Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Friday, August 26, 2005

Sarabjit Singh case

The Daily Times, Pakistan reports on the RAW spy who is facing a death sentence.
Pakistan on Friday allowed consular access to Sarabjit Singh, facing execution in Pakistan for spying for India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and involvement in several bombings.

“The Government of Pakistan has intimated us that it has allowed consular access to Sarabjit Singh. The permission is for the Indian High Commission officials to meet Sarabjit Singh,” Indian Press Counsellor Dr Ramesh Chandra told Daily Times.
Dalibr Kaur, sister of Sarabjit Singh appealing to the Wagah border guards. Also see 1, 2

The catch up game

Sad to see Instapundit become a biased hack. While he writes reasonably well on social issues, his foreign policy stuff is sadly ignorant. I liked Chapati Mystery's excellent take on David Brooks' column. [a must read] He hit the nail on the head, and identified the problem that afflicts the far-right, Instapundit included. Note how a vast majority of the "good news from Iraq" is always by Americans (including the armed forces) and hardly by Iraqi bloggers.

Andrew Sullivan is much more smart. He has done a nice CYA job on both sides of the aisle and takes pot shots which are relatively safe. For instance, Abu Ghraib (everyone condemns it), Maureen Dowd (easy target for anyone but, the far left), Rick Santorum (easy target for anyone but, the far right) and so on.

All this means is that you end up reading more and more sources to give you a balanced view. For example, I read many more American and Iraqi blogs to get a better perspective on the stories behind the framing of the awful Constitution. And as these blogs become mainstream they in turn become easy prey to partisan viewpoints.

Then you have to begin the process all over again.

We castigate MSM, but we forget that MSB (Mainstream Blogs) often have agenda that are more partisan. In other words, for readers of blogs, it becomes a catch-up game - identify the sources which seem authentic, balance it out with other sources but keep moving. Reliable sources become less reliable when they begin to get credibility from many bloggers.

It is tiring and time consuming. Quite Rashomon like.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Souad Massi - stunning singer

Tip from Salam Pax's blog about a hot - in all senses of the term - Algerian born Arabic singer, now residing in France. He has linked to an mp3. She is very good.

Her website is here.

How many children does it take? draw attention to, something that Mumbai bloggers, seem to have surprisingly missed.

The Maharashtra government has for the first time, admitted to deaths of children due to hunger.

Today, the state government told the Bombay High Court that over 2,800 children, mainly in the tribal areas, have died of hunger in the last seven months.

The High court which was hearing a public interest litigation in this regard and has asked the government for some straight answers.

Alarming numbers

The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that in the first three months of this year, 1180 little children uptil the age of six have died in the state's five poorest districts.

For the rest of the year, the figures of children deaths are 1634 children in the state's 15 tribal districts, which means a total of 2814 children have died so far this year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The teachers were right

Too much R-rated stuff could make you go blind.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

He taught Mozart to poor children

Father Edward McGuire (1927-2005)

"My Christianity, as lived here is to get breakfast in the morning for these kids."

He was a Canadian-born Jesuit priest who set up a school in Kalimpong and called it the Gandhi Ashram. The underprivileged children who were in these schools were the fortunate ones, they were given free meals and a good education.

And they were each given a violin.

A lover of Mozart, he wanted to bring some self-esteem to these kids. In the beginning, he taught them himself and then hired his former students to teach newer generations of students. Today, the school boasts a symphony orchestra which gives public performances.

These children live trapped in mentality of the "here and now". When the immediate needs of food and shelter are satisfied, real stimulus is gone and so too is thought of further advancement. For these children advancement can mean such simple things as reading, writing and sense of community and cooperation, basic cleanliness and health care.

Most importantly, in attending our school the children have for the first time in their lives made up their own minds to do something that is not dictated by immediate necessity of food or shelter. They have made up their mind to study, to think about what they want to be. Fate and passivity are no longer accepted. They no longer need to sit around their house and wait until they are old enough to go out and carry loads.
A student said
, "Our father was not just our guide. He was my belief"

PBS' The News Hour with Jim Lehrer devoted a segment to him yesterday and replayed a previous segment that they did on him. Watch the

He shall be missed.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Bankrupting the nation

