Five Faces of WikiLeaks

A lot has been said about the WikiLeaks saga already. There's nothing that I could possibly add. Instead, I'll summarize! I'll take the five “actors” in this drama, and state my opinion on each of them in turn.

What the site is doing is, supposedly, illegal. I don't see how speaking the truth out can be considered illegal. Sure, the documents it is leaking are “classified”. But then, one shouldn't use such a channel to insult senior foreign leaders, should one?

If I were WikiLeaks, I would hold my head high today.

Verdict: Illegal, but undoubtedly ethical.

Julian Assange:
It takes guts to do what this man did – taking on the biggest bunch of hypocrites in this world isn't exactly my idea of a “challenging job”. Having said that, the other, unrelated track (the one for which he has been projected into the limelight for the wrong reasons) merits mention here too.

Charges of sexual offences have been levelled against Julian. He is not exactly charged with rape – it has more to do with engaging in unprotected sex with a sex worker in Sweden, where the law forbids it.

I think while making a martyr out of Julian, this track needs to be kept separate. Lets face it – Julian Assange apparently violated the law in Sweden, and he needs to be punished for it.

Verdict: Illegal and Unethical

US has been trying to pull every string to try and stop the leaks. This puzzles me no end. US is the biggest champion of free speech. If they are hell bent on making a terrorist out of Julian Assange (as Sarah Palin reportedly demanded), doesn't that render hollow everything that the US has ever stood for? Where does that leave the Afghan war? The US stand on Aung San Suu Kyi? That on Tibet? How does that make Julian any different from Liu Xiaobo?

Verdict: Unethical to the core. Dont know (and dont care) whether the methods they are employing to silence WikiLeaks are legal or not.

Service Providers and Other Companies:
Amazon kicked out WikiLeaks citing illegal activities. MasterCard, PayPal, twitter, Facebook – all followed suit by “censoring” WikiLeaks or its sympathizers in one way or other. Ironically, some of these companies depend on freedom of speech for their very existence.

It has been argued that these companies might have taken the step of evicting WikiLeaks under pressure from the US Govt. That is hard to digest – given that these companies operate out of US – not North Korea for Gods' Sake!

Verdict: Unethical. Full Stop.

Operation Payback:
This is an attempt by a group of hackers to get back at those companies which pulled the rug from under WikiLeaks at the opportune moment. They are trying to do this by means of launching DDoS attacks on the wesbites of the service providers in question. Carrying out such kind of attacks is illegal in several countries. In my opinion, this shouldn't have been done. There must be other ways of supporting WikiLeaks.

Verdict: Bordering on the unethical, outright illegal.

So there you are. That's where I stand as far as WikiLeaks is concerned. I view the antics of the US govt in its desperate attempt to plug the leaks, as an assault on democracy and freedom of speech. Not sure where this showdown is headed though. Will have to wait and watch.

55er: Versus

Good against bad.
Success versus failure.
All or Nothing.
Concrete takes on Abstract.
Courage over Fear.

It all boils down to this: What I Understand - up against - What I Know Not Much Of.
Which is why, once I take the trouble to understand the other side, the distinction between positive and negative blurs.

55er: What He Means, What She Thinks

It was their first anniversary. She had planned to cook a grand dinner for him.
However, just before leaving for office, he said "Let's dine out this evening"

His intention: "Let me spare her the trouble of having to cook at least for a day"
Her interpretation: "He's bored of my cooking already. So insensitive".

7 things I'd like to Photograph Before I Die

Presenting the list of seven things I'd really like to photograph in this lifetime. The fact that this quest would take me far and wide across several continents is a pure coincidence.

  1. The magnificence of an erupting volcano.
Just imagine – A dark sky. An ominous looking mountain. Lava spewing out from the top. Yellow, red and every other shade in between. And me being there to witness the destructive, yet awe-inspiring phenomenon. I think this'd be as close to moksha as I'll ever get. The picture I have in mind is this

[This photograph of Pacaya volcano in Guatemala is sourced from]

  1. The impossible colour riot of a coral reef ecosystem
Innumerable species and countless variety of life. Fish. Mammals. Plants. Un-categorizable life forms. Colours that can never be captured in lens. Now wouldn't that be one hell of a visual treat?

  1. Migration of Wildebeest
This is the largest migration spectacle seen on earth. I would love to get a shot from above – where all you can see are wildebeest (not even an inch of the land visible). And of course, the dust that they kick up! More details about this migration at wikipedia. Or just tune in to Discovery/Animal Planet :)

[Image courtesy Burrard Lucas Photography]

  1. Northern Lights
This is yet another spell-binding natural phenomenon. I don't know whether my camera (or any camera) would be able to capture the real beauty of aurorae, but it's worth a try.

