Friday, February 27, 2009

THE Oscar Moment for India

AR Rahman performing Oh Saaya and Jai Ho! at the 81st Academy Awards. He won an oscar for Jai Ho!

GDP Growth Disappoints

In a startling reminder of the sheer magnitude of the International economic crisis, the Government released the GDP figures for the Indian economy for the quarter ended Dec. 08. While the Government expected a growth rate of 6.2%, it came in at a much lower 5.3%, lower than any forecast made previously. This is compared the 7.6% in the previous quarter. 

An even bigger surprise lay in the sector-wise growth rates. Manufacturing contracted by 0.2%, while agriculture contracted by an alarming 2.2%. Although the negative rate for agriculture is expected to be revised upwards (these are just quick estimates), it paints a grim picture of the Indian economy.

Already, the Government announced three rounds of economic stimulus while have helped a little, but have not been a 'magic key.' The Sensex saw a huge drop of over 2% on hearing the news, while the rupee (INR vs USD) touched a new low, although it was propped up by state-owned banks, probably at the behest of the RBI.

Speaking of the RBI, all eyes are now on it. After the grim figures, the RBI is expected to cut rates by as much as 100 bps. In its last policy review, the Central Bank held rates steady, but with inflation cooling off (in fact, it is looking towards deflation), there is enough scope to go in for big, bold cuts. 

The Central Government, already cash-strapped and with a downgraded sovereign bond rating, will find it difficult to go in for any more fiscal measures before the General Elections. It's only the RBI that has a lot of monetary tools left. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Winning Piggyback

The Congress Party, which heads the UPA coalition Union Government, is faced with a deadly proposition. For the first time in it's history as a National party, it is being asked to give up tone down its strengths.

Sharad Pawar, current Union Minister for Agriculture and President of the NCP, has reportedly mooted the idea of a joint UPA manifesto and plans for seat-sharing across the country, not just in certain states. This puts the Congress, which controls over a hundred seats in Parliament (much, much more than the NCP) in a tizzy.

National seat-sharing, which would mean allowing an ally to contest in a particular constituency without opposition from within the coalition, would ensure that the Congress would lose its pre-eminence in Indian politics. The other large party, the BJP, might also be faced with such requests from the opposition coalition it heads, the NDA. 

So, why do small, traditionally regional parties want national seat sharing? Quite obviously, because they cannot hope to become national parties without the help of either the Congress or the BJP. The 'third Front,' is a nice attempt but I doubt its efficacy. Nevertheless, regional parties right from the TDP to the JD(S) have a deep desire to go national. Going piggyback with the Congress or the BJP is the fastest, most hassle-free way of doing it.

But it's a terrible proposition for the two parties. Why should they give up what they've earned? IF regional parties want to go national, then they should earn it. Prove to the electorate that they deserve it, instead of asking for seat-sharing, which is essentially a sort of political subsidy. The people have already decreed that the BJP and the Congress deserve to be truly national parties; let the others obtain the same decree.

We are in the coalition era, that's for sure. But that doesn't mean the legacy of the two parties, the Congress in particular, should be forgotten. These parties have proved their might and if, some day, a single party is able to form a Government, they should ensure that that party is theirs. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Race for BITSAT

On the web: The race for securing one's desired dates for BITSAT is nearly over. Virtually evryone in S1 has selected a date. Some chose a date as early as May 9, while others were forced to choose as late as June 5.

The day the dates were opened for bookings saw a flutter of activity that nearly brought the website down. Most couldn't book their desired dates on Day 1 and had to try later. Some didn't even realise what was going on, and by the time they checked the site, all dates from March 15 to June 2 were already booked!

A majority of students chose dates in between May 17 and May 25 and most chose a morning slot (8:30 AM to 11:30 AM). Everyone was alotted a centre based on their first preference, which was mostly Hyderabad City, although some chose BITS, Hyderabad

The last step, according to the site, is to download the hall ticket. That process will begin from April 2. In the meantime, a final check is underway to ensure that all students received their acknowledgement cards from IIT-M. (OTFS)

The Final Summer is a sub-series on SC 24x7 covering the final months in Sri Chaitanya - April and May - in the run up to the all-important competitive exams.

AR Rehman makes India Proud

In the glitzy setting of the 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in LA, the sounds of 'Jai Ho' could be heard from around the world. 

Beating all odds, Danny Boyle's Mumbai-based film Slumdog Millionaire joined the ranks
 of those extraordinary movies that have won an Academy Award. The movie walked away with 8 awards, winning in every category it was nominated for. What truly made every Indian ecstatic was the moment when our own AR Rahman won two awards and Rasul Phookutty won an award for Best Sound Mixing. Apart from those, the film also won Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing. 

The now-super-famous cast of Slumdog was ecstatic as Danny Boyle jumped in joy 'like Winnie-the-Pooh' while receiving the award. AR Rahman, in his charming, humble style, was deeply appreciative. His score, 'Jai Ho' is now heard in living rooms across the world.

But Slumdog wasn't the only story set in India that won accolades. Smile Pinki, a short documentary about a girl born with a cleft lip, also won an award. 

