Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nuclear Liability Bill: What should it be

The Nuclear Liability Bill would be presented in the Parliament soon. Though such bills don't occupy front pages in papers, still they are very important to our country, specially when we're aggressively looking forward to nuclear energy as one of the main alternative energy sources in future.

The entry of many foreign companies in nuclear business is expected soon. So it's very essential to have a liability bill in case any unprecedented event or accident happens. Rediff had a detailed report on this. It's worth reading this report as it points out that our government seems to be in a haste to pass a very lenient bill. But at the same time looks like similar international laws (for example 1997 Vienna Convention) the are also in favor of the companies rather than the victims.

Perhaps that's what is the practice in a capitalistic market. But India being a motley of socialism, capitalism, communism such a bill is ought to evoke mixed reaction!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How much do you care for your child

Recently, during an informal chat session among a few of my friends, we're discussing about the greatest assets that India has. One of my friends pointed out that the family value system is perhaps one of the greatest assets of our country. By family value system he meant a simple thing like the sacrifice that we, as parents, still make for our children. Somehow I felt that he indeed spoke something very fundamental. When I came back home and thought over it I really found out, yes, that's indeed one of the rarest and biggest assets, which we ourselves tend to overlook. It's this care and affection that we show to our children, it's this responsibility that we take for our children, it's the sacrifice that we make throughout our lives for our children, that make our children grow with the thousands-years-old cultural heritage of India. Perhaps this upbringing is something that's passing the Indian culture through the generations.

I remembered a small incident that happened some 25 years back. My parents wanted me to study at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith in Purulia, a very backward district in West Bengal, adjoining Jharkhand. Purulia used to be a torturous one night journey from Calcutta by train and then on cycle rickshaw pushed by rickety people along hilly tracks of narrow roads. Coming from Calcutta the abundance of poverty everywhere struck me shockingly. I don't remember if I'd seen such scenes before in my life. Every where the people seemed to be so poor. I was barely 11-12 years old. But still I was filled with melancholy at the first site.

My father took me to the school so that I could like or dislike the place before getting admitted there. It was a residential school and hence it was important that I liked the place.

We stayed in the guest house. After lunch to returned to the guest house for a nap. That's when we noticed an old man, sitting alone at a corner of the room where we're supposed to stay. The guest house was like dormitory with 5-6 beds placed haphazardly in each room. We'd occupied two beds in one of the rooms. The old person was sitting in another bed, at the corner of the room. At the first sight I thought him to be a servant or a worker at the Mission and hence felt irritated about his presence. The person would have sensed what was going on inside my mind and hence he also seemed to feel a little uneasy. My father came from a very humble background and hence he was better off in not being so judgmental like me. He went ahead and sat on the same bed as the person. That's when I gave a close glance on him. He didn't appear to be that old as I'd thought initially. But it didn't need much brain or vision to understand that he was indeed poor, rather very poor. He was wearing a torn and very dirty dhoti, which was not much more than an ugly loin cloth. His pair of shoes didn't have any further space to put the next patch for repair, if needed ever in future. The color of the shoes could have been black in some remote past, but the layers of dust and dirt made it a tough proposition to decipher that. His dhoti ended little above his knees making portions of his long underwear visible. His shirt didn't have any button anywhere - just a few safety pins at the erstwhile holes meant for the buttons. The over bulging small pocket was packed with a world of stuff like a small note book, some small papers - might be some old bills or bus or tickets, a leaking fountain pen that had made its presence felt in the multiple blue stains on the pocket, some lose currencies of one rupee notes and many other things. The person was sitting like an arch, with a curved back - I figured out later that he couldn't even stand erect. His face had unshaven beards. His eyes had a pair of typical black specs with high power.

When my father went and sat besides him, he stood up, as if he was not entitled to sit alongside my father. My father requested him to sit down. He sat with a bewildered look mixed with respect and gratitude, as if allowing him to sit itself was a great favor shown. My father asked him whether he had come to meet someone at the school. That's when he told that his elder son was appearing for the Madhyamik (secondary) exams the next year (1985) and he had come to see him. So it was clear that he was not a servant. I could see regards in my fathers eyes. He started talking to him. My father, himself a victim of the partition of India, having lived a life like refugees on aids and public and private benevolence and finally being able to get a foot after completing his engineering, has very high regards for people who struggle and put everything at stake just for the sake of acquiring a good education. Unlike me or my brother, the only asset that my father had was his education without which he would have been a non entity in this world. I could understand very well that he was seeing in that person a shade of my uncle, with whom my father stayed after fleeing from Bangladesh and who had struggled so much just to give a basic education to him. My father asked the person about his job. He told that he was a primary school teacher. He also told my father that he wanted his son to study medicine in Calcutta. That's when my father couldn't resist to ask if he could bear all the expenses of his son's studies. He stared at my father for some time and then spoke gently, "Won't the 500 rupees a month I get as salary be sufficient?". My father kept silent for sometime and then asked hesitantly if he gave his entire salary for his son's education then what they would eat at home. The person replied very casually that they would somehow manage with the little vegetables that grow in their small plot of land.

I could see tears in my father's eyes. He rose, held the person's hands and told, "I'm saying you today, I don't know what's there for my son in future, but there's no doubt that your son would become an established doctor for sure. That's my conviction. We all try to give our children the best possible education, but I can't ever think of spending my entire salary for it".

That was the time my father didn't have a job. He had a sun stroke sometime in 1982 and lost his job. After recovering, he couldn't take the strain of working in factories and hence had to sit at home for a few years. Our household used to run on my mother's job. Though I was quite young still I knew that my parents did face financial problems during those few years, specially with the loan on our newly build house. I somehow still recall how much calculations my parents would do to make sure that I and my brother never felt any pinch. When my father was speaking those words to the person I could feel the pain in his voice. I knew that he was going out of his way to make sure that I got into a good school and had all the luxuries in life at home. But all his sacrifices seemed so silly in front of this person who was ready to sacrifice everything for this son's education. It's his vision and faith that education and education alone would change their fortune is something has stayed in my mind for ever.

Coming back to where I started, I think there's no doubt that such instances of extreme sacrifices that Indian parents do for their children is really one of our greatest assets.

By the way, the person's son did become a doctor finally. His name is most probably Aurobindo Hembram!! He studied in Calcutta Medical College, off course with scholarships. My father's conviction did come true!!

3 Qs about India

Recently some of us had met informally at a place in Bangalore to just chit chat and share ideas on what we think about our own country and what we can do to make things better for India in our own capacity. During the course we'd asked ourselves three basic questions. Here are the questions and the answers that came up.

Q1 and Q2: what would you wish to change and why?

· Education

o Make children strong

o Education empowers people; access to knowledge; ability to question

o Makes people informed citizens

o Larger percentage of educated class tends to vote correctly

o Education is indication of future

  • Healthcare (incl. maternal health, child mortality)
  • Corruption / Legal system / Justice Delivery

o Book 20 people for corruption in NREGA and Mid-day meal scheme and send them to jail; will get 5X improvement in execution of these schemes

o Legal system is the foundation for everything

  • Infrastructure

o Create Public Works projects

o Make people remember the Golden Quadrilateral and its impact

  • Remove taxes on petrol and diesel

o 60% of price is tax which goes to government and the people in govt

o Removal of these taxes will make goods cheaper

  • Make India strong – economically and from a security point of view

o Make people fear and respect the constitution; today, there isn’t respect for police even

  • Other Ideas

o Universal Conscription / Military Training / Social Service

o Sustainable Development and environment focus

o Women Empowerment

o Remove Articles 25-30 from India’s Constitution (dealing with Secularism)

o Electoral Reform (who can vote, and who can contest elections)

Q3: What is India’s greatest asset?

  • Young People / demographics

o New generation of people

o Young / Middle India; 30-45 age group

o Hope in Middle Class

o Parents sacrificing for Children’s future (hardly seen anywhere else in the world)

o Middle Class value system

o Population Numbers

o Family system

o Middle Class (we) – who have responsibility to our Children to create a better future for them; our generation is the first that has seen no shortages; we owe it to the next generation to build a better tomorrow

  • Pluralism (open to ideas / lifestyle)
  • Indians can work with limited resources

o Survival Strength

o Innovation – just need opportunities to create own unique solutions; Resourcefulness

  • Cultural Inheritance (one phrase which captures everything); Dharma

o Confident, Unshackled Mind, combined with our Culture

Who is your competitor?

This is written by Dr. Y. L. R. Moorthi who is a professor at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. He is an M.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and a post graduate in management from IIM, Bangalore

Who sells the largest number of cameras in India? Your guess is likely to be Sony, Canon or Nikon. Answer is none of the above. The winner is Nokia whose main line of business in India is not cameras but cell phones. Reason being cameras bundled with cellphones are outselling stand alone cameras. Now, what prevents the cellphone from replacing the camera outright? Nothing at all. One can only hope the Sonys and Canons are taking note.

Try this. Who is the biggest in music business in India? You think it is HMV Sa-Re-Ga-Ma? Sorry. The answer is Airtel. By selling caller tunes (that play for 30 seconds) Airtel makes more than what music companies make by selling music albums (that run for hours).

Incidentally Airtel is not in music business. It is the mobile service provider with the largest subscriber base in India. That sort of competitor is difficult to detect, even more difficult to beat (by the time you have identified him he has already gone past you). But if you imagine that Nokia and Bharti (Airtel's parent) are breathing easy you can't be farther From truth.

Nokia confessed that they all but missed the smartphone bus. They admit that Apple's Iphone and Google's Android can make life difficult in future.

But you never thought Google was a mobile company, did you? If these illustrations mean anything, there is a bigger game unfolding. It is not so much about mobile or music or camera or emails?

The war is about "what is tomorrow's personal digital device"? Will it be a souped up mobile or a palmtop with a telephone? All these are little wars that add up to that big battle. Hiding behind all these wars is a gem of a question - "who is my competitor?"

Once in a while, to intrigue my students I toss a question at them. It Says "What Apple did to Sony, Sony did to Kodak, explain?" The smart ones get the answer almost immediately. Sony defined its market as audio (music from the walkman). They never expected an IT company like Apple to encroach into their audio domain. Come to think of it, is it really surprising? Apple as a computer maker has both audio and video capabilities. So what made Sony think he won't compete on pure audio? "Elementary Watson". So also Kodak defined its business as film cameras, Sony defines its businesses as "digital."

In digital camera the two markets perfectly meshed. Kodak was torn between going digital and sacrificing money on camera film or staying with films and getting left behind in digital technology. Left undecided it lost in both. It had to. It did not ask the question "who is my competitor for tomorrow?" The same was true for IBM whose mainframe revenue prevented it from seeing the PC. The same was true of Bill Gates who declared "internet is a fad!" and then turned around to bundle the browser with windows to bury Netscape. The point is not who is today's competitor. Today's competitor is obvious. Tomorrow's is not.

In 2008, who was the toughest competitor to British Airways in India? Singapore airlines? Better still, Indian airlines? Maybe, but there are better answers. There are competitors that can hurt all these airlines and others not mentioned.

The answer is videoconferencing and telepresence services of HP and Cisco. Travel dropped due to recession. Senior IT executives in India and abroad were compelled by their head quarters to use videoconferencing to shrink travel budget. So much so, that the mad scramble for American visas from Indian techies was nowhere in sight in 2008. (India has a quota of something like 65,000 visas to the U.S. They were going a-begging. Blame it on recession!). So far so good. But to think that the airlines will be back in business post recession is something I would not bet on. In short term yes. In long term a resounding no.

Remember, if there is one place where Newton's law of gravity is applicable besides physics it is in electronic hardware. Between 1977 and 1991 the prices of the now dead VCR (parent of Blue-Ray disc player) crashed to one-third of its original level in India. PC's price dropped from hundreds of thousands of rupees to tens of thousands. If this trend repeats then telepresence prices will also crash. Imagine the fate of airlines then. As it is not many are making money. Then it will surely be RIP!

India has two passions. Films and cricket. The two markets were distinctly different. So were the icons. The cricket gods were Sachin and Sehwag. The filmi gods were the Khans (Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and the other Khans who followed suit). That was, when cricket was fundamentally test cricket or at best 50 over cricket. Then came IPL and the two markets collapsed into one. IPL brought cricket down to 20 overs. Suddenly an IPL match was reduced to the length of a 3 hour movie. Cricket became film's competitor.

On the eve of IPL matches movie halls ran empty. Desperate multiplex owners requisitioned the rights for screening IPL matches at movie halls to hang on to the audience. If IPL were to become the mainstay of cricket, as it is likely to be, films have to sequence their releases so as not clash with IPL matches. As far as the audience is concerned both are what in India Are called 3 hour "tamasha"(entertain ment). Cricket season might push films out of the market.

Look at the products that vanished from India in the last 20 years. When did you last see a black and white movie? When did you last use a fountain pen? When did you last type on a typewriter? The answer for all the above is "I don't remember!" For some time there was a mild substitute for the typewriter called electronic typewriter that had limited memory. Then came the computer and mowed them all. Today most technologically challenged guys like me use the computer as an upgraded typewriter. Typewriters per se are nowhere to be seen.

One last illustration. 20 years back what were Indians using to wake them up in the morning? The answer is "alarm clock." The alarm clock was a monster made of mechanical springs. It had to be physically keyed every day to keep it running. It made so much noise by way of alarm, that it woke you up and the rest of the colony. Then came quartz clocks which were sleeker.

They were much more gentle though still quaintly called "alarms." What do we use today for waking up in the morning? Cellphone! An entire industry of clocks disappeared without warning thanks to cell phones. Big watch companies like Titan were the losers. You never know in which bush your competitor is hiding!

On a lighter vein, who are the competitors for authors? Joke spewing machines? (Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, himself a Pole, tagged a Polish joke telling machine to a telephone much to the mirth of Silicon Valley). Or will the competition be story telling robots? Future is scary!

The boss of an IT company once said something interesting about the animal called competition.

He said "Have breakfast ...or.... be breakfast"! That sums it up rather neatly.

Before civilized society it was "Survival of fittest", then came civilized sense of the "right to survive for everyone". Now it's like "what would not survive and who could be fittest" remains the question.

MF Hussain and Artistic Freedom

This is a Letter to the Editor of The Hindu, from a practising Christian lady who was Professor in Stella Maris College, Chennai till recently; now settled at Baroda, regarding an Edit in The Hindu in favour of bringing back MF Hussain to India.

Dear Ram,

I have taken time to write this to you Ram-for the simple reason that we have known you for so many years- you and The Hindu bring back happy memories Please take what I am putting down as those that come from an agonized soul. You know that I do not mince words and what I have to say I will-I call a spade a spade-now it is too late for me to learn the tricks of being called a ‘secularist’ if that means a bias for, one, and a bias against, another.

Hussain is now a citizen of Qatar-this has generated enough of heat and less of light. Qatar you know better than me is not a country which respects democracy or freedom of expression. Hussain says he has complete freedom-I challenge him to paint a picture of Mohammed fully clad.

There is no second opinion that artists have the Right of Freedom of expression. Is such a right restricted only to Hussain? Will that right not flow to Dan Brown-why was his film-Da Vinci Code not screened? Why was Satanic Verses banned-does Salman Rushdie not have that freedom of expression? Similarly why is Taslima hunted and hounded and why fatwas have been issued on both these writers? Why has Qatar not offered citizenship to Taslima? In the present rioting in Shimoga in Karnataka against the article Taslima wrote against the tradition of burqua which appeared in the Out Look in Jan 2007.No body protested then either in Delhi or in any other part of the country; now when it reappears in a Karnataka paper there is rioting. Is there a political agenda to create a problem in Karnataka by the intolerant goons? Why has the media not condemned this insensitivity and intolerance of the Muslims against Taslima’s views? When it comes to the Sangh Parivar it is quick to call them goons and intolerant etc. Now who are the goons and where is this tolerance and sensitivity?

Regarding Hussain’s artistic freedom it seems to run unfettered in an expression of sexual perversion only when he envisages the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. There is no quarrel had he painted a nude woman sitting on the tail of a monkey. The point is he captioned it as Sita. Nobody would have protested against the sexual perversion and his orientatation to sexual signs and symbols. But would he dare to caption it as ‘Fatima enjoying in Jannat with animals’?

Next example-is the painting of Saraswati copulating with a lion. Here again his perversion is evident and so is his intent. Even that lets concede cannot be faulted-each one’s sexual orientation is each one’s business I suppose. But he captioned it as Saraswati. This is the problem. It is Hussain’s business to enjoy in painting his sexual perversion. But why use Saraswati and Sita for his perverted expressions? Use Fatima and watch the consequence. Let the media people come to his rescue then. Now that he is in a country that gives him complete freedom let him go ahead and paint Fatima copulating with a lion or any other animal of his choice. And then turn around and prove to India-the Freedom of expression he enjoys in Qatar.

Talking about Freedom of Expression-this is the Hussain who supported Emergency-painted Indira Gandhi as Durga slaying Jayaprakas Narayan. He supported the jailing of artists and writers. Where did this Freedom of Expression go? And you call him secularist? Would you support the jailing of artists and writers Ram –would you support the abeyance of the Constitution and all that we held sacred in democracy and the excessiveness of Indira Gandhi to gag the media-writers- political opponents? Tell me honesty why does Hussain expect this Freedom when he himself did not support others with the same freedom he wants? And the media has rushed to his rescue. Had it been a Ram who painted such obnoxious, .degrading painting-the reactions of the media and the elite ‘secularists’ would have been different; because there is a different perception/and index of secularism when it comes to Ram-and a different perception/and index of secularism when it comes to Rahim/Hussain.

It brings back to my mind an episode that happened to The Hindu some years ago.[1991]. You had a separate weekly page for children with cartoons, quizzes, and with poems and articles of school children. In one such weekly page The Hindu printed a venerable bearded man-fully robed with head dress, mouthing some passages of the Koran-trying to teach children .It was done not only in good faith but as a part of inculcating values to children from the Koran. All hell broke loose. Your office witnessed goons who rushed in-demanded an apology-held out threats. In Ambur, Vaniambadi and Vellore the papers stands were burned-the copies of The Hindu were consigned to the fire. A threat to raise the issue in Parliament through a Private Members Bill was held out-Hectic activities went on-I am not sure of the nature and the machinations behind the scene. But The Hindu next day brought out a public apology in its front page. Where were you Ram? How secular and tolerant were the Muslims?

Well this is of the past-today it is worse because the communal temperature in this country is at a all high-even a small friction can ignite and demolition the country’s peace and harmony. It is against this background that one should view Hussain who is bent on abusing and insulting the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Respect for religious sentiments, need to maintain peace and harmony should also be part of the agenda of an artist-if he is great. If it is absent then he cannot say that he respects India and express his longing for India.

Let’s face it-he is a fugitive of law. Age and religion are immaterial. What does the media want-that he be absolved by the courts? Even for that he has to appear in the courts-he cannot run away-After all this is the country where he lived and gave expression to his pervert sadist, erotic artistic mind under Freedom of Expression. I simply cannot jump into the bandwagon of the elite ‘secularist’ and uphold what he had done. With his brush he had committed jihad-bloodletting.

The issue is just not nudity-Yes the temples-the frescos in Konarak and Kajhuraho have nude figures-But does it say that they are Sita, Sarswati or any goddesses? We have the Yoni and the Phallus as sacred signs of Life-of Siva and Shakthi-take these icons to the streets, paint them -give it a caption it become vulgar. Times have changed. Even granted that our ancients sculptured and painted naked forms and figures, with a pervert mind to demean religion is no license to repeat that in today’s changed political and social scenario and is not a sign of secularism and tolerance. I repeat there is no quarrel with nudity-painters has time and again found in it the perfection of God’s hand craft.

Let me wish Hussain peace in Qatar-the totalitarian regime with zero tolerance May be he will convince the regime there to permit freedom of expression in word, writing and painting. For this he could start experimenting painting forms and figure of Mohamed the Prophet-and his family And may I fervently wish that the media-especially The Hindu does not discriminate goons-let it not substitute tolerance for intolerance when it comes to Rahim and Antony and another index for Ram.

I hope you will read this in the same spirit that I have written. All the best to you Ram.

Dr Mrs Hilda Raja, Vadodara

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thanks Maa

I don't know if you've noticed in today's TOI that a movie called "Thanks Maa" has been given a 4 Star rating. The movie is special to me because the writer of the movie, Vishal, has already become a good friend of mine. I have seen the movie a year back when it was screened at the Lankesh Film award (in the name of P Lankesh, the father of Kavita & Indrajit Lankesh, two successful, mainstream, new age, young Kannada directors). After seeing the movie I knew very well that this movie would surely make waves
and it did!! The main character got the National Award this year in the best child actor category!!
Today is the theatrical release of the movie. If you get a chance please go ahead and watch the movies. Creativity always needs sponsors. That's why most of the greatest painters and singers in history flourished in Royal courts. Now that we don't have the kings, and the common man is the king, it's our responsibility to make sure that creativity doesn't die down!! We all love creativity and I'm sure we'd love to see more and more creative things.
TOI review by Nikhat Kazmi:
My review: