Friday, March 21, 2008

War - A Short Story

I still remember that night when the big aeroplanes came and destroyed everything. The Elders said that it was bound to happen some day - but nobody had told us it would be that day.

For the people of Waziristan, in northwest Pakistan, living in the shadow of imminent death was a way of life. We were told that there were terrorists amongst us - indeed, you could find some hard-liners who believed in the use of force. But not in out village: we were a quiet group, living peaceably under the tenets of Islam.

But they still came - the Americans, with their big guns and money. They had already taken some of our women's lives, but those had been one-off events, 'accidents,' our government had declared.

But that night was not a one-off attack, it was war. My family had been sleeping when it happened. I, being the youngest at 13, had the privilege of sleeping next to the window with the cool night breeze blowing across my face. Next to me, my brother, 16, slept at a slightly odd angle.

My mother had sung us a song before going to sleep. It was my favourite song, about Pakistan's struggle for Independence, and I had been humming the tune in my head when I heard the siren go off. Perhaps I had been the first to have heard it. Nonetheless, the sound grew from a distant nise to a loud clarion, and within moments we were all awake - unprepared for what was to come.

My father ventured out for a few minutes and when he returned, he simply said, "America is attacking us." He instructed us to take some food and follow him to the war shelter nearby. We obliged, probably at great risk. A few meters away, a house blew up - we heard someone screaming and I knew I'd never meet my friend Jamal again. But we moved on, for although the sky was dotted with fighter planes, the Americans had not sieged our land. Yet.

Five families waited in the war shelter. The bombings lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime. When the sun rose, some of the men ventured out. When they finally concluded that the Americans had left, we came out too.

Nothing was left of our village. The tea stall where my father would spend his free time, the government clinic, the jowar fields: nothing was left but dirt. Our own house had been ripped apart and we were forbidden to go there lest there be some undetonated bombs still left.

We wondered why the government had not sent any aid. "Perhaps they have sold themselves to America," said one of the men who had survived. Few had survived the raid. Those fortunate enough to have reached the war shelters, like us, did not know what to do next. Some said that we could rebuild our lost home, others suggested we make our fortunes in Lahore.

Little did we know that the worst was yet to come. That evening, when we were playing with stones on the road, the aeroplanes came again. The siren was quick and we had no time to run. Bombs fell everywhere and people fell like bowling pins. Fortunately, I was playiong right in front of the war shelter, but I was too stunned to move. My brother grabbed me and ran towards the shelter. Just as he shoved me in, a bomb fell near us. He threw himself on me, smothering me. My father ran in and shut the door.

I looked at my brother. He looked back. And then he stopped looking - or at least his eyes were on me, but there was no light in them.

An hour later, the government sent medical aid and food. But no one in our family, or any other family, cared to eat. We encircled our deceased relatives, tears flowing freely. A week later, nothing had changed. Although the Americans had not returned, they had already destroyed everything. Bodies had been buried en masse, including that of my brother.

We moved to Lahore, where we spent the rest of our lives. My parents worked as casual labourers, earning a pittance but sending me to school all the same. Several years later, I started my own shop. My parents had passed away and I had moved on.

Today, I found myself in a little town near my old home in Waziristan. I decided to visit it again to see if anything had changed. America had not attacked us again. Perhaps they had found their man, perhaps not. When I entered my old village, I noticed how its people had rebuilt it. But one thing caught my eye: the cemetery. I went in and, in a familiar corner, I found my brother's tombstone. I scrambled around and found a shriveled flower on a tree. It was autumn. I plucked the flower and laid it on his dusty grave. I left after a few minutes.

It struck me that to the brother who had given his life to save mine, I could give nothing but a shriveled flower and tears.

This is a fictitious story

Freedom is a Right

Roadies 5.0: Will they Return?

