Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Usher in new ideas, and accept them

Everything around us is changing at a fast pace. Forget 50 years ago, even 20 to 30 years ago, the world was so different.

While technology has made our lives easier, there are plenty of depressing things happening. There is no end to violence and killings; there are many instances of financial deceits; and physical intimidation, covert and overt. There is a lot of suffering and pain undergone by people, because they have been wronged.

In such a situation, it's only natural that many of us could be despondent; depressed with the new ways of the world, as it were. To pull our spirits up, we need to cut through this negativity; and keep reminding ourselves the good old phrase: 'Every cloud has a silver lining'.

The 50+ age group

Though pessimistic and cynical people can be found in any age group, there are many in the above-50 age bracket, for the simple reason that they have a long past to feel good about. There are many old people who keep saying, "In those days .... ", or "When we were young ... " The subtle hint in those statements is: "The past was better than the present."

I have also heard some old people making comments such as: “Look at this generation, How disorganised and careless they are. Moral standards and value systems have taken such a beating ...” These are people who find it hard to adjust to the different value systems of the younger generation.

About a month ago, some of us friends were having a discussion on how bright, smart and enthusiastic youngsters are today; and also on some of the successful startups (from Facebook to some lesser known ones) that are headed by young people. Then an old person amongst us, in his late sixties, made a comment that was very sarcastic, belittling the youngsters.

He said, “We struggled so hard for years together to reach the positions that youngsters are enjoying today without much effort." His complaint seemed to be: “I had to suffer so much, but these kids are having it so easy.” (But the fact is that youngsters are also putting in a lot of effort to be successful.)

Needless to say, such an attitude is not encouraging at all. Actually, it reeks so much of negativity.

Need to stay positive

I am not saying that everyone who is above 50 is low-spirited. There are so many people in that age bracket who are so cheerful and brimming over with positivity. They have so much of hope and trust in the youngsters.

One example of this was the gentleman whom I saw in the metro train recently. I blogged about him  last week.

There might be downsides, but in many ways, today's world is far better than what it was in the past. The youngsters may have different value systems and priorities. It might not be always possible to relate to the new dynamics. It might be also difficult to agree with everything that youngsters say and believe in. But that doesn't mean, all of us are hurtling towards disaster.

Change is inevitable

I think we should give space to the new ways of thinking, and new models of working and lifestyle. Afterall, as someone once said, 'the only permanent feature is change'.

Let us also not forget that when we were younger, our way of thinking was different from that of our parents' generation. So, it is only natural that the norm today is different from what it was many years ago.

As Alfred Tennyson wrote in Idylls of the King, "Old order changeth yielding place to the new."

Let us accept and embrace change.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Karnataka election - a contest that no political party won

(This post has multiple updates at the end, added on May 16, 17, 18, 19)

In any democracy, the most exciting part is the elections, and the announcement of the results.

Virtually the whole of yesterday, I spent tracking – on television and social media – the results of the election to the State Assembly in my State, Karnataka.

Most of the exit polls on the day of polling, on May 12, had predicted a hung Assembly (a House in which no single party gets a majority). And true to that, the election produced no winner yesterday.

The BJP, which was steadily picking up seats at the start of counting, finally stopped its march at 104 (112 is what the winner should get). Its tally however had improved substantially from 40, what it had got in the previous election five years ago.

The Congress, the party of the outgoing government, ended up in the 2nd place, with its tally down from 122 to 78.

The JD(S), a local party, came in third, with its tally down by two: 38 this time, against 40 five years ago.

Instability ahead

Elections around the world throw up such verdicts. And, what follows is usually a period when parties try to strike deals with one another to cobble the required numbers. (Just to cite a recent example, Germany got a government only last month, six months after elections.)

Here in Karnataka, there is a very interesting situation.

In the seats tally, the top spot is for the BJP which doesn't have the majority: they are 8 short. But the No 2 and the No 3 combined (an alliance that was formed by two parties that were opposing each other till yesterday) have a majority.

Why this is controversial

In such situations, it is not very clear in India's Constitution, whether the governor (the head of state) should call the single largest party or the single largest coalition (that too a post-poll alliance in this case) to explore the possibility of forming a government.

If the alliance was a pre-poll one, there would have been no controversy. The alliance would have emerged winner and formed the government.

If one were to look at precedents, there have been cases of both.

Those who are interested can read the following links:

Karnataka election results: For governor, no scripted path, only precedents and conventions (Hindustan Times)

With no clear rules for Governors in hung verdict, BJP & Congress cite precedents that suit them best (The Economic Times)

Karnataka election results: It's now over to governor's 'subjective judgment' (The Times of India)

Anyway, the quick alliance between two parties (the Congress and the JDS) that were till yesterday hurling barbs against each other, generated lots of mirth, with memes and jokes flooding social media platforms.

Who should be invited

Someone has to be invited to form a government. Right now, both the BJP (the winner) and alliance of Congress and JDS (the runners-up) are staking claim to form the government.

Logically looking at it, the mandate evidently was for the BJP. And my personal opinion is that it must be given the first shot at forming a viable government, and given not more than two days to prove their numbers in the Assembly.

If they fail, the let the post-poll coalition can be given the chance, and given not more than two days to prove their strength. This looks the most fair way.

Though the runners-up seem to have the numbers, as they claim, my objection to them being called in first is: one, they didn't contest polls jointly. So, their alliance, in order to claim the mandate, is not fair. Two, going by the sheer number of seats Congress and JDS got, they are way behind the BJP.

Update

2130 hours: Governor invites BJP's Legislative Leader B S Yeddyurappa to form a government; and gives him 15 days to prove majority in the Assembly. Swearing in tomorrow at 9 am.

That is too long a time. If not two days, which I think is ideal, it shouldn't have been more than five or seven days.

2200 hours: The Congress has approached Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Deepak Misra to hold an urgent hearing in the night and cancel tomorrow's swearing-in.

2300 hours: Supreme Court admits Congress and JDS petitions.

May 17

0015 hours: Chief Justice decides that a three-judge bench will hear the petitions at 1.45 am. Only once before the Supreme Court has had such a midnight hearing: on a petition challenging the death sentence to Yakhub Memon.

0200 hours: Supreme Court begins hearing the case.

0400 hours: It's two hours. Arguments still on.

0430 hours: Supreme Court says it is not inclined to stay the swearing in of the new government. But arguments on other aspects raised by the petitions are still on. The court says that its observation is subject to the outcome of the petition. Which means, the swearing-in is only an interim measure.

0900 hours: Yeddyurappa sworn in as chief minister. No ministers. Opposition Congress and JDS are protesting outside the Vidhana Soudha (the central government office complex).

May 18

1130 hours: Supreme Court resumed the hearing, from where it left off in the wee hours of yesterday. It ordered the day-old Chief Minister Yeddyurappa to prove his majority in the Assembly at 4 pm tomorrow.
Now speculation as to how he and his party, which has only 104 lawmakers, will cobble the magic figure of 112.

1600 hours: Now a fresh controversy. The governor, Vajubhai Vala (who is a political appointee of the federal government, which is ruled by the BJP) appointed a lawmaker of BJP, K G Boppaiah as pro tem Speaker. By convention the government recommends the seniormost lawmaker to the governor to be appointed as the pro tem Speaker, who will conduct the initial process of constituting the new Assembly, administering the oath to the new lawmakers etc.
But the controversy is that the the long-standing convention of having the senior-most lawmaker as the pro tem Speaker. Now Congress-JDS is objecting to it, on two counts. One, that Boppaiah was partisan towards BJP once when he was the pro tem Speaker. Two, many senior MLAs were bypassed. They are even planning to move the Supreme Court.

2000 hours: The Supreme Court says that the petition challenging the appointment of Boppaiah as the pro tem speaker will be taken up for hearing tomorrow at 10.30 am.

May 19

1145 hours: The Supreme Court dismissed the Congress-JDS plea against Boppaiah. The court said, one, there have been instances in the past of lawmakers, not the senior-most, being appointed as the pro tem speaker. Two, if the petitioner wants Boppaiah's suitability to be considered then he too will have to be issued notice, and the assembly session and trust vote will have to be postponed, which the court implicitly wasn't in favour of.

1430 hours:  Rumours flying thick and fast that Yeddyurappa is considering resigning after making a speech, since he hasn't been able to cobble up the required number. There was no provision for making a speech in the original agenda. But it looks like that it's been made.

1630 hours: Yeddyurappa makes an emotional speech, saying till his last breath he would fight for the welfare of the people of the state; and that he and his party will come back with big majority next time round. And, he says that he is tending his resignation.
One chapter in the whole saga has now ended.

2000 hours: H D Kumaraswamy invited to form the government. The day of swearing in still not known.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A rare act of kindness

The other day I was in the metro train, travelling to my work place.

At one station, a young man, dressed in formal wear, might be in his mid-twenties, ran in, and managed to board the train just before the door closed. The train wasn't crowded, but there were no vacant seats. He stood in front of where I was sitting.

He was breathing rather heavily, indicating that he might have been walking briskly, and had run up the escalator. Obviously, it looked like he was rushing to some place, on some urgent business, and didn't have time to wait ten minutes for the next train.

Then, a very strange spectacle unfolded before my eyes.

An elderly man, who was sitting beside me, and probably in his early 60s, got up, and vacated the seat for the young man. Gesturing him to take the seat, the elderly man told the young man: "Please sit down. You need some rest."

The young man, was taken by surprise, and didn't seem to understand what the elderly man was saying. Quite natural. People vacating seat for someone itself is rare. And rarer still is an elderly man vacating seat for a young man.

Once he understood, the young man said with a smile, "Thank you.. But, no sir ... You please sit." He then placed his right hand on the shoulder of the elderly man and nudged him gently to sit down. Like me, he too must have been wondering, why this elderly man was vacating his seat for him.

By now, this unusual incident had caught the attention of a few other passengers too, who were all curiously looking at the two men, each seemingly trying to be more polite than the other.

Then came a surprise.

The elderly man said, calmly but firmly, in a manner that was measured, and quite laden with a sort of wisdom that only years of lessons in life would give anyone.

"Listen, young man, I appreciate your respect for me. There was a time when I worked like you, running from place to place... Now my time is over. It's your turn now ... Please sit, and relax, so that you regain energy for your work... Good luck, and do well."

I couldn't believe what was happening.

The elderly man slowly moved away from the seat, turned, and gently nudged the young man towards the seat, almost forcing him to sit down.

"Please, please, sit ... I will be getting off at the station after the next one. It's fine ..." He smiled, and a look of total contentment seemed to illuminate his face.

The young man had clearly been outdone; didn't know what to say, and sat down in the place the elderly man had vacated. He looked up at the elderly man, and brought his palms together in a gesture of reverence, and just said, "Thank you, sir."

The train was approaching the next station, where I had to get off. I got up and moved to the exit.

That elderly man's gesture and profound words will never fade from my memory.

I have no clue who that elderly man was.

But surely, he is a very rare human being.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Gadfly CitiHub -- Know your elected representatives and connect with them

This post will be of particular interest to readers in the US and Canada, besides India.

It's about an app called Gadfly CitiHub, which is available on iOS as well as Android, developed by a startup based in Delhi called Wabi Tech.

What you can do with with the app

  • When you switch on the app, it automatically detects your location and tells you, who your elected representatives in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of national Parliament), State Assembly and the local city municipal corporation are, along with their details. 
  • You can change location manually to find out who the representatives are for other places as well. 
  • You can contact them via phone, SMS, email or any other medium they are on.   
  • The app gives the social media feed of the elected representatives and also the feed of the news articles in which they figure.

Why this app

  • The founder of the company Nikhil Bapna decided to develop this app because he felt in India it is very difficult to not only easily find out who your elected representatives are, but also contact them to convey any information or views regarding governance issues or feedback.
  • The app is available in India, the US and Canada. The information regarding elected representatives in the US and Canada are still being updated.

Related links

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Blogging From A to Z Challenge - Reflections

I have always believed that blogging is a far better platform to connect with other people, compared to social media. The reason is you bond over topics of similar interest.

On the contrary, on Facebook-like media, it's mostly photos and videos, and random thoughts that are too shallow and bereft of any context or detail. The connections you make over blogs are, therefore, much more substantial.

Many years ago, I was more active on my blog; and via blogs, I made quite a few friends as well. We even had a few bloggers get-together in Bengaluru. I am touch with some of them still.

Though I have been blogging for so many years, I have never taken part in any blogathon or blogging challenge. The only reason was that my hectic work schedule left me just enough to blog once a while. Blogging got relegated in my daily priority list.

The turning point

Needless to say, the itch to blog and blog-hop was getting more and more severe; and I began going back to my good old days of giving more time to blogging and blog-hopping.

Just then, I stumbled on a post of JaishWrites about the 'Blogging A to Z Challenge'. I checked the website. The whole concept of blogging on 26 topics, one for each alphabet, through the month of April, sounded absolutely cool, and I just fell for it. I lost no time in registering for it. I didn't choose a theme, because I didn't want to restrict myself.

With some difficulty, I blogged every single day, and also checked other blogs. I am happy that I did find quite a few blogs of interest. I am yet to fully go through the Master List of participants of this challenge. And I am sure, I will stumble on a few more blogs that I like. Please wait for a post at a later date on my favourite blogs.

How did I choose what to write each day

  • I wanted the topic to be different, not something that was obvious.
  • It was not enough that it was an unusual topic. It should be something I can related to.
  • It should be something on which I can write easily. There wasn't enough time each day to research either.
  • I kept thinking almost through the month on different topics. I wrote on a paper some of them, so that I didn't forget.
  • I selected the best among them.
  • The links to each of the posts can be found here.

What I enjoyed the most

  • Undoubtedly, the sheer of process of thinking of a topic, conceiving the post, writing, editing and publishing it. Two posts I scheduled in advance. Two (on a weekend) I wrote the next day (on Sunday), and pre-dated them, I must confess.
  • Blog-hopping is always good fun, stumbling on interesting posts, that we either just enjoy reading or stir our thoughts. Jotting down comments, reading the reply from blogger.
  • It is so nice to see many blogger dropping by my blog, reading my post and leaving their comments.

What I wish I could do better

  • I wish I had fewer other (official and personal) commitments, so I had more time to blog.
  • I wish I could beautify my posts with photos.
  • I wish I could visit more blogs than I actually did.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Machines, prostheses, implants and transhumanism

Today at 4.35 pm, BBC World Service Radio had a good programme on Transhumanism -- a theory that the human body could evolve, not biologically, but with the use of science and technology -- a field of research that has been increasingly in focus over the last two decades or so.

As you can imagine, it is quite a controversial subject. But there are supporters of that theory, who believe that human race is still in the process of evolution, and probably, the next phase could be when we can digitally or technologically enhance our capabilities.

There is considerable research going on this area. There are people who are doing surgery on themselves to embed chips and other electronic devices into their body. (They are doing it themselves because doctors aren't allowed to do such bizarre stuff which are not scientifically or medically approved.)

Six years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Prof Kevin Warwick, who is widely recognised as the first cyborg (a person who has artificial parts within his body), who got a chip implanted in his arm and has been conducting experiments on himself.

These are a bit extreme. But if you think of it, our dependence on machines has significantly gone up and the human element is reducing. Take for example, this simple act I am right now doing -- keying in this text on my laptop. Earlier, I would have done it on a paper in my own handwriting. There are many more examples in our daily lives.

Medically, many people go in for implants that set right a physical problem and help us perform in a normal manner. For example, prosthesis, especially limbs. Then there are dental implants and stents in the heart. If a person is not able to swallow and eat in the normal manner, a pipe is inserted through the nose right up to the stomach (Ryle's Tube) and he is fed liquid diet. Tracheostomy is a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck to allow air to enter the lungs directly. Dialysis is another example, wherein the function of the kidney is performed by a machine.

So, we are already making use of machines and implants to enhance our lifespan.

Now the question is: even if there is nothing wrong with our normal body, should we take the aid of implants to further our human capabilities. Like how about having another pair of limbs so that we can work more efficiently? Can we have eyes in the back, so that we can see what is behind as well? Or a chip in our body so that we can directly detect infrared and ultraviolet radiations?

Already, we are into an era where automation is being more and more intelligently done, and machines are intelligently assisting us in our daily chores. When you give a search for Katrina, Google knows whether you are referring to the hurricane or the Bollywood actress. The autocorrect in word processors is able to make alterations correctly depending upon the context.

I think our dependence on machines, automation and implants will only increase further. Just like I have a choice to write with the pen or type on a laptop, we will soon many many more such options. Of course, the choice will be ours.

Will human race evolve in that direction? I will not be surprised if it does.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Zero - the omnipotent nought

It is tempting to look at this circular figure as hollow, signifying nothing. But look deeper, and you see it is extremely powerful.

Add more of it to an integer and the value increases ten-fold. (2, 20, 200)

Place one or many of them in the middle of a number, and the value changes depending on where you have placed and how many you have placed. (11, 101, 1001, 10101)

Indeed, its power comes from where it is. Add any number of zeros after the decimal point, and it just means nothing.

Though so powerful, it's very diplomatic and neutral too: right in the centre of the number line, neither negative nor positive. (-1, 0, +1)

For that reason, it's a good point to start over, if you have lost track, by resetting to the centre point. Think of the weighing machine.

So diplomatic, it will not be party to any situation where you have to divide something. No, you can't divide a number by zero.

At the same time, you try to raise any number to the power of zero, and you always get just one.

(This is the last post in the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018" series. It was good fun thinking of a word and blogging on it everyday. Looking forward to next year's challenge.  To read the posts on each day of this month, there is link to them on the top of this page.)