Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If you find 10 crore one day…

Don’t ask me how. Assume that you did. Maybe you found diamond treasure in your backyard, or your long lost relative left you all his wealth, or may be one of those Nigerian scams actually paid. Also assume that you don’t have to be bothered about taxes, government share, your safety and money’s theft. You are rich and all is well with the world. With 10 crore rupees, you can live quite luxurious life at interest income of crore or so a year. Would you still want to work?

It seems everyone I ask this question says they would : having money is alright but life without work is just too much bore. All rich business tycoons also work despite there being no need for it. Why can’t Bill Gate sell his share in Microsoft and retire? In fact, one of the requirement of earning lots of money seems to be relatively less need to spend it and more need to earn still more. I guess not doing anything will bore the person to death. Of course, not doing means not doing productive work. People can still become couch potato, or travel the world, or buy all kinds of things that only money can buy. But that doesn’t count as work. Perhaps there is a need for having higher purpose to existence.

Problem is I think I could easily not do anything and be happy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No upside to honesty

Few things are certain in life: death, taxes, and getting cheated by auto-rickshaw drivers. I've lived in about five cities in India so far, and I haven't found any which has honest auto-rickshaw drivers. Experiences of others suggest that there doesn’t exist any place in India where this is so. While Mumbaikers claim theirs to be the best of the lot and Chennai-ites beg the award for the worst, it's mere matter of degree of dishonesty. By honest I simply mean driver asking me fair money for my trip. In most cases there is regulated metered fare and in other case there is competitive established market price.

My understanding says that fair price cannot evolve into this market because there is no way to build consumer loyalty. Rickshaws are need based services and unless someone takes regular trip from same place to another place frequently, one is not likely to encounter same driver next time. Consequently, they have no incentive to be fair because it will not help them in getting more business. On the other hand, dishonesty has all upside and no downside. They can ask more, which they will get sometime, and worst they will get is fair price, if passenger is knowledgeable. Honest drive will always get fair price but no more. Clearly, it make sense for auto-rickshaw drivers to be dishonest and cheat their passengers.

If we were to counter this then economic incentives will have to be reversed. This can be done with punishment for dishonesty in form of police fine or chalan. This is, however, not practical due to non-response by Indian police on such issue, problem in proving crime, additional efforts and time involved in going through the procedure, and triviality of such crimes against bigger issues which police can devote resource to. If we cannot negatively incentivize dishonest drivers then we can positively incentivize honest drivers. This is what I do, and this will work only if most of the people start doing it.

Often but not always, if I find that driver is asking me more than fair price then I hand him only fair price (only possible for metered fare). If driver is asking me only fair price then I hand him fair price plus a tip, along with the reason of that tip. I think he needs to know that it makes sense to be honest and that people care about it. Or may be I am just over thinking and he is perhaps laughing at me. Of course, passengers need to be educated to know fair price in the first place for this to work. I can't think of any other effective way, can you?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Trinket sellers revisited

Yesterday’s post was high on emotional quotient but it was also genuine appeal from my heart. Because seeing working people make less money than beggars hurts me.

Thing is, solution proposed (buying from trinket sellers even when you don’t need any item) is not a long term sustainable solution. Suppose everybody does so then sellers start earning more than beggars, which is what we want. Then we will see more people entering into vendor business and less people entering into beggar business. Overtime, since real demand for trinkets is same, market share of each seller will go down thus reducing their income and forcing some to move out of business. Your artificial spending can go up to support larger market, but that’s not practical solution. Why should you buy more and more of what you don’t need because there are more sellers? At some point, their requirement will exceed your combined budget to trinket sellers and beggars.

I don’t know what is long term solution apart from grandiose statement of skill development and so on. But my appeal remains valid as long as few people are doing this, which is likely to be the case since I am not Mahatma Gandhi that everyone will do what I say anyway!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Trinket sellers

Next time you come from market, mela, or some public gathering; pause, reflect and think the following.

