Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Man in the Car

Driving from Gurgaon to Delhi gives scope for a lot of reflection. On a bike, one gets to drive through a maze of cars stuck in traffic. In the morning you can find a variety of people going to office. Men of all kinds: the worried and impatient young executive in his worn out Alto, the suave and well dressed senior manager/CEO in the backseat of his corolla reading the ET. Nondescript analyst-consultant types like me on the TVS Victors and the like.

Basic point of the post is: life is not looking great. If ALL goes well (and God knows what all it will take), I would still at the end of it all be the Man in the Car, nothing more nothing less.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I have a dream

I have a dream of a world where the poor and deprived take full benefits of ICT in receiving basic services like health and education. a world where the poor and deprived feel empowered to demand accountability and make the democracy participatory and more meaningful.

And the private sector has to wrest the monopoly of the Government in provision of basic public services while accepting all norms of accountability that the Government operates under.

S Gokulakrishnan

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quote on War


War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

John Stuart Mill

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Big brother

Some observations on the psyche of government officials.

Seniority within the organisation is no indication of leadership or personal qualities. One could be promoted to the very top while striving to cover one's a** all the time.

Personal commitment or volition to any task could be unheard of.

The biggest threat that can emanate from the lips of an official (at which they expect the listener to cower and run is "I can write a note on this to the department..."). Situations where this fails to frighten the listener completely flummoxes them.

At times, they fall into the habit of referring responsibility to a primordial omnipotent entity called 'Government' in case they want to absolve themselves of the issue at hand.
(E.g. 'The Government will decide upon what to do...', or 'The Government will take this up...')
Sometimes they refer to it lovingly as if it were alive.

N.B. These are the defining characteristics of organization culture. There are always exceptions.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Misfired stir

How I wish the RTI would cover the committee meetings and decision making of political parties too ! They cannot be shrouded from public scrutiny and at the same time allowed to affect public lives in the way the latest OBC bill has done.
Why does the PMK and DMK get away with pushing the Govt. into non exclusion of the creamy layer. If there is a sound reason, I cannot see it.
Even though at the outset everyone agreed that the affirmative action of the GoI was misdirected, the media and the Youth for Equality(YFE) chose to harp on concepts like equality and merit in opposing the OBC bill rather than focus on the issue of beneficiaries which could have got them support from all of educated India who instead stood as on lookers viewing the protests as largely driven by self-interest.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Had a refreshing trip down south. Visited Mumbai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Chennai and Kozhikode recently. Loved the drive from Coimbatore to Kozhikode and back. Kerala under rains is a beauty to look at. Not good for the poor roads though. The state of the checkpost at Kerala-TN border is pathetic. For godssake, there are people waiting for hours to pay tax if only you will let them... tax administration has to go a long way in becoming citizen friendly.

IIM Kozhikode is ossum. But cannot figure out what the Govt. seeks to achieve by isolating the student community from the city and society.

Trip had an unpleasant finish when I lost my wallet. Funny part in Coimbatore when sitting in a car park in a pensive mood and a palmist in sunglasses comes up and says "Palmist sir... hand reading paarkreengala ?" I replied "Nee ennanaa solrathu... enakkae theriyuthu neram seri illai.. !" ("What is there for you to say ? I know it, I am having a bad time")

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Revisiting old poem

This is a poem from an anthology(Purananooru) of 400 pieces on 'the exterior' or public life. A translation is given from here.

Every Town a Home Town
Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.

Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.

Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,
rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings-

we know this
from the vision
of men who see.

we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.

-- Kaniyan Punkunran

"Good and evil do not come from others. Pain and relief of pain come of themselves."
-- indicates emphasis on personal choice and belief in consequences
of personal decisions. Existentialism ?

Dying is nothing new. We do not rejoice that life is sweet nor in anger call it bitter."
-- okay...
"we are not amazed by the great, and we do not scorn the little."
-- moralistic, then its not nihilism.

Enigmatic little poem.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


The penetrative mind of a well intentioned politician is worth more than all the gold in all the treasuries on earth.

random thought after last fortnight's news headlines.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Spirit of resilience(?) and Mr. Kasuri's audacity

Salaam Bombay. The way the city got its act together after the terrorist attack is inspiring. But however we may want to look at it, Mumbaikars spirit of resilience is basically driven by a need to get on with life since they cannot afford to do otherwise.

