Thursday, June 30, 2011

Questions for the Future


In each of the four legs, several questions abound, the answer to which will go a long way as policy statements for the future.

Kshitij
  • For one year, the seniors were a major leverage for me. But now, they're gone. One incentive to come for meetings was to meet them: what level, of dedication am I willing to show now?
  • What about juniors - to what extent am I ready to take on responsibility over them.
  • In all the decisions, the guiding light will have to be the fact that Kshitij was my first window to light in Roorkee.
LitSec
  • Would I like to participate in quizzes or just stick to debates?
  • In a non-graded semester, would I attend debates with such regularity?
  • Given my not-so-nice timetable, what decision would I make on attending debates outside?
Civil Department
  • Given the increased tension, where do I draw the line before I end my silence?
  • What about projects in the department now?
  • What about an internship in a group?
  • Sanctions on certain individuals.
Self
  • Novels, newspapers and other literature: the time factor.
  • Meeting new people and differentiating between friend and acquaintances.
  • Planning for the future: GATE, IAS and Placements.

An Amazing Experience


TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011)
IMAX 3D

Producer: Paramount
Director: Michale Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntingon-Whitley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel and others
Rating: ***** of 5 (5 of 5)
Pros: Great effects, good story, IMAX 3D takes you to another world
Cons: The action scenes were stretched a little too long

First, let me clarify that I loved the last two Transformers movies and hence, the expectations on this one were very high to begin with. And it makes the cut marvelously!

The story, like many movies released recently, aims to reinterpret history. This time, it's the Apollo Mission to the Moon that is at the heat of this story. Why did mankind conclude that exploration of the Moon was necessary? What was the need to go there... and why did we stop, all of a sudden? Michael Bay answers these questions with a story of his own, taking us back to the war between the Autobots and Decepticons.

Years before the movie released, we knew that Megan Fox was not going to be in it. Instead, Sam (Shia) has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie), who is luscious eye-candy for the camera. Right from the beginning, we are assured that she is going to put on very little clothing. She even had a meatier role than Megan Fox ever did but alas, looks can only get you so far. In the end, her squeaky-clean face in the midst of dirt, dust and destruction pretty much ruins it. She didn't have to act much, anyway.

That apart, the movie stands out for a strong plot. The director explains ti really well through the Autobots. Once again, Shia (who looks much older now) gives us a wonderful performance. The support cast, including Agent Simmons (John Turturro) and his ex-lover (Frances McDormand) add well to the story. But the real game-changer is the 3D. This movie packs so much action and arsenal into two and a half hours that there's plenty of space for the director to add those powerful 3D effects. And he sure does. My favourites were the scenes on the Moon and all the flying debris in Chicago, which literally felt like they were in my face!

Sadly, the director tries to be just a little political, what with Autobots attacking Iranian nuclear facilities. However, that much creative space will have to be conceded. The only serious problem with the movie is its length: the final action scenes will a bit too much really and it leaves you numb at the end. The movie could have easily been cut short by half and hour. That said, watching Chicago being leveled in 3D was a great experience!

As for the other technicalities, sounds and costumes, they were pretty good and the Director of National Intelligence did look quite good! Although, the problem with Carly still persists. Overall, this is one grand movie, easily the best of the series. The special effects will blow your eyes out, especially when the portal to Cybertron opens up. It could have done with a little less political imagery (so the Department of Health and Human Services works only for robots, is it?) but then, that's even more reason to watch it.

Get out there and watch it, in 3D if you can! (OTFS)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Fourth Leg: Self

If there is one thing that I have learned in these years, it's that nobody can be trusted but yourself. Friends will come and go, but when it comes to the real issues, you cannot depend on anybody but your own self.

It's that realization that pushes me towards working on those things that improve me in some way or the other. At the end, how many friends you have hardly matters: what matters is how you use them. I love novels, I love current affairs... I've worked along these lines. I enjoy writing and I spend a lot of time on Opinions 24x7 and that has helped me a lot.

My immediate concern is of course my internship. Given the fact that I would like to pursue research, a university intern is definitely what I'm looking for. But if that's not possible, other means will have to be explored and explored quickly. Independent work will matter hugely here. Then, when the time comes for placements/UPSC/GATE, I am definitely all alone.

For extracurriculars, I am even more alone. I still don't trust my group in Kshitij, although I want to see Kshitij successful in its eleventh year. In LitSec, I am more or less comfortable but that's because the group is so small, it hardly matters. In the Bhawan, Bhawan-related activities are a major no-no because I give a damn for the politics involved.

In the next two years, debating and working on this blog will form the outer ring of priorities, novels, interns and grades will form an intermediate circle, while the final goal (UPSC and GATE) will form the inner circle. For all these, work must be individual, focused and without fear. This is the single most important and most stable leg of all and it is also the easiest the handle.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Score and Many More to Come


It had to happen. Time and tide really do not wait for anybody! I've finally turned twenty, effectively and unarguably out of my teens. It all seems so strange now. I mean, who cares? There is no logical reason for a birthday party. But then again, the best part about human beings in their ability to act without logic! What would we be without that?

This birthday, I spent the first hour on facebook, invisible, watching wishes pouring in. Some from the nearest and dearest friends I've ever had; some from acquaintances; and many from in between. But it does feel good to be remembered. I think it's to the credit of mankind;s innovation that I can actually do such a thing!

I don't want any great party: I despise that, really. But a small cake-cutting session with my immediate family is perfectly fine. I bought four books for my self, using money I earned myself, and I think that is something very special. Call me geeky, nerdy or whatever, but I do enjoy reading books (fiction and non-fiction) because I cannot stand the sense of ignorance.

