Sunday, 10 October 2010

MK Gandhi and IF-THEN-ELSE clause

A few people seem to have misunderstood the phrase pseudo-intellect that I have used in my post Saint from Sabarmati. Also, I came to know about a few reasons for not “fully respecting” Gandhi. Hence I wrote this post.

The phrase 'pseudo-intellect' does not apply to all those who hold a negative opinion about Gandhi. I have applied it only those who take the extreme view of justifying murder of Gandhi.

Many things have happened during the heat of post-independence months. Perhaps people saw Gandhi as a mere tool to get the independence - and - not to formulate free India. Perhaps once India was free, a few were strong enough to push their own agenda and Gandhi was sidelined - being unable to influence this new lot of "awakened" followers of his. Wasn't Gandhi almost alone in his ashram when India was being shaped up - as if he became irrelevant suddenly? Other seemed to behave like a shop keeper whose attitude towards you changed as soon as you paid for the item. 

It is also said that Gandhi, given his calibre, should have got us a better India! Can we define what it is? On one hand we say that he is not a factor in getting us independence and he isn't that great. And, on the other hand, we say that he should have gotten us a better India given his calibre! Aren't we contradicting ourselves? 

Some people say that Gandhi should have predicted the Jawaharlal-Indira-Rajiv-Sonia-Rahul power-train of leaders and the adverse impact of the same on India. Isn't it a bit too much to expect?

Other point against Gandhi is that he should have made Patel the Prime Minister rather than Nehru. Patel was the Deputy Prime Minister and did play a key role in shaping India till his death. Perhaps he had a chance in the first general elections of succeeding Nehru and may be Nehru would have looked at a career at a different level. But Patel passed away in 1950. How is that not a significant factor? Who knows what could have become had Patel been alive! And let's assume that Gandhi had "made" Patel the PM and Nehru something else. Would that have forever stopped Nehru from becoming PM of India and build his dynasty? To formulate an opinion, we must take into account all other possibilities too - not just those that we like. An integrated view helps to formulate a justifiable opinion. Since we are not dealing with manufacturing and engineering, we cannot draw a straight line - linking cause and effect - between Gandhi making Nehru PM - and - Nehru building his dynasty. 

Charisma plays a big role (not the one from RK family) in choosing a leader. Nehru was more "attractive" compared to others. Look around in your own workplaces - for how are the leaders chosen and people promoted? Based on their true merit? Do you blame the company's founder for what is happening in reality - all within established legal frameworks?

We cannot blame Gandhi for not building the nation "properly" because

  1. It is we who named him as the "father of the nation" and it is we who have failed over the 60 years to properly govern ourselves. It is Nehru's strength that made him to stick to power. If other elected people did not have strong personalities to shake up the Nehru dynasty, how is Gandhi responsible for that? It is like crying "Oh shoot - I cannot take Ricky Ponting's wicket in this test match. I blame Bradman for this situation". 
  2. We didn't give Gandhi a chance to influence Indian policies and Governance because we killed him at the earliest. It took him several decades to build up crowds behind him. Isn't it fair to give him 3 to 5 years to shape up India?

If Gandhi had lived beyond 1950s and failed to influence Indian Governance, then yes, let’s blame him. But, expecting Gandhi to play a vital part in getting independence and then to get everything right during the hot days of post-independence is too much in my view.

My question is this: Hasn't Gandhi done enough to command our respect? Can't we say "Sirjee you are wonderful. I bow my head in respect. Thank you for what you have done." Heck! We say such things to Tendulkars and Khans of Mumbai! But poor Gandhi has to pass through several IF-THEN-ELSE structures, SELECT-CASE clauses and look right (even after 60 years and two generations) against all labels that we give him! He has to get thousands of other parameters correct before we could say - yes - he is great!

IF-THEN-ELSE or SELCT-CASE predicates are not needed for Gandhi bashing. The logic is smooth and direct. Some examples

  • Want to name the class where the poor sit - be it a movie or a train? Call it Gandhi Class.
  • Need to make fun of someone who plays things by the book? Sarcastically call him Gandhi. Get the angle of your hand right when you point him in the face.
  • Need a solution for a problem that we were unable fix in the last sixty years? Don't hesitate, blame it on Gandhi whom we killed 58 years ago.
  • Looking for a reason to express frustration against the reservation system of India? You are right - It is Gandhi again - because it was he who called the untouchables as Harijans out of love in the first place. Wasn't he?
  • Can't get a girlfriend? Stoop low - make fun of Gandhi who had had his arms around two young women while he walked to prayer meetings! (Yes - I had the misfortune of hearing this logic from an educated crack who was also a team leader!)
I accept – there were things that Gandhi wasn’t equipped or able to do during his days. That doesn’t bother me much. What bothers me is that we are “not hesitating” to circulate Godse glorifying articles on October 2nd and seem to look for reasons to put down Gandhi. The fact that we have sunk this low is more relevant for us now, than what Gandhi did or did not do sixty years ago.