Mr. Kasuri's statement linking the Mumbai blasts and the Kashmir dispute sounds innocuously matter-of-fact, but it is far from ingenuous; not from him and definitely not at this juncture. Removing the diplomatic niceties, in political terms, it simply says 'see, if India wants this stopped, it has to come over to the negotiating table on Kashmir'. 'This kind of incidents can make India address things India doesnt want to address' This point is painfully close to the truth, but this hint from Mr. Kasuri on how to respond to a terrorist attack is closer to thuggery than the high office he holds.

Things like these cast dark clouds on otherwise well intentioned peace talks. India would not want to seem pressurised into peace talks, which will put the other side at an advantage in negotiations. But there are enough people within the Pakistani establishment to whom valid motives can be ascribed for overthrowing peace talks.

A more significant challenge would be to stop the stupidity of right wing extremist reaction to these incidents from within India itself. I wonder if the word 'Shiv Sainiks' has been coined cleverly to derive some divine legitimacy to their actions from the public. If it is Congress-'men' and DMK-'cadres' why not Shiv Sena-'members' ? Sainik is a revered word; not to be appropriated for lending legitimacy to right wing extremist purposes.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On food, medicine and books

Is it right of a human deny aid to another's hunger, pain and illiteracy claiming the sufferer's inability to pay his profits as the reason?

In India, an entrepreneur can accumulate profits out of all the above three plagues on society. In advanced free market economies, one would expect the market to manage services in all the three, right ? But interestingly the strongest voice for free market, the US, has support programs which preclude undue profiteering in all the three sectors. Are we Indians missing the essence of 'free market'?

M. S. Swaminathan wrote about India "The growing privatisation of food and water security systems is already leading to an unequal social bargain. The poor will not be able to withstand the tragedy of distress sales and inundation by low-cost foods and fruits from rich countries whose agriculture is driven by heavy inputs of subsidy, capital, and technology." Ever wondered why US farmers dont commit suicides like these Indian farmers in AP and Vidharba. The Bengal famine of 1942 happened not due to grain shortage but because grains were locked up in private trader's godowns.

In healthcare in India, most medical supplies and equipments (even glucose drips) fetch margins of around 300% to the manufacturer. Why has the invisible hand failed to bring efficiencies ? seriously, I dont know.

Excellent public school systems are run by the government in fully capitalist economies to ensure basic education. All medical facilities are government funded by countries like US and Canada. One can walk out of hospitals after treatment without any other thought other than convalescence.

Let us not get this wrong. Excellent private run institutions exist in all three sectors in western countries. I wouldn't be surprised if the best facilities in these three sectors are privately run. But the government has ensured access to food security, healthcare and elementary education first.

Don't stupid, unemployable rural people get ill and feel hungry? Or are they stupid and unemployable because they fall ill and go hungry too often and are unable to improve their lot?

Saturday, June 03, 2006


From David Copperfield on having one's own establishment.

"It was a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to myself, and to feel, when I shut my outer door, like
Robinson Crusoe, when he had got into his fortification, and pulled his ladder up after him. It was a wonderfully fine thing to walk about town with the key of my house in my pocket, and to know that I could ask any fellow to come home, and make quite sure of its being inconvenient to nobody, if it were not so to me. "

- Charles Dickens

Not having an address is a weird problem. Staying in company guesthouses here and there is convenient: homely food, laundry, A/c and all that but one is nevertheless bugged by that fact... All billings are to be done to my official address, cell cos have taken me off their network since I cant give them a verifiable address and one never knows where one's next base is going to be.

Despite all problems which are attendant on running an own establishment and even though I may not be using that place to a large extent, I prefer to have a homebase where all the bills come and where friends can be welcomed at ease.

N.B. homebase is not a word yet... but its nice.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


In a remarkable movie which beautifully portrays the conflict between a man's conscience and a woman's endearing belief in love, the director's urge to send a message across wins in the end.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A word and a song...

First the song:
The song I was listening to was from the Tamil movie Nanda and starts off 'Kalliyadi kalli...'
A rough translation of a section of it is as follows:

"Consider that there is no sea in between us....
the nations are the same...
Tamils are Tamils everywhere..."

Was kind of surprised that such a bold avowal was let off easily by the authorities though it was a movie on Sri Lankan refugees. It sounded like a cheap shot using identity politics rather than a mature artistic approach to the issue. Also, it is one of the modern day ambiguities in geopolitics but its strangely disturbing when popular art pushes such issues into public conscience. Have got used to issues like these handled by sensational newspapers and relegated to Page 5 International sections rather than listening to it as music.

Came across this word while going through some websites on Bahrain...

Irredentism : an international relations term that involves advocating annexation of territories administered by another state on the grounds of common ethnicity and/or prior historical possession, actual or alleged. It is a feature of identity politics and cultural and political geography.