[Image source: NGC photography]

  1. The Emperor Penguin Huddle
During the peak of the Antarctic winter, thousands of emperor penguins huddle together to beat the brutal blizzards. This huddling generates heat that keeps them going. The birds take turns being on the perimeter of the group. What a sight that'd make!
ARKive image - Emperor penguin colony, backlit by sun

  1. Aerial view of the Pantanal
Pantanal is the largest swamp in the world. It is part of the Amazon basin. The marsh is home to thousands of species of wildlife – including the famous anaconda. I'd trade a kidney for the chance to get a shot of Pantanal from the air. Who knows, I might even get a snap of an anaconda while at it.

[Photo sourced from NGC travel]

  1. A wild animal nursing its newborn – in the wild
That bond between mother and child – nature's biggest gift of life. I hope to capture that one moment that portrays several emotions. Something like this:

[Photo courtesy: The Big Photo]

So, what's on your list?

55er: Business As Usual

The senior management was regretful. The incident shouldn't have occurred. Lives were lost.
But, the show had to go on. A handful of deaths didn't justify an additional safety budget. Or the ensuing cut in profits

So, it was back to business as usual; the potentially fatal flaw un-rectified. After all, it's a capitalist world. 

55er: Thankless

All day long, through sun and rain, I man the signal.
Often without a post, in the center of the road.
Sometimes hapless, sometimes helpless.
Swallowing dust, breathing in smoke, directing unruly motorists.

And what does my city reward me with, at end of the day?
Ruthless, biased criticism. With not a single thought spared.

An Ode to Lai - The Cancer Fighter

I'll remember the late nights at office, when your jokes succeeded in keeping the work pressure at bay.
I'll remember the lunches and dinners when we traded thoughts about each others' cultures.
I'll remember the drives, the drops, the cars, the parking lots.
I'll remember what we taught each other of our respective languages (“Ennadei” in particular).

Above all, what you will always be remembered for, is the way you turned your predicament into a mission – that of giving hope to the countless others suffering from the same disease.
You will forever be remembered for your fight against cancer, for the manner in which you took the bull by the horns.
You will live forever in our memories for inspiring innumerable patients to stay alive and fight the dreaded disease.
The tips, the wit, the advice, and most importantly, the fighting spirit, that you imparted through your blog – will, no doubt, give new life to some cancer patient one day.

And through that new life, you shall live. Forever. In our memories and in our hearts.
Lai Chin Lun, I am proud to have had a friend like you. May your soul Rest In Peace.


My close friend, Lai, had been diagnosed with nose cancer last July. He refused to be bogged down by the situation, and started a blog (The Story of a Cancer Fighter) with details of his fight against the killer. His intention was to give hope and inspiration to other patients like himself, to prevent them from surrendering themselves to the disease.

A year of fighting took its toll on him. He breathed his last yesterday. This post is an ode to everything Lai – his courage, his spirit and his attitude.

The Religious Freedom Paradox

I, Kiran, founder of the religion of Convertism. This is a brand new religion, and I think it has come about at just the right time. This country (in fact, the world), is in a grip of religious freedom-ness. So, I guess I can be assured that I will have the right to practice my religion freely, anywhere in the country.

Convertism is very simple really. There are no holy books, no places of worship, no deity, no rituals, no guidelines, no God. There is only one simple principle and one simple goal of Convertism:

To convert every human being on Earth to the religion of Convertism”

There. Isn't that great? Show me one other religion that can state its entire existence in a single sentence! And what's best – since most countries in the world have stated that they guarantee religious freedom, I can practice my religion without worry. Now, to find people from other religions so that I can start converting them … …

Hey! What do you mean? Leaders of all major religions are opposing my move? But .. but .. this is my religion. This is all there is to Convertism. How can the world, a professed “religious-freedom-guarantor” one, deny me the space to propagate mine?

What's that? My religion contradicts another? So, you mean, practising Convertism implicitly denies other people the freedom to practice their respective religions? Hmmm .. that's quite a paradox.

Hold on! Are none of the existing major religions into conversions? Aren't they treading on each other's freedom? When the major religions have failed to compromise on some of their practices (if they violate another religion) for the sake of World peace, then why should I, the founder of the predominant religion of tomorrow, step back?

This is getting really messy. If all major religions had more than sufficient followers, then the world should have made a conscious effort to minimize conversions in any form long ago. More importantly, the religious freedom guarantee should have come with a caveat – that the act does not violate any other religion in any manner.

But, since there is no such explicit effort to bridge the abyss, I will go ahead preaching and converting. Come what may.

Army - Caught in the Line of Fire

In the past few months, we’ve been reading a lot about Kashmir and how the so-called draconian AFSPA is to blame for all of the valley’s troubles. We read about fresh reports of violence every day, more deaths every day. For the first time in decades, all of Kashmir was placed under curfew a few days back.

The Indian Army was caught in the line of fire. Everyone from separatists to the CM of J&K laid the blame squarely on the Indian Army’s shoulders. What everyone conveniently chose to ignore was the fact that the Army was not directly responsible for even a single death in Kashmir during the past few months. The bullets were all fired by J&K police or by the battalions of CRPF!