Will they return?: (Clockwise from top-left) Prabhjot in a kickboxing match with Sonel in Thailand, Vibhor dancing with Asian girls, Simran in a discussion. PICS: YouTube

According to MTV, next week will be a wildcard round. There has been intense speculation on Facebook over who will make it back in. We know that only five of the eliminated roadies will participate viz., Vibhor, Prabhjot, Snehashish, Vikrant and Ankita Bajaj.

Aditi K, a FB user, and I have gone through a video posted on YouTube by MTV Hero Honda Roadies. This video, showing a preview of the journey ahead, was also shown on MTV after the Mumbai Auditions.

Now, we've taken these three stills from the video. The first shows Sonel punching Prabhjot in a game of Kickboxing, the Thai National Sport. The second shows Vibhor dancing with some Asian girls. The last one is more speculative: it shows someone who looks like Ankita Sehgal (Simran) standing near Shambhavi.

To add to the confusion, the ad on MTV suggested that only one Roadie would win the wildcard. Who will it be? And more importantly, HOW will it happen?

Leaving this investigation aside, most users on FB say they're rooting for Vikrant to make a comeback.

Watch Hero Honda MTV Roadies 5.0 on MTV
Saturday, 7:00 PM
Repeats everyday of the week
And later, discuss the episode on the OFFICIAL Facebook Group

Roadies 5.0: Manly Bodies and Padding

This week on Roadies saw the good, the bad and the very manly err... ugly.

Prabhjot was eliminated. But more than that, she was humiliated by the new dumb blonds Shambhavi and Anmol. Furthermore, she was eliminated by a unanimous vote: 6-1, the one vote being her vote against Nihal. Everyone had a reason: the Anmol-Shambhavi (Facebook's S&A) love story with Nihal, Ashu's sudden I-sympathize-with-S&A attitude, Ayaz's fear for his own safety and Sonel's attempt to think (although she is exceptionally chaalaak).

The Roadies were overjoyed at having crossed their first money milestone by earning a net Rs. 1,01,000 25,000 via an interesting money task. However, nobody could win immunity as this sorry bunch couldn't hit a wicket in a bowl-out! Ashu, being the risk-taker, sprained his leg while driving on the potholed roads of Puducherry, Auroville to be specific.

FB users have become increasingly irritated at this bunch's lack of spirit and factionalism.

Next week is a wildcard round according to ads on MTV. Can't wait!

Rain beckons Holi

It was a rainy day in Hyderabad today. Clouds hung over the sky for much of the day. It rained quite a lot in the afternoon, something that citizens welcomed after days of 35 degrees+ heat.

Even after the rains subsided, strong winds kept blowing, pushing the Min Temperature lower. The Meteorological Department suggests that the rains would go on for a few days. NDTV reports that other parts of India including NCR also received rain.

Holi Hai!

It's time for the festival of colours! Get out your pichkaris, gulal and put on, well... put on your best clothes for the puja, but wear something worth disposing off for the festivities!

Whether it signifies Prahlad's devotion to Lord Vishnu or the eternal tale of Radha's love for Krishna, Holi brings the nation together and reminds us just why we are the most culturally diverse yet peaceful country in the world.

The President Speaks [The Hindu]
Why is Holi Celebrated?

IPE 2008: The Experience


SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Mar. 21: The Intermediate Public Exam was, to me, conducted quite impressively. The use of an electronically identifiable OMR-Barcode sheet is one of the most unique concepts I have ever come across. It's simple, cost-effective and extremely efficient.

However, what still leaves me woebegone is the notion that lengthy, digressing answers can fetch you marks. I wrote to-the-point, sharp answers in my English paper. I know I'll lose marks just because my answer 'isn't long enough.' But I read the entire textbook several times over the Pre Finals, I know the exact points that need to be fitted into the answer. But nobody actually cares to read my answer... it has to 'lengthy.'

On the other hand, I wish BIE would introduce a staggered-set system, like CBSE, wherein each students receives a different set than the students sitting around him/her, rather than everybody receiving the same question paper. This would reduce copying greatly.

The invigilators, in most cases, were terrible. Either they distributed the question papers late or refused to their job, including noting down the serial number of additional sheets, stapling the OMR sheet and attaching the labels etc. They left it to students, eating away a good 15 minutes of exam time.

Overall, the experience was great, although not as fundamental as the Class 10 Board Exam. The large number of sheets in the Main Answer Book and the four-sided additional sheets were very useful.

Sri Chaitanya will re-open for Second Year classes on Mar. 24, not 25 as informed earlier. When OTFS spoke to a feew students from the IIT Campus, we learned that the students from JIIT1 would form the bulk of the attending students: everyone else plans to extend their holidays by a week or more!

OTFS has had a great time reporting on the happenings in Sri Chaitanya. As Second Year begins, we hope to do even more. First Year took up over 100 blogposts and hours of research. Who knows what Second Year will amount to? In the meantime, watch this space. (OTFS)

The next round of reports from IPE 2008 will appear on OTFS when the results are declared.

Final Exam ends on a Happy Note


Kakatiya Jr. College, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Mar. 18: The last of the 2008 Intermediate Public Exams for First Year students concluded today. OTFS gave the Chemistry paper (IPEC) 4 stars.

Specific Points on the Chemistry Paper:
  1. The question from Group VI on Blue Gas (Q. 7) was one that, according o a study by OTFS, a large percentage of students could not answer. The correct answer, by the way, is water gas.
  2. Students complained that the question on Dewar's method (Q. 18) was far too long to have been asked for a mere 4 marks.
  3. As expected, the general trend of asking about Bohr's Theory (Q. 19) and Ionization Potential (Q. 20) for eight marks each continued. This marks at least five years of these two questions being asked.
The invigilators seemed a harassed lot as they encouraged students to leave the hall at 10:30 AM, a good half hour before the end of the exam. However, by 10:50 AM, most students had already left. The paper was not lengthy as such, but if one attempted to answer all the choice questions too, then one would surely find it lengthy.

On the streets of SR Nagar, we faced a tough time trying to gather some response from students. Most of them were elated at the exam having ended at long last and only a handful were ready to discuss the paper. Still, OTFS did manage to talk to enough students and our cumulative assessment led to the 4 star rating.

Most students now look forward to a week's break before classes start again. The students of FIITJEE would be preparing for their college fest. As Mrs. Jhansi, VP, Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy, SR Nagar, said, "enjpy your life this one week!" (OTFS)

In my Inbox

Just got this mail in my inbox, though my readers would like to read it.

Old Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.
Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

Modern Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The Grasshopper thinks the Ant's a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.
Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.
NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering Grasshopper next to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.
The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?
Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the Ant's house.
Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers demanding that Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter.
Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticizes the Indian Government for not upholding the fundamental rights of the Grasshopper.
The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the Grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace for prompt support as against the wrath of God for non-compliance).
Opposition MPs stage a walkout. Left parties call for 'Bharat Bandh' in West Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry.
CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among Ants and Grasshoppers.
Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains, aptly named as the 'Grasshopper Rath'.
Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ' Prevention of Terrorism Against Grasshoppers Act' [POTAGA], with effect from the beginning of the winter.
Arjun Singh makes ' Special Reservation ' for Grasshoppers in Educational Institutions & in Government Services.

The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, it's home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV.
Arundhati Roy calls it ' A Triumph of Justice '.
Lalu calls it ' Socialistic Justice '.
CPM calls it the ' Revolutionary Resurgence of the Downtrodden '
Koffi Annan invites the Grasshopper to address the UN General Assembly

Many years later...

The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi-billion dollar company in Silicon Valley .

100s of Grasshoppers still die of starvation despite reservation somewhere in India ...

As a result of loosing lot of hard working Ants and feeding the Grasshoppers, India is still a developing country.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Weather Decoded

Jenny Harrison, CNN International Weather Correspondent, brings to you a new monthly show: Weather Effects (weather*fx). Jenny, my favourite weather reporter (i've always wondered if she had an acute disliking for Max Foster), takes you around the CNN Weather Station in Atlanta and answers your questions along with her team.

I might also add that Lola Martinez is pretty good at the weather station too, but I think Jenny's better.

Weather*FX is a monthly show on CNN International
Read the weather*fx blog

Close to Dead

With Inputs from the LA Times | OTFS Business Desk

Investment bank Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC), whose roaring success has been due to mortgage-backed securities, came so close to a fatal credit collapse that it had to request for an emergency bailout from the Government.

However, the amount the bank borrowed from the Fed and JP Morgan & Co. remains undisclosed. Bear Stearns Company (BSC) was down 47% on the NYSE when the news broke out. It is already down nearly 79% YoY.

The state of California sought assurance from Bear Stearns on Friday that it would deliver $1.3 billion in cash the state raised this week in two bond sales managed by the firm.

Samuel Molinaro, Bear Stearns' chief financial officer, replied in a letter to the state that the emergency funding the firm received from the Fed gave it "sufficient liquidity to continue normal operations . . . and meet all obligations."

Recently, peer company the Carlyle Group too came under a severe credit collapse.

Obama widens Lead

Sen. Obama picked up 14 more deleagtes, nine of them John Edwards' delegates who have now switched sides. He was also awarded five delegates from California. Obama now enjoys a 119-delegates lead over Hillary Clinton according to AP.

Clinton got 7 delegates. CNN estimates that Obama now has 1,610 delegates, far less than the 2,025 needed to secure the Democratic Nomination.

Towards Female Emancipation

The new laws proposed for women by the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board are, to say the least, crucial. Spacing out 'triple talaq' over a period of three months and banning its use via telephone or under influence will come a long way in ensuring that a woman is not made the victim or scapegoat.

Hopefully, clerics can come above their own fundamental attitudes and see the wonderful future they could create if they accepted the proposals.

[Report from NDTV]
PIC: Indian Muslim Women Praying - Courtesy

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Roadies 5.0: The Preview

I know the video is old, but it's still worth watching!
Take a close look: Vibhor is there. And he's with girls who look like they're from Thailand or Malaysia. next week's episode is a Wildcard Episode... take heed...

The Speaker's Granddaughter

Somnath Chatterjee, Speaker of the Lok Sabha (Lower House), Parliament of the Republic of India

Writing an exam in India is far too stressful: that's one of the few productive conclusions that came out of this Budget Session of Parliament. With Speaker Somnath Chatterjee saying “My grand-daughter is writing her Class X examination and the entire house is tense,” it's clear that our education system, overtly results-based and unduly resentful towards unconventional talent, needs a major overhaul.

But changing the CBSE syllabus won't do much: there are lakhs of students in State Syllabus schools who face an even harder time than their CBSE counterparts. An empowered group of State Education Ministers must come together and plan a strategy to weed out stress and make education less for the country's (yes, the country) and more for the students' benefit.

An army of robot-like engineers will help any country, but what about artists and poets? For how many more years (decades?) will we have to see creativity and talent sacrificed at the altar of marks?

Roadies 5.0: Elimination 6


Click image to download

New Airport Inaugurated

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the new GMR Hyderabad Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, India's first world-class greenfield airport and the largest in South Asia.

However, operations have been delayed due aviation companies' constraints in shifting base from Begumpet, reports The Hindu BusinessLine

Roadies 5.0: La Femme Nikita?

This week on Roadies 5.0, we saw a lot of... shall we say, female bonding? A wonderful night of camping (well, at least for most of them; Anmol and Shambhavi were clearly struggling with the lack of mirrors) turned into an exciting Q&A session, and there were no holds barred!

At the end however, it was Shambhavi who came out stunned and shocked at Nihal having formally rejected her 'love.' From the heated discussion, there also emerged a new mastermind: Sonel. Ayaz however, came out clean as a knife, absolutely untouched.

