Sunday, August 28, 2005

use and abuse


Sometimes I get a kick when I see or read about technological advancements back home. One of the latest developments that I read about was how you can book train tickets just by sending SMS messages !! All one needs to do is to tie up with ICICI mobile banking and register one-time with the Indian Railways Catering and Toursim Corporation. No more queueing the reservation complexes from 7:00 AM exactly sixty days ahead to book a single overnight journey ! I dont think such a facility is available here in the US.

India has been making severe advances in the field of consumer communication technologies, particularly cellular and this is one such example. And the railways has been a good pioneer in adopting such innovations - like providing wi-fi in Chennai Central etc.,

On the other hand, we also seem to be making news by exploiting technology on the wrong side. The US visa appointement booking website states that they have made procedural changes because the process was being abused and misused for financial gain.

It is a fact that fradulent acts by a small set of people could adversely impact millions of others and inspite of this knowledge, people seem to go about doing just about anything to get stuff done. And when we know that such crimes are done by educated and well-qualified people and worse - by technologists - people of our breed, it is tough to digest.

Technology provides a comfortable platform to operate. To use or abuse is in our hands. As technologists, dont we carry a professional responsbility ?


Monday, August 22, 2005

election Vs selection - the reservation for women


Reservation - one of the biggest political keywords in post-independent India, this has created and destroyed governments, leaders and people. The Mandal commission reservation resulted in self immolations and hartals. Any deviation of reservation of any sort is simply out of question. The heaviest hit sector because of reservation policies is obviously that of education. Almost all over the country the overall reservation runs to about 70% of the college seats results in a 30% open competition.

And now the reservation for women. The parliament has been discussing this topic for almost nine years now. It has been universally acknowledged that women do not recieve sufficient representation in the parliament or state assemblies. Their status is degraded in several parts of the nation. Infact, there are still towns and villages where women hardly see the light of the day. Though we can see some nice clippings of women piloting ariflights or driving autos or winning medals in sports or occupying 75% of the BPO sector, there is still a vast majority of women who are still to see anything beyond the kitchens in villages and even cities.

But does that warrant a 33.3% reservation for women in the pariliament and state assemblies ? Does this actually serve any purpose or is it just another plain gimmick of the political parties to woo the votes of the gentle gender ? One should remember that close to 23% of the current seats are already reserved for Scheduled castes and tribes. Giving away another 33.3% to women means that the rest have only 45% of the seats left to contest. In a multi-faceted and heavily diverse country like India, would this work out well ?

When compared to several other democracies, India has fared much better in the women-in-politics scenario. Take the United States for example. Of the total 1884 people who have served in the US Senate since 1789, only 33 are women - which is rougly about 1.75% . On the contrary, the percentage of women in the first Lok Sabha was 4.4% and that of the thirteenth was already 9.02%. One of the most powerful prime minister of India was a woman, whereas a woman President is still a taboo in the US. We have had women Chief Ministers and several Cabinet and state ministers, even at very young ages.

So why the hue and cry for 33.3% reservation for women all of a sudden ? What is the expectation here ? Is the plan to get downtrodden women, who are unwed mothers and do coolie work to feed their children come and represent a constituency ? Is the idea to get the lady who has seen nothing but kitchen smoke come and help make policies to prevent such pseduo-slavery for future generations ? Is there a feeling that more women becoming lawmakers will help make policies that will help upgrade women status in the nation ? I feel this to be as absurd as saying that we need one-third reservation for animals to be secretaries in the forest ministry. If in a country like US, where women play such a minor role in politics, the overall status of women is much much improved, shouldnt we be ahead in India, per the argument of the pro-reservationists ?

After 60 years of Independence, it may be time that we stop depending on reservation to help upgrade the downtrodden. Many a time we have seen the misuse and abuse of reservation and it is time that we rethink the whole strategy. Though done with all goodwill, blocking a huge number of seats for women help them jumpstart to come up in status, rather will be another heavily misused policy. Just like how the creamy layer of the castes have alone benefited out of the educational reservations, it will be the same case for women reservation too, with wives & sisters of powerful politicians or businessmen, ex-actresses and other rich powerful women taking up the lions share of the seats.

Maybe it is time we need a 33.3.% reservation for the educated or for non-tainted people. Maybe it is time we realize that we will do a favor to the nation as a whole by trying to put policies getting eligible and good people elected rather than getting representatives forcibly selected .


Monday, August 15, 2005

wishes wherever you are


I knew you would definitely google me out one day. It would have possibly taken years for you to decide, months to convince, weeks before you actually sat before the system and typed my name on the google search box and hours before you finally submit the search string containing my full name.

And if that day is today, there will be no one happier than me. For today is your birthday and as always you know I have wished you, wherever you are.

I cant forget those wonderful years that we spent back at good ole Chennai; hanging out almost every minute together; sitting in front of the bunk canteen munching two rupee molaga bajjis; walking miles together; having aimless chats and useless arguments; every day cinemas; weekend trips to temples; semester end trips......

We would be friends forever. .. Or so we had thought.

Tearful farewell, good bye parties. Your ambition brought you to the US for higher studies and my lack of it ended me where I was destined to. Handwritten letters from you that I preserve as egyptian treasures; countless emails from you that sent me hunting for a decent internet parlor in Secunderabad; advises, opinions, chats, discussions, arguments, fights - a few thousand geographical miles were shrunk into nothing by few words between us..

Time passed by, and the distance increased slowly as we sunk into our own worlds of work. But we always knew that we could reenter each other lives anytime, as if we werent away at all.

And then fate had to intervene. Unfortunate incidents made you rush to India. It was a sad day for you and I had to lend my shoulder for you to lean on. But I didnt make it. I had "work". I spent the days and nights at office working furiously as if I were turning the whole world upside down. I had to get my work done- my project delivered. I had no care for the people who needed me. It was me, my project, my job and my career.. what a stupid moron I was.

I was busy doing my job that I failed doing my duty.

When I came around to my senses you werent there. I had dropped & shattered the glass ball while trying to juggle and keep the rubber balls from falling. I knew that the damage was irrepairable and stupid justifications wouldnt do any good. Reasons are not band-aids for broken relationships. Time was the only healer. And I decided to wait...

Someday, I know, you will forgive me, google me out, track me down.. . and we will reenter each others lives, as if we werent away from each other at all.

Until then, happy birthday, my dear friend.


power and powerpoint


Wish you all a very happy Independence day.

I will keep this real short. I was amused, suprised, interested and more than anything - happy - when I read this news article from Hindu - President uses powerpoint.

A non partisan, highly educated, motivated, energetic, visionary, selfless, patriotic and a good man & leader Dr Abdul Kalam is our president. A man who has all the power that anyone could dream for - and he is utilizing them wisely to draw plans and energize the nation towards development. This is a great time for a great nation. And we need to capitalize on his energy & leadership...


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

2020 - too far or too near


I have been reading the India 2020- A vision for the new millenium by APJ Abdul Kalam and YS Rajan. The book was published in 1998. It carries a lot of relevance and message to the citizens of India. Of the various articles that I have come across and books I have read on this subject of making India a developed nation, this is definitely a precise and "upto the point" book. Seven years after the publishing of this book, we can visualize some of the predictions/assumptions turning true already.

Anyways, this book was lying on my office desk, when one of my esteemed colleagues, who has a broad vision on national & foriegn affairs (no prizes for guessing you-know-who) looked at the topic and skeptically said "2020 ! That isnt a long way.. Just 15 more years and that time is nothing in a nation's life". I barked back saying that his pessimism would lead us to nowhere and we gotta do something and just not say that it is too long or short or what !. (Travelling in the elevator this evening with you-know-who, I was amused when another colleague echoed "well, 15 years would go just like that" and he snapped his fingers.)

I have been reflecting what I heard. It was possibly not just pessimism that prompted you-know-who to be skeptical. Maybe he was right. We have been doing five year plans and we really arent sure ourselves on what path we are treading. While we have enriching statistics and reports from Planning commission of India, still we arent convinced that we are moving positively towards a well developed nation. Of course, the top cities are expanding rapidly, the IT revolution is giving rise to a cultural revolution etc., but how many of this makes any difference to kuppusamy in sembakkam village ?