M.J.Akbar's article in this Sunday’s ToI (reproduced on his blog - link here) helped in reinforcing my stand. Do read this article to get a crystal-clear context of the state in Kashmir. The cacophony against the Army is clearly a ploy to get the only force capable of holding the valley together, out of there; thus allowing Pak-controlled elements a free run. There are a few unanswered questions though:
  1. Why is Omar Abdullah joining the tirade against the Army? Is it just a survival tactic or is there more to it?
  2. What made the GoI to sit on the simmering cauldron for so long before calling for an all-party meet?
There may be a few bad elements in the Army, and there may be ill-treatment of the locals. This should not be allowed to continue. However, meddling with the affairs of the Army in Kashmir is a bad idea given the current situation and how Pakistan and extremists are raring to go. I believe the Army needs to stay - for they are the only ones capable of upholding the integrity of the region, and thus the nation.

Help Ladakh: Photo Exhibition in Bangalore

This July, I had been on an almost heavenly journey to Ladakh [see the end of this post for details on the travelog]. Less than 2 weeks after I returned from there, tragedy struck this paradise. Cloudbursts and flash floods devastated the region, leading to massive losses of life and livelihood.

As anybody who has visited Ladakh will tell you – it is impossible to get the experience out of your psyche. The massive scale of everything that makes up the terrain (mountains, lakes, valleys) which make you feel insignificant; the simplistic culture and lifestyle of the very affable populace; the feeling of being one with nature and being lost. That's the kind of emotional connect that you develop with this place.

The natural calamity no doubt gave sleepless nights to whoever has visited Ladakh, myself included. I wanted to do something about it, but did not know in what way I could contribute. I kept asking myself hazaar questions. Should I donate? Should I volunteer? How? How much?

The answer presented itself in the form of the “Glimpses From Ladakh” photo exhibition [link]. This is being organized by PhotograhpyOnTheMove and 1 Shanthi Road. The theme is simple – you submit snaps that you clicked of Ladakh, and they shortlist some of these photos. The short listed ones will be exhibited; and the proceeds from the exhibition will go towards rehabilitation work in Ladakh.

I submitted 5 of the photos that I had clicked, and one of them has been shortlisted. The thumbnails of all the shortlisted snaps can be seen here. Mine is the 21st snap from top (it is also available at my Flickr photostream here ). The exhibition will be held at the design studio, 1 Shanthi Road in Bangalore. It will run from 17th to 26th September; 11 a.m to 8 p.m. Please do spread the word, especially to Bangalore-based people, to ensure that people attend in large numbers and make this event a success.

Event Details
What: Glimpses From Ladakh Photo Exhibition
Where: 1, Shanthi Road [Address Details Link]
When: 17th to 26th September
More details: Facebook Page. Also, check the Facebook Event link for RSVP.


There are few other avenues to help/donate towards this cause. While looking for ways to do so, I came across the following:

  • Save The Children: Allows you to donate in denominations of 2.5, 5, 10 or 20 thousand rupees, which will all go towards helping the affected children.
  • RESET: Allows online donation in Euros. Details of projects are available on the web page.
  • LeDeG: Stands for Ladakh ecological Development Group. This is the organization through which the proceeds of the photo exhibition will be channeled. You can also donate to them directly.
  • SOS Ladakh: This is a campaign being run by NDTV. They provide a bank account number of The Hope Trust through which donations are accepted. I did not find much info on what work is being carried out etc.


Over the weeks since I returned from Ladakh, I have penned down the travelog on my travel blog . Here is the link to my picasa web album. I have recounted by experience over a 4-part series. Here is a snippet from my Part 1.

In Ladakhi language, “La” means pass and “Dakh” means land. Ladakh, thus, means land of passes. It is easy to see why. There's hardly any 2 places in Ladakh that don't have a pass between them! But Ladakh is much more than just that.

Ladakh is a land of seemingly never-ending valleys, punctuated with streams and rivers, and the patches of greenery they bring about.
Ladakh is a land of snow-capped mountain peaks, mountains which are often completely barren.
Ladakh is a land of yaks and ibex, wild asses and horses, marmots and double humped camels, of migratory birds.
Ladakh is a land of lakes that seem to change colour and shade according to their mood.
Ladakh is a land of deserts and pastures, of nomads and tourists, of Gompas and monks.
Ladakh is the ultimate get-away destination, a magical land sure to linger in your psyche long after you've returned to your normal life.

For the complete travelog, visit my travel blog. In particular, here is how the travelog has been split

  • Bangalore-Delhi.
  • Delhi-Leh.
  • In and around Leh.

