Thursday, December 17, 2009

An approximation of Integrity

I sometimes feel ours is a very peculiar country. It’s rather the people and not the country I should be terming peculiar (or flimsy maybe); because a country after all is a reflection of the people who live in it.

I got down the taxi this morning and was settling the payment when I noticed a sticker of the Indian flag pasted on the windshield of the taxi. It should really not be called as the Indian flag because it was pasted upside down. I told the driver that the flag is incorrectly pasted and the tricolor has to be saffron then white followed by green and not the other way. He looked at the sticker and then at me in a questioning manner but made no attempt to pull and correct the sticker. I walked back thinking; here was a man proudly displaying the national flag but did not know how the flag actually looked like. It was incorrect no doubt but that does entitle him to be reprimanded? There are many who think of the tricolor only twice in the entire year; on the republic day and on the Independence Day, salute the flag, have sweets and go home. Students want to fly out of the country for their graduation/ post graduation and settle there even if it means getting beaten in the foreign country. The worst I feel is the behavior of people sitting for strikes and hartals, who damage buses and other public properties while their strike is for some totally unconnected reason. These same people, after the strike is over, wait at the bus stop for hours cursing the government for the lack of public transport in our country compared to foreign countries. Film makers and actors are probably the most attracted lot. It’s a rarity these days if a movie is completely shot within the country. Our film makers and actors die for a Hollywood recognition while a foreign movie by chance shot in our country makes front page news. I think, if only our actors instead of singing and dancing in a foreign country have the same shows in the grossly neglected north eastern states, it will go a long way in uniting the country. Maybe after 300 years of being ruled by foreigners we have unknowingly developed a liking for them. We seem to want to look, act and be like the same people we drove out 60 years back.

The words Integrity and unity seem to reside only in the speeches of our politicians these days. Nobody seems to have the time to put them in action. I have come across international maps showing some Indian states as disputed territory or even as a part of our neighboring countries. But all our politicians seem to care about is the number of states which thankfully for them has been increasing since independence. Hunger strike which was used as a means to unite the country and drive out the foreigners from our land is now been used to disintegrate the country. Our politicians seem to be more worried about what they will do in case they do not win the elections. In my personal opinion, this worry has pushed them to think of ways and means to disintegrate the country and create more states; because their chance of being employed is high only then.

I remember reading a news bit which said more than 200 million people go hungry everyday in India. Some estimates also say every third Indian goes to sleep hungry. No doubt with so many politicians and their followers sitting for hunger strikes for all petty reasons all over the country, these numbers seems realistic.

~Narendra V Joshi

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Picture God

We are only humans, not God and understanding what we are not requires intent thinking and deep study. But one distinguishing quality that seems quite obvious is the enormous patience that God seems to possess.

I stepped out of our apartment this morning and started walking towards the gate. The entire pathway till the gate was filled with bits and pieces of paper; the remnants of the crackers from the Diwali festival. They were clearly pieces from the newspaper now laying half burnt and scattered all around. Here and there were card board boxes which were earlier packed with crackers. As I walked towards the gate I could see torn and discredited images of Gods and Goddess among the paper bits. These images once were a part of the outer coverings of the crackers. The pictures of the God are no more needed as Diwali and the poojas associated with the festival are now over. Maybe the Gods don’t deserve respect anymore, at least until next year.

I stepped out of the gate and started walking towards the bus stop. On the way is a small temple, a shanty, on the footpath. In the midst of rapid urbanization, we could find a place nowhere and have pushed God out of our dwelling places. We no more need God in our houses or in our hearts and God has been pushed to footpaths (maybe to beg for a promotion or a salary hike on the way to office) and playgrounds (as they are hardly occupied these days, thanks to the TV).

We seem to be using the pictures of God as an object of convenience and not as a pictorial manifestation of our spiritual thoughts. Religious symbols and pictures of God are pasted on glass and other delicate objects to prevent them from being stoned during strikes and bandhs. People beg in the name of God displaying pictures and religious symbols. Children are named after Gods and Goddesses and the names are cut short into 2 or 3 letters so that they are easy to call. Children no longer know the mythological stories as should be told by their parents and grandparents. They get the stories from cartoons on TV which most often distorts the content adding imaginary characters and building on unheard story lines. So God’s name is used here to increase the shows and the channels TRP. Whether its pictures of God’s and Goddesses on t-shirts or reading horoscopes and predicting future using God’s name, the list is endless.

I reached the bus stop. On the compound of a house near the bus stop there are pictures of Gods of all major religions. This reminded me of a report I had read in a newspaper recently. It seems close to 30% of the Indians defecate on roads and on footpath. No doubt for a population of 1300+ million it definitely calls for nobody other than God himself to intervene and stop us from defecating in public.

~Narendra V Joshi

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

(Dark) Green Initiatives

I have never been a real fan of the green agenda or the green initiatives which most companies in India are hurrying towards. No, it’s nothing to do with my personal likes and dislikes of the companies, but rather the DARK green agenda of the companies as I see it, which puts me off. Colloquially a company is an entity which survives by making profits. So everything a company does is to make profit. Any other objective is mostly secondary unless it’s a NGO or a government company. [[Any referral to a company in this blog will be a profit making company and not a NGO or a government company]]

Every time I hear or read about a green initiative taken up by a company, I get these questions - What is the real motive behind this initiative? Why is the company trying to do this? Is it really green or is there a dark green layer beneath this? If you have noticed, the number of such initiatives have increased manifold in the last 1–2 years. No global catastrophe has occurred (fortunately) in this timeframe. It has been known for decades that human activities have lead to adverse effects on the environment. When no impressively visible action was taken by any major company in the last many decades, it’s a little surprising that companies are suddenly swarming with green initiatives.

The reason as I see it is the global recession which is shrinking the profits of most companies. In the face of shrinking profits the thought is, - a rupee saved is a rupee earned. If savings can be achieved by cutting down the amount of water flow in the taps, limiting the number of printouts taken or limiting toilet rolls and tissue in the rest rooms; every company will dive for it. They just have to paint it green; green with a darker shade. This is precisely what most companies seem to be doing.

Most companies build big campuses by converting agricultural land or cutting down forests, miles away from the city. Roads are built by destroying the vegetation further. Glass buildings dot these campuses and these buildings are cooled by using huge coolers as majority of southern India reels under severe heat for most days of the year. Thousands of people travel every day burning fossil fuels affecting the environment further. Why don’t companies think of green initiatives while building these campuses? The answer is actually another question – why should companies think of all these? If they start thinking about these things they will not be able to make profits. If companies don’t build huge campuses with glass buildings how will they be able to attract their customers? So going green is never on the agenda until the company wants to cut costs.

The most disheartening part is the agenda of these green initiatives. Instead of pulling down the glass structures and changing the outer walls of the building to suit the hot climate, companies go for cost effective options like installing efficient AC’s or replacing incandescent bulbs by CFL’s. It’s a known fact that solar and wind heating and lightning units need 6-10 years after the initial heavy investment to show a return on investment. So a majority of companies turn a blind eye towards these solutions. If limiting printing paper or toilet rolls can be a go green option, so does stopping newspaper, magazines, company brochures etc. Switching to E-Books and closing the library and recycling all the books in the library can be a good option. But how many companies have you seen or heard which has done this? If you shut down the library what will you show to a prospective client? Aren’t the annual performance reports which public listed companies send to their share holders, an environmental hazard? Voluminous books are printed and sent to every share holder which can be replaced by e-books. Has any company taken proactive steps towards this?

It’s a marvelous world we humans live in. If a company is not making good profits it will attract the wrath of the share holder. To prevent this, the chairman or the CEO who represents the company must make sure that his/her subordinate is working and this chain continues till the lowest level in the company. In most cases the people at the lower levels might also be the share holders of the company i.e. the same person is both at the start and end of this chain. So it’s we people who are to be blamed for the evil. We are painting our past green, as we inch closer towards a dark future.

~Narendra V Joshi

Monday, August 17, 2009

The very thought of death…..

... scares us to death, sometimes. I returned to Bangalore by train on Sunday morning. The overwhelming station looked like a gathering of veiled people. Everyone had covered their nose and mouth with surgical masks, handkerchiefs, small towels and what not. Some were using their hands to cover in absence of any piece of cloth. The entire station looked like a sea of people running for cover from a calamity. Though unsure of its usefulness I too used my handkerchief to protect myself.

Such is the effect of the prevailing H1N1 epidemic which has already claimed many lives. A cough or a sneeze is enough to make all eyes focus on you. A deep cough will make you an untouchable. Masks are selling like hot cakes. A chemist I know was proudly telling me that customers are ready to pay 4 or 5 times the value for the masks. He procures a stock of 100 masks everyday which gets sold in an hour or two. He continued saying that these masks are of no real use as they are ineffective in filtering the virus. The ones which actually do are more expensive and are not available at the moment. So effectively wearing these masks is more like a fashion statement than anything else.

H1N1 is not an incurable disease. There are drugs and treatment available for it. Also I heard that many people who died due to H1N1 had other previously existing complications like Asthma, diabetics etc. So I was wondering; Is all these hue and cry over the H1N1 really warranted? Or is it just a hype created by the media and people who are benefitted (companies which makes masks, sellers etc) by this flu scare? There is an article in today’s newspaper which says, on an average 13 people die every hour due to road accidents in India. You read it right; its 13 people every hour, which make it more than 300 people dying every day. But how many times do we see people following discipline on road? Thousands of people die every year due to cancer from cigarette smoking or alcohol abuse. In spite of knowing the ill effects of these carcinogens, people continue to use them and the user base is growing. Do we see the authorities banning cigarettes or containing the sale of alcohol?

There are actually many such killers out there which are steadily taking lives of people; in many cases innocent people such as in the case of passive smoking. But the similar hype and cry surrounding H1N1 seems to be missing in these cases. Maybe as smoking and alcohol abuse do not cause imminent death as in case of H1N1, the worry does not seem much. If only we start giving as much importance to these other killers also as we have given to H1N1, we can save a number of lives. Or probably since H1N1 is still new, it is attracting all attention!! The hype will be all over and people will treat it as yet another “common” killer after it has completely set in and the cure is commonly available.

It was raining all night and it was still raining when I stepped out of our house this morning. It was umbrellas and raincoats all around. One thing that was visibly missing, for a change, were the H1N1 masks!!

~Narendra V Joshi

Friday, June 12, 2009

Will this amount to violation of rights?

I feel I am becoming irritatingly inquisitive about data/information these days. It’s probably the frequent bombardment of sensitive data handling tips and insights which have lead to these adverse affects. I got into the office bus this morning and occupied my favorite aisle seat. My neighbor was engrossed in the morning newspaper and I happened to read the headlines as I occupied my seat. It was not like I made a conscious attempt to read; the bold lines just flew through my eyes. This made me think.

Is reading a newspaper not bought by me, an act of violation of the publisher’s or the new owner’s right?

Though it might not be like an illegal copy/download of songs and videos; it might still amount to use of printed information in part or whole without the prior consent of the author or the publishers as you are not paying for it. In short it might be some form of piracy, and piracy hurts. You might argue that the contents of a newspaper are actually generic and there cannot be any copyright on news; the fact that newspapers also carry editorials and articles will force a rethink. The authors or owners in this case will be the newspaper publication group who stand to lose. Given the short life span of a daily newspaper, every unsold copy is a loss (let’s discount the salvage value of paper from the scope of this blog). Another point is that, it’s mostly the headlines and pictures that most go through, unless the news bit is of interest. Considering that the headlines and pictures are more prominent and visible from a distance, there is little need for an extra effort to gather them. Also, there are people who are only interested in the sports or in the crime beat section, who would satisfy themselves with a quick peep and will not bother to buy a newspaper. So I think, reading a newspaper not bought by me, might actually be a violation of either the publishers or the new owners (person who bought the newspaper) right.

But again, a newspaper is actually available on the public domain. Until an author or a company is awarded the rights on their asset, the asset on a public domain can be used by anybody. Maybe it is the design and layout of the newspaper which the company will hold rights on and not the actual content. If at all some proprietary material is published, the owners will have to take enough precautions by providing a legal box or a copyright symbol or something. They cannot put words highlighted in bold and display it in public and expect nobody other than the buyer to read it. If they are doing that, it might be really to attract customers because a strong customer base will in turn help them augment their revenues by attracting advertisers. The buyer of the newspaper on his part has to keep it out of public view or should take precautions to make sure that no one else reads the newspaper he has bought. He cannot expect privacy while displaying/reading it in public. So maybe reading a newspaper not bought by me, might not be a violation of either the publishers or the new owners (person who bought the newspaper) right.

Even though I could think of an “against” argument for every “for” argument, I am still not very convinced. Probably it’s my lack of knowledge on information security, which is to be blamed.

~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Friday evening

It was more than 20 minutes since the bus had moved an inch. Friday evenings were always bad and today was no different. It had been a hot afternoon and the inside of the (filled) bus was warmer than outside. He was in a habit of coming and leaving early on Fridays. But today, he was in the evening bus though he was early in office. Everyone in the bus; his colleagues and coworkers appeared to be in their own world. A few were chatting while the majority were engrossed in the evening newspaper or had their ear phones with FM radio on. A few were motionless and gazing outside the window and he was one among them.

A tiny drop of sweat rolled down his forehead and slowly disappeared in his eyebrows. He was deep in thought and continued gazing outside the window. He showed no intent to wipe his moist forehead. Every now and then he would unlock his cell phone and check if he had missed a call or a message.

Things had been rather bad in his company in the earlier two quarters. Profits were shrinking and new work orders were becoming far and few. Like most other businesses his company was also cutting costs and most measures seemed trivial except for a few which had drawn criticism from the employees. None of the exercises had really made an impact. Then, there were rumors of layoffs and the most wide spread among them was that the layoffs were happening only on Friday evenings. The chosen employees were called and were asked never to return. Though he had never himself come across anybody who was sent home, a Friday evening telephone meeting request from his manager had been enough to send shivers down his spine.

The sudden flashing lights of the ambulance, struck in the traffic next to his bus, shook him alert. The siren of the ambulance was not on but the flashing lights had been turned on. “Poor guy”, he said to himself, as he looked at the ambulance, even though he could not see anyone inside. His thoughts had changed direction and he was now thinking about the unseen patient inside the ambulance. He tried to look around to check if there was a way the ambulance could be steered into the opposite lane; but all the lanes were jammed. “Really unfortunate”, he said to himself as he slid back in his seat closing his eyes.

The sounds in the bus suddenly seemed incoherent. He could see people around confused. They were all saying something. He looked around and was in a totally different place. It was dark everywhere except for some flashing lights next to him. He could feel the pull at his shirt and looked down to see his manager struggling on the floor. He wasn’t sure what had happened but could see people trying to lift his manager towards the flashing lights. There were too many people around……….

A vigorous shake suddenly shook him awake. It was actually his cell phone vibrating with an incoming message. He unlocked his cell phone to read the message. It was a message from his manager. The message read “Meeting has been postponed to Tuesday morning. Happy weekend!”. He looked around and could see that his bus was in the same place where it was when he dozed off. The flashing lights of the ambulance showed the smile on his face; A smile, first time since afternoon.

~ Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The lady in the bus

My company bus starts at Deepanjali Nagar and goes via Banashankari, BTM layout and silk board before reaching the office. I get in at Banashankari and normally it will take close to about one and half hours to reach my office in the morning and close to 2 hours in the evening to reach back home. Since I get in close to the starting point of the bus I have an advantage to choose the choicest seat in the bus. And having travelled in the same bus from some months now, I usually occupy a window seat in the second row which keeps my journey uninterrupted. The movement of the people who get in at later stops disturbs the people who have occupied the aisle seat. Once I am in the bus I sleep for most part of the journey.

It was no different this morning except that when I got into the bus I found my usual place already occupied. I did not want to move to the rear of the bus and so occupied the aisle seat in the second row and as usual dozed off. Every now and then I could sense the movement of people towards the rear seats and by the time the bus reached silk board I was again fully awake. The bus was full by that point when a lady got into the bus and started searching for a seat. Normally, people who get into the bus at that stop and do not find a seat, will get down and wait for another bus as most of our company buses have to ply via that stop to reach the office. But this lady did not get down from the bus and stood in between the first and the second row. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the office from that point.

I wondered if I have to give up my seat for the lady. It will not be courteous of me to sit while a lady stands. I looked and saw most men seated around were either sleeping or were busy with the morning newspaper. So as long as you are ignorant that a lady is standing there is no need to feel bad about it. Pretend to be asleep and the gentlemanly world will not blame you. Moreover in a big city like Bangalore with a population of close to 8 million, you cannot expect everybody to behave in a true gentlemanly manner at all times. So in the true spirit of a daily long distance commuter I closed my eyes and pretended to be blissfully asleep upholding the values of an ignorant gentleman.

My eyes were closed but my mind was full of thoughts if I have to make way for the lady – ““What happened to those lessons of chivalry I have learnt? Have I forgotten them so soon? But I have to think of myself too. I commute close to three and half hours everyday. This lady might be spending hardly 30 to 45 minutes in the entire day. My need to be seated is more than hers. But would have I thought in the same way if my mother or my wife were standing? Wouldn’t have I offered the seat to them? If my mother or my wife were standing, yes, I would have, but here the scenario is different. Moreover I occupied this seat before her. I have all rights to sit. There is no rule which asks me to forgo my precious place. This is all true. If a guy was standing these thoughts would have been probably ok, unless he really needed to sit. But here, it’s a lady who is standing, and I should be giving up my place. Why should I give up? Aren’t there any other gentlemen sitting around? Guys who might have got into the bus one stop earlier to this lady, why can’t they give up? Also, many of them look senior than me. If seniors don't understand, it’s ok for me not to worry about it. Just because some guys around me are neglecting, is it correct on my part to think its ok? Don’t I have some basic courtesy? I understand the basic courtesy. Sometimes I have travelled standing till this very point, in the evening due to non availability of seats. Did anyone ever give up their seat for me? Just because no body ever offered me their seat, should I act in the same way? Can’t I take the first step and show the people around how a gentleman behaves? Ok I will offer my seat but let the lady not come to a conclusion that, she can get into a bus and somebody will offer her a seat. She has to check if a place is available and should also try to take another bus if one bus is full. But for today I will offer her my place. But let her stand till half way””

Once I had come to a conclusion that I will offer my seat, to the lady, half way, I waited to be very sure that it was 7.5 minutes since she had stepped into the bus. I did not want to open my eyes and check my watch as it would put me on the same stage as the other so called gentlemen sitting around me. When I was sure it was 7.5 minutes I opened my eyes and pretended to have been sleeping all the while. I looked around and to my dismay we were very close to the office, a minute or 2 away. It will be foolish of me to get up now and offer the seat to the lady. I had wasted close to 15 minutes thinking, only to realize that the entire exercise had turned futile. I looked around at the other gentlemen who had at least used the last 15 minutes fruitfully, sleeping or reading the newspaper. As we reached the office I got down the bus and decided never to think about this entire episode.

~Narendra V Joshi