Here, I intend to write what comes to my mind about India. This could be about anything, politics, religion, movies or remote happenings. Feel free to check this blog for updates, who knows some could be of some interest to you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

देर है पर अन्देर नही !

Wow! There's no other way to express myself on the 2014 Lok Sabha election results. After a few decades this nation has now stood together in delivering a verdict so telling about what it was going through with the incumbent coalition led by Congress. The down turn started right when they decided to have a highly respected and learned economist as a mere mute pawn for all the vicious moves that were planned to be staged.

The final numbers are so staggering that it forces me to get out of this long slumber away from blogging.

Listing 3 of many that must make anyone go WOW!
  1. Narendra Modi wins in Vadodara by a margin of 5.7 Lakhs, highest ever victory margin
  2. BJP wins 71 seats in just the state of UP, Congress and it's allies put together all India 58 (206 in 2009)
  3. Full sweep by BJP in 12 states/union territories
Ever since elections were announced and the dust settled down in the BJP camp on their choice for Prime Ministerial candidate, the only term that caught the country like wild fire is NaMo/Narendra Modi. He was a winning package bringing in everything needed to make heads turn (credited for the success of Gujarat as a model state), eyebrows raise (Gujarat communal violence), build confidence with strangers (eloquent speech) and win the faith of the crowds with proven track record (success story of Gujarat which he was heading for over a decade).

The scale of this victory so overwhelming that it inspires me to draw a parallel of Modi's achievement with that of another Gujarati, Mahatma Gandhi, for the capability to get this diverse nation stand together for one cause, the nation itself. I will not be surprised if by drawing this parallel I am criticized for going over board, but the achievement is no small one too by any scale. Everyone had long written off any possibility of any one party winning a total majority at the center, I don't think even members of BJP would've dreamt of such results. It's one of the 'Gone are those days…' items to have a Government in the center with total majority.

It has been a one man show throughout. In fact, BJP almost had nothing else to offer than Modi. It will be interesting to see the cabinet that they now will put together. Modi backed with a very efficient PR machinery rolled(roared) into action and projected the leader Narendra Modi on the face of every person in every possible medium so much so that it almost looked like that the Congress had given up at one point, even their attempt to come up with a thematic media projection of Rahul fell flat right at the get go. I think the low standard comment of Mani Shankar Iyer taking a dig on Modi's past as a Tea seller was the Waterloo moment of Congress. It just gave away a golden opportunity that was so well utilized by Modi's camp to literally mesmerize the people all the way into the polling both.

Rahul Gandhi was never a match to Narendra Modi in any angle. His television interview drove the last nail into the coffin of his political career, IMHO. At times, I pity him for being such a misfit pushed into something that neither he shows genuine interest nor comes naturally to him. I am sure Congress will next try to bring Priyanka to the fore. She is always seen to be a more dynamic, smart and Indira look alike personality.

Personally, I am glad that the Congress is decimated to such a nobody. Hope they learn from their mistakes, loads of them and get out of their dynastic dependence, elitist behavior and start thinking about the people.

With the laddoos distributed, fireworks exhausted and victory laps completed, its show time. Narendra Modi will fill the top seat with huge expectations from the people. He must first bring back honor to the PM seat. Its a while since the people saw a PM who could speak freely and connect with the people. I feared if Modi, who was successful in Gujarat with a majority power could  pull it off  running a tough coalition which is a lot different ball game. Luck could be it, he will now occupy the big seat with a total majority. Hope he lives up to the expectations.

A majority government needs a responsible and strong opposition as well to keep them honest, hope for now, that will be taken care of jointly by AIADMK, TMC and Congress.

Lots to be done, lots to be changed, for now it's his day…wishing him well in the new job and the nation under his leadership.

This is a change we all signed up for, we need to participate and we must make it succeed, if not blame ourselves. We've again proved that we are the most vibrant democracy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wal-Mart daddies

You would've met them, especially if you had any opportunity in the past 20 yrs to attend a wedding in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi. 'Wal-Mart daddy' is the term I use for parents who have their grown-up kids settling overseas leaving behind their parents in India. No offence intended, I very well understand that in majority of the cases the parents choose not to settle abroad with their children 'sighting' reasons as 'We will not be comfortable there', 'Nothing like OUR country', 'We will miss our relatives and participating in the good and bad events of the extended family', etc.

