Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Crackdown Commences

Illicit wealth in India has three major forms - cash, gold and real estate. For all these forms, Modi and the Government of India gave people a decent chance to come clean, no strings attached and no questions asked.

Through the land acquisition bill (read more about that here), the Government of India (hereafter referred to as GoI) offered politicians a chance to earn upto 4 times the value of their land AND ensure said land was used for infrastructure and welfare projects. Through the gold monetization scheme, GoI gave hoarders the chance to give up their gold for equivalent value AND earn interest on it. Through the Income Declaration Scheme, GoI offered holders of Illicit cash the chance to come forward and convert it white with no threat of prosecution and just a few financial penalties.

All three of these schemes received not only a muted response but also vociferous opposition. Political parties from NCP in Maharashtra to TMC in West Bengal ganged up against the Central Government. They created a ruckus in parliament, gave moronic statements to the press, halted the functioning of the legislature, sat on dharnas and even colluded with known anti-national entities to portray the Central Government in a bad light. They tried to rake up irrelevant distractions like Modi's suit and make a big hullabaloo about non-issues like castes and reservations. Jats, Patels, Marathas . . . the list of hitherto influential and politically "connected" communities suddenly clubbed with the "aam aadmi" started feeling the pinch. 

Since 2014, I've been watching Modi function and being an "assal operations" guy, I can relate to his efficiency and his result-oriented approach to problem solving. His first priority was building the right team. He did that by cherry-picking people like Parrikar, Swaraj or Prabhu (amongst others). Next was building short-term, mid-term and long-term goals and a comprehensive strategy for execution of those goals. He did that through the formation of NITI Aayog and by providing initial funding to their plans through auctions of readily available resources like spectrum and coal. Then came a strategy to deal with opponents and his method of creating regional satraps is one of those strategies. Waiting to see how that plays out but there's a plan in place and going by the recent bypolls and municipal corporation election results in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, it's definitely working.

With all these building blocks in place, GoI is hitting back against dishonest politicians and criminals who've abused the system for so many years. And how! No more "Mr-Nice-GoI"! Demonetization is just the first nail in the coffin. I'm sure there's more coming. As days go by, I can see dishonest politicians/criminals, nefarious elements of our caste-ridden psyche and other scheming/conniving power-brokers scurrying for cover. And boy am I enjoying the show!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Web Searches from Gnome

Ever since Gnome converted their menu to an activities panel with Gnome 3, I was waiting for the community to integrate web searches directly into the GUI shell. Frustratingly, till Wily Werewolf (Oct 2015), Gnome hasn't done it by default. Given that the internet is the de facto place for people to land on to once they load their operating system, this is a big miss. Truth be told, even Microsoft hasn't been able to convincingly integrate web searches right into the OS, but then again; if we keep comparing Linux distributions to Windows we're not getting anywhere. 

So I finally gave up and started checking out extensions for Gnome; and Hallelulah! There's one developed by awamper which is really nifty. You can download the extension here. Works like a charm. 

If you get an error (in Firefox) as follows - 


just ensure that the Gnome Shell Integration plugin is active. You can check that here (about:addons) - 


Once downloaded and installed (you just need to switch it on in Firefox and it will give you a pop-up asking whether it can download and install the extension), you can activate the tool by pressing CTRL+SPACE. It's that easy! Just type your search and it will open a Gnome panel that will allow you to enter a search string - 



More importantly, the tool allows you to edit your preferences to select a default search engine, add a custom search engine, placement of the helper tool and a few other nifty settings. 