Anyway, I had hoped to see Transformers 3 today, but for whatever reason, that cannot happen. No matter, I am equally happy watching movies on my laptop or reading one of my new books. This year is a big one because it will determine much of my future. I hope it goes well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Save the Brahmaputra


Last week, news came out that China had begun construction of a dam at Zangmu on the Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is known in China. This, despite repeated assurances to India that it would not do so. In their defence, the Chinese pointed out that Zangmu was a run-of-the-dam project which would not affect the lower riparian.

However, the real question is whether we can trust the Chinese anymore. After reassuring Indian diplomats that China does not intend to build any damn on the river, China did so and gave a feeble excuse at the end. Tomorrow, China could divert a part of the river to its arid north and make up some other excuse and we would be none the wiser. What's of greater concern is a series of opinions from Chinese scientific think tanks about damming the river at the Great Bend, where it takes a U-turn and enters India.

Communist China has always been rather opaque to the outside world. What exactly happens there is hard to find out, especially in remote parts of Tibet. But this case is extremely serious as a majority of people living in India's northeast, as well as millions more in Bangladesh, depend directly on the river for survival. Millions would be killed, generations would be destroyed if the river stopped flowing. The biodiversity of the region would be thoroughly compromised. For any civilised nation, this is an unacceptable fate.

Sadly, the MEA has been very hands-off on this. It seems the Ministry is not interested in anything beyond the US and the UN and only comes in when there is a fire to be fought. But in this case, we cannot wait. It is imperative for the two Asian Giants to conclude a water sharing agreement, as we have between India and Pakistan for the Indus Water System and Bangladesh and India for the Ganga Water System. The third large snow-fed river of the nation deserves that much attention from New Delhi.

At the same time, our intelligence-gathering in China must be stepped up. If necessary, India can contemplate a spy satellite for this. If we remain dependent on the Chinese for information, we are doomed. The time to act is now: the people of India, particularly her Northeast, cannot be expected to live under a cloud of uncertainty like this.

Next Score


In about 23 hours and 20 minutes, I would have successfully completed my first score. It seems amazing - a journey that took me across this great nation; an enlightenment that saw someone who had no idea that MPs, not parties, get elected, turn into someone who talk indefinitely about foreign policy; a struggle that saw me lose God only to regain him; and the guy who never talks to someone who talks all the time! What a journey!

But of course, this is just the beginning. Despite the risk of sounding cliched, I'd like to say that I have many years to go before I sleep. Next score, I have many dreams. My biggest dream would be to represent India at the UNSC: I know it's a long shot, but it would the best possible outcome. My wildest dream would be to marry an Israeli woman, travel the world and live my twilight years in Shillong!

But seriously, visiting the Northeast is a major priority for me now. Why? Because my patriotism demands it of me: I've been to the North, I've lived mostly in the South, now it's time to see the NE! I would also like to teach students: somehow, the idea that I am using up so much taxpayers' money makes me want to give something back. And of course, I do find research to be a very exciting option.

But one more thing I'd like to achieve Next Score is on the health side: my greatest loss, which can be traced back to Bombay, has been in staying healthy, which I definitely am not. I don't know how, but somehow, I hope to change my habits, change my life and get fit. It's a long shot, but then, so is life.

Next score and many more to come!

(Series Concluded)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What of God?


One question that I have been bogged down by in the First Score is rather deep - is there God? Initially, I simply accepted it as a sort of fait accompli, going to the temple now and then and just closing my eyes.

However, when we left Hyderabad for Kochi, I actually disowned God, so to say. I became an atheist because I was so hurt emotionally. How could any God do such a thing to me? I found no reason to believe anymore. However, if Kochi was where I lost my God, it was also where I rediscovered it. For when a similar crisis came, this time to go back to Hyderabad, I found no way out but to pray with my heart and soul.

I prayed, I prayed hard, not in front of any idol but in my mind. Then, I prayed in front of an idol too. It was not about what I was praying to - I was essentially sending a message into the sky, like some people put prayers into the Wall in Israel. And it worked. Amazingly, it worked. The final result I cannot explain in any way apart from divine intervention of some sort.

Since then, I have seen prayer working in a few other situations. It is comforting to believe that there is a God there. However, while I have no problem with religion as such, I am absolutely against organised religion. It is meaningless - the idea that you have to pray to what somebody else tells you to; worship in a way somebody else tells you to. There is no logic at all to accept this.

First Score and I have come to accept that there is indeed a God, but He is unique to everybody. Organised religion is little more than somebody's fantasy, something that I cannot accept.

No More 'Clean' Waiver


With the adoption of a so-far 'secret' resolution, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, a 46-member cartel, changed its rules and ended India's 'clean' waiver for nuclear commerce obtained after some hard bargaining in 2008 during the Bush Administration in the US.

The bone of contention is the same as it was in 2008: Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) Technology. Back then, the Americans were able to bulldoze all opposition as the Bush Administration staked its entire foreign policy on the 123 Agreement. However, for all its statements to the contrary, the Obama Administration is not so forthcoming.

The real problem is not ENR itself: given the decades of nuclear isolation India faced, our scientists have already been working on ENR. The technology itself is not the problem, the problem is the fact that India was promised and received a full waiver subject to no conditions and exceptions. Now, the new rules take back that clean waiver when it comes to ENR. Of course, it's not direct: these are disguised simply as new rules, the very first of which (NPT signatory) is aimed straight at India because the only NPT non-signatory that the NSG can deal with in the first place is India - this rule is designed to remove the clean waiver and for no other purpose.

What can India do now? The Obama administration, forewarned by Indian diplomats, has already announced that it would remain fully committed to the 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act. How exactly this will happen is not clear, because it seems unlikely that the US is going to disregard NSG guidelines. France declared sometime before that its commitments on ENR made to the NSG and at G8 Summits do not apply to India, and a similar thing was said by Russia - India must ask for a strong reiteration of these.

Furthermore, India must make use of its most powerful asset - its demand for nuclear energy, which is even more essential for the nuclear industry after several countries terminated their nuclear energy programmes after Fukushima. India is not one among many potential buyers -India is virtually the only big-ticket buyer that can sustain the industry for decades to come. India must make it clear that for nuclear agreements, ENR is a necessary part of the package. That would add immense pressure on Western governments to disregard the NSG guidelines. It's a risk because the companies could actually face a firm 'No,' but the most likely scenario is that governments will bend in order to protect their companies.

In addition, India must speed up the process of joining export-control regimes (NSG, Wassenar Group, Australia Group and MTCR). Had India been a member of the NSG, this sort of backdoor upturning would have been impossible since the NSG works by consensus. It is no longer enough for us to work with these regimes, we have to work inside them. A great deal of political and diplomatic capital will be required for this but it is well worth it. Already, the US has circulated a thought-paper on Indian membership at the NSG, but India must not consider this to be an American-led initiative like the 2008 waiver.

The new guidelines are definitely a setback to what has been the UPA's only major foreign policy success. A dent on this would be another huge blot on the UPA. It is necessary for India to proactively take up this issue with all friendly nations and work towards ensuring that such a thing never happens again.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Good Idea, but a Poor Movie


THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (2010)

Produced By: Disney
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Alfred Molina and others
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)
Pros: The basic premise of the story is interesting, fine acting from Cage
Cons: Stretches on with unnecessary sub-plots, a very irritating nasal tone from the lead actor, redundant special effects

In the Harry Potter era, movies about sorcerers have to be very careful and avoid taking a flight of fantasy that flies a little too high. In keeping with that, The Sorcerer's Apprentice has at its heart a decent underdog who rises to become the hero who saved the world. Don't we all love underdogs?

Dave (Jay Baruchel; played in his younger years by Jake Cherry) is your average Physics nerd with no great life and no girlfriend, until he discovers the sorcerer Balthazar (Nicholas Cage). Then there is a lot of drama, plenty of lighting and the world is saved from a certain doom. Yeah, that's about it. In the middle, there are all these silly subplots which are just pointless and add nothing but time to the movie.

Baruchel's acting was just OK, but his nasal voice was a source of unending torture. I'm not sure if he did it on purpose to add to the 'Physics nerd' stereotype or if that's his actual voice but either way, it was irritating. His girlfriend in the movie, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) displayed particularly poor acting because while her voice was modulating, her face was as stiff as a rock. Cage was the silver lining here with some good acting. Unfortunately, his character was not really up to his mark. The rest of the cast simply kept laughing and delivering some lines now and again with plenty of lighting and electromagnetic energy going around.

The story itself is interesting it its essence, but the writers showed no creativity. For example, why is it that when you need magic, you have to have some Chinese connection? In this movie, Merlin is the magician in focus but even then his magic has to be concentrated in some silly Chinese doll. And why does the ghost's age always have to be a thousand years and nothing else? Very poor imagination here. The on-off love between the protagonist and his girlfriend is fun at first but gets irritating and at the end we all know how it's going to end.

Oh, and a word on the special effects: it was redundant. Really, a year that saw Avatar come out with larger-than-life effects also saw an absolutely stereotyped lightning-and-clouds scene in this movie! Even the final set of effects, with a giant star of light being formed, wasn't fortunate enough to get a panoramic view and we got to see it in parts. How very kind.

The costume design was good though, but that hardly changes anything. Poor lines, poor direction and a rather cliched ending sealed it's fate - don't waste your time on this unless you happen to be a serious sorcery buff. (OTFS)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Where is the BJP?


It seems as though civil society has taken over from the Opposition and the BJP does not seem to bother. Do we even need the BJP then?

Myanmar, Realistically Speaking


Away from the hype of the Indo-Pakistan Foreign Secretary talks that concluded yesterday, Foreign Minister SM Krishna completed a 'successful' visit to Myanmar, one of India's least understood yet most important neighbours. Myanmar and India of course have a long history, the former having been a part of British India among other relationships.

The visit was billed as India's first engagement with the 'new civilian administration in Myanmar,' which is a very funny description because the whole world knows that the military is still very much in control. However, it all politics.

The West would like India (and China) to wholeheartedly support Aun Sung Suu Kyi's NLD in its fight against the military. China, for whatever reason, does not care. And India puts in a very convenient little box. India's stand is simple - we encourage democracy everywhere, but we don't export democracy and we are prepared to talk to any Government if it favours our national interests. So clearly, India would like true civilian democracy restored in Myanmar and talks of 'gradual' change. Suu Kyi cannot be ignored by the Government that easily: she is an LSR alumnus and finds overwhelming support among the intelligentsia here.

However, India will not impose sanctions on Myanmar, remain adamant of calling it Burma or criticize its internal dealings because we do not export democracy. And of course, apart from the economic gains that Myanmar's natural resources (natural gas in particular) accrue to India, there is the all-pervasive issue of Northeastern insurgent groups. Bangaldesh has generally turned a blind eye towards such groups and in the region, apart from Bhutan, Myanmar is the only country that has helped India corner the insurgents and bring them to the negotiating table. The reduced level of violence in Nagaland stands testimony to this.

The West has a very cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia and till recently was doing business with Libya too, all in the name of national interests. Zia ul-Haq was the greatest ally America ever had in Pakistan. This is realpolitik: nations work their foreign policy like this and India should do nothing less. India has not forgotten Suu Kyi - Nirupama Rao did call on her, after all - but she will have to fight her battle alone without even a great degree of moral support from this side. It's the sad truth of realpolitik, but that's the way it is.

One day, when India could perhaps get over its addiction to fossil fuels and the Northeast stablises, India could become more proactive on Myanmar. But that day is clearly very far away.

Flipkart.com is Great!

After Inkfruit and Tradus, I decided to try some online shopping that would actually be of some use. After watching the ad on TV and cross-checking on several blogs, I hit upon Flipkart. Now, this site was different for the simple reason that they would not e-mail newsletters to you and had no special discount coupons. Of course, they were able to offer the great discounts that come with vertical integration but they're a simple, down-to-earth company that was founded by a pair of IITians!

So, I ordered four books:
  • Myth=Mithya, a book that promises to give an insight into Hindu mythology
  • Dracula (yes, the old classic)
  • Down the Road, a collection of short college stories ( a rare genre these days)
  • Chanakya's Chant, a politico-historic story that's making waves currently.
The orders were met well within the time mentioned. In fact, Dracula was supposed to be delivered by 29 June but I got in on 24 June... five days before the expected time! Flipkart has its own delivery service and you can track the order at every stage. Payment was a breeze through SBI Debit Card.

But the packaging was really the best part. Compared to Tradus' lousy packaging and even Inkfruit's (which wasn't so bad), they treated my order like their own. It was so well-packaged (as you can see from the picture above) that even if the truck had dropped off a cliff, i don't think anything would've happened to them! apart from the cardboard, the plastic wrap around the book ensured that it was spanking new.

Good discounts, excellent service and no irritating newsletters and SMSes: Flipkart is clearly the best website I've found for online shopping for books. They sell much more than books but for now, my appetite for online shopping is satiated.

The Messiah from Pakistan


With the crew of m.v. Suez finally reaching their home countries after a harrowing ten months of being imprisoned by pirates at sea, it is important to mention the hero of the day: Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney.

Mr. Burney's trust helped arranged for the ransom money (governments are expressly forbidden from engaging with pirates except militarily according to International Law) as well as the safe passage of the Indian crew members from Karachi to Delhi. At the same time, the Pakistani navy facilitated the process with PNS Babur escorting the seamen to Oman and PNS Zulfiqar taking the crew to Karachi from there.

The actions on the India side compare poorly to all this. When the India Navy rescued a vessel and brought its crew and pirates to Mumbai, the Pakistani members of the crew had to spend three months in detention before they could go home. That speaks poorly of India's bureaucracy and the MEA in particular. Again in the m.v. Suez episode, the Indian Government maintained a stoic silence on the issue apart from a little rhetoric here and there and the Indian Navy seemed disinclined to intervene. The INS Godavari-PNS Babur standoff was probably the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Mr. Burney is a familiar name in India: his work for Indian prisoners in Pakistan is exemplary and he could well be a deserving candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. With the families of m.v. Suez finally re-united, all of India holds a great debt to Mr. Burney for his far-sightedness. It's people like him who hold out hope for peace in the region. The Indian Government should expedite the release of the Pakistani doctor in Rajasthan. That would be the best way possible to express our gratitude.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Story: The Acid Attackers

A story about a particularly cruel part of organized crime, The Acid Attackers takes you to Mumbai and the political battlefield that hides behind the glowing facade. One man who found that his talents lay in this cruel crime. And why there are no second chances.

The Acid Attackers
Coming up on Opinions 24x7

The Third Leg: The Civil Dept


The third leg in my life at IITR is an unstable yet crucial one. The Department of Civil Engineering became my parent department following my branch change last year. After the initial hiccups, I've managed to settle down. But now without ruffling a few feathers, it seems.

The problem is, of course, marks. It seems the 7-8 pointers were of the opinion that they would make it difficult for everyone else to study and push their pointers up, instead of actually concentrating on academics. It's an old formula that seldom works. Even if the branch-changers had not come, I doubt the outcome would have been any different. But still, their plan did fail and the entire blame was heaped upon the branch changers.

So, I found myself popular with the fellow nine pointers, unpopular with the 7-8 pointers and friendly or just neutral with anyone below 7. There are exceptions of course. But it is also a fact that the 7-8 pointers hold the political power in the class and in order to get my work done, I need them. I'm not interested in wielding power myself (it's too much work, really) but when I need it I have to find it. For example, being the co-compere for Bhawan's Day (a job for which I received praise but which I did not really enjoy) was almost completely on account of my class connections, though LitSec had a minuscule contribution too.

But in the future, I will be needing the class even more: during internships, during placements and during electives. I was able to use my class to the fullest for IMA-01, although that did insulate me from others. Clearly, when it comes to getting the job done, I need the civil department. And they need me - unlike some, I have carefully ensured that my reputations might be anything but not that of a selfish, arrogant person (which I actually believe I am). That gives the class a reason to stay in touch with me - and that's all I want.

The challenge will be to balance our mutual need with the animosity I face because of my high grades. It seems very childish to me but then that's the way they are. I would divide the class into three groups - good friends, friends and the rest and work with the first two groups differently. The classification would have to be fluid, of course. But that can be managed. The Third Leg is very important but can falter at any point of time. As of now, it would be best to maintain the current policy and watch out for challenges, while ensuring that I get my work done without compromising my Independence. Now, that's going to take some hard work.

What's next?


Having traveled across the country in my first score, I decided to shortlist a few places that I would love to visit in the next few scores:
  • New York City on New Year's Eve. Just to feel the excitement at Times Square.
  • Pennsylvania, to see the city where American democracy was really born.
  • Rio de Jinero to see - you guessed it - Christ the Redeemer. The statue put up a pretty helping performance when Pratibha Patil came to visit!
  • The Falkland Islands - just to see why Britain would wage war to keep such a remote possession.
  • Durban, to see the place where many Indians came and made South Africa their home at least for some period of time. Not least of them, Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Ethiopia, to have a look at the site where Lucy was discovered, literally going back to my roots.
  • Germany, that mecca of engineering!
  • Auschwitz, to remind myself of the importance of tolerance and peace, which we have come to take for granted today.
  • Israel, one of India's greatest allies and a country that has built itself up well despite everything being against it.
  • Karachi, the other great port of the East during the British Raj. Just to have a look at what Pakistanis declare to be their answer to Bombay.
  • Mumbai: my true home, where my heart it. I want to relive those days and remind myself of the great city that I once lived in.
  • Shillong. As such I would like to visit the entire Northeast, but I should start with what was the original Assam State's capital.
  • Shanghai, to convince myself that Mumbai can never be that good.
  • The Korean Border, just to stand on the South side and thank God that I was born in a democracy.
  • The Tasman Sea, which tells of tales of dangerous winds and sudden storms. With that, i'd also like to see Tasmania, where the Dodo was supposed to have become extinct.

Where I've Been


In twenty years, I have been fortunate enough to have lived in many different cities and states and seen first hand India's varied culture. Goa, Bombay, Hyderabad, Kochi, Saharanpur, Roorkee, Delhi, Kolkata: I have seen so many different cities, heard different languages and tasted different foods.

Each place has something that makes it unique: Goa has its great seafood, Bombay its chat (which really is the best in the country), Hyderabad its Biryani, Kochi its Elephants and festivals involving them... the list is endless. And I was lucky enough to witness them all.

Of course, there have been some side-effects. I have stopped enjoying new things so much because of the uncertainty attached with them Who knows when I'll have to pack up? Yet, there is also a feeling of great excitement at being able to relate to so many parts of the country. None of these are individually Indian by their own right, but collectively, they are part of the vast culture that can be summed up by one word - Indian.

Water Crisis Looms Large

With the monsoon showing signs of weakening over the Deccan Plateau, the city of Hyderabad is going through one of its worst dry spells ever. Bore wells have dried up and even the water from municipal reservoirs is not forthcoming with the regularity needed. Even private tankers are unable to meet the huge demand from the city.

To make matters worse, a municipal water pipe had to be closed down for repairs a few days back, playing havoc with the residents of the city. The late YSR Reddy and his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu both harboured dreams of making Hyderabad a world-class city, but all that has gone up in smoke. The proposal to bring Krishna river water to the city was implemented but only on the outskirts of the city. The central districts face a massive water crunch.

Now, with the IMD predicting poor rains for the peninsula, the problem can only get worse. The water woes of Indian cities can be felt in Hyderabad. What is needed is better civic management as well as water resources augmentation, which was one of the cornerstones of the former TDP Government's policy for the capital city.

Sadly, Hyderabad has been reduced to a city over which all the political forces of the state are bickering but whose political representatives don't seem to care much for. None of the elected representatives has talked about the burning issue of water shortage in the city except perhaps the Mayor. The only thing they care about is increasing the Haj quota for the state (which mostly goes to residents of Hyderabad). Our urban management is very poor and with the city's population swelling, it can only get worse.

A separate state won't fix anything for the city. What we need is autonomy and better accountability.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How about a Decade?


I have this odd memory from my days in Bombay, which I think is most appropriate for the run-up to my twentieth birthday. Some crime show was playing on TV - I think it was 'India's Most Wanted,' which was seriously popular back then.The episode was about an eight or nine year-old boy who was killed by a truck-driver (as far as I can recall).

I don't remember what happened next, but I do remember asking myself how it would feel not to complete even one decade of your life. I was maybe six or seven then. The idea of living for a full decade - seeing the world for ten whole years was so tantalizing then.

And now, it's been two decades. I've nearly completed my first score. But of that boy, I do wonder...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Short Series: First Score

On 29 June, I will be turning twenty - thus completing my first score. I've seen a lot in these years and done a lot. But there is much more to see and much more to do.

In First Score, I'd like trace out the most important phases of my journey here and also talk a little about what I hope to do in the next score. I hope you like this!

The Great Port of the East

After reading so much about Mumbai, one thing is certain - the story of the Eastern world, from ancient empires to colonization to the rise of the East, is perfectly represented in the story of Bombay.

From the days when the seven islands were just inhabited by small fishing hamlets to the Cotton Trade which elevated Bombay to the most important port in the East to the 1991 Liberalization, which made Bombay one of the most important cities in the world, the story of Bombay has been one of hope and determination.

Bombay was invaded by many lords and became home to people from far and wide. Jews or Buddhists, Indian or Foreign, Marathi or Kashmiri, all can be found in Mumbai. The city is a cradle of civilization in itself. Yet, this is a violent civilization, full of faults. Poor urban infrastructure, industries of glamour, films and finance that maximize the poor-rich divide and a massive security threat from Pakistan make it a city for the bold-at-heart.

Yet, despite its shortcomings, Mumbai attracts the whole world like a magnet. It is the story of Indian will and determination, of centuries of struggle, victory and defeat, it is the story of the world retold in a million different ways. In short, it is your story and it is my story - the story of a city called Bombay.

(Concluded)

Bombay: A Story of Law

The legal history of Bombay can be traced back to when the islands came into British possession upon the marriage of Charles II and Catherine, following which they were leased to the East India Company. The Company set up benches in custom houses to handle rudimentary disputes, but the system was highly flawed.

It was Governor General Gerald Aungier who established the first proper judicial system with George Wilcox as judge of the First British Court of Justice in 1672 with much pomp and glory. Aungier championed the cause of independence of the judiciary, but his successors weren't as far-sighted.

More Sophisticated Systems
The Charter of 1683 led to the establishment of Admiralty Courts under an expert in civil law, but it was still beholden to the Company since all the judges were employees of it. Then, under a Royal Charter in 1726, Mayor's Courts were established. These were to be courts of record with the power to prosecute for contempt. Also, subjects were allowed to appeal to the King-in-Council for the first time.For seventy years, the system continued with the inherent defect that judges were still employees of the Company and were not professionals.

The Charter of 1798 abolished the Mayor's Courts and created the Recorder's Court, consisting of professional recorders and members representing Hindu and Muslim legal experts. For the first time, Indians were allowed to practice in this court. 1798 was truly a hallmark in India's history.

By this time however, other changes were apace. In 1773, Bengal Governor Warren Hastings established the Bengal Supreme Court and in 1823, an Act of British Parliament created a similar system in Bombay. Thus was established the Supreme Court of Bombay. The court worked satisfactorily and applied British Common Law, bringing the system to the subcontinent. Then came the Mutiny of 1857, a year after which the Company's holdings were transferred to the crown.

The Bombay High Court
In 1852, Parliament felt that it would be better to merge the Bombay Supreme Court with other courts, called 'Sadar Adalats.' A similar view was taken for the other Presidencies of Madras and Bengal. Accordingly, the Indian High Courts Act, 1861 created the High Courts of Bombay, Madras and Bengal, all of which were empowered under the Royal Seal of the United Kingdom. Adoption of the Penal Code and Core of Criminal Procedure strengthened the legal system.

The sanctioned strength of the court was 16 but for over half a century, it functioned with just 7 judges. The court was a court if final appeal, unless matters were grave enough to be referred to the Privy Council. Most of the Council's decisions have been satisfactory, although some created a great deal of confusion.

The last appeal of the Privy Council was disposed on in 1949, just before the Constitution of India came into effect. With that, the Federal Court was abolished and the Supreme Court of India was established with High Courts in each state.

Post-Independence History
After the formation of the State of Bombay in 1956, the Bombay High Court;s jurisdiction was established over the state and the Union Territories of Daman and Diu, with benches in Nagpur and Rajkot. However, bifurcation of the state saw the Gujarat High Court take over the jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court in that region. Furthermore, when Goa was admitted into the Union as a Union Territory, it was put under the Bombay High Court's jurisdiction.

The High Court of Bombay (Extension of Jurisdiction to Goa and Daman and Diu), 1981 established a Panaji bench of the court for Goa and Daman and Diu affairs. This continued even after Goa became a state.

The Court has delivered several memorable and historic judgments. One such was Nanavati vs State of Bombay (1960), which eventually led to the abolition of jury trials in India. Today, the court assumes particular importance in economic cases because of the economic importance of Bombay.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mumbai in the Age of Terrorism

The new Millennium came with many hopes for Mumbai to become an International Financial Centre. The description of 'Financial/Economic Capital of India' came into vogue. Brand Mumbai was all the rage in the new era of globalization.

However, the new millennium came with much more. On the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, in 2002, a bomb placed in an empty BEST bus exploded. A year later, just a day before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was scheduled to visit the city, another bomb blast took place. Several more blasts took place that year, seemingly to mark the tenth anniversary of the 1993 serial bombings.

The bloodiest blasts took place in the Mumbai local trains in 2006. Over 200 were killed and nearly 700 injured. The perpetrators were never caught, although the Pakistan-backed LeT is largely suspected. But terrorism came not only from abroad - in 2008, Raj Thackeray broke away from his parent Shiv Sena to formed the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS). The MNS took up eviction of North Indian migrants as its first cause, followed by threatening shopkeepers with dire consequences if they did not use Marathi for trade. Today, most shops in the city sport names in Marathi. It was a cruel repeat of what the Shiv Sena had done before to South Indians.

But it was November 29, 2008 that really ravaged the city - a terrorist squad launched one of the largest attacks in the world on Mumbai. The incident, popularly called 26/11, took the world by surprise and saw most large countries reassessing their safety. India changed its maritime safety policies and put the Indian Navy in-charge of overall coastal safety along with the Indian Coast Guard. New wings of the National Security Guards (NSG) were established, including one in Mumbai. The martyrs of 26/11 remain revered names in the city.

The new millennium has changed the city in a short span of time but the truth is that the entire country is changing very quickly. And Mumbai, although an island pointing away from the mainland, remains a part of this great nation.

Next: The Bombay High Court: A History

The Ghats come to Bombay

After partition, the first problem that Bombay faced was that of migrants and settlers to the city. Ultra-low properly rates saw many businessman flock to Bombay. The city became a miniature version of the entire country and that diversity stood it well in times of crisis.

In 1950, after the Governor-General C Rajagopalchari handled a major refugee influx of Sindhis into Bombay, the city of Bombay and its suburbs were merged into a common Greater Bombay, which in 1956 became the capital of the new Bombay State. However, this arrangement did not last long and Bombay witnessed the first of many protests over linguistic division of Bombay State.

Although many were in favour of Bombay becoming a separate city-state, given its diversity, politics overruled the demand. In 1960, Bombay State was bifurcated in Maharashtra (retaining Bombay as its capital) and Gujarat (with Gandhinagar as its new capital). However, the linguistic riots had changed the city fundamentally. In 1966, cartoonist Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena to battle perceived injustice suffered by Marathis at the hands of Gujaratis, Marwaris and South Indians. Staring with South Indians, the party took up vandalism and violence against several groups including Muslims. The party received a surprising degree of support in Bombay and the Sena has controlled the Municipal Corporation a few times.