Don’t you think so?

[PS: IF you don't know what IF-THEN-ELSE or SELECT-CASE clauses are THEN catch hold of a passing-by geek and ask ELSE ignore them and SELECT the easier CASE of assuming them to represent a few obstacles]

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

"Show of Hands" in Saatchi ShowDown

Show Of Hands
Just to see public reaction to my painting "Show of Hands", I have entereted the ShowDown competition held by Saatchi Gallery in London.

The competition is held weekly. 24 paintings are chosen from 12 rounds of competition. Ultimately, 2 are selected for display in the famous Saatchi gallery in London.

Right now, "Show of Hands" has gathered 345 public votes with an average score of 8.23 out of 10. If you are interested in voting, please click on this link and rate the painting on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest.

Voting ends at 9 AM GMT on October 11th

There are loads of other super paintings from thousands of other folks. Enjoy them too.

No registration is required for voting.

Monday, 4 October 2010

India: Beyond Bhangra and The Taj Mahal

Nearly twenty four hours after India’s unprecedented extravaganza at the Nehru Stadium, the British media seems to be still sitting on the fence about the CWG Opening Ceremony. As usual, there is a great restraint on giving credit where it is due for anything non-British. Well, aren’t they predictable? Give them a long shot view on of athletes running 800m race, they can still pick up passion and determination in the eyes of the British athlete even on a black and white TV! Give them Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games inauguration ceremony, all they can mumble is the word fantastic and nothing else. They see that every appreciation has a qualifier from the past. Wait for a few more days: India’s child Table prodigy becomes a case study for child abuse and that cute girl with folded hands getting taught under a Bodhi tree becomes a symbol of suppression of the women in India right from tender ages. Allow a fortnight, extraordinary patience of Delhi-ites on the day of the opening ceremony comes up as an evidence of punishing the poor for the flamboyance of the rich. Perhaps the Chinese were fed up with all these – hence invented this quote – The eye sees what it wants to see.

So, what did my eyes see?

Overall, I saw a different India, a confident India, colourful India, young India, powerful India and a committed India. But I also saw the typical India. (Do I sound British when I write it?)

Out of all those things I managed to notice, I have quoted a few below:

  • Strikingly The Taj Mahal and Bhangra dance were downplayed. The unmistakable symbols of India were kept aside to allow everything else to come forward. This is a very good move. I was fed up with Taj Mahal and Bhangra dominating anything related to India. I have no disrespect for either or both of these. I am sure that Taj Mahal and Bhangra are equally relieved to be cast aside. 

  • I saw South, North East and East India getting ample opportunity to showcase their culture. Though Birju Maharaj et al choreographed flamboyant dance routine, several dance routines started off with a South Indian theme. Weren’t they? Is this some evidence for existence of Positive Kalmadi Effect

  • The Helium Balloon and a flawless technical display affirmed India’s technology skills.

  • Serious number of people have freaked out on concepts, ideas, lighting and the choice of colours. I think this time, creative people were let go off the leash or bond or whatever that used to hold them back so far.

  • Whoever did the arena lighting during the cultural show – he/she/they know really what they are supposed to know about lighting. 

  • Some LED manufacturing company saw its LED sales sky rocket! What! LED headbands? And LED stuck Sitars?

  • During Yoga with Smile, none of the performers seemed to hurry back to the starting position from complicated final positions. Of course, I would have uncoiled myself so fast from Tholaasana, Mithunaasana etc., that I would’ve snapped a few more ligaments and tendons in no time!

  • The Wire Buddha with Seven Chakras – man, you too seemed draw the same, if not more, crowd as the original Buddha! How is this wire frame Buddha appeared so peaceful?

  • Gas Cylinder cycle rickshaw fellow has made me very jealous now. I want to ride one of them at the earliest.

  • Just when I was about to say “Okay here is the last item - Thank God - there weren’t any hip shaking women in any of the routines” – behold! Two such women appeared on either side of A. R. Rahman!

  • Last hundred steps of the torch relay witnessed chaos when Indian team members crowded and almost fell on torch bearer himself, who shamelessly was chewing gum – Isn’t it typical?

  • If such a show had taken place here in England, we would have given the performers a well deserved standing ovation clapping continuously for about 5 minutes.


    • many grown-ups were sitting tight lipped – as if convey – I am Deshmogle – Assistant Deputy Chief Municipality Civil Engineering Executive. Respect me for that – not only in my office – but also at home – and also here – even after I retire or under suspension. The young crowd didn’t bother – they clapped, danced, shouted and whistled.

    • many (so called) dignitaries were checking their wrist-watch as if they need to go home and cook dinner for the family of twenty – including Camilla.