Overall, quite useful. Once you enter a search string, it will automatically open the default search engine with the results of said string. Over the course of the past few days, I've gotten so used to it that I inadvertantly press CTRL+SPACE even in Windows! 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Media Slant


"Unbiased Media" in India is largely a myth. The biggest houses in news and media right now have deep-set political affiliations. These have been built up over the years and it's a racket where the asset being looted is information. News is slanted to the viewpoint of the media house in question and opinions are made, not reported. The rot runs deep. While news channels are basically corporate houses who's content is churned out over an assembly line and is slave to the mechanics of TRPs, print media is very overtly owned by person(s) with political affiliations. Let's take a peek into this dirty laundry - 

if you look at 2015 statistics, the top English dailies are as follows - 
  • Times of India - Keeping aside the fact that ToI news is the equivalent of a burger and fries (food with no serious content), there's no political affiliations of the owning entity of the Times Group. 
  • Indian Express - The current editor-in-chief of the Indian Express is Rajkamal Jha who is Sanjay Jha's cousin. Sanjay Jha is a national spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. 
  • Hindustan Times - Owned by the HT Media Group, whose Chairperson is Shobhana Bhartia. Shobana is a member of the Rajya Sabha nominated by the Congress and is an active party member as well. 

Let's assume that here in Maharashtra, opinion isn't made by English dailies. But the slant doesn't really stop with English dailies. Even Marathi dailies are propaganda tools. Let's take a look in descending order of readership/circulation (as of 2015) - 
  • Lokmat - The current editor-in-chief is Vijay Darda who is a member of the Rajya Sabha nominated by the Congress and is an active party member as well.
  • Sakal - The current editor-in-chief is Shriram Pawar. Need I say more? I don't since I wouldn't want to disappear overnight. 
  • Loksatta - Owned by the Indian Express Group; no overt political affiliations
  • Maharashtra Times - Owned by The Times Group; no overt political affiliations

The plain truth is that media has a slant; whether it be for ideological reasons or for reasons motivated by profit. We need to keep the proverbial pinch of salt handy when we read the news. Take an example of this article titled, "Indian government takes down maximum Facebook posts in the world for law violation". The impression you're going to get is that we've got Big Brother watching over our shoulders and that freedom of information is being throttled by the government. The opening salvo gives that impression too. To quote - 
"The biannual report by Facebook has revealed that Indian government requested the most to take down a post from the social networking website as they were violating Indian laws"
But if you read on, you'll notice that the math doesn't really add up. The news article puts all this information in a very snide way just in case you do decide to dig deeper. You can draw your own inferences but the math doesn't make sense. Firstly, it isn't solely the government which asks for post restrictions but users as well. The relevant Facebook report makes that very clear with a disclaimer in the "Government Requests to Restrict Access to content" section worded as follows - 
We have included instances in which we have removed content that governments have identified as illegal, as well as instances that may have been brought to our attention by non-government entities, such as NGOs, charities, and members of the Facebook community.
In the first half of 2015, India accounted for 15155 restriction requests. With a user base of 125 million as of Jun 15, that's 0.0121% posts restricted per user. Compare that to the United States with 26579 restricted posts across a user base of 151 million which translates to 0.017% restricted posts per user. We're no better or no worse than the "world's leading democracy" (actually a little better). Such a meager difference need not warrant a news article with the striking title and the tags #facebook and #NDAGovernment. That's yellow journalism at its yellowest. In any scenario, we needn't really compare the two countries in the first place. The disclaimer itself renders the data suspect and we need one more level of drill-down to bifurcate actual governmental requests and those from NGOs, private entities and users. Big Brother might just be our own filthy minds who take offense at the drop of a hat rather than the government. 

This is just one example amongst many. Every day we are presented with slanted news that builds an opinion rather than neutral news that presents facts. You either get a circus in the form of television news or you get yellow and/or biased journalism in the form of the print media. It's a scary thought when you consider the fact that public opinion is sometimes made by a select few people with political agendas. The current #intolerancetussle and #beefbans are perfect examples of how media has created issues where there were none.

Only when we realize this charade for what it is and remove ourselves from the circus will we be able to pull ourselves away from this vicious cycle of manufactured prejudices and lazy opinions. It can be done too. Since 2012, I have not read a newspaper at all. It is very rarely that I switch on a news channel. I know their facts are twisted and I know their opinions are worthless. What's the alternative? Digital media. You have so many apps where you can choose your content. Where you don't need to depend on specific sources to get to the bottom of any news. Take for example - news.google.com. It has so many options to customize content and sources. I've completely replaced print media with Google News. You can choose from a host of sources and you can check the authenticity of those sources as well. 

We may as well realize that a completely unbiased opinion is hard to get as well. There's always going to be grey areas and there's always going to be a doubt about the authenticity of a source or the accuracy of a data point. But the fact of the matter is that as educated citizens, we can at-least use technology to force ourselves to search, think and analyze content in order to form a more well-informed opinion than the trash we were/are force-fed all these years before digitization took over. 

It's time to question the source. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Tolerance Tussle

"Intolerance" is the new buzz-word that India has found. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who's got a word in print and has won an accolade for it is running to the press to return his or her award. Oops . . sorry; returning his or her award and then running to the press. To each his own, I say. But when this farce turns inside out and becomes a fad just to grab some limelight, there's bound to be some mirth. The whole #awardwapsi business is so contrived it's almost laughable; if it weren't so lame at the same time. Let's take an objective look at some of the artists who've returned their awards in chronological fashion. 


  • Nayantara Sehgal - The #tolerancetussle started with Sehgal returning her 1986 Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) award that she won for her book "Rich Like Us". What's so strange about this act is that Jawaharlal Nehru's niece didn't think she should have refused the award in the wake of the 1984 riots or any other instance of "intolerance" right from 2002 riots to the 2006 Mumbai bombings. But she did suddenly think that the atmosphere in the country was "increasingly intolerant" as soon as the NDA came to power. Very convenient. 
  • Ashok Vajpeyi - As soon as Sehgal announced her #awardwapsi, Mr Vajpeyi jumped on to the bandwagon. He had won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1994 for his collection of poems "Kahin Nahin Wahin". Another classic case of selective activism. Mr Vajpeyi couldn't refuse the award remembering the Mumbai riots the previous year (January 1993) but remembered the award as soon as he read about the Dadri killings and the Kalburgi murder in 2015. Again, very convenient. A little digging easily reveals his political antecedents. Ashok Vajpeyi was the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture during the Congress regime. He was also the pro-tem chairman (subsequently appointed permanantly) of the Lalit Kala Academy (a government body affiliated to the Ministry of Culture) from 2008 to 2011. He has also served as Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Chairman of the Bharat Bhawan Trust, Trustee for the Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts, a member of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and an executive board member of Sangeet Natak Akademi. He's got Congress antecedents through and through. No surprise then that his morality didn't kick in when he was given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1994. Where was his sense of outrage for all the lives lost in the 1993 riots in Mumbai? Where was his sense of outrage over the innumerable acts of violence perpetrated by the government in Naxal areas? Wasn't India intolerant then?

After this, a bunch of authors went on this limelight-grabbing spree. As of October 2015, as many as 40 writers have returned their awards. The show didn't stop there. Where there's publicity, how can Bollywood be far behind? Towards the end of October 2015, we also had a bunch of film personalities join the #awardwapsi gang. Let's look at this list again in objective fashion - 
  • Saeed Mirza & Co - What can I say? Saeed Mirza is a trustee of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) which is an NGO established in March 2003, as a response to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Get the drift? He's worked with Kundan Shah (also one of the first of the film fraternity to return his award) from way back in 1986 on the hit TV series "Nukkad". 
  • Dibakar Banerjee - Right around the same time, Dibakar Banerjee (quite a young upstart compared to the age-old relics who are the founding members of the #awardwapsi brigade) also announced that he would return the National Film Award "he" won for "Khosla Ka Ghosla". This act was roundly criticized by the producer of the film since the award was for "Best Film" and therefore did not belong to Dibakar to give away. Very conveniently, Dibakar did not mention the award he had actually won for his other movie, "Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye" since it was produced by Walt Disney which is a much bigger production house and would obiously take umbrage at this. 

With film personalities out of the way, we now also have talk of scientists returning their awards. The question that immediately springs to mind is - do they think the public are absolute idiots? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Sikhs were being murdered on the streets of Delhi? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Kashmiri pundits were being slaughtered in the valley between 1989 and 1990? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Mumbai had erupted in flames in 1993?

The ground reality is that India is no more intolerant than it always was. This government is no more and no less intolerant than the collective psyche of the citizens it represents. In point of fact, it is rather more tolerant than previous governments that have ruled our country from the Congress stable. The only difference is that it is not a government of appeasement. It has its priorities right - toilets before temples and governance before goons. Right from the Maharashtra government's ingenious Jalyukt Shivar Yojana to the Modi government's Make in India initiative (and everything in between), Modi's team has its game-face on. It's gunning for a developed India. An India that shall take centre-stage on the global scene. An India that has its sights set on bigger and better things than squabbling amongst it's own divisive units. 

The government's response has been appropriate. It ignored the farce for as long as it could . . and has since taken the very mature route of publishing a booklet that puts the facts straight. The booklet is titled "Know the Truth" and symbolically is published in Hindi as "सच्चाई जानिए". One can download the entire PDF here. An English response (which in essence is a summary of this booklet) can also be accessed here and here

As informed citizens of the digital age, it is important that we be able to parse the Real McCoys from the fraudsters. The #awardwapsi incident is exactly what Arun Jaitley described it to be - a manufactured rebellion. It is time that we recognized it for what it is and threw it to the back-pages of historical insignificance. It is time to talk about development, it is time to talk about the Black Money Bill, about Chhota Rajan, about GST, about Digital India, about Make in India and about Swacch Bharat Abhiyan. It is time to become better citizens. It is time to get to work . . for all of us.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Birthday Bash to Remember


A small cosy crib. Yellow and bright. Blue bedding inside. A small toy kept neatly by the side. This sight greeted us at the very entrance. A small cosy crib where people could abandon their children to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It was neatly done up; and completely macabre.



We were here to celebrate a colleague’s son’s first birthday. People who know me will be surprised since me and birthday parties (especially for kids) don’t really go together. In fact, I avoid them like the plague. But this party’s (if you can call it that) theme was a novel idea and I’d like to first take a moment out to shout out a sincere thanks to my colleague (who wishes to remain incognito) for this sterling message and for allowing me to tag along. Certainly inspired me, and that’s why my wife and I were there accompanying him for this . . . party (for lack of a better word). From what I understand, a 1st birthday bash is a pretty big thing in most households. There’s a party, relatives are called over and there’s a lot of food and events and whatnot. I’ve even known a few parents to go all-out and book a venue for this. Essentially, we’re saying that some kids (or rather; their parents) invite more people to their first birthday than I did to my wedding. Well, that’s besides the point. My colleague wished to do away with this senseless waste of money. His rationale was simple; there’s a lot of inequity going around without us throwing an extravagant bash for an act that was basically an annual recurrence. Do away with it. So he decided to spend an equivalent amount of money and time here at Vatsalya instead of amongst meaningless baubles and a vacant celebration that would teach nothing to the child or the parent.

We entered to the chimes of some “aarti” and an idol of Ganesha right by the main gate. Atheist that I am, I hung back while everybody showed their respects and we moved up the stairs to the office with all the stuff that he’d bought for the children. My colleague started a conversation with the coordinator who was ensuring that a tally was kept of everything that was being handed over. A systematic receipt was given to us detailing all items. Once this was done, we took a short tour. It was perhaps the single-most shocking experience of my life to this point.

We went upstairs to the second storey where the kids stayed. This was segregated by age group. We had a room where a few toddlers were sprawled about, another room right beside that for kids a little younger, and a third for kids who were “differently abled”. The aya there told us the difference and mentioned that these kids are born with a “minor defect” which is why parents abandon them. Their adoption rates are low too since nobody wants a “defective child”. These were the words she used. As if they came off an assembly line. She did this with a wry smile. And with a lump in my throat I moved away. So did Sylvia. We were dumbstruck. Well, the nightmare was just beginning. We went one storey further up and were greeted by a crib with a life-support system hung by its side and a really tiny baby sleeping away to kingdom come. I didn’t dare enquire what had happened but the aya pressed on regardless. This baby was abandoned at the Vatsalya doorsteps in the first week of her life. She had a congenital heart defect and things were grim. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where someone would do that. But from what I gathered, it was quite common. I’d had enough. The lump in my throat was joined by a knot in my stomach and I moved away. My wife was close to tears. She’s a sensitive soul and this was not what we’d expected. Nor had we been prepared for this. My colleague had done this before and all he could offer was a sympathetic nod and an assent for our request to go back down. 

Downstairs we were joined by Mr Srikant Joshi who ran us through the gamut of activities that Vatsalya is involved in. For more information, anybody can take a gander of their website at www.vatsalyatrustmumbai.org. To quote their own website, “Vatsalya Trust, Mumbai was born on 8th February 1983. The founders were Smt. Sanjivani Raykar, Late Dr. Shivram Athavale, Shri. G.A Damle and few others who felt a need for starting a charitable organization dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of destitute children. ‘Vatsalya' a Sanskrit word meaning affection was considered appropriate for naming the proposed Charitable Trust.”. The main thrust of their activities revolve around the following three pillars - 

  • Taking care of destitute and abandoned orphans
  • Promoting and facilitating their adoption
  • Teaching them self-sustenance by making them employable

Inequity . . . that’s what it all boils down to. On one hand we have children so privileged that they get driven to school in chauffeur-driven cars and a bevy of household help for every whim and fancy. On the other hand we have children who are abandoned as soon as they come into existence. They have no clue who their progenitor is and they have no support system to face the travails of existence with. Let’s take for example a small initiative started by Vatsalya - “Infant Financial Adoption Scheme”. People donate INR 4000.00 to Vatsalya under this scheme. This amount is used for furnishing the expense of milk provided to one infant for the duration of one year. Let’s look at this amount from two perspectives. In our daily lives, we don’t think twice about spending this amount, though we don’t realise it. Let’s take the classic example of a movie and a dinner date with one’s partner.

Expense
Amount
Dinner @ Mainland China
₹1,800.00
Movie @ Cinepolis
₹800.00
Popcorn/Coffee @ Cinepolis
₹350.00
Drive to Queen's necklace and back
₹400.00
Dessert @ Badshah
₹300.00
Total
₹3,650.00

Just a normal dinner date with the wife. Something we do at-least once a month. A dinner date that costs almost the same amount of money that would provide nourishment to a child for an entire year. Let’s take another example. Vatsalya also has a scheme to sponsor the financial education of one child for one year. People donate INR 4500.00. and this takes care of the basic education fees and critical essentials for one girl child. Let’s compare that with a short weekend trip that we take at-least once a quarter.

Expense
Amount
Accommodation around Mumbai
₹4000.00
Petrol and/or transport
₹2000.00
Food and drinks
₹3000.00
Total
₹9000.00

Whether it be Lonavala or Igatpuri or any other weekend destination around Mumbai; 9000 bucks about covers the trip for two people. That would sponsor two children’s education expenses for a year. One weekend we spend amongst the mountains in a leisurely resort would provide education for a year to two children. I let that calculation sink in when I did it first. I do both these things without thinking. Movie-dates, weekend-excursions, drives, the works. I do it without a second thought. And therein lies the rub of the problem. 

It was a day that was spent in a haze. After we came downstairs and after we had a chat with the coordinator; I don’t remember too much till we got home. It was all kind of a daze. Thoughts tumbling on top of other thoughts. Call it a healthy dose of reality, or a slap in the face for us as a society; but there’s definitely something wrong about our modus operandi as a society. We create circumstances where parents have to abandon their child and we also create circumstances where we hinder their adoption and subsequent assimilation back into society. We force them into destitution and we keep them there. We give them life and we callously take it away. 

We don’t know how to solve this problem immediately. But we can definitely support and appreciate the efforts that people like my incognito colleague and the Vatsalya team put in to ease this inequity in some small way. 

Hat’s off.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Am I a Seeder or a Leecher?

Sometimes, small things, incidents or discussions in your daily routine can take on a bigger and more profound dimension. Call them one of those "Aha" moments when you re-think or deep-dive into a lot of the things you'd never really thought about before and you introspect upon your actions to come to a small (or big) epiphany. Such a thing happened (and is still happening of course) to me recently when I was discussing something as mundane as downloading torrents. I was having this discussion with a colleague (as crazy and off the rocker as me) about the technology of peer-to-peer file sharing using the torrent protocol. We were talking download speeds, share ratios and how good a download rate one would get if a particular torrent had a good share ratio.  For the benefit of people who don't use torrents, here's a bit of a primer on the concept being discussed (and for my own convenience, I'm going to use a lot of wiki here)

What is a torrent?A torrent (or a BitTorrent as the original terminology goes) is a protocol for the practice of file sharing that is used to distribute large amounts of data over the internet. BitTorrent is one of the most common protocols for transferring large files, and peer-to-peer networks have been estimated to collectively account for approximately 43% to 70% of all Internet traffic (depending on geographical location) as of February 2009. In November 2004, BitTorrent was responsible for 35% of all Internet traffic. As of February 2013, BitTorrent was responsible for 3.35% of all worldwide bandwidth, more than half of the 6% of total bandwidth dedicated to file sharing. Well, all good so far. But the next question is -
How does it work? To send or receive files the user must have a torrent client; a computer program that implements the BitTorrent protocol. Some popular BitTorrent clients include uTorrent, Xunlei, Transmission, Vuze or the official BitTorrent. A user must also have enough hard disk space to save whatever is being downloaded or uploaded and a working internet connection. A typical user downloads the software (let's say uTorrent), installs it on his hard drive and is then ready to download stuff off the internet. All he or she then has to do is search for what they're downloading, find a torrent, download the torrent file (it's a small file which has a .torrent extension) from a million torrent search engines like torrentz.com, open this torrent file using aforementioned uTorrent and they're good to go! Here's a small infographic that explains the principle behind this -


The colorful dots beneath each computer in the animation represent different parts of the file being shared. By the time a copy to a destination computer of each of those parts completes, a copy to another destination computer of that part (or other parts) is already taking place between users. The tracker (server) provides only a single copy of the file, and all the users clone its parts from one another.

The dynamics of a good download - Now comes the interesting part. People who download a lot of stuff from torrents know that the higher the number of seeders, the faster one can download stuff. If leechers outnumber seeders, the download rate goes down. We know this. We consciously select torrents with a high number of seeders and ignore or are wary of any torrent that has a higher number of leechers. But why is that?

A seed refers to a machine possessing some part of the data. A peer or downloader becomes a seed when it starts uploading the already downloaded content for other peers to download from. This includes any peer possessing 100% of the data. When a downloader starts uploading content, the peer becomes a seed. On the other hand, leechers are just downloading content. Basically, a peer or any client that does not have 100% of the data. The term leech also refers to a peer(s) that has a negative effect on the swarm by having a very poor share ratio, downloading much more than they upload. To put it in a nutshell, peers can either be seeders or leechers. Seeders are good, leechers are bad. 

Now comes the interesting part of our discussion. Both of us agreed that as end-users of this technology we're more leechers than seeders. In this cut-throat world of limited bandwidth where every kilobyte is paid for, we can't afford to seed! Or can we? Then we started generalizing the concept of peer-to-peer sharing - and that's where the first phase of our "epiphany" (for lack of a better word) hit us. Am I a seeder or a leecher? Do I just download stuff or do I give back content to the community when I'm done downloading?

Phase 1 of this epiphany is the digital world. Take the example of something as mundane as the Google Play Store. We all download apps and use them. Before downloading, we check the rating. Anything above 4 is good. We then check user comments and reviews. If most users are satisfied with the app, we download the app and forget about Play Store till we need another app. Classic leecher behaviour. On the other hand, the seeders amongst us use apps, rate them and the best of us review them with helpful comments. That way, the community gets more information about the app. What would happen if Play Store ratings remained blank? What would happen if there were no reviews? We'd have to go by the app developer's word for what a product is and can be. And boy, do we know how reliable that is! Take the example of a million other such communities. The Zomato community, the Maps community, the Goodreads community, the Facebook community, the Google users community and to scale up all these communities; the digital community at large. This world is built upon seeders. Those who share rather than hoard. Those who help rather than leech. And our small epiphany that day was to begin our transformation from being a seeder to a leecher in the digital world. By the end of this month, I plan to review (rate at the very least) each app I use. A more mid-term resolution is to participate more in the communities I'm a part of. Comment on a news article, write more on topics of general interest, edit Wikipedia entries when I know better, suggest feedback on apps I use, edit incorrect maps to suggest improvements and be a more active user. 

And then followed the larger realization of carrying this same principles forward into the physical world. Am I a seeder or am I a leecher? Do I just expect help from others but not help in return? Do I expect civic sense from others but can't exhibit it myself? Do I take or do I share? Do I hoard information just for personal betterment or do I share it freely with others? That is the question. As a human being, am I a seeder or am I a leecher?

Phase 2 is real life. Here the epiphany takes on bigger and more disturbing dimensions. Every resource is finite. Fuel, water, food, land; even knowledge and information. We can either take from the common pool, we can share with the common pool or we can add to the common pool. For every resource in our life, we can either seed or leech. 

Take the example of Turing Pharma that's currently in the news. Daraprim is a standard drug that is prescribed to AIDS patients to tackle a specific parasitic infection. It's been around for 60-odd years and has been priced (as of 2015) at USD 13.50 a tablet. Turing Pharma (a start-up that's been managed by an ex fund manager named Martin Shkreli) acquired the rights to this medicine sometime in September (this month). Overnight, the company jacked up the retail price to USD 750 per tablet! That's a 5455% increase . . overnight! Classic leecher behaviour. It's not enough to earn profits. Turing wants to cash in on a necessity and take advantage of it. Earning profits isn't bad at all. You can earn profits and still help people. That's seeding. But what Turing Pharma has done is the typical behaviour of a leecher. They want to take money from the community (leech) without giving anything back. They want exorbitant profits out of a necessity. Classic leeches. 

Unfortunately, I'm a leecher most of the time. Most of us are. We expect but not give. We want bigger houses for ourselves and our families, we want bigger cars, more money, a better lifestyle for ourselves and for our near and dear ones. Classic leecher behaviour. On the other hand, the seeders amongst us make sure that resources are shared with others, and the best amongst us go out of their way to ensure that inequity is corrected in the distribution of resources in their own spheres of influence. Take the example of a mundane resource like knowledge. What would happen if there were no teachers (the best seeders of all). Where would we be? We would have to learn for ourselves from books and the internet. But if there were no seeders, would books be written? If there were no seeders of knowledge, would there be self-learning tools on the internet? A horrible scenario isn’t it? We can pick a resource at will and find seeders and leechers amongst the users of that resource. Money, land, water, food, knowledge, influence, power . . you name it and you’ll find seeders and leechers for all of these. 

And that brings me to the question that faces each one of us in our lives. The question that should form the basis of all our interactions with other people. The question that we should keep foremost in our mind when deciding on a course of action that has an impact on people around us. The question that shall define our psyche as a culture, as a community, as a nation and as a specie . . . Am I a seeder or a leecher?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Tribute to Women . . And a salute to Furiosa

"Mad Max: Fury Road" released this year is a reboot of the original Mad Max franchisee released back in 1979. The original starred Mel Gibson and was directed by George Miller. This one stars Tom Hardy, who reprises the role of Max; and is also directed by George Miller. Keeping aside the fact that it is an extravagent treat for the senses, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Fury Road isn't about Max at all. The movie is about Furiosa . . and her sidekick Max. It is an inherently feminist movie and the protagonist is not the male lead. Charlize Theron's character steals the limelight right from her entrance in the movie to the blood-thumping, pulsating background score titled "Redemption" which is what Furiosa is searching for through the movie. Furiosa isn't the typical version of beauty we normally see, and the stand-out fact is that Furiosa represents the right version of feminism that we need today. Take a gander - 


Not exactly a pin-up is she? No lovely curves like the absolutely sickening Game of Thrones characters (not very clear on names since I don't follow the mess). No bells and whistles like the long-suffering wives on countless soap operas millions of women across the world sit glued to their tellys for. She's Furiosa. She is what she is. Take it or leave it. One-armed protector for Immortan Joe's escaped breeders. Far cry from Deepika Padukone's "My Choice" video where she glimmers on screen in pretty, wavy hair and talks of having sex outside marriage. You won't consider that as even a relevant issue when you think of a character like Furiosa; she's got better and bigger things to worry about. She's actually trying to help the breeder's escape to the Land of the Many Mothers (again a very feminist concept) and help them start a new life where their children will not be warlords. Far cry from Deepika's simpering take on a pseudo-feminism that most women in India wouldn't even relate to. 

Mad Max is set in a dystopian future where critical resources like water, oil, arms etc are hoarded by warlords who have their castle and their armies to protect whatever they're hoarding. Immortan Joe controls all the water and calls it Aqua-Cola. He has an army of crazy Jihadis called "The Half-Life" who think dying in battle will take them to Valhalla (their version of heaven). Immortan's sole use for women is for breeding his progeny. He has a harem of beauties whom he calls his breeders. He uses them just for impregnation and treats them like his propety. His sole purpose for this harem is to give him male progeny so that his lineage will be carried on. The premise is disgusting but all too real (as history has taught us right from Genghis Khan who has fathered a genetically distinct generation to the comical Laloo Yadav with his 11 children). The movie in itself is a surreal take on an inevitable global melt-down, but let's not go there for now. Imperator Furiosa is shown as a critical cog in Immortan's army. He sends her on a mission to acquire bullets and gasoline from another warlord in exchange for his water. Coming to the plot, the movie is all Furiosa. Right from Max's entry; we see his concern as a very primal and selfish one. He's all about surviving without caring two hoots for anybody else. Furiosa is all about the bigger picture. She's trying her best to get the breeders to safety so they can start a new life. She's fighting for womankind, Max is just trying to save his own skin. Even amongst the half-life, she commands respect. Her team obeys her unquestioningly even when she leads them into a detour and an obvious ambush. Furiosa is the better fighter (it takes both Max and the half-life to subdue the one-armed Furiosa), she's the better shot (there's a scene to that effect), she's the one searching for redemption and she's the one who kills Immortan Joe with a chilling "Remember Me" as her parting shot. The climax of the movie when she saves Max from being run over while at the same time driving the war-rig after being stabbed with a knife and manages to save herself, Max and the breeders is basically the role of the protagonist and none lesser. Max is the sidekick. Fury Road is all Furiosa. Fighter, Mother . . Woman. 

It is very refreshing to see this kind of feminism being portrayed on-screen. To my mind, Furiosa is the epitome of all that is best in womankind. She doesn't conform to the norm when it comes to female beauty, she is trying to prove a point when she helps the breeders escape, she's uber-capable and at the same time sensitive to human emotions, she's ruthless and at the same time fair (she allows Max to drink water before she goes all heavy-handed on him in one scene) and she's got the larger picture in mind, she doesn't need Max . . he needs her. 

To all the Furiosas in my life - a salute from this sidekick Max.