Have you ever seen that little boy waiting by his weighing machine expecting you to pay one-rupee to know your weight? Have you noticed that little girl who is selling cheap imitations of jewellry and pestering your to buy them? Did you not fail to overlook that old man selling balloons in the corner? What about that lady with young baby trying to sell cheap plastic toys on the tattered rug? Did you happen to catch the plea in her voice when that old woman urged you to look at those ten rupee handkerchiefs and wallets?

Of course, you don’t need those things. You are not here to buy those things. You are, after all, not running a charity for world’s poor. Why should you bother about what’s not of interest to you? Wait, did you just gave that beggar ten rupees of alms? Of course, you did. You do, often. What can you do, they are so pestering. They knock on windows of your car. They stretch their little palm in your face. Then incessantly rant. They make you feel guilty about your fortune. You cannot bear to look at the skeleton of that famished baby. Moreover, you can afford it. What’s ten rupees to you anyway. Less than price of a samosa in multiplex theatre.

Did it occur to you that those who are trying to sell useless trinkets to you are trying to make their living by working and not begging? That they could as well wind up their little inventory and stretch their palms in your face? That their pride in their work and self-esteem is only thing that’s stopping them from joining million others who beg? I am sure you know that many beggars in India are professional beggars with lakhs of annual income and multiple flats in their name. I am sure you know that begging zones are mafia controlled and auctioned in underground market. You also perhaps know that that beggar at Mahalaxmi temple or Hazi Ali is probably wealthier that you.

How can people like you and me who ignore petty hardworking sellers and succumb to emotional blackmail of beggars can live with conscience? I know that not every beggar is fraud but isn’t ten rupee spent on someone who chooses to work rather than beg is better use of that money? For you and for him, both? Will you, then, not ignore her sales pitch next time you are in the market? Will you buy that map which you can throw right away? Will you please stand up and let the society know that it’s (economically) better to work and not beg? I hope you do. I seriously do. Or else, what lessons will they draw when they compare their change at the end of the day?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

15 minutes of Ghajini

Short-term memory loss from Ghajini (2008) is latest movie-decease of the masses after Lymphomania of the Intestine from Anand (1971). We've been told million times that character cannot remember longer than 15 minutes but nowhere have I been informed whether it's rolling 15 minutes or packets of 15 minutes. From what movie suggests though I suspect it's packets of 15 minutes. Does any decease like this really exists?

Not late enough

Indian Standard Time, so as the saying goes, is one hour behind Indian Standard Time. In culture where running late is considered fashionable and sign of importance, punctuality is thing of dreams. Ironically, lateness is an sin which punishes those who don’t commit it. Those on time in class must bear professor’s rage on those who aren’t on time. Those who are punctual in a meeting must waste their time waiting for others to join and work to start. Why we take pride in our lateness and cannot make an appointment in time is something I cannot know. What this does, and this is how vicious cycles goes, is that people who are punctual also learn to be late, for what will be they do being on time?

One thing that I admired most in USA was observance of time. A person who is five minutes late profusely apologies. When I returned to India I knew that this is price I must pay for being in my own culture. I knew it and I accepted it. Initially, always in false hope which was always shattered, I used to reach on time. Then I started going late. But I guess it’s not in my genes or something. However late I go, I seem to be one of the earliest and others go even later. Even when I have given up scruples about violating punctuality, my mental timing always makes me earlier than others. Consequently, I am always not late enough. I want to correct this notion of time in my mind, but cannot. Do you have tips? I honestly don’t care about going on time, but I don’t know how late I am supposed to go.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Virtue or lack of opportunity?

In moments of reflection, I feel sorry for unfortunate people around me. I feel sorry that world is this way. I feel sorry that things don’t improve. I feel sorry that there is not much that can be done by me individually. I feel sorry that poor and powerless are always at receiving end of cruelty inflicted by nature and powerful. I feel sorry that they didn’t do anything to deserve this. I feel sorry that their goodness is exploited. But then…

Mankind is composed of many classes of people. We can define a class based on national border, religious faith, personal wealth, physical health, colour of skin, class of birth, or in many other different ways. Conflict between classes has come to being inevitable. It need not be so, but that utopia is not within sight in next few generations of humanity. If conflict is inevitable, and one class is going to be suppress another class, then would you prefer be suppressed or suppressor? As I said earlier, middle option is not possible. You can either suffer or make other suffer. Looking from this vantage point, injustice to powerless sections of society doesn’t seem cruel but inevitable, unless one prefers to be at receiving end of that injustice.

