Monday, August 29, 2011

A Eulogy to Mr. RS Malik

Some called him the silent villain, others tried to empathize with him. Either way, the first reaction that he evoked was pure fear. But it didn't take long to understand that, behind the facade of anger and authoritarianism, lay a knowledgeable person and a stickler for quality. Such are my memories of Mr. RS Malik, Asst. Professor at DPT, IIT Roorkee Saharanpur Campus.

In the heydays of first year, when we were in awe of that colossus of institutes - the IITs - we met Mr. Malik. In his very first class, he ended up dismissing a student for the day from his class! But the first time we realised that he was a strict disciplinarian was when we ignored his instruction to purchase squared sheets from Roorkee, thus inviting his wrath. The level of coordination that we saw between us after that brought us closer as a batch.

I cannot remember any teacher who made us work as hard as Mr. Malik. We were so afraid of him that we would complete all his assignments within the week, regardless of whether it was due the next week or later. For, any mistake in the date of submission would cost us dearly - he, unlike most professors, was not averse to giving students a zero. Even in thermodynamics, his M.Tech student was frightened by his very name so much so that he refused to let us peek into the solutions until we had to coerce him to do so!

But it was in the Diwali of 2010 when I saw a very different face of Mr. Malik. His wife is a truly wonderful person - such a kind-hearted and generous lady is difficult to come by today. That Diwali, she virtually force-fed us delicious gulab jamuns of varying colours, all the while chatting us up and even asking us what we thought about her husband! Her kind nature even made Mr. Malik open up and he told us some of his stories from college and early years at IPT (now DPT).

Had I known back then that it would be the last that I would be able to speak to him, I would have asked him some questions. I would have asked him about his smoking habit which, I believe, led to his death (which was due to a heart attack). Or, I would have asked him why he never attended any of the events on campus (although his wife attended several). There was so much I could have asked - but, no longer a student of that Department, I chose to listen.

It's funny actually, because in Mr. Malik's presence, there is very little one can do but listen. In his class, despite the rather monotonous lecture, all of us listened. We followed his instructions to the 'T', particularly when he asked us to buy steam tables (which he never taught us how to use!). Here was a no-nonsense teacher if I have ever seen one - he was knowledgeable; he did crack the occasional joke, but did not appreciate it if we did the same. A teacher who instilled fear in generations but won the admiration of all - generations hence will scarcely believe that DPT could have had a teacher like that.

Mr. Ravindra Singh Malik, ME and Asst. Professor, DPT-IITR, passed away on Sunday, 28 August, 2011. He is survived by his wife and children and remembered by all the students whom he taught.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six Subjects, Three Days

A little over a month and a half since the semester started, the time has nearly arrived for the first mid-term. It seems strange, because this mid-term would mark the end of more than half the mid-term exams I am supposed to write in IITR. Now, before I make an assessment of the subjects, let me point out that they are all utterly detestable this time: I don't think I've ever had a semester in which the subjects were so boring!

Anyway, this semester I have six subjects, all of which are connected to Civil Engineering. That's a relief from the horrors of PH-201 and ICY-01! The first is CE-311, which is probably the lousiest subject yet from the Environmental Engineering Group. I have always said that they teach us rubbish in that group, this time I mean it literally. The subject is very vague, the teacher thoroughly uninteresting and there does not seem to be any specific book to study from. In short, I have very low hopes from this one.

CE-321 is not exactly an interesting subject but it is the best of the lot. While the class is quite boring - rigorous, actually - the subject is good and I have high hopes from it. CE-331 is also such a subject, but it is far more rigorous. Consequently, my hopes are a little low on this one. CE-341 is this massive fall from dignity for the Hydraulics Engineering Group, with the subject being a utter joke in front of the others. However, the fact is that the previous years' papers were tough and this one needs a lot of attention: again, low expectations here.

That is, sadly, not the case with CE-351. The subject is taught very badly (or maybe I'm still used to CE-252) and the tuts are mind-boggling. Yet, the previous years' papers seem easy, with one question guaranteed to be graphical in nature. Therefore, all I can do is practice from as many sources as possible and hope for the best. Lastly, there's IEQ-04, a subject I found very interesting and which I am taking seriously. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a scoring subject and people who simply vomit answers will score well. Again, no hopes here for a good grade.

To summarize, it's obvious that I have low expectations throughout (except CE-321). I will, of course, try to beat my expectations. But till then, it's time to study.

Friday, August 26, 2011

And that's a Vote!

Another year, another election. It amazes me just how much people can get excited for a process whose end result is far from expected. I still remember my first year, when Piyush won the Old Malviya Constituency unopposed (mainly because nobody else remembered to file their nomination!). I remember when Dodu sir came to my room to thank me for voting for him (though I didn't) after he had won. Ah, sweet memories.

But after two years, one in Roorkee and one in Saharanpur, it all seems like a great big waste of time now. The truth is that wing councilors have no powers and no job; the Bhawan Secretary's powers are severely curtailed; and the Mess Secretary, though powerful, wastes most of him time negotiating with the mess employees. Everybody knows that the only real incentive for standing for these elections is to go on and stand in SAC-2.

What surprises me is the fact that people actually go around canvassing for the candidates! I mean, after spending two years here and knowing full well how pointless the whole exercise is, why do people still waste their time campaigning? This is Third Year, the year when people actually build the foundation for their careers. Most people are studying for some competitive exam or the other and they still find time for elections?

The worst past is definitely the campaigning: in the middle of a movie or a phone call, they come to tell you their 'agenda'; at least the banners are low-key in RKB this time: RB has so many banners put out in the front that it seems like a fair is going on over there! But then, that's why they're in second year. The canvassing was of a lower intensity then last year, but that's probably because I am no longer neutral. I play branch politics on my vote and I'm not one bit ashamed of it.

Well, now that I've voted for the third time in IITR, I do feel happy, even though I know that the result is not going to change much. But at least I used my democratic right.

A Tale of Too Many Interviews

About a week back, when I met Sailee, Kunal, Keshav and Palak at CED, little did I suspect that I was about to embark upon one of the most tiring aspects of the Cultural Council - the recruitment.

I've already written about what we had to do to get permission to actually enter RJB with the team. But scarcely could we believe the turnout - a jampacked badminton court followed by a few interviews. That was Thursday. We were on it for three hours. That seemed OK. Then came Friday, when we took four hours. But then we realised that we had called so many people for the second round that we would have to start right after on Saturday.

Sadly, with the Ed Chief out for a class, Waqar at home and Zubair incommunicado, I was forced to take the remainder of the first round interviews before lunch. So, effectively, I and Abhinav started at 11 AM on Saturday and, after a lunch break from 1:00 to 2:00 PM, the rest of the team arrived. We worked till 9:00 PM! And I thought Friday was an upper limit! After the last set of interviews, we were so tired out and all our messes had closed. The three of us decided to take the sophomores for a chapo at SP.

Sunday was a holiday and Monday we came back, this time to a new venue - the UG Club. Then began another hectic round of interviews, during which time we also took KB's interviews. The girls were surprisingly good, definitely much better than the boys!

We had stopped counting the number of interviews a long time back, and it finally ended with two - Nipun Sawhney and Amir Raza. The second won was mundane but the first one was by far the most exciting of all. After all this, we still had to take a few more interviews of girls! And then the long line of interviews finally came to an end - and then came a long debate on the final list. More on that later.

Welcome to Modernity

It's been nearly four hundred days since we moved to RKB and everyday has been nothing short of a struggle. Deadline after deadline was missed... initially, we were promised that we would get WiFi, so much so that we were 'informed' by the Warden that the tender for WiFi routers was passed!

Well, we eventually found out that we were getting LAN and were 'promised' again that we would get it right after we came back from the summer break. Of course, that did not happen and once again we were condemned to roam the ICC and Hostel CC. With RB also condemned to the same fate and RJB with its registration problems, even the ICC became hell.

Then, at 12:56 AM on 25 Aug., 2010, everything changed forever. The previous month saw a blitzkrieg of LAN port installations, with people in corner rooms having an additional problem of servers being installed smack in the middle of their rooms. Nonetheless, the moment the hostel turned active in cyberspace, it was apparent that nothing was ever going to be the same again.

200 friends available to chat on facebook; an online phone call to home; blogging from my laptop; GMail anytime... the magic of LAN was here for all to see. Facebook was a sea of updates rejoicing. My own update:

Live from RKB: the first status update! Here ends cyber apartheid!

And the next day, a huge announcement: SDSLabs (which is fast becoming IMG biggest rival) had installed DC++ file-sharing in RKB, RB and KB, which means we can download movies at lightning-fast speed anytime. The only drawback is that the exams are so near that one has to think twice before turning on one's laptop!

This is the first post from RKB's newly-activated LAN!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Recruitment Round 1: Round and Round we Went

The last week went by so fast that I couldn't even find enough time to come online and blog a little about it. But anyway, here's the story:

On Tuesday, as I was happily waling to my Department, I found my Kshitij mates outside, extremely worried. And there came the entire story: the DOSW has rejected out application to hold the recruitment that week. In fact, he wanted it to be right after the elections - absolutely unacceptable to us. We tried to circumvent him (yes, that's right) and fool the RJB Chief Warden (a professor from my department) into giving us permission. But that didn't work.

So, the four of us made our way to the DOSW's office, prepared to fire every salvo we had, to do everything possible to convince him, including begging on our knees! The Secy went to the PA, who is part of the 'proper channel.' In two seconds, the PA pulled the application from his hands and took it to the Dean, asking us to wait. In two minutes, he was back, with the DOSW's signature and no strings attached! How that happened I have no idea - but the biggest hurdle was cleared at last.

Having obtained the DOSW's signature, it was time to get the RJB Chief Warden's. That was easier said than done because, like all profs in my department, he spent an hour drinking tea in the OPJ Building. We followed him, we stalked him and after waiting a bit outside his office, he signed - again, without conditions! It didn't work out that well with KB's Chief Warden, but that's another story.

So, on the scheduled day, Shourya and I went up to RJB's Supervisor, expecting a cakewalk. Instead, we were told that because of the election nominations, we could not do it that day. What a disaster! We were already running behind WONA and now we were being stopped by someone who comes right at the fag end of the administration! We tried to convince him, we even took our secret weapon with us, but it was no use.

So, with one day's delay, we finally began our epic trial of the freshers to select the best people for Kshitij 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learn from the Past

The UPA Government's shocking action of arresting Anna Hazare and lodging him in Tihar jail belies a dictatorial streak that has been a characteristic of the Congress since Independence.

What made it worse was the way the Government backed down within hours and went on to allow Anna Hazare's fast to proceed at Ramlila Maidan. This indicates that the Congress, which had assumed an authoritarian streak post-Ramdev, has backed down once again.

What does this mean? It means that this is a Government that is utterly directionless, one that is so flummoxed by the surge of corruption scandals that it wants to use an iron hand to quell it rather than make amends to correct the source of the problem. This is a government that is hell-bent on staying in power despite the fact that its credibility has eroded almost completely.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a statement in Parliament on his government's action (Delhi Police comes under the Union Home Ministry), a statement that was quickly trashed by the opposition, which warned that the Government's arrogance would be its downfall.

Instead of resorting to highhandedness, which a section of the Congress seems to be in favour of, it should have reached out to the people and explained its point of view. Indians are reasonable people, they are rational thinkers. If you talk to them like adults, they will understand. Instead, all the Congress did was to get its General Secretary Digvijaya Singh to launch a smear campaign against the Civil Society activists, a move that has proved highly counterproductive.

The move to arrest Anna will prove, without doubt, just as counterproductive. This is a government that trusts nobody, that appears to be full in cahoots with the corrupt and which would love to sink the country into authoritarian rule. Clearly, the Congress never learned from the mistakes of Indira Gandhi.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The 65th Independence Day

Tomorrow is August 15, 2011: the sixty-fifth Independence Day. A day when we remember those who gave their life, materially and literally, to the cause of the nation's freedom. The day we recall the horrors of Partition that followed Independence and renew our pledge to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.

The thing about Independence Day is that although it is a day to celebrate, the scar of partition remains. It is worth recalling that Mahatma Gandhi did not celebrate this day precisely for that reason. Yet, this need not be a reason to feel dejected at the way an ancient land was divided along false borders.

Indeed, if we look at how far we have come from Independence, and what challenges face us in the future, it gives us a great sense of joy. For, a country that was born one of the poorest and least developed in the world stands on the brink of becoming a superpower today. Yet, it is also faced with the challenge of hunger, poverty and unemployment. However, the very fact that today we have the power to solve those problems by ourselves, which we certainly did not have in 1947, shows us how far we have come.

Independence Day is a day of mixed feelings, for it marks not just the culmination of a great struggle but also the start of an even greater one. Yet, I am confident that we will come out on top. We did not take our Independence to be destroyed at our own hands; we did it to take us into a brighter future. That we must, and will, do.

Book Review: My Country My Life

My Country My Life
By LK Advani

There are two ways to look at the political history of India: you can do it through the words of a historian, who objectively sees through history as it is. Then, you can look at it through the eyes of people who have lived it, shaped it and, in the process, became history.

My Country My Life is one such story. The former Deputy PM of India takes us through his earliest years, to the defining months of the partition and finally his years in the NDA Government. It all begins in the province of British India that, although mentioned in modern India's national anthem, does not belong to it. As Advani wrote, Bengali and Punjabi Hndus got a truncated version of their homeland, but Sindhi Punjabis lost everything. Personally, this section (Sindh & India: An Unbreakable Bond) is my favourite.

After a sad mention of his departure from Karachi to Rajasthan, Advani goes on to describe his years as an RSS worker. His reverence for Mahatma Gandhi, despite differing with him ideologically, says a lot about his politics. Although, like all autobiographies, this book tends to gloss over some negative incidents, it is nonetheless well-written. Advani spends a considerable amount of space on the Emergency, an incident which had the dual effect of shaming India's democracy as well as reviving it.

