Posted on Jul 11, 2011

Anwar Ali’s new Malayalam poem: Near the Window in the Flat

Got a sneak peek of Anwar Ali’s new poem ഫ്ലാറ്റിൽ ജനാലയ്ക്കൽ which he has now posted on Urumbinkoodu.

The nostalgia that it evokes is shocking. മലയാളം (ഭാഷയും നാടും) ഇന്നു നിൽക്കുന്ന ഇടം നന്നായി വരച്ചു കാട്ടിയിട്ടുണ്ട്. ഇംഗ്ലീഷ് വാക്കുകൾ കത്തികൾ പോലെ കോറുന്നു – എല്ലായിടത്തും ഇംഗ്ലീഷു നിറച്ചപ്പോഴും പരിക്കു പറ്റാതെ സൂക്ഷിച്ചു  വച്ച കവിത മുറിഞ്ഞു കരയുന്ന പോലെ. Also, the simple little childrens’ ritual of throwing fallen teeth onto the roof crawls out of memories, becomes a symbol of lonely childhoods and then suddenly grows into a huge motif of our collective loneliness as we throw our innocence into the unknown.

I thought that my nine year old son perhaps would be immune to the feeling in the poetry – after all, he has not had his teeth thrown on to the roof. But I was surprised to see him moved, especially by the ending, revealing to me how much we cherish the little parts of ourselves that we lose as we grow up, and how we want to hook them up somewhere  - on a rooftop, in a small hole on the tree, in the the cobwebs of memories.

Posted on Jan 29, 2011

Why Twitter Not?

I am back on Twitter, more than 6 months after I made a conscious decision to keep away from it for a while.

Being one of the earliest users at Twitter, I did not really feel the need for it until I left Cisco, its vast network of brilliant people, and the constant exchange of ideas and information. The move was multiple relocations rolled into one – the relocation from the swarming Cisco cloud to a decrepit 2-man office; from the confined yet anonymous, responsibility-free existence of a nuclear family in Bangalore to the satisfying, distraction-filled joint family existence back home; from the cutting edge of networking technologies to bleeding at the edge of biotechnology without formal training; from the comfort of concentrated technical work to the distractions of administering a start-up. This coincided with Twitter’s bursting upon the global scene, the network effect finally taking it past that critical velocity below which new web startups live constantly resisting crashes and burn-outs. Cut-off from the IT network, Twitter was my saviour, my new link to my old world, which people kept calling the new world.

But Twitter was new territory. I was excited by the freedom of being able to write down thoughts at will, to be read by an actual audience that provides instant feedback. The 140-character limit was counter-intuitively liberating; the freedom from grammatical structure and increased opportunity to play with words brought in a freshness that was exhilarating. Twitter was the Liril of the Web.

The whole world stumbled on it, new opportunities and new pitfalls were discovered, sometimes by people of eminence who suddenly found themselves on slippery slopes. Though insulated by obscurity, I too discovered that Twitter was not the dawn of a whole new free unselfish world. I learned that it was very easy to shoot my mouth off, without assessing consequences. I learned that being frank in Twitter poses the same dangers brought about by naïve frankness in life. I learned that recording my every action and thought every day on an online platform opens me up as a target of analysis – Twitter is not really a diary, a tool for confessions. I learned that using Twitter with absolute frankness takes away my power to lie, an essential life-skill. I learned that my personal opinions on politics, society and culture, aired freely on Twitter builds a profile that might not fit with the image that my business wants me to project as its representative.

Yet I could not write without being frank – my writing, however limited it might be, has to reflect my opinions and values. Yes, it has to, as long as I can clearly mark it as personal writing unconnected with other entities that I represent. As long as I can be sure that what I write is my opinion, what I would like to be recorded and published as my opinion, not just a fleeting thought aired in a conversation.

Twitter is a powerful communications and networking tool. It is a great business application. But unless I remain anonymous, lines drawn in life shall extend to online life as well. For Second Life is also Life.

I am back on Twitter.

Posted on Nov 25, 2007

ICICI Bank: Fraud and Prejudice

Today, ICICI Bank is perceived to be the face of successful private banking in India. But how many of us know that this success is built upon aggressive use of unethical practices? Here is an instance that came to my notice recently.

1. My cousin wants to open an account at ICICI Bank at Cox Town, Bangalore. She approaches the branch with all documents required for opening the account (the ones that are required for verifying her identity and address) and cash required for minimum balance. To her surprise, she is told that the bank allows opening a new account only if she produces a cheque from an existing account in another bank. But what if she does not have an existing account? Her surprise turns to chagrin as she is told that there is nothing the bank can do and that it is their policy. Of course, the bank has a simple solution for those who are desperate to open an account with them  - open an account at a public sector bank (they dont have these policies), deposit your money there, get a cheque immediately, and present it at ICICI bank. Repeated questions about this convoluted procedure are met with the ultimate defence of corporate irresponsibility – “this is our policy, madam!”.

A few minutes of thought and research on the Internet exposes the rationale. Reserve Bank of India has issued the ‘Know Your Customer’ guidelines which require banks to validate the identity and other credentials of their customers before allowing them to open their accounts. ICICI Bank does not want to spend money doing this validation, so they just turn low-value customers away. Worse, they push these costs on to public sector banks by directing the 
customers to open accounts there.

This is not a new practise local to Bangalore. It is happening in other places too, and it has been happening for quite some time, as can be seen from this blog post at Sushubh.net.

All this, while ICICI Bank proudly presents their wonderful ‘Code of Commitment’ which goes ga-ga about how good they are to their customers. Here are some excerpts that are relevant in this context:

3.1 Before You Become a Customer
We will:
a. Give you clear information explaining the key features of the services and products you tell us
you are interested in;
b. Give you information on any type of products and services which we offer and that may suit your needs;
c. Tell you if we offer products and services in more than one way [for example, through ATMs, on the Internet, over the phone, in branches and so on] and tell you how to find out more about them;
d. tell you what information we need from you to prove your identity and address, for us to comply with legal, regulatory and internal policy requirements.

Account Opening and Operation of Deposit Accounts
Before opening any deposit account,
We will:
a. carry
out due diligence as required under “Know Your Customer” (KYC) guidelines of the bank;
b. ask you to submit or provide necessary documents or proofs to do so;
c. obtain only such information to meet with our KYC, Anti Money Laundering or any other
statutory requirements . In case any additional information is asked for, it will be sought
separately and we will specify the objective of obtaining such additional information. Providing
such information will be voluntary;
d. Provide the account opening forms and other material to you. The same will contain details
of essential information required to be furnished and documents to be produced for verification
and/or for record for meeting the KYC requirements;
e. Explain the procedural formalities and provide necessary clarifications sought by you while
opening a deposit account;

All a bunch of lies and false promises crafted by those trained in the greatest art of our day, the manufacture of truth. These lies contribute a lot to the perception that ICICI Bank is a great private bank that has redefined banking in India. It does not matter that this perception ends at urban boundaries; after all, in today’s India, you do not even exist if you are outside the urban context.

Posted on Dec 28, 2006

ACT!

Cisco has a very good corporate social responsibility program called ‘Day Of Service’. Under this program, employees can spend a day in helping out a social service institution and Cisco would contribute a reasonable sum to the institution for each hour spent by an employee.

The activities of one institution (Ashwini Charitable Trust, Bangalore) struck my mind while we were going through the list to decide where to go for this year’s Day of Service, as their philosophy seemed very close to what I have been considering for some time.

The key to uplifiting weaker sections of society lies in providing their children with good education that enables them to utilize other affirmative actions like reservation. Without this support, reservation leads to the development of a section with mediocre competencies and a collective inferiority complex (this, incidentally, is a major argument put forth by those that oppose job reservations for backward sections) which works to their detriment and prevents their growth in a globalized system which does not provide job reservations.

Providing such education should aim at developing competencies that would enable these children to grow up as professionals and match those who come from the middle classes and above. At the least, the support should grow them into responsible individuals devoid of social backwardness, who would understand the value of education and would strive to provide it to their children – this would be the quantum leap that these sections require to leverage the constitutional and legislative infrastructure provided to them (by Article 46 for SC/STs, for example) to attain equal rights and opportunities.

ACT selects bright and hard-working children from families in slums around Ulsoor in Bangalore, and provides them with full support for their education (school uniforms, books, fees). It provides life-skills training and guidance to these children till they finish their studies and find employment. Since these children come from families where the parents are usually illiterate, ACT counsels the parents (especially mothers) on the importance of hygiene etc., and encourages them to open savings bank accounts for their children. More information on its activities are available at its web site: http://www.ashwini-trust.org/.

Our team reached Ashwini by noon, armed with some books that we wanted to contribute to their library, some science experiment kits procured from Visweshwaraya Museum (the kits and the booklets that come with them are really good) and my fully manual SLR camera. After an introductory talk on Ashwini that I missed, the children were grouped based on their ages. Some of us explained the science experiments to the younger children from primary classes. We conducted a demo of an SLR camera (with lenses of different focal lengths) followed by a hands-on session where each of the children took one photograph each. We also demo-ed our laptops – we connected two laptops together and explained how computers and computer networking helps in enabling new services and technologies in various domains.

We wound up by 6pm, and the children waved us off with warm smiles. In my mind, I kept commending ACT for the work it has done – the children are all very well-mannered, and some of them were very confident when discussing their questions and ideas with us. They also spoke good English – this was one of my concerns as I set about, as I cannot speak Kannada yet.

I wanted to talk to the volunteers who were present at ACT when we were there, but we were kept so busy by the activities that I did not manage that. I promised the children that I would develop and give them the photographs that they took – I guess it also gives me the opportunity to visit ACT again and see how I can contribute to the wonderful work that they are doing.

(Thanks so much to Jayesh and Raghs who co-ordinated with ACT and arranged the trip. Our team consisted of Jayesh, Raghs, Viditha, Nagaraj, Namit, Girish, Naidu, Mahesh, Rajesh, Koti, Arun, Nisha (she took a day off to join our Cisco team), and my little Safdar who made many new friends today).

Posted on Dec 25, 2006

Gulliver’s Travels

I just finished reading Gulliver’s Travels.

Recently, I have been attracted to fantasy as a genre, driven by the popularity of ‘Lord of The Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’, and by the complete diassociation it provides from the tyranny of logical reasoning imposed by a hectic work-life. I was planning to buy my first Harry Potter when I noticed the ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ idling on my bookshelf. In my mind, this was the quintessential adventure story that fuelled some of my memorable childhood fantasies, an impression created by my first reading of the abridged reader when I was in primary school. I thought I will read it first before moving on to others in my reading list.

And it has been quite a revelation to me, on many counts.

1. It is more a satire on human nature, the accounts of Gulliver’s travels providing descriptions of lifestyles of imaginary places which are then used to compare, contrast and criticize human lifestyle. Fantasy is successfully employed as a lens to provide a unique view of reality, which struck me as an interesting literary technique.

2. Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726. It is amazing to see how much our polity and society still resembles the state of affairs that Jonathan Swift criticizes. Such resemblence and magnification of the human degeneracy makes this work a classic – the relevance of the text transcends the close-to-three-centuries that have passed by, very similar to the way Shakespeare’s works have stood out.

Here is a sample, on political corruption:

“There are three methods, by which a man may rise to be chief minister. The first is, by knowing how, with prudence, to dispose of a wife, a daughter, or a sister; the second, by betraying or undermining his predecessor; and the third is, by a furious zeal, in public assemblies, against the corruption’s of the court. But a wise prince would rather choose to employ those who practise the last of these methods; because such zealots prove always the most obsequious and subservient to the will and passions of their master. That these ministers, having all employments at their disposal, preserve themselves in power, by bribing the majority of a senate or great council; and at last, by an expedient, called an act of indemnity” (whereof I described the nature to him), “they secure themselves from after-reckonings, and retire from the public laden with the spoils of the nation.”

3. The book gives a glimpse into the life and customs during the times. Some of the observations, like the opinion about women in general, appear to be in bad taste, but this probably has more to do with the views prevalant in those times.

4. Hailing from an ex-British colony, one passage on colonization towards the end of the book caught my attention:

“But, I had another reason which made me less forward to enlarge his Majesty’s dominions by my discoveries; To say the truth, I had conceived a few scruples with relation to the distributive justice of Princes upon these occasions. For instance, a crew of pirates are driven by a storm they know not whither; at length, a boy discovers land from the Top-mast; they go on shore to rob and plunder; they see an harmless people, are entertained with kindness, they give the country a new name, they take formal possession of it for the King, they set up a rotten plank or a stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed, their Princes tortured to discover their gold, a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants; And these execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern Colony sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.”

5. The terms Yahoo, Big-endian/Little-endian were introduced in this book (I already knew about the former, but not the latter). The passage on endian-ness ridicules our petty disputes with unconcealed hilarity.