Main premise of this argument is that middle ground of peaceful coexistence is not possible. This is purely observational hypothesis of mine. We see around us that those whose rights are violated also violate someone else’s rights. If tables are turned, they are not better because they know pain of injustice. Untouchables of Hindu community practice severe untouchability within their own sub-castes. Minority Muslim community seeks special favours until they are majority when they start discriminating against erstwhile majority. Blacks in United States discriminate against homosexuals even when they themselves got out of discrimination mere decades ago. Mayawati’s political agenda is not equal treatment of all castes but revenge against upper caste. More rights to women have meant reverse harassment in form of more false rape and dowry cases. Slum dwellers sell their freely government given flats so that they don’t have to pay for water and electricity. Servants in households murder their generous masters and run away with money. Beggars on street throw back those one-rupee coins you handed them. Farmer who couldn’t fill his stomach till yesterday refuses to sell his land even at prohibitive prices when he sees opportunity to exploit. Policeman who complains about exorbitant bribes by schools for his ward’s admission doesn’t even register a FIR without chai-paani. Maid in my house, even though she works at measly 5/- per hour, doesn’t improve her quality of work even when her salary is doubled.

When in moments of reflection I feel sorry for these people, I also remember that that these victims are not just virtuous people who are exploited by society and powerful. They are just unfortunate that they are not in position to exploit others. They lack opportunity but not intention. Given chance, they will do unto others what is done to them. If they can only be suppresser or suppressed, they why should I feel sorry for at them at all?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Internet runs on idiots

Having been using internet regularly for last nine years, question that has puzzled me often is that how do internet companies make money. Internet has brought such fundamental changes in public mindset that users consider demanding something free as their birthright rather than a thankful opportunity. Almost every software and application on internet has free, and in most cases, better substitute. Having email, photo sharing, blogging, voice or video chatting, social networking, document editing, classifieds and various other things for free has spoiled a typical internet user so much that even newspapers who have been charging in print for eons are protested against when they charge online.

Of course I know that most internet companies make money by advertising. Few charge money for using premium services but significantly most don’t. Whole lot of Google services are funded by contextual advertising links though there are many places such as Blogger and Picasa where it doesn’t advertise yet. Nevertheless, in my decade of usages I never remembered clicking any advert on any webpage or clicking any link on any spam mail.  Still, there must be people who are clicking those advertising links and banners. There must be people who are clicking and ordering services from spam mail. Sending bulk email on internet is so cheap that with even one hundredths of a percent of people falling for spammer, it would make marketing efforts worth the cost. And there must be those fractions of humanity who are making spam grow at such as fast rate. Here is a latest example (via). Yes, in this day and age. By the way, here is a mindboggling statistics: Number of spam messages sent everyday are around 176000000000 (176 billion or 1.76 kharab)

We all should be thankful to those idiots who click on spam mail and contextual advertising links on web pages. They are morons who keep things free for rest of us. Their contribution cannot be discounted. Perhaps that’s why we should forgive their temporal intrusion into internet arena because but for those where would you and I, the freeloaders, be?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Irritating phrases

Oxford University compiled a list of top 10 irritating phrases. These phrases were deemed irritating because they were repeated too often. I personally don’t think that just because a phrase is used often it becomes irritating. With all due respect to Oxford University, a phrase may be used often because at this moment in time it represents fairly unique phenomenon with no proper substitutes. At the end of the day what matters not that a phrase is used 24x7 by someone who shouldn’t of used it, but that it absolutely and clearly represents what it is supposed to. It’s not a rocket science to invent new phrases which will replaces these supposedly irritating phrases but it will be a nightmare to make public adopt those as much as it has done these.