... and that completed my circle of vapid thoughts.

Citizens or customers ?

Are students customers in an educational setup ?
Are people customers in a governmental setup ?

I instinctively say no to both the questions. Though student unions and e-government supporters can mention the word 'customer' in every sentence, my whole being revolts at that notion. What a horribly narrow minded view should one have to describe the relationship between a student and a teacher with a term which primarily means a person involved in a monetary exchange for goods/services offered. Similarly, can anyone buy good governance or the acumen of statesmen for the price paid as taxes? Amidst all the crap that is flying around since the current medico's strike, there was a surprisingly mature statement from the Arjun Singh when he said "we are concerned as the agitating students are our children too.." The veracity and intent can be questioned but that is not the point. That is the feeling of overarching responsibility and bonding that a Government should have with its people and that feeling towards the Government surpasses all monetary measures...

Sunday, May 14, 2006


"There are no good or bad memories... only convenient ones." someone said this to us during our induction to my job. Was wondering if this applies to identities too. There are no strong or weak identities... only convenient ones. A friend of mine once said that India on account of being invaded so many times has become a boiling pot of different identities. I am sure the average number of identities per individual is the highest in this part of the world.

Does the transience of all identities indicate that the Goal should be the transcend all identities?

N.B. abstained from examples in this case since examples seem restrictive rather than explanatory.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Of Singhs and Sikkimese

Ah, the touch of the keyboard on fingertips at last. Just back from a trip to Amritsar and then to Sikkim over the last fortnight. Visiting these places and seeing their culture was an exhilarating experience. Also were a 1000 km drive from Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi in a friend's car, a 3 day trek to an altitude of 13000 feet and a 50 hr train journey through the heartland of India.

Both Punjab and Sikkim have a history of conflict in merging with the Indian union now followed by peace. Sikhs have a history of undergoing suppression and injustice since the Mughal days (also painful in their memory is the military's entry into the Golden temple in 1984 which they have recorded in graphic detail in the musuem in the Golden Temple). Now peace rules in both Punjab and Sikkim (more like tourism rules in the latter). Lead to some questions about one's cultural identity and affiliation to the Indian identity. Was pretty intrigued by a signboard by the the Archaelogical Society of India in Yuksam which read "A country's identity is determined by its cultural heritage". Each region has a history and culture of its own... what exactly is the heritage that contributes to the Indian identity as opposed to a regional cultural identity? Unity in Diversity is easier said than engaged with in reality. Am dangerously close to sounding like a separatist but none is more convinced of my patriotism than I am; am proud of the fact that India has found the systems to hold unity in the midst of diversity. And India has a few lessons to teach the rest of the world. Met some foreigners in Tsukha in whose view governments across EU are grappling with a similar issue of cultural assimilation of immigrants (from Asian and African countries) in their metropolises.

Amritsar has a touching and calming influence on its visitors. In the Golden temple premises, there is a soothing influence which I have found in few holy places in India. Was reminded of my acute ignorance of Sikh culture and history during the visit. The Wagah border pantomime was interesting. On the Indian side, slogans of "Bharat mata ki jai" rent the air. On the Pakistani side, slogans of "La illahi yill Allah" were echoed. Actually my confusion on cultural, religious and national identities began there. Wasn't the Indian cry a reiteration of national identity whereas the Pakistani side's one of religious identity? Thereupon my friend Madhu opined that "Bharat mata" could be construed by others as a strongly Hindu symbolism for the Indian state. Give up level.

Think Kerala stole the tagline "God's own country" from Sikkim. The beauty of the hill state is breath taking. Nepali is the most common spoken language along with Bhutia. Tourism is the biggest revenue earner. The Indo-China border was only a drive away from Gangtok but it required a permit and special clearance for our French cotraveller Erwan. So we luckily chose a trek to Dzongri from Yuksam. Visited the Buddhist monastery in Rumtek where the current Karmapa is yet to be crowned. Again acutely reminded of my ignorance of the history of the region. The people are very friendly and are amazingly fluent in English whereas their Hindi is rusty.

