Monday, February 28, 2011

Beware, The Month of March

As I write this, the last few moments of February are trickling by. It was quite a long month, despite being the shortest. By far, the biggest event was MTE-1, in particular CE-252, which saw people studying for a mid-term like never before!

But the month will also be remembered for other things. Last sem, I just watched as the debaters of LitSec did their thing as I sat in rather boring General Meetings for Kshitij. This sem, I was with them. Starting with the UG club, we finally made our way (or were thrown, rather) to the Senate Steps, the standard place for meaningful interaction at IITR. Debating there has an atmosphere of its own and I cannot wait for more!

February also saw some action for the next (and final) issue of Kj for this year. I've submitted two stories, following which I spent a solid 3 hours (bakar) and 15 minutes (serious stuff) discussing it with a senior in 4-2, who is essentially jobless as of now. Apart from that, I've also been told to ensure that a first year writes his story on time - no mean feat, that!

Lastly, there is my new responsibility for IITR MUN. I've been made the head of a two-man (hopefully, it will become four) World Press Corps, which gives me loads of things to study. In March, IITR will explode with its biggest event on-campus: Cognizance, celebrated at the Central and Departmental Levels simultaneously. While CED's event - Srijan - tends to be pale, Central Cogni is sure to be great fun.

March will also see the next MTE, which is sure to come with all its fireworks. Before that, I'll be basking in the pleasure of running home for the Mid-term Break, where I can enjoy some normal food!

So, with Cogni, Kj, LitSec, MTE-2 and a week home, along with the regular gush of tuts and practicals, March is a very intimidating month indeed!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Doyen says Goodbye

K Subrahmanyam

Few men cam claim to be have been not just commentators but also creators of Indian foreign policy. From the strategic world of oceanic rivalry to the always relevant nuclear deterrent issue, K Subrahmanyam was the foremost voice whose opinions always made a difference.

Born in Trichy in the then Madras Presidency of British India, he completed his M.Sc in Chemistry but found his true calling in life when he joined the Indian Civil Services. He led a distinguished career and was always an influential voice in the world of foreign affairs.

KS's main contribution was in the field of nuclear weapons. He was a stern critic of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), writing extensively about its discriminator nature. His analyses soon became official foreign policy. He also supported India's quest for a credible nuclear deterrent, rightly believing that it was the only way India could guarantee its safety in such a hostile geo-political environment. When the Vajpayee Government went ahead with the Shakti tests, we was a key member of National Security Advisory Board, which was created to handle national security.

Many blamed him for the round of sanctions that followed the tests but he was ultimately vindicated when the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement was signed. He was a vocal supporter of the agreement, a fact that helped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convince many a critic.

In the military sphere too, KS's voice was heard. He was one of the first votaries of India intervening in the East Pakistan Crisis, which ultimately saw the birth of Bangladesh. This he did despite huge pressure against it from other countries, the US in particular. In the field of administration, his criticism of Vajpayee keeping the post of Principal Secretary to the PM and NSA with the same person saw Manmohan Singh separating the two as soon as he came to power.

For any student of foreign policy, his books on Nuclear Weapons and the Indian Ocean are essential. His clear and insightful ideas and ability to explain them in detail made him one the tallest voices in the Indian Foreign Policy establishment. His death is a great loss for India, but his ideas and his ideals live on. The country owes a great debt to this son of the nation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Arab World in Turmoil

When a vegetable seller in Tunisia set himself on fire, little did the many US-backed dictators of the Arab World (West Asia-North Africa) realise that it would spark off a series of events that would sent shockwaves through the region.

The Arab world, rich in resources but probably the least democratic place in the world, has been on the brink for some weeks now. After the fall of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, many countries are witnessing pro-democracy protests. While in Bahrain, which is arguably the most democratic of Arab nations, protesters were fired upon but managed to recapture Pearl Square in Manama, while the Army and the Police have begun to retreat. Presumably, the monarchy is all set to make huge concessions.

It isn't the same in Libya, where General Qadaffi has been in power for over 40 years and is determined to stick on. Nearly 200 people have been killed by the Army there and Qadaffi has vowed to die as a 'martyr.' Other countries such as Jordan and Yemen and the PLO have made concessions to protesters with varying degrees of success.

Clearly, a democratic wind is flowing through the region. For India, this is a good thing because new democracies would be in our best interests. The US has been supporting these revolutions, but as it begins to affect world oil prices and threatens the might US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, the world's superpower might not be as enthusiastic anymore.

Whatever be the outcome, dictators over the world will remember these events which are unfolding in the Arab World. Change is coming, as someone had once said.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Series: 2011 Assembly Elections

This year, key elections will take place in four states - Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - and one UT (Puducherry). These elections, the first after the UPA was rocked by a series of scams, will play a key role in indicating how India has taken the beating delivered to the Congress by the Opposition. At the same time, local issues, particularly price rise and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, will come into focus.

The elections will be a key test for the Left, which could lose its bastions in Kerala and West Bengal, leaving it with only Tripura. It will also be a test for the BJP, which is looking to reinvigorate itself for the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, particularly in the North East.

As these developments take place, OTFS will track the changes sweeping the country as millions of citizens once again take to the ballot.

2011 Assembly Elections: Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
All through this summer on OTFS

Saturday, February 19, 2011

IOTY10: The Categories

This year, we've tweaked the awards. There are now more commemorative awards, while the media awards have been
trimmed down to size significantly. And, keeping with the CWG 2010 theme, the sports awards have been vastly expanded.

This year, we will be announcing awards for the seven major categories, beginning with the last one, the OTFS awards.

The categories are:
  • Indian of the Year 2010
  • Troublemaker of the Year
  • Politician of the Year
  • Memorable Visit
  • Best state and city
  • Best Entertainment and News Channels
  • Best Ad
  • Best Movie and Documentary
  • A variety of sports awards, including sportsperson of the year, team of the year and a new category, Sports Body of the Year
  • Businessman and Company of the Year
  • The OTFS Awards for label and documentary of the year

Opinions 24x7 Presents
Indian of the Year 2010
This March

MTE-1, Lessons Learnt

Three hectic days of extreme studying, stress and lack of sleep saw the first Mid Term go by. By all accounts, it was the most stressful I've ever faced, reinforcing the fact that this semester is set to be the hardest of all.

While the exams went well on average, CE-222 was a great shock. What was expected to be a simple paper turned out to be long and difficult. But before that, it all began with ES-201. Now, I knew it was a simple subject, but a paper that had just 25 objective-type questions was a little too much! I was done in twenty minutes, while nobody used the entire one hour. Then came BM-201, a disappointment because we expected a fairly challenging paper but got a damp squib instead.

Oh, but that was nothing. The night before CE-252 was rather historic, with several night-outs and major academic discussions in the mess (shocking!). We expected the most difficult paper we had ever attempted to come... but when we did see the paper, it contained some of the simplest questions possible! Everyone was angry after the paper, for the amazing reason that it was too easy!

IMA-01 went badly for me, probably because of the after-effects of studying for CE-252. I was disappointed and now I'll have to study much harder for this subject. Day 3 on the other hand was a breeze. CE-212 reaffirmed my suspicion that the Environmental Engineering Group does not get stationery from the Institute, which is why they made us write straight on the question sheet a la CE-102. Still, the paper was pretty simple if you studied for it and I hope to get good marks.

CE-242 was our last exam and this one turned out to be a breeze. The numerical problems were beyond easy, while the (unexpected) theoretical ones were challenging but answerable. A quick announcement, "Time's Up!" from the professor, and a great mountain was crossed. For MTE-2, I'll make sure that I do all my tuts on time and by myself!

IOTY10: Indian of the Year 2010

A year after India hosted the largest sports extravaganza on its soil, we look back on an eventful year in India's history. The trials, the tribulations and the successes.

Opinions 24x7 Presents
Indian of the Year 2010
Next month

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Day for Birds to Chirp and Donkeys to Bray

Oh, did anyone notice? It's Valentine's Day today! Well, you must have noticed, what with the endless stream of SMSes, declaring that my "lover" (I wonder who) sent me everything from a personalized song to flowers to a racy message! Did you know that yesterday was kiss day? And the day before that hug day?

If you're not LYAO over these ridiculous days, then wait till the day after V-Day, when the newspapers are sure to be full of stories of revolution and citizens taking the law into their own hands. No, not criminal law, but Moral Law! The law of Ram, Sita, Krishna and other great people whom we should emulate every Feb. 14 (and not on any other day).

Oh, what happened last year? Well, there was this brother-sister duo who, walking to the market, were stopped and married off by Shiv Sainiks! But wait, after that gaffe, the Ayatollah of Morality, the Sri Ram Sene (no, there's just one them, despite the plural) has decided to hold lectures on Indian morality in DU. OMG, what an idea! This is called real moral science and this lecture is sure to be as interesting as all college lectures! Of course, they should pull the curtains so that they can't have a look outside, otherwise the view on V-Day would bring the curtains down on their lectures.

So, if you're one of those poor souls who has fallen into the V-Day trap, have a fun day and don't worry too much about the moral police. Although you might want to find a private spot this time, because apart from the DU lectures, they're also talking of making secret videos and posting them on YouTube! Hmm... perhaps they did their homework in JNU?

Power to the People

Since January 25, Egyptians have been protesting in Cairo's Tehrir Square as well as other major cities min Egypt. Yesterday, their struggle finally brought down the American-backed dictator of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.

The fall of the Mubarak regime marks the second time in modern history that a popular uprising in the Arab world has successfully overthrown a dictator in a region infamous for authoritarian regimes.

During the Egyptian Revolution, the Army in particular played a crucial role. It more or less sided with the protesters by refusing to use the strong-arm tactics that Mubarak would have liked. Consequently, a great deal of faith has been reposed as the Army prepares to lead the troubled country into a new era. Unfortunately, the voice of civilians already seems to be stifled. While the El Bareidi-led Opposition is asking for a new Constitution, the Military favours a few amendments and fresh elections to both Parliament and the Presidency within the next six months.

The question that now remains is whether Egypt will grow into a full-fledged democracy or fall into another spell of authoritarian rule. It matters a lot for the world, including India, since Egypt controls the Suez Canal. But more importantly, the birth of another democracy is good for India and the world.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Foreign Policy Reinvigorated

This might sound harsh, but the truth of today's world order is that economics, cold hard numbers, counts. Countries, no matter how big or how small, are counted in the International order if and only if they can influence the world's economy.

After Independence, Nehru wanted India to be the prime voice of Asia. Sadly, we went into a long speed of silence the Asian Tigers and ASEAN quickly overtook us. However, over the last twenty years, our foreign policy has found a new voice, this time backed not by the moral high ground of Nehru but by the solid foundation of India's robust economy.

As such, we do not influence world exports in a great way. India still accounts for only about 2% of merchandise trade in the world and is a small player in terms of currency. But in the services sector, India has proved itself to be the world leader, capturing over half the International services market and influencing decisions at various high tables because of it. Our economic success today has provided that stepping stone that we needed to make our voice heard abroad.

The year 2010 was a watershed year for Indian foreign policy, because all the Permanent Members of the UNSC had their heads of Government visiting and acknowledging India's economic miracle. Except for the Chinese, we have now won the support of the P5 for a through reform of the UN. After 19 years, India was re-elected to the world' high table as a rotating member of the UNSC, giving us an opportunity to shape our world like never before.

Would all this have happened without economic might? Perhaps, some would opine. But I doubt it. Although the LPG policy was primarily designed to help India meets its balance of payment crisis, it has crated immeasurable benefits for other wings of our nation as well, including Foreign Policy. The question is whether we will be able to take our strength further. For this, I think, we need to strengthen our economy even further. After all, the world will listen to you only if you can make them. And money talks, loudly.

Here Comes Trouble

Ah, the blissful first weeks of this semester, like everything blissful in life, have finally come to an end. Long weeks, with hardly any studying and infinite bakar must now give way to that dastardly invention: Mid-Term I.

As always, I present my hopes and (rather low) expectations from this exam. It all begins on Thursday, Feb. 17, with ES-201. Truly speaking, this is a very time-pass kind of subject. All I have to do is memorize some 300-odd slides and I'm done. With a guarantee from the prof that the questions will be mostly objective type, I can hope for good results here. Similar is the story for BM-201. It's not exactly easy, but Finance is something that I've always been interested in and, with a little more preparation, I hope to do well here too.

Day 2 starts with the most abhorrent subject of all, CE-252. The key to this course is very simple: learn every solved example in the Prof's book. It's true! So, all I have to do is study half the syllabus (you read right, he's already finished half the syllabus!) and I might be luck enough not to get a zero, because he believes in digital marking! After that exam, from which I have no hopes, I have CE-222. This is a pretty easy subject and I hope to do well here. The only problem is that I tend to goof up my calculations a lot, which is death in this subject. But I remain optimistic on this one.

Day 2 ends with IMA-01. Truly speaking, this is the only subject this semester that I had actually developed a liking for. While I've done all the tutorials (well, almost), I'm still a bit worried. The problem is also that there are some really smart CSE people in my class, including a certain Mr. 10-pointer, and they're sure to siphon off some of the A+'s. There are also the seniors-who-are-forced-to-study-with-juniors, who showed in my last elective that they can get the best grades with very little work!

Day 3 is pretty straightforward. It starts with CE-212, a simple enough subject. I only hope that they don't ask anything outside the slides because this, being from the Environment Engineering Group, already offers very little by way of interest and I really don't think I can get myself to read Davis/Cornwell after reading the slides and doing the tutorials! Lastly, we have CE-242, the best of the DCCs, and a subject on which I am pinning a lot of hopes. The tuts have been very easy thus far, except maybe the iterative procedures and I hope to see a similar question paper.

Overall, I don't have too many expectations from this sem. I can now be sure of a decent grade in PR-506: Literary and I can master or or two A+'s, it should be good enough. After all, I'm just looking to keep my CG at 8.000, and anything more is just a bonus (it's currently at 9.178!)

About the Busts

A question on think tank, on the need for the new busts being put up all over the campus, elicited this answer from a fellow IITian. Absolutely hilarious!

On a more serious note, these busts are a sheer waste of money. For an institute in which the Choreography Group has to cough up funds just to get a place to practice, this seems to be stinking with a sense of apathy from the authorities.

Mr. Clean, now Mr. Complicit

The CWG Scam, the Adarsh Scam, the 2G Spectrum Scam and now the S-Band/"Space" Scam: the second UPA Government seems to have converted this nation into a scam rajya. If there is anything common that runs through this string of scams, it is the PMO.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is often seen as the cleanest politician in India and indeed, one of the cleanest in the world. However, a clean image is no substitute for leadership. The PM is complicit in all these scams because the PM has not done anything about them.

WHile the CWG Scam and the Adarsh Scam just proved (again) that the PM really has no authority in his party and hardly enjoys any support at all from it, the 2G Scam showed that he does not enjoy any credibility in the Union Cabinet either, despite being the head of it. And now, the S-Band Scam shows that he does not even enjoy any credibility amongst bureaucrats working in his own Ministry (the PMO, that is). Everybody seems to feel free to do as they please because they are sure that the PM is not going to do anything about it.

Dr. Singh should realise that he is fast losing credibility amongst the very voters who voted for his party just to see him come back to power. The rot of corruption now stands at his own doorstep and could soon end his Government. For his own good, he needs to show the kind of spunk that he did during the 123 Agreement. If not, he would be held guilty of complicity by history in the most corrupt Union Cabinet we have ever had.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Newton Defeated


Producer: Mark Pybus
Director: Philip Martin
Starring: David Tennant, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Donald Sumpter and others
Rating: *** (3 of 5)
Pros: Great story and some amazing views from Principe
Cons: Somewhat difficult to understand for the uninitiated

Isaac Newton's Theory of Universal Gravitation has been the standard for cosmic Physics for centuries. At Cambridge, Newton is God and nobody is supposed to question him. But when science gets a ahead of even the British genius, a conflict of interest comes to play. Add World War II to that and you have a perfect story.

Einstein, having done some path-breaking theoretical work on gravity, comes to the University of Berlin. His personal life is in a wreck but his scientific career is all set to take off. Meanwhile, Eddington becomes director of the Cambridge Observatory and, like everyone before him, is all a praise for Isaac Netwon. But when the two start to meet, that too as a German and an Englishman in the middle of World War II, the world begins to change.

The Special Theory of Relativity is dastardly simple but the hardest thing in the world is to accept it. That's even harder to do for the General Theory of Relativity. Upon Einstein's instructions, Eddington sets off to Principe to test the theory. If it is disproved, then Einstein would be lost in the dustbin of history. But if it is proved, then science would have changed forever. And we all know what happened.

The movie gyrates well between the characters' personal conflicts, their losses during the War and their commitment to the greater good of mankind and science. It is not a history lesson; rather, it is a moral lesson for those who seek to use science for political victories, or are too blinded by politics to accept science. In a way, this movie could serve as a moral lighthouse for scientists.

Stunning images from Berlin, Cambridge and Principe never let the movie get boring. The revolving model of the solar system is beautiful; when it was made to stop revolving was deeply symbolic. The story sticks to history as far as possible, although it seems to suggest that Einstein stayed in Berlin throughout the War, which is not true (he moved to America).

For those who are passionate about science or who would like to revisit a part of scientific history that finds few parallels, this is one movie that is a must-watch. Ad for the blissfully ignorant, it's a good lesson in morals. (OTFS)

PS: More on the Theory of Relativity

A Poor Joke


Producer: Indian Films
Director: Sooni Taraporevala
Starring: Jahan Batlivala, Boman Irani, Imad Shah and others
Rating: * (1 of 5)
Pros: A cute little boy with a story to tell
Cons: Everything else: no coherent story, terrible music and lousy acting

The Parsi community in India is one that everyone knows about but nobody cares to remember. Now, we have a movie (in English, with a smattering of Gujarati) to tell us about them. If only it actually did that.

Little Zizou, aka Xerxes (Jahan), is a big fan of Big Zizou (Zidane, the football player) but sadly, his hero never comes to visit Bombay. In the meantime, Zizou's elder brother Arta (Imad Shah) is trying to sleep with a girl, but his plans are dashed by a much, much better-looking rival (John Abraham, in a guest role). Add to that a mad father who is training an Army and several other goofy characters, and you get a potpourri of India's Parsis.

Alas, too many cooks spoil the broth. And this one needs to be thrown out, baby and all. The story is essentially direction less; you can never understand what the point really is. It just goes on and on with no real purpose. At one time you have a beach-house-cum-former hotel that needs to be sold; then you have a love story; and to top it all off, you have a heart attack and a death. Oh, did I mention the cult? This story bores you and really tests your patience.

Some would say that this is a growing-up story. They would be wrong. There is no story here. It's not funny, it's not sad, it's not thrilling, it's simply a test of one's patience. Apart from the well-made caricatures, there is no emotion in the movie. Apart from Boman Irani, who does a good job, all the other actors are lifeless.

This is one movie that I regret watching; I deleted it from my laptop the moment it ended. I warn you: do not watch this. It isn't worth your semi-precious time! (OTFS)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Rise and Fall of a Maharani

As part of my regular reading of biographies of the famous and (mostly) dead, I stumbled upon a wonderful book in the library - A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur by Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The book is essentially a rejoinder of how the princes of India, who pledged their loyalty to the British Crown, lived in the greatest luxury imaginable. Ruling several kingdoms across the Indian subcontinent, some small (such as the one Gayatri Devi was born into, Cooch Behar, in what is today's northern West Bengal) and some very large, like Hyderabad.

Gayatri Devi's story tells us of the other side of British India - the princely states, which were very different from the British Provinces. These were places that had varied levels of governance but were always absolute monarchies. From the tiny Kingdom of Cooch Behar, Gayatri Devi became the third queen of Jaipur state, one of the most powerful in Rajputana.

The book mostly dwells on royal life in India and England, but the real fun comes towards the end, after Independence. The Princes were made rajpramukhs for life and allowed privy purses, but the former was abolished by Nehru himself while the latter and much more were abolished by Indira Gandhi. The way the princes fought for their rights (and particularly Jai Singh's diplomatic stance) tells us a lot about how much our country was changing back then.

The best part of the book was the critique of the Rajasthan Governor - another Congress stooge - when the Swantantra Party-led alliance was in position to form a Government there. Then, there is also a quote from a former Prince, "Twenty two years ago, on this very floor [the Lok Sabha], we were described as co-architects of Indian Independence. Today, we are an anachronism..."

The ending was rather apt, with a beaten down Gayatri Devi longing to return to her husband's arm. The tale of the Princess is indeed the stuff of dreams: from a sprightly young maiden to an MP to a philosophical woman: a story that generations ahead must know of.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Debating, Parliamentary Style

Well, after trying for quite some tine and with a lot of help from a good friend, I finally managed to join the Literary Section's Parliamentary Debate (PD) Group. I must say, debating is one thing but debating in Parliamentary Style is quite another.

In total, I witnessed one such debate, participated in two and - to my absolute shock - trainee-adjudicated in one. The most difficult part is understanding the Speaker roles. Unlike regular debates, a PD has specific roles for each speaker and the debate is not just about making and rebutting points, but also about fulfilling the roles of the speakers to the fullest.

There are many other concepts - The Motion, The House, the Burden of Proof and the Theme - and it takes a lot of practice to get used to it.

In my last debate, there were an odd-number of rookies and since I had the most experience, I was made trainee adjudicator. I assure you, adjudicating is much harder than it seems!