Apart from Slumdog's haul, there were other star-studded moments. Shaun Penn won best Actor for Milk, while Kate Winslet won Best Actress for The Reader. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which recorded eleven nominations, won just three, all of them being minor awards. Frost/Nixon hardly showed up at all. The late Heath Ledger, as expected, won a posthumous award for his role as 'The Joker' in The Dark Knight. Most of the awards went as expected, with the only upset being Best Foreign Language Film, with Departures (Japan) taking the award from favourite Waltz with Bashir (Israel).

Ever since I started reading about the Academy Awards, I was told that only two Indians had ever won an Oscar. Well, now I can proudly say that that number has just gone up. Jai Ho!

In case you live in India and missed the live telecast, you can catch the re-run.
The 81st Academy Awards
[Repeat telecast]
9:00 PM IST

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Talking of Benevolent Dictators

Post 26/11, a disturbing trend in the middle class has been observed. Today, it seems the middle class has lost it's faith in democracy. While the poor never held any faith for the system, the rich don't need it. Effectively, the only large group that supports democracy started demanding for a dictatorship, perhaps even military rule.

The idea of a 'benevolent dictator' runs right through Indian blood. At the very onset of democracy, the Government was expected to do everything. EVERYTHING. It was only after the reforms of 1991 individuals were allowed to take over. Before that, people did not care about doing things themselves, they would much rather work and get their monthly pay. Work to reduce illiteracy, poverty etc.? Government's job. Help strengthen local security? Government's job. Follow rules? Government's job!

And now that people have realised that the Government cannot do everything, they simply want the system scrapped and a nice little military dictator propped up who will fix our problems with the flick of a wand! Well, that isn't happening. We won't get any benevolent dictators. In fact, going by the general Indian attitude towards administration, we'll probably land up with a Mugabe rather than a Jiabao!

It's time we realised that the Government cannot solve even half our problems. It's time we also realised that the Federal Government is not the one-stop solution: the primary onus for welfare of the people lies on the State Governments, which have today been reduced to beggars dumping money pointlessly on the poor without any proper plan.

The ultimate solution lies in the people. Free speech, the freedom to innovate, the right to a police force that protects the people and not the State: these are the solutions. And the current leftist-ideology in India will not achieve any of them, it will create more problems.

The Much-Coveted Oscar

In a few hours from now, the 81st Annual Academy Awards (the Oscars) will kick off in LA, and India will be associated with it like never before.

You guessed it, Slumdog Millionaire, the rags-to-riches tale based on Vikas Swarup's novel Q&A set in Mumbai, is the hot favourite for best Motion Picture. The movie has won ten nominations from the Academy, second only to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's eleven, but walked away with far more awards than the latter at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, which are indicators of the Oscars.

Among the ten nominations, two are particularly close to Indians' hearts. AR Rehman (the 'Mozart of Madras') has been nominated three times, two in the same category of Best Original Score (for Jai Ho and Oh! Sayan), while sound technician Resul Pookutty has also been nominated for Best Sound Mixing.

Detractors have said that Slumdog is a British movie, not an Indian one. I beg to differ. It's based on an Indian book, set in India, with actors whose genes come from India and music that's definitely Bollywood-style (including a dance sequence!). And don't forget that 20% of the dialogues are in Hindi. It's definitely an Indian film, even if it is directed by a British Director, Danny Boyle (hot favourite for Best Director). It's a movie that inspires everyone, a movie that leaves you happy. It's another avatar of Bollywood. Or, as an AP report put it, it's what you get when you put Bollywood and Hollywood together!

Apart from Slumdog, two documentaries set in India - Smile Pinki and The Last Inch - have also been nominated. The former deals with children born with a cleft lip and the latter with NGOs fighting to eradicate Polio. 

Only two Indians have won an Oscar before. The 81st edition might just change that figure. Keep your fingers crossed, folks!

Roadies 6: A Woman Scorned

Episode 7: Gandhinagar (Part 2)

This week on Roadies 6, the red Brats were torn apart like never before. After several episodes of enjoying immunity and developing close bonds, the group was divided.

It all started with Raghu and Rajiv telling the Roadies their 'deadly' immunity task. Each team had to force one of their members to lie inside a coffin, immediately eliminating that member from the game. The first team to dump their member in and escape from the haveli would win. Now, the brats faced a pitched battle, with everyone asking Bobby to go in nicely. They even threatened to vote her out because she was injured!

After a great deal of fighting, Bobby relented and stepped in, rather angrily. The Brats weeped outside, Sandeep in particular. It was a different story altogether for the Om Blues! Dev 'volunteered' himself to be kicked out and gladly stepped into the coffin. It completely stunned Rajiv and Raghu, who had expected a pitched battle. In fact, they were so angry that they ordered Dev to "f**k off" after he climbed out of the coffin and danced, as though he never wanted to be on Roadies!

The Om Blues won the immunity task by a whisker, but Raghu added a little twist. After Bobby was shamelessly dumped into the coffin, he decided to give her immunity and also give her the power to make two others from the Brats immune. Boy, did she look happy!

After Dev left, there was an atmosphere of relief. But it soon turned into a cloud of displeasure, as the entire group seemed prepared to vote out Suzanna. So with the planning and counter-planning completed, the Roadies showed up before Rannvijay, when Bobby awarded immunity to Pradeep and Sandeep, because, according to her, 'the team needs two boys.' 

But the voteout turned out to be a shocker. According to Bobby's plan, Natasha was supposed to be voted out. But because of Natasha's 'scheming and plotting,' and Sandeep's fickle-mindedness, Roop ended up being voted out. Tears followed her voteout, followed by war cries as Bobby and Natasha traded verbal blows. 

Another revelation came from the Om Blues when they said that Pradeep had threatened to beat up whoever voted against Roop. The usually quiet Kiri also spoke up and called Pradeep a coward who fights with the weak. Meanwhile, Bobby and Natasha brought down the house with their screams and Bobby swore to get rid of Natasha next time.

Can she do it? What about the fact that the team system will be aborted next episode? Watch MTV Roadies 6 - HELL DOWN UNDER to find out.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Looking at Today, for Tomorrow

After years of backdoor talks, 192 member states of the United Nations have finally initiated discussions for expansion of the 15 member UN Security Council (UNSC)

The premise is simple: the composition of the UNSC reflects the outcome of the Second World War and gives superpower-status to five veto-wielding countries, making them the 'rulers' of the UN. But the 21st Century is not the same as the post-war world. New centres of power have emerged, countries which have military might, diplomatic strength and can contribute to the development of a better world. A UN that does not reflect the world today is crippled in fighting the challenges of tomorrow.

Many plans have been discussed before. While some countries, notably Italy and Pakistan, have supported the idea of a 'coffee table club' in which there would be no new power-centres but just an empowered group of decision-makers. Then there's the G4+2, which includes Germany, India, Brazil and Japan and two African Nations (one of which is definitely South Africa) which lay claim to a permanent seat with veto-rights. Of course, all these countries face opposition, and most of their opponents are part of the 'coffee table club.'

The problem with such negotiations is that they almost invariably take one step forward and several steps backwards. Serious discussion of creating institutions of global governance boil down to regional rivalries, with the current P5 refusing to relinquish power. here has even been a proposal for the UK and France to step down and the pave way for a permanent EU seat. Like most things in the EU, the plan faced too much opposition.

But the International Economic Crisis has shown that the International model of cooperation and negotiation is outdated, at best. Any hope for an all-encompassing, fix-it-all solution are erroneous. What we need now is a UNSC that represents today's world and has the capabilities to change itself accordingly. Expansion of permanent membership is the first step and the P5 will have to take it seriously.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roadies 6: The Burning Soft Corner

Gandhinagar (Part 1)

This week on Roadies, the team was put through their first test in water. After a ride from Rajasthan to Gujarat (during which Bobby and a member of the crew were involved in an accident), the Roadies were asked to put on their swimwear.

Now, I don't know what their definition of swimwear is, but mine definitely doesn't include something that looks like a Salwaar Kameez! Nonetheless, the Roadies were asked to play a game of underwater pool, with each ball getting them Rs. 10,000. While the others tried their best, Tamanna simply backed out and didn't even catch the stick! Paulomi tried but failed quite miserably, while Dev simply assumed he did the best. Eventually, the Om Blues made Rs. 70,000 and their account shot up to Rs. 1.2 lakhs, a good Rs. 40,000 more than the Brats. Looks like Kiri was really a lucky charm for them!

After the underwater adventure came a night of camping. Like R5.0, there was a QnA session. The majority of questions went to Dev, who answered them with typical stupidity, letting the world know that he had a crush on Bobby (gasp!) and making a foll of himself in the process. Samrat and Suzanna did not participate in the discussion at all, while Bobby, Roop, Dev (!) and Sandeep actively participated, mostly against Dev. As Paulomi said, 'woh Dev ki acchi le rahe the!' But the laughter stopped when Rannvijay expressed his anger over the Roadies' escapism and said that the QnA session had been the worst he had ever experienced.

The next day, the Roadies were asked to enter supposedly-haunted haveli. The Om Blues and the Brats took different routes and reached the room where the "ghost" was waiting. Surprise, surprise! It was Raghu, and the Roadies knew that their journey was about to change completely.

PS: The Facebook Roadies Voteout chose Dev as the Roadie who should be voted out. Catch the next episode to find out if they were right!

Truly Incredible


The 'Incredible India' campaign is perhaps the UPA Government's most successful PR campaign. Today, the slogan marks a remarkable increase in foreign tourists to India. At the helm of affairs has been Ambika Soni, belonging to the INC.

When the UPA took over from the NDA, the tourism industry in India was well below its potential. But Ambika Soni and her team put together an irresistible combination of exotica and culture and presented before the world an ancient culture that is a must-see. So goes the tale of Incredible India!

Over the past five years, several ads were published in Indian and foreign newspapers. The ads carried a strikingly beautiful picture of a tourist spot in India - be if the Rural Tourism programme or Gulmarg - and a message that would leave the reader begging for more. Indeed, not only was this campaign successful in increasing the number of foreign tourists, it also increased domestic tourism.

As a sector, tourism has been acknowledged to be a magical one that indirectly employs millions of people. Not just that, it also earns significant foreign exchange for India. Under Ambika Soni, India's forex collections from tourism made new records, crossing $3 bn in 2007. She also started a Buddhist tourism programme to encourage tourists from East Asia, an extension of India's "Look East" Policy. While the resulsts are preliminary, they are highly encouraging.

On the social awareness side, Ambika Soni's Ministry has done well to create awareness about preserving our monuments. With Bollywood star Aamir Khan by her side, the Ministry launched a series of ads and commercials that ridiculed those who vandalise ancient monuments. The movement caught wind and many schools around the country made it a point to tell their students about it. In effect, Ms. Soni has taught and old lesson in a new, grand way.

Lastly, Ambika Soni had one more campaign to make up for the lack of adequate hotels and lodgings, particularly in the NCR in the light of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The Incredible India Bed and Breakfast programme aimed to train households in the fine art of hospitality, while earning good money and making friends from across the world. The programme needs some tweaking, but it is an excellent idea nonetheless.

Overall, Ambika Soni has done very well as the Tourism Minister. To put it simply, she's Incredible!

The Ministry of Tourism
General Performace: Excellent

Violence, with Public Support

Two seemingly unconnected events were discussed heavily in the papers over the week. One was the right-wing Hindutva violence that erupted on and around Valentine's Day. The other was the fall of Swat to the Taliban.

While both events seemed unconnected, or maybe not, the public response on both sides of the border was sadly, the same. While everybody condemned the violence, they backed the cause. Citizens from all walks of life, including young students, said that the Sri Rama Sene should not have used violence, but justified the cause. They said that the so-called "pub culture" destroys Indian culture. 

To them, I ask: what is Indian culture? Is it the culture of the Aryans? Is it the lifestyle of the Mughals? Does Indian culture come from the Maharajas of Rajasthan or the elite of Kolkata? Can you define Indian culture? Is it a monolith? Has it ever been a single thing that you can protect? The true answer is that Indian culture is defined by every other culture: its diversity makes it unique. If today's youth like going to pubs and watching MTV, then that is culture, not what some fundamentalists define it to be.

Across the border, Pakistani citizens seem to think that the Taliban is competent enough to administer Islamic justice. They hope and pray that by handing over Swat to these terrorists, they will lay down arms. But history contradicts that hope: the Taliban has never renounced violence. Rather, it has used violence and religion to cripple generations and wipe out culture. In spite of this, many Pakistanis seem to think that they can "deal" with the Taliban, strike a compromise with them. This is sadly false: if Swat has been pawned today, it will be Karachi tomorrow, Lahore the next and one day, Islamabad. This will never stop.

The problem in the entire subcontinent can be summed up as a clash of generations. While a new generation wants to reach out and scale new heights, breaking away from old traditions, the old generation insists on hijacking the new and forcing them to conform to what they believe is simply 'right.' As long as the public supports the false idea that culture and tradition are concrete bounds that should not be broken, peace can never be achieved. In Swat, or in Mangalore.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pak surrenders SWAT?

In the most shocking turn of events since the "war on terrorism" began, the civilian Government in Pakistan has declared a ceasefire with fighting Taliban militants in the once-upon-a-time beautiful SWAT Valley. In return, strict Islamic Sharia Law will be implemented there and will be enforced by none other that the Taliban militants themselves, giving them executive and judicial powers that cannot be checked even by the Pakistan Supreme Court.

The new changes in SWAT are devastating: under the Taliban, girls will not be allowed to obtain a formal education, women will not be allowed to step out of their homes unescorted by a male relative, TV, radio, dancing and singing will be banned and men will not be allowed to shave their beards. For breaking the rules, the punishment will be handed out as per the Taliban's version of Sharia, which usually means stoning and beheading.

The virtual surrender of SWAT has shocked civil society in Pakistan, which now fears that the Taliban could be encouraged by the "victory" to take over larger areas of Pakistan. Already, Peshawar has turned into a city under siege, and the Taliban seems to be approaching Islamabad and Lahore. The move has also shocked India and the US.

The Taliban is infamous for killing culture. During its rule in Afghanistan, which was recognised by only three countries (with others, Iran and India in particular, staying with the Northern Alliance), it destroyed centuries-old Sufi culture in Afghanistan and bombed ancient Buddha statues. It will probably repeated the culture genocide in Pakistan.

Ironically, the ceasefire-for-Sharia deal was formulated in 2008, but the Government kept it down and tried to achieve a military victory. What seems questionable is the fact that the victory was never reached. How is is possible that 12,000 army men with excellent training and American weapons could not defeat 3,000 Talibs with no true military training and sub-standard weapons? Some, including legislators, suspect the military is hand in glove with the Taliban, though the civilian Government vehemently denies this. The matter is worth debate nonetheless.

The Taliban has controlled SWAT for quite some time now, but this formal declaration means that for the first time since they were overthrown by Allied Forces, the Taliban has once again started creating an empire. And India needs to be very worried. After all, SWAT is just under 600 km from Amritsar.

Inherit Boom, Bequeath Debt?

In its last budget, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government presented a truly 'vote-on-account' budget. No new tax cuts were unveiled, no new schemes and no special announcements. It fully went as per constitutional prescriptions and was a mere presentation of the financial health of the Union Government.

And it's not too healthy. According to Minister for External Affairs and acting Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who presented the interim budget before Parliament, India's fiscal deficit will be triple the target at 6% of GDP. Revenue deficit is pegged at 5.5% of GDP. The tax collection has been poor, at Rs. 2.47 trillion against a target of Rs. 3.65 trillion. GDP is expected to grow at about 7.1% vs. 9.3% YoY, although that is still the second fastest in the world when many other countries are in deep recession.

The outgoing UPA Government, which will be facing a general election in April-May, warned that the country was going through difficult times, both economically and militarily. While expenditure on defense was raised by 35% following the 26/11 carnage, the Government also made a case for investing 9% of GDP in infrastructure to keep the GDP growing at 9% or more, which is essential to create more jobs.

Money was allotted towards important schemes such as NREGS and the Mid day Meal Scheme. But apart from such necessary provisions, which will suffice until June when a proper budget will be presented by the next Government, the budget lacked any lustre. Over the last few weeks, there was wild speculation in business circles that a third stimulus package would be announced, but that did not happen. As Planning Commission Dty. Chmn. MS Ahluwalia explained, the Government already has a lot on its hands in implementing the first two packages, whose effects are yet to be seen.

The Government also seemed to hint at some measures from the Reserve Bank, although that is purely in the realm of speculation. The BSE Sensex fell by over 300 points today as industrialists called the interim budget a 'plain vanilla' budget.

India's GDP is around INR 50 trillion.

Pre-FInals Begin


Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Feb 16: The final Pre-Final, which is a common pre-final for all branches, began today. Previously, S2 and S3 had written a pre-final. This time, S1 also joined in. The attendence as shackingly slim though: a good 10 students were absent.

The exam today was Maths 2A (PFM2A), which our Instant Poll found to be tough. Most students refrained from solving the question on Gauss-Jordan method. Apart from a minor printing error, the paper was error-free.

The college has announced that Rs. 260 must be paid by Sr. ICON students for the EAMCET forms. Also, a question bank for Chemistry is available in the Library, though it's value cannot be determined by OTFS.

Students are requested to visit the BITSAT to find out their alloted centre. Then, they need to visit again on Feb. 18 after 9:00 AM to book a time slot. There are no updates as far as AIEEE and IITJEE go.

This correspondents NTSE Scholarship has arrived: the second instalment! (OTFS)

The Making of a Dictator

On Sunday, Venezuelans hammered the last nail in the coffin of democracy when they approved a constitutional amendment eliminating Presidential term limits.

The move now allows leftist President Hugo Chavez, who has already ruled for about a decade (the maximum until Sunday was twelve years in two terms), to run again in 2012 and keep running virtually forever.

Already, he has said that he plans to continue till at least 2019. The referendum now gives him unmatched power and, as the Opposition alleges, will make him akin to a dictator. Indeed, he has acted unconstitutionally on several occasions and seems to be little more than a Communist rebel with far too much power.

Over his ten years of rule, Chavez has channeled the country's vast oil wealth into social spending and has narrowed the economic gap. But in return, he demands absolute power. The referendum now fulfils his demand.

If all goes according to the current trend, Chavez will be the President of Venezuela until his death, which is still very, very far away.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Roadies 6: When the Mighty Fall

Episode 5: Mt. Abu

This week on Roadies 6, the team was treated to a delicious Rajasthani meal in the picturesque town of Mt. Abu. Hungry and tired after a long ride, they ate as much as they could. Sadly, their next money task was based on their meal! In came Rannvijay with some pills that umm... ease constipation.

The two teams volunteered two of their members to take three of the pills. The task was challenging: after eating a heavy meal, they had to swallow three of the pills and stop themselves from going to the toilet. For each hour, they get Rs. 25,000. The Om Blues, with new member Kiri, seemed better positioned as Roop from the Brats kept burping all the time: the direction seemed to have reversed for her! 

After an hour, Rannvijay came in with some nice tummy rubs courtesy professional Rajasthani masseurs. If that wasn't bad enough, the Roadies had to drink a glass of water. Roop eventually broke and vomited. However, since her food came out from the um... wrong direction, the Brats were given another chance. They had to drink more water. Bobby bit the bullet but sadly, she gave up and went to the toilet. The Om Blues opened their account with Rs. 50,000!

Now, with anger in the red camp directed against Bobby, the teams were asked to once again select their least popular Roadie. Bobby was chosed from the Brats, while the Om Blues chose Paulomi. These two had to slug it out in an immunity task. The first stage was to walk along a line with traditional Rajasthani pots on their head. Paulomi stunned the world when she pulled it off to the 'T,' walking the whole length without a single goof up. Sadly, Bobby failed to do the same.

The second task was cruel and insensitive to say the least. They still had to walk along a line with pots on their head, but this time, they had to walk on shards of glass! And once again, Paulomi left her critics speechless as she walked the entire distance without flinching. Indeed, she claimed that the glass made no difference! Bobby failed yet again and Paulomi was declared the winner. But her team ended up losing. Because they felt that she was 'undeserving,' the immunity went to the opposition Brats, except for Bobby.

So with the Om Blues and Bobby up for a voteout, the bargaining had begun. The new couple on the block, Nauman and Tamanna, tried to gather opinion around them. They negotiated with both teams and it seemed that Bobby's voteout was imminent. But what a surprise it was!

Nauman was voted out. And the conspiracy was hatched by his ally Devarshi. The fight that ensued between them will go down in Roadies history! But it wasn't just Devarshi, Sandeep and Pradeep also criticised Nauman for getting too close to tamanna. The whole group was left laughing at him, except for Tamanna, of course. She volunteered to go instead of Nauman! But eventually, Nauman was told that while he was a nice guy, he was just too much of a ladkibaaz!

The War of Valentine's Day

This Valentine's Day is shaping up to be one like never before. The lines are drawn, the weapons are being polished. On one side is the moral police: the Sri Ram Sene, the Rashtriya Hindu Sena and Islamic organisations among others. On the other side is civil society: where women want their freedom and teenagers refuse to be cowed down and suppressed.

In the midst of this cultural battle, an interesting campaign has sprouted, 'The Pink Chaddi Campaign' (i.e., the Pink Lingerie Campaign) which asks participants to sent a pair of dirt-cheap pink lingerie to the Sri Ram Sene as a mark of love! This unique campaign, which started off on Feb. 5 on Facebook (it has since been removed from FB, probably because of it's strict rules against political formations) and boasts of over a thousand participants today. 

The Pressure from civil society has been so strong that the Sri Ram Sene has buckled and said that it would not go ahead with its planned 'forced marriages' on V-Day. Others will follow. In Bhopal, a group of lawyers have come together to take on the moral police through legal means. 

Clearly, democracy is just full of love!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pak responds to 26/11 Dossier

Pakistan has finally responded to India's dossier on the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, a good six weeks after the dossier was submitted. In its reply, Pakistan has acknowledged that 'part' of the plot was hatched in Pakistan, although they tagged it with the Global Jihad movement, which also has roots in Spain and Italy.

Pakistan has also said that it arrested some of the key accused under various sections of the Terrorism Act. It also sent a list of questions to New Delhi, asking for further details. According to the External Affairs Minister of India, more information will be provided.

However, senior official for the Pakistani Interior Ministry Rehman Malik, who briefed the press, vented his ire on the supposedly vague nature of the dossier. His assertion that 'Ali, Sialkot' is as vague as 'John, New York' or 'Sharma, New Delhi' is legitimate. He also claimed that various items, including the boats that ferried the terrorists from Karachi to Indian waters, were recovered. Throughout the briefing, he maintained that only non-state actors were involved. The alleged role of the ISI was not mentioned anywhere. 

Most importantly, Mr. Malik named the LeT as the main organisation behind the seige. Interestingly, the LeT is supposed to be proscribed in Pakistan. The e-mail from the fake Deccan Mujahideen (which all governments but the Chinese have concluded is false) was sent by Zarar Shah, a key LeT commander.

Overall, despite some criticism from various circles, the Pakistani response was quite good and it might just be possible to prosecute the masterminds behind the attack. If that happens, Indo-Pak relations will certainly take a turn for the better.

The Successful De-Hyphenation

One of the major successes of the Bush Presidency was the de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan. After decades, the two countries were treated as separate nations, with different visions, issues and foreign policies.

However, when President Obama took charge, there was a fear in New Delhi of re-hyphenation, particularly after envoy Holbrooke was supposed to take charge of India and Pakistan. After a bit of quiet diplomacy in Washington, Obama's team changed his brief to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Even better, the Department of State explicitly stated that Kashmir would not come under his mandate!

In one of his last interviews, US Ambassabor to India David Mulford said that the two countries should never be hyphenated again, describing it as a terrible system that does more bad than good. Now, that description seems even more appropriate.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Indian Taliban Resurfaces

Pramod Muthalik, self-proclaimed head of the self-proclaimed Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka, has done a lot to damage the country. From molesting girls in pubs to threatening to marry off girls who date boys on Valentine's Day, his radical Hindutva is a massive threat to India's future.

His prime agenda seems to be to gain 'political points.' Thrown out from the RSS, shunned by the BJP and ignored by the Siva Sena, Muthalik is clearly using his 'Hindu culture' gimmick to make himself famous, albeit for dubious reasons. His premise is as old as humanity: tradition, culture etc. used to encase women within the bounds of their home. Indeed, he feels that 'women/girls should learn to make chapatis at home!'

Muthalik isn't new. Valentine's Day has been scorned by self-proclaimed protectors of Hinduism for years. But his ideas have come to fore at a time when education and democracy are finally changing the lives of women, not just in urban India but also sub-urban and rural India. With education comes freedom and with freedom comes the world. But Muthalik and his goons (all of whom seem to be uneducated, unemployed or utterly brain-washed) have an agenda that will set the nation back.

He will not win. Neither will Taliban-like groups in J&K and the rest of India. Culture changes, and it gyrates towards whatever is popular. And fringe groups (and even political parties) that cannot feel the winds of change will be left to die in the cold.

Chemistry sans chemicals


Sri Chaitanya SR Nagar (Campus 4), Hyderabad, Feb 8, 2009: It was the most unique Chemistry Practical Exam possible. An exam where, in a room full of an array of chemicals and external examiners reading out questions, students were barred from touching a test tube. Well, almost barred. 

The exam started before 2:00 PM, when the JL told us what the titration question was and asked us to remember the formula. After a few minutes, we marched into the lab, where the externals handed over a sheet of paper to us, on which we had to write, rather hurriedly, the formula, equation, end point and a brief procedure for the titration (potassium permanganate vs. oxalic acid). After ten minutes, the paper was taken away and a fresh answer sheet was provided, on which we had to write our observations.

I repeat, 'write' our observations. Because the JL went about telling everybody what the titre value was, so that we just pretend to do one titration and write the calculations. Now, that was easy.Then came the salt analysis. Again, the salt would be told to you, all you had to do was write the tests leading up to its identification. No need to actually perform the test. I for one got Barium Nitrate.

Lastly, an organic compound was given to us (i got Acetic Acid). It was quite simple, the external, not the JL, gave us the compound, told us its name and asked us to write its identification test. Again, no need to actually perform the test. Lastly, we had a viva-voce examination, in which I was quizzed about my salt. Interestingly, because I was one of the "starred" students who would get full marks, I was also asked to perform the brown ring test. I failed, because they refused to accept that Barium Nitrate does not dissolve in water. Well, who cares! They said I added something extra,  I nodded, signed, and left!

Can you believe it? I just left! No special questions, no grilling, just a (rather rude) request to the JL to speak in English :-) The VP and even the Principal came to visit, perhaps ensuring that I get full marks? Only time will tell. Time and BIE, that is.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Accomplished, with lots of help


Sri Chaitanya SR Nagar (Campus 4), Hyderabad, Feb. 7, 2009: The Physics Practicals (IPEPR) truly showed students, from various campuses, just how to copy pro-style.

Prior to the exam, students were asked to sit in Room No. 54 and revise. There, a sort of Bhavan's reunion took place, with old friends meeting after a long time. At 2:00 PM, the exam began. Students were called in to the lab according to Roll Number, where they would have to hand over their record and hall ticket and take an answer sheet. Students were only allowed to carry stationery.

Once inside, students fill in the details on the cover. After that, the external examiner reads out the question, based on the number marked on the Answer Sheet. So my number was 3 and I was given the Simple Pendulum Experiment. Now, the number of observations that need to be taken were not specified, but five to six are enough. Students had to write the Formula, Procedure and draw the Table(s) for Observations. Then, the instruments were handed over the instruments and the experiment began.

Usually, two students were given the same experiment, though it varied. The external moved around and conducted the viva-voce examination, asking just one or two questions per student. In the meantime, the JL/SL went about helping utterly bewildered students.

I for one was able to perform my experiment, although I needed some help with the Vernier Callipers. The SL was extra-nice to me, so he whipped out a calculator and, in full view of the external (nor bribed copiously), checked my readings and finished my calculations. Hey, almost all of my readings were correct! After much coercion, I convinced him to calculate the value of 'g' for me too. 

Now, here's something interesting: if you take (pi)² as 10, the error is a whopping 7%, but if you take it as 9.8, you get a drastically lower error of just 0.76%! Now, my old foes came back to haunt me: my inability to perform mathematical operations, although the SL fixed that for me (I can do complex calculus and coordinate geometry, but multiplication and division is another ball game!); and my terrible handwriting. How could I tell the JL, the SL and the external that their pleas for better handwriting would not work, since it's been like that for ten years?! Well, a bit of white correction ink and some decorative lines later, my paper was accepted.

Now, the VP's hands were clearly in this. They knew my IPE first year mark (98%+) and mentioned her name. They went to great lengths to improve my work. In spite of being one of the first to complete my work, I was the last but one person to leave: all because I had to 'improve' my answer sheet! 

Now, my viva question was simple: what is the time period of a seconds pendulum on the Moon? Sounds easy? Well, I blurted out that 'g' on the moon is zero, so 'T' is infinity! My bad, but when you're in an exam, you don't really have the mind to think. Well, the other question, the time period of a seconds pendulum, was satisfactorily answered.

The Physics Practicals ended after a lot of hard work and corrections. But hopefully, I'll do well. If I don't, well, what do you expect from just five lab sessions in two years?


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vote for the People

The Lok Satta party has a simple motto: Nation before Party. This golden principle on which our democracy was founded seems to have been lost in the last 60 years. Started by former bureaucrat Dr. Jayprakash Narayan, the party is one of the few with a real plan.

They plan to bring in democracy to every section of society, by establishing city/town cabinets that would function as the governing body to specifically manage the city/town. The party has some excellent suggestions on police reforms, education reforms and land reforms. If voted to power, the Party also offers better fiscal management and inclusive development of society.

Most importantly, the Lok Satta Party's central aim is to fight corruption is all spheres of government. The party's deep understanding of the true problems faced by people, it's unifying message and it's refusal to indulge in religio-caste politics makes it the cleanest, most deserving party in AP today. In fact, it also stands out as one of the best in India.

Opinions 24x7 endorses Lok Satta for the 2009 Andhra Pradesh elections, because we want change, we want good governance, we want honesty and we care.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Temporary System Set Up


Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Feb. 4: With IPE Prefianls coming up on Feb. 16, the new administration in the IIT Academy has outlined a new study schedule for S1. The most important shift in policy is regarding the timings: they have been slashed from the previous 7:30 AM-5:30 PM to just 8:30 AM-3:00 PM. 

The day has also been simplified: students write a practice IIT test from 8:30 to 11:30, have lunch from 11:30 to noon and discuss the paper from noon to 3:00 PM. Students may leave at 3:00 PM or whenever the paper discussion ends. The students have been strictly observing this for the last two days.

However, despite stern warnings from the Principal, attendance is dismal. Of the 43 students, just 15 were present today, and only a few of the 30 absentees had a Practical Exam today. However, OTFS has been told that no action will be taken against them, although the Principal strongly recommends students to stop looking at others and think for their own good.

For the juniors, J1 has classes and pre-finals put together, with the Second Year syllabus being taught, in a most controversial move. Powerful students from S1 have denounced the move, saying the first year syllabus alone should be taught in first year.

Lastly, the VP Mrs. Jhansi has been moved to the AIEEE Campus (Campus 4) temporarily to handle admissions. Practical exams are going on, with news coming in about extremely strict externals for Chemistry.

Roadies 6: The Ladkibaaz!

Udaipur (Part 2)

This week on Roadies 6, the stand-off between Tamanna and Palak reached a boil, with Palak hurling abuses and punches at Tamanna, whose only shield was "friend" Nauman's body. Indeed, Tamanna would've been packed off to hospital if Nauman hadn't grabbed Palak and wrestled her down.

The cause of the fight was yet another set of revelations from Palak, questioning the character, and even sexual orientation, of the two! The battle reached such a fever pitch that it culminated with Palak being voted out by a whopping 10 votes: most from her own allies, Pradeep, Bobby and others. Before leaving however, Palak used some strong language against Nauman, calling him a ladkibaaz and assessing each Roadie, before breaking down and hugging her friends.

Before all this, a most dangerous immunity task took place, which involved tight-rope walking across a sea of sharp-ended sticks of bamboo. Interestingly, Devarshi, whose only job was holding up a stick to support his teammate, acted like the hero of the day! What attitude!

After Palak's eviction, Om Blues were left with two members less than the Brats. To even things out, one member of the Brats was chosen to be sent over to the other side. After some voting and discussion, Kiri was thrown to the other side, where he will have to build bridges with the team he once opposed. Of course, he needn't worry about the money he helped the Brats accumulate: only one Roadies will take that home, irrespective of which team they're from.

Now with Palak gone and new tensions emerging in the Brats, the Journey has become more unpredictable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Exams Re-Scheduled

The Hindu reports that Intermediate Practical Exams (IPEPR) scheduled for February 6 have been rescheduled to Feb. 22, on account of Legislative Council Elections. This includes both the morning and evening batches.

Other dates have been left unchanged.

(Source: The Hindu, Hyderabad Edition > Page 3 > Left Window)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Those Vulgar Bonuses

They've done it again! Wall Street's bankers, whose greed and indifference have thrown the world into an unprecedented recession, have 'rewarded' themselves with bonuses worth billions of dollars!

CEO bonuses were a common thing in the bubble days (not that they were justified). But now that the bubble has burst, rather loudly, these CEOs seem to be in no mood to own up to their mistakes. But this time, it's different. It's not the money they earned from selling risky assets that the CEOs are gifting themselves, it's taxpayers' money. And that changes the entire game.

One would think that once these bankers have been saved with trillions of Government dollars, they would discipline themselves and show that they are ready to rebuild the right way. But that doesn't seem to be happening: CEOs continue to gift themselves billions of dollars, in spite of virtually bringing their companies to the brink of collapse.

Can is get more shameless than this? Ideally, these companies should have been allowed to collapse, but the immense repercussions of that (as seen from the collapse of Lehman Bros.) forced the Government to save them. But it's not business as usual anymore: thee banks might not be nationalised (there, I used the 'N' word!), but they need to to clean up their act unless they want to face repercussions from Congress.

On another note, the very idea of a CEO bonus doesn't make much sense to me. These people are paid to work hard. So if they do work hard, why pay them extra? After all, the basic salary is in return for dedicated work, not incompetency. And who gets to decide how much bonus a CEO should get? The CEOs themselves? Wonderful! Judge, jury and prosecutor unto oneself!