Pleased with this blog since it started somewhere and ended nowhere, a true mark of originality! The issue of identity and its importance to an individual is intriguing. One thing I do realise is that concept of identity is being used with great effect by political parties to rally support. And so on this discordant note this blog shall end as it truly reflects my mind after witnessing the kaleidoscope that is India.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Memory dump:

1) The transition from being a student to an employee. How do IIMA grads fare in that aspect ? What is required and what is not ?
(this after meeting seniors who come down here for PPTs and Chaos)
2) Thinking about
(a) companies to pick and why?
(b) companies not to pick and why ?
(c) running away from certain companies
(d) companies that will do (c) to me
(e) My own Company Inc.
3) Rang De Basanti
4) Mahabharata, Idealism vs. Reality
5) < Censored for explicit material >
6) Work for impending project deadlines

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Of Soundscapes and Melodies

Google defines

melody: specifically, the topmost line or voice

soundscape: an acoustic environment or an environment created by sound

Came across this interesting word called soundscape when reading a review of AR Rehman; the article said his music is influenced by that of Ennio Morricone (of The Good The Bad and The Ugly fame). This single word conveyed how the music of one relates to the other. One of those exquisite occasions when the medium transcends the message.

Listening to the two greats of Tamil music, Ilaiyaraja and ARR, one can immediately sense two different approaches to creating music. For me, Ilaiyaraja is the melody maker and Rehman, the soundscapist.

Both are just segments of a fulfulling musical piece... lyrics and vocalists being other important ones. But seems like the areas of specialisation of both musicians are different. With singers like SPB, Ilaiyaraja revelled in creating soulful tunes and melodies. ARR's focus is on creating a soundscape: choosing the base sounds for the song carefully. Running the risk of sampling bias, here are a few songs:

1) church bells tolling in 'Mukkaala, Mukkabula' - Kathalan

2) the barren effect and sounds in the song describing famine in 'Maari mazhai peyyatho' - Uzahavan.

3) more prominently, the rail tracks in 'Chaiyya chaiyya' - Dil Se

ARR uses brief vocal pieces for opening a song ('Chikku bukku', 'Maargazhi thingal', 'Mettupodu' etc) during which (and for a while after) he does the soundscape before launching into the main vocals.

'Sundari kannal oru' - Thalapathi

'Muthalvanae' - Muthalvan

Both are similarly situated songs of Ilaiyaraja and ARR respectively. Probably it's a misplaced comparison, but the difference between the two is too strong. The first one uses tunes and vocal improvisation of SPB to communicate the full pathos of personal life. In the second, ARR takes it upon himself to build the thick base of sounds to indicate conflict with personal life and leaves the rest of the job to Vairamuthu.

Imagine an artist labouring on a lake, a few trees, shrubs and a distant bird before painting the girl with a pitcher. Thats what ARR does to set the soundscape for a song. But with Ilaiyaraja, the image of the girl with the pitcher is so expressive that you don't have to be told where she stands.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Music & Kites

Listening to songs by ARR and Vairamuthu in a dark room with a good speaker system and letting them slowly fill inside you is an ossum high. One has barely recovered from the lyricist's subtle allusions in Tamil when the musician pushes ahead with his orchestrations. Some of the songs in my list are:
1) Kannodu kanbethellam - Jeans
2) Soukiyamaa - Sangamam
3) Mettupodu Mettupodu - Duet
4) Maargazhi thingal - Sangamam
5) Ithuthaan Kathal - Puthiya Mugam
Warning: Overdose is injurious to your sense of reality

Uttarayan and Lohri as Pongal and Bhogi are called here respectively are on. Today went to Core House to meet Handaji and see the kite flying which is traditional here. From the terrace of the seven floor building I could see a million kites in the sky. Good sun, kite flying lessons, nice jalebis.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Don Quixote

Read an abridged version of Don Quixote and a few critiques on that. Surely a piece of literature that has survived this long and been translated into almost all languages should have something in it. I remember reading the original a few years ago as a tale of a mad knight and his squire and couldnt finish it since only one volume was available. Btw, imagining all the books I must have read without realising the true meaning of is a scary thought.

Don Quixote is this stupid, well meaning, idealistic old gentleman who is drunk with visions of a chivalrous and honor-based society and sets out to be a knight-errant. Was it madness ? or was it another form of wisdom that declares war in defence of one's ideals ?

He fails miserably though and ends up in his deathbed as a chastened person. Even his squire Sancho is not a convert to his idealism. After becoming a reasonable man, he loses all his reasons to live. A critic refers to this as the world's betrayal of an idealist for the sake of materialism. No wonder, when the Cuban revolution ended, the first book printed and distributed by the Government was Don Quixote. They read a communist message in this book !

The question is: Why did Don Quixote end in a tragic failure ? will Quixotic fervor help in solving any problem facing society? Cervantes' greatness as an author lies in the fact that Don Quixote endears himself to the reader without once having to explain his ideals and despite all his foolish antics. This book reads like an appeal to that little bit of idealist in everyone to be Quixotic once a while.