The most interesting sections are the ones dealing with his years in the NDA Government. The chapter on 'Preserving Assam and the North-East for the Future' was extremely enlightening, but even better was his description on security-related issues. Sadly, he did not elaborate enough on the controversial flight taken by Jaswant Singh to ferry terrorists to Kandahar. Another disappointment was the fact that he virtually ignored North-East India during his yarta to mark India's fiftieth year of Independence on a very silly pretence, the monsoon.

Overall, I found the book to be voluminous and detailed. It goes into several personal aspects of Advani's life, including his strong bond with his daughter, Pratibha. The story of a man whose life runs parallel to the history of the nation and the subcontinent before that, My Country My Life is an excellent read, although it does require some patience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The GRE Journey So Far: Words and Words

As I had mentioned in a summer post, my main objective after B.Tech would be to pursue higher studies, preferably abroad. For that, I need to prepare for GRE, the main component of which is English, although there is a bit of mathematics too.

Having purchased the New GRE from Barron's and downloaded the oh-so-famous words list, I've found that the new GRE is actually harder than the old one. Despite the fact that out of context questions have been removed, the new format of questions makes the test harder.

The Barron's Book (19th Ed.) does not come with a words list. However, the truth is that you still need to memorize the words list, because the options given are not contextual! The new equivalent sentence questions and multiple-blank sentences are quite difficult to solve and context does not really help much.

So, I haven't gone through the entire Barron's Book but I have read the background of the new test. It's now partially Computer Adaptive, although I strongly suspect that most Indian students would get an experimental vocabulary section. It's just my intuition.

So right now, I've avoid become Bacchanalian and have taken up the task of learning 3,500 words with alacrity. With some luck, I'll be able to taste success as sweet as ambrosia!

Gaffe-Prone? Retire!

It seems the Ministry of External Affairs has stopped updating itself and now works with a standard book of what to say. This is amply proven by External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's reply to a question posed to him by a JD(U) MP in the Rajya Sabha.

To a question on an 80-year old Pakistani prisoner held in India for over a decade, the Minister got all his facts wrong and said that the prisoner was an Indian caught in a Pakistani jail. As if that was not enough, he went on to add that he had requested the Pakistani authorities to take a lenient view of the case!

The whole charade ended when CPI(M) MP Brinda Karat intervened and sought to enlighten the Minister, at which point Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, came forward and put up the standard line that he had asked the Home Minister to look into it. SM Krishna, meanwhile, sat down with a rather embarassed look.

Apart from the fact that his statement could be interpreted as an attempt to mislead the house - and thereby invite a Motion of Breach of Privilege - there is also the fact that this is SM Krishna's third major gaffe as Minister for External Affairs. His first was when he read out the speech of the Portuguese Ambassador during a debate at the United Nations Security Council. His second when he described Afghanistan as not being an immediate neighbour of India, which is in violation of India's official stance that PoK is Indian territory. And now, this.

This is not the first time in the world when important leaders have committed gaffes. However, that is no reason for us to ignore them. While George Bush might have been caught using the 'F' word, that does not mean that SM Krishna can can drop India's claim to PoK and get away with it.

The problem is age and what I call the old order. At 80 years, Krishna is definitely not the youngest of MPs. A man of his age should be enjoying retirement at home, taking care of his grandchildren and visiting place of pilgrimage with his wife. He should not be bearing the burden of one of India's most important ministries. His gaffes are a clear indication of age catching up with him, and this can prove costly for India in the International diplomatic arena.

The time has clearly come for Krishna to step down on his own. After the last cabinet reshuffle, in which he retained his portfolio, it is unlikely that the PM is going to change the post on his own accord. But Krishna should himself step down and allow someone younger, perhaps the current MoS, to take up his responsibilities.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Documentary: The Royal House of Tripura

Nestled away in the Northeastern corner of the Indian Union, the humble state of Tripura stands witness to the grand history of the Kingdom of Twipra. An empire that extended from Chittagong to Myanmar to the Khasi Hills, the Kingdom had a powerful port that opened up to the Bay of Bengal and evoked fear and respect in the Mughals, who were unable to conquer this Kingdom.

Tripura has a rich culture full of myths and stories of great kings. Its modern history begins with the Manikya dynasty and continues with its accession to the Union of India. Now in the landlocked North-East region, Tripura has been jolt5ed by insurgency and an undercurrent of tension between the tribals and non-tribals.

After visiting Sikkim, OTFS returns to Northeast India with an insightful look into the Royal House of Tripura: A History of the Myth and Monarchy of the State of Tripura.

Coming soon on OTFS.

Independence Day Lecture: The Creative Society

This Independence Day will be remembered for the context in which it is taking place. After decades, India is witness once again to strong political churning, with new characters building around the central theme of corruption that has seeped down to every stratum of society.

While some politicians would describe this as an affront to democracy and a debasement of society, I look upon it differently. While studying some passages for GRE, I came across the interesting concept of the 'Creative Society.' Essentially, a Creative Society is one which is constantly flooded with new ideas, where the old is competing with the new, where ideas set in stone are beginning to fade away as society changes itself.

Of course, the creative society is not all in the head. It is very real: it is characterised by a great degree of conflict. Put in a democratic context, this means protests, fasts and a great deal of outcry over the Old Order, so to say. A creative society is by no means Utopian, there is no guarantee that the new order envisaged can be anything better than the one it is trying to replace. However, the history of mankind has shown us that humanity has always gone from strength to strength, that the next generation is always better-off than the previous.

Therefore, there is a strong indication that the Creative Society is indeed looking at something better. In any case, the only constant in life is change and there is nothing to fear when it comes to change. However, one is tempted to ask, does every society eventually become a creative society? Or do some societies stagnate, as Europe did in the Middle Ages?

The Key Ingredient
The answer to that requires us to go into the very heart of change. When does a society ask for change? Merely when it is unhappy with the current establishment? So, when a society is fairly happy with the way things are going, does that imply an absence of new ideas and movements? Not at all! Change is eternal and no matter how stable and comforting the current order would be, it is inevitable that society will ask for something new.

What then creates a Creative Society? In my opinion, free speech makes all the difference. It is no coincidence that dictators around the world and through the portals of time have aimed to quash free speech, for it is the most powerful medium to express new ideas. Stronger than the march of a million armies is the strength of an idea, it is said. Indeed, the power of free speech, coupled with modern technology, has seen revolutions succeed around the world.

The Indian Creative Society
Is India going through this phase? Well, going by the characteristic of such a society - the clash of ideas, so to say - we indeed are. Corruption today is the most hated feature of the Old Order and the entire nation is rallying behind forces that seek to do something about it. At the same time, the old guard is resisting change and fiercely trying to quell the clash. It is an ideal recipe for a Creative Society.

However, such an approach discounts the fact that we have been, in varying intensities, a creative society for a long time. What was Independence about, anyway? It was an idea - an idea called 'India' - that sought to displace the old Raj with a new, swadeshi Government. But the dream of an egalitarian society never materialized and so ideas and revolutions continued. When ordinary people choose to throw a dictator out of power, when men and women rally behind the cause of a temple on a sacred land, when the seemingly-simple right to obtain information transforms everyday people into crusaders - that's when a creative society can be identified.

So, in a way, the Creative Society for India is not really a phase that will come and go. The very idea of the nation is based on the creative society, as was our freedom struggle and the countless revolutions after 1947. Therefore, as we prepare to celebrate our 65th Independence Day, let's not be fooled by the gloom that has descended upon our nation. It is a manifestation of the spirit that fueled our freedom, that gave wings to the idea of a nation. And it continues to this day - for change is inevitable and unending.

Opinions 24x7 wishes all Indians around the world a very happy Republic Day. Jai Hind!

Banning 'Aarakshan' is Undemocratic

Prakash Jha's controversial movie 'Aarakshan,' dealing with the hugely sensitive issue of reservations in education, released today all over India except in the states of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and UP, where a ban is in place. The reason ascribed is that the film contains references against Dalits, although no specific information has been provided.

This brings us back to India's unsavory habit of banning anything politically incorrect. Since Independence, we have been [promised that the system of reservations would end in ten years, but each time, it has been renewed. When the UPA-1 regime raised the limit to 49.5%, there were widespread protests from the so-called General Category, which was ruthlessly crushed, while then then HRD Minister Arjun Singh told the media that the move would help the Congress politically.

Once again, we are confronted with this ugly truth. The film was cleared by the Censor Board without any amendments and as such, that should be the last word on the subject. Sadly, the National Commission on SC/STs came in, presumably with a highly political aim. There is no proof that the movie contains any ill-worded references, and the Censor boards certificate should be enough on that. Yet, the Commission made its own observations and politicians jumped on board the ban barge.

Banning the movie in this way is thoroughly undemocratic. It curtails discussion and free speech on what is, after all, an issue that affects millions of students every year. Is the reservation system perfect? What about the Supreme Court's observation that it has made people queue up to be declared backward? What about the common sight of rich kids using reservations? The system is clearly far from perfect and there is a simmering tension growing in the so-called General Category. By blocking democratic discussion on it, these State Governments are adding to that pressure, which could have disastrous consequences.

Prakash Jha has now approached the Supreme Court to overturn these bans. Based on precedent, it is sure to do so. Then why have these State Governments even bothered to ban the movie? The answer is pure politics: the dirty system of political vote-banks that the reservation system has created forces people to react the way they do. There is no space for sane discussion. Just consider the first state that banned the movie - UP - and the fact that it goes to the polls next year. Clearly, in a bid to play caste-based politics, the movie was banned. And as always, more states followed.

Such undemocratic bans badly damage our social fabric. It is a necessity for us to get over knee-jerk reactions and promote a culture of democratic discussion. This is necessary if India is to call itself a democracy at all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Carrier Wars

According to a PTI report, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is moving its refurbished Ukrainian Aircraft Carrier out of its dock for trials. The world is holding its breath as China prepares to unveil, though not overtly, its first Aircraft Carrier.

China's military spending has been growing at a rapid pace for years. With tensions with a number of its maritime neighbours over the South China Sea as well as a quiet struggle for domination in the Indian Ocean against India, the logic behind the acquisition seems solid. China has been modernising the PLA and building indigenous platforms for its PLAAF, but the PLAN has never gotten a boost as solid as a Carrier.

It is worth noting here that the Indian Navy (IN) was the first Navy in the region to acquire a Carrier - INS Vikrant. Subsequently, it also acquired INS Viraat and is now in the process of acquiring INS Vikramaditya from Russia, as well as building its own Carrier at Kochi, which is set to be completed in 2014. Therefore, technologically, the IN is far ahead of the PLAN.

To add to the IN's firepower, trials are underway on INS Arihant, an indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, as well as several Scorpene submariners being built at Mazgaon. The programme to indigenize our military arsenal seems to be paying off the most for the IN (although the Air Force is still heavily dependent on foreign purchases).

The Chinese acquisition, which was long denied, must be looked upon not with concern but certainly with a degree of apprehension. For, it is a reality that Pakistan is looking to the Chinese to build a naval base at Gwadar, thus bringing the dragon into India's area of influence. Although India should not seek any military adventures, it must be prepared to protect its interests in the Indian Ocean Region.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Look at the Rating Agenices

Credit agency Standard and Poor's, along with others, lowered the US Government's debt rating to AA+ last week, sending investors into a gloom. Now, S&P has warned that Governments in Asia-Pacific could face the same fate, including Japan, India and the Philippines. This has sent the stock markets into a further tizzy, with the BSE Sensex having fallen below 17,000.

Let's just go back a few years. It was the housing boom in the US Investment banks had grown to massive proportions following Alan Greenspan's hands-off approach to the markets. Then came the credit default swaps, which S&P and its ilk were quick to stamp with their AAA+ rating. The world had reached a new era, we were told. And then came the Great Recession.

Credit agencies have been treated like the Queen of England: always right, never wrong. Credit agencies, like banks, have escaped the glare of the regulators and are back to their old tricks. Complex analysis that seem daunting are used to show deep analysis, but the fact that these proved utterly flawed never seems to matter.

The credit agencies are once again upto their old tricks. They 'demand' that countries hold no debt. The fact of the matter is that debt in the face of a depressed economy is not just necessary but also welcome to alleviate humans suffering. When the private sector disappears, the Government must step in to restore the system. Asking Governments to stick to austerity in the face of a double-dip recession is completely flawed - it misses the basic difference between an individual and the Government (the ability to collect taxes and the relationship between GDP and taxes).

Now, Republicans in the US might jump with joy over the downgrade, but Eastern giants, who are leading the recovery, must hold strong. There is so much private money waiting in the sidelines today that any downgrade can be offset by news of a strong growth in GDP. TO bow down to the fancies of rating agencies, which failed everyone at the most crucial of junctures, would be a mistake.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Closing the Books

It's been a year now and it all feels deja vu. It's all the same, just from a different view. Last year, I was seated with the audience, lost, confused and dejected. I was humiliated. I swore to myself that I would change things in my favour. I gave myself one year.

Now, that one year has come to an end. The time has come for results. And here I am. August 10 is the date for the intro talk of the Cultural Council and I'll be there again. But this time, I'll be on-stage. I'll be with the team. I'll be someone. Not once, but twice. It feels wonderful when your plans succeed. I started out last year without any godfathers, with no contacts and no idea what kind of a future I was going to encounter. But despite wanting to end everything and descend into myself, I persisted.

And here I am now. Member, Debate Group, Literary Section. Executive Editor, English Editorial, Kshitij. Had someone told me a year back this is what I am going to become, I would never have believed it. But it is so. After one year, I am now ready to revisit the horrors of those chaotic months of last year and close the accounts. Last year, I spoke of losses and the need to break even. That processing (of breaking even) has begun and I hope to close the books and count my gains soon.

Some would say that I am arrogant for saying all this. Let them. If I were arrogant, I would have never gotten this far. I worked hard and now I'm reaping the rewards. This is an achievement for me and I am proud of what I have done.

Same Old Story


Produced by: Kunal Kohli Productions and Big Motion Pictures
Director: Danish Aslam
Starring: Imran Khan, Deepika Padukone, Sharmila Tagore, Yudhishtir Urs and others
Rating: ** (2 of 5)
Pros: Fantastic music by Vishal & Shekhar, a good start
Cons: Degenerates into the same old thing, full of stereotypical nonsense

Cinema today seeks to break stereotypes.The need of the hour is to bring in something fresh. Break Ke Baad tries to do just that, but selectively.

Aaliya (Deepika Padukone) is young, smokes and wants to be an actor. Her long-time boyfriend Abhay Gulati aka Gelato (Imran Khan) is young, sentimental and utterly confused about what he wants to do. That itself should tell you that movie aims to turn stereotypes over their head. Sadly, there isn't a very imaginative story to back it up.

One fine day (ok, it wasn't so fine after all), Aaliya decides she wants to leave everything and study something in Australia and that starts her long 'break' from Gulati. You can guess what happened after that, but the director has more in store. For, it is no ordinary Australia that you are transported to. Rather, it is Indo-Australia, that mythical place which is Australia but is inhabited only by Indians; where any Indian can fly to at the drop of a hat and take up permanent residence and employment without so much as a visit to the neighbourhood consulate; where firangis are all the rage; and where everyone speaks in Hindi.

What has Yudi done to himself? From being the cool VJ on TV, he turned himself into a pervert-cum-loser for a movie that isn't even worth it. His role is basically to attract female audiences, hence, you often find him wearing very little indeed. It's not like he can act to make up for that: in fact, he doesn't even try. Sharmila Tagore puts up her best but with a movie as pathetic as this, it's no use.

Overall, the acting was poor. Imran puts up his old chocolate boy look without any depth, while Deepika is like a long-legged mannequin who has the same angry look perpetually on her face! The costumes are designed to give you the impression of rich-and-spoiled-brats, and that's probably a small success for the movie.

But the saving grace is the music by Vishal and Shekhar. All the songs are foot-tapping classics, just what the target audience wants. I won't cite any particular favourite - I loved them all! And it's probably because of the music that I could actually bare the torture of watching the movie. If however, you hear the music before you see the movie, you would be fully justified to leave mid-way. There's nothing more than stale bread after the break. (OTFS)

Staring at a Crisis

The Lokpal Bill introduced by the Union Government in Parliament and currently with the Standing Committee is all set to create a storm. The Bill is such a watered-down version of the Jan Lokpal Bill that it would not be able to take care of the slew of scams India witnessed over the first half of the year.

Keeping this in mind, and armed with a referendum held in Chandni Chowk in support of his own bill, Anna Hazare is all set to go on a fast-unto-death from August 16 i.e., after Independence Day.

Now, as I have said before, I do not appreciate the politics of hunger strikes. But let me not deliberate on that further. The fact of the matter is that the current Bill is entirely useless and would simply add another layer of bureaucracy to the anti-corruption mechanism in the country. With the Lokpal only having recommendatory powers that too only for Group 'A' public servants and a host of other flaws, it would not really do anything special that the CVC cannot do already.

Furthermore, the Bill is highly flawed in that it excludes the Prime Minister as long as he holds office. This is in contravention of relevant UN convention that India has ratified and is against the general wishes of the people, not to mention PM Manmohan Singh himself! The Bill forgets that corruption needs to be cleaned up at all levels. In no other law does the Prime Minister enjoy immunity while in office - in fact, constitutionally, only the President and Governors enjoy such immunity. Thus, the Bill could run aground with the courts.

Another problem is that the Bill does not establish Lokayuktas in all States. The explanation for this is that the Centre does not want to make decisions for States. However, when the centre passed the RTI and RTE Acts, it did not seem to worry all that much abut what States think. In fact, the shoddy implementation of the RTE Act goes to show just how little the Union Government cares for the States. Why the sudden empathy?

After the farce this summer over the Lokpal Bill, it was hoped that the UPA would see the light of reason and bring in a mechanism to deal with corruption once and for all. But the current Bill belies that hope. It is clear that the nation is looking at another crisis and the UPA has failed in entirety.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Random Rules

Less than a month back at IIT Roorkee and I'm already feeling miserable. It's not the mess food though (which has actually improved) but the general attitude of the institute particularly with respect to the Internet.

Last year, we were told that we would get an Internet connection in our hostel rooms by the Spring Semester. That, obviously, did not happen. We were then assured that the very day we returned from the summer break, we would be able to plug in our laptops to the LAN system. That too, did not happen. The Chief Warden put it on paper that we would get LAN by the end of July. We've gotten nothing. The next deadline is Aug 16, 2011, but I have no hopes.

But the worst part has been the attitude of the officials at IITR. They had already started on RB because it was empty for a year; they finished KB because it was for girls; and RKB was at the very bottom of the priority list. Sadly, they forgot that it's the third years who really need Internet; first and second years will use it exclusively for Facebook, but third years need it for a variety of reasons, including internships and various competitive exams.

Now, second and third year doesn't have Internet in their hostels, while first year does not have laptops. The result: wild crowds at the ICC and very little space to work. On top of that, random rules such as an 11 PM deadline to return to hostels and random CAD classes that close off the ICC. In this situation, how are we supposed to use the Internet?

It seems IIT Roorkee really cares very little for students. By cutting us off from the Internet, they are denying us what is a basic necessity for students, especially those in their third and fourth years. By adding unnecessary rules, they are making life more difficult for everyone. It seems the institute to moving from crisis to crisis and has learned to harm itself.

I only hope that the new Director will be able to make amends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: In the Line of Fire

In the Line of Fire: A Memoir
By Gen. (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf

Some say the reign of President Gen. Musharraf was nothing short of a golden period in the history of Pakistan, while others condemn it as the start of a massive collapse for Pakistan and a dark period for democracy. Whichever way you look at it, he has played a major role in the country and the wider region.

In the Line of Fire takes us from his very early days in the train from Delhi to Karachi during Partition, his life in the Army and then as President and his political, economic and social views. All autobiographies come with the problem that they tend to deify the writer, glossing over his shortcomings and exaggerating his achievements. This one exemplifies that.

gen Musharraf makes some very sweeping arguments about India, Afghanistan and the wider neighbourhood. True to the Pakistani Army's ways, he takes pleasure in ridiculing the protection given to him from the lynch-mob-like media in Agra, calling it media censorship (which is very silly). He writes a great deal of rubbish about the 1971 war, entirely omitting the atrocities committed by Pakistan in her Eastern Wing (now Bangaldesh). On Kargil, he speaks as though a foreign Army occupying external territory is a routine affair. He talks of Afghanistan as though it is Pakistan's fiefdom.

All this seems extraordinary, the the most extraordinary part is the fact that Gen Musharraf sees mo problem at all in the fact that the Army has taken over several times in the past. Indeed, he blames politicians and the wider public for 'forcing' such a thing onto themselves, coolly ignoring the fact that Ayub Khan started the whole thing in a most dictatorial manner.

As such, the book gives a good insight into some of the winner workings of the War on Terror, but his claims on having cleansed the Pakistani system are so exaggerated that one might be fooled into believing that Pakistan was on its way to becoming the most developed country in the world! That said, his opinion on women's emancipation and economy make sense, but are better left to democratic systems to implement.

If I have to find some praise for the book, it would be in the epilogue, a very good dissertation into the mechanics of leadership with some universal truths that he has learned over his life. For these few pages alone, this book is worth a read.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Time for a Rejuvenation

Another rail accident. More of the same thing. The collision of the Guwahati-Bengaluru Passenger Train with another train is another reminder of the state the Indian Railways has been put into by massive political interference.

For decades, the Railways has been looked upon as a political prize. The Railway Minister has always taken decisions for the Railways to meet their political ends. Whether it was Lalu Yadav or Mamata Banerjee or even Nitish Kumar, they have all used the Ministry to further their political aims.

Trains created on uneconomical routes, the lie of 'social responsibility' and the antipathy towards infrastructure upgrades have all brought the lifeline of the nation to the brink of collapse. Just consider the previous Minister, Mamata Banerjee, who very clearly and unashamedly used the Ministry to dole out benefits to West Bengal, eventually becoming Chief Minister. Almost nothing went to the rapidly-deteriorating infrastructure and pathetic services sectors.

Even worse was Lalu Yadav's tenure, when, we now know, tweaks were made at the cost of infrastructure (increasing speed and load of trains) to show bigger profits, putting passengers at tremendous risk. The profits earned were used to give more freebies and trains to Bihar, making matters even worse.

Nitish Kumar also used the Ministry to give out doles to Bihar, but then, he also did something, however little, for infrastructure. That was however, woefully inadequate. The new Minister, Dinesh Trivedi, has a chance to prove that he has a broader vision than his master-and-predecessor, but for that he has to take the initiative. The nation is already thankful to the Trinamool for ending the Left rule in Bengal, but it would be far more thankful if it would rejuvenate the Railways, on which the entire country depends.