Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ahead: Vizag and Roorkee

I'm off in a few hours to that other great city of Andhra Pradesh, Vishakhapatnam, for my newly-wedded cousin's reception. I've gotten used to travelling over the last year and a half, but it's still exciting.

A whole boggie is reserved for the family for a journey that will take a little over 12 hours as we cross the length of the troubled state. I've never been to Vizag before, which makes me even more excited.

We've got a pretty packed schedule: arrive, rest, Lunch, Reception, visit my mother's school and then rush back to Hyderabad. Why? Because I have to get back to Roorkee in the 29th. You see, IITR loves its students so much that it insists that they spend New Years Day in the campus. Heck, they'd make it a working day if it wasn't a Saturday!

So, I register on Thursday and waste Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Facebook and watching movies because for some reason, IITR has to close the registration process for next year's semester before the end of the year!

Well, as you might have guessed, all this makes me an extremely busy man for the next few days, and this could be my last blogpost before I return to R-land. By then, I hope I can get my grades for my "department core" subjects, although the current trend suggests that I will be able to retain my 9 CGPA! Now, that was unexpected!

Jazzy and Witty Ad


This new Ad for Dell Streak gives you an old British feeling. Simple, jazzy but effective at the same time, the ad shows us a few things that we could do with the product and also keeps us glued to the ad.

Interestingly, a few days back, this was the ONLY ad that was playing on all English news channels on an infinite loop! Well, that shows how desperate Dell is to get its word across.

Years of Learning

The last few days have set me thinking about how much my level of understanding of the world and the country in particular has changed in a short span of time.

I can go back to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections as the first time I observed our democracy. Back then, I hardly knew anything beyond my textbook; to a question as to "who" Smriti Irani was up against, I replied the BJP! I had never even heard of Kapil Sibal back then and had no idea about constituencies.

Since then, I have pulled my resources into expanding my knowledge. Eighth class was in particular important because I began reading the newspaper and got hooked to studying the stock market.

Today, I can boast of a fairly vast reserve of general knowledge and an undying hunger for more. The newspaper has not just become another thing, it's a central part of my daily routine. Indeed, the ability to understand the world around me has helped me cross many obstacles.

My blog has also played a crucial role in this knowledge gathering exercise, allowing me to learn new things through documentaries and comment on events through the editorial. The quest for knowledge has taken me far from those days of 2004, but there is still much distance to be covered. The next few years, particularly my two and a half years in IITR, will be meant for just that. Apart from Engineering, I hope to enrich myself with much more knowledge.

And I also hope to answer a question that has been the centerpiece of my philosophical deliberations for quite some time now - "What defines sovereignty?"

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Country in Transition

PART III-POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS

The year 2010 saw many political twists and turns. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress state unit was violently divided on the question of Telangana; Kashmir witnessed some of its most violent protests in history; all the P5 heads of state visited India in the same year that India was elected to a non-permanent seat in the UNSC; and Manipur witnessed a debilitating blockade that must never be allowed to repeat again.

The year ended with a season of scams; starting with the Commonwealth Games scam to the big daddy of them all - the 2G Spectrum Scam - India witnessed what could be its lowest point in politics. The ruling Congress was forced to witness a lost Parliament session as it kept battling with the Opposition over a JPC. Meanwhile, Niira Radia's most interesting phone conversations lifted the screen off the ugliest side of capitalism.

The WikiLeaks cables from the US Embassy in New Delhi remained a no-show initially, but worked its way up to our political discussion when Rahul Gandhi's remarks were leaked. Indeed, many countries faced severe embarrassment, although most of the cables were not so surprising as was expected.

Maharashtra and AP both witnessed sudden change in leadership, although for different reasons. In Karnataka, the BSY Government took the Constitution to its limits to save itself, while Governor Bhardwaj threw constitutional proprietary to the winds in his no-holds barred attacks, presumably directed from 10, Janpath. Mamata Banerjee raised her rhetoric to new heights as she looks on towards a historic victory in 2011, one that could see the beginning of the end of the Indian Leftists. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar brought the NDA back to power with a over 80% of Assembly Seats, vanquishing the old caste-based politics.

The turmoil we witnessed this year were signs of a nation that is fast changing, where the old is being pushed away swiftly by the new. Next year, we are sure to see some of the ghosts of 2010 come back to haunt the UPA as well as the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh Governments. 2011, with a string of important elections and a looming Presidential Election in 2012, is sure to be as exciting, if not even more than, 2010.

Will India play its role in the UNSC with Independence or will our diplomats see it as an opportunity to kowtow to the P5? Can the Left possibly save its Bengal Bastion? Will Kashmir see a summer of peace? Will Telangana be the newest state of the Union? Will A Raja's conduct prove a decisive factor in the 2011 Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu? All these and more questions are waiting to be answered.

(Series Concluded)

God Save Hyderabad

The Srikrishna Committee (SKC) Report will submit its report on the situation in Andhra Pradesh on December 31 and already, OU students and their political puppeteers are roaring about what arson they intend to indulge in (assuming they do not get their separate state, but that's an unmentioned point).

Clearly, the entire state of Andhra Pradesh is going to fall into turmoil irrespective of what the outcome is. Several companies of Central Paramilitary Forces have been called in and the stage is set for what could be the biggest confrontation since the Nizam was brought down in Hyderabad's Parade Grounds.

What I fear the most is the fate of Hyderabad: the crown jewel of the state and the real crux of the fight. Both sides want Hyderabad for its high levels of development and profitable real estate. But what about the people of Hyderabad? What do they want?

They want peace; they are are tired of political dramas and indefinite bandhs; they want to get on with their lives free from political violence; and they want nobody from any part of the State or the country to tell them what their city should or should not be like. As our ally, we have the new CM Kiran Kr. Reddy, a Hyderabadi boy, which is quite rare in India's political scenario (how many CM's of Maharashtra were from Mumbai?)

Today, the drama king Chandrababu Naidu, who was on hunger strike form 8 days ironically for farmers, broke his fast for no real reason (of course, he'll make up something). The wonderful message from this is that the Chief Minister has refused to budge because of the hunger strike: he has given a clear indication that he will not allow political jokers to derail development and governance.

Will this political courage displayed by Kiran Kr. Reddy be able to survive the Telangana fire? Only time will tell. But I do hope that my city remains as it has always been: loving, cosmopolitan and peaceful.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Search of Peace

The branch change was something of a singularity in my life - a defining moment, which changed everything before it. It was like nothing before: an event in which I gained and lost everything simultaneously. I'm not new to change, but this one was so sudden and rapid that it took its toll on me.

The initial days were pretty bad for me because I was left with absolutely nothing. I spent hours just looking out of my window, my mind blank. It took me time to adjust to my new surroundings and in my new class, I felt lonely, unable to speak to anyone. Life seemed miserable: I thought I'd be looking at three years of loneliness, with nothing to do but study. I had dropped all my hopes and felt so empty...

But then, something changed. I'm not sure what. I got into Kshitij as an exception and I'm still curious as to what exactly helped me get into it. But the clubs in Roorkee are very hollow, good only for gossip and passing time. Watch Out wouldn't have me, so there went my journalistic career. But I lost of lot of other things too. But the first glimmer of hope came from a new friend from a part of India that is very close to my heart, even though I haven't been there. That's all I'll say.

Since then, I have won back my hope, my desire to dream. What I have lost will probably never return, but I have gained a lot too. Roorkee is an unforgiving place, where there are no invitations or handouts. You have to go for the kill on your own. Fortunately, the Library is a treasure trove for someone like me who loves the humanities; I intend to dig deep into it. The quality of education in the Civil Engg Dept is excellent to say the least and this excites me. Guest lectures and a real tech fest make for a wonderful way to stay and grow.

The Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee will be my alma mater when I graduate in 2013. That's very special for anybody and everybody carried wonderful memories of their alma mater. I was afraid that I would only carry away bitterness and a sense of regret; I was wrong. This institute has taught me more than just studies, it has taught me vital lessons in life: fight, struggle and remain cheerful. Happiness is a neglected yet central component of your stay at a place; home is where you can be happy and free to dream. IITR has taught me all that and I now think that I was destined to come here, the last student to enter the course Polymer S&T.

What do I want now? Peace. Happiness. And an egalitarian spirit. Isn't that what everybody wants? Maybe. But I'm in IIT Roorkee and I just don't want all those things: I'm determined to have them. In my quest lies my life, my destiny, my all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time Moves On

PART-II: THE RECONSTRUCTION

At the end of the First Year, we finally had to fill those forms that, in a way, represent the highest academic achievement possible after the first year: a branch change. Initially, I was rather uninterested in filling the form because, I was happy.

But two things happened around that time that changed my thought. First, a new building was being constructed in the Campus (see the Documentary series The Making of a Monument) and somehow, it aroused deep curiosity in me. I saw the building rise from a pile or iron rods in the ground to a mammoth that was soon to tower above all other buildings in Saharanpur. And I wanted to know how it was made. Badly.

The second event was a panel discussion we (me, a few other first years and some seniors) organized on Placements, where I found out the huge difficulties that people from DPT face in placements, including the fact that nobody from DPT is ever made a member of the Central Placements Cell. Even more shocking was the fact that companies follow random timings, which is like a death sentence for anybody who doesn't live in the Roorkee campus, given the fact that placements season coincides with winter.

These two factors coupled, to an extent, with peer pressure, forced me to change my mind. I filled the form with Civil Engineering as the first option and the rest, as they say, is history.

And so I was uprooted from my space, sent to the Main Campus and lost all that I had done in my first year. It is extremely excruciating to have to to build up yourself once again and face resistance from those who did as much, or even less, than what you did in your first year. Nothing was open and the dirty politics of Roorkee took a toll on me. But I was determined to rebuild and create my own niche on my own terms. And the process continues...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

IOTY10: Ad of the Year


The nominations are:
  • Kerala Tourism: A soft, subtle ad that set a new standard for Government ads. View
  • Monster.com: A series of funny ads that had the viewers hooked and kept us laughing well beyond the commercial break. View
The 2010 Opinions 24x7 Indian of the Year
Coming in 2011

Saturday, December 18, 2010

IOTY10: Movie of the Year

The nominations for Movie of the Year are:
  • Udaan: A beautiful story of human spirit and determination.
  • Karthik Calling Karthik: A psychological thriller that was tailor-made for Indian audiences
  • Paathshaala: A simple story about the Trophy Child mindset in the Indian middle class
  • Badmaash Company: An engaging story of smart work and an insatiable hunger for success
  • Peepli Live: A no-holds-barred commentary into farmer suicides and how the media makes a mockery of it
All five films, released in 2010, show us facets of our society. The winner will be the best: but only by a hair.

The 2010 Opinions 24x7 Indian of the Year
Coming in 2011

Nothing Substantial Politically

The Final Joint Communique issued following a Summit-level meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jaibao is a rather damp squib in political terms.

Although the economic aspect - mainly the boosting of trade to $100 bn by 2015 (a very plausible target) - is substantial, it is rather unclear on how the aim will be achieved. There is also little concrete about the adverse balance of payments.

In contrast, the only significant political development is the activation of the hotline between the two leaders, which will be useful is cooling down any future flare-ups between the two. However, the issue of stapled visas finds no mention. There is however, a resolve to understand each other's aspirations and be sensitive to each others problems, but that is hardly anything to hold on to in hardcore negotiations.

However, it was clever of Indian diplomats to play the Tibet card, equating Tibet to China with Kashmir to India. Although that is slightly flawed if you look at it historically, it is useful as a veiled threat to China. At this point of time, nothing less than a few subtle threats will work to make the Chinese budge, not just in Kashmir but elsewhere too. The non-inclusion of the One-China policy is a strong indicator in that direction.

The $16 bn of deals signed is significant, but it is just the economic side. Politically, the relationship remains fragile. A nice indicator to this was Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's reaction to a question on the Chinese Ambassador's previous statement on the relationship; Rao was found struggling for words and ended with some flowery diplomat-speak.

The BRIC Summit in Beijing next year, the Foreign Ministers' meeting and a possible standalone visit by the Indian PM would form the high-level exchanges next year, as of now. But apart from the BRIC Summit, there seems very little that could come out from them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Borders Do Exist

The biggest possible irritant in Sino-Indian relations is surely the border dispute. India and China share a 2000-km border that was the scene of a bitter was in 1962: one that India lost, but used that loss to learn some valuable lessons. Thus was born RAW and died our firm belief that the Himalayas were impenetrable.

However, post-Pokhran, the dynamics have changed. It is highly unlikely that any war will ever break out between the two, though the two Armed Forces do stay prepared. What is far more irritating is China's aggressive moves on Indian territory.

Pakistan, in its invasion of the then free kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, unilaterally and illegally ceded Aksai Chin to China, which it has controlled ever since. China, on a very flimsy ground, also claims Tawang. Or so it did until a few years back, when it stated claiming the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh and started referring to it as 'Southern Tibet.' China has even gone as far as protesting the Prime Minister's visit to the state.

China also shows a rather loving attitude towards PoK, which by Pakistan's rhetoric should also be disputed territory. Yet, unlike India, where general Indian citizens cannot become domicile of J&K, Pakistan treats PoK like its own province and goes as far as allowing the PLA to enter the region for "assistance." These are some of the major irritants.

Now, it is fashionable to say that we should set the boundary dispute aside and discuss it at a later time. But this is unsustainable. 14 seemingly failed rounds of negotiations show that neither side is prepared to budge, while China's rhetoric has gotten more and more aggressive.

Overall, I believe that India can never really trust China on boundaries and needs to be constantly vigil. We must assert our territorial integrity with confidence, as we have been doing so far. For its part, China must see that none of its neighbours is happy with its "peaceful rise," as the recent ASEAN+ Summit brought out, and more aggression will alienate Asia even further: and America will gladly fill in the void.

A Class Act


Title: Come and See
Product: The Raymond Shop

This new Raymond Ad is a class act in itself. It's sleek, flows smoothly with the catchy music and does what it was supposed to do: advertise the products. Raymond's ads have always used great music, albeit adaptations. Still, the overall mix is always great, and this one is no less.

You might also check out the Hindi version.

Sino-India FTA? No Way!

Three down, two to go. Of the P-5 countries, only China and Russia were left to send their leaders - and CEOs - to India this year. Now, China has taken care of that void.

But it must be recognised that the Sino-Indian relationship is fundamentally different from that of India's other P-5 relations. China is the only major country in the world that has not accepted democracy and freedom as a way of life and continues to distort the yuan's value. It does not fully comply with WTO norms and has perhaps the worst record in the world as far as intellectual property goes. And most importantly, it is our largest trading partner but also creates a massive current account deficit, while laving the capital account unchanged.

In the run up to the summit, the Chinese premier has spoken of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two Asian giants. This would be preposterous from India's point of view: it would be akin to importing unemployment from China! True, it would benefit some Indian industries, mainly those that import raw materials from China, such as Pharma. But it would be disastrous to our small manufacturing sector, which would be wiped out entirely by ultra-cheap imports.

Another problem is the exchange rate, which is kept artificially low by China. Although this affects the US much more than any other country, it is a matter of concern for India too. An FTA is signed between two countries that have similar laws. Between India and China, this is just not the case.

While this visit is sure to yield several business deals ($16 bn dollars is what is being talked about), the Government of India must fiercely resist any calls for an FTA. As of now, the Indo-ASEAN FTA is what we should be looking at using to our benefit. There's no time or reason for a Sino-Indian FTA.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Stint as a Journalist

IN-DEPTH AND RENAISSANCE

A notice on the Mess notice board was how I began my stint as a reporter for the new newsletter, In-DePTh. Of course, I knew about it before that.

I remember that night, when I was practicing for a play in the Auditorium when Lamba called me (he came personally) to the Common Room. He said it was about In-DePTh and said that he felt I would be interested - how right he was!

And so began a wonderful journey. I started by co-writing my first story about thefts in the hostel. They loved it so much that they put it on Page 1. And after that, although my co-writers would change, I would find my name in every issue of In-DePTh. From the New Academic Block to smaller stories, I was in the meetings, I was on ground zero, I was doing it and I was loving it!

The spring semester saw a slow-down for the newsletter, as we shifted our focus to Renaissance. However, it was there that I understood my limits. Somehow, only lecture-y articles were coming from my mind, not the funky stuff that the Editor-in-Chief was asking for. Still, I made my contribution by collecting over a dozen articles from First Year and editing them too, at the Editor's behest.

My time with In-DePTh and Ren (to a lesser extent) was so wonderful that I was already getting a team ready for the next year, when it would be our turn. I never claimed an automatic right to the Editor's chair, but if it were left to experience, I would win hands down. I had even made up my mind to base the first issue on 'Meet the Freshers.'

Sadly, my dreams could never materialize because of my branch change. Still, my months in the field are some of my fondest memories of first year and I gained some experience that, I'm sure, would come in useful somewhere in my life.

A Small but Notable Step Ahead

The Cancun Agreement, finalised at 3:00 AM in Mexico at the 16th Conference of Parties under the UNFCCC, is far ahead of expectations and can be used by both Annexe-I and non-Annexe-I countries to push for a final agreement at COP17 Durban 2011.

After the disastrous COP15 in Copenhagen last year that failed because, among other reasons, the Presidency was too secretive and biased, this year was much better. The Mexican Presidency was balanced and transparent. Sadly, the conference saw the BASIC group being split down the middle, with India and China opposing binding cuts and Brazil and South African favouring it. AOSIS also broke unity in the G77 by insisting that China and India also share the burden of preventing temperatures from rising beyond 1.5C.

At the end, the real hero was Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, whose "flexible posture" opened the door for extended negotiations. Eventually, that process led to the Cancun Accord being approved by all countries, except Bolivia (which also broke ranks with its ALBA neighbours). Mr. Ramesh was a sore thumb in India's rather low-key delegation, but he was instrumental in bridging the gap between developing and developed nations. He received praise not only from the Presidency but also from the German Chancellor.

Of course, we still do not have any solid agreement. A $100 bn fund and technology transfer have been agreed upon, but the Kyoto Protocol seems as though it will indeed meet an end in 2012. A lot of work will have to be done in order to have a final agreement in Durban and the world will be looking to India for leadership. This issue is crucial to India's farmers, who make up an overwhelming majority of the population, and it is only correct for us to tackle it with all the seriousness it deserves.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wasted or Not, We Shall See


The Winter Session of Parliament was a washout, with not a single days' worth of work being taken up. The reason is the logjam over the Opposition's demand for a JPC into the 2G Spectrum scam, arguably Independent India's biggest scam.

On one side, the Opposition, primarily the BJP and the CPM but also other smaller parties and even the Trinamool Congress (a UPA constituent), is determined to force a JPC. On the other, the Congress is equally determined not to constitute a JPC.

The reasons for the Congress' stubborn attitude are varied: it could be that there is some genuine wrongdoing on their part; or, it could be sensitive to the fact that the UPA, being a minority Government, will be a minority on a JPC and that could be very embarrassing. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Nonetheless, as LK Advani put it, sometimes doing nothing can also yield results. The logjam cost Parliament a lot, but the whole issue has brought to fore the face of corporate lobbying in India, which, unlike in the US, is still hidden and/or ignored. Radiagate, as the whole issue is being called, has left the credibility of some of India's celebrity-journos in tatters. A CBI investigation and a Supreme Court case are on to bring out the truth. Yet, the legitimate demand of the Opposition for a JPC cannot be ignored, because only a JPC an make recommendations and rules to prevents such a thing for ever happening again.

Sadly, the loss of the Winter Session saw some key bills - including ones related to sexual abuse and higher education - being dropped, with only appropriation bills being passed, that too by voice vote. The BJP plans to take the issue into the Bidget Session too: this is highly undesirable. One lost session is bad enough, but two or more is pushing the limits of democracy. There are other instruments available to the houses of Parliament to reign in the Government and the Opposition should explore those. Continued impasse is just not the way forward.

It was Raining Marks

THE DREAM SUBJECTS

My second semester at IIT Roorkee came after a brutal first semester, in which Electronics and Machine Drawing mutilated my marks and left me with a CGPA of 8.333, the second-highest in PST.

In the second semester, I was determined not to make those very mistakes that had cost me so dearly in Electronics. Fortunately, I discovered that none of my subjects were as bad as Electronics. The most amazing thing was just how good I was at PH-101, a subject that I initially faltered in but eventually developed a strong aptitude for.

Another surprise was EC-101A. Back in December, I studied a bit of C from a book but never got down to writing a single code. So, when I borrowed Schaum's from Narayanan, I was initially a bit overwhelmed by the syntax. But with a little practice, I was soon solving all the tutorials (I doubt anybody else cared to do that in the class) with relative ease. I was also the only person who kept asking for the practical class, although the rest of the batch refused to come. I hardly struggled at all in this subject, although many around me found it extremely difficult. I completed the course with an A grade and wrote several posts on it, mostly declaring my revenge from the E&CE Dept for Electronics!

Other subjects, HS-102, MI-102 (I scored the third highest in the institute in that), MA-102 and BT-101 (I scored the highest, with a net total of 95/100 points!) were a pleasure to study. None was particularly easy but no so overwhelming either. The only glitch was EE-101. I felt that this one had all the signs of being the second electronics, but a very easy ETE paper saw me come away with a cool A in that. For this subject, I even skipped a rare chapo from Pucchi!

My grade sheet was a sight to marvel at: two A's and a string of A+'s! An SGPA of about 9.7 pushed my CGPA to 9.038, a level that I, for one, consider unsustainable, although 8.5-8.7 is highly desired. I had finally left the ghost of Electronics behind me, although a firm yardstick - let me call it the "Electronics Standard" - was established to ascertain just how about a subject can get before I hit the panic button.

Marks flowed fairly freely for me: I was awarded great PRS/PRE marks by very friendly professors. The profs in this semester were much better than those in the last and the subjects themselves were far more interesting. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, for me to have such a combination of subjects every again. A spectacular semester for academics, indeed!

Welcome to Rape Central

Yet another case of rape in the National Capital has, for the umpteenth time, demonstrated just how unsafe Delhi is for women. This incident is not the first of course. Last month, a female call-centre employee from Mizoram was pulled into a car a few feet from her home and gang-raped. Foreign tourists and even diplomats have faced the crime of rape in Delhi.

It's not as though the Delhi Police is not trying to end the menace of rape. But it is an under-staffed force that is facing a massive tide of rape-happy hooligans who not only like to break the law but do it with a vengeance.

Furthermore, if the BPO employee's case is correct, then law breakers from neighbouring Haryana, where lawlessness is even more prevalent, find it very easy to enter Delhi, particularly at night. The hooligans, often in gangs, know which roads are less patrolled at night and use those roads to perpetrate their crimes.

But the question is, what can be done? Prevention is one measure: women simply have to be more careful and employers have to take special care of their female employees. However, this will embolden law breakers to try even grander plans. The best way to fight is offence here: laws need to be tightened and enforced with a vengeance. Exemplary punishment must be meted out; the Supreme Court has even suggested rape as a rarest of rare case, meaning a case that carries the death sentence with it.

Most importantly, attitudes need to change in Delhi. As reported by The Hindu Sunday Magazine, actor Gul Panag complained of harassment by Delhi men during the Delhi Half Marathon. If a powerful person like her could face this, the newspaper asks, what about women who, for the purpose of employment, are forced to travel in crowded buses in Delhi? This is a serious matter and a state that can elect a woman Chief Minister should treat women with more respect.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Looking for Opportunities

PART 1: THE GOLDEN SEMESTER

The year 2009 ended on a high note as I had finished my first semester at IIT Roorkee. With the constant fears of the seniors behind me and having gotten used to New Malviya Bhawan, I was looking forward to a great semester ahead.

And I certainly got it. The semester had Tarang and Cognizance Evolution, In-Depth as well as some wonderful subjects (PH-101, EC-101A and MA-102 to be precise).

TARANG
The spring fest of IITR was an amazing experience! The stage, the events, the people: it all seemed so magical. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful senior - Abhimanyu - who let me co-organize the literary events Podium with him. I wasn't just noting down names for registration of noting scores, I was the host, I was talking to people, I was coordinating what turned out be a very successful event. In fact, I was living my dreams!

It was the first time in my life that I was doing something like this. We organized Crossfire, a debate event, where we saw huge participation that went way beyond our expectations. Although I had prepared the PPT, me, Vaishali and Piyush had to make up new topics at short notice! With Sanjith sir and Bakshi sir as our judges, the event stretched into the night and we decided to hold a second round.

The second round was spectacular and I was proud to have been a part of it. After Crossfire, we organized a quiz - Fundamentals - that was a bit too hard for the teams. With less than 10% of the questions having been answered correctly, the event was fun but not up to our expectations. Still, given that it was the first ever that we had organized, it was great!

We also wanted to have another informal event - Ship Wreck - but time didn't allow for that. We prepared for the event at night, enjoyed other events in the morning and afternoon and conducted out events in the evening. Sleeping just 4-5 hours, I had loads of fun.

I was also part of In-JOY, the official newsletter of Tarang'10, which took up whatever remaining time I had.

Overall, Tarang'10 was a spectacular event that helped me live my dreams, and an event that I will never forget.

IOTY10: OTFS Documentary of the Year

The nominees are:
  • The Making of a Monument: The New Technical Block at IIT Roorkee, Saharanpur Campus. An attempt at stringing together a documentary through a series of collages. Although short-lived, the experience was wonderful.
  • Chernobyl: Nuclear Death. At a time when India is getting set to purchase several nuclear reactors, a look back in time at the world's worst nuclear disaster.
  • Don't Tell Anybody: A Study into the Social Evil of Ragging. In the year when the Aman Kachroo case saw the seniors being sentenced to imprisonment, and two years since the historic Raghavan Committee, we looked into the entire stratum of ragging.
  • Now Boarding: IC-814: The Story of the Kandahar Hijack. A look back into India's worst security situation and how we have adapted to ensure that something like that never happens again.
  • The Euro Trap. In a year when Ireland, Spain and Portugal faced imminent crisis, we looked into how their allegiance to the Euro is costing them dearly.
The Opinions 24x7 Indian of the Year 2010
Coming in 2011

Friday, December 10, 2010

Till That Day, We Wait


Lonely, ever so alone
It's been some time now
Since I last spoke of home.
Quiet, nobody with me
To share this burden;
To hold it up with me.

I knew this was coming,
I knew who the enemy was.
But I'll never stop trying,
'Cos I know that I am right.
Yes, I know the truth is with me.
And so do you.

Keep that chair warm,
I'll come around some day,
And take it back with me.
I know that day will come,
When I will be set free.
Till that day, we wait
And keep the fire of freedom alive.
Till that day, we wait
'Cos we know that we are right.

Dedicated to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, currently placed under detention by the most brutal Communist regime in the world.

Cutting 2010 in Three

To me, any review of the preceding year can neatly be divided into three parts.

The first part - The Golden Semester - describes my second semester at IITR and (unknown to me then), the last in DPT, Saharanpur. It was the greatest time of my life, where I lived all of my dreams and saw my CGPA climb to an astonishingly high level with little strain.

But then comes the second part: The Reconstruction. Following my branch change to Civil Engineering, a lot changed. The Empire I had created for myself collapsed and I was left in ruin. I had to build it all back, brick by brick. I'm hardly anywhere near building it all back, but the process has begun.

Throughout all this, our nation has faced several political events. Inflation, food inflation in particular, has been the biggest issue; then came the Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010 and all that followed; Nitish Kumar took the NDA to a thumping victory in Bihar; and a season of scams is unfolding before our eyes. Ah, so much happened in a year!

All these and more will be covered in 2010: The Year of My Dreams. I hope you enjoy it.

2010: My Status Messages on FB

A Sad Day for England

In a move that is sure to rock the very foundation of Britain's education system for decades to come, the Tory-LibDem coalition Government got through a proposal to raise University tuition fees as well as lower grants. The move is bitterly opposed by students, who surrounded Westminster Palace and even kicked Prince Charles' car as it was passing by.

