Monday, December 21, 2009

What Really Happened on Christmas? And Why?

In recent days, Christmas has become more of a commercial event - with Santa Claus, snow flakes, reindeers, Jingle Bells, fruit cakes, candy canes, etc - that the true history behind this greatest event ever known to man - has been forgotten amidst all the celebrations and shopping. If one were to walk back in history and witness this event in that manger in Bethlehem on that cold silent night - no celebration could equal the majesty of that moment. My narration below is merely a small attempt to explain this event as written in the Bible.

Joseph and Mary

About 2009 years ago, in the province of Galilee in Israel the land of Jews, a young virgin girl named Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph who was a carpentar. Nothing much is said in the Bible about the family background of Mary. From the events recorded, it appears she was a simple, humble, poor, God-fearing young lady.

Betrothal in Jewish customs was much different than its version today. It was more equivalent to an actual marriage. Once betrothed, the groom and bride were considered as husband and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except that they lived separately in their respective homes without any physical union, until the day of "Home Taking" when the groom came and took his bride.

The Birth Announced

At this time, when Mary was betrothed to Joseph and the "Home Taking" was yet to take place, GOD sent an angel Gabriel to Mary - explaining her the divine plan of GOD, and how she had found favor in the eyes of GOD to be part of this grand plan. One can't imagine how shocking it would have been for Mary. An event that would change mankind forever - an event that would divide history into two -  is going to happen, and GOD included her in HIS plan! Maybe she cried in happiness. Maybe she feared and just lost words. Maybe she just trembled and fell.

Like all other jews, Mary knew that this was the event that prophets had proclaimed all along for hundreds of years - the birth of the Messiah (meaning The Anointed One, The Saviour). This was the event that GOD promised in the garden of Eden - when Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan to disobey GOD and sin against HIM.

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son..."

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" 
 - Prophet Isaiah, 8th century BC.

Mary was told that although she was a virgin, she would conceive and bring forth a Son through the power of GOD, and He should be named JESUS. In the days that followed, Mary conceived miraculously as told by GOD. When Joseph came to know of Mary's pregnancy, he was troubled for he did not know that it was GOD's miracle. But the angel of GOD appeared to Joseph in his dream, asking him not to fear taking Mary as his wife - and that her pregnancy was due to GOD's miracle and the baby in her womb was GOD in human form - the Saviour of the World - the much awaited Messiah - Jesus the Christ.

The Birth in a stable

GOD took the form of flesh on that cold silent night in a stable in Bethlehem. The inn where Mary delivered did not have enough room to accomodate the new born child, and they were left to use the manger as a crib for the child. Manger is a carved stone or wooden construction used to hold food for animals in a stable. Angels announced His birth to the shepherds in the fields. Wise men from far off lands in the East were led by a star to Bethlehem. With such a humble birth, GOD proclaimed HIS love for the poor and meek. HE chose to be born in that dirty stable among the unpleasant odor, rather than a silky bed in a palace with aromatic candles all around.

It is but natural to see such a humble birth and ask, "Why did GOD take human form? What was the need?"

Creation and Sin

In the beginning, when GOD created man and woman, HE created them perfect and holy - in the image of GOD - just like HIM. They had no knowledge about sin. There was no death in that garden. All animals were herbivores - from lion to lamb - and they lived in peace without killing one another. GOD gave man dominion over all living creatures.  But the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) disobeyed GOD by eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and thereby brought sin into the world.

After the fall of man, GOD who is Holy, could not take man to live with HIM - since man had lost the glory of GOD and become a sinful creature having the knowledge of good and bad. Man was no longer perfect. GOD did not want the sinful man to live forever, and hence HE appointed death to take away the life of man. A Holy and Righteous GOD could not reconcile with a sinful man. The sinful nature in humans that we see today - originated from Adam - and it corrupted everyone after him. The Bible states that, all human beings are sinful, and they have fallen short of the glory of GOD.

God's Master Plan

Yet, GOD still loved man and wanted to redeem him, so that man can live with HIM forever - just as GOD had planned originally. But, it wasn't an easy task to redeem a sinful man. To redeem the sinful human race, someone had to bear the punishment for sin - and pay its price.

In the early days, GOD gave laws for man to follow - through HIS prophets (like the Ten Commandments). And man had to make animal sacrifices whenever he broke those laws - as a price for his sins. But animal sacrifices could not change the sinful nature of man. Man kept sinning even after making such sacrifices. The Old Testament of the Bible speaks in detail about this period in history - when man struggled to reconcile with GOD by following HIS laws and regulations.

But throughout the Old Testament period, GOD kept revealing HIS forthcoming master plan through HIS prophets - that a day will come when animal sacrifices would no longer be required - but GOD HIMSELF would come as a man in human flesh - and give HIMSELF as a living sacrifice and die for man's sins - and redeem him - and make way for him to reconcile with GOD and live an eternal life.

That day was Christmas.

