Sunday, January 31, 2016

Achievement unlocked!

The Pillars of the Earth
By Ken Follett

Fall 2015 undoubtedly counted as the worst semester ever for me, and reading and reviewing books, together with going to the gym and driving lesson,s were the biggest losers in that. However, all that is now past, and come the new semester - before it, in fact - I decided to continue. The Pillars of the Earth was a book that I had wanted to read, indeed even started to, last semester itself, but failed to finish. So, once I had more time on my hands, I decided to finish it, and I was glad to continue with Ken Follett, who won my heart with his Century Trilogy.

This book is a charm for civil engineers and architects who can imagine a building plan in their heads by simply reading it. With modern knowledge of the moment-resisting frame, it all seems somewhat bizarre, but then, we're talking about a time when such ideas didn't exist. The book is full of conspiracy, heartbreak, and love, but it centers around a burning passion to build something wondrous - a passion that any civil engineer can associate with.

In about 1,000 pages, Follett develops many characters, some plain old black-and-white and some more gray, but all with an important role. In his typical style, it spans generations (and there's a sequel, which I intend to read soon), and has a vast, historic background: the English Civil War. A brilliant piece of work, I'm glad I finally read it! 

First lessons as a TA

I've spent two weeks as a TA, my first ever stint on the other side of the classroom. In that period, I made and graded homework, had my first student come to me for office hours, updated lectures and lab tutorials, and made a couple of announcements too! As you can probably tell, it has been a lot of work and has taken quite a bit of time, in fact more time than I had expected (but then again, I was given fair warning by my adviser). But, most importantly, it has been a lot of fun! At least as a first impression, I quite feel I enjoy teaching, although I haven't really given a lecture yet.

So, a few first lessons. Patience is the #1 trait required for this job, especially if you're a grad student who aced all their classes. Students come in a wide arc, from the super-smart to those who need a lot of help. And then, even the smart ones are not a delight, because they tend to take their smartness for granted and are typically tardy with deadlines (I suppose I was one of them). The smart ones need to respect you before they take you seriously, and that is a real challenge for a TA.

Making homework is another interesting exercise. You don't really realize how deep you've settled into the area until you hear the many different ways in which your question can be interpreted. And that brings you to the challenge - aside from framing questions that can be solved by a reasonably smart student, the question themselves need to be understood just the same way by everyone (similar to writing a paper, really). You need to go through several iterations of possible mistakes and see how the question can help students avoid them. And making a rubric is the hardest part of all, because you are predicting how students will answer a question, and that prediction can easily be way off in most cases.

Next week, I instruct my first lab - AutoCAD Civil 3D. It's a little ironic since I never got any instruction for it myself - I had to master it on my own. Perhaps that experience will help me? Let' see! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Republic Day Lecture: A Secular Constitution

Since the days of the French revolution, the idea that a nation state could be founded on something other than religion gained traction. The idea of the nation state itself was inexplicably linked to religion - the peace of Westphalia, after all, divided Europe into nation states based on their religion. And yet, the French revolution tried to break the religious nation state away from religion - separation of church and state. Thus, a new era war born, the secular nation state. Today, a large number of countries, including the three largest by population, are secular nation states, with no state religion. Is the Indian constitution secular, or does it merely proclaim itself to be so?

Intent
The original Preamble of the Constitution declared India to be a sovereign democratic republic, with Indira Gandhi's emergency-era amendments introducing the terms secular and socialist into it, ostensibly to make a political point. And yet, the Preamble is merely a statement of intent, and intent can quite easily be lost along the way. The question is - is the Constitution really a secular document in every sense of the term? To answer that, we must understand what the Constituent Assembly meant by the term secular itself.

The West would define a secular state as that where religion is separate from the state. In India however, the concept of secular came to mean a multi-theocratic state, in effect, as the state would have wide powers to interfere in religion, but all religions. Perhaps, for a very feudal society as India's, it is indeed not possible for the state to stay away from religion. It was on this basis that laws that broke centuries of Hindu tradition were enacted, laws that ultimately led to followers of Hinduism becoming more progressive.

Unfinished agenda
And yet, it stopped right there. The Directive Principles did call for the establishment of a uniform civil code - in effect, equal laws for all - but they cannot be implemented without legislative action. What you have instead is a Hindu society that is quite progressive, and has moved far away from the millenniums of repression unleashed upon the downtrodden, but all others continuing their regressive, feudal ways. It is then the state today that Muslim women remain on the very bottom of society.

On the other side, the state has completely taken over Hindu institutions while making it impossible to do the same to others. Many state governments have whole endowment ministries that run temples, and nothing else! From being a secular country, India became a multi-theocratic one, and now it seems to be just a Hindu state! Clearly, the founders of the Constitution never envisaged this - had they, they would've written the Constitution in the Western style.

Clearly, we are very far from a secular Constitution. The Left-Liberal architecture that has a vice-like grip on the country, and the two nation theorists that abound, will make it very hard for it to happen. But as Hindu philosophy has taught us, the inevitable can be slowed down, but not stopped.

Happy Republic Day
Jai Hind! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More of the same

PYAAR KA PUNCHNAMA 2 (2015)

Produced By: Viacom 18
Director: Luv Ranjan
Starring: Nushrat Bharucha, Omkar Kapoor, Kartik Aaryan, Sunny Singh Nijjar and others
Pros: Very entertaining, decent music
Cons: Winding story, unrealistic
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

With Pyaar ka Punchnama, Luv Ranjan became the sworn enemy of all femi-nazis, a certified misogynist and andro-supremacist. He decided to fire back, in style, with this second offering that is not really a sequel, but just an alternative story... rather, a rehash of the old one. But what the hey? In these politically correct times, when the Left is ready to attack anybody that they disagree with, it's nice to have a movie that is ready to stand out like a sore thumb and show us the other side of life - life in Delhi, anyway.

First and foremost, PKP2 is not meant to be a Aamir Khan-esque preachy tale - it is a piece of entertaining fiction, to the point that it is pretty unrealistic. It has huge dollops of sexy bodies, although they somewhat lacked in acting skills, perfect for the modern Bollywood movie. And it did deliver on its intended ambition - it was quite entertaining, including a rehash of the old anti-women rant (although it did seem a little forced this time; it probably was). The problem is that the director seemed confused whether he should use the old story or a new one, and finally came up with a long, winding meld of the two. At over 2 hours in length, it was very long, although it did manage to keep my attention for the most part. A few decent music scores were placed at the right time, although they did not really complement the movie.

Overall, a decent movie for everyone to watch (no families, please), unless you expect political correctness as a fundamental right. In that case, you might as well stick to National Geographic. (OTFS)

How to milk a suicide

Little did the dust of Pathankot and the Malda riots rest that the anti-national Left and the Deep Congress have found a new lease of life in the suicide of PhD student and Naxal supporter Rohith Vemula, this time in Hyderabad, that center of terrorist activities in India. The 'student' was clearly part of the radical left, represented by AISA, that has taken grip of college campuses across the country, spreading a radical, communist agenda that seeks to establish a Communist state in India. He was at the forefront of the shocking pro-Yakub Memon protests, thus lending support to a convicted terrorist and mass murderer. If reports are to be believed, his Facebook wall was littered with anti-Hindu hatred and hopes for the dismemberment of the Indian Union. He participated in pummeling an ABVP student for political vengeance.

Hardly a student of science, if you ask me. And yet, his suicide note, assuming it was written by him, paints a somewhat different picture - one of repent. For, all his anger that was channeled by the radical left, he seemed to have realized what a ride he was being taken for. His lament that individuals have been reduced to the nearest identity is a scathing attack on the Left, which does not even believe in the concept of an individual but only that of communities at constant war with each other. He seems to have realized that he was with the wrong company who fooled him into believing that they shared with ideas, whereas they had far more radical ideas and merely wanted him to do their bidding.

Ironically, after his death, he has become the poster boy of everything that he lamented against! He is no longer a science student who committed suicide - he is a Dalit who was killed by the RSS. This gem of a leap of logic came from the so-called harbingers of secularism, who have made haste to feed upon the dead carcass of the lad to score political brownie points. This has to be the height of shamelessness, to use a suicide on a college campus to further a political agenda, but it seems ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP to its historic victory in 2014, all civilities have been set aside by his opponents. What a shame. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A new phase

Tomorrow marks a new phase on my life, when I come closer than ever before to what has been my aim since 10th grade (something I was reminded of recently). This is my first semester as a TA and my duties begin tomorrow, although I have been working on it for at least a month now. It's a funny feeling being on the other side of the classroom after spending almost my entire life on one side. I've already learned a couple of things - everything you do must have a definite, quantifiable outcome (maybe this is an American thing?), and that the syllabus needs to be updated every now and then. Oh, and AutoCAD is extremely frustrating to use (I knew that back in BTech 4th year, of course)!

Honestly, I have no idea how to be a TA (something like how parents have no idea how to raise kids?). Yes, I hope my students aren't reading this! I know the golden rule, which also happens to be the golden rule of a PhD - be patient. Patience seems to be the biggest lesson of life, presumably. And patient I must be, especially given the difficulties with getting the lab running. I do hope to do a good job, but most importantly, I hope to learn from the experience.

This semester also brings with it other difficulties - a lighter course load certainly, but a course that will be the defining part of my PhD - ME 412. I need to get out of the lethargy of last semester, when I had temporarily stopped any research to do homework - and get back on track. A PhD is not a job, and one must guard against becoming institutionalized in it. This semester will need some concerted work, to meet my TA and RA duties as well as to meet other targets (a driver's license being top priority). So much to do - and it all starts tomorrow! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

So very random

EARTHRISE (2014)

Produced By: Dead Leaf Productions
Director: Glenn Payne
Starring: Greg Earnest, Casey Dillard, Sherri Eakin, Michael Ewing, and others
Pros: None
Cons: Too many to list
Rating: Never mind

Every now and then, a reviewer meets their match - a movie so pathetic that they are left quite speechless. Where do they start? Would it be the absolutely incoherent script, clearly a bungled up attempt at a psychological thriller (may Psycho rest in peace)? Or how about the pretty lame acting on the part of all the characters? No? OK, then maybe it's the laughable CGI rocket that was done better in Star Wars: Episode IV a couple of decades ago? You see my point.

Earthrise is based on an interesting premise - a team of humans, now based in Mars for centuries, returns to Earth to help revive a planet that their ancestors ravaged. In the ensuing journey, they go through strange and unexplained hallucinations. And we just watch and hope that it all goes somewhere - which it doesn't. So much for a good story! There wasn't even a good music score to redeem this movie so that I could give it at least one star, it was just extremely bad. The premise was pointless - the exact same story (or lack thereof) could've been supplanted into any other setting.

Needless to say, don't expose yourself to the same horror that I did. (OTFS)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Is this my country?



Newslaundry recently covered CNN-IBN executive editor Anubha Bhonsle's book, Mother, Where's my Country?, a evocative look into the history of the northeast India, mainly Manipur, since its annexation into the Indian Union and imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), an act that was modeled on a colonial law to suppress the Quit India Movement by the British colonial occupiers, and which has effectively turned Manipur into a dystopic colony of India, brandied about euphemistically as the 'jewel of India'. Throughout virtually its entire existence in the Union, Manipur has been under AFSPA, and the Indian state is nothing more than the Army.

The book explains well how Irom Sharmila Chanu, the icon of the Manipuri resistance against AFSPA, has been effectively neutralized in a manner that even the British were not able to do on Mahatma Gandhi. And not just the Indian state, the Indian people and their media have ignored the region entirely - it is all eerily similar to how India was treated under British occupation. What's worse is that it has been going on for so long that it is the normal situation there - whole generations have grown up like this.

However, something has to change, eventually. It took almost a millennium for Indians to throw off foreign occupation - from the Persians to the British - and establish their own state. But something has to give. Perhaps the new, modern era, with Internet spreading ideas literally at the speed of light, and young people of the Northeast coming to the mainland and seeing what their lives could be, can bring about some change. It is all hope really, but there is only one thing that is concrete:

AFSPA is a shame on Indian democracy. All Indians are guilty of ignoring the plight of their compatriots. It must go. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Academic Asshole

At the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting this week, in the midst of all the great research and updates about transportation in the US and the world, I came across a few examples of the breed that would be called 'academic assholes' - faculty that polish their egos by targeting grad students. This has become increasingly common over the years as competition for funding gets tight and frustration increases. And as people occupying one of the lowest rungs of the academic ladder, grad students often face the brunt.

Let's differentiate between genuine criticism and being an asshole. Criticism is good in academia, it prevents complacency and helps us progress. Every academic should welcome criticism as a way to improve their work. However, a lot of times, criticism comes in the form of gloating and even name-calling. Pointing out the shortcomings of a study is fine, pointing out the benefits of your study as opposed to mine is not. If the aim is to work towards better research, that is commendable. If the aim is to simply put down one study in favor of your own (and at times, just to put a person down), then it is not welcome.

Perhaps the most disgusting thing is that such unfair criticism often comes to grad students, but not to the professor that it is actually aimed at. Obviously, being as asshole to a peer can have consequences in the future, but doing so to a lowly grad student would not. By the time the grad student is actually someone of consequence, the asshole would be retired or even dead. This is wrong, and genuine criticism does not require being an asshole. Often, this includes terms like "your research is useless" or "my results are better," which are meant to demotivate the student and not move research forward.

If you find an academic asshole, as I did several times, move on. They seem to be an inevitable part of academic life, an irritant that you just have to live with. Ultimately, good research will prevail, and that is what we should all look forward to. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

On Jallikattu

The old Tamil tradition of Jallikattu, practiced by only a small grouo in the southern state, has been in the eye of the storm for some time. Opponents describe it as being extremely cruel to the bulls and based on that, the Supreme Court had banned it. However, the NDA government yesterday decided to overturn that (there is little detail on how that was achieved legislatively) and allow it to go on this year, a move celebrated by virtually all political parties in the state, with Chief Minister Jayalalitha thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the move.

There are several questions here, and I'm not taking sides. Perhaps the sport is cruel to animals - 'cruelty' can be subjective, especially when bulls are supposed to be beasts of burden and not domesticated pets. One can argue that using a bull to plough a field is cruel, but then it would have had no purpose. It is also a slippery slope, because slaughtering an animal for food is also cruel, and yet there is no blanket ban on eating meat in the country (the only bans are with respect to cows). Therefore, cruelty needs to be defined keeping the local conditions in mind, and not merely importing a European sense of what is cruel and what is not.

Then, there is also the question of protecting local sensibilities. Jallikattu has been going on for several centuries, well before the Indian Constitution came into force, and banning it by anyone other than the local population smacks of majoritarianism. The Constitution itself is replete with exceptions to protect local customs that might in ordinary circumstances be opposed to law, so the idea that a local practice can be preserved despite the majority having a contrary view is quite firmly rooted in Indian law. However, by that logic, something as inhuman as sati could never have been abolished. Therefore, arguments of majority dominance aside, there need to be some red lines that society cannot evade.

What are these red lines? Is Jallikattu in it? Is animal cruelty such an important factor so as to allow the full force of the state to stop the traditional practice of a small group of people? That is the real question - and there are no simple answers. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What to do with Pakistan?

As the dust of the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base dies down, some difficult questions need to be asked. No doubt this is part of a pattern from Pakistan that has gone on since the 1997 ceasefire between the two armies - the Indian side makes a peace gesture, and a terrorist strike hits India to break that peace down. Sometimes it breaks down instantly, sometimes it takes longer, but the trajectory is the same. This time too, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's best desires to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that anything is going to change. To put it frankly, we are being suckered each and every time.

Modi was perhaps the best bet for lasting peace in the subcontinent. The right wing will not attack him, at least not with any ferocity. Right now, it is mainly the Congress and the Deep Congress that are attacking him, despite the fact that many of them had actually celebrated his audacious and historic stop-by in Lahore. For now, Modi is safe in the knowledge that his core supporters are willing to give him a chance, just as they had given Vajpayee a chance. And yet, as Einstein once said, only an insane person would repeat the same thing and expect different results. So what can be done?

War is not an option between India and Pakistan because it is sure to go nuclear, or the US would intervene before that and turn it into a multilateral issue. Economic sanctions would be impossible given the already low level of trade. Talks and negotiations have clearly failed. Therefore, to use Chanakya's rubric, saam, daam, and dand are not going to work. We are left with the fourth choice - bhed. Divide and rule, as the British had once done. For all the show of strength, Pakistan is really not a country. The tenuous linkage through the two-nation theory ended in 1971, and there are deep fissures in the country - at least half the country by area would gladly seceded. Moreover, Gilgit-Baltistan and so-called Azad Kashmir are also quite unhappy with the Pakistani state. This is certainly India's opening.

The only solution, a long-term one no doubt, is to dismember Pakistan. As Tarek Fatah rightly described it, this is the original Islamic State, and the world would be better off without it. The dismembered parts, certainly unstable, would either have to join India or exist as vassal states of larger powers. It is a pity that former PM IK Gujral shut down RAW's capabilities in Pakistan, capabilities that Indira Gandhi had nurtured, but a focused attempt at recreating those must be used. That seems to be the only real solution to this problem. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Exciting Week Ahead

Next week, I'll be heading out to the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, the 'Festival of Transportation,' as a former professor of mine had described it. It will be my second time attending the big event, and I am both excited and nervous. Excited, of course, to be attending such a great event, with great presentations, posters, and meetings. I look forward to meeting some old conference friends and seeing the beautiful city of Washington, DC again.

But there is nervousness. I was disappointed that my paper was rejected for extremely bureaucratic reasons (sent to the wrong committee, by a mile), but now I have a presentation at a committee meeting. Which is actually scarier, because it is a more informal, cosy setting, where I can really get grilled. Most presentations I've given has been to audiences with very little knowledge of what I'm doing, but this is going to be in front of a committee that knows exactly what I'm doing, in fact it exists because of the topic that I'm working on. So this will have to be a very good performance.

This time, I've actually bought some cards for myself. I skipped it last year, expecting that nobody would ask for the card of some MS student. I was so wrong! This time, I'm prepared, although I have a sinking feeling that it won't be necessary. There's some new stuff this year - I will NOT wear jeans in the conference center (I promise) and I look forward to attending the "21st Century Concrete Pavement Researcher" dinner (it exists).

To a wonderful year ahead, at #TRB #AM2016.

Welcoming ISIS to Bengal

The #MaldaRiots in Bengal (and the ensuing silence from the TMC government, the media, and the so-called secular political parties) points to a dangerous trend that augurs badly for the future of the country - the full and complete Islamization of Indian Bengal, reaching the same state as its eastern half. It is not unknown that in India, under the Nehruvian 'idea of India,' minority communalism flourished under the garb of secularism. When that bluff was finally called in 2014, the veil was off. More so than ever before in Bengal.

The Islamization of Bengal has been going on for decades, under both the administration of SS Roy and the brutal semi-dictatorship of the communists. But now, under the TMC, the state seems to be heading to an entirely different level. Bomb blasts happen there ever so often, rioting takes place almost as a matter of routine, sharia zones are established where the local Hindu population cannot observe their rituals... the list goes on, and all the while the Chief Minister does nothing in the hope of winning the minority vote. But vote for what?

In 1947, uncontrolled Islamization of Bengal, encouraged by the British occupiers, led to the Partition of the Bengali people. If something is not done, then a shamelessly opportunistic political class, enabled by a media that is heavily biased and compromised, will divide the country again. Patriotic Indians must come together to oppose this. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Odd Even gone awry

By now, everybody in India, included those devastated and ignored by the Imphal Earthquake, know about Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's latest pet project, the Odd Even Rule, to promote more efficient traveling practices and reduce air pollution in the national capital. Or so it was supposed to be. There is no doubt that Delhi is an urban nightmare, and the desire to do something about it is laudable. Indeed, thanks to some usual judicial overreach by the Supreme Court, it is even mandatory for the Delhi Government to do something about it.

If only it had remained like that. The first announcement of the Odd Even Rule came with the usual AAP-BJP slugfest, with the Congress also adding some (mostly ignored) noise. Swarajya explained how a similar scheme had led to self-defeating results in Mexico City. Others talked of limited successes elsewhere. Those who had long before left logic behind went with the tried and tested argument of "at least he is doing something yaar." However, aside from the rather Tughlaq-esque nature of the decision, it would have had an impact if vehicular traffic could've been kept off the roads. Not a huge impact, since Delhi has other sources of pollution, but certainly a significant one. And then came the bombshell: the Kejriwal government introduced a wide variety of exemptions to the rule - women (!), autos, taxis, two-wheelers (that form the bulk of traffic), VVIPs, diplomats, pooled cars, and much more. According to the chief of Delhi Police, of the 85 lakh vehicles on the road, 70 lakh were under some exemption or the other.

And that's when it all went bust. When over 80% of vehicles would be able to go about as usual, the Odd Even Rule was destined to fail. Despite the best attempts of AAP-friendly journalists to paint a pretty picture, data clearly showed that pollution had taken next to no hit - in fact, whatever little decline was observed could easily be accounted for under random variation (a term journalists would have never heard). Add to that the fact that comparing Jan 1, 2016 to Dec 31, 2015 made it an uncontrolled experiment, and it was clear that Kejriwal and his stormtroopers were determined to make the rule work by hook or by crook.

So, from a dictatorial but well-intended move to control pollution, it became a political slugfest that the media reveled in, people even saying that the Rule had worked 'despite Modi,' as if the PM has time to worry about Delhi's traffic. The Rule has done nothing to control pollution, but has made the lives of people on the Delhi Metro much worse, especially at Rajiv Chowk station, which was always overcrowded but became even more so once the rule kicked in. It has also added to the burden of the Delhi Traffic Police, which has to figure out whether a car had an exemption or was in fact breaking the law, and not block traffic at the same time. Perhaps sensing that the rule would not be popular once the noise of his stormtroopers died down, Kejriwal himself said that it would not go beyond Jan 15.

Thus, this whole episode shows how good intentions can be ruined by a politically irresponsible person who is given power. By trying to curb pollution but allowing umpteen exemptions at the same time, Kejriwal was shown that he can do anything for popularity. If data says that the Odd Even Rule can work, then it should have been applied without the exemptions, and that would've been fair. The way it was done, it was set up for failure, and nobody gained anything except maybe some academics who got a free experiment. As much as the media may try to show otherwise, it is clear that Kejriwal is nothing more than an opportunistic politician who cannot make hard decisions even with a 95% majority. Delhi is getting what it voted for. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

An excellent performance

CONSPIRACY (2001)

Produced By: HBO Films, BBC, and others
Director: Frank Pierson
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucchi, Barnaby Kay, and others
Pros: Excellent story, great acting
Cons: Slow, requires some historical background
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

On the scale of Nazi movies, this one is a little low, certainly not in the league of a Schindler's List. But then, Conspiracy is more of a TV documentary than a movie, so it could not have the entertaining nature of Schindler's List. However, that does not make it boring - it's more of a cross between Valkyrie and 12 Angry Men.

The story, for history buffs, is all that the movie really offers, aside from a brilliant performance by Stanley Tucchi as the bureaucratic mass murderer, Adolf Eichmann. The movie is as accurate as could be from the recreated minutes of the infamous Wanasee conference that settled the 'final solution to the Jewish question in Europe.' The thought that went into the Nazi-directed holocaust of Jews and the key players, led by the all-powerful SS that could overrule even the Wermacht and the civilian bureaucracy on such issues, was made abundantly clearly through the story itself. In it, we could see a view into the workings of Nazi Germany.

Some viewers may find the movie to be slow, with too many breaks being taken; they are correct, but that could be forgiven for the fact that it had to be historically accurate, almost to a fault. Furthermore, the outcome was already known to those who know their history; to the rest, it can be a little pointless, which is also a fault. Overall though, it was a good watch for history lovers as well as those who would simply like to know more. (OTFS)

Friday, January 1, 2016

IOTY15: Troublemaker of the Year


Troublemaker of the year is one of our favorite categories for the annual IOTY - the annual award given to people who have caused great harm to the country by simply being themselves. This year's nominees are quite a distinguished bunch:


  • Arvind Kejriwal, CM of Delhi, and a megalomaniac who took it upon himself to live-tweet a CBI raid in his Secretary's office, and finish off with one of the most tasteless comments. He single-handedly brought down politics to a new low. 
  • Pakistan Tourism Promoters, an assorted bunch of politicians, babas, and sadhvis, including BJP President Amit Shah, who needlessly bring in Pakistan to end all discussion, and would probably export half the population there if they could. 
  • The Delhi Media, collectively NDTV, IBN, Times Now, News X, India Today, and others, who excelled at the art of lying, spreading hate, doctoring interviews, and manufacturing controversies. The media today stands at its lowest level of credibility in history - known by the nickname #Presstitutes. Although the award is given collectively, it is primarily meant for Srinivasan Jain and his doctored interview of Baba Ramdev. 
  • Mani Shankar Aiyar, back on the list after his chaiwala remark, this time for going to Pakistan and asking it (government/military/people?) to overthrow the Modi government and install a Congress government in India. 
  • Award Wapsi Gang, a band of so-called artists who have been feeding off the state for decades, and who took it upon themselves to return awards (some deserved, mostly undeserved) to reinforce the false narrative of growing intolerance in the country, all to pin down Narendra Modi. The distinguished list includes Nayantara Sahgal, Arundati Roy, and Dibakar Banerjee. Moreover, they also forced others to join them. 
It is a very difficult list to choose from this year. A notable name missing from the list is Aamir Khan for his intolerance remark, because that was lumped together with the nomination for the Delhi media. Who will one this year's award? Find out soon. 