However, although the Bill was passed, it did reveal the shaky foundation on which the Coalition stands. With a nominal majority of 84 in the House of Commons, the Coalition passed the bill with just a 21 vote majority - a full quarter of the nominal majority! The Lib Dems, whose campaign pledges included not doing what they just did, saw the great efflux of MPs, with three resignations and several votes abstaining or even against the party line. Amazingly, even the Conservatives saw a few MPs voting against its line.

The highly unpopular move, coming in the wake of other painful spending cuts, is sure to damage England's education system in the long-run. Thankfully, Scotland has refused to replicate this model, although what it will do to fix the genuine funding issue will have to be seen. The move has shown public anger against the Government, but most powerfully against the Lib Dems, whose leader Nick Clegg voiced helplessness, being the junior partner. Still, many protesters who voiced their opinions on the BBC said that the Lib Dems as a party was finished.

How long the coalition can go on like this is left to be seen. Eventually, Nick Clegg will have to draw the line as to how far he is prepared to walk with the Tories, lest his own party face extinction. How long will that be? Well, now, that's a good question.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Really, Anyone Can Cook


RATATOUILLE (2007)


Producer: Pixar/Disney
Directors: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Screenplay: Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco
Pros: Excellent story, lively animation, great voice-over, the rat is cute
Cons: Tends to be a bit repetitive with the antics
Rating: ***** (5 of 5)
Winner of an Academy Award

Anyone who has done it will tell you that reviewing an animated movie is much harder than a regular one, mainly because an animated film does that not the regular actors, props and lighting to comment on. Nonetheless, watching an animated movie is always fun, and Ratatouille was a joy to watch.

Remy has a big problem in life: he's a rat. But he's not like all the other rats: he's a cook too. And a really good one. He discovers the joy of putting diverse ingredients together and comes under the tutelage of the world's greatest chef's book: Anyone Can Cook, bu Gusteau. Fate takes Remy from the sewers to Gusteau's now-downtrodden restaurant and there, he pairs up with Linguini as they save the restaurant from collapse.

The movie's plot is by no means simple, but it is simple to follow. One major flaw that animated films have is that they do not make use of finer senses (read, eyes) to convey a thought. This movie however, does not suffer from that. Without using any words, the rat's emotions are conveyed beautifully. The splendid display of the Eiffel Tower and the fast-paced kitchen scenes make for a delightful watch.

The real strength of the movie is in the screenplay. The dialogues fit perfectly and the little speech at the end is not droning but rather, enjoyable.

Overall, this movie is appealing to both kids and adults alike. It's beauty lies in its innovation and simplicity. If you haven't seen this one, you haven't seen any animated movie worth watching. (OTFS)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Home Beckons

It was a strange semester, with the mid-term break coming close to the end of the semester. Nonetheless, as I had said a month and a half back, it's time to go back.

I've decided to go by train this time, mainly because it's been so long since I used this means of travel. I've got plenty of time - three weeks - to stay at home, so I'm taking it light.

I'll be taking a late night train from SRE to NZM and from catch the 7:30 AM AP Sampark Kranti Exp to Hyderabad. By 9:00 AM on Dec. 9, I'll arrive at Sec'bad station.

This break will be really special since I'll be attending my cousin's marriage. It's been so long since I've actually been to a marriage, let alone a relative's, that I'm not even sure of what the ceremonies are about! Still, it'll be great fun!

And of course, there's the food at home... oh, so delicious, available without a line! Oh, I can't wait. Hyderabad, here I come!

Oh, Really, Channel-I?

The reason for the mistake is simple: RKB is not listed on REGOL and only those people (39 of us) who chose to get that rectified are listed here.

Don't worry, RKB has 600+ inmates, it's not all that unpopular :)

My Encounters with HS


HS-101: Technical Communication
HS-102: behavioral Science
HS-201: Economics

These three made up the Institute Core courses from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HS Dept for short).

Studying Humanities in a proper University setup was truly exciting. While 101 was an extremely simple subject, which required nothing more than good English for a good grade, 102 was terrible. Not because the subject was terrible - it was very interesting, actually - but because of the way it was taught and tested. And then came 201, the God subject, the greatest I've ever studied. This is a subject that opened up my eyes to the world and the first time in an HS course that I felt I really had to wrack my brains. Beautiful!

Sadly, the HS saga ends here for now. Next semester, I have BM-201: Business Concepts and Practices from DoMS. That would complete the HSSMC Institute Core courses. There are no HSSMC courses in 3rd year. In fourth year, we get to choose an elective from HSSMEC group in each semester.

In fact, I'm already looking at taking IHS-03: Introduction to IPRs and IBM-02: Banking and Bank Finance, unless I change my mind, of course. But till then, it was a great time with HS, but it ends here. It's time for core engineering now.

Till we meet again in fourth year!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Eyes of a Politician


FROST/NIXON
(2008)

Producer: Universal
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall and others
Pros: Great use of suspense, Frank Langella's eyes say it all
Cons: Undecipherable for someone who hasn't read their history
Rating: *** (3 of 5)
Nominated for an Academy Award

Political movies always tend to be dark, with very little comedy. Of course, that's not a bad thing. And when the movie is about one of the most controversial American Presidents in history - Richard M. Nixon - the darker it gets, the better.

The Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, opening up diplomatic relations with China, banking deregulation and finally Watergate: Nixon's legacy in his short-lived term is long. But in the movie, Nixon (Frank Langella) shows no remorse and firmly believes that as President, he did no wrong. And he's desperate to find a way to return to Washington politics.

And his desperation finds vent in David Frost (Michael Sheen), a glitzy British talk show host who is more at ease interviewing beautiful divas than politicians. Frost brings up this wild idea that he must interview Nixon but hardly finds favour with any major production house. At the end, he is forced to pay for most of the bills on his own.