Very soon readers pointed out their own 20 irritating phrases. Actually, I can’t seem to get my head round it. You know, all these phrases which these people say are irritating are very useful for some others. Basically, what’s point of relegating a phrase to be irritating without suggesting appropriate substitute for it so that others can use? After all, they shouldn’t just talk the talk but also got to walk the talk. To be fair and to be honest, readers have reasons to be irritated by these phrases. Let’s face it, these phrases are annoying not just because of their repeat uses, but the fact of the matter is that those who use them don’t use them in correct context. I am not being funny but frankly it’s not the phrases that are irritating but their users who use them incorrectly. Of course, reason being that people learn uses from people around them and when they sing from same hymn sheet, they are going to sound all the same. Clearly, a misuse has potential to snowball unless lessons are learned. Going forward, I believe that we must make 110% sure that people touch base with actual, real and contextual meaning of these phrases in their school. Perhaps a raft of proposals is required to be rolled out to implement such inspection of published text in learning phase and in use phase in published content. May be proposals are already in the pipeline and we may results by the end of play today itself, what say?

Clearly, it was corny attempt, which you saw through. Still, first paragraph wasn't so bad, was it?

My personally most irritating phrase is “literally” not because phrase is wrong but because people almost always use it wrong. “Literally” is opposite of “figuratively” and is supposed to emphasize literal meaning of something when figurative meaning is more common. For example, ‘I could die from work today’ doesn’t mean that my life element will cease to exist because of amount of work I have (literal meaning) but that I have too much work (figurative meaning). Sometime, there is need to point out real meaning by use of “literally” such as in ‘this movie was emotional, I literally cried’. Ignorant people use phrase to emphasize their figurative meaning which is “literally” is not supposed to do, literally speaking.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Behan Ji

If you want to address a stranger of about your own age as grown up in India, you would mostly call him Bhai Sahab and call her Behan Ji. At least, you could, till few years ago.

Indians are very fond and proud of iconic speech by Swami Vivekananda in Parliament of World’s Religions in late nineteenth century in Chicago where he represented Hinduism and shocked the western civilization by addressing his audience as “brothers and sisters” against the prevailing “ladies and gentlemen”. Notion that people around you can be treated as family members was, and still is, unfamiliar to occidental world. In Hindu philosophy notion of world as large family is evident in Vasudhev Kutumbkam shloka of early scriptures. Students in schools are still made to pledge that India is our country and all Indians are our brothers and sisters. “Except one”, students would mostly add under the breath, to maintain possibility of their potential matrimony.

As is customary with all good Indian things in India, we discarded address of ‘brothers and sisters’ and adopted ‘ladies and gentlemen’, unless, of course, western world adopts it, in which case we will be eager to adopt again and happy to claim our heritage, as we did in case of Yog. Tendency to delegates things Indian to things inferior made Bhai Sahab and Behan Ji a sign of illiterate buffoonery. These were replaced by Sir and Madam, in line with our British historical precedent.

For some reason, I am not sure why, but I blame umbrella term “modernization”, Bhai Sahab didn’t suffer as much as Behan Ji did. If you are a man, you would typically not call a man Bhai Sahab, but it would still be okay if you did. If you are woman, you will mostly call a man Bhai Sahab. It’s our way of forewarning and drawing boundaries by relationship association. Whether you are man or woman, you definitely would not call a woman Behan Ji unless you really want to loathed by her. Who knows who was to start this but somehow such term of gentility, purity and respect has come to mean traditional, conservative, un-cool, unbeautiful, and non-modern woman and is matter of laughing stock in urban youth.

Deepti Naval (youtube link) in Angoor (1982) is one good example of what is considered Behan Ji these days. What a grace and what demeanor she had! We always seem to abandon wrong part of our culture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What happened in March?

If you are part of any social or professional network which shows upcoming birthdays of your friends, would you check and let me know if you don’t see any disproportionately large number of birthdays in December/January? I always notice this and wonder why. Is it phenomenon India specific or global? Something to do with weather or end of education and fiscal year? I could do some research with monthly birth data worldwide but I am too lazy for that.


