A Scam of the Future in India

Recently a friend shared a post on Facebook about how one can “buy” a solar panel installed in a remote desert, as part of an array of panels, and “earn” the revenue generated by the sale of electricity.

Solar panels in the desert

Picture credit: Rodrigo Arancibia Zamora

Very positive initiative indeed. Not only does the company which initially spends millions to set up the solar array recover a neat sum back, but also creates a market for a created asset. Who knows…if you buy it now at say $10, you maybe able to sell it to someone else for $100 a few years down the line. You like the idea?

At the same time, my brain flashed the words “teak farm”. In case you have not come across this, in the 90’s and in the early part of this millennia, it was popular to “invest” in companies that promised to grow certain number of teak trees for you in a remote part of the country. Preferably an estate in the hills. They promised to return crores through the sale of matured trees. People invested. In return, they all got papers indicating the exact place/location where their trees are growing. They invested even more! And … well you can imagine the rest…

I expect that someone with similar talents of scamming will soon offer the (nonexistent) solar panel in the Thar desert scheme to us gullible folks in India. In the age of the social media, there will be fake accounts created to extol the virtues of this company, and how we can expect to get rich quick. And that is always the key message – “Get rich quick”. The scamsters love to tap into the most basic of human emotions – GREED.

Well…you have been warned. Check before you leap. What the heck…Double check. Keep your remonitised money safe in 2017!

A walk with my Grandfather

Some of us are lucky. We get to spend a lot of time with our grandparents.  🙂

Perhaps, most of us in the 60’s/70’s generation have been pampered more by our grandparents than our parents.  The “more” has not become “less”, but with parents stepping in to do a lot more pampering, the gap seems to have reduced.

I lost my maternal grandfather, when I was 2-3 years old. The only memories I have are through photos with him, and the stories I have heard from family.

Luckily, I got to spend some more time with my paternal grandfather. I remember spending time with him from the early 70’s till ’77 – the last time I got to spend time with him. We exchanged a few post cards in the late 70’s, but I did not get to see him before he passed away in Feb 1980.

Most of the time spent with him was while holidaying in Bangalore. He & my grandmother found it difficult to deal with the extremes of the Delhi weather, and spent very little time with us in our home in Delhi.

My standout memory of him involves a short walk that we took in Jayanagar, Bangalore. It was in our 1975 holidays. On a late afternoon in June, he decided to walk from 32nd Cross, 16th Main to 39th ‘F’ Cross, 18th Main. From one son’s home to another’s.

He gave me a lesson in defensive walking, if one can call it that. In a time when the traffic was far less, almost negligible, and the pavements were broader, though just solid mud, he told me about how one should always walk facing the traffic. Even on the pavement. Given the number of “Cross” roads in Jayanagar, this was a good input. In the days before indicators on vehicles, one had to keep their eyes on the vehicles approaching to see if they showed any indication of turning onto the road that you planned to cross!

The other thing that I remember about that short walk was him pointing out the large trees or open grounds as markers. “When you see this large tree, turn right”. “Take a left on the second road after the ground”. Even today, one can possibly find me, gaping at a large tree in awe, hopefully with my mouth closed…but then you need to be around to confirm that. 😉

Screenshot 2016-03-08 at 19.34.03

The walk – From 32nd Cross, 16th Main to 39th ‘F’ Cross, 18th Main

Luckily the pavements are still wide. Many of the houses are still homes, but even this part of Jayanagar is getting commericalised now. When that happens, trees inside are felled, and motorbikes are parked on the pavement.

Some pics from July 2014 when I retraced this path on a cycle

 

 

Final word: Watch out for the combination of young and old taking a walk in your neighbourhood…who knows what memories are being created right there! 🙂

Factual Thinking

Facts & Opinions.

Hopefully you know how to differentiate between them. No? Well this should help then.

It is a fact that my weight is closer to 100 kg than 70 kg. It is someone’s opinion that I am a fat slob! I will not say who, but they know 😀

There. Now you know the difference. But, I want you to go one step further. How do we use facts? In our thinking. In our conversations. In our decision making.

Typically, most of use only those facts that are suitable to our point of view. In effect, our point of view, may influence what facts that we look for, and make us discard the inconvenient ones. Rare are those humans, who are capable of looking at all facts, and then alter their point of view accordingly.

One reason for this not being a strong point amongst us in India is our schooling system. It encourages being “right” over being “different”. Compliance is the key. We encourage debates to choose a winner, not a solution.  We encourage the habit of looking at facts selectively.

So, what could be done differently?

There is not much emphasis given to teaching students on how to solve problems taking into account all the facts, as well as opinions, available. This approach has been codified by the famous Edward de Bono, through various approaches for thinking and acting (as in taking action), and these are available through books  that are easy to understand.

I think it is Amartya Sen who has written in one of his books that ancient India was known for a debating style that was more inclusive. While, he has not connected this to whether the debates were based on facts or ideas alone, or a combination of both, but I would not at all be surprised to find a reference that is similar to the approach outlined by de Bono. Perhaps such an approach (let me know if you know of it) might be more acceptable to the educators in India. The key is to choose the appropriate weightage for facts, and for opinions. Include both, but try not to allow one to dominate the other.

So much so for the process. The real benefit of including this aspect in the teaching methodology will be seen in a few years time. As I see it, the more number of youngsters we have in this country who are able to avoid the trap of choosing facts selectively in the process of solving problems, the better are the chances that they will make more meaningful contribution (definitely more than me! hopefully more than you?) to the nation. Learning to deal with opinions, especially one’s different from own’s, should be a part of the learning

In a recent interview, Fali Nariman, the experienced lawyer, credited Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former PM, with the ability to take people along with him in the decision making process. If our polity could only learn from his legacy, and stop taking rigid stances, we could all benefit immensely.

So, what do you do when faced with inconvenient facts?

PS: I tried to get my sons to view all the facts about how their football club actually operates. Placed certain inconvenient facts about how the footballers they admire so much, could help subsidise the exorbitant ticket prices of the clubs they play for, by lowering their salaries, but choose not to. Not interested they said! 😉

 

The Kadlekayi Vendor

Off we go on our evening walk. It is drizzