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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bobby Jindal and India

In Saturday's election, Bobby Jindal became the first non-White and the youngest Governor of the US state of Louisiana. He polled more than 50 per cent of votes in a state that has a history of racial tension.

Children of immigrants making it to high of offices in the US is no news -- Bill Clinton has a Irish background just as Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Austrian background, quite a controversial at that. Evidently, they have won the approval of their fellow citizens because of the commitment to the nation, not just in words but in deeds too. And, people have overlooked the foreign tag in favour of the work they have done.

Indian media played up the news not just because of Jindal's distant Indian connection; but also in Jindal's victory there lies a message for Indians. Would we have accepted a similar immigrant? We are often very suspect to the extent of being xenophobic.

Sonia Gandhi's example is the most debated one. In her case it's not the debate that's objectionable (that's fine), but our lack of willingness to accept that Sonia can be trustworthy, our obsession with her country of birth. We are paranoid that she can betray our country, when many of our very own Indian citizens are doing it in their own ways on a daily basis.

There are a number of other examples. Why non-Indian, within our country look at the disputes many states have with each other, and the crude jokes in one state about people of other states. Forget Sonia becoming the Prime Minister, will we ever have a similar immigrant as a corporator or municipal councillor or mayor or as head of social, cultural, business, educational or organisations?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Vidyarambham

Today is Vijayadashami, the day celebrated by Keralites as Vidyarambham.

In the north, the entire 10-day festive season is very spectacular. But in Kerala, the Navaratri season is rather low-key restricted to pujas in temples and homes. The 9-day period comes alive during the last three days, during the time of Saraswati puja. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge and learning.

Vidhyarambham (initiation into learning) is a very unique celebration in Kerala, though in other parts of India too there are similar functions, wherein books are kept for pooja and children are initiated into learning. In Kerala, however, it is almost a state-wide festival.

Though the celebrations are basically of Hindu nature, non-Hindu parents too put their children through the Vidyarambham function. Today is a day when Keralites celebrate knowledge and learning.

Vidyarambham is function during which children, around the age of three, are initiated into learning by an elderly person who adorns the role of a guru. Most families ensure that children go through this ceremony before they even join play school.

It is a short ceremony that follows Saraswati Puja. The child sits on the lap of the guru, who writes 'Hari Sri' on the child's tongue with a gold ring. The guru then helps the child to write 'Hari Sri Ganapathaye Namah' with the right index finger on a bed of rice. As the guru says these words, the child is helped to repeat it. Some follow this with the first three letters of the alphabet.

The guru is usually the parent, grandparent or a person associated with education like teachers, professors, writers or poets or any other scholarly or religious person. It's a pleasant sight as children in various moods __ playful, obedient, curious, crying __ take their first steps into the world of knowledge.

Vidyarambham is a major function at Thunchan Parambu, 32 km from Malappuram in North Kerala, the birth place of Thunchath Ezhuthachan, who is considered the Father of Malayalam language. Many publication houses -- like newspaper offices -- and religious places too conduct the function.

Click here to watch Mata Amritanandamayi Devi at Vidyarambham last year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sreesanth must check himself

One war has decisively ended in favour of Australia. With the victory in Nagpur today, Australians have clearly shown who the real champions are. They also sent a message that India's dream run in the T20 series in South Africa was more or less a flash in the pan.

Now, there is another war that is continuing. This is an ugly one; does no one any credit. It's the war of words. I wonder why cricketers are wasting time and energy on it. When they meet journalists don't they have anything else to talk, other than making statements mocking the rival team?

Look at today's statements:
  • Andrew Symonds has described the ongoing tour as hostile and warned the Indian team of backlash when it tours Down Under this year. "They've beaten us in a Twenty20 game and one one-dayer in four years. You can't gauge much on that, but we'll see how this so-called new Indian team goes on our soil," he has said.

  • Former Australian captain Ian Chappel has asked the BCCI to discipline Sree Santh before he becomes another Shoaib Aktar. He says Indian board shouldn't repeat their Pak counterpart's mistake of mishandling Akhtar's rage in his early days.

  • The ICC has sought an explanation from the BCCI on Andrew Symond's complaint of racist chants during the Vadodara one-dayer. The Aussie all-rounder had spoken of `monkey chants' from a section of the crowd when he was fielding near the boundary. The BCCI says it's yet to hear from the ICC.

I think Ian Chappel has sounded the right warning. Sreesanth seems to going overboard. He is a talented bowler who has years ahead of him. His on-field theatrics and needless aggression doesn't do him or his cricket any good.

It's not that Australians are angels on the field. But we must remember that players are there in the middle to play cricket and not engage in theatrical antics. If Indian players have a genuine complaint, ICC has well-established procedures to take care of it.

Sree's argument that it's in his nature to behave the way he does, is no justification. Post-victory jubilation is understandable, but definitely not anything beyond that. What are we arrogant about? Not even our cricket!

Indians should keep their mouth shut. Let their game do the talking.

Monday, October 8, 2007

It's not politics

The Karnataka politics right now is in such a fluid situation that it is difficult to predict anything. But one thing is sure: what we have been seeing over the past week wasn't politics. It was much worse than that.

Sure, politics is not just the art of governance; but it is also about strategising to obtain power. We saw ample evidence of that in Karnataka 20 months back, when a faction led by Kumaraswamy broke off the Congress-led coalition government, aligned with their arch rivals BJP and took the reigns of power.

In retrospect, the agreement worked out by Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa was too ideal to have worked. Had the power been transferred on October 3, it would have been the epitome of a blemishless powersharing contract in practice. For, had Yediyurappa taken over and completed his 20 months quota, all three parties -- Congress, JD(S) and BJP -- would have run the government for 20 months each.

That would have been the first such instance in India -- 5 years split equally into three blocks of 20 months each. Someone would have even exclaimed how fair politics is played in India's world renowned tech-city!

Alas, that was not to be. All those who dreamed up this ideal scenario, were naive.

Politics is dirty. Who said it's clean? It's said that politics only looks clean. But isn't there also some limit to the extent to which it can get dirty? There is no morality in politics, okay; but isn't there also some limit to the extent of immorality in politics?

Readers who have been reading my postings on politics would be familiar with my line on how important politics is for a developing democratic country like India; how important that it does not descend below well-acknowledged levels of propriety in a civil society.

Deve Gowda's refusal to hand over power to BJP is objectionable mainly for one reason: because it was the failure to honour the word to given to an individual, to an organisation. A civil society runs on trust and faith. When at the pinnacle of state government administration, there is blatant contempt for solemn words of assurances and commitment, what message does that send across to others? There may have been similar or even worse breaches of propriety, which stick out as bad precedents; but definitely they aren't worth emulating.

There is an argument that when BJP joined hands with JD(S) they should have expected this, given the way party pulled the Dharam Singh government down. Partly true, BJP should have been doubly careful; they failed in proper strategising. But that doesn't take away the larger misdemeanour of an uncivil breach of trust and commitment. We can't afford to play politics of deceit. We can't afford fitter away the precious political capital this way.

Deve Gowda needs to explain what the people of the state gained from all these. It not enough to have just a government, but there has to be governance as well. But we don't even have a government.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hacking cloud over Google products

CERTIN (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) has put out a warning that Google and its products are vulnerable to hacking.

It says: "Multiple vulnerabilities have been reported in a wide range of Google products such as Google Search Appliance, Google (Blogspot) Polls Application, Google's Picasa photo-sharing software, Google's Urchin Analytics service, including a persistent e-mail theft issue affecting the widely used GMail service." Read report here.

Today The Times of India carries a report based on the CERTIN warning; and the report includes quotes from CERTIN director and Google India' R&D head. CERTIN's director Gulshan Rai refused to specify factors that led to the advisory but said it was backed by valid reasons. Google India's R&D head Prasad Ram recently announced that its vision for India was to empower users "by providing organised, easily accessible information and products which encourage the creation and consumption of locally relevant content". Read TOI report here.

CERTIN has put out a few precautions:

- Users should be selective about how they initially visit a web site.
- Don't click links on untrusted web pages or in unsolicited emails.
- Disable all scripting languages in web browsers.
- Users should especially safeguard their browsers by installing patches for their browser in a timely manner.

Though I use the Internet, especially Google and its products, I'm in no way knowledgeable on these technical matters. It's for more tech-literate readers to tell us what one should make out of this. Since Google and its products are very popular, the implications of the warning are quite wide.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lost in change

I travel to office by bus daily, and the ticket cost is Rs 7. Mostly I give the correct amount, saving me the trouble of asking the conductor the change and saving him the trouble of giving me the change.

I have found that giving Rs 12 is as good as giving the exact Rs 7, because it gets me back Rs 5 note or coin. It worked well, till one day, when the conductor didn't give me back the expected Rs 5. Instead, he wrote on the ticket Rs 5. (That's a common method conductors adopt to crosscheck when passengers go back to them to get the change.) It took me by surprise; to be fair to him, probably he didn't have any coins.

When the bus reached the destination, I presented the ticket to him, to get my Rs 5 back. He looked into his bag; and took out a Rs 1 coin. No change, sir; he pleaded helplessly. Hard to believe, though. Possible.

I lost Rs 4 in the bargain. Looking back, I thought, if I had not given that Rs 2 along with Rs 10, I would have lost only a maximum of Rs 3! I stopped this practice of voluntarily giving the additional Rs 2, unless the conductor asked for it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Kudos to Supreme Court

Can't help wondering what would the state of our country be if there wasn't the Supreme Court!

Look at how the Supreme Court described the state of the nation in its ruling yesterday while staying today's Tamil Nadu bandh:

  • That's the problem in this country. We have to deal everything with an iron hand in this country. Otherwise things will not work. Every organ, let it be the legislature, executive or judiciary has to deal with an iron hand...
  • We have come to this stage in the country that everything has to be monitored, hammered or directed by courts. Even orders of the supreme court are not observed, what to talk of the high courts. Ninety-nine per cent of the high court orders are not complied...
  • If it is a bandh then it is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. Your own resolution says that the programme on October 1, is intended to ensure complete cessation of all activities, then how can you say it is not a bandh...
  • Where is the public meeting you show us. Your resolution say it is cessation of all activities and work. You want to show your popularity. Why do you want to close all down educational institutions and commercial activities. Where will you then find the people for your meetings...
Today, the Supreme Court took off again when the opposition AIADMK party counsel told the highest court in the land that yesterday's orders weren't being implemented and Tamil Nadu state had virtually shut down.


  • If there is no compliance with our order, it is complete breakdown of constitutional machinery. We will then have to direct the government to impose President's rule... Is this a government. Is this the Tamil Nadu government. Is this the DMK government, a strong ally of UPA government? If this is attitude of the DMK government, the UPA government should not feel shy of dismissing it and imposing President rule.
  • You (counsel for the opposition AIADMK party) can file a contempt petition... What is the government doing when some unions are trying to perpetuate the bandh... The unions are being allowed to strike and the government is not doing anything...
But the most interesting part of it all was what happened today morning. Soon after the Supreme Court's strong words were conveyed to chief minister M Karunanidhi, who was on a hunger strike, left the venue for the secretariat and resumed his work! Other ministers also followed him to their respective offices!