Why the term 'Wal-Mart daddies'?
First of the two main things that make me pity such parents is when they show up at functions/gatherings generally observed when they attend weddings wearing a T-shirt or a sneaker that would be a perfect misfit both to the occasion and their trousers, accessories, hairdo and jewels. Though a misfit, you could pitifully observe the pride they bear in their looks which announces 'My son/daughter/brother/sister/nephew/niece got this for me from Dubai/London/Sydney/New York/Chicago/California/Boston...', still why Wal-Mart? I guess by now you would've figured it out...generally such t-shirts would've been bought at apparel outlets during their best SALE season at a steal deal OR as a last last minute rush buy from the nearest departmental store at a throw away price...and who could beat the logistics experts Wal-Mart chain at it? Their tagline till 2007 used to be 'Always low prices' that got changed to 'Save Money. Live better'.

Secondly, though being happy for their children to have settled well [an ambition that they would've spent all their working life to achieve] and doing very well overseas [a dream come true for the children] you could still notice how much the parents miss them while living away. The way they use the opportunity of such gatherings to get things done by the youngsters of the extended family/friends errands that could have been done through their own kids anytime IF they were around is a tell tale sign of their loneliness which none of them would come out to admit about but I am sure will have it lingering in their mind when they toss around in their 12th floor air-conditioned bed room alone and physically deteriorating as the inevitable aging catches-up.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who created the favorite books of our school days?

...first, did we have anything called a 'favorite' book when in school? I think most of us were allergic to 'books'...for sure I was.

Now, let me spin the time machine anti-clockwise and help you remember the days we lived in. If you are someone who grew up in India between late 70s and early 90s, when we had the joy of playing 'gilli-danda' with just wooden sticks not needing joy-sticks to play any game. Days when we rented bi-cycles to learn cycling, when our living room was NOT invaded by a zillion TV channels. We did not have favorite news channels but news readers Tajeswar Sigh, Minu, Komal GB Singh, Sashikumar...and sports encyclopedia called Narotam Puri. When the sound of the tri-wheelered mobile kulfi waala's brass bell cooled down the heat of our sweltering summers, when the Television sets were Black and White and Cricket was played in white and white...we exchanged comic books with our friends not CDs.

If these sounds familiar and makes you visualize yourself in these settings then tell me how could you forget the favorite books we had. Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle, the comics that are part of our childhood which had characters like Supandi, Shikari Shambu and the Indian mythological stories illustrated with vivid colorful cartoons. Asides to our grandmas, we owe whatever little we know about the great epics of this land to Uncle Pai.

Anant Pai a.k.a Uncle Pai who died on 24-Feb-2011 came up with the idea of Amar Chitra Katha when he saw that school children in a quiz competition couldn't answer the question 'In the Ramayana, who was Rama's mother?'. He decided that it was time to re-introduce to the children of India the good stories of our heritage in an enjoyable form and he succeeded. He had to ensure that the stories were done without hurting the feelings of any community as it will have great impact when shaping young minds. Later he introduced Tinkle which is more driven by the stories from it's reading community that is how our Shikari Shambu, Kalia the crow and smiling Supandi were born. If you noticed, Shambu though a comical timid hunter was never shown as hurting or killing any animal. So is the passion that it generated that some of the readers and contributors grew up to become part of the Tinkle publication staff.

On behalf of all the children who were benefited by your creation and had their characters shaped by it but who would never know the man behind it, I thank you Uncle Pai, to me the Walt Disney of India.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rupee symbol and my sour grape syndrome

I like a lot of things about the new Indian Rupee symbol except for the line in the middle that almost looks like an imitation of euro or Yen.

Well, it is also a story of the fox crying 'sour grapes' for me. As everyone would know at least by now that there was a competition announced by the Govt of India for the public to submit designs for the symbol. The Govt should have outsourced this entire event to a private company, the public hardly knew about such a competition. Even the announcement and the winner were not well publicized or celebrated...I still remember the way Euro's symbol was announced.

I came to know of the competition just about a few weeks before the last day and tried my imagination on it, of course trying to follow the rules published in a little pdf file in the governemnt's web-site still available here. One of the confusing guidelines was #5 "The symbol should be applicable to standard keyboard. The symbol has to be in the Indian National Language Script or a visual representation.". Not many (I did talk to others who read this or forced a few of my friends to read and interpret it to me) understood this and the general thought was that it wanted the design to use keys available on the standard keyboard...so with these mis-understandings, me on the drawing board came up with my symbol and write up, see below how close/far it is from the winner.

Constraining my imagination for the guidelines, my version used "R", "\" and "." of standard keyboard (of course must need some Fn/Ctrl software control to place them right)

My key points on my design write-up were:
  1. R - stands for 'Rupee' with the "\" tail when seen ignoring the vertical left leg resembles the hindi 'Ru' for 'Rupiah'
  2. The vertical leg of 'R' stands for 'I' or India, together it is Indian Rupee.
  3. The dot on top has the deepest meaning.This dot is a salute to all the women of India who have been the little finance ministers of every home for centuries as a wife, mother, sister or granny. They indirectly run the nation. Coincidentally, the country has a woman as the President when this symbol is released. So it is appropriate to salute our women in a symbol that will represent our country everyday all over the world henceforth.
Though I kick myself for losing the opportunity but there's no one to blame it on but me. This went down like an untold Love. Yes, I never submitted my design, it was my laziness to run around visiting banks for the Rs. 500 demand draft to be sent that made me not send this entry. A great lesson, one among many others to remind me that you cannot expect the fruit unless you move your feet and participate first...lest end up crying 'sour grape'

Monday, June 14, 2010

Indian Police-Terrorists/Beggars in uniform?

