of ban ban, or burn burn. The First Amendment to the US constitution for example, says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Thus, the right to freedom of speech and expression is absolute. Similar laws exist in other democracies.

Unfortunately, the one democracy that has never stood up for freedom of expression is our own India. Article 19, which grants us our fundamental rights, while granting us our right to speech, expression, and assembly circumscribes it with the following: "Nothing...shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of ... public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence."

So, essentially, while you have your right to speech and expression, nothing will prevent the government from banning a book you write, from arresting you for a speech you make, or from subjecting you to a trial by fire like so many movie makers found, recent examples being the book on Shivaji by John Laine, and the movie "Rang de basanti".

While criticizing the law, lets not forget that the law has not evolved in isolation. It is our feudal attitudes that have allowed such a law to be born and be used. When we cheered the burning of MF Hussain's paintings, banning of the "Satanic Verses", stoning of the theatres showing "Fire" and "Water", we hit another nail in the coffin of free expression. Each such move, supported by some section of the population has only emboldened the State to further challenge the citizen's right to expression. So, the next time you hear someone advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing, take a deep breath, and walk away. And thank god, warts and all, that this country still lets you do that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The right way and the easy way

In the movie "The Weatherman", Michael Caine who plays the role of a meteorologist's father once tells his son, played by Nicholas Cage, "Do you know that the harder thing to do, and the right thing to do, are usually the same thing?". Indeed, in life, there is no easy lunch. And the right choice is usually the difficult one.

As with Governance. Our country faces a multitude of problems. In fact, we are uniquely positioned to face both 'sub-Saharan problems' of tropical diseases, poverty and illiteracy as well as 'developed-country' problems of environment and social security. And every problem faced by our country today has at least two solutions, an easy one and a hard one. And usually the hard one is the correct one. For example:

Problem: People in rural areas are dissatisfied because they see that urban areas have some semblance of infrastructure, and they have none.
The right (and therefore difficult) solution: Revamp governance structures to give more responsibility and power to local corporations. Reduce corruption in government works. Curb wasteful spending and spend more money on infrastructure.
The easy solution: Starve urban areas of funding so that the infrastructure levels deteriorate. Raise emotive issues like renaming cities. Keep the urban population 'satisfied' by making regular announcements about infrastructure projects. Pretend to care for the poor while lining your and your followers' pockets.

Problem: Many disadvantaged people in the country don't even have an opportunity to dream the "Indian Dream"
The right solution: Empower individuals by focusing on education, health-care and infrastructure. Improve governance and reduce corruption. Give quotas to select individuals who are financially disadvantaged. Encourage corporates to adopt village schools for improving their infrastructure and standards. Create a meritocracy while not ignoring the truly disadvantaged sections.
The easy solution: Provide caste and community-based reservations, while ignoring the fact that most reservations are grabbed by the privileged amongst the backward communities. Raise the bogey of private-sector reservations. Ignore calls for a meritocracy by dubbing those calls as "imperialist".

Problem: Multinational companies operating in the country are mocking our food safety laws by selling pesticide-ridden soft drinks
The right solution: Strengthen enforcement of food-safety laws. Fine the companies for their negligence. Ensure that no one passes the buck by insisting on quality controls at all levels of distribution.
The easy solution: Create a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. Ignore most of its recommendations. For the rest, pass the buck onto other ministries and statutory bodies.

Problem: Farmers in the country commit suicide because they are not able to repay the debt they incurred in buying fertilizers and pesticides.
The right solution: Change the food procurement policy. Improve storage and transport facilities for food grain. Encourage farmers to grow commercially-viable crops. Provide lines of credit for the farming community. Encourage the spread of organic fertilizers.
The easy solution: Declare publicly your affinity for the farming community. Arrange a photo-shoot with starving farmers, where you proudly announce your farming roots. Rant against MNCs, against the WTO and against the US government for 'commercializing' farming or for ignoring the plight of the farmers in the developing countries. Remember to place all the blame on the governments in power.

Problem: A third of the world's poor live in our country
The right solution: Recognize that there is no way poverty can be eliminated without unleashing the enterpreneurial energies of the people. Empower the 'last man' of Gandhi's vision to realize his dream with improved education, healthcare and infrastructure. Promote private investment, and encourage companies to invest (and create jobs) in remote areas by improving physical and social infrastructure. Act with a vision, and act with speed.
The easy solution: Make announcements about a rebuilding programme without even having to worry about its implementation. Ignore all sane economic advice and initiate impractical job-guarantee schemes. Talk, talk like there is no tomorrow, but never lift a finger in action.

Problem: Energy demand is rising while supply fails to keep up with demand. Also, the country has insufficient hydrocarbon reserves.
The right solution: Implement a fast-track program to exploit alternative energy resources like solar and biomass power. Implement a programme to reduce the dependency of villages on the main grid by supplying them with power from local sources. Provide for research in future fuels, including but not limited to hydrogen, while reducing dependency on imported petroleum by switching to natural oils.
The easy solution: Increase government control on oil PSUs. Make deals with despotic countries to buy petroleum. Make the country dependent on malicious neighbours by signing petroleum pipeline deals with them.

Problem: Environmental concerns are rising with cities facing unprecedented levels of air, water and noise pollution
The right solution: Create water and garbage recycling units while utilizing the natural recycling instincts of the public. Enforce pollution control laws and clean up polluted rivers and lakes. Punish fuel adulterators and vehicles that don't confirm to pollution norms.
The easy solution: Celebrate a "Vanamahotsava" every year. Give speeches in schools and other venues. Ignore pollution control laws and implement court verdicts in word, not spirit.

No prizes for guessing which choice our governments make.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The world is flat

I just finished reading "The World is Flat" by Tom Friedman of NYT. Folks, this is another _must_ read book. Friedman talks about what he calls "Globalization 3.0" and how it will bring unprecedented change to our societies. In particular, his 'discovery' that the world is being flattened and his exposition of the 10 flattening forces are very cool. Also amazing is his analysis of India's achievements. Of how no Indian Muslim was found in the al-Qaeda and how empowering democracy and civil liberties are. If you are an Indo-phile, do read this book. And if you don't want to spend the 15-odd dollars for the book, let me know and I'll lend you my copy. :)

Happy 2006!

I have a few resolutions for this year...
1) To learn a new skill/new facet of a known skill every week
2) To update my blog at least once a week

...and a few more...

What are yours?