Anyone who was child in India in early nineties will undoubtedly have fond memories of Jungle Book and its protagonist Mowgli. Its title song is anthem for memories of childhood nostalgia. At its peak, song was so popular that it used to be played even at weddings despite no connections whatsoever. Animation series shown in India was dubbed version of Japanese Anime based on 1894 book of the same name written by Rudyard Kipling. Here is it for your kind perusal:

(You Tube link)

जंगल जंगल बात चली है, पता चला है ॥२॥
अरे चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है, फूल खिला है ॥२॥
जंगल जंगल पता चला है,
चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है ॥२॥

एक परिंदा है शर्मिंदा, था वो नंगा!!
हाय इससे तो अंडे के अंदर, था वो चंगा!!
सोच रहा है, बाहर आखिर क्यों निकला है?
अरे चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है, फूल खिला है
जंगल जंगल पता चला है,
चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है ॥२॥
It’s well known in all forests, its talk of all forests that a flower has blossomed with shorts on

A bird was embarrassed because he was naked
Oh, he would have been better inside the egg
He is wondering why did he came out in the first place?

This enchanting nonsensical song was penned by Gulzar and was composed by Vishal Bharadwaj. Original book can be downloaded from project Gutenberg.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Glass half full etc.

Following is not my thought but still worth sharing. I cannot quote reference because I don’t remember now.

If an optimist is one who sees glass half full and feels good about it, isn’t he a pessimist actually because he expected glass to be empty to begin with and is happy with whatever he got? If person who sees glass half empty and feels sad about it, then he is actually an optimist because he expected glass to be full to begin with. Whether we are optimist or pessimist depends on what we expect from the future, right?

Changes the whole perspective, doesn’t it? That’s life. What can be taken at face value? Age old wisdom stands overturned.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter vacations

Winter break necessitates me to say farewell to you. I shall return on 22nd December. If you miss me, you can go through the following:
  • Archives of this blog, or click “random article” link on right
  • Interesting pages which I shared on Google Reader here
  • Fun pages on internet and best of Onion News here
  • Collection of funniest forwarded jokes over the years here
  • Other time pass pages here
And do subscribe to RSS feed or Email newsletter so that you are informed without having to visit. Links are on right column at top.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holier than thou Mumbai

It’s really not the time, I know. It will hurt, I know that too. But I have to get it off me because people will not be able to listen directly to me otherwise. If you are passionate about Mumbai, don’t read further. I don’t mean disrespect, but I have to tell this.

Attack on Mumbai was atrocious. It was devastating because it killed so many, because it went for so long thus emotionally draining us, and because it was ruthless in its implementation. I am as connected to Mumbai as most of non-Mumbaikar are: I’ve visited the city for a while, I know it as financial and entertainment capital, and I have enjoyed my stay there. However, lets not get carried away in holier than thou attitude toward Mumbai in our desperation, ignoring rest of the India. Emphasis: Mumbai is important, so is rest of India.

Suketu Mehta wonders what is so special about Mumbai that attracts terrorists? He concludes that open nature and entrepreneur spirit of Mumbai is unacceptable to destroyer of Indianness. It’s nice thing to say except that terrorist attacks have happened at many many other places too, not just Mumbai. They’ve happened too frequently in New Delhi too. A city is spirited and open nature by its people, and not by itself. All cities of India are very open and entrepreneur, everyone is welcome anywhere to try his luck. But most chose to come to Mumbai, because, obviously, and this is what Tim Harford implies in his book, cities support interconnections. So it’s true that Mumbai is city of dream but it is just because it is and not because no other city can be. It’s all historical, who settles where and who pulls whom next. Easier answer is terrorists chose Mumbai and other places because they think it will make good news and cause great harm. And they aren’t that fond of Mumbai as he would like to believe, which is, of course, a good thing.

