Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Modi Suit Saga

There's been so much hue and cry over the Narendra Modi suit saga and many people have lent an opinion. Some critisize Modi for a publicity stunt and others uphold him as a new-age fashionista. Prima facie - it looks like a publicity stunt with megalomania written all over it. But is it really? I wonder . . 

The controversial suit that had Modi's name monogrammed on it
Here's the timeline of events. Modi is gifted a suit worth INR 10-11 lakhs by a businessman. He wears it during an important meeting with Obama thus inflating its value. He then auctions it via a public auction raising INR 4.31 crores. These funds are utilized for the "Clean Ganga Mission" via a very public and legitimate channel. 

On the other hand, we have the UPA government which had a national resource (coal, 2G spectrum etc.). They did nothing to increase its base price (provide infrastructure, help build business model for social cause, regulate fair play and in any way perform its inherent functions). Then they sold off the resource via very unethical means (which they conveniently call "first-come-first-serve") and the money thus acquired was not used (or sparsely used) for any social welfare of the "aam admi". As an added note, the current auction of spectrum has so far realized INR 109000 crores whereas the UPA method of doing business earned the government INR 9407 crores


If you compare the two events from a business model perspective, isn't there a comparison that can be done? I am no economist and I am no political pundit, but isn't the suit auction proving that the famed "Zero-Loss Theory" by Kapil Sibal and the UPA was complete hogwash? That the government can earn money and help people as well? That business and good governance can happen hand-in-hand without a conflict of interest?

Is there a lesson in this somewhere . . ?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Day at the Hospital

Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital, Sion, Mumbai. EMR section. 10th March 2015. Bed 1 was me with the patient, Raja Patil. Weight - all of 45 kilos, age - 40. Chronic liver degeneration and something called congestive cardiac failure (yet to be diagnosed). Bed 3 was a 20-year old kid brought in by his parents who lived in Kurla and who'd drunk phenyl in fear of his upcoming 10th standard exam (which he'd already attempted 4 times). Bed 6 was a middle-aged lady whose husband was abusing her (evident from her black eye, bruised face and her conversation with her friend) and who had a stroke of some sort in front of my very eyes. The right side of her face was twitching and her limbs were flailing. Her companion was stricken and scared. Interns were milling around her. Bed 11 was a small kid. Maybe 5th grade. He was panting loudly and his fingers and toes had curled inwards. The doctors/interns weren't sure what the problem was and were trying to reach their superiors. The dad (a workaday guy) was panicking. One of the interns advised that he (the child) breathe into a bag. I remembered I had one in my bike. I reassured the dad, rushed outside and got it. He thanked me and turned back to his son.



The scene of battle
I stood there bemused and shocked. It was an assault on the senses. I was numb. Every bed was a tragedy and every patient was a story. Raja Patil seemed insignificant. I seemed insignificant. What was I doing here?

Back in December of last year, Raja Patil started taking a lot of leaves. He washed the vehicles in my apartment building in Airoli, Navi Mumbai. My beloved car and equally loved bike stayed unwashed for days on end. My fellow residents were suffering the same way. Whenever we saw Raja, we'd criticize him for taking leaves. We'd ask him to drink less and we'd ask him to amend his ways if he didn't want to get fired. After an especially caustic tirade one day, I remembered an incident. To wash the roof of my car, he'd upended a bucket, stood on it and wiped it clean because his height was insufficient. He didn't shy away from the task. He did it and did it thoroughly. That didn't look like a lazy man to me. I've seen people shirk their duties and I've done that too when I'm feeling lazy. Nobody's perfect. But you get a feel for the character of a person when you see him or her work when he or she doesn't know anybody's watching. The next time I saw him, I asked him why he was taking so many leaves. He showed me a wound on the back of his head and said that he had constant headaches and fever and a never-ending body-ache. The wound was bad. It was something out of a slasher movie like Saw or Hostel. I could see the skull. I was aghast. I immediately took him to my doctor - a very kindly woman named Ujjwala Dongarwar who has a clinic in Airoli on RG Marg. She diagnosed him and suggested that Raja needed a surgeon for the wound and a few checks to diagnose other ailments he obviously had. She referred me to a specialist. She didn't take payment. Unfortunately, this specialist was available only in the mornings and I really couldn't work out my schedule. The matter lagged for a couple of days. Then the subsequent week, a bunch of kids knocked on my door asking for Helpage India donations. That set me thinking. I first tried the Helpage India Mumbai number. No answer. I then called them on the helpline listed on their website. Long hold (maybe they should consider outsourcing this). Then I checked out their website and got a few contact numbers for individuals. No answer. I then sent an email to them explaining this situation.