The segregation of the Roadies into 'wanted' and 'unwanted' teams was an interesting idea and the task - an immunity task that ended in a draw - was quite tough. But the climax of the episode was the elimination: Anmol and Prabhjot were saved from being eliminated by a tie! Yes, both of them got four votes apiece. And this gave them instant immunity!

So for the first time ever, a second round of voting was held and Ankita emerged the loser (winner?), beating Shambhavi 3-2. And with a hug to Prabhjot and a few words on the Ashu-Anmol-crybaby saga, Ankita left the scene, with Prabhjot vowing to take revenge.


Roadies 5.0: Elimination 5


Click image to download

Funny Ad

Ad Title: Not Interested in Boys (मुझे लड़को में कोई Interest नही)
Brand: Virgin Mobile
Country: India
Rating: *** of 5
Specs: Very funny ad, drives home the 'think हटके' catchphrase. Does not however, create any brand recall. But it does catch viewers' interest.

Obama Wins two States

Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama took the states of Mississippi and Wyoming in their respective contests.

With this, he now has 1,611 delegates against rival Hillary Clinton's 1,4801, says CNN. John McCain, who is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, picked up more delegates as well. He now has 1,325 with no major competitors left.

[With inputs from CNN]

Where is Home?

I saw a great documentary on NDTV 24x7 recently. Titled "Makom Shelli... Where is Home?" it deals with the life of India's small Jewish Community, mainly in Mumbai.

The documentary delves into their lives: how one couple is relieved to have found each other and continue to lead a Jewish way of life, while another modern Jewish woman tries to figure out a way to escape the entire patriarchal establishment.

The documentary also asks whether those Jews living in India would want to emigrate to Israel. While one couple said that they would like to do so in order to give their daughter a more traditional upbringing (because in India, every religion tends to be distorted slightly due to influences from other religions), most of the others said that India was their home, not Israel. All of them have their own valid points.

The documentary ended with some beautiful traditional Jewish music.

Tough Week Ends


Kakatiya Jr. College, SR Nagar, Hyderabad: Mar. 15:
A mega week that saw three exams and a bandh ended today with Physics (IPEP), which received 4 stars from OTFS.
Summary of this week's exams

Tuesday: Maths 1A (IPEM1A)
General Comments: The paper was fairly simple but somewhat lengthy.
Specific Points:
  1. The Theorem from Functions (Q. 18) seemed too short for seven marks.
  2. The question from Trigonometric Expansions (Q. 17) should have used the word 'respectively' at the end to bring out the meaning of the questions. The given questions was ambiguous.
  3. The paper was in general very good.
Street Signs: Most people OTFS spoke to said that the paper was quite easy. However, few could say that they could solve the entire paper including all the optionals.

OTFS Rating: 4 stars

Thursday: Maths 1B (IPEM1B)
General Comments: The paper was difficult and fairly lengthy. The average number of additional sheets used was a whopping seven!
Specific Points:
  1. In the question on Change of Axes (Q. 12), the convention of using variables X and Y in the transformed equation and x and y in the original equation was violated.
  2. Not a single theorem was asked from the chapter Pair of Straight Lines, against the general rule that 15% or more of the paper must be theory. Pair of Straight Lines has the highest number of important theorems in it, and not a single one was asked.
  3. The question from differentiation (Q. 22) appeared in all of Sri Chaitanya's Pre-Finals. Presumably, this was a sure-shot question.
Street Signs: The faces in SR Nagar seemed subdued as this paper was quite difficult. Nearly all the students left at least one of the optional questions.

OTFS Rating: 2 stars

Saturday: Physics (IPEP)
General Comments: The paper was fairly easy but extremely lengthy.
Specific Points:
  1. Assuming that the numerical questions coupled with the eight-mark questions (Section-C) were for two marks three marks each (a conservative estimate), 20% of the paper was made up of numerical questions that were mandatory, while a 4-mark question was also a numerical one. This violates the general rule that not more than 15% of the paper can be of numerical problems.
  2. In the question on Coefficient of Restitution (Q. 3), it should have been mentioned as to whether the question meant perfectly inelastic (plastic) or simply inelastic collisions.
  3. The Proof of Parallelogram Law (Q. 11) is not in the textbook. Most students ended up writing the derivation for direction and magnitude of the resultant vector, but strictly speaking, that was not the question.
  4. The numerical problem (Q. 12) should have mentioned from where the distance should be counted.
Street Signs: Several students said that they had goofed up the two-mark numerical from Surface Tension (Q. 6), most of them forgetting that a soap bubble has two free surfaces! However, the general sentiment was upbeat as most students had fared well.