  • 2-day trip: Leh-Pangong lake and back
  • 2-day trip: Leh-Nubra valley and back

  • Leh-TsoMoriri lake
  • TsoMoriri-TsoKar lake
  • TsoKar – Keylong

  • Keylong-Manali
  • Manali sight-seeing
  • Manali-Delhi-Bangalore.

55er: Hindrance

For once, it didn't have to wade through a sea of vehicles.
For once, the little traffic that there was, made way.
For once, there was no chaos at signals.
And yet, by the time the ambulance reached the hospital, it was too late.
Culprit: Way too many speed breakers, and the seriously impedimentary potholes.

This Friday, on near-empty roads, I was driving to office. An ambulance rushed past me, but the poor fellow couldn't make much progress. I found myself almost on the tail of the flashing lights for the next 5 minutes. It was sad to see the vehicle slow down every 10 metres to negotiate speed-breakers or potholes.

Who is to blame if a patient does not reach hospital in time in such cases? Do we give a thought to emergency situations when we design such grand Himalayan-esque speed breakers?

55er: The Dog That Barks

Dear Mr. Obama,

Conventional wisdom seems to have been turned on its head. The (mad) dog that barks looks like it is about to bite … … its own self. But then, one does not expect a mad dog to know about symbiotic relationships that are vital for survival of both organisms involved, does one?

Related Reading:

Who's the Bigger Killer?

Check out this headline at ToI [link] which screams “Forces bigger killers than terrorists”. This is in reference to Kashmir valley. According to ToI, since five civilians fall prey to forces' bullets for every two that are slain by terrorists, that automatically makes the forces the bigger killers.

Dear dimwits @ ToI, I wonder whether the following questions so much as even crossed your mind:

  • What is the difference between the “civilians” killed by security forces and those killed by the separatists?
  • Why are armed forces left with no choice but to fire at crowds? (Hint: the answer involves the terms “stone”, “violence” and “danger to innocents” in no particular order)
  • If the “civilians” killed by men in uniform, are instigated to resort to violence by the terrorists, ultimately who shoulders the blame for the death?

Of course, exploring non-lethal ways of controlling crowds is a step in the right direction. That still doesn't explain why ToI has to make this heading look more like Hurriyat propaganda than a news item.

Any answers, “respected” ToI?

Bacha Baz: Afghanistan's Dirty Secret

If you thought stoning of women was the worst social evil prevalent in Afghanistan, think again. If this article titled "Afghanistan's Dirty Little Secret" is to be believed [link], that country is probably the paedophile capital of the world. Add to it, the fact the the victims are mostly boys; and the fact that the older men flout their boys with pride. They even have a term for it – Bacha Baz which literally means “boy player”.

The article also describes dance parties where boys are dressed up as girls and leered on by men probably twice their age. This reminds me of the closing chapters of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. When I had read that book, I had thought that the author has depicted a one-off incident. Little did I know that he was trying to tell the world about the truth!

The ending of the article is what makes me despair.
As one boy, in tow of a man he called "my lord," told the Reuters reporter: "Once I grow up, I will be an owner, and I will have my own boys."
Why can't the world spare its children all these forms of abuse? Why?

Previous posts on this topic

Disaster Relief: Aid Acceptance Questions

Talk of India's donation to Pakistan's flood relief has been going on for days now (latest news item being this). Questions that pose themselves as I read this article:

One: Tomorrow, if the Naxals offer a multi-crore rupee package for some natural disaster in India, would we accept? Should we accept? Remember – this is about perception, and not about the facts. According to Pakistan's perception, India is probably a greater threat to Pakistan, than Naxals are to India.

Two: Do the masses who are actually facing the wrath - the nameless, faceless victims – give a rat's a**e about any of the politics that goes behind the donation? For a person whose life is shattered, whose livelihood has disappeared overnight, does the source of the donation matter? Should it matter?

A School, Amid Devastation, Sets an Example

There are schools. And then, there are schools like Druk White Lotus School in Shay, about 15 kms from Leh in Ladakh. Although this school shot to fame in the movie “3 Idiots”, it has been doing things differently and more effectively all along. It has used a combination of local construction techniques and modern green technology to come up with a campus that not only won the Best Green Architecture Award, but is also better-equipped to cope with the extreme weather in the region. I regret not having visited this school during my trip to Ladakh last month.

The recent cloudburst and the devastation that it caused did not spare Druk White Lotus School. The school was badly affected. However, some repair work has been completed, and guess what? Now, the school has offered to take in orphans and children who have been rendered homeless in the calamity. These children will be taught and fed at the school.

Isn't this what a school is all about? First – teaching through example. Second, spreading compassion. Hats off to the school. Hoping that more educational institutes follow the example set by Druk White Lotus.

"Shaktimaan": Rural Distribution System

The rural distribution system is about to get a shot in the arm. Doing away with the “hub-and-spoke” system, HUL is betting big time on the “distributor-on-cycle” model – dubbed the “Shaktimaan” model. This novel idea is not only set to improve the reach of HUL products in the hinterland, it also has the potential to provide rural employment, and even encourage small-scale rural entrepreneurship.