Email sent to Helpage on 06th Dec 14
I got a response on 12th dec 14 asking for more information. Through a series of emails, we identified that a Helpage mobile unit was going to be stationed at Thane early Jan-15 and that I could take Raja to this unit. Help would be given. Unfortunately, by this time (this exchange happend on 05th Jan 15); we could no longer find him. He had stopped coming to work and when we checked his home, it looked abandoned. The watchman of my building kindly guided me to a country liqour bar he frequented but nobody had heard of him for a few days.

Email exchange with the Helpage team through the month of Dec-14
Towards the end of February, he turned up again. He claimed he was sober, the wound was healing and he had gone to a Municipal Hospital. He looked relatively better. However, the hospital he had gone to had strangely referred him to the ICCU unit of Sion Hospital for inpatient treatment. If he felt better, why would a doctor advise him to get admitted? It felt weird. I suggested that he go to Sion Hospital and do what the doctor advised. A few days later when I asked him about his health he requested that I accompany him to Sion. By this time, he said he was feeling breathless all the time and his legs had swollen up. So off we went to Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Sion, Mumbai. 


I first took Raja to the second floor where the ICCU was located. I asked him to sit on a bench outside while I searched for assistance. I noticed a couple of young interns standing just outside the ICCU. I went up to them and asked them for help. One of them very kindly guided me inside to meet the shift-in-charge and helped me get started. She directed me to the EMR counter where fresh cases were being given a case-paper and explained all the procedural formalities to me. From the second floor, I came down to the EMR counter (I suppose it stands for Emergency Medical Room) and got started. I had the case paper made, consulted a guardian intern outside the EMR and was then guided inside along with my charge. The melee was phenomenal. Cries, smells, sounds and people greeted me like a railway platform at rush hour. Here a man was lying wasted on a gurney and there a child was bawling his lungs out. It was nothing like anything I had seen before. I walked up to the intern in charge (she looked like she was in charge because she was surrounded by patients hankering for her attention). After some attempts at getting her attention (in all fairness, she was beseiged with patients), I did manage to catch her eye and explained Mr. Raja Patil's situation to her. She suggested an ECG, guided us to Bed 1 and instructed her assistant interns to get cracking. 

The poor souls unfortunately had a faulty ECG machine. They were already trying to get it functional for Bed 2 and we therefore had to wait our turn. I observed that the ECG machine was a box connected to a set of wires with clamps at the end. These clamps were coloured and they were meant to be attached to a corresponding pin of the same colour at the end of the set of wires. One of these wires was broken and was taped. The taped portion was a loose connection. The connector where the wires were joined to the machine was a lot like a printer port. The interns called out to the orderly to replace the wires and I could see him struggling. Since it was in my own interest to move things along, I jumped in. Both of us replaced the clamps from the old set of wires to the new set of wires. We then connected the set of wires to the ECG machine. Once this was done, we found that one of these clamps was a small rubber ball which created suction and stuck to the chest so that a reading could be taken. The rubber ball was torn. We taped it up with medical adhesive tape and were set to go. Once Bed 2 was done, the interns moved over to Raja. They immediately identified that his liver was abused (for lack of a better word). They strapped the ECG machine to him and off we went! Once this was done, the female intern in charge (Kanchana) instructed me to get something called a Trop T Test. I went to the medical store behind the hospital and bought this kit. Once this was done, Kanchana took the ECG, the result of the Trop T test (which was negative) and took them to her superior. While this was happening, the interns slid off to their lunch leaving me and Raja Patil to the mercy of the elements. Bed 3, 6 and 11 were stories unfolding right before my eyes. I couldn't stand it anymore. I sought out Kanchana, found out from her that Raja was suffering from liver failure and heart problems (chronic liver disease and congestive cardiac failure were the terms Kanchana used), got Raja's admission papers made and ensured he was admitted. Then I gave him instructions on the medications he was being given and walked out; 4 hours after I had walked in, a shaken man. Back to my 1530 IST appointment, my daily routine, my safe and secure world of an air-conditioned office and the comforting arms of my beautiful wife at the end of a long day. 