Often after tragedy, there is talk about resilience of city. How Mumbai recovers so fast from disaster. Bluntly, it doesn’t. It is forced to. Could a person who supports his family hand to mouth afford to be afraid and sit at home? No, he will die of hunger if not terrorism. So does every other city. It’s same everywhere in India. Nothing special about Mumbai. It’s all special about people. Similarly there are so many articles saying that Mumbaikars are so helpful. They run towards disaster, not away from it. Of course, they do. So do people of other cities. It’s about people, silly. There are brave and helpful everywhere, so are there afraid and exploitative. Everywhere we can hear stories of courage of people giving shelter, food, transportation, saving lives after any natural or manmade disaster.

Can we just stop calling it “India’s 9/11”. For starters, lets get our own name and stop tagging to someone else’s branding. For next, what about hundreds of attacks earlier? Was London subway bombings called UK’s 9/11?

At these times, and earlier too during Mumbai floods, many people raise demands that Mumbai should be separate state. That Mumbai contributes disproportionately large portion of India’s taxes and doesn’t get equivalent grants in return. Two things disprove this stupid logic. First, it is power of state to collect taxes and use them irrespective of their origin. Hey, I never got as much money back for my development as much as I contributed in taxes. Second, Mumbai contributes to large taxes only because all rich people chose to live there, not because all money is coming from there. When ‘Om Shanti Om’ became hit, Indians across nation put money in the kitty, but because Shah Rukh Khan lives in Mumbai, he files taxes there. Mumbai didn’t contribute all money its own. When Reliance files its taxes from Mumbai, it is filing on all India revenue. And so on and so forth. Money is coming from all India and if Amir Khan shifts his home to Tripura next day, Mumbai’s contribution will drop instantaneously.

Here is an excellent piece arguing against common phrase that attack against Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was attack against India’s pride. Except uncalled for rich bashing, article is spot on in mentioning that CST is real icon of India (movies confirm that!) which has been least focussed upon in news.

I have nothing against Mumbai. It’s been on my mind last week as you can see from topics of this blog. But I just wish people of Mumbai stop looking down upon rest of us. It’s not that different from other cities as they come.

Why dear God, why?

pulling-out-hairThis thread on Orkut has spawned over 300 posts. I mean, seriously, I mean, really very seriously, what on earth is wrong with humanity? Imagine me, if you will, with look of utter incomprehension, bewilderment and frustration clinching my teeth and fists, with drops of perspiration on my wrinkled forehead, trying to control violently pulling away my hairs. That’s me, on the right, when I saw this, and see such others. Some of these people are my real friends and capable of beautiful thoughts on their blogs and in person. Here they are trying to guess whether next poster in thread is going to guy or girl, and even outsmarting themselves. Why? How? Is it even fun? Million monkeys trying to compose Shakespeare's Othello will produce more interesting text. If it were up to me, this would qualify as test for letting live. See also: Wisdom of the Crowds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Need for coherent compensation structure

When a tragedy strikes in India, there is often offer of ex-gratia payment by government bodies. Tragedy can be fire, train/road accident, riot, terrorist attack, flood, killer spree, building collapse, earthquake, disease outbreak, tsunami, or any other disaster. Few things determine amount of compensation a dead, seriously injured and injured party gets. The most important of these is the size of news it makes. Other factors are number of people affected, class and creed of people affected, public outrage at the event, presence of competing tragic event to divert mind, and richness of government where tragedy happened. Who gives compensation, such as central government, state government or even private corporation also depends on these factors. I have seen no one raising any objections about this ever but it always shocks me, in very disappointing way, how same human life is valued differently in different context.

When a single young boy named Prince fell into a well, it was news for three whole days. He was promptly rescued with help of army and engineers and was given few lakhs of compensation and free life time education among other things. Soon after hundreds of farmers died in flood in Bihar. I don’t know if they got any compensation but if they did, it would have been customary one lakh per person. When Delhi blasts on eve of Diwali made news in Media, both central and state government rushed to offer substantial ex-gratia payment, unlike passengers of train accident in Kerala soon after which were offered nominal amount. Soldiers who died in fighting terrorists in Bombay got five times their salary every month until their child turns 21 from a private company Sahara, unlike soldier who died fighting routine intruders crossing the border from Pakistan or soldier who was skinned by Bangladesh. It may be discomforting to you to place monetary value on life of people, but it is more discomforting to me to place uneven value on life of same people in different situation.

Whenever I hear such news only thing that immediately crosses my mind is the thought process in mind of victim’s family. Was that fault of that poor couple that their son didn’t fall in the well, and hence lost plateful of goodies for lifetime? Was the soldier who died defending us on border less brave, or was he at fault that he didn’t get opportunities to fight terrorists in Bombay, which if he had, he would have been equally brave? Was victim of train accident to due to sloppy infrastructure on governments part or accident of nature any less unfortunate than victim of bomb blasts in Jaipur or any other place? I refuse to discriminate between lives lost doing same thing at different places just because they happened to be part of different events which affected public emotionally differently. Would your death mean more if you were alone to die versus you die along with hundred others? Does Marathi life becomes more valuable since Maharashtra is richer than Bihar?

I would like government to design a coherent national compensation structure which would take into account voluntary (such as soldier or police) and involuntary (such as bomb blast victim or train accident victim) element of death or injury but which would be independent of size of news, solidarity of public, and other irrelevant factors mentioned earlier. Every dead/injured should get similar compensation for given type of tragedy and that should be coded nationally rather than leaving it to whims of politicians at the moment. I don’t think there is any way to regulate what corporate do but I wish they would stop playing on emotion to discriminate lives of one versus another.

It is probably cruel to think so, but it is also very real. Maid in my house rued that people who were injured in blasts in Ajmer Shareef were given fifty thousand ex-gratia payment, a fortune for her. There would be some people who might wonder if they were unlucky not to have been injured and missed a windfall? After all, we hear people who sell their kidneys and blood for money in desperation. Of course, we hope that fraction of such desperate and poor population is less, and in any case, there is no way we can solve this problem and start giving payment based on had-it-been-me.

Less said about the corruption involved in really cashing the compensation the better. Amount of paperwork required to prove that your party really died or injured, and that you are really legal next of kin, apart from processing delays and mandatory cut in compensation for bribe at emotionally vulnerable moments is heart wrenching reality of Indian machinery.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I am sorry if you are overwhelmed about reading about Bombay attack everywhere. Mood around here is such that these topics are at forefront. Some of these views are longstanding so it’s as good time for me to express them. Few commentaries:

More I think about it more it appears that there could have easily been more than 10 terrorists. They were free for a significant while before they were holed in. Nobody knows how many came and where all they went. If so, then next doomsday is imminent.

When Bombay changed its name to Mumbai in early 1990s, lot of people were disappointed in expensive ego soothing by politicians by superficial change. They decided that they’d keep Bombay alive if not in official papers. As time as passed, seeing Mumbai in print so often, it is inevitable that I slip Mumbai for Bombay. I feel slightly ashamed at being able to be manipulated by political class and not being able to be true to my original promise. Same for using Chennai for Madras. Kolkata for Calcutta. Bangaluru has not replaced Bangalore yet but it’s matter of time.

As much anger as is visible in public, somewhere I know that nothing substantial is going to happen this time too. I hope I am very wrong.

Media ethics

Many people raised questions about unethical means media employed while reporting recent tragedy in Bombay. Not only were they unethical, insensitive, crude and sensational, they also hampered counterstrike and may have resulted in more lives lost. One would have excused if they were not aware of their own stupidity, which, of course, should not be the case, but their blatant violation even after Ministry of I&B sent them a decree clearly showed a lack of conscience on media’s part. A general appeal in private and mainstream media is for better treatment of information pertaining to such incidents. No one, so far, has offered any solution though.