OTFS Rating: 4 stars

News Update
Bowing down to threats from the opposition BJP, the Government has decided to postpone the Intermediate Exams for Maths 2B (IPEM2B), Zoology and History to Sunday with usual timings, The Hindu reports.

OTFS condemns this indifference to students' plight by political parties. How do they expect Telengana or any other place to develop unless students there can have a peaceful education?

Nearly Done
IPE 2008 is nearly over now with just one paper to go. Chemistry (IPEC) will be held on Tuesday to close off the exam. Remember, this exam will count towards a student's EAMCET rank. (OTFS)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The US is in a Recession

With Inputs from CNBC | OTFS Business Desk

US Employment Data for February showed a loss of 63,000 jobs over a loss of 22,000 jobs in January. Now, most experts are of the opinion that a recession in the US Economy has begun.

The report also adds to fears that the $168bn economic stimulus package approved by President Bush will not be enough to save the economy as indebted households will not spend fresh money. However, most economists felt that the US will pull out of this 'mild' recession by the end of 2008. And they agreed that it would be more because of the Fed that Congress.

Following the news, speculation has grown that the Fed will cut rates by 50 basis points or even more in its next meeting.

Ode to Copying!


Kakatiya Jr. College, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Mar. 8:
The English Intermediate Public Exam (IPEE) went much on expected lines today, with a majority of questions coming straight from the textbook. Although official instructions are that grammar questions must not come from the textbook, the rule was clearly violated. OTFS rated the paper 4 stars.

OTFS Impact... Maybe
OTFS had reported during the Second Language exam that the invigilators were being lackadaisical in their duty by distributing question papers late, taking their own sweet time in handing out answer sheets etc. Today, the College Head (at least he looked like the College Head) came down heavily on them.

In Room No. 301, the invigilators were scolded and ordered to step up their work. Efficiency nearly doubled after that, although many students were still able to copy answers from each other. By 'many', we do mean many.

OTFS spoke to some students after the exam. Nearly all of them said that the paper was easy, though an alarmingly high number opined that it was unnaturally lengthy, with some students taking nearly two hours for Literature alone: that's 67% of the alloted time for just 40% of the paper!

From the streets and hangouts of SR Nagar, OTFS reports that most students were pleased with their performance even though they had committed a few stray errors. The students we spoke to were from various colleges.

Specific points on the English Paper:
  1. There were grammatical errors in the first Comprehension Passage (Q. VI).
  2. The questions on spellings and missing letters (Q. XIII) were NOT entirely from the prose section of the textbook as promised, although they were from the practice exercise given at the end of the textbook.
  3. The pie-chart (Q. XVII) was confusing as data was not given for a balance 12.5% of data (45 degrees).
  4. A serious error was printed in the question on Jumbled Dialogues (Q. XIX). The speaker 'Akkayya' had six dialogues while 'Ammalu' had four, whereas both should have had five apiece for the dialogue to have made sense. The same error can be found in the textbook. While some students corrected it, most left it as it was.
(This is based on an independent, post-exam assessment of the paper by OTFS. The Intermediate Textbook prepared by CIEFL was used.)

However, controversies apart, all the students were relieved that that the exam was over. The next exam, Maths 1A (IPEM1A) will be held on Tuesday.

The students at this centre appreciated the fact that they were allowed to enter the building at 7:40 AM rather that at 7:55 like on Wednesday. The students were frisked to ensure that none of them was carrying a cellphone. (OTFS)