But on the drive back, I reflected. What was the lesson that I was taking away from this episode? I pondered on this for quite some time. Was it that the system was broken? Or that it still had not collapsed enough to the point of anarchy? On one hand, I was living in a system where Raja Patil was forced to wash cars despite being physically weak and old. On the other hand, I was also living in a system where I received a response from HelpAge India to give him assistance. On one hand, I was living in a system where residents of my apartment complex shouted at Raja without understanding his problems. On the other hand, I was also living in a system where my doctor (Dr. Ujjwala Dongarwar) refused to take money to check Raja and give him advice. On one hand, I was living in a system where politicians have so much money that they don't know what to do with it but a hospital doesn't have a functional ECG machine. On the other hand, I was also living in a system where we had the ingenuity to fix the machine with the tools at our disposal to ensure that patients were treated. On one hand, I was living in a system where interns slid off to have lunch right in front of my eyes leaving Kanchana to man the entire EMR herself. On the other hand, I had Akshay (another intern) who slogged on and I had Kanchana herself who bravely handled all patients who came in with a resilient battle-hardened fury and determination. It was very easy to blame everybody and come away with a sense of desolation. I could almost slide into that frame of mind without effort. But I also knew that it is our response to our problems that determine how they are solved. I could either crib, or I could jump in, pull up my sleeves and try to fix the problem wherever possible. I chose to fix. I admit I came away shaken and stirred. But I'd do it again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Land Acquisition Act . . Are we asking the right questions?

Amongst daily conversation topics nowadays (water-cooler conversations if you will as Seinfeld describes them) seems to be the topic of the Land Acquisition Act. We have a loud gang of the nay-sayers - if it's one political party today, it's another tomorrow. They seem to feel that the general public is fleeced no matter what and if it wasn't the Congress yesterday milking the country dry, it is the BJP today doing the same thing. They might be right too, for all I know. On the other hand, there are the Modi loyalists - who swear by his personality and who think that the dust under his feet is pure gold and should be kissed and kept in temples made for Lord Modi even if he might be talking utter rot (I'm not saying he is mind you). In this melee of noise about which party supports the Land Bill and which party doesn't, in this confusion and chaos reigning amongst the general public about the Land Bill, nobody seems to be asking the questions which I feel matter most - 
  • What is the Land Acquisition Act?
  • What's all the ruckus about? Which are the sections creating the conflict? 
  • What do they state? 
So I tried to find out. And here's what I have pieced together. Let's start with the history of this bill and how it came about. Since I have a tendency to ramble, I shall try to keep this as succint as possible. 


  • The Land Acquisition Act is also called "The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013". Quite a mouthful ain't it? Let's call it the Old Land Act from hereforth. This is the bill that the Congress (a minority player now), NCP, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and other partners within the NDA (and perhaps a lot of the BJP too) want unchanged. it was originally promulgated by the UPA led government in 2011 as a bill and brought into effect as an Act in 2014. The BJP (a minority within the BJP actually) want to implement/promulgate the New Land Bill 2015 (also called The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015). To summarize - we have the Old Land Act 2013 and the New Land bill 2015. 
  • The whole brouhaha is about certain sections which govern what activities can land be grabbed from us for, and the nature of the compensation we will get for it. 
    • The first contentious issue is section 2 of Chapter I which deals with consent of affected families and the definitions of affected families
    • The next contentious issue is enshrined in certain sections of Chapter IV (Notification and Acquisition). This talks about procedural formalities to be followed in order to acquire land. 
And now we come to the most important question. What are the changes and how will they affect land-owners. The table below summarizes the changes as per key issue at stake - 


Key points to consider - 
  • Land was being forcible procured. Then and now. The Old Land Act and the New Land Bill both have this clause. Land will be forcibly taken from us (as long as it is used for public purposes as defined by the act). 
  • Old Land Act (OLA) gave an immense opportunity for middle-men and power brokers to earn money and to hold up critical infrastructure projects. Furthermore, the 80% clause meant that politicians could subvert weaker landowners to their will and forcibly acquire pieces of land but not touch their own (since they would similarly be subverting affected families on their own land). The New Land Bill (NLB) seeks to do away with this only for public purpose projects. 
  • The clause of consent in the New Land Bill is waived only for the following - 
    • National security and defense
    • Rural infrastructure (including projects like electrification)
    • Industrial corridors
    • Housing for the poor
  • Land still cannot be acquired for building malls! Even in the OLA, this was not supposed to happen but politicians have subverted the clause of consent and manipulated farmers to meet their own nefarious goals. 
  • Both the OLA and the NLB talk about not touching irrigated multi-crop agricultural land unless the circumstances are exceptional (as defined by the act). No changes there. Genuine farmers can breathe easy. This provision is specifically for purposes of food security (and the government rightly said so on the international stage as well. Ties in nicely. I have already expounded in detail on the Food Security Bill and you can read my thoughts here). 
  • The NLB does make it easier for land-owners to get their compensation too. Not just the NLB but country-wide initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojana have ensured that all people are brought under the transparent banking ambit and thus middle-men are disposed of when distributing money from the government to the people. 
I realise that I may lack the legal expertise to weigh the pros and cons of the OLA and the NLB in entirety. Perhaps a lawyer can help me there. I may also lack the holistic world-view that the government and its opposition may have in debating this issue. But I realise that in this day and age, if India has to grow fast, industrialization needs to happen fast. For that to happen, critical infrastructure projects need to be initiated. We need more hospitals, dams, road-works, affordable housing and industries than we need elitist housing like Lavasa, malls, multi-plexes, large amusement parks and such-like. An extension of the toilets first and temples later analogy which Modi made in his election campaign. I also realize the need to break the hold that politicians and land-owners have over the general public. Call it coincidence or a nexus, most politicians in Maharashtra are heavy land-owners. The reason most political parties are opposing the NLB is that most of them are comprised of politicians/land-owners (the line is very thin) and they will be hardest hit if the NLB does see the light of day (this viewpoint has been elucidated in further detail here). However, I also comprehend the view that Hazare and his kin take - that how will the government ensure fair resettlement and rehabilitation? What if tomorrow Modi is not around to ensure transparency and honesty? What if the same bill that is going to be used today for a good cause is subverted through some means tomorrow (not sure how yet) for the same people that it seeks to eliminate from the current power structure? Valid questions I think . . 

What I am trying to say is; instead of the two current stands that most people are taking - berate the government or repudiate this by saying Modi is god, we ought to understand the issues at hand. We need to comprehend what the law seeks to do and weigh the advantages it seeks to bring in with possible disadvantages from a socialist view-point. It needs to be an educated discussion and not a mud-slinging match even in our daily conversations and thoughts. How are we different from the politicians if we do the same thing they are doing and yet walk away with self-righeousness and talk of societal change? We need to rise above the rabble and think about the actual pros and cons from a process-design perspective. That is the hallmark of an enlightened citizen and a responsiblity that we owe to our own conscience as Indians.