This will result in a lot of party workers, civil servants and other assorted constituents getting rich. My guess would be that a large majority of the disbursements will be on paper and will be made to fictitious persons. Back in the 1980s, economists & bank officials had apoplexy when Janardhan announced his loan-mela scheme. It was disastrous and was one of the many causes that ended up bankrupting the nation.
Once the Loan Melas’ ended, the boom ended and India was caught in a vicious spiral, even worse than where it was before the boom (hard as it is to imagine). The banks were caught with unbelievable amounts of bad loans and many were solvent only in name. The following recession and the near collapse of the banking industry hobbled India well into the early 90’s. No one knows what became of JP [Poojary] though most speculate he retired in a good comfortable home and probably gave himself a small loan in the end for his efforts.
The Congress & the left parties continue to enrich to their vote bank at the expense of the nation. As always.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bride Extinguisher

The Onion's latest
Failure to own or use a bride extinguisher results in millions of rupees of property damage in India annually.
Read the whole thing. It is in the News in Brief section, dated Aug 17.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Rising - a review

Product managers in technology firms usually have a checklist that they tick off while planning the feature-set of their offerings. I am convinced that Ketan Mehta must have used a similar checklist while developing the scenes in his latest release, The Rising.

Geoffrey Moore in his book Inside the Tornado, had recommended that product managers ought to ensure that their products offer everything for somebody rather than something for everybody. Ketan Mehta has willfully ignored this piece of wisdom and proceeded with a checklist that attempts to please the three segments of his target audience; the brown front bencher, a particular class of desi film reviewer, and the white critic.

Consider the feature set that perpetuated the stereotypes about India, those that were clearly intended for the pinot noir drinking, pipe-smoking Caucasian film critic who purports to explain Bollywood to his countrymen;

  • Untouchability – check
  • Astrology and superstition – check
  • Ignorance of technology – check
  • Sati (Suttee) – check
  • Drugs – check
  • Slavery – check
  • A fair-playing-minority-in-his-own-country White man – check
  • Snake charmer – err…maybe, a cobra will do – check
  • Nautch girls – check
  • Colorful elephants - check

Mehta did not forget the JNU-educated jholi carrying film reviewer. In addition to the above, he has ticked off the following:

  • Bash free market economics – check
  • Muslim leader/friend – check
  • Sympathy for China – check
  • Opposition to Maharajahs – check

Now the front bencher:

  • Masochistic dialogue – check
  • Item number – check
  • Holi song – check
  • Village fairs – check

And on on, ad nauseum. The result is a bhel-puri that is laughable. I will not spend too much time reviewing a dud. Suffice to say that Aamir Khan, an artiste whom I admire, has taken himself too seriously for this light hearted Manmohan Desai type flick. It is presumably a film about Mangal Pandey. Apart from the name of the main character and one or two incidents, the whole film is a work of fiction. It speaks volumes for the lack of courage exhibited by Mehta in not even attempting to make a serious film.

He should’ve seen Junoon. He would’ve learnt something.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rushdie interview in Reason

Rushdie says:
The idea of universal rights—the idea of rights that are universal to all people because they correspond to our natures as human beings, not to where we live or what our cultural background is—is an incredibly important one. This belief is being challenged by apostles of cultural relativism who refuse to accept that such rights exist. If you look at those who employ this idea, it turns out to be Robert Mugabe, the leaders of China, the leaders of Singapore, the Taliban, Ayatollah Khomeini. It is a dangerous belief that everything is relative and therefore these people should be allowed to kill because it’s their culture to kill.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A communist judge

The communist magazine Frontline generally has a bunch of articles that reflect its ideology. These are often written by the usual suspects - like Bidwai. But this one takes the cake, since it is by a person who was once a Supreme court judge in India. All the more reason why contempt laws -as Fali Nariman said - ought to be changed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Kadamo.n ki aahaT

Which one came first? [The lyrics are in ITRANS]

Sahir/SDB/Munimji (1955)

abhii saa.Nso.n kii Kushabuu havaao.n me.n hai
abhii kadamo.n kii aahaT fizaao.n me.n hai

Kaifi Azmi/Hemant Kumar/Anupama (1966)

usake daaman kii Kushabuu havaao.n me.n hai
usake kadamo.n kii aahaT fizaao.n me.n hai

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mohammedali Karim Chagla

Many years ago, I read Mr. Mohammedali Carim Chagla's autobiography, "Roses in December" Mr. M.C.Chagla was an eminent lawyer who worked for Jinnah and the Muslim League (Bombay) before it became separatist. He became the Chief Justice of the Bombay High court, Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice- chancellor University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on. This book was written in 1973-74. and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. This is an excerpt from Roses in December, one of the truly great autobiographies written by an eminent Indian.

Excerpt begins
The Congress government has also often followed what I can only call the old British policy of communalism. In my view, if it is communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happens to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it is also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happens to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. It is injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who have no merit, merely because they want representation in high offices. The minorities come to expect that they will get certain posts whether the men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post.