I am not happy with this title of this blog post but neither am I happy about the state of the custodians of Law and Order of the country.

We all talk of rooting out corruption in all the government functions and have a clean country and for decades have not even identified where to start with it. My take, it is the Police department that should be fixed at first.

Generally only when there are concentrated issues going out of control, the home minister or the Prime Minister convenes a meeting, re-iterates the importance of clean Police department to the states and ask them to work on it...no action plans, no deadlines, no accountability neither is there any transparency in the progress. It just feeds the media of a few weeks of debates and articles in print about 'Police reforms'.

Are we really serious about it?

If we look back in history for the origin of the present Police department. It is during the colonial rule, to be specific, post 1857 the 'first war of independence' or my preferred term for it 'Sepoy mutiny' that the British established the police Act of 1861 which is till date the official Act of the Indian Police. It is apparent that the Police force was created to protect the people in power and definitely not the public in distress then. True to it's original purpose, the department still is loyal and works for the people in power though we have moved from feudal age to 'democracy'.

Corruption is so rampant in the force that the term 'honest-police officer' is seen as a great example of oxymoron.

Almost everyone in the force when they join are ambitious and strive to do good and correct all bad things they saw from outside. However, the saturation of corruption in the system swallows their motives like a black hole. The corruption career starts with not minding little gifts, turning a blind eye to wrong doings of superiors and graduating to deliberately breaking the law for personal gains from when on the vicious circle acts on its own into bribery, fake encounter, illicit use of weapons, sexual harassment and custodial crimes...list not complete. Major part of it goes to the reason that the Police is still controlled by our 'very able' politicians who misuse their power to appoint or transfer as a reward or punishment to help them for their or the ruling party's selfish purposes. This goes back to the Police Act and why it was formed.

At times it makes one feel that the town is better off without the police, than with them. It definitely applies to places around the country's capital. Some of the official surveys shows that up to 80% of people who interacted with the police reported them to be corrupt. Over 60% have to either use illegal means (commonly, pay money) or use political or other influence to get things done. It is a common sight on the road that when 2 vehicles are involved
in minor accidents the parties involved decide to sort out the issue before the traffic police officer arrives. They know that their financial loss will be in multiples if the police is involved. I know of a an incident first hand where the traffic police had stooped to the level of accepting a 'coffee-bite' chocolate, yes, remember the 'coffee-bite' toffee OR coffee ad...? (a real good toffee) to let go one of my friends who made a 'U' turn where he was not supposed to. If not for the uniform, I really find it difficult to differentiate between the beggars in the traffic signals who put their hand in front of you and the traffic cops who put their hands in front of every truck or auto-rickshaw for a petty amount. It's a bit scary to see that they no longer try to even hide it and its become a part of their job.

The basic mindset of the police force must be changed. They no longer exist to protect the crown by crushing the crowds but to serve and protect the crowd (public) who is now scared to talk to a police man, forget visiting a police station to register a complaint voluntarily. Filing a FIR (First Information Report) the basic official police complaint required to take the case forward is legally is a nightmare task in any police station for the common man.

Our policemen are so under trained, ill equipped and out of shape that they cannot command respect from the people. We must have regular rigorous training exercises mandated for all policemen to have them in shape and fit to fight the ever growing bad forces failing which they must be moved to other jobs in the force or any appropriate area. Strict physical fitness levels must be expected and tested for once every 3-5 years.

Citizens are expected to complain to the police if they have problems but are lost when the problem is the police itself. Unless the care takers of the Law are not fixed, the Law will be left uncared for and the system will erode from inside which will not be visible until the entire structure collapses.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NOTA - None of the above

For a system to be effective there must first be a high level of participation. To see good participation, there must be good clarity of the benefits. Our election process is more a "must hire" process than really giving people the power to register a clear NO to all of the candidates running the race. We call it the process of choosing the "lesser evil" and it leaves us with no better option.