As I have been repeatedly emphasizing on this blog, expecting people to act on moral grounds by their own volition is model but not practical solution. People and organizations are going to act based on (dis)incentives they have and not based on their own consciences, as much as we would like to have this in the world. I’ve been trying to think of what penalty we citizen can inflict to tilt balance of incentives in favour of more ethical media management. A government body which penalizes these channels either on grievance complaint or active monitoring is one way to go. However, recent attempts by Ministry in developing code of conduct have been vehemently opposed by media who would like us to believe that self-regulation is way to go. If only they had regulated self. Recently created News Broadcasters Association (NBA) in India has developed a set of non-binding guidelines which are obeyed in violations mostly. Since self-regulation failed miserably and is an oxymoron to me in the first place, Ministry can try to bring legislation to the effect. After all, why would media have problem with legal regulation if they really wanted to follow their own self-regulation, unless that was hogwash which it what it appears to be?

Alternative is for us to boycott these channels and let them know why we do that. I’ve been proponent of power of public in most cases in teaching lessons be it to corporate, government and private sector. But again, what we do says more than what we say, and people of India are not going to stop watching sensational news channels just because they claim they don’t like sensationalisation. If they really didn’t, would these profit driven media be stupid to serve that? More and more I think about it, more and more problems for which we like to blame politicians, government, corporate and lobbyists are because of what we do. A newspaper whose top five stories always comprise of glamour and sex is largest selling English daily in the world. Reality shows which show blatant humiliation and meanness gross highest TRPs every week. Doordarshan with its clean and unsensational news is least watch television channel among people who have access to cable. As much as anybody would like to think otherwise, because it is easy to blame others than look self-ward, we too have a blood on ours hands.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good time for that white shirt

Do you know what’s latest? It’s time of year month when people of India come out in large numbers wearing white clothes/black clothes/black armbands/red armbands and organize in mass prayer/candle light vigil/public solidarity/silent march and what not. Go my India go. Show them stupid terrorists that when they kill hundreds of ours, we still dare to come together and show publicly what a bunch a morons we are. After all, when has God listened to a prayer unless accompanied with grand display in public which disrupts normal traffic? And your display is sure to melt hearts of those hardened murderers. Don’t go to the victim’s house and give a shoulder to cry. Don’t commit your money to feed a family whose only breadwinner is gone. Don’t help them file the paperwork which will help them transgress bureaucracy to get whatever compensation is promised. That will be too much work and no one will see you. Go out with lighted candles so that only people who benefit from your act of solidarity are candle makers. May be you will get photo in the newspaper, isn’t that why you inform media before your public display of sympathy? Hey, don’t you know that candle light vigils are latest fashion in showing sympathy, pioneered by human right activists across the world and popularised by movies like Rang De Basanti.

You may not, of course, be at place where you can directly act. You may have already given your money to relief fund and blood to donation agencies. But you know what, you can do one thing that matters beyond all those armbands and candle light vigils. Go out and vote. Yes, it’s actually very simple. You even get a paid holiday to vote in India, and you can easily spare few hours. I am sure you know that voting percentage in India fluctuates between 40% to 60%. You also know that people like you vote least. Voting is only thing that will matter because that’s only language decision makers listen. Not your blog posts or newspaper editorials. Hey, but I know that’s better to spend election day at home watching movies. Why would you want to bother with voter registration when you can simply do duty for your nation by wearing that white shirt to work?

Lots of people, in rage mostly, ask what can they do. They display their helplessness. I’d say we can do many things but we don’t want to do. You can join army, police, security agencies (paid or unpaid); you can become informer to police; you can patrol our borders; you can infiltrate terrorists organization; you can lobby our government for suitable laws; etc. List is endless and limited by my imagination only. You may not be able to do all that but you can try. It will be risky, you will lose your current lifestyle, but didn’t you ask what can you do? You may not want to do any of these but next time don’t just ask what can you do because you know what can you do but you will not do it. Accept it and just shut up. Easiest is, you can vote, and that at least you should do.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Conspiracy theory and a Poem

How Mumbai attacks was planned by India and how WTC attack was planned by US, must watch, guaranteed laughter

(Youtube link)

Hindi veer-ras poem on pain of Kashmir by poet Hari Om Pawar, must watch, very moving and angry

(Youtube link)

Planning your own foreign trip, with Sri Lanka as example

Cross-published at This guide is about...