“Which two mighty powers have, as I was going to tell you, been engaged in a most obstinate war for six-and-thirty moons past. It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’ And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man’s conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine.”

Thanks for such a pleasurable and thought-provoking voyage, Captain Swift!

Posted on Feb 18, 2006

(mis)using open source free software

i was scouting around for a good open source image manipulation program when I stumbled on Gimp. It looked promising, and a google search for a Windows installer turned up www.wingimp.org as the first link.

All download links at this site point to an order form asking for money, and the fact that the Windows port of Gimp is freely available at www.gimp.org is not mentioned anywhere.

The tutorials on the site just provides links to images, and the FAQ does not work. Some assistance!

Charging for packaging, installation support and servicing of free software is fine. But pointing the download link to the order form for shipping CDs is plain cheating. Shame Shame!

Posted on Sep 30, 2005

After a long time

I have been thinking about reviving my blog – probably add a new blog on VoIP and other tech stuff – but having to visit blogger every time was a pain. Today I chanced upon the blog by email option which looks nice.  Thus was born this post, and it is posted by email.

If this works, I hope I will post more often.

 

Posted on Jan 19, 2005

Liba: Not Lost In Translation

We met Pinto and his bride Liba when we went to Kerala. Pinto is the same old good friend, and Liba is charming and beautiful. It was great to meet them.

I had heard that Liba was a second generation Keralite born and brought up in Germany, and though I had not expected to meet a Madamma* (knowing Pinto), my mental image of her was more like a westerner clothed in a Sari or Salwar.

But she was a surprise. I would not have even guessed that she was not brought up in Kerala if I had not known it earlier. She spoke excellent Malayalam with a nice Kottayam accent, she was always at-home, and she made us feel at-home. There was nothing to suggest that she was brought up in Germany. Not even the way she pronounced “College” gave her away – it was the same ‘Kollaage’ pronunciation that we are so familiar with. :-)

Of course, language is not the only indicator of a culture, and we did not get enough time to get to know her better. But obviously she and her parents have taken good care to retain their culture though they have been at a foreign land for the last 20 odd years. It can be tough, since it is so very easy to lose your roots when you try to blend in with a new culture.

This makes me think of the immigrant people and how they interact with the new cultures where they move to. I have seen Indians in the United States (San Jose, esp.) maintain their culture and customs pretty well even while trying to be a part of the American lifestyle.

But how have Keralites done as immigrants in maintaining their cultural identity and also in seamlessly blending with the local culture? Is Liba an exception or the general rule? I would really like to hear others’ thoughts on this.

* Madamma – the word used in Malayalam for ladies from western countries. Evolved from ‘Madam’.

Posted on Jan 7, 2005

Manthazar

We are in the car, taking Safdar to play-school, stuck at the traffic signal at Thiruvanmiyur.

“Umma, manthazar”



“What?”



“manthazaar….”



“Where?”

Finger pointing upwards, towards the billboards.

“Where? What are you looking at?”

Finger still points in the same direction.

Cannot make it out. We lost it, and decided to accept Manthazar as his mystery friend at the signal. He met the friend at the signal next day also, and the next.

Another day. Safdar sits on my lap, playing with the keyboard as I browse randomly, talking to Nisha.

“Uppa, umma’s office”.



“What?”



“Umma’s office”.



Oh yeah. On the monitor. The logo of Cognizant (CTS).

“Where did you see it”?



“Bus, office”.



He is right.

“Uppa, money..”.



“Where?”



“On the computer”.

This time, it is the logo of ICICI Bank. He would have seen it at the ATM.

Good, he is observing.

Afternoon. Faisal talking to Nisha in the bedroom. Safdar in front of the TV.

“Uppa, Umma, Manthazaar…..come..”

We run to the TV. Ad plays. Western Union Money Transfer. Manthazar.

Logos matter. Whoever designed these, they did a good job. My son is getting programmed to quickly point to Lays and Munch at the supermarket rack. He wants to go to Chennai Silks to buy his clothes. He is not three yet.

He is a consumer. Of the right kind if you are on the right side.

Posted on Jan 7, 2005

Colors

Teaching colors to Safdar.

“This is…?” “Greeen”. “Good”.



“This……?” “Bluee”. “Good, You got it”.



“This……?” perplexed silence. “That’s Orange…got it..?” “Orange…?”. “Yes. That’s it”.



“This?” “Apple!!!”. silence. Smile.

Good. He thinks.