Opinions 24x7 Presents
Indian of the Year 2015
Coming Soon...

The economic boycott

Last year, amidst the manufactured debate on rising intolerance in the country, the right wing, totally cut off by the mainstream media and the Deep Congress and ignored on the social media by the BJP, found a novel approach to airing their grievances - an economic boycott of the Left and their views. It is novel in that it is so obvious, for the Left feeds on the state, and the state is its people. Therefore, if people start voting with their money, they could finally have a voice. This is perhaps the greatest example yet of Ayn Rand's theory that the marketplace is fundamentally democratic.

The two biggest examples of this would be the boycott of Dilwale and the downgrade of Barkha Dutt's new book on Amazon. The former is questionable, since it was a pathetic movie that didn't deserve to make any money in the first place. Also, Shah Rukh Khan was really a victim of a media hit job on him, rather than anything he actually meant to say. Nonetheless, as Priyanka Chopra rightly said, people need to be careful now in an environment where the media and the Deep Congress is waiting to pounce on them to feed their fake narrative. But enough of that.

The question is - how moral is an economic boycott? Aamir Khan faced with with Snapdeal, and Barkha Dutt with Amazon. Is it morally wrong for consumers to use their economic might to push back against a forced narrative that smacks of political opportunism? Perhaps, in a normal environment, no. Freedom of speech should not be held hostage by anyone, after all. The problem is, that freedom is very much held hostage in India, hostage to the Deep Congress. Any word or incident, deliberate or misconstrued, that favors the narrative gets a large platform, and anything opposing it is blacked out. In such a situation, ordinary laws of freedom do not apply, because that is akin to asking people with a differing view to kill themselves.

In such a situation, an economic boycott is not just moral, it is the duty of any citizen who values Indian civilization. The actors who wish to take the country from its people must know that there will be consequences, and they cannot be held unaccountable by simply taking over all conduits of accountability. The free market is a place that does not stand monopolies, including monopolies of expression, that the Deep Congress has become accustomed to. However, it is also a double-edged sword, for the same tactic can be used on the other side. Yet, this is a long battle that the right must be willing to fight. 

Trying way too hard

DETECTIVE BYOMKESH BAKSHY! (2015)

Produced By: Dibakar Banerjee Productions and others
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Starring: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Divya Menon, Neeraj Kabi, and others
Pros: Successfully recreated the old Calcutta
Cons: Meandering story, poor screen presence, difficult to hear
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Every now and then, an art house movie comes by and you watch it just to fill your annual quota and prove to yourself that you can be 'sophisticated.' Perhaps, these movies are made now exclusively to meet this requirement. And of course, sophistication, for some reason, has to be synonymous with old. And thus came another one from Dibakar Banerjee, who seems to be trying very hard to emerge the king of the genre.

Too hard, in fact. It was all there - a good story, good actors (Rajput impresses again with a good performance), and yet there was something missing. Sense. Sense that this was a movie and not a dream, and the audience includes more people than the director himself! To be fair, Banerjee did put in a lot of effort to recreate old-town Calcutta, complete with trams and British police officers speaking accented Hindi (although it should've been Bengali, but lets not nitpick). But then, the effort should have stopped right there. Instead, we got a story that only the director can actually make sense of, and the director also giving far too much credit to his own set, with the actors being forced to concede stage presence. Thus, it was more a mix between a dream and a picture book than a movie!

The worst thing about the movie is that it was so difficult to hear - actors should know how to 'whisper' while making sure everyone can hear them in the audience! Alas, Banerjee seemed to have no time for such trivial issues such as the audience for this movie that people see just for the heck of it. A dying breed indeed - I hope you're not one of them! (OTFS)