Jai Hind. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Occasion of Republic Day

I see all around me a fervour. A zing in everybody's step. 26th Jan 15 is Republic Day for India, and all Indians are proud. Today is the day when the constitution of India came into force 65 years ago. I see parties, celebrations, events, flag-hoisting ceremonies and patriotic songs (interspersed with the occasional Bollywood item number). I see Facebook posts, photos of the tri-colour, selfies against national backdrops, images with the tri-coloured theme as a meme on WhatsApp, nationalist sentiments everywhere. I see group admins change their group display pictures on WhatsApp, I see cover pages updated to reflect the tricolour on Facebook, I see profile pics on Google undergo a transformation into suddenly renewed "Indian-ness". I see a deluge of nationalist pride everywhere online. All good so far. 

But personally, I also sense the need for introspection. The constitution of India was a document that was drafted in a 2-year period from 1947 to 1949. 


At the outset, let me state (for the benefit of those fringe groups who take affront at leaves falling from trees) that the Constitution of India is an exhaustive and well-drafted document. It covers a vast gamut of legislation that was critical and needed. It is carefully researched and in no way do I intend to contradict that. The point of this post is different. The Constitution is a huge document that calls upon various legislations in the past (primarily the Government of India Act 1858, Indian Councils Act 1861, Indian Councils Act 1892 and the various amendments and modifications done thereto between the late 1800s and the early 1900s). Essentially, in 2015 we are celebrating a constitution created in 1949 (around 65 years ago) based on laws originally promulgated in the late 1800s (around 150 years ago). I'd say it's time to revisit this document and prune it wherever required.

Some glaring areas of opportunity where I see an urgent need for complete rehaul are - 
  • Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution which talk of allowing governmental bodies to make reservations based on caste. 
  • Article 44 which talks of the duty of the state to implement a uniform civil code. This is still a pipe-dream and needs to be picked up urgently for any social reform to happen. 
Let's go into each in a little bit more detail. 

Reservations - 
Part 3 (Fundamental Rights), Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution specifically talk about equal opportunities for all citizens. Sample extracts are as follows - 
3.16.4 - Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State. 
3.15.4 - Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. 
All points in both these articles talk about various public facilities, employment opportunities, other public amenities and the sanction given to the government to make reservations or special provisions for "backward classes" of citizens in order to protect the fundamental principle of equal opportunity therein. All good so far. But the fact of the matter is, reservation is an obsolete concept and caste-based reservation even more so. It has been misused and taken advantage of. The results of course, are there for all to see. Sub-standard teachers have churned out sub-standard students, sub-standard professionals have churned out sub-standard services and the rot is setting in deeper with each new added quota. I'm all for equal opportunity, but not at the cost of meritocracy. What is needed is to change the definition of "backward classes". Currently defined on the basis of caste, it needs to discard this framework and take into account financial standing. The poor can become the backward class irrespective of what caste they belong to. They shall enjoy privileges in order to ensure equal opportunity.

We need to take a second look at both these articles (and related articles, clauses and sub-clauses interspersed throughout the constitution) to discard the reservation/quota system and replace it with a framework that gives these rights to the poor and the financially challenged. 

Uniform Civil Code - 
The need for a uniform civil code is enshrined in the directive principles of the Constitution of India (Part 4, article 44)
4.44 - The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
 This has never materialized. Such an explicit statement as article 44 has been ignored and relegated to the back-burner just to serve the vested interests of certain communities and people. The Shah Bano case showed us how critical it is to have all communities follow the constitution. Till some communities operate outside the constitution with impunity, we shall never have equality in any form or manner. The Constitution of India has to supersede any religious laws without exception. I have expounded on this topic exhaustively in a previous post. You can check out the full text here

Having said that, I am sure that if a panel were to be constituted along modern principles of jurisprudence to analyze the entire Constitution of India, it would throw up some interesting findings other than the two sections I have highlighted above. 