    • many had faces with lips drawn to form the inverted alphabet ‘U’

    • many were drumming fingers of one hand on the palm of the other instead of clapping. That doesn’t qualify for a clap perhaps for an insult.

After reading this, I am sure that at least one third of the crowd would ask me “Yeah, the show was nice, but what did you expect me to do? Dance on my foot?

Well, erm, yes, why not? Couldn’t you have at least stood up, corrected that inverted U formation on your lips and clapped louder than you actually could talk? At least this time, they deserved it.

We still need to learn about appreciating others in an unmistakable, open, visible manner. It is quite important.

  • Kalmadi, during his speech, said what others should have said after eleven days. It is not upto him (of all the people) to say that India Has Delivered – that too during the opening ceremony.

  • I am sure that some organisers were checking whether a trap door exists under Kalmadi’s foot where he stood delivering his speech. And if so, how soon can it be operated. And if not, how come they missed building one? I think that the trap door will be ready by the closing ceremony.

  • On this “India has delivered” expression – isn’t it too early to say so? What we should have said was “Welcome to India. We have put together this show for you. Please enjoy”. That’s it. That would’ve caused an effect somewhat closer to showing the other cheek for which we stand for.

Besides, we still have two other major hurdles to cross – doping scandals and security incidents.

  • Bangladesh and Pakistan received cheers from the crowd. But why didn’t Sri Lanka?

  • Elephant was missing. They should’ve brought an elephant or a tiger. Okay, asking for a tiger is a little too much. But, elephant? On second thoughts, may be it wasn’t a good idea. It might have caused some trouble for the elephant as there were sixty thousand people in the stadium.

There you go! My two cents on CWG Opening Ceremony. I would like to conclude saying that the mood is indeed upbeat. Not only that – take note – the stakes have gone up for the Closing Ceremony!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Saint of Sabarmati

It is October 2nd and that time of the year to remember the great soul who sculpted India - M. K. Gandhi. Our awareness of, love for, pride about Gandhi peak today. Politicians spend endless time talking about Gandhi. Typically, the innocent children of Primary School and not-so-innocent of the High School end up as victims of long, non-coherent speech about the Mahatma - rendered by people, more often than not, having least respect for the great soul.

We listen to Asha Bhonsle's song - Sabarmati Ke Sant, watch black and white fast moving silent video clippings of the Mahatma, crib for the fact that October 2nd "fell" on a Saturday which means "loss" of one public holiday. Old generations pick of Khadi at some 60% discount, at least a handful of the young ladies consider stitching a chudidhar out of Khadi. Non vegetarians and connoisseurs of interesting multi-coloured liquids (aka alcohol) postpone their feasts and parties - not out of respect but perhaps due to the non-availability of the desired stock.

Intellectuals speak about the influence of Gandhi on the global politics, whether it was a bad idea not to award Nobel Peace Prize for Gandhi, some go a bit deep and compare and contract Churchill and Gandhi. Pseudo intellects think that Godse did the right thing and circulate his last speech, stories about how the judge cried while sentencing Godse. Some channels are likely to show excerpts from the epic movie Gandhi or Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Had she watched either of them, my granny would’ve complained saying ‘Gandhi wasn’t that fat’ 

What do I do? The usual, the one thing that I am good at. I rant. I would like to scream "Godse: You are not my hero. Now Get Off!" 

Let's see – The Indian Embassy in London has not yet posted anything about Gandhi on its website. Under “What is New” section, we still see Cameron’s visit to India followed by Commonwealth [CommonFilth] Games. Right side of the header has a picture of Gandhi’s statue at Tavistock Square – London – but it isn’t a hyperlink to anything. 

There are no major press releases on any of the newspapers. Or have I missed them? That’s really odd. There was one last year from The Indian High Commission in London.

Chalo – let’s forgive them. It’s a weekend. Perhaps people are busy taking care of their weak ends.

About Tavistock Square
For those of you who don’t know, there is sculpture of Gandhi in Tavistock Square - Central London. It is in between Russell Square and Euston tube stations. It is very close to my office in London. Sometimes, if the weather is nice, I walk along Tavistock Square resting for a while in the Peace Park – where Gandhi’s statue is located.

The sculpture is generously big. And quite detailed. Wikimedia has its best photo. It was made by the British sculptor Fredda Brilliant and was erected in 1968. 

When London was under attack in 2005, a bomb went off at Tavistock Square –very close to this statue. Thirteen people died as a double-decker was blown off. The sculpture and the serenity have survived since then. Isn’t it ironical? I think that it was meant to be that way.

Yet another Statue of Gandhi in Parliament Square
In 2007, Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone said that he would like to see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the parliament square. He had very nice words to say about Gandhi. He said that “.... Gandhi’s achievement must be enshrined...” What a nice word – enshrined! He also said something to the effect that “... the millions who come to see Big Ben, Churchill’s statue would still know Mahatma Gandhi, even after thousand years. Whereas if you wander round Trafalgar Square and see the two generals there, you have to go and check the history books...”