Joined by his producer and investigators, he gets down to preparing for the interviews. Or rather, they get down to that and he goes off with his new girlfriend, Caroline (Rebecca Hall). But the interviews take a toll on him and it becomes apparent that this is going to be the biggest joke in television history. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout the movie, Langella's eyes do most of the talking. In them we can see the anger, desperation and, later, the repent of Richard Nixon. The movie, however, doe not do much for those unacquainted with American history and might be rather confusing. Nonetheless, some of Nixon's final words - "If the President does it, then it's not illegal" - stand as the most powerful words in the movie.

For those looking for a laid-back movie, this is not for you. But if you're lie me and enjoy diving into the murky world of political journalism, then this movie is for you. A brilliant performance by all the actors and a powerful story to tell: what more could you ask for? (OTFS)

A Well-Researched Story


LAKSHYA (2004)

Producer: UTV Motion Pictures
Director: Farhan Akhtar
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri, Parmeet Sethi and others
Pros: Great story, well-researched
Cons: Priety Zinta's delivery is poor
Rating: *** (3 of 5)

The 1999 Kargil War is one that Bollywood has not touched up on much. While other topics, particularly terrorism, have found weight with Bollywood producers, Kargil was somehow kept in the dark, or in a dim light at best.

With Lakshya, Farhan Akhtar aims to shed some light on that dark corner. A tale of a confused mind, confused hearts and the great game in Kashmir all come together in this beautiful movie.

Karan (Hrithik Roshan) is a confused young man, unsure of what he wants to do in life, while his girlfriend Romilla (Preity Zinta) is pretty sure of he ambitions to be a top journalist. Karan decides to join the Army one day and, much to his parents' shock, gets selected for training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. Of course, military life proves too much for Karan, yet he lands up in the mountains of Kashmir just before the Kargil war.

Two of the most powerful scenes in the movie are the oath-taking ceremony at the IMA, where the words, "... regular Army of the Union of India" brought tears to my eyes (metaphorically speaking); and the final battle scene on Peak 5719, where the Tricolour is finally unfurled.

The music is rather catchy and Hrithik's dancing greatly complements the tune. Hrithik's acting itself is very good, although his transformation from immature to mature is rather abrupt. Preity, on the other hand, doesn't put up a great performance and tries too much to imitate Barkha Dutt, particularly the scene where she stands before the Bofors Gun, in which here dialogues are clearly forced out.

The scenes of Kashmir shown in the movie are stunning but the Director does not show us more than a glimpse of the life of the people there who live under the constant fear of war. Perhaps it's better so as it would have added to the already long duration of the movie. The costumes are excellent however as is Amitabh Bachchan's fine acting.

Overall, the USP of the movie is the way in which it was well-researched, making it thoroughly believable. The movie evokes a sense of patriotic pride and is worth a watch anytime. (OTFS)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Our Moral Universe is Indeed Shrinking

A series of scams and money laundering to the tune of several billions of rupees has left the nation shaken. Congress President Sonia Gandhi lamented that "our moral universe is shrinking." How true.

The fact of the matter is that our entire society is corrupt. Nepotism and cronyism are not symptoms displayed by our netas and babus alone: given the right opportunity, each and every one of us would do the same thing.

The problem is that we no longer value hardwork, we only value the outcome. So, while a maid who toils for hours gets very little respect, everybody aspires to be an Ambani despite that fact that we all know that most highly successful businessmen are corrupt or abuse their power.

Our society has become one that no longer respects honesty. Honesty gets nobody anywhere today. The aim is always to cut each other, to push ourselves ahead without stopping and thinking about the damage that we are causing. The problem will not be fixed by attacking politicians or overhauling the political system: this is a crisis of national conscience and we must address it together as a nation.

The Subjects in CED

The Pride of the Nation

In a feature in the IE today, a retired Admiral pointed out that while land invaders had mixed with India's culture and become Indians themselves, invaders from the sea had always hurt the people of the land and plundered it wealth. And it was the sea-blindness of those days that left us open to foreign occupation and prevented us from propagating our own ideas.

But that was then. Today, December 4, is Navy Day, which commemorates the successful completion of an operation by the Indian Navy during the 1971 War. The Indian Navy today could be described as an adolescent: it has strength spunk and the courage to take risks, but it is not strong enough to take on the world. Yet.

Rising from a small armada to defend the East India Company's interests, to the Royal Indian Navy and finally the Indian Navy, the institution has a legacy of over 400 years. But it is the future that is really exciting. As the IN prepares to commission INS Arihant and the first indigenous Air Craft Carrier is being built at Kochi, the IN is preparing to acquire an even greater Blue Water Capability. This is essential to India's economic and geopolitical interests in an increasingly globalized world.

Simultaneously, the Navy is looking to strengthen its Brown Water Capabilities to ensure that something like 26/11 never happens again. Thus, the Indian Navy, with its thousands of Officers, Sailors and support staff, is set to become a major pillar of India's defence and growth.

On this, Navy Day, I take pride in the fact that I too was associated with the Institution and am proud of its legacy, discipline and way of life. The nation salutes the brave men and women of the Indian Navy.

Sha Noh Varunaha!
Jai Hind!

A Line Like Never Before



A poem about the RKB-Cautley Mess



I think I shall never see
A line such as that in RKB.
Oh see the line as she grows so wide,
As she sprouts branches on either side.
Lazily she moves along ahead,
Gathering speed only for a morsel or a shred.
Ah this line, she is an inspiration!
Savour the wonder of rice, a real treasure!
And leave behind what gives false pleasure!
Naan, puri and roti were never meant to be,
So teaches the line in RKB.
You too can join the line,
All you need is patience and time.
But if you are like me, then you’d rather not see
A line such as that in RKB.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Year in Review


This month, get ready for the final series of the year on Opinions 24x7. 2010: The Year of My Dreams will take us back through 2010: the Golden Semester (Spring 09-10), Life after the Branch Change, Political developments in the year 2010 and much more.

This, along with IOTY10, will form the bulk of the last few posts of 2010. Next year, we promise much more!

2010: The Year of My Dreams
All through December on OTFS

Don't Give in to Chinese Blackmail


Next week, the Nobel Committee is scheduled to give away the Nobel Peace Prize - humanity's highest award - to Chinese dissident Lui Xiabao, in absentia. He has been incarcerated by the Chinese for eleven years for "subversion of State power," for the crime of demanding human rights guaranteed by China's own Constitution.

In its over-zealous bid to paint the Nobel Peace Prize a political tool of the West, China has virtually threatened every country in the world to stay away from the ceremony or else face "strained ties," which is diplomatic jargon for using its economy to harm others.

But the world must not allow China to blackmail it like this, particularly India. As K Subrahmanyam observed, China remains the only one amongst the most powerful nations in the world that does not recognise the greatness of Democracy. We cannot boycott the Nobel Peace Prize when so many of our own have been honoured and celebrated by the Nobel Committee.

China is wrong if it thinks that it can use its economy to hold the world to ransom. China, with a huge export base but a very low level of domestic consumption, is dependent on the world. The Communist Party needs the entire world to ensure that it does not fall, the world does not need the Communist Party. Democratic Nations such as ours cannot bow down to the demands of an authoritarian state, it would be a betrayal of the ideals of our Founding Fathers to do so.

China says that attending the ceremony would be tantamount to interfering in China's internal affairs. But China doesn't seem to care much for India's internal affairs when it staples sheets of paper on J&K citizens' passports. True that diplomacy does not work on tit-for-tat, but this is a fundamental question on our own sovereignty. Today, the Chinese ask us to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize. What next? Where does this end? How long are we to play second-fiddle to China, as we did with Tibet and Taiwan?

India must send its representative to the Nobel ceremony and we must celebrate the Prize, as we have always done. We are a democracy and China has to learn to live with that.

Nations Can't Run Like This

When WikiLeaks released the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, it was justified in doing so because these were two wars that had created enormous public outrage. But the release of secret American Cables can never be justified.

Countries need a level of privacy and secrecy to work on their foreign policy: this is a fact. No country can reach substantial results with foreign powers if they have to continuously manage public agony, which is seldom based on the patient logic that diplomats use. Diplomacy cannot be subject to the whims of a loud public, it must be quiet and must take place behind closed doors. Of course, the final outcome of diplomacy must always be subject to public scrutiny, but the process itself cannot be held hostage to it.

True, the leaked cables are damning of the role America played in many parts of the world, including South Asia. But what surprised me was the way in which newspapers expressed their surprise! These were rather obvious things in the cables, things that anybody could put together with some thinking! For instance, we all know that Sarkozy is "monarch-like," so why are we so surprised when a US Diplomat says so too? Or that Zardari and Kayani don't see eye to eye: don't we already know that? A persistent study of International affairs will given you most of what these Diplomats think.

But the problem is that American diplomacy has been hurt badly. Now, sources will go mum and nobody will trust anybody. Just think if Indian diplomats had to face this (yes, the MEA has it's own, private e-mail system too), it would hurt our interests severely. Similarly, American diplomacy has also taken a huge beating.

WikiLeaks has probably crossed the line with Cablegate, as it's being called. Now, we'll have to see what other tricks Julian Assange has left in his bag.

Th End of the Exams!

Eight days, seven exams, five of them in a straight line. I have no idea how I did it, but I did it. With a final line and some information about the Slump Test, my third semester came to an end.

It was a pretty memorable set of exams. It all started with ICY-01. Now, I said that I was dissatisfied with this subject, and I stick to that. But I must admit, now that I know my grand total (he just showed us our papers an hour ago) at 75.5/100, and given the negligible amount of work I had put into this subject, it was actually pretty good. I got great marks (probably a B+ or even an A), whereas if I had worked like this in say, Economics, I would've failed!

ICY-01 was followed by PH-201, one of my priority subjects. The paper went well, although it could've gone better. Oh well. We got a day off after that, which I promptly wasted. On Sunday, while I was studying, I was thinking about the coming week, when we'd write five exams in five days. I hoped that none of them would bomb, because that could have a cascading effect.

Unfortunately, the one on Monday, MI-201, did bomb. But fortunately, it bombed for most people! So, since the Meta people are already ruined in this subject (only Civil and Meta take it), I guess I shouldn't do all that bad in this subject. There was no cascading effect because the next exam was HS-201, my favourite subject of all. The paper went well, although I must admit, it was harder than I had expected.

Anyway, with my confidence reinstated, the month ended and in came December. 1,2,3... that's how the exams would end. Oh, but they would actually end only on the first, which had that Goliath of a subject, CE-241. I admit, I was scared as hell. Thankfully, the paper went well and, although I failed to answer a particular question that still puzzles me, I was glad it was over. I also checked to see how many more Hydraulics subjects I had to take and I found that I just had CE-242 and Hydrology. Obviously, I'm not taking a Hydraulics elective.

The next day, we had that rubbish subject, CE-201. I actually dozed off a bit during the exams, which itself was like a photocopy of last year's paper. But it went well, and with RenB's promise to give "in between 23 and 25" in the PRS, I guess I'll do well in this subject after all. And then came the last exam, CE-251. Studying for it was dead easy, and the exam was also pretty easy, although the question from Estimation was tough. Nonetheless, a smile from the Professor who saw that I had finished the paper long back (and I felt so angry looking at the guy because I was so sure that he was going to give me low CWS marks, as he had done in MI-201) and I was out of NEH-C, continuing on my journey to an IIT Degree!