Life of Jesus Christ

GOD in human form - the Messiah Jesus Christ - was thus born on earth - with the sole purpose of dying for our sins. His brief life of 33 years was incomparable. The Bible states that no man has ever lived like Him - before and after Him. History witnessed the Son of God (GOD in human form is referred as Son of God in the Bible) - walking the streets of Jerusalem - and performing miracles and wonders the world had never ever seen. No wonder, He divided history into two - BC and AD.

He proved He was from GOD through His actions. He was sinless. He performed miracles to show the Jews that He was the Messiah. He cured the sick just by words, opened the eyes of the blind, healed lepers, raised the dead back to life, and calmed the stormy sea by a command. His actions and the power He displayed - drew crowds behind Him. He had dominion over everything on earth: nature obeyed Him, the dead rose alive on His command, evil spirits feared His word - and He defied every scientific law of nature. A detailed account of His life is recorded in the first 4 books of the New Testament (the Gospels).

His Sacrifice and Resurrection

Yet, when His time had come, just as the prophets had said, He stood silent like a lamb - and gave Himself to be crucified in the cross - to fulfill the very purpose of His mission. He died to pay the price for our sins. This day is observed as Good Friday.

The whole of New Testament in the Bible revolves around this one focal point: His sinless blood was shed so that anyone who believed in HIM by faith and confessed that Jesus Christ is GOD - would get forgiveness and redemption from sins - and would enjoy an eternal life in heaven after death.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" - John 3:16

On the 3rd day after His death, He rose alive from death - proving He was indeed the Son of GOD (celebrated as Easter - the 3rd day after Good Friday) - and was seen by hundreds. His tomb in the land of Israel is still empty today. After resurrection, He rose to heaven through the clouds - witnessed by His disciples.

The Day of Judgement

The Bible ends with a prophecy about the future: the GOD of Justice and Righteousness would come again - not to redeem man - but this time it will be to judge.The Bible states many signals that indicate the approaching of this much-awaited and much-feared day. And many of those signals are already happening today.

Of course, GOD's judgement is to be feared. But, to make sure man gets a chance to escape that judgement, GOD showed HIS love for man - and that was on Christmas day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Happy Lady

Visiting a post office has always been an exciting experience for me - as exciting as sitting on a cactus with cotton pajamas on and at the same time being spotted by the next door bull dog that sees me and starts chasing for no good reason. (Cactus or Bull dog - which is more exciting is a matter worth researching)

Have you ever visited a town post office in India? 

It would usually be a large hall where everyone would be seated - from clerk to branch manager. Usually, the branch manager is the only soul who gets some privacy behind a cubicle. There would be large ceiling fans, and only half of them would be running, and they would create a nice orchestral music. The ones that are not running would have cobwebs and dust, implying that the last time they ran - it was Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was the PM.

There would be a separate counter in a corner to buy stamps - and for some unknown reason it would always resemble a cage, fully fenced all over, with a small semi-circular opening to transact with the clerk inside. I always wondered why this guy received so much security. Most times the counter would be empty. You can either try enquiring the nearby clerks the whereabouts of this guy or you can just bang your head in a wall nearby - both give the same result. Although sometimes, I have to caution you, it is a wise practise to stand on your heels and peep inside the counter really deep. The clerk might actually be sitting inside, almost invisible for outsiders. 

In another corner would be the sticky table - a table with gum all over it, kept for public use. You can see people rubbing their fingers here and there on the table trying to locate a wet spot, and in the process the entire table gets sticky. And believe me, you will always find a wet spot. I've never seen people complaining that there is no gum left. They somehow manage to "extract" gum. Of course, there are others who wholely rely on their tongue for adhesive matters.

My experience with postal clerks too has mostly been not-so-memorable. Whenever I had approached them, they either hated me for disrupting their tea time or lunch time or wrapping-up time. And when I went on other times, the post office was usually closed. So, it has always been a challenging process.

In US, I understood that post offices can be extremely different - I mean, extreme in the other direction. 

Clerks are too lovey-dovey here. They greet us as if we are entering a wedding reception. "Helloooo there ! How you dooooooing !". The first time I heard this - I thought it was some kind of joke - until I heard the same greeting in the nearby counter. It was like standing in the middle of fairy land. So good to be true. But then, I got used to this lovey-dovey-land, for I too learnt the art of greeting "How you dooooing !".

However, one extraordinary postal clerk stands out in my mind.

She is the "Happy Lady" (I just named her so), who works in the USPS branch (United States Postal Service) near our house. She must be in her forties. She is one of the rarest human beings I've seen in my lifetime.  Let me narrate one of the many incidents.

A guy comes to her counter to buy few 42 cent stamps. With a blackberry in his hand, a blue-tooth in his ear, a big bushy moustache, a shining "minor" chain around the neck given by his father-in-law , a glittering gold watch, an ID card stuck to his shirt - well, I couldn't be wrong, he had to be a desi. She gives him a big smile with the usual lovey-dovey greetings, takes out 3 different sheets of stamps, lays them out neatly before him, and says, "Wow, look what we got! Lovely stamps...huh? Which one shall we go with? The pretty one with the US flag, or this gorgeous one with Christmas bells, or this really funny Santa Claus with Reindeer?" She blinks with all excitement, eagerly waiting for his selection.

This poor guy who had never bothered to take a second look at stamps all through his life - all of a sudden starts wondering if he has been missing something in his life, and starts looking at stamps a bit seriously. He thinks to himself, scratching his head, "What the heck! Why do I care what picture is on them? They are all the same price!". (I told you I can't be wrong, he is a desi)

She is not ready to give up. She adds, "Aren't they all lovely! My favorite would be the Christmas bells. Wow, I love those shiny silver bells... and see.. they even reflect the light from the fire place".

The guy is even more puzzled. "That is a silver bell?", he is wondering. Obviously, he hasn't been paying attention to the metal of the bell. "And where the heck is the fire place? Reflection? What reflection?". His brain is still catching up.

People in the queue look with eyes wide open - listening to this rare piece of conversation - and eagerly wait for his decision. It is clear that they didn't come to the post office planned for this. Now, this puts this guy under pressure. He is almost sweating.

She suddenly gestures as if she remembered something, "Hey guess what, I have some more stamps back there with snow flake and dinosaur pictures. Do you want me to bring them as well?".

Now, this definitely shocks him. If he doesn't act now, he might end up listening to how pretty the dinosaurs are. ("Look how cute the Stegosaurus is smiling! Look at his lovely rugged scales and claws!")

His brain senses the forthcoming danger, gets into the "fight or flight" mode, pumps all the adrenaline it can, and quickly rushes for a decision. He blabbers, "Err... anything is fine... I think... Christmas Bells... yes... lovely... place... please give that"

"That's great! You bought my favorite!", she shouts so happily and claps. Just when he thinks it is all over she comes back, "Now dear, how are we going to pay? You can give cash, or you can swipe your credit this slot, or you can just write me a nice little cheque or you can...". Well, he has already taken out cash, and hands over the exact change. As he walks to the door, I can see that he is still recovering from the shock.

Few minutes later, as I walk out of the door, I hear the Happy Lady saying to someone, "Wow, this cute package is going all the way to Wisconsin! That's a lovely place! I bet it is snowing out there, dear... isn't it? And I am sure Santa really needs a sleigh if he is visiting Wisconsin! Ha ha!". She laughs with real happiness (no faking), thoroughly enjoying her joke. Then she adds, "Would you like some stamps, dear?"

I quickly reach for the door. Different parts of the world; just how different can they be!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Democracy We Need

WHEN corrupt politicians and fanatics get re-elected to power election after election, we often wonder how our people could be so blind. When educated, patriotic youngsters contest and lose their deposit - we are even more puzzled. We see politicians shed crocodile tears and talk absolute non-sense in public - and yet the mob goes crazy behind them. When free bags of rice and free TV sets are announced, why is it that our people never wake up and understand that nothing comes free of cost? Instead of laughing at the stupidity of their leaders, why do party workers blindly do anything - even to the extent of self immolating?

The reason, of course, is multi-fold. Politicians are able to cheat majority of the public quite easily. It shows that most of our people aren't smart enough to take a good decision about our politicians. It can also mean that the good decision-makers (good voters) are out-numbered by the bad decision-makers (bad voters). Here, "good" and "bad" refer to the quality of their voting decision (not their character).

Some have suggested that to refine our democracy we need to put restrictions on the eligibility to contest elections. They suggest that we prohibit criminals from contesting, and pave way for clean educated people to contest. The problem with this approach is, we never know how "clean" a person would be after coming to power. Most scandals today are done by educated people. Most fanatics today are great orators. Criminal intent can creep inside even the best educated minds, and when it combines with intelligence it makes a ruthless deadly combination. So, while it is good to have such restrictions on contesting elections (and I support such a restriction), they do not solve the problem completely.

The best solution is to give the right of decision-making (voting) in the right hands. That is, we should have more of good voters and less of bad voters.

Today, one of the major drawbacks of democracy is that it provides equal voting rights to everyone - irrespective of their ability to take a sound decision. The problem is magnified in India since a vast majority are still illiterates. Being an illiterate, they have limited access to information, poor capability to understand various issues, and they lack the ability to think objectively weighing the pros and cons of various policies of political parties.

Decision making cannot rest with people who do not qualify as good decision makers. To make a good decision, not just in casting votes, but in any situation, a person needs the following. Those who have these qualify as good decision makers.

1. Inputs about the problem (What information do we have?)
2. Knowledge to understand, comprehend and appreciate the problem (What exactly are the problems facing us today?)
3. Knowledge to envision what is best for all the stakeholders involved in the long-run (What is our nation's goal?)
4. Skill to objectively weigh the pros and cons of available options and pick the most suited one (How best to reach our goal?)

Not everyone possesses these skills. We should enforce voting restrictions and allow only those people who have the high probability of possessing such skills.

The vote cast by an illiterate cannot be treated the same as the vote cast by an eminent person like Dr. Abdul Kalam or Mr. Narayana Murthy. The weightage of their votes is definitely not same. However, our current system treats them both same. By doing so, we fail to give due credit to the voice of the qualified decision-makers (good voters), and instead we mix them with the unqualified ones and merely take the majority - which by no means gives a good result.

We should attach weightage to each person's vote based on his eligibility. So, how does a person get his weightage? I've given few suggestions. This is of course not a definite list, but merely a suggested approach.

Votes of following people deserve a higher weightage:

1. Educated people. The higher the education, the higher is the weightage.
2. Tax payers, as they have a higher say in the Govt spending.
3. Army personnels, due to the patriotic nature of their work.
4. Civil service officials (IAS, IPS, etc).
5. National award winners in fields of science, technology, arts, economics, law, defence, sports, etc.
6. Judges of Courts.

Following people should be given lesser or minimum weightage:

1. Uneducated or not sufficiently educated (eg. Secondary education should be a minimum requirement to qualify for voting)
2. Non Tax Payers
3. People with past criminal history (with each crime the weightage should be reduced, and it should only be restored subject to conditions)

Both the above lists aren't exhaustive; they can be expanded further. I've just tried to explain the rational behind this approach. With the "Unique Identification" system underway in India (by Mr. Nandan Nilekani) - it would be possible to track these criteria in a central database.

So, what difference would this make?

As per World Bank Survey in 2007, less than 40% of people in India enroll for Secondary education. Even if we assume the trend to be rising, it would be about 40% today. So, if we enforce that secondary education is mandatory for voting, then only 40% of the population would vote. And among this 40%, there would be weightage differences based on their further eligibility. Do the math, and you would understand that it makes a big difference. The probability of making a right decision increases enormously. There might be smart people among illiterates who might miss the chance to vote, but these are exceptional cases and hence cannot be considered when making regulations.

Bottomline: If you want to choose your ruler, go to school first.

This could be a motivation to complete atleast secondary education. This system places emphasis on education and honours those who've sweated their way to the top. Political parties would shut down their circus shows and start thinking for a change. They know that their audience is far smarter than before now. They can't be easily cheated - just by writing poems or giving free stuff or making rhetoric speeches. Politicians would be forced to show results. As more and more people get educated and become 'good voters', it would be even harder for rulers to fool around.

Einstein was right when he said, "You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created". Do share your views on this topic.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Career Advice to Mr. Gary Kirsten

JUST when news channels were worried over the shortage of sensational news, Gary Kirsten comes to their rescue. When I was a cricket fan in the late 1980s (yeah, I lost interest later), the ban on South Africa was lifted and they started playing international cricket. That's when we (me and my cousins, who were all kids and crazy cricket fans) came to know of Kirsten. None of us were his fans because he was bald. We hated him because he was a pretty good opener and that brought trouble to India.

Today, I am surprised to see Kirsten take on a new avatar. The media says he has a "Sex Mantra" for the Indian cricket team. "What? Kirsten? That old man ?", I wonder. I've only heard Late Dr. Mathrubootham talk of these stuff. So, what does this guy Kirsten actually say? In short, he says, good sex gives good cricket. No jokes here. This guy is serious.

"Are you sure it is Kirsten? Is it not someone else... like... err... Kushwant Singh.. or Shobha De... or... maybe Bill Clinton?"

"No, no! It is Kirsten ! How the heck would these others know about cricket!"

"Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot we're talking of cricket also".

English and Australian players say they envy the Indian team for getting such a nice coach. As expected, the media is very happy, now they have something to talk 24X7. There are forums discussing if it is good to have sex before or after or during a match. Sexologists are in sudden demand. They are invited to various group discussions to explain the science behind all this. They are happy that their profession is somehow getting linked with cricket, and that gives them bright hopes for a great future. I am sure everyone, other than the cricketers, is watching these discussions. Who knows what the cricketers are doing (hmm...) !

Now, hold on - Kirsten refuted all these claims the next day. He says he never said any of these stuff. Poor guy, no one even bothered to listen now. The media reported it, but well, it was quickly overshadowed by the "Sex and Cricket" discussions which were already in full swing. There were more and more panel discussions, forum debates, sexologist interviews, and no one even heard Kirsten refuting these allegations. The damage was already done. Nobody wanted the hot discussions to end just 'coz Kirsten never told it in the first place. It was a good topic that could go on for another couple of months, so why would anyone even think of ending it. It was "gala" time for all Talk-time hosts.

Kirsten would have been scratching his already-bald-head wondering "Is this all a bad dream?".

There are a few things he can do to capitalize this situation. Now, this is what you should do, Mr. Kirsten:

First of all, stop refuting these. No one is gonna believe you, 'coz no one bothers if it is true. Just go with the flow and enjoy the hungama. The media loves you now. You are more popular now than ever in your life.

Tell that you read about this sex mantra somewhere in Kamasutra. That's it. You have quoted from a book of ancient India, and no one will dare to question you. Kamasutra book sales will double or triple, and publishers would just love you. Now, don't worry if anyone would cross verify your claim. Once they start reading the book, they will forget about what you said. There is enough stuff in that book to keep them occupied for another 2 years.

Next, you can write a book yourself. Didn't you know that writing a book was the fastest way to become a celebrity in India! Look what happened to Jaswant Singh. No one bothered calling him for interviews before. Now, he is the busiest person on town. But, make sure you write something about stuff like culture, pre-marital sex, or morality - even if these are not linked to cricket. Be assured that one of these would explode into a nation-wide discussion, and you can ride the tide happily.

Next, you can start a Talk Show. What? Are you thinking of what to talk? That's the last thing you should worry about. Just talk something that appears to be complex. You can invent something called "Cricket Therapy" for sex problems, or "Sex Therapy" for cricket problems. Whatever. Who cares! Just keep talking. At any cost, don't allow others to talk, then they will ask questions and you will be in trouble. Invite them, but you keep talking.

Meanwhile, during this time, if India wins matches, tell that your mantra works. If they lose, tell that the players didn't follow it "effectively". In any case, you win. All the best, Mr. Kirsten.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The World of EMI

Twenty years ago, the abbreviation "EMI" (Equated/Equal Monthly Installment) never existed. Or atleast, it didn't rule the world like it does today. Bank agents never came chasing us asking for our autograph on a loan request form with microscopic disclaimer and warning statements at the bottom.

Rich people built houses, drove in cars, watched color television, had phones in their bedroom, and so on. Middle-class people rented houses, rode in bicycles, listened to All India Radio, used public phones, and rest of the time talked about rising price of onions. So, the distinction was clearly visible.

No one even dared asking banks for loans in lakhs with little or zero down payment. Asking such a thing would have been as shocking as seeing a polar bear mating a gorilla in the middle of Sahara desert. (Phew ! Can't imagine that !)

If someone had a house those days, it meant he was rich. He had enough money to afford a own house and hang pumpkins all around it.

But today, if you have a house, it means you have enrolled in this "Elite EMI Group" (hereafter referred as EEG).

If you have a house and a car - it means you've a long-lasting membership in this group.

If you have a house, a car, and a credit card balance - then you might as well get a permanent membership.

If you have a house, a car, a credit card balance and still in need of another loan - then you better start believing in re-birth & a next life because there is nothing much you can do with this life.

If you have a house, a car, a credit card balance, few personal loans, and couple of kids - then there is nothing to worry; it is your bank that has to worry about filing bankruptcy. You can live your life as if nothing happened - just go on vacations, sit by the beach, watch the sun set, and sip lemonade. You are now a celebrity - like one of those big US companies that proudly announce that they will go bankrupt if Govt doesn't bail them out - and the media goes all bananas about it - and they become a celebrity. You, my dear friend, can actually contest for EEG's chairman post.

When Bill Clinton visited Taj Mahal, he said, "The world is divided into 2 kinds of people: those who have seen Taj Mahal, and those who haven't". Well, naughty boy Clinton was trying to play Shakespeare here. Forget it. Actually, the world is divided into 2 kinds: people with EMI payments, and people without. The first category is growing at an enormous rate that very soon we might ask the 2nd category people to move to another planet.

Maybe it is not a bad idea if we, the EMI people, form a worldwide organization - like say International Borrowers Association (IBA). It should be pronounced as "I-Baah" - an acronym - 'coz acronymns usually get popular quickly. We can have our own flag - in the shape of a credit card or something. We definitely need a slogan - like "In Banks We Trust", "Save Money, Lend Better", etc.

We can announce April 1st as our IBA Day, for all the obvious reasons.

Imagine how many people would participate in our celebrations on April 1st ! The whole of earth would be full of lights and music and dance and partying - "Hoo hoo... I Baah Day". Some bank managers would get a heart-attack watching these on TV. Political leaders would send their wishes to us - "May this day bring peace, love and more importantly tolerance and forgiveness in our world". Aliens watching us from Pluto will be stunned. "What the heck is going on in that planet ! It is brightly lit up and their radio waves are jamming our whole system here. They are louder than that damn meteorite that hit us last week".

If you are reading this blog and you don't owe any EMI payments, then I've just one question for you: "Are you crazy?". Looks like, you have no passion in life at all. I forgive you if you are a retired person. But, if you are working, then you definitely need an EMI - else what is the driving force in your life ! EMI is what keeps the working class spinning today - life becomes like a Speilberg war film - you are constantly running to survive, there are shells fired everywhere, people screaming, buildings falling, smoke and dust, tanks coming behind - yet you keep running ! If you don't have an EMI - you are missing all this fun - your life resembles a opera sung by a fat lady in an empty old theatre on a sweaty Sunday afternoon and in between you hear the theatre janitor sweeping the floor - how boring could that be ! Come on, wake up and join the fun!

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide financial advice of any sort. If you decide to follow what is written here, it is just your fate. If anything written here happens to be true - it is a mere coincidence and nothing more should be read into it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Berry Factor

I have a really nice mobile phone - Motorola V190 (Believe me, this model still exists).

Somehow, my friends do not agree with this statement.

"You still haven't changed your mobile?". They've asked a million times.

Well, here is the history. I got this mobile in 2006, when I landed in USA and when I was badly in need of a device to communicate with my family in the other part of the world. The only criteria I had were: it should have speaker, phone book and alarm. I love camera mobiles, but my workplace didn't allow them those days. (Well, they changed their minds later after a year or so... Grrrr!).

The store where I got this mobile (store name withheld since I'm on a highly secret mission to USA) - was cunningly divided into 2 sections, separated by an invisible wall.

One section is like the Dinosaurs section of Museum, where you can see all the extinct mobiles. The people you see here are the ones who still think "Blackberry" is a fruit, and confuse "bluetooth" with sabertooth. And they still use their fingers to dial and still talk into the receiver.

The other section is the "happening" place. People here are the kind who hate using keypads and who want auto-redialling to happen by a sneeze. They also want the maximum number of functions inside their mobile - like camera, email, fax, photocopy, scan, refrigerator, microwave, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, etc. And they want everything to be integrated with some tooth. For example, if you are shopping in the Indian Grocery store in Chicago, and you forgot what brand of pickle to buy, you should be able to take pictures of all pickle bottles and send it to Mylapore Maami - and she should be able to just say the pickle name with betel leaves in mouth and voice recognition should match it with the pictures you sent and reply you back in a matter of 3 seconds. Any delay isn't appreciated: "Kya yaar, these networks are too slow... you know, the one in California was too good...(blah, blah)". Of course, why on earth do we need a mobile that can't do this simple operation!

Anyway, as you might've guessed by now, I was obviously standing in the Dinosaurs section. Not a single sales guy was around. To avoid any further embarrassment, I quickly grabbed this V190 mobile and slipped out of the store.

Well, it has been a good companion ever since. On some occasions, it had gone missing - only to be found under the cushions of the couch after the guests left. No wonder the guests felt uncomfortable with some unknown vibrations coming from underneath and left our home quickly. (Trust me, I never did it on purpose)

On many occasions, it had gone rolling under the car. Then I had to get down on all fours to reach it. If someone had watched me from behind, I have no idea what they would've thought.

But mostly, it manages to stay in its place, and that place happens to be some untraceable corner of the house - until we find it by calling from our landline. And everytime we wonder how it got there. ("The Case of the Missing Mobile" remains unresolved)

Having said all these, you can imagine how my mobile looks. It has scratches all over, and its paint worn out. You can imagine a wall-poster crumbled by a donkey here and there, and scratched by a roadside buffalo. Ah, that's exactly how it looks. I have not posted its picture here, fearing that even the few people who read my blog might stop reading it.

Now, hold on. Before you give me that look, let me tell you that my mobile still works fine. The speaker, phone book and alarm - everything still works. To replace my mobile at this point goes against Newton's 46th Law of Object Replaceability that states "Every object continues in its path of usability unless acted upon by an extreme force that breaks it beyond recognition". Somehow this doesn't convince my friends. They have all gone to Blackberries and Strawberries, and they want me to switch to some berry soon.

To add anger to their agony (or vice versa), I kind of stunned my friends a few days back when I asked them if my mobile had a blue-tooth. It was like looking at an Ambassador car and asking if it is a Formula 1 race car. Let me not elaborate on what happened next.

"So, what the heck ! Should I just get a Berry and make merry?" - am still thinking...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When "tele" prefixed "conference" ...

When Graham Bell invented the tele-phone he strictly made it for use by 2 people at a time. During the course of time, some guy invented this tricky thing called "Tele-conference", aka Telecon. We need to somehow find that guy and send him to an island in the middle of Atlantic before he starts inventing more dreadful things.

Think of the nice way we had conferences earlier. People met in groups in well-illuminated rooms, with glass windows and big chairs, and someone explained things by writing on the board - and there was coffee/tea served, and it was indeed a nice time to relax. Sometimes there would be a Powerpoint presentation and they would dim the lights, and no one would know if you're sleeping or thinking. When they switch on the lights in the end, you would feel as if you finished watching a matinee show in theatre. Also, you will get a chance to meet "long-time-no-see" friends and discuss critical issues like why Mani Ratnam dropped Kareena and chose Aishwarya.

Another good thing was: there would always be a "lead-time" in reaching the conference room. This lead time is defined as the time taken to reach the conference room (or return back to seat) by walking in groups and it includes time taken to peep over cubicles along the way to say a "Hi" to friends, drinking water by the cooler, visiting restrooms, combing hair, stopping over in the neighbouring cubicle to help that pretty girl resolve a "complicated" bug (in olden days it was called flirting), getting updates on IPL score, etc etc.

With telecon, all these luxuries are now lost. No matter where you are and what time of day it is, people expect you to join a telecon asap with a few seconds notice. There are no lead times here. That's why, many a time you hear all kinds of weird background noises in a telecon - autorickshaw sounds if the guy is attending from Chennai, baby crying, spouse shouting, toilet flushing (note: this guy must be really good at multi-tasking), cows mooing (this guy must have gone to his village on vacation), and what not !

If a telecon has more people, then most of the call goes like this:

"Kumar, are you there?". "Hello Kumar...hello".

"I think, we dropped Kumar".

"Yes, I think I heard a beep a while ago".

"No, that was me who joined, this is Amit".

"Oh, hi Amit, I think we dropped Kumar".

"Hello Kumar?". "Was it Kumar? I think I heard someone now".

"No, that was my dog here, sorry".

Then, all of a sudden, Kumar comes back saying "Oh sorry guys, I was on mute". Easy excuse ! He might have actually dozed off or gone to the nearby grocery store to buy milk - but no matter what, you can always say you were on mute.

Telecons demand a lot of concentration. You might be watching Bollywood movie this side, but your ears should still be tuned to the telecon conversation. Else, you might be caught off-guard when someone asks, "Hey Kumar, did we move that code to production?". You would jolt and wake up from the Bollwood-movie-trance, but you will have no idea what code they're talking about. Because you lost track of the telecon when Rani Mukherjee started dancing. A good trick in such critical situations is to make a general statement and provoke the other guy to repeat the question. Like, for the above question, you can say, "Hmmm... I think, we moved pretty much everything we planned". This confuses the other guy and he would surely repeat, "Yes, but did we move XYZ code to production?". Now, you got what you wanted.

Maybe, I should write these tricks in a book, like a "Survival Guide to Telecons" - and who knows, it might be a best-seller. Anyway, I need to go now, got a telecon to attend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Curious Case of Velupillai Prabhakaran

OTHER than Vaiko, by now everyone believes that Prabhakaran is dead. Vaiko needs a "Prabhakaran" to continue his passionate support for Eelam; so we can understand his plight. I sympathize the sorry state of Vaiko - he lost election from his own constituency; he said there will be blood bath if Prabhakaran died but no such thing happened; and he spent days and nights supporting and agitating for LTTE but the people rejected all this drama. So, let us spare him further agony.

Prabhakaran was once an icon of courage and valor among Tamil youth. There was a time when I admired the military operations he conducted - bringing the Lankan army to his feet.

When he took up arms to fight Lankan oppression in 1980s, he had the blessing of India. Mrs.Indira Gandhi supported and encouraged the LTTE. They were allowed to use TN as training grounds. Back then, nobody was concerned about the violent methods LTTE used. Maybe it was necessary at that point of time to stop Lankan genocide against Tamils.

Rajiv Gandhi's initiative to bring a political settlement to the crisis gave rise to the Indo Lankan pact of 1987. I believe, he truly intended to resolve the conflict amicably. The LTTE initially agreed to it reluctantly. They even started surrendering their arms to the IPKF. Soon, disagreements broke and LTTE joined hands with Srilanka and drove our IPKF out, saying "Lankans and Tamils are brothers ! Who is India to interfere !". Thus, the LTTE stalled the headway made in this political settlement. If LTTE had co-operated, India could've pressurized the Lankan Govt to act according to the pact and agree for a devolution of power to Tamils.

But, Vellupillai Prabhakaran had a different dream about Tamil Eelam. He wanted a Tamil nation carved out of the island where he and his associates can be the sole rulers in an autocratic setup. He never believed in democracy. To achieve this dream, he was ready for any proportion of bloodbath - no matter whose blood it was - Tamils or Sinhalese or Indians or whoever. Sadly, this was not what Tamils wanted.

Slowly, he turned his organization from a liberation movement into a blood thirsty terrorist movement - assassinating anyone who disagreed with him - including our former PM. His acts of crime overshadowed the Tamil cause for which he once started fighting. More than 32 countries banned LTTE, and he was in the "Wanted" list of law-enforcement agencies worldwide like Interpol, CBI, and FBI.

Rajiv's assassination was not only a deadly crime, but it was a stupid move by the LTTE. They lost their only supporter in this region - India.

After May 21st 1991, India understood the consequences of doing business with a guerilla group. All these years, we never thought the LTTE would harm us; it was after all our foster kid that grew with our support. But now, our own security was at stake. We realized that this was not a group we should've associated with from the very beginning! They have proved to be ruthless killers. If we had really cared about Lankan Tamils, we should have interfered more directly into the matter and pressurized SL, instead of supporting and supplying arms to these guerilla rebels. India as a nation should have stepped in. But instead, we made friends with the wrong group.

It is a shame that the LTTE is still portrayed by some as representatives of Tamils in SL. They lost that identity long back. They have killed Tamil leaders and Tamil citizens without any mercy. A recent BBC video showed LTTE herding Tamil civilians with guns and firing at those who were trying to escape. They deliberately squashed all attempts for a political settlement. They were nothing but a group of fanatics who fought for the personal cause of a rogue leader called Prabhakaran. They strayed away from their liberation path a long time ago.

It is good they were silenced once and for all. Congratulations to the Lankan President for standing firm amidst so many pressures. But, we do not know what he has in mind after this. Would he be true to his words and give equal rights to Tamils? We don't know. But, he sure knows that the international community is watching. India should ensure that justice is done for Tamils there. It is a good time to remind Srilanka of the Indo Lankan pact.

As far as people like Vaiko and Ramadoss are concerned, they can continue to joke around like clowns; it helps to keep the political scene entertaining.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Saving" India from Pub Culture

Girls and boys who were hanging out in a pub in Mangalore were brutally assaulted by a Sena party. The video on NDTV site showed girls being beaten, dragged and humiliated. So, let's all understand one thing clearly. Pub culture is indecent. It is from Western countries. So, we should all oppose it.

Right ? Understood ? Ok wait, listen further.

Dragging girls by their salwar, beating them, pushing them around, standing around them & slapping them - are all ancient Indian culture - and we should all uplift and save it. Wow, what a great eye-opener ! For all those confused people who were trying to understand the difference between Western culture and Indian culture - the Sena party has given a clear definition.

I started wondering how Sena would react in another situation. In Tamil Nadu, illicit liquor production happens here and there. I have a doubt if that is ancient Indian culture or Western or Latin or whatever. In any case, I am sure the Sena party of Mangalore incident would take strong action against these men also. They might run into such illicit liquor areas, and pull off the dhoti from all men there. Unfortunately, girls are not present in such areas. So, the Sena party may not be able to prove their ancient Indian culture on girls. But, I am sure, they will strip men of their dhotis and enforce their party's principle. (Hopefully NDTV will upload that video too)

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Fire Bath" - The Great Tamil Culture

Nowadays, you hear many incidents of Tamilians self-immolating themselves. This "fire bath" sounds like a good method, given the fact that water scarcity is a century-old issue in TN. They should also invent "fire soap", "fire shampoo", "fire body wash", etc. After all, Tamilians are known for their cleanliness. I wonder why the big leaders never self-immolate themselves, but merely praise and pay homage to those who die from it. Wouldn't it be a great show if all Tamil leaders tried self-immolating themselves in the middle of the road, and NDTV covers the event live - and Barkha Dutt runs round and round the scene giving live commentary ! Wow, what a scene to imagine !

Instead of rubbishing such stupid acts, Tamil leaders stand in queue and pay homage to these self-immolators. What a shame ! Taking one's own life is unlawful. It is a sin. It is a coward's act. Leaving all your dependent family members on the road and killing yourself - is the worst form of stupidity. And this is what Tamil leaders praise and support. Karunanidhi would write poems for them; Vaiko might tear off his shirt and shout slogans for them; and Ramdoss might go on an"indefinite" hunger strike for 8 hours (and drink orange juice in the end)!

Wow, what a Tamil Culture ! If anyone opposes this, he would be termed anti-Tamil, anti-Eelam, and many more "anti"s. So, why take risk ! Let me also try writing a poem for all these fire bathers.

It is to be noted that, the only leader who didn't praise these cowardly acts is Jayalalitha. Hats off to her. (I am no ADMK supporter)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

To Poach or Not To Poach

After the Satyam disaster, Infosys got itself into some muddy waters by the remarks of its HR and Mr.N Murthy. First, they said, they will not poach on Satyam employees. I looked at some dictionaries and understood that "poach" actually means to unfairly or illegally benefit from a situation. Well, in that case, it appeared there was nothing wrong in what they said. After a while, they stirred the mud a bit more as if the earlier statement wasn't enough. "We will not recruit Satyam employees" ! Now, here comes trouble ! IT people from all companies started throwing stones at this remark. All sorts of allegations were made at Infosys. Some took oath never to join Infy in their life. One guy said Mr. Murthy can never become President of India because of this one remark (as if he was dying to become President).

Now, why all this hungama ? We are talking about a company - Satyam - that fell on its own face because of its fraudulent activities. When my competitor falls like this - due to all the fraud he committed over the years, after cheating all stakeholders and violating the laws of this land - why on earth should I not use that golden opportunity and crush him out of business ! If this happened to Yahoo, will Microsoft and Google sit back and shed tears? The next moment they would be setting off like roaring lions to finish off the bleeding prey. There is absolutely nothing wrong in it. Business is war, and if a competitor falls because of his mistakes it is nothing wrong of others to use that opportunity.

But, if Satyam had fallen because of a natural disaster like earthquake or flood - or a terrorist attack on its facilities - then it makes sense for others to show some sympathy and lend a helping hand.

The best help other IT companies can do to Indian software business now - is to do everything possible to take over Satyam's clients and employees - and ensure that our image isn't affected in the global arena. Without any hesitation, we should welcome Satyam employees into our companies - and people can call it poaching or whatever - but I feel that is absolutely right.