I hope that that his idea is still on track and quite soon we will have yet another statue of Gandhi where it matters the most.

Gandhi’s London
Just when I was about to conclude that I must see London from Gandhi’s perspective, I found about – Gandhi’s London: A two hour’s guided walking tour of London sights associated with Gandhi. Check it out here:

I would love to translate this book to Kannada: Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age. I will keep you posted on this effort.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Hima Sundari and NRI apathy!

73 year old legend performs Kathakali for 90 continuous days to entertain us. But we are so busy that we can't spend two hours to watch and 2 minutes to say 'Thank you Ashan?
Oh man, what a shame!

Today, we drove to Bridgwater (around 40 miles from Bristol) to watch yet another Kathakali performance by Padmashree Kalamandalam Gopi Ashan and his team. Today's show was called Hima Sundari. As the name suggests, it was an Indian adoption of Snow White. The show featured the lovely peacock which wasn't able to appear in Bristol due to limited green room space. School kids danced with the peacock that went close to the audience and received not only a few laughs and Namaskarams but also a few weird looks and sheepish smiles. The story was culturally apt for the largely British (non Indian) crowd. We were hoping to watch a performance based on a Hindu mythology. We believe that such traditional stories give more room for the performers to express themselves. Ashan's performance, especially in the last act, was very touching. Today he was not feeling well. But there wasn't a trace of his illness on stage! It is very clear who amongst us is young - both physically and mentally.

There were around 80 people, but just around 6 Indians (four of us + another Indian lady and her child) and only one Malayali (one and only Uday). And it was a free show!! Hasn't comedians joked enough about Indians flocking to free shows? What happened today?
We met Barbara, Vijay and Ashan himself and picked up a few memorabilia.

And what a night it was! Thanks to Rama - who had cooked a nice, hot and spicy pongal.

Perhaps Pongal was a fitting response to today's wet, windy and chilly weather. But is there one for NRI apathy towards the legend that has come to our doorstep?

Monday, 27 September 2010

Amazing Kathakali Performance

Today we watched a truly scintillating performance of Kathakali. It was a show conducted by Kala Chethana - a company that is trying hard to sustain the art of Kathakali. More can be learnt about them from their website

The show featured Padmashree Kalamandalam Gopi - the legend. The performance was amazingly graceful and dignified. The whole stage was lit up by flamboyant colours!

The performance was about "Daksha Yaaga". Some of us have studied it as part of our Sanskrit course conducted by Sringeri Sura Saraswathi Sabha. Daksha and his wife find an abandoned child, name it Sathi (aka Daakshaayani) and raise it. Later on Sathi marries Shiva himself! But, Shiva, perhaps worried about the delayed start to his honeymoon, leaves the wedding hall without formally informing Daksha. Obviously Daksha is offended. He rethinks about the wedding and concludes that it was probably not a good match - with Shiva being rude, care-of-cemetery etc. So he conducts a Yaaga (probably to vent out his anger) and doesn't invite Shiva and Sathi. Having found out about the Yaaga, Sathi aspires to attend the same. But Shiva predicts Daksha's angry reaction and suggests Sathi to avoid the visit. But Sathi goes anyway! No surprise there.

Then Shiva's cribs! I liked this part where Shiva shares his frustrations with the audience. He seemed to say "And she went. Did she listen to me, Oh no! I wasted so much energy trying to drive some sense into her! And guess who will return crying!"

Exactly as guessed by Shiva, Sathi returns insulted by Daksha, of course crying. As per original story, two daemons - Veerabhadra and Rudrakaali are born out of Sathi's tears. In this show also, Shiva summons these two, who behead Daksha on Shiva's order. Post beheading, perhaps on Sathi's request, Daksha is granted life, and, just for fun perhaps, a goat's head! After a dancing plea by the goat headed Daksha, Shiva restores Daksha's glory - I think. But in this performance, Shiva just watched goat headed Daksha's dance performance and responded with his own dance routine! And left it there. Poor goat headed Daksha simply stood with his hands folded - till the last moment - until we all finished applauding and picked our coats to leave!

Truly it was an evocative, powerful and a spiritual experience. There was no language barrier as the story was well introduced by Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar before the beginning of the show. A lot is communicated through Mudras (gestures). Kalamandalam Vijayakumar’s performance as Daksha's wife and Sathi was equally superb! Drummers took us to a totally different world. It is difficult to say what raised the pulse of the audience - was it the drum beat or the Kathakali moves. Drum beats matched the mood of the moment and artists' movements matched drum beats. Entire performance was woven into a cohesive story by the two Bhagavathars - whose voices were so nice!

After the show, we had the privilege of venturing into the backstage to say hello to the legendary performers. They were quite friendly and very approachable. We learnt a bit more about Kala Chethana, Vijayakumar, his team and their teamwork in packing and unpacking seemingly endless bits of small and big items - all colourful. We also learnt that Barbara is the world's only female Kathakali Chutti (make up artiste) By the way, Barbara speaks Malayalam quite fluently!

Just think about it. The team arrives at the location, with an unbelievable variety (and quantity) of dress materials and an idea of a story matching the audience profile. They unpack into narrow dressing rooms - which could be spread across several floors. They make last minute adjustments to characters depending on physical space available to put on the make up. (For example: They wanted to bring on a peacock to the stage but there was no space in the green room to make a peacock) Then they get ready - patiently answering those who have decided to attend pre-show workshop. Then on they get into the act and perform flawlessly! Then off to remove the make up, pack-up, sign-off - all these while meeting curious people like us backstage! And the whole story repeats in another UK city or town just a few miles away and 24 hours apart. The whole thing runs as per Barbara's orchestration of her 18 months plan for a tough and demanding 3 months.

And how many Indians attend their events? Less than 20. And how many of them meet the performers to say Thanks! May be 12. Shocked? Yes, we too were. There is no shortage of Malayalis in and around Bristol. There could be around 500 Malayali families in about 50 mile radius - as per some of my friends that number is 2000. For Jayaram Show held in May/June – Colston Hall was packed. People had arrived in bus loads from nearby places. I don't remember seeing so many well dressed Indians at one place since then. People flocked to Mohan Lal’s show in similar numbers if not in similar fashion. Both events charged a hefty entry fee (30£ and 50£ I think) compared to this Kathakali show – whose gate fee was just 13£ - including free pre-event workshop. And, we got subsidised tickets!

Backstage, Vijayakumar and Barbara shared their experience with attracting more Indians to their events. On the way home, we were wondering about NRI apathy towards our own culture; people's choice to ignore hat too performed by legends!

It is still not too late. Kala Chethana will be touring UK till November end – conducting almost daily shows. The schedule is available here:

If you are based in the UK, I urge you to go and watch this show. It will be a feast for your senses.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

“Your Child Looks Alright to me”

Typically above sentence should put parents at ease, especially when they hear it from A&E (Accident and Emergency) staff of a hospital, but, not us. We dread this sentence, thanks to few of our experiences with UK hospitals. To us, it looks like that our child will not get the attention his conditions demand.

Desi people (we Indians livings abroad call ourselves as Desis – pronounced as “They See”) have one common belief about UK. This is a great country to live and work in, as long as you don’t fall ill or nothing untoward happens to you or your family. Whenever someone in our family has sought urgent medical attention, we have faced a wall of incompetence – the local nurse or front end of NHS emergency services.

Three days ago, my son caught a nasty tummy bug and started vomiting. We started typical home remedies – 24 hours passed, there was no let up, 48 hours passed, and we cancelled our trip abroad and took extra care – but no letup. Today, when he couldn’t even retain plain water and almost collapsed on the floor, we panicked and rushed to Accident and Emergency and faced the wall of incompetence – yet again.

We were appalled by the insensitive responses given out by A&E staff in the name of opening conversation. While describing the past events we said “He hasn’t been able to retain any food or water from past 72 hours”. Any sensitive person would have said “Oh! Dear. Is that so?” But came a blunt reply “One can live for 45 days without food and water!” Followed by “Your child looks alright to me – go home and keep him hydrated”.

This begs a question – how should a sick child appear in order to get attention? We understand the sad state of NHS and lack of skilled labour in UK. Hence, we were not expecting a competent doctor to come running to see our sick child – although it is a fair expectation from A&E. But is a little empathy too much to ask, especially when one couldn’t help?

We then went to central children’s hospital – blaming ourselves as to why we preferred local A&E instead of far-off children’s hospital. We got a better response there. The nurse just “interviewed” us but started oral rehydration immediately. A doctor saw us just after 90 minutes (which is great by NHS standards), urine sample was tested and after nearly 3 hours we returned home with some hope of recovery.

In another past incident, we had to call up the local NHS surgery after my son developed an allergic reaction – like skin rashes – to an over the counter fever syrup. The nurse declared – over the phone – that it is chickenpox. She said “Don’t bring the child to the hospital. Come and collect the medicine when nobody is there at the hospital”. Now, how would you guess by when nobody will be there at the hospital? If nobody will be there at the hospital, who would then give the medicine to us? I think when they hear our accent, they probably assume that we have landed from a horrible country full of disease and famine. Sick Indian child with skin rashes, it is chickenpox then, easy peasy stereotype. Luckily, an Indian origin GP – a friend of a friend– helped us by diagnosing the condition correctly.

One case happened to me. I developed a severe, sudden, unprecedented ankle pain at 2 AM in the morning. It was the worst pain I had ever faced. We dialled 999 – the emergency number – they refused to come and see me as the case was not “life threatening”. They advised us to go to local A&E. That was understandable. We were preparing to ask a friend to drive us down to local A&E. But then came the phone call that tested my physical and mental stamina. It was from NHS Nurse – just to help me. She asked about my name, religion, of course ethnic background and went onto more and more complicated medical questions. My patience evaporated when we she asked, perhaps 14th question in her list, “Would you describe that the pain is due to a muscle pull?” At that time I didn’t know that it was actually tear/irritation of the Achilles tendon – very similar to the one which made David Beckham miss the World Cup. I replied in negative and tried to describe the nature of the pain, affected areas, the burning sensation etc. But, the nurse interrupted me and came back to the same question at least thrice “let me ask you again Mr. Pandit, would you describe that the pain is due to a muscle pull?” I asked her how should the “muscle pull” supposed to pain like. For which she said annoyingly “I don’t know I am not the one in pain.” Then I enquired as politely as possible that why she doesn’t then note down the answer and the pain “as described by the one in pain”? She didn’t seem to get my point; she simply reminded me that she was only trying to help me out. Help me? How? By not sending a paramedic and delaying my visit to local A&E? Coaxing me to declare that it was a muscle-pull when nobody knew what it actually was? Running through a checklist probably longer and more complicated than the one used to prepare an airplane for take-off?

I dread such emergencies – each time it happens to us I get caught up in a triangle of forces – the first force due to the physical pain or problem on hand; the second force induced by the frustration for having to deal with the NHS front end and the third force is the one from guilt – for consciously choosing to be in this situation.

Then comes the morning ... pain subsides, son smiles, we put all these behind ... until next time.

Isn’t that life? Or is it?

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How Does India Innovate?

This question came to my mind soon after I posted my experience with Digital Britain Testbed in my professional blog. Read it here: 

Innovation in India is individual based or company based, it seems. Well, it is true elsewhere as well. An idea strikes one individual, he/she risks almost-everything in his/her life to “make it” happen. There are numerous examples to quote. Similarly a business organization innovates. For example: Tata producing Nano.

There are several obstacles to innovation in India. The key question is “how far does an idea go?” Typical Indian response would be “well ... it is upto the individual. If he/she has the will and determination, it will go all the way. Look at NRN, look at Captain Gopinath, look at ... the list goes on”. Now ask a follow-up question: “Whose responsibility it is to drive innovation?” You will get multiple answers – ranging from “self” to “Government”. But I am sure that one answer will not come – “society” - does it even exist in India? I don’t even want to use the word “community” as it takes a whole new meaning in India.

I am not saying that there is no innovation in India. There are so many - in all possible areas – space, banking, services, agriculture etc. Innovation exists at all levels – homes, towns, villages and cities. They get publicised in magazines like Sudha, Taranga etc. I have seen so many. I go to Krishi Mela every year in Bangalore – to look at animals, agricultural vehicles and food products. I have seen so many new tools, methods, processes developed by enlightened villagers. Krishi Mela is one such vehicle to showcase innovation.

I believe that innovation needs to be facilitated. It is a team work. There should be a single window which is known to everybody, easy to approach, helpful, accommodative and encouraging. Going by the current trends, I know that someone immediately would suggest an online website to log your idea and wait for someone to help you take it forward. But it should be more personal than that. Someone should warmly welcome the innovator “Oh, you have an idea? Come in, have a seat, here is coffee, now tell me about it, let’s see how we can take it forward.”

Will the innovator open up in such a facility? This is the next question. He/she is afraid that the idea might get stolen! I remember my own case – not of a commercial innovation – but a linguistic innovation. Back in 1987 or 88, there was a competition for traffic slogans. I submitted my slogan “Speed Thrills but Kills” to the RTO. Today you see the slogan everywhere, I didn’t get acknowledged. Well. 

I am not the only one concerned about current state of innovation in India. Read this article In India, Anxiety Over the Slow Pace of Innovation. Also read this piece India’s Innovation Gap.

My experience with UK’s TSB (Technology Strategy Board) got me thinking. Here in UK, Government’s Technology Strategy is published. TSB holds competitions awarding money to innovative ideas. A test-bed is available for you to try out your ideas. An idea could go a long way here in UK. Is it better than USA, Germany and Israel? I don’t know. How well non-technical ideas addressed in UK? I will find out and let you know, if you ask me.

We, in India, have NIF – National Innovation Forum supporting Grass-Root innovation. Looks like a Government body. I couldn’t open its homepage either from my laptop or from my Iphone. From search engines I see that they seem to have something called Innovations Database. Will this body setup approachable means to Indian innovators?

I also found one more link – Innovative India. I realized that it is an IT service provider who got lucky with the URL.

I know that some of you might tell me that recently Narayan Murthy has sold his shares in Infosys to setup a venture capital firm. Will he take the line of UK’s Technology Strategy Board – announcing competitions to hand over seed capital? Or take the NIF route to promote grass root innovation? Or would he become yet another venture capitalist? It is interesting to see.

Keep me posted if you find out something in this area.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The White Tiger

I read this novel last week. It is a debut novel of Aravind Adiga, published in 2008 in both US and UK by Freedom Press and Atlantic Books respectively. It is really what it says on its cover - completely bald, angry, unadorned portrait of India, as seen from the bottom of the heap ... (quoting Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times). I usually am not a fan of books published by western publishers on India - especially written by Indians. They normally depict India in a very bad manner. "Bash India" series of books seem to be particularly attractive to the western press. Look what happened to "Slumdog Millionaire" - that's the India which appeals to a Western mind, probably.

I read the novel with this bias and I realized my mistake. I realized why this book was awarded the Booker Prize in 2008. This novel is a brilliant page turner, full of anger and dark humour, an epic battle of loyalty to master, dedication to family and a strong desire to be someone. What ultimately wins is clear in the beginning chapters itself - but how it all happens is what compels you to read the novel.

I won't spill the beans, but try to tell you what it is all about. Okay here I go:

The novel is a story of a gecko fearing village boy transforming into an entrepreneur White Tiger who "drives IT forward". Between these two end points lies a tight, crisp narration of the transformation as dictated to the visiting premier of China. The transformation lifts Balram Halwai from the north Indian village darkness into entrepreneurial lime light of Bangalore. It happens, thanks to someone else's money, hard work and dedication - an overall urge to break out of the "Rooster coop" and "make it". Of course, Balram was never seeking glory but only breaking away from the darkness. It sounds a like an ideal plot for the next Hindi movie. I can imagine my friend Santo sketching it in his mind. But it is not.

Author surprises you with his accuracy and keen observation. Some of the themes are continuously sustained - for example - making of the rich, anger of the deprived and craving of the rich. Though guilty of a heinous act, the hero remains tender. The balance between these two is well achieved in the novel.

Vijay - the uniform clad local bus conductor evokes dreams of success in the young Balram. Despite granny Kusum's iron grip on everyone's life, Balram learns driving, acquires his employment as a driver through drama and moves to the position of the head servant by exploiting an important find. Then begins Balram's transformation from darkness to, could I say, light. Also well-narrated is the opposite journey of a sensible man, Balram's master. Initially Balram seems to be happy with his short term goals of emulating his master. But one incident which invites Balram to be part of his master's family and the way "they" corrupt his good master accelerates the breakaway - and ultimately Balram snaps. His ability to spot opportunity and lessons from his own life helps Balram to complete his transformation in a somewhat positive way. Yet, his sense of servitude doesn’t seem to go away as he is still willing to massage the lotus feet of his master and visiting premiers.

The novel employs some of the concepts which are fairly known to its readers - at least the Indians. For example: corruption, village education system, election disease, honour amongst the themes to name a few. But, there are new ones such as hierarchy amongst servants, "side-business" opportunities for the employed, cravings of the rich etc. The vivid descriptions in the novel made me to close the book in shame only compel me to reopen. To my horror, I could relate to some of the thoughts expressed in the book. May be, there is a part of Balram in each of us.

Iqbal, Ghalib and Rumi are referred here and there. Some of the things stick in your mind from this book - whether it is said by Aravind - the author or the Muslim poet. Here is one teaser for you: “... the moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave ...”

And one more:

You were looking for the key for years

But the door was always open!

Well done Aravind, kudos.

Viva Barcelona!

Viva Barcelona - I am not the first one to cry so. But I am happy to join Barcelona lovers club, if there is one.

I visited Barcelona with my family (wife Rama and son Siddharth) and we fell in love with the city for multiple reasons – the atmosphere, space, variety, grid-based- architecture, bold-unique-modernistic public arts, multiple transport options, sun, sand and the sea.

Space: First thing that strikes any visitor, especially those from crowded cities like Bangalore and London, is the space. You feel relaxed and enjoy higher per capita air.

Whole city is designed on the concept of horizontal and vertical roads creating a near perfect matrix. Roads are quite wide. Even the “side road” has 2 lanes. Pedestrian and cycle paths are more than respectable.

Order and Simplicity: There are only a handful of circles or round-abouts – so, less confusion. And to make matters further simple, there is only one diagonal road cutting across whole the city with motorway at one end and the sea at the other – aptly named, you guessed it right, “the diagonal”.

A noteworthy point of this “Diagonal” is that it is home not only for a large number of commercial establishments but also for innumerable parakeets.
Sadly, all these order dissipate into a canvas of chaos when you see the city from either of the hills and from atop high raised structures. The sight reminds me of some areas of Bangalore with fewer trees.

Variety: Barcelona has a variety to give you. It is not just one city – it is a whole package deal. Two hills, warm beaches, take-life-easy type of metro, cycle friendly roads, many museums, gardens, environment friendly smart-trams, two cable cars, funicular rails, Olympic village with a surprisingly small stadium, impressive port of call for luxury cruise liners and so on.

Like in India, shops stay open longer – upto 10 or 11 PM. There are loads of huge shopping malls. And many small Bangalore-shop like outlets for small scale buyers. Pace of life seem to be slow, but, people talk so fast – makes you wonder why! May be they want to finish all possible conversations quickly so that they can get back to relaxing.

Art: Then there is art. I don’t mean the “gallery” type of arts. It is there in rich form too. But I am referring to public art. You know – buildings and metal or concrete thingummies that occupy intersection of major roads and square open spaces. I saw strange designs – tetris kind of objects, Olympic rings that seem to have buried half into the ground, humanoid metallic beast, Mobius strip kind of shapes that warp and bend effortlessly. And there are fountains – lots of them. That too in working order! Not like a few we have in Bangalore that works, well, on hard-to-guess schedules. 

To me, the Barcelona public art and design looks like an “expression” of the city. It seems to say “Yes – I am young and modern. I am interesting and occasionally weird. I have it all. Love me for what I am.” One can see clash of cultures, mix of methods, controlled chaos in these works of art.

Tributes: The city pays tribute to its famous residents as artistically as possible through impressive museums, statues. Some of the famous residents include Рceramic and stain glass designer Antonio Gaudi whose creations are all over the place (La Pedrera, Sagrada Familia etc.), the great artist Pablo Picasso, one of the three tenors Jos̩ Carreras, cellist Pablo Casals (listen to this impressive piece of music РSong of the birds), former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch (I was stunned to see the accolades he received as IOC president Рnow hosted in Olympic museum) and Barcelona Football club founder Joan Gamper.

Even few visitors are honoured. For example, there is a statue of Christopher Columbus on a tall column. Though he is pointing in the wrong direction of the “new world” – America, the lions at the base of his statue are proud nevertheless!


My vote for “My favourite city so far” still goes to London. But now – Barcelona is emerging as a serious challenger. I appreciate London for its leafy suburbs, culture and “predictable” metro. I almost went crazy as Barcelona metro didn’t tell me when is the next train due. May be I was looking at the wrong display or one must be a bit Spanish to ignore it.

Like life, everything was not hunky-dory during our visit. There seem to be innumerable places to eat and drink. But, vegetarians and vegans are likely to have a tough time. Our options were pastries, breads, buns, fruits and vegetables, edible cardboard (aka pizza), expensive Indian restaurants or potato based junk such as “Patatas Bravas” or “Fritas”. Confident vegetarians try vegetarian versions of Tapas and Paellas but vegans – beware. Overall, it is an expensive place. I was wondering at the price of ordinary things such as Patatas-Bravas (3 to 4.5€ per plate of 10-14 potato wedges). For a change, McDonalds felt cheaper than road-side shops!

I would go to Barcelona again and I recommend it to you too. Watch out for the 2010 European Athletic Championships at Barcelona.

Just before leaving, I couldn’t help noticing a sign of frustration of a Barcelonan with tourists!

Equating a tourist to a terrorist is a wee bit too much. But it is okay, we are thick skinned. I say, neat handwriting and a good choice of colours!

Few more Pictures

City Features:
On Road and Off-Road beauty

Cute Cycles for hire

Long Walk to Freedom

Keep it straight son

Multi Road Intersection

Early 19th century road lamp

Olympic Ring based public art?

Less-clutter roundabout

A circle

Son, Sun and Sand

Beach side piazza?

A part of 4 km beach

The Port

Copying Dubai?

Sea for yourself

World Trade Centre

Especially expensive boats need covering up

Old Port - can you see my boat? It is the second one from left on the third row

Landmarks and Buildings:
Arc-de-Triumf - hardly crowded

Completing Gaudi’s unfinished project – Sagrada Familia

Europe’s Largest Football Stadium – FC Barcelona – can seat 100,000 people

Crucifixion – Sagrada Familia

1992 Olympics:
Barcelona Olympic Gold Medal

Silver Medal

Bronze Medal

Few Oddities

Reverse Auto - you can hire it and drive it yourself

Are they AA Batteries or LR6?
Maroon colored building?

Cars “downloaded” and ready for delivery – is one car missing in the grid?

Snow Peaked Mountain close to Barcelona?

No leaves, only fruits

Amma Tower, Paapa Tower and the yellow post box

Where is the God in this mess?

Reference to Bangalore:

A road in Malleswaram?

A new layout in Bangalore?