But then again, we need a plan. We simply cannot sit and argue that certain things will take a long time and hence let the natural course take place. We cannot take historical references and stop working. We cannot sit and make a plan for 200 years ahead for envisioning success. There needs be a sense of urgency in some of these things to realize them. And there needs be a sense of giving - we work towards enriching and developing our nation, so that it may be a better place for our future young generations to dwell upon.

Vision 2020 should be treated like a project with full attention and backing from the government - the sponsors. The scope, schedule and cost need to be identified. The ROIs need to be nailed upon. Communication, resourcing and risks need to be managed skillfully. Phases need to be identified and milestones need to be met. Reviews need to be regular. Accountability and responsibility are key factors for progress. This is a project where every citizen is a stakeholder. It is all about change; changes to the socio-economic & cultural aspects of the people. We will never get a complete consensus and we cant choose to ingore sensitivities either. We will face opposition, both internal and external, making this one of the toughest project to execute. Borrowing a dialogue from a popular movie, "We have serious problems and we need serious people to solve them".

Yes. Fifteen years may not be a long time in a nation's lifetime. Maybe it will go away just like that, in a snap. Maybe we wont be able to reach the stars and fulfill all our dreams within this time. But there is no harm in having a vision and working towards the right things. It is worthy to lose in a cause that would win some day, rather than win in a short term cause that will lose one day.

With all the advancements in technology and science, with all the human power and brilliant brains, with all the passion and energy - if we dont make it, who else will ? As the Vision 2020 - report of 2002 concludes - Our future depends not on what will happen to us, but on what we decide to become, and on the will to create it.

Find the ends, the means will follow.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

india, equipped


Nature is incomprehensible. One one hand it lashes out rains wreaking havoc and on the other hand, a few hundred miles away where people just clamour for droplets of water, the rains dont make any appearance at all.

The recent rains in Mumbai has left everyone speechless. The death toll is officially close to a thousand. Several thousands have been rendered homeless. Only half an year ago it was the raging seas that caused an epic disaster in the southern parts of asia damaging millions of lives.

It only goes to prove the point that as man keeps making astounding progress in science & technologies, there is a force that tries to keep all of us in check. While we have the capability to develop nukes, clone human beings, launch satellites etc., and keep moving ahead on one side, some of these calamities make us pause and wonder if we are investing our time, effort and money in the right direction ? - for example, in this instance, should we have focused on building better facilities, amenities that can sustain nature's fury ?

There are millions of voices blaming the governments for being ill-prepared to handle such situations, the NRIs being the prominent of the lot. To a certain extent it may be true as the government hasnt taken stern action on moving some of the millions who live in crooked alleys and ramshackle buildings and also letting the cities grow boundaryless without any control. However as the Chief economist of ABN Amro has said, if a similar lashout had happened in London or Singapore, those cities would have also probably been shut out and pretty much would have faced the same situation. Coming to think of it, how can one forget the complete shutdown of Washington, DC during the Winter 2002 when the Mayor announced that the district is simply not equipped to face that kind of snowfall.

Iam not defending the government's shortcomings here. But what is important is what needs to be done. Governing is prioritizing. And if the Maharashtra govt can turn deaf to nasty voices from Bal Thackerays and pay little importance to Abu Salems and Chotta Rajans and place their highest priorities to provide better amenties for people welfare, things will certainly be different. Similarly those of us who have been voicing opinions can come up with more constructive and implementable ideas that can be put forth. The NRI portals and blogs can play a very crucial role here (which they are already doing).

India is in the limelight now. The Prime Minister has reached historical accords with US on nuclear policies just few weeks ago. We have backing of several nations on a UN Security council seat. Several world powers have acknowledged our growth. We are a fast growing economy.

And during these times, poor responsiveness, ineffective rescue measures, loss of lives due to floods & rains, bad healthcare etc., can do nothing but damage our international reputation. It is imperative that we look internally and have some of these gaps fixed to ensure faith of international community - and more importantly to care, safeguard and guarantee the lives of the millions of Indians. This is basic and this deserves topmost attention.

We may not be able to change the course of nature. Or even predict its fury well ahead. But what we can do is be equipped & prepared better as a community. What good it would be to have a permanent membership in UN Security council, if people living inside our own borders feel insecure frequently ?