Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : First set up the labs, then dream the Nobel

The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : First set up the labs, then dream the Nobel

A fantastic piece of Editorial by The Hindu. The numbers are a stark contrast to what the government talks about investment in the higher education and research vis a vis what is actually happening.

Maybe the Editor is right - it's time that we bring in a rule that educational institutions that get funding, should have a minimum of 50% of board members who are Alumni of that institution. It's well documented that successful alumni always want to give back to their Alma Mater and there could be no better way to do this by making them part of the management and core decisioin making.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Living in a world of resource constraints

I am starting to blog again after a very long hiatus. Many a times I have picked up my pen to share something but for some unknown strange feeling I would leave the task incomplete. It was never the lack of material - on the contrary it was always excess material which would force me to go into an introspection of what to share and what not to share, with the obvious result of nothing getting shared.

It's interesting how the world is shaping up these days. Over a lunch conversation my friend and I were talking about how in the years to come we are going to be a very intolerant society mainly because of lack of resources. When I got back to desk, I did some math. As people live longer, the resource constraint is going to be even more acute because as we grow older we consume more resources. Yes an old man might eat less, but in terms of resources, he compensates it by the need of healthcare  devices, pharmaceuticals, drugs and other necessary infrastructure that is needed to support him. In fact, as long as you are less than 10 years old, your resource consumption is fairly arithmetic progression. As you enter the teenage years, it becomes a steep geometric progression. And if you live beyond the regional life expectancy, you consume twice as much resources for 1/4th the productivity.

India's life expectancy in 1950's was about 42 years. Today, this figure has shot up to 67 years. Still a very poor number compared to the western world but a shocking figure if you look at it in a different angle. What it means is that an average Indian's life expectancy is going up by 12 hours per day, everyday! At a daily 'net birth' rate (birth - death), of 15 /1000 or about 15 million in a country of 1 bn+, and each one of them living 12 hours longer than the person born one day before them. To house and cater to additional 15m, we need to build one Mumbai every day - houses, schools, hospitals everything you can think of.

That's one angle. Another angle, is compare ourselves to other mammals. By far humans live longer than most mammals. And with advancement of technology where one can actually reconstruct even the most complex organs, re-do the skin, restore full eyesight etc,  we can only be sure that we are heading towards immortality. At least the TIME magazine believes that humans will become immortal by 2045. Which means we can very well expect other animals to walk the path of extinction as we devour the remaining resources. 

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Hand

At best guess, he was barely in his 40s but it seemed as if age had rushed past him. But for him, it was as if everything else moved with time and his life was stagnant. Day in and day out he would limp from car to car, knocking on the rolled up windows (and many would roll them up as he approached) begging for alms. Those in bikes would ignore him and look elsewhere; those in auto's would quickly give a rupee or two so that he moved on; those in cars never rolled their windows down.

"Tak, tak, tak..." he knocked on my deeply tinted car window. He knew I could see him though from outside all he could see was a reflection of himself. I looked at the hands, heavily covered with gauze cloth that was once white but now was nearer to black because it had been ages since they were changed. All that was visible through that soiled cloth were stubs of leprosy infected fingers that had been eaten away by rats at night. It's the curse of the living dead for lepers really - they don't feel even the pain of fire let alone the nibbling of a rat once the cells start to dry and look like scales of fish.

The clock struck 7am and I was getting ready to go to work. It was summer but dark rain clouds hovered over the city. I was hoping I could push the belt buckle to the last hole - at least to feel a sense of triumph after relentless running on the treadmill for a month but then the door bell rang.

Saraswathi was a frail young woman and had been working as my maid for the last three years. It had been a little over a week since I had last seen her and her sudden appearance at my doorstep surprised me and a tinge of anger surged inside me.

"So now you decide to come? You vanish without a trace and decide to come back at will?" I expressed with livid. She just stood there in silent looking at the floor with the pallu of her saree covering her hair. "So where did you vanish off to? How come you didn't tell me before?" I asked.

"My baby is dead" was all she could utter in a soft but crisp voice.

I felt shaken. I knew she had a daughter of three years old whom she would sometimes bring along to her work and would let it play with the kids of other servants. But whenever I hear such terrible news I am most often too stunned to react. Before I could say a word she had slinked into the utility room to fetch the broom. As she walked by I could see her eyes had swelled with tears. I was supposed to be early at work but suddenly my urgency to get to office seemed all too immaterial.

I sat on the sofa waiting for her to complete her work. Meticulously, room after room, she quickly swept the floor. I pretended to read the news while my eyes would constantly peep over the top of the paper to look at her. What does on say to a young mother who has lost her child? I would frame some words in my mind but they all seemed too shallow.

"How did it happen?" I asked

"Shiva killed her" she whispered.

Shiva was her husband who worked as a construction labourer. How ironical that in real life too Shiva should kill his own child? In mythology Lord Shiva vanquishes Ganesha only to give him back his life and gift him the boon of being the preseiding deity. She had often told me how her husband would drink to the earth's end and would beat the child and her on a regular basis. But I could scarce imagine that he would have gone to the level of killing his daughter.

"How...?" I asked with a sense of disbelief

And she went on to narrate how he had come late at night drunk as usual. Pavitra, her daughter, had been burning with high fever. The little one had been crying inconsolably both because of hunger and because of the injection that she had got earlier in the evening. He walked in hurling abuses. Drunk as he was, he couldn't tolerate the noise of a child crying and kept hitting both her and her daughter, asking them to keep quiet. He tried to hit the child to force it to shut up. And when that didn't work he grabbed the child and covered the mouth and the nose with his palm saying again and again to...

It was over. All too soon. He handed the motionless child back to her arms and sprawled himself on the floor to get his sleep. It took her a long while to realise that her precious one would never cry again.

Saraswathi sat by the stairs with tears rolling down. She would keep wiping them with the end of her pallu but more would flow. Suddenly a week seemed all too short for her to return to work but time has a different meaning for us who don't worry too much about where our next square meal will come from. Mix poverty + honest life, then there is hardly any residue for grief.

"I hope one day both his hands fall off, the very hands that took away my daughter", she whispered under her breath as she picked up the broom and continued to clean the house. Up there, I hoped the real Shiva would have had heard the prayers of this traumatized mother.


Tak...tak...tak... the beggar knocked again on my car window. He folded his palms, or what was left of it from the dreaded disease, asking me for alms. The signal turned green and I put my car in motion. As I drove I realized I didn't feel bad about not giving spare change to the beggar. The hands that stretch and plead for help, have a history of their own and with that they wrote their destiny.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Mother's day :-)

A single mom who has billions of children, works relentlessly day and night, and still remains the most gorgeous :-)

How often do we look at our planet as an equivalent to our mom? Treat her as such? Lost in the myriad of galaxies, stars and planets she continues her journey. Within our solar system she is just a speck and yet it is on this speck of dust that life, as we know it, thrives. The pic below is to show how insignificant we humans are in the larger scheme of things. This is how small the Earth looks from Saturn!

This has oft been said but truly this is the only home that we've got. So let's try and take care of it. At least one day of the year if you can love your planet, as much as you love your mother, you will have made a difference.

Over the last few weeks, I have started another blog - where I put up interesting, breathtaking, hilarious, amusing, thought provoking and pretty much any nice photo that I get my hands on. Just to tell the world - look around you... it's an amazing world and enjoy the gift of life :-)


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fantasy Flight

When Jet Airways announced the boarding call for the flight from Delhi to Bangalore, I was busy reading Tinkle comics - something that I purchase every time I board a flight. Within seconds the queue had stretched itself into a slithering boa snake. It's beyond me as to why people push and shove to get into the flight considering that it won't take off till the last person has boarded. Guess old habits die hard; we are too used to throwing our hankies and catching the city buses!

Quarter of an hour later I stepped inside the aircraft, returned a fake smile to the airhostess and proceeded to find seat 14B. The air conditioner was in full swing forcing ladies to wrap themselves in their dupattas while men pretended to be machos and continued to read the papers. Personally I prefer a more humid atmosphere in planes so that I don't catch someone else's sneeze.

"Excuse me..." I said, but my tone drifted while I tried to look for any empty window seats. The lady in 14C seemed quite engrossed in her novel and showed a slight sign of annoyance that she had to unbuckle her seat belt and get up to let me in. I murmured 'sorry' for the sake of sorry and slid in to my seat. The guy next to me, in 14A, seemed just three feet from heaven considering and was blissfully snoring. And when the pilot announced 'crew to take-off positions', my watch displayed 9.11pm - a good forty minutes delay and made me think twice about the number 911.

As we climbed to cruise altitude, the lady next to me seemed to have lost interest in her novel. I don't know what she was reading but it had an image of a dragon so I thought it must be some fantasy. Dressed in black pin striped business suit she looked quite in command of herself. Her curls covered a part of her eyes and cheeks while the diamond ring sent a message that she had a special someone in her life. The fact that the ring hugged her finger tightly meant the relationship had been in existence for some time and she was slimmer in her earlier days.

"Fantasy?", I quipped as I looked at her novel and tried to start a conversation.

"Yeah! Not that great though", was the crisp reply. Silence ensued for a full five minutes.

"So what do you do?", my second attempt at engaging in a conversation.

She gave me that nakhra, fully aware of her pretty looks, and said "I work for a garment company as a merchandizer". And since I responded by an IQ level 50 type of blinking looks, she went on to explain "... you know, like getting orders from various vendors and ensuring they maintain a healthy stock of our company's products".

"Ah!" I exclaimed as if my IQ had suddenly shot up to 150 levels and I knew everything there is to know about the garment industry. From there on the conversation kicked in and she seemed to be brimming with topics varying from recession and massive layoff's in their industry, to books, to how bad the food in Jet Airways is, to how impolite the Indigo staff are, to how she finds it amusing how men stare at King Fisher crew, to her love for Sri Lankan technicians, to..." well you get the idea. A good hour passed by, the air hostesses had cleared our trays, before she chanced to ask what it is that I do.

"No wait! Let me guess. You are a techie...?" she beamed as if quite sure that she was right.

"Not really. I am an actor; I act in short movies."

"Really? Wow! So which movies have you acted in?" she asked with all excitement.

"I don't think you would know them".

"Try me. I am pretty much a movie buff".

"Well...hmmm... I actually act in x-rated adult movies".

At that point I think I could clearly make out what was running in her mind as her jaw dropped slowly. She was wishing that the aircraft ripped itself in half so that I flew in one direction and she flew the other way. Or probably she was wishing that she could borrow the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter and make herself disappear. And I was wishing that I could take a photo of her stunned looks - the kind that deers give as a trucks' headlight approaches them.

"Oh!... interesting", was all she could mumble for the next two minutes. She slid away ever so slowly from me to the edge of her seat. She wanted to dust herself off even if my elbow brushed against her coat. In all she wished either I was dead or she was dead or we both were dead.

I picked up the JetLite magazine to hide the snicker that was building up inside me. With some effort she tried to look at me but all the while making it obvious that she was actually fixing her hair. The conversation had evaporated like petrol on hot ground. And when she made her second attempt to look at me I couldn't hold back my laughter. Within seconds she realized I had taken her for a ride at 36,000 feet. She huffed, folded her hands and moments later pinched me on my arm.

"You are an asshole you know that?" she remarked with a smile that showed she was relieved. She re-adjusted herself comfortably in her seat and appeard confused as to continue the conversation or ignore me. But we talked. About my work and how boring it is and if every other careers are equally boring. It was nearing midnight by the time we both got out of the airport. "Be good", she remarked as we parted.

"I usually am! And yeah...I will let you know if my producer needs new garments for the next movie". She smiled, stuck her tongue out and walked away.

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