At what scale this model delivers remains to be seen. But let us hope it clicks – because if other biggies follow suit, it could have a major influence in shaping the rural economy.

What Happens If You Overtake a Minister's Car?

Well, you get thrashed of course. First, by the driver, then by the minister. If an elderly person tries to reason, he or she is dealt a few blows too. And finally, a police complaint is registered. Against YOU.

Who knew overtaking is such a big crime!

I-Day Rant

My favourite day of the year is August 16th – a day after Independence Day. Let me explain.

During the build-up to I-Day, there's a gradual increase in the intensity of the patriotic sentiment. It starts off as a ripple 2 weeks before the day; and on the eve, it is a full-fledged wave – even a Tsunami. There's an overdose of patriotic movies on TV. Every damned reality show, news channel and serial injects an element of desh-prem into its veins. Every business worth it's salt has an ad in the newspapers wishing everyone a very Happy Independence Day. Politicians are busy giving speeches reminding us about our achievements.

And I, being my competitive self, am forced to jump onto the bandwagon. As a businessman, I am forced to issue an ad in the newspapers. As a politician, I am forced to be louder than the other guy in my praise for what we established during the past year. As a TV show producer, I have no choice but to twist the story a bit to include I-day celebrations in there. And it all reaches a crescendo on 15th August.

However, come dawn of 16th August, I can finally stop pretending. I get relief from the rhetoric. I can get back to bleeding my country in whatever way I was at the beginning of August. And that is why I eagerly await 16th August.

Wishing you all a Happy Independence Day. And a happier post-Independence-Day.

Of Dress Codes, Teachers and Punches

If you are among those who support a dress code in educational institutes citing the uniformity and discipline it brings about, read about this incident where a male teacher punched his female colleague for wearing a Salwar to work.

Now you know the real reason for dress codes – it is the easiest way for the authorities to wield their power over the “masses”, or for men to assert their dominance over women. I can imagine the ecstasy that, say, the principal of an Engineering college in Bangalore, might be experiencing when he decrees that students are not allowed to wear round-neck T-shirts on campus. He is well aware that the rule is unfair and unreasonable. So do the students. But the very thought of the students being powerless to do anything about it – boy, that feeling must be almost orgasmic.

Cheers to our education system and to our respected, honorable “pioneers” in this field.

Related Reading:

If You Cant Beat 'Em, Disgrace 'Em

For all the myths about “healthy competition” in capitalist countries, reality has been exposed time and again. Every so often, some senator makes statements which accurately describe how intolerant American law-makers are towards competition from Asian countries, and how impotent they are in fairly dealing with such competition.

Well, here is one such statement, likening one of India's most respected IT companies to a “chop-shop”. The senator seems to believe in the old adage with a twist - “If you can't beat 'em, disgrace 'em”. It remains to be seen what repercussions this statement has; but knowing businesses and people, and what they think about dumb senators and their loud mouths; I'd be surprised if there is any implication at all.

A Tribal Teen, Against Hundreds of Molesters

This incident is shocking beyond words. The very fact that we allowed it to occur is a shame on us, our culture and our society. I dare people who always take refuge in “But, we have the best culture, tradition ….. blah blah …” to explain this.

The saddest part of it all is that there is no way to ensure there won't be a repeat of such blasphemous incidents. After all there is safety in numbers. If the offenders numbered a handful, then they could be brought to justice. If three whole villages turned molesters, then who has the guts to take on such a mob?

This is What Afghan Women Go Through ...

An 18 year old Afghan girl's husband cut off her nose and ears for trying to run away from him. That's how horrific the condition of women in those parts of the world is.

Don't miss how Time magazine is making a statement that this is what happens “If We Leave Afghanistan”. Is there really a need to turn this shocking story into an “I-told-you-so” rant? One important point seems to have been missed. This incident has occurred right under “your” noses. “You” were there when this happened and “you” have allowed it to happen. So how does that make “you” any better than the Afghan government or the Taliban or whoever?

Complex Medical Problems? Head to India

I always knew that medical tourism was big in India. I know how Europeans and Americans choose to have stuff like dental reconstruction done in India – since it is cheaper here. Heck, it is so expensive in their countries that getting it done in India gives them the extra money for the “bonus” vacation – the cost of surgery in India + the travel expenses + 5 start hotel for over a week – it all works out to be far more economical than getting things done in their own countries!

However, today's news puts India's medical prowess in a new light, with a 65-year old American getting his heart transplanted in India. This, after doctors in US had told him that he “would return in a coffin”. We've read about heart surgeries and transplants performed by Indian surgeons on children from Pakistan or patients from African countries. But an American heading to India for such treatment – only speaks volumes about the skill and know-how of our doctors and surgeons.

I feel our medical fraternity doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Let us hope such incidents change that.

Heading off to the Desert in the Skies

“Desert in the Skies” - that's how a program on Discovery described Ladakh. And that's where I'm headed this evening. Needless to say, I will sever all relationships with my online persona (save for tweets through SMS). So, for the next 2 weeks I'll be in the following mode

Blog? What's that?”
Comment moderation? Sound like something out of a sci-fi movie”

But do keep your opinions flowing in. They'll be published when I return 2 weeks from now (unless you are a spam bot, in which case I'll incinerate your comment in special yak-skin wool that I'll get back for this sole purpose).

Until this month-end then.

No Bikes Please, We're VTU

So, the VTU is at it again. This time, it wants to ban bikes from all the colleges under it's purview. Needless to say, this move has drawn lot of opposition and criticism from students.

The newspapers are full of reactions from students, but I liked this one, by a student named Shruthi, the best. I did not find it online, typing it as-is from July 8 issue of Bangalore Mirror.

If I travel by BMTC, I have to change four buses to get to college. The college buses charge exorbitant fees. On my bike, I get my emissions checked regularly, hardly go above 40 kph and follow all traffic rules. I have a few suggestions for VC to concentrate on

* Ban lecturers from uselessly dictating notes in class instead of teaching.
* Get a few more servers so that the VTU website doesn't get jammed when results are announced.
* Update the curriculum.
* Most VTU engineers are hardly employable in core industries: address this issue by introducing finishing schools.

I think this comment puts the entire episode in perspective.

My opinion? Well, every Vice Chancellor in VTU in recent past has had this carnal urge to do something to show the students who's boss. Dress codes, pathetic processes for re-evaluation, and what not. Most of these decisions are designed just to wield their power over the hapless students.

However, let us just pretend for a moment that the current VC, Mr. Maheshappa's intentions were good. Let's pretend that safety, environment, reducing congestion were at the top of his mind when proposing this move. That still doesn't take away the fact that his proposal is as impractical as impractical can be. College buses charge in the range of Rs. 10 thousand per year for their services. BMTC yearly buss passes for students are much cheaper. But in many cases there is the dual disadvantage with BTMC – poor connectivity and poorer speed.

Wait, there's more to this tug of war between the VC and his students. The students challenged the VC that they would take the bus if the VC joined them. To prove his point, the VC took the bus to the VTU office yesterday. However, he has been quoted as saying that he would switch to his car on the days when he has “important meetings”.

And with that one statement that smacks of hypocrisy, he has made everything clear. His meetings are “important”? Exams, classes for the students are not? What can one say of the university where the VC engages in such blatant double standards?

All this goes to demonstrate one point though – this is what happens when those calling the shots are so out of touch with ground realities. Politicians, heads of educational institutions, senior management in the corporate world. If only the ones who take decisions were ones who had practical, grass roots level experience!

Dowry and Corruption

This conversation took place between me and my friend when we were on an overnight bus journey from Bangalore to Shimoga.

Friend: Hey, this bus conductor is my landlord.
Me: Excuse me??
Friend: The room that I have rented in Shimoga?
Me: What about it?
Friend: Well, this guy is the owner. In fact, he owns the entire building. He stays in the ground floor, and he has let out one other house and three other rooms on rent.
Me (impressed): Wow, he must be corrupt beyond my wildest imagination. How else can a bus conductor make so much money as to build so many houses!!
Friend: Hmm …. I wouldn't fault him though.
Me (sarcastically): You wouldn't. Could you be so kind as to explain?
Friend: He has four daughters. The eldest is married and two others are now of marriageable age. He belongs to a caste where the dowry demanded is in the region of five lakh rupees. How else could he afford to get his daughters married? He is even going to sell most of his property to raise the money required for his second daughter's marriage.

It took me some time to digest that. I fell silent for I did not know whether to ask a question or state my opinion on the matter.

The “fruits of corruption” in the upper strata go into posh bungalows, up-market cars, exotic vacations and the like. However, it looks like much of the “turnover” from corruption at the grass-roots level eventually finds itself in basic livelihood and dowry.

I wonder if the corruption canvas in our country would have had completely different hues had it not been for that element of dowry.

Break Free, Un-shackle, Disrobe

Isn't breaking free of something the most liberating feeling? It's almost like you can fly. For a student, the last day of exams. Exiting the city and hitting the open road when you're driving. Crying. Confiding in someone.

The same goes for beliefs. We are groomed with certain beliefs (which is a misnomer because we often don't actually believe those things). And we are often so mired in them that we fail to be tolerant or inclusive of others' beliefs. Every such instance is an opportunity lost – the opportunity to experience that much more of the world around us. Thankfully, as we mature or gain more exposure, we find ourselves letting go of some closely held belief.

