Sunday, December 26, 2010

Isn’t thoughtful austerity what we really need?

“Austerity” was recently named the word of the year. With every major world economy still deep in the recession, taking unaccustomed and previously unthought-of steps to contain the impact of the recession on their economy, this comes as no surprise. A search on the net for the word austerity pulls up pages and pages of government measures aimed at cutting cost. And this is not limited to any one country or region but spread across the globe. This too is a no surprise considering the fact that this recession is slowly turning into a pandemic in its own way.

But what surprised me were measures taken by some countries to cut the extravagance. I read of measures such as cutting back aid to existing schools and stopping funds for new schools, layoff of law enforcement and medical personnel, and deferring budgets related to enhancing public transport infrastructure, which in my opinion is unthoughtful. Schools, law enforcement officials and public transport are the back bone of any civilized society and if there is cut in spending on these, I am wondering, what are these governments even trying to achieve in the long term? A system affected by scoliosis? Also, some of the measures suggested were like blanket measures meaning they will extend for some more years. I am no expert in these matters, but my opinion is to come up with measures which are much more thoughtful and scientific.

A question crossed my mind as I read, is austerity really the solution? I think extravagance in a way, is one of the reasons for many of the advancements we are enjoying today. Thanks to the early adapters willing to pay the premium, products meant for the rich become available for the common man. Advancements in F1 cars trickle into passenger cars giving the common man technologically advanced yet affordable cars to drive. Air travel, which a few decades back was considered a luxury, is available for everybody today. I think most of the items around our houses were once meant for the rich folks who were ready to buy paying a premium for the technology which has now become affordable. If not for those who demand a better facility than what is already available, and who are willing to pay for something extra, those extras will never become affordable. Maybe in a way extravagance is required to make our lives easier and smarter. So I think instead of focusing on a blanket cost cutting exercise, we need to think of alternate ways to achieve efficiency and growth.

On a different note, this is the first time I am using the word austerity so many times. Also I think till a year or two years back, I had not used this word at all (wondering if I even knew the meaning of the word austerity 2-3 years back!!). Thanks to the recession, I got to know how to use the word austerity. As they say, bad times show new doors!!

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nature

Wading through the Zig-Zag Road
Caught a glimpse of her green Robe;
Held by the landscape, with a glossy knot
Her dress is beautiful was my first thought.

Like the water gushing down the hills
Her silky hairs which the wind blew in swirls;
As the sun from between the leaves showing bright
Her sparkling ear rings were a treat for my sight

Like the golden brown sands of the beach
Her chubby cheeks looked like apples and peach;
Star fish eyes and full lips like wine
Inviting me to make her mine

She, is just like love
Know only to the beating heart;
Beautiful, omnipresent yet strikingly absent
Except from preying eyes or a poets heart


~Narendra V Joshi

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Behind the darkness

He was afraid of the dark. We all are. It’s not the darkness we are afraid of; rather it’s the thought of what lurks behind that darkness which scares, even though we know nothing scary really exists. He knew that, but the dark screen gave him an eerie feeling. He had been working non-stop for the last 18 hours. The fatigue showed as he dragged his heavy eyes across the laptop computer screen. He had developed a program and was now doing an integration testing of the modules. All the complex modules had worked correct but the first simplest program he was testing was failing.

Computers are an interesting creation. He always liked comparing the computer and the human brain. If the human brain is considered the pinnacle of God’s creation, then the computer is a pinnacle of the human creation. They can never go wrong. An automobile with a computer at its heart can go wrong but not the computer itself. The parts which make up a computer can go wrong but not the computer itself. But still the computer was just a terminal. It could do nothing on its own. It needed a program to run it. It was the program in it that made it look intelligent. Without the program it is nothing more than a light bulb.

“Check the code; review the database queries” the words of his friend echoed in his mind. He liked history and zoology but had got into computers by chance. It was through his friends he had learnt the programming languages and was where he was today. But again, today was different. The simplest module which added 2 numbers was giving incorrect results. It was as if the computer was trying to play a game. He decided to run the tests one last time before digging into the code. He pressed 1 as the first input and 2 as the second. The screen displayed “Result = 4” much to his dismay. He pressed 2 as first input and again 2 as second input. The display was “Result = 4”. It seemed to trick him. He pressed 5 as the first input and 7 as the second. The screen displayed “Result = 4”. He was unable to understand. Maybe the computer was alive. Maybe it was trying to con him. Maybe the screen was about to explode in his face. The very thought of the screen exploding in his face sent a chill down his spine. He dismissed the thought and tried to focus on the problem. The test results didn’t seem to help. There was some problem and the only way was to get into the code. He glanced at his watch and it showed 2:46 AM. He was trying hard to keep his eyes open and focus on the problem. He decided to quickly scan the logic and clicked the open source code button. The screen suddenly went complete black. He did not understand what had happened. He clicked some buttons but nothing happened. He tried to restart his computer but nothing seemed to respond. It now became clear. The computer was alive and really playing a trick on him. Something strongly told him to get away from his computer before it exploded in his face. He immediately got off the chair and moved away from the computer. The dark screen seemed to have started the countdown for the explosion and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He dashed into his bedroom. The cool air in the bedroom eased him a bit. He put his head on the pillow and that was the last thing he remembered.

Daylight was pouring through the window as he slowly opened his eyes. The faint hiss of the cool air flowing through the AC vents was the only sound. He lay on the bed and began to think of the previous night. He was trying to solve the problem when the computer had suddenly gone blank. He got out of the bed and walked into the living room to his computer. The open laptop computer lay there unexploded. In the daylight the computer appeared nothing more than a dumb machine. The battery had died and the power cable was off the socket. He fixed the power cable and started the computer. He opened the source code and scanned down to the “Add” logic. The first 2 lines were to read the first and the second input respectively. The third line was “Print Result = 4”.

“The computer can never go wrong” the words of his friend echoed in his mind.

~Narendra V Joshi

Friday, June 25, 2010

Memories


Through my window I see them moving
Like people at a party tattling and talking
Though amidst friends haven’t heard them speak
For an occasional rustle or a soughing squeak

There ought to be a reason strong
Or something got to be very wrong
Like a dark secret you keep to yourselves
These trees might have something to keep to themselves

Or they may be just like me in this far off place
Missing my home and the familiar face
Those sweet memories leave me craving long
To return to my place which is pulling so strong


~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A toast to those by-lane trees

Never in my recent memory have I been so much amazed, and lost, looking at plants and trees as I was today. The lush greenery of the by-lane was a wholesome treat. The last time I had walked on that same lane was in February. It was a cold day and every tree gave an eerie graveyard feeling. The scene today was different, and mesmerizing.                                                                                                                                                               
{I hated the subject Botany when in college [Mathematics being the most hated!] History and zoology are my all time favorites!!}
                                                                                                                                                   
The lines below are dedicated to those by-lane trees which aroused a sense of appreciation and curiosity in me-

The flowers had gone and the dried leaves set to fall
The once majestic tree now stood empty and tall
Those were the snowy short winter days
When the trees had nothing to hide the sun’s rays;

The leaves sprang as the day grew
Colorful flowers were soon in full view
With arms, now stands the tree daring the sultry days
Providing shade by blocking the sun’s rays;

I wonder who makes the trees play the sun’s rays
Warmth or shade to provide enough for the needy days
With no answers I owe it all to that miracle hand
Delicately fitting the things in the way they should stand


~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The gen X celebrities

There is an old saying in Marathi which goes – a student should get the better of his teacher and a son, of his father. Going by the real time trends aired on one of those “real” TV shows, this saying has truly become old. Behold all you teachers and fathers out there, the generation X celebrities have arrived to compete, and in style. (On an entirely different note, I always thought news IS the REAL TV, until I came across one of those locked in a house shows).

The headlines is the marriage of the protagonist of a reality show, who chose his bride from among a whooping (hold your breath) 16,000+ contestants. Forget the teachers and the fathers; this is like even giving the Lord, a run for his popularity. For the benefit of those who are cut off from these “real” world shows (I too have arrived late, enriched my knowledge of these shows only today!), the celebrity protagonist in these shows chooses his/her bride/bridegroom from among thousands of suitors and the entire event from interview till marriage is aired on the TV. To all my bachelor and bachelorette friends who are desperately seeking out, here is your answer; become a celebrity and you are married overnight! I am still thinking of the real meaning of a celebrity though. Movie stars, Drug addicts, politicians, sports persons are all celebrities. The 60 year old who hits the gym to bash up 15 goons and romance a 25 year old is a celebrity, and so is the 25 year old who hit’s the gym to turn into size zero. You just have to think of a way to become a celebrity and then get into a reality TV show. It’s a gold class ticket to stardom thereafter!! Another advantage of being a celebrity or act in a reality TV show is the awards that follow. Anybody who is somebody is awarded these days. Awards which our previous generations could only dream of are given away like store coupons. Going through the profile of the awardees will many a times makes you wonder if they were even worth a nomination. These are the same awards which our previous generations could never make it to or even if they received, it would have been decades after they died. The current generation seems to have an upper hand here and is setting a new bench mark for the next. They are receiving the awards while still young and importantly when many of them don’t even know why they received it. Discovery and innovation is the key. If you are a celebrities’ son or daughter, you just need to be discovered and if you are not a celebrities’ son or daughter, you have to invent a way to become a celebrity.

Talking of discoveries and inventions I wonder how our deserving scientists and researchers feel when they see awards being given to these reality show celebrities. Nobody anyway seems to bother how star fishes navigate on the ocean floor, or about the huge black hole in a far away galaxy. Our scientists and researchers are rarely featured in the newspapers and their existence in the movies and TV shows so far has been mostly limited to one of those weird looking, long haired, absent minded characters. Maybe they should start thinking of ways to become an overnight celebrity. Something like developing a pill which will make a male always smell like cologne, or a lady to never ever bother wearing lipstick as her lip color changes to suit her dress.

By the way, did I mention? If 74 Kg for a male becomes the new “Weight Zero”, even I am a celebrity!!!


~Narendra V Joshi

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Number game

We know how to play with numbers and we are extremely good at it. Our children are pushed into this number game at the age of 4, when most children around the world are still learning to put plastic shapes together. We breathe and walk the numbers and seem to hit a dead end the moment numbers disappear. That is all we seem to know, numbers and nothing else.

The top front page of the newspaper was full of stories of people flocking the movie theaters in huge numbers to watch a movie, defying the protest called by a right wing organization. It talked at length about the security provided by the local government for the theaters playing the movie in the way of adding security personnel from other cities and even cancelling vacation plans of the security personnel. Some politicians have praised the people for defying the protest and have even called it a victory of the good over the evil. The movie fraternity on its part was all thanks, now that the movie has created record in the overseas market. There were also pictures of the movie theaters guarded by the security people and happy faces of the movie goers.

The lower part of the newspaper carried 2 news bits. The first was about a bomb blast where more than 8 people, mostly civilians have died. The literature has the details from the eye witnesses and people who were present in the vicinity when the gory incident took place. It also carries statements of the government officials promising to investigate the unfortunate incident and bring the culprits to book at the earliest. The opposition parties have called it an intelligence failure and have criticized the government and the security machinery. The second news was related to another unfortunate incident where more than 20 policemen have been brutally killed by the naxals. The literature is pretty much same as the blast one. It starts with the first hand description from the eye witnesses and people who were in the vicinity. The government officials have condemned the incident and have promised to investigate and bring the culprits to book at the earliest. The opposition parties on their part have faithfully criticized the government and the security infrastructure.

I don’t want to get into a debate regarding how long it would take before the culprits are actually brought to book; neither do I want to debate on how effective successive governments have been and how effective our security systems are, in preventing such incidents. But what I am unable to stop thinking about is the appalling attitude of our people. Incidents such as these are not new to us. We seem to have become used to reading our fellow countrymen die. We stop to think and talk about such incidents when they happen, [probably over a cup of coffee or while travelling in the bus] criticize the government and the security machinery and get back to our lives. I don’t think this is because we are peace loving and easy going people. We do protest, when the prices of onions or milk goes up by a rupee or when petrol prices are hiked by the government. We sometimes even take law into our own hands; stone buses and burn effigies, because we understand the value of these commodities which are represented in numbers. But we mostly keep quiet when people die because life cannot be given a number. We understand that a movie has to be provided security because there is huge money riding on the movie stars; but we cannot understand the pain a security personnel’s family goes through when his vacation is cancelled, as pain is not a number. A friend and I, had once debated the effectiveness of the TV News, seeing a bit where a man was frantically searching for his lost dog, in a small city on the Canadian border. When I think of it now, I cannot help but laugh at my immaturity for debating about the effectiveness of the TV News, when I could not even understand the importance of the dog in that man’s life.


~Narendra V Joshi

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Why can’t we, just be we?

I faced a service outage this morning and called the customer support contact for help. The support person who answered, pleasantly greeted and gave his name. It was an unmistakable Indian name but his accent was anything but Indian. I explained the problem and gave him my consumer identification number. He pulled my information and spelt my full name for confirmation. There was no hesitation and it was without a glitch. This was the first time I had heard a non-Indian spell my first name correctly. I immediately doubted if he really was a non-Indian. Our conversation went on, and all through I could hear faint voices of people in the background and every now and then I could hear people speaking in I think Telugu. I was pretty much convinced that the call had been routed to a call center in India but his accent still kept me guessing. I was especially surprised with a sentence he said almost at the end of the call, still clueless of the solution to the issue I was facing – “I don’t know nothing of this problem”. A sentence constructed with 2 negatives is something I have heard only in the US. It might be his company policy to put that accent, but he won it hands down. If not for his name and importantly the background conversations, I would have not even thought he might be an Indian.

My afterthoughts reminded me of an incident which happened some weeks back. I was in Chennai and had called for a cab to drop me at the airport to catch my early morning flight to Bangalore. I had asked the security to direct the cab to the rear gate of the building which was closer to my room. As I approached, the driver got down the cab and offered to put my bag in the boot. He said something in Tamil for which I replied in Hindi expressing my ignorance of Tamil. He immediately said “No problems sir. I main gate only standing; watch man telling stand here”. I nodded but could not hide my smile. Once we were in the car, he asked “Mumbai or Delhi flight sir” for which I replied “Bangalore”. After a few minutes of silence, he asked me something in Tamil mixed English. I could not decipher but thought he was asking me if it was my first visit to Chennai. I replied in Hindi saying I had been in Chennai before. Not sure if he understood; he immediately put his next question – “Chennai negative Bangalore negative?” which scared the daylights out of me. I was somewhere in Chennai with no knowledge of Tamil and was posed this question. Unsure of how to react, I responded in a way to make it look like I did not understand his question all the while thinking of what to answer. He put the same question again - “Chennai negative Bangalore negative?” I then assumed a meaning and replied “Bangalore native”, for which he said “ok”. I think he just wanted to know which my native place is. Whatever was his question, my remaining journey went fine. He voluntarily started explaining me our route to the airport. Whenever we approached any building he would explain its importance. He took great pride in explaining the things around and how good Chennai is, but all his explanation was in English and not in Hindi. I asked him a few questions purposely in Hindi, using long sentences at times. In spite of my repeated tries, he struck to his English and did not utter a single word in Hindi.

I reached the Bangalore airport and called a cab to drop me home. It was a different situation with the cab driver in Bangalore. He started the conversation in English and I responded in Kannada. For quite some time he stuck to English while I would purposely respond in Kannada. This went on for a while until he finally gave up and started responding in Kannada.

I was thinking – “Why can’t we, just be we?” In the name of employer and customer satisfaction we adapt to things so quickly which are unnatural to us and also stick to them. I have come across many, who, not sure have adapted or just show off, but seem to genuinely take pains to look and speak different or maybe act as a non-Indian. We seem to be fascinated with all other things except our own. I don’t mean to disrespect other languages or cultures but let’s not ignore our own in the process. I think we should learn about other cultures and languages and importantly we should also learn to respect our own. I remember somebody telling me, in India from more than 1600 spoken languages in 1960s, the count reduced to less than 1000 by 1990s. I sincerely hope the count is not reduced to 2 digits by the time my daughter, who is 7 months old now, joins college.

~Narendra V Joshi