When I'm told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be communal. And to yield to that clamour is also to betray a communal spirit. It amounts to a reproduction to the bad old days of discredited British policies. Such policies result in bitterness between majority and minority communities, and lead to a sense of frustration on the part of a member of the majority community, where legitimate claims were overlooked in favor of a less deserving member of a minority community.

Consider the attitude of the government to the question of a Uniform Civil Code. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoins such a code, Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition. Unless they are agreeable it would not be fair and proper to make the law applicable to them. I wholly and emphatically disagree with this view. The Constitution is binding on everyone, majority and minority; and if the Constitution contains a directive that directive must be accepted and implemented. Jawaharlal showed great strength and courage in getting the Hindu Reform Bill passed, but he accepted the policy of *laissez-faire* where the Muslims and other minorities were concerned. I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and Muslim women, I know, resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women.

I believe in democracy as an article of faith. To me, it is much more than the general elections, adult franchise, parliamentary forms of government, cabinet responsibility, and so on. These are all very important, and they have to be maintained, but more than that, one must have an outlook on life and an attitude which is democratic. I believe in democracy because democracy means freedom, not unbridled freedom but freedom consistent with order and security of the State. It also means respect for the individual and his right to think his own thoughts, to express his thoughts freely and to experiment with his own life in a way that does no harm to others.

I hate regimentation. I cherish the privilege of deciding for myself what my private life should be, how I should spend my leisure, and how I should find my own happiness. The State should lay down the standards of public conduct. But, as regards private conduct, to the extent that it does not interfere with the rights of others and does not impair the safety of the State, it should be entirely the concern of the individual. As I said, I believe not only in the democratic form of government. What is much more important, I also believe in democracy as a philosophy of life. I order to be worthy citizens of a democratic State, we must acquire a democratic outlook and a democratic spirit. In the first place, we must be tolerant. To my mind, tolerance is the greatest of all human virtues. We are so apt to be narrow and fanatical, accepting as right only those things we believe in, and limiting our vision by the experience we have had. We are only too ready to condemn as heterodox or immoral all ways of life which are not our own and all opinions not entertained by us. We refuse to countenance any gods we have not set up, and any standards we have not accepted as the right ones. This certainly is not what is meant by the democratic attitude to life.

We must live and let live. We must recognize the infinite possibilities of human fallibility. So many dogmas, once considered to be unshakable, have been thrown on the scrap-heap. Standards have changed from age to age and even today are different in different countries. The democratic ideology is always willing to concede that there may be an element of truth in every belief held by any particular section of the public; it is not prepared to coerce a minority opinion by the brute force of numbers. It is ever ready to discuss and debate, and is more anxious to get the minority to acquiesce in the decision of the majority than to coerce the minority into an unwilling submission. The democratic temper is also tolerant towards human frailty. A man may aspire to perfection, but he is made of clay, and more often than not, he deviates from the straight and narrow path. The deviation is partly due to his own weakness and partly due to overpowering circumstances created by the society in which he is placed. His errors and his lapses are not always wholly of his making. We need a more sympathetic understanding of human frailty in the sphere of individual relations.

Today, one great problem of democracy is to reconcile the rights of the individual citizens with the rights of the State. The citizen has to be protected against the all powerful State. The citizens rights have to be safeguarded by the judiciary. The fundamental freedoms are the cornerstone of our Constitution. They have to be consistently upheld by the judiciary, which has been constituted as the custodian of these rights. But judges do not and are not expected to live in an ivory tower. They have to be conscious of what Justice Holmes called " the felt necessities of the times" They cannot shut their eyes to the society in which they are living. They cannot be oblivious to the inequalities that exist, and of the terrible poverty that millions of people endure. The State, therefore, has also to be conceded its right to remove these inequalities and remove poverty.

But we must remember that ours is a democratic Republic. When people talk of socialism, they forget that the socialism we want is democratic socialism. We want to bring about socialism by democratic means and not by totalitarian or arbitrary methods. ......

....... The founding-fathers, in their wisdom, made it clear that the Directive principles are not mandatory, while the fundamental rights are sacrosanct. Directive principles are sign posts which indicate to the Government and to the people the direction that the country and the nation should take, but it must always be borne in mind that in implementing the directives of the State we are not to violate Fundamental Rights. In other words, the directives of a State policy must be achieved by democratic means without sacrificing individual liberty or the other liberties guaranteed under the Constitution.

Excerpt concluded

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Rs. 5, 75 paise

The story behind the song "Paanch Rupaiyya Baara Aana" from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

Update: For those who cannot access the link:

College [Christian College in Indore] ke purva adhyapak Dr. Swarup Bajpayi yeh kahte hain - Kishore Kumar 1946-47 in do saaloan mein yahaan paDhayi ki. 1947 mein jab desh aazad hua to Kishore Kumar aur unki mandali ne yahaan jamkar jashn manaya, Kishore Kumar manch par aane se bhi behat gabhrate the. College mein jab vah gaate the to parde ke peeche chupkar gaate the aur manch par hont koi aur hilata tha. Baad mein unki super-duper hit film Padosan mein bhi unhone aisa hi qirdaar nibhaaya tha.

Dr. Surendra Katekar kehte hain ki Kishore Kumar aur Anup Kumar yahiin hostel mein hi rahte the aur canteen mein hi khaate the. Kishore Kumar par canteen sanchalak ke paanch rupaiyya baara aane bakaaya the jise ve aksar Kishore Kumar se maanga karte the. Baad mein isi theme par unhone ek gaana gaaya va us par abhinay bhi kiya.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The hole that was a breakthrough

Some years ago, Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT had a brainwave. He introspected over the millions of people who were disconnected from the wired world. He ruminated over the potential threat that a disparity between the computer literate and the computer illiterate [a.k.a. Digital Divide] would create for economic growth.

Dr. Mitra literally created a hole in the wall. He made a hole in the compound wall of an NIIT building at Delhi and installed a computer. The keyboard and mouse were freely accessible to passers by. Street uchins from nearby slums approached with apprehension, which was later replaced by curiousity and surprise as Dr. Mitra encouraged them to touch the computer.

Within hours, the unsupervised & unaided kids had figured out the rudiments of the machine. They coined their own terms: dumroo (Shiva's drum) for the hour glass, Sui (needle) for the pointer/cursor. Somehow, they accessed websites of cartoon characters, news sites (BBC) and other sites from random surfing. When he witnessed this untrained cognitive ability, Dr. Mitra replicated it in many other places, including a village rural Maharashtra. The results were similar.

Dr. Mitra likens this experiment to Arthur C. Clarke's vision in 2001, A Space Odyssey about a mysterious black monolith which succeeds in endowing creatures with intelligence. During the course of a PBS documentary on Dr. Mitra's experiment, he met Dr. Clarke and showed him the results. Interestingly, not all children were equally adept at learning. Some children were far ahead in the learning curve. It did wonders for their self-esteem. These street kids, who were enrolled in municipal schools, believed that they had a fantastic future which they would determine.

Is cognitive ability genetic? Are human beings endowed with an overwhelming sense of curiosity for the unknown - a curiosity that overrides any fears or apprehension nurtured in them? Since progress is determined by the curious, or in G. B. Shaw's immortal words, the 'unreasonable man', is the ability to discover a unique trait found in all children? Does this natural ability get 'nurtured out' through education, age and experience? Is minimally invasive education a term coined by Dr. Mitra the way to go?

Read the thoughts of the viewers of the PBS documentary. What do you think?

One change agent

Bunker Roy is a former IAS officer who was so moved by the plight of the drought stricken farmers that he decided to do something about it. He traveled to a remote part of Rajasthan and set up The Barefoot College in 1972. This link lists some of the awards that Barefoot College and its founder have won.
The objective of the college is to help illiterate villagers find means of livelihood and improve their quality of life. No degrees or certificates are awarded here. According to UNESCO;

  • The centre has trained two generations of villagers without any formal paper qualifications to become health-care workers, solar engineers, hand-pump mechanics and teachers in their communities. Thanks largely to its efforts, over 100,000 people in 110 villages now have access to safe drinking water, education, health and employment. Rural youth once regarded as “unemployable” install and maintain solar electricity systems, hand pumps and tanks for drinking water. At special workshops, young artisans upgrade local skills acquired through generations. And on an average evening, about 3,000 children (60 per cent of whom are girls) who spend their days grazing cattle and helping their elders make their way to night school (there are now 150 of them around Tilonia), taught by local residents with rarely more than eight years of schooling. The project’s success is proof that sometimes an outsider’s view can be a lasting catalyst for development.

The villagers have not only become self-sufficient, but have also become environmentally conscious.

All it takes is for one person to be a change agent.

The library as savior

John Wood held an MBA from Kellogs and was working at Microsoft, when he decided to trek in Nepal sometime during 1998. He came across a school library which contained hand me downs from visiting tourists - Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy and the like. The librarian explained that the children were very eager to lap it all up and it was a pity that they could not access more useful literature. Wood, immediately thought of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, which helped build public libraries across the US.

Wood decided that he would be the Andrew Carnegie for Nepal. He asked a few people to donate books so that he could ship them to that country. He was overwhelmed by the response. Thus, "Books for Nepal" was born. Soon, he was able to build about 100 libraries across Nepal. These were no-frills, books only places where kids could learn. People from other countries started to encourage Wood to open branches in their countries. Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail [Microsoft] asked Wood to open branches in India. The organization, now renamed Room To Read took off! Currently, it operates in Nepal, India, Cambodia.

By September 2003 - in roughly 4 years - they have:
  • Built 50 schools
  • Established over 500 libraries
  • Shipped over 200,000 books
  • Established 20 computer and language labs
  • Funded over 120 long-term scholarships
It doesn't cost much to build schools and libraries in South Asia. Find out more about Room to Read at their website.

Wouldn't it be great to get involved as volunteers for them, in India and in the US? A few hours per month is time well spent.

Reposting old blogs on Heroes

Since the links to some posts in my old blog do not seem to work, I will be reposting articles on heroes again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The unaccountable Meteorological department

The Regional Meteorological Center, Mumbai has a website which is anything but user friendly. Once you manage to drill down to the appropriate page, you encounter this daily report. They also have this outdated weekly report. Not surprisingly, the satellite images are straight out of the 1960s. Given that Mumbai had a catastrophic week, the least you would expect is a daily, if not hourly update of the weather report, for all parts of Mumbai, in simple language - not the sort of balderdash met-speak that they've displayed on that page. But the fact that there is none of it is not surprising, given the lack of accountability.

The front page of the Indian Meteorological Center has certainly not been designed with the intent of providing information to the citizens whose taxes fuel that dept. The Severe Weather warning link has a useless bit of information. Maharashtra is as large as some countries in Europe. If "heavy rainfall is likely" in that region, one would like to the following questions answered; where, how heavy, what should I do and so on.

The raison d'etre of the existence of the Indian Met department is quite clear in their (failed) mandate:
To warn against severe weather phenomena like tropical cyclones, norwesters, duststorms, heavy rains and snow, cold and heat waves, etc., which cause destruction of life and property.
The department is rather top-heavy, but one does not have any idea of its budget:
The Director General of Meteorology is the Head of the India Meteorological Department, with headquarters at New Delhi. There are 4 Additional Directors General at New Delhi and 1 at Pune. There are 20 Deputy Directors General of whom 10 are at New Delhi
Compare that to the US, National Weather Service website. In fact, one can get better reports on the conditions in Mumbai on that site. The US govt has a dedicated site for Hurricane predictions.

It too is federally funded, so how can they manage, while the Indian equivalent cannot?

Mumbai - Sudheendra Kulkarni

Sudheendra Kulkarni, former political secy to Mr. L. K. Advani writes about his experiences.

There was still neck-deep water down the road towards Andheri. So I took a long detour to trudge through a slum to come to Oshiwara. Through the chaos all around, I found a rickshaw that stopped at my waving. ‘‘Main sirf Jogeshwari tak aapko chhod sakta hoon,’’ the young driver, who already had three passengers on the rear seat, said as he offered half his own seat to me.
‘‘Kitna paisa loge?’’ I asked after making myself comfortable.
‘‘Kuchh nahin loonga bhaisahib. Ab 18 ghante se free service kar rahan hoon, non-stop. Oshiwara se Jogeshwari tak jisko bhi meri zaroorat hai, unki seva mein main haazir hoon.’’ I asked him his name. ‘‘Mohammad.’’

Monday, August 01, 2005

Ghalib - Delhi

Ghalib's beloved Delhi was a cultured place that bears no resemblance to the city of today. During the aftermath of 1857, it witnessed unspeakable cruelty. In a previous post, I had mentioned Javed Akhtar's great great grandfather Maulana Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, who was hanged. This period had a lasting impact on Muslims in general and Urdu poetry in particular.

The maqta of a ghazal by Ghalib is particularly apt:

है अब इस म`मूरे में क़हत-ए ग़म-ए उलफ़त असद
हम ने यह माना कि दिलली में रहे खावेंगे कया

hai ab is maʿmūre meñ qaḥt̤-e ġham-e ulfat asad
ham ne yih mānā kih dillī meñ rahe khāveñge kyā

FWP's translation:
There is now in this town a famine of the grief of love, Asad
We've agreed that we would remain in Delhi-- what will we eat?