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 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.

Dinner @ Mainland China
Movie @ Cinepolis
Popcorn/Coffee @ Cinepolis
Drive to Queen's necklace and back
Dessert @ Badshah

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.

Accommodation around Mumbai
Petrol and/or transport
Food and drinks

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, 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Breaking the Myth - Windows is User-Friendly

Got myself a new machine recently. Had FreeDOS out of the box so it was up to me to get it up and running; the way I like it. I chose Windows 10 Insider Preview version and the latest Ubuntu 15.04 (Vivid Vervet) distribution for my dual-boot configuration. Let's just say that Windows 10 is still WIP - and how! But that's not the point. Even if I was using Windows 7 or 8, I still feel that the mantle of user-friendliness need not sit with Microsoft any longer. Here's a few quick points of comparison. 

  • First off - install size and system requirements. The Ubuntu bootable USB is under 1GB whereas any Windows installation is 3.7GB. You can run Ubuntu without a lag on a machine with under 1GB RAM. But try that with Windows and you'll be pulling your hair with frustration. 
  • Right out of the box - It's time for someone to say it. Nothing works out of the box for Windows anymore. It just doesn't. I had to install display drivers to get a decent workable resolution, audio drivers to ensure sound was setup and ethernet drivers. Thankfully, Win8 drivers worked for Win10 as well. On the other end of the spectrum, everything worked out-of-the-box for Ubuntu. Didn't have to install anything other than the OS. 
  • Ease of Setup - Here too, there's no major difference left between Ubuntu and Windows. In fact, if I didn't  have to partition my hard-drive, I think the Ubuntu installation was as easy. As far as install-time goes, Ubuntu installed and was set up in under an hour while I took an hour and thirty minutes for Windows to get installed. 
  • User-Friendliness - I belong to the "habit-is-user-friendliness" school of thought. If you use an OS long enough, it gets "user friendly". It's a very natural cognitive bias we all have; that familiar things are better than unfamiliar things. Hence we give them a label of user-friendliness. But consider the facts. Ubuntu comes with little features that are really useful. An example is the "disable-touchpad-when-typing" feature. It essentially locks the keypad when you are typing. On my Windows 8 machine, there have been soooo many times that my cursor has moved accidentally when typing and I've had to redo the whole thing. Ubuntu/Linux has always had multiple deskops while Windows is just coming up with Workspaces. The Linux community with GNOME was much faster to experiment with a "Panel" whereas Microsoft adapted it in Windows 8. I do have a lot more examples, but the point is that there's no significant difference between either OS when it comes to user-friendliness. In fact, now that I am used to Ubuntu GNOME, I prefer it to the Windows interface. My mouse automatically moves to the upper-right corner of the desktop even on my Windows machine to get the GNOME panel to pop-up (does that without a click btw)! 
  • App Installations - This is where it gets a tad tricky. If I have a tarball or a package that I need to manually install; well, Linux gets messy. But if I've got the app available in the Ubuntu Software Centre, it's a breeze. In fact, it's easier than Windows. I just go to the product website, gives me a 1-click install option, I click on it, it opens the Ubuntu Software Centre automatically, I accept installation request, enter my credentials and it just sets up the software. As easy as falling off a log.

In summary, I must say that Ubuntu and the Linux community have bridged the gap between Microsoft and open source linux distributions fast and well. No longer can we say that Windows is more user-friendly. Not at all. In fact, as a user; I wouldn't use Windows if I had a viable alternative for Microsoft Office. The day is not far when the open source community cracks that problem too. 

In anticipation for that day, I'm starting off with Google Docs just in case. :-)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Takes a little bit of crazy to make a difference . .

I recently acted as driver, PA, helper, coolie and general admin-boy for Ramashish Joshi (my mama) on one of his excursions to the innards of Konkan. He was on a tight itinerary covering the village of Harihareshwar and surrounding hamlets espousing the cause of the newly setup Government of India's biodiversity committee plan to various gram panchayats (village councils). To give you a brief introduction, Ramashish Joshi works with Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (An organization engaged in conservation of marine turtle, whitebellied sea eagle, vulture, Indian swiftlet and other birds in the Konkan region). He is also involved in various other activities of a socially collaborative nature in Chiplun, Maharashtra and is active in ecological conservation activities throughout the Western Ghats and Konkan region. 

On that trip, as mama stretched our (I was accompanied by my wife who stood up to the challenge as well) physical endurance to it's limits with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, I realised a simple fact - it takes a little bit of crazy to make a difference. 

He and I share the same birthday. People feel we also share a lot of other characteristics. But I think the similarities end at our birthday. I really wouldn't have the guts to live the life he has led to this point. We've often disagreed on various things. We've had our differences on many, many, many issues (particularly on matters of my behaviour through college; yes I do come off looking rather bad), but one thing we can both agree on is his "craziness" quotient. No arguments there. 

And boy can I attest to that! Over the years, I have seen mama get into inexplicable scrapes with people all around him on matters of principle. Over the years, I have seen him change from a corporate honcho to an activist (he still denies both these stereotypes). Over the years, I have seen the "craziness" increase. By all "social" norms and definitions, only a crazy person will return to India leaving a high-profile, cushy and well-paying job (the so-called American Dream) in the "US of A" to do something different. Only a crazy person will deliberately choose 15th August as his date of return. Only a crazy person will then leave another similaly cushy job as a corporate IT honcho to turn to environmental conservation. Only a crazy person will leave behind a net of safety and security and set out to do something that we all see as a lost cause. Of couse, kudos to his wife too (my mami) on standing by him through all this craziness (that too must have been quite a difficult task). Only a crazy person will continue to fight the odds of a massively indifferent political system, an even more indifferent general population and a similarly indifferent audience (the wild animals and indigineous flora/fauna that he seeks to save) despite knowing that his efforts will most probably end up as "too little too late" (not because of any lack of efforts on his part but because of our ennui). Only a crazy person would do all this . . But then again, maybe crazy is what we really need.

Why am I writing all this? Because I realise that only in a flawed society is this behaviour called odd or "crazy". Only in a flawed society is social awareness taken as sign of naivety rather than of intelligence. Only a flawed society hinders such a man's activities rather than help and promote them in every way possible. Only a flawed society will create role models of criminals and spoilt movie stars instead of men and women like him. Only in a flawed society will we find "crazy" men fighting these odds. Perhaps it is time that we realize that civic sense is a good thing. Perhaps it is time we realize that we need to set our petty differences and vested interests aside and listen to what these people are telling us. Maybe there's more sense in it than what we've been considering as "good sense" all these years.

Maybe it is time for all of us to become a "little crazy" ourselves . . Maybe crazy is what we really need. 

Mr. Joshi, hat's off to you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Goodreads Book Review - The Complete Yes Minister

The Complete Yes MinisterThe Complete Yes Minister by Jonathan Lynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A superbly written series of stories. Apart from the cut-and-thrust banter that the inimitable Sir Humphrey and Woolley get up to with Hacker; what is even more apparent from this imbroglio of the British "functional anarchy" is that we (as Indians) have taken from the Brits what we should have left well alone and left alone what we should have learnt from them and incorporated into our own system.

What is heartening though, is that even Thatcher provided inputs to the writers about Whitehall and the political system of the great empire (

A throughly enjoyable and revealing piece of literature.

View all my reviews