As a kid, I used to think that people who smoke or drink are “bad”. Only when I set foot in a hostel in my mid-teens did I realise how completely baseless that notion was. I made several close friends who used to smoke or drink occasionally. I learnt that it is not the person that is bad – it is the act; and that too when qualified with the adverb “excessively”. I relieved myself of one notion; and in the process made a good friend.

Another mind-set is that of vegetarians towards others – invariably hostile. Only when a child gets old enough to ask the following question does he appreciate the different-ness of food habits: “If everyone turns vegetarian, what will everyone eat? Are there enough crops on earth to sustain 6 billion people?”.

Next example that comes to my mind is culture. Being proud of, or holding on to, one's own culture is fine, but shutting out all others results in a person seriously restricting oneself. When you travel to some far-away land and experience the culture there, becoming part of it, you realise what you had been missing all this while by clinging on to the false superiority of your own.

The final instance is that of shame. Right from childhood we are taught to be ashamed of our  own bodies (there is even a childhood rhyme that starts with “shame shame ..” something). This particular belief is so strongly imbibed in us that, even as we grow more comfortable with our bodies, we stoutly refuse to even admit it. If and when we do break the shackles, we liberate ourselves from yet another stifling belief. Rashmi Bansal's post “The Naked Truth” is an interesting (though what some may perceive as radical) point of view on this matter.

Wouldn't it be great if we could disrobe ourself of one such asphyxiating belief at a time? That'd definitely expand our horizons, and add color to our world.

There Go Human Rights Campaigners Again

This is what the IBN Top Headlines gadget in my iGoogle home page looks like. Check out the first 2 headlines.

I'm reproducing these headlines in text below (in case they are not legible in the image).

Headline1: Naxals strike, kill 26 CRPF men in Chhattisgarh (link)
Headline2: Dead Naxals carried like animals, NHRC objects (link)

Dear NHRC, don't you have any objection to the 26 CRPF men being slaughtered (like animals or otherwise)? Never mind. You might consider re-christening yourself to “National Criminal Rights Commission”, and then work actively towards this kind of goal.

The Saga of an "Organic" Food Product

So, one really hot afternoon, after going through the malls with a fine-tooth-comb, looking for some decent clothes my size, I give up and decide it's time to quench my thirst. I walk up to this juice counter that is in the shape of an orange.

Me: Hi, do you have fresh fruit juices?
Counter Guy (CG): No sir, but we have better than that. We have [brand-name-I-cant-recollect] “naturals”.
Me: Oh, what is that?
CG: Sir, it is a new product that we launched few weeks back. Try it out sir. Natural is good for your health .. blah .. blah ..
Me: Oh that's great. But don't you have plain old orange juice made from real oranges?
CG: No, sir. You see, this is better .. this is completely natural – no chemicals, no preservatives .. .. yada .. yadaa ..
Me [cutting him short]: So, your company has invented some organic formula for orange which is more natural than orange itself?
CG: No sir, but this juice here is natural and does not have any artificial flavors. It is organic and it is good for your health. Also, sir, this is a best-selling product. You can see how popular it is by looking at the queue behind you.

Sure enough, when I turned, I saw about a dozen people lining up to have this “organic” and “natural” juice. The question of what can be more natural than fresh orange juice is of zero relevance for these people.

That's when I realized you can sell anything to the urban crowd by labelling it as “organic” or “natural”. Anybody wanna join me in venturing into the “natural synthetics” business?

3 Jobs I'd Give a Limb For

We all have our own “dream jobs”. Now here's my list of three that I'd give a limb for.

Ian Wright's in GlobeTrekker
Who wouldn't want to tour the world and get paid for it? Although I think that to do this job role any semblance of justice, I'd have to become a lot less particular about my food habits (read: give up vegetarianism!) There are so many places on this earth where you cannot survive without eating meat – aren't there?
An interesting tid-bit I read somewhere: Ian Wright is a vegetarian – except for the show :)

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in Top Gear.
They get to drive every car that we lesser mortals can only drool over. They get to drive on the best roads in the world. They get to be part of crazy experiments. And of course, they get a paycheck at the end of it all!

Imagine a job which combines the above two – you get to tour the world, driving some of the most desirable cars along the way. Now that'd be heaven, wouldn't it?

Cameraman for Discovery/NGC
I think this would be the most challenging of all. I just wonder what the cameramen go through when they shoot all those mind-blowing scenes – especially wildlife and nature sequences (like volcanoes). Let me also take this opportunity to doff my hat to them!

What's your dream job?

55er: Tranquil

He sat on the shore, watching the sun slowly retire.
Everything seemed so calm, so tranquil.
No blaring horns, no vehicle engines, no buzz of conversation.

But wait, he could see vehicles moving nearby; and he now saw a crowd of people within earshot.

That's when he remembered the accident that had rendered him deaf.

Back Breaking Expectations

It has come to a stage where State Governments, the Central Govt and even the Supreme Court are involved. There's talk of court orders and even laws are being mulled. What impression does this project about our prestigious urban education system?