I feel we should take the occasion of Republic Day to think about the Constitution of India in a new light. As the world's largest democracy and a global power at the centre of the world stage, it is our duty to lead the way to reinvention of our own principles as a means to adapt to our constantly changing environment. Celebrating Republic Day is all very well. But it is also our duty as citizens of this country to introspect on our own tenets, analyze our own codes and improve them in order to ensure that the fundamental principles of democracy in particular and humanism in general are upheld.

Jai Hind.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Partitioning a disk to install Ubuntu

One of the biggest stumbling block for a newbie to install Linux on a machine with Windows on it is partitioning the hard drive. Partitioning a disk is tricky without the added pressure of knowing that if you mess something up, you risk losing a working installation of Windows as well. Here's the good news - Ubuntu has made it really easy. Apart from the partitioning window, things don't get too complicated when installing Ubuntu. Here's how to go about it.

First off, we need to understand the basic difference between a Windows filesystem and a Linux filesystem. Think of Windows as a block diagram where the various partitions of a hard drive sit at the same level. Your C drive and your D drive are the parent folders of their own heirarchies, something like this - 


Basically, the logical partitions of a windows hard drive are masters of their own domains (no puns intended). They command their own trees like feudal lords, so to say. Their respective drives form their own folder structures and the root folder of each logical partitiom is the beginning of the structure. Linux is a bit different, something like this - 


The folder structure itself acts as a organizing system for logical partitions in Linux whereas the partitions act as the base for the folder structure in Windows. This means that teh entire hard disk (the physical partition) needs a mount point too. This is the root folder (/). In the root folder, you will find mount points for the other logical partitions (they could be a folder in the root folder or a sub-folder within a folder too). In the example above, /home is the mount point for a logical partition and becomes the root folder for that particular partition.

Coming back from theory, what we need to remember when installing Linux and when we come to the dreaded "Something Else" option when we are installing Windows is that each partition in a Linux drive needs a mount point. In essence, we need part of the hard drive that is formatted using Windows NTFS file-system and part of the drive handed over to Linux ext4 file-system where each of its partitions have a mount point. A standard dual-boot hard drive will be configured as follows - 



When the time comes to choose partitioning (Step 4 in the installation process outlined in one of our previous posts here), and if you're thinking of being a dare-devil and choosing the "Something Else" option, understanding these concepts will give you an idea of how your hard drive needs to be structured. A sample partition table is as below - 




  • The first partition is the one allocated for Windows with 50GB labelled "Windows". 
  • We then have an extended partition which contains the following logical partitions 
    • A root partition for Linux of about 50GB with / as the mount point. 
    • A swap partition of about 4GB
    • A data partition with "/media/observer/data" as the mount point but partitioned as NTFS which both Windows and Linux can use for storing data.
This is the only tricky portion in installing Linux. The rest is as easy as falling off a log! 

For more detailed information, check Ubuntu's official documentation on partitioning your hard drive. This document provides a clear explanation of what partitions are, how to use them and what to do when installing Ubuntu. I also found a very useful and very easy instructable on doing this, which you can access here. This includes a very detailed and step-by-step process on dual-booting Ubuntu with Windows 7. 

Happy computing!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Psychiatry of Religion


Click on Image to open embedded PDF
This note examines the deep-seated connection that religion has with our brain and its link to the amygdala. It explores the evolution of the brain, the psychological evolution of religion and its connection to fear as a primal emotion. 

Happy reading!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Time to Reform

I don't see Bajrang Dal activists murdering Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani because they made the movie "PK". I don't see Christian zealots killing Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris because they question the very existence of Jesus. Charlie Hebdo just shows us that Islam needs to reform. It needs to introspect. It needs to weed out the very framework that allows this intolerance.


Original Credit - Lucille Clerc (lucilleclerc.com)
Today it is a bunch of journalists sitting in some stuffy office in Paris. Tomorrow it could be you or me.