Newly Established
A great deal of changes took place in the city at this time. The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay was established in Powai as an institute of technical higher education. The Bombay Metropolitan Regiona Development Authority was established by the Maharashtra Government to oversee the growth of the city. However, the Authority was unable to keep up with the city's rapid growth and in 1979, New Bombay was founded in the Thane and Raigad districts to disperse the crowd. That however, did not disperse the industries and most people there now live with the daily hassle of having to travel southwards daily to get to work!

1984 saw a Hindu-Muslim riot in the city, the first of several that would change the nature of Bombay fundamentally. At this time, there was strong influx into Bombay from the Western Ghat areas of Maharashtra along with Bihari migrants. Slums grew in size and density and Dharavi went on to become the largest slum in Asia - a city in itself. The 1992-93 riots against Muslims following the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the serial blasts after that finally sealed Bombay's fate. The old city of businessmen and traders was no more - the Ghats had come to Bombay.

A New City, a New name
But it wasn't just the city that had changed, the entire country was changing. In 1996, the BJP and Shiv Sena formed their first and to-date only Government in Maharashtra. Just three years later, the BJP led a coalition Government to form the Central Government. The new State Government changed the city's name to Mumbai after the Goddess of the local fisherfolk, Mumbadevi.

Next: Millennium City

More Sycophancy

Yesterday was Rahul Gandhi's birthday and Congress leaders from across the nation demonstrated the extent to which they are ready to indulge in sycophancy to please him. While most state-level leaders celebrated the day based on a farmers theme (after Rahul's now famous deeds in Bhatta-Parsaul, conveniently forgetting the great fiasco that turned out to be), his political mentor Digvijaya Singh declared that by the grace of the Good Lord, Rahul could now assume the post of PM and fulfill his destiny.

The Congress seems to lose all semblance of decency and normalcy when it comes to Rahul Gandhi. When it won an unexpectedly large number of seats from UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the entire credit was given to him. But in the 2011 Bihar Assembly Polls, in which he put up a determined campaign only to see a major drubbing, the party blamed it on everyone except Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi has hardly proved himself as anything. He is a career politician but he has hardly spoken out to the world. His election from Amethi is virtually guaranteed given the Congress' stranglehold on that seat, so that he does not have to worry about his first point of contact with the electorate. Rahul Gandhi has consistently refused to join the Union Cabinet, forgetting that Nehru and Indira Gandhi before him had cut their teeth as ministers (Nehru in pre-Independence legislatures, of course). Rahul Gandhi never takes up a cause - he just appears on the scene when there is some noise, performs a few stunts and disappears, leaving everything just the way it was.

Despite these shortcomings, Digvijaya Singh feels that overnight Rahul Gandhi has everything it takes to be Prime Minister, disregarding the experience of his senior colleagues. The Congress today has become a hugely dynastic organization which will pull the country down with it if its whims and fancies are to be followed. Then again, let Rahul Gandhi become PM: his hitherto unproven competence could just sink the Congress forever.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Implications of the 1267 Bifurcation


In a move that is riddled with multiple interpretations, the UN Security Council passed resolutions 1988 and 1989, creating two separate lists for sanctions on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, effectively bifurcating the original list created under UNSCR 1267.

On the face of it, this moves seems fairly logical - two different groups with different reach and scope deserve two different lists for sanctions. However, on the ground, this move lacks logic. While the leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban may be separate, operationally they have cooperated as though they are two wings of the same force.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have successfully achieved a great deal of synergy in the Af-Pak region. But then, why the two lists? It's primarily the Western members of the UNSC who pushed for this and the reason is to serve as a bargaining chip. In Afghanistan, the US is looking for a respectable exit from combat despite public utterances of success. To that effect, negotiations have begun with the Taliban. Clearly, George Bush's cowboy dealings have been rejected by the Obama Administration.

But there is an additional subtext here: the US is also looking at maintaining a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, something which is absolutely unacceptable to the regional powers. Effectively, the US wants to cool the Taliban's heals by offering them a piece of the Afghan pie, while entrenching themselves in the Hindu Kush to exploit the nation's newly-discovered mineral wealth. It's an old formula.

But of course, the Taliban is not going to yield that easily. They do have the operational upper-hand in the south. They have been belligerent, asking for diplomatic recognition as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which no country to prepared to do. Hence the two lists: now, in one stroke, the Western powers can legitimise the Taliban by simply exterminating a list, instead of having two lists and having to consider each item case by case. This is nothing more than a bargaining chip: the Taliban, although stronger than it was in the months after 9/11, is stilled bogged down by the relentless ISAF attacks and would like some way to stop this. The US wants to ensure that it does not fight the Taliban, which does not have an explicit anti-American agenda (yet).

However, this move is dangerous and short-sighted. The Taliban and Al Qaeda's ideologies are very similar. It is foolish to assume that the Taliban can be controlled while Al Qaeda needs to be fought. The US will certainly face another major terrorist attack if it takes such a move. Furthermore, before the US, the regional powers will face terrorist attacks. Therefore, regional powers must come together on Afghanistan. The SCO Summit was an important landmark in this but much more needs to be done - and quickly.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movements There, Movements Here

Once regional rivals were removed and the British Crown took control from the Company in 1858, the true growth of Bombay began. In 1861, the American Civil War broke out, disrupting the export of cotton from the shores of America to Manchester. It was this movement half way across the world that set the stage for Bombay.

Apart from America, the other large producer of cotton was the Indian subcontinent. The British decided to substitute their American suppliers with Indian ones and Bombay became the port of trade. Bombay became the Bombay Presidency and Bombay Standard Time became one of the two timezones of the British Empire in India. When the Suez Canal was opened in 1869 in Egypt, Bombay was prepared to handle the increase in frequency that was to feed the Empire. During this boom period, the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Bombay Port Trust and the Bombay Tramway Company Limited (the predecessor of BEST - the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport undertaking) were established and Bombay became synonymous with wealth and luxury, rivaling Calcutta.

Side-by-side, the Bombay Port Trust went in for further land reclamation, which depressed property rates, bringing in even more people. Bombay expanded northwards, into its future suburbs of Andheri, Sion and Mahim. Colaba had become an important fort for the Royal Navy. The Victoria Terminus (even today called VT, despite its change of name) was established as one of the finest stations in the world to provide connectivity with the mainland and also across Bombay itself.

The Indian Revolution
However, political consciousness was growing. Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India. In 1885, the Indian National Congress held its first ever session in the city, thus ensuring Bombay her place in history. The 1905 partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon led to the Swadeshi Movement, whose main proponent in Bombay was Lokmanya Tilak. His imprisonment led to massive protests.

The satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act galvanised the city politically. The Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements saw a great deal of support. In the meantime, industry was busy laying the foundation of a modern nation: in 1932, legendary industrialist JRD Tata flew an aircraft from Karachi - another important port in British India - to Bombay, bringing civil aviation to the British Indian Empire. The Great Depression of 1929 affected Bombay, forcing mills to shut down and sending thousands out of work.

The End Game
World War II transformed the atmosphere in Bombay. The fleet of the Royal Indian Navy became ever more important not just for the British Isles in Europe but also for the British Indian Empire as the Japanese sought to expand their empire. However, unlike the previous World War, this time, Mahatma Gandhi refused to support the British.

Mass arrests, protests and martial law were seen all over India as Britain - herself in fear of being colonized by Nazi Germany - discarded all forms of civility in dealing with her subjects in India. This incensed the Indians, including the Indian soldiers who were forced to do their British Officers' bidding. In 1946, the Royal Indian Navy witnessed a mutiny in Bombay. The British saw that the age of Empire had gone.

On August 15, 1947, India became Independent. Previously, in 1911, the capital of British India had moved to Delhi, the traditional seat of power in India, leaving Bombay and Calcutta, along with Madras, to battle for the second spot. The winner, at the end, was clearly Bombay. The sad days of partition saw many losses for the new nations of India and Pakistan.

Many Muslim residents of Bombay migrated to the new land of Pakistan. Religious riots broke out in Punjab and Bengal, while Bombay affected by migration to and from Sindh, which was to join Pakistan (which however, is still mentioned in the Indian National Anthem, despite India having no claims to Sindh). Property prices collapsed and new migrants settles in Bombay. It was a temporary setback for the city, but a huge victory for the nation.

In 1948, the last British troops left India through the arch of the Gateway of India in Bombay. Their great city would now stand on her own feet, her creators having been expelled. After nearly 300 years, Bombay, and India, the nation of which it was an integral part, had become free.

Next: The Last Decades of the Century

Could it be True?


It's been generating a buzz for over a year now, but it seemed more like some ultra-nationalist computer geek's idea of a joke. But it's true: after inventing the world's cheapest car, India is about to present the world's cheapest Tablet PC. And when I say cheap, I mean cheap.


The Union HRD Ministry is all set to release Sakshat - the ultra-low cost tablet PC that can do absolutely everything that a student would need it to (academically, at least). At a cost of `2200, it even beats the $100 laptop championed by OLPC.

Last year, a computer geek went out and calculated the lowest possible cost of a PC with the most basic features and 'proved' that creating such a PC is not possible. But he might have to go back to the drawing board!

Now, you might think that this PC would be bereft of everything. But you'd be wrong - it can handle PDF files, OpenOffice, SciLab, videoconferencing, all kinds of image files and Internet browsing (with Flash and JavaScript, for the facebook fans). It also connects to WiFi and has a USB port. With 2GB memory, a 2W in-built power supply and Linux OS, this is actually something that can fulfill the needs of every students in the IITs. And it's not meant for commercial retail - the Ministry wants this to be exclusively for students (and that's justified, since the developers didn;t get any royalty).

Of course, it can't do gaming. But then, that's not what this is meant for. Add an 8GB pendrive to it and you can keep quite a few movies on you. But the best part is its affordability. Rumour is that the Ministry is planning to subsidise it by 50%, so that you can get a Student's PC for as low as
`1100! Already, some 10,000 units are supposed to be shipped to IIT Rajasthan (no idea for what - does IITJ not have computers?). The PC, developed by HCL and IISc, Bangalore, IITK, IITM, IITKgp and IITB, would mark a revolution. And here's why.

The reality of IIT-style technical education today is that a laptop is necessary. Many subjects are taught through slides, programming has become an essential component of a course and making presentations is a great skill that needs to be mastered. Every student ends up purchasing a laptop and for that a lot of parents need to take a loan, since a laptop is not cheap by any means. This innovation would eliminate that burden and encourage kids from more humble backgrounds. I'm surprised nobody thought about this before!

Another feature - it's run on Linux OS. India's NRC-FOSS already developed a lot of innovative freeware and Linux was just the thing required to give it a shot in the arm. Apart from Kerala's IT@School initiative, Linux has been vastly ignored by officialdom despite its cost advantage (it's free!) But with Sakshat coming preloaded with Linux, the question of software pricing disappears - literally!

Now, until I actually see the product for myself, I won't believe it. We tend to be so pessimistic about anything developed in India that it takes something concrete to make us believe it! But if it's for real, it's nothing short of revolutionary! In the meantime,
you can check out NDTV's review.