Little children are being over-burdened by the weight of their school bags. This has always been plenty obvious. Couldn't our “reputed institutions” see this? Couldn't they take steps to set this right of their own accord?

No. It took PILs, media clamour, national debate and Government intervention before our great education system even acknowledged the problem. The solution still escapes us. Even if laws are implemented – it doesn't erase the blot on the schools that allowed it to go this far. And I can think of only one reason for the schools not having nipped it in the bud – their false notion of competitiveness.

More books = Better education being imparted. More marks = Better school.

It makes me sick to think that all these schools which'd rather risk a child's health permanently, than give in and take innovative measures to reduce his burden, receive so much adulation and respect – from media and parents alike.

Maybe it is time to have city-wise databases of schools, graded by parents on these “peripheral” parameters in addition to the so-called “core” ones?

Good for S'Pore, Therefore Good for India?

Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy has re-opened the “congestion tax” debate. Congestion tax is a concept followed in several “modern cities” the world over, including London and Singapore. It is a charge that is levied whenever you drive into the “central business district” of the city – or in short – the “heart of the city”. It works well to discourage people from driving – and use public transport instead.

Now, our honourable minister wants to follow the same model in Indian cities. Dear Ministerji,

* How about we first start a pilot phase for this initiative where the netas and babus start paying congestion charge? They either pay hefty taxes or leave their caravans and motorcades back home and take public transport. Deal?

* You say that such a model is implemented in Singapore, and hence, it should be in Indian cities too. Do you have the remotest idea how good the public transport system in Singapore is? Show me one city in India which is anywhere close to Singapore in terms of buses and metro and what not.

This is not to say that I am opposed to the imposition of congestion charge. On the contrary. However, before doing that, we need to get other things in order. It is common sense that when you tell people not to drive, you need to provide them a viable alternative.

* Improve the public transportation system, make it attractive to people from all sub-strata of the middle and lower classes. Case in point – Bangalore's BMTC, which has in its fleet, the entire range of buses right from the “ordinary” to the“luxury” (Volvos, Tata Marcopolos).

* Metro and mono-rails are good for high density corridors but will definitely fail if the last mile connectivity is not good. Also, nothing can replace the bus as the ubiquitous, reach-all-corners-of-the-city means of transportation. Hence, these must be improved (especially places like residential sectors in Gurgaon where buses are practically non-existent, forcing people to use cars)

Okay, so far I have been stating the obvious. Next is an idea that I heard as a rumour – but I think will be very effective. I heard whispers that some companies in Bangalore are mulling introducing parking charges, i.e., employees will need to pay to park on campus. This comes across to me as a pretty good idea. A few extensions to this come to mind:

1) Governments or city corporations can enforce rules that a company having more than a stipulated number of employees must provide transport facilities.

2) Industrial estates, technology parks and even large residential townships should be required by law to provide public transport. This has dual advantages
a> It shifts the onus of providing transport from the companies to the builders
b> It enables even smaller companies, which might otherwise be unable to participate in the process, to jump onto the bandwagon too.

3) Once these means of mass transportation are in place, the companies/builders can go ahead and charge parking fees/entry tolls etc.

In conclusion – borrowing successful ideas from elsewhere is a good thing, but we need to be that wee bit more innovative in giving it a Desi twist, in-line with our very unique conditions. Improve public transport, mandate companies/builders to provide transport to huge campuses. And then, introduce congestion taxes and parking charges.

55er: While You Were Speaking ...

On her birthday morning, she was in the school van, speaking on the cellphone with her best friend.
At around the same time, he too was on the phone , cribbing to his boss. Only, he was driving a passenger bus.
The van bore the brunt of the collision. She never lit her birthday candles.

This post is a fictional twist on this news article.

It has now become acceptable for people driving any sort of vehicle to speak on the cellphone while at the wheel (or the handle). From 2-wheelers all the way to massive lorries and buses. What only compounds the problem is cops turning a blind eye. The rules are there – but rules are only as good as their implementation.

An acquaintance from a neighbouring state had driven to Bangalore in his car. I, along with some common friends, had gone out to lunch with him. He was on the phone more than half the time. When I tried to reason with him that it is dangerous – he laughed it off. In fact, he took it as an insult to his driving skills – an ego problem – when I implied that speaking on the phone while driving results in loss of concentration. Only when I vastly exaggerated the seriousness with which Bangalore traffic police treat such cases, and quoted more then five times the actual fine amount, did he relent.

So a well-educated fellow will follow rules not on his own accord, in the interest of road safety; but only out of fear of getting fined. The operative phrase here is “well-educated fellow”.

I wonder what scale of disaster will it take for both, the cops and general public, to wake up to the massive dangers of speaking on the cellphone while driving.

Disclaimer: This is my personal blog. All the views and opinions expressed on this blog are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of my employer, organization, relatives, friends, acquaintances or any other person/entity.