By implementing the "None of the Above" (NOTA) option in the ballot paper/voting machine we can definitely take a big step towards getting a more eligible representative. The inability to express and register their disappointment of all the candidates is why the common man refrains from stepping into the polling booth. We even have a flawed system of recording the details of people who go to the booth but do not want to cast their vote to any candidate. In such situations, for accounting purposes the officers are supposed to write down the details in a separate register. This procedure goes against the basic rule of 'secrecy of ballot' and gives away the voters preference (to refrain). Some choose to pick their ballot paper, go to the covered area and not mark on any of the candidates but drop a fresh paper into the box giving opportunity for malpractice during counting.

It works like, if NOTA option which is proposed to be the last option in any Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) or ballot paper gets the majority, there will be re-election and the candidates must be changed by all parties. The rejected candidates cannot contest for that term in the constituency.

Let us see some of the good things possible with this option enabled.
  1. Improves participation by getting more voters to the voting stations on election day.
  2. People can decide the party's choice of candidates instead of the current form where the parties decide their candidates based on their internal process, which again is based on a simple highest bidder process. There are different prices decided by each party for each election.
  3. Even an unopposed candidate must get the voters consent.
  4. Voters will have the power to decide the number of terms the same person can be in power
  5. Lesser blank votes reduces election malpractice by whatever possible percentage

Of course, it comes with a cost of re-elections until an acceptable candidate is chosen but tell me if you are ready to incur losses for the entire term with an incapable "lesser-evil" politician in power than pay a premium to find a better one ?

I am not saying that this is the one solution to solve all our woes but will definitely be one step in the right direction for democracy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Financial Literacy

"Experience is the lesson that nature gives us when we are bald" - Chinese proverb

This perfectly fits when we think about the financial literacy of our countrymen. A traditionally conservative culture. The default wisdom passed on for generations is that education leads to stable job which demands hard work resulting in a decent salary that needs to be spent with great prudence and 'savings' is the mantra. Nothing more than this piece of mind is given to the thousands of fresh graduates who pass out of our colleges joining the lakhs of worker ants already in the field hard-wired in their brains with again nothing but, the same thought.

I discount for a moment the very few who graduate with a degree in subjects related to economics and a few who postpone plans to participate in the job race and take-up higher education on these streams.

Everyone saves money for future needs but the approach is to save surplus money without preparing household budgets, without prioritising personal financial goals, without properly allocating investments in different asset classes and without understanding the real rate of return,after adjusting for inflation. Well, how many who earn a salary really understand the term 'inflation'? India has one of the highest savings rate in the world - our gross household savings rate, which averaged 19% of gross domestic product (GDP) between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, increased to about 23% in 2003-04 and has been growing ever since. Unless the common person becomes a wiser investor and is protected from wrong doings, wealth creation for the investor and the economy will remain a distant dream. We need to convert a country of 'savers' into a nation of investors.

Thankfully, the landscape is changing, though very slowly starting from Urban India. At least 'savings' is no longer seen as the tool to financial growth. The younger generations are more savvy about the opportunities in the marker at least lured more by the ability of equity market to pay higher returns at a shorter term. Urban population is very comfortable with credit cards and gone are the days when you are looked down upon if you owe money to someone else. The social status now is gauged by how much one owes to others, in other words how many credit cards one flashes and the life style one could purchase from borrowed money. While these avenues are encouraged, along with it comes the know-hows of the right ways of using these. Not many who use credit cards understand how it works. Not many who purchase a car on credit understand how the system works. With many private players in the fray, aggressively marketing personal loans, credit cards and the growing demand for money has increased the importance of Financial literacy.

Indian Government, just like many other countries like UK,Malaysia or Singapore has come up with various methods to improve the financial literacy of its citizens. One such effort is credit-counselling. Many banks have dedicated centers focusing only on educating people. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is stepping up efforts to provide enough information to investors not just about the benefits but also about the risks and costs involved in every medium of investment. One of my favorites used to be RBI's initiative to explain things in very simple terms http://www.rbi.org.in/FinancialEducation/

Financial literacy is the ability to know, monitor, and effectively use financial resources to enhance the well-being and economic security of oneself, one's family, and one's business.

Financial literacy can make a difference not only in the quality of life that individuals can afford, but also the integrity and quality of markets, product offerings by financial institutions. I even foresee that it will go to the extent of regularizing things like our most corrupt real-estate market by demanding greater transparency so that mortgage backed securities (MBS) could be packaged as retail investment products. Knowledge is power, it will help consumers demand better quality products that will benefit them and also help them make informed decisions and not get carried away by sugar coated pills, ending up in something like the recent notorious mortgage crisis of US, the consequences of which rocked the entire world.

In my opinion, the final 2 years of all streams of under-graduate studies MUST have one subject on financial literacy. A medical practitioner has no need to know the internals of a microprocessor so does a civil engineer does not need to know the chemical composition of the liquid fuels used in a ballistic missile, but all of them being active participants of the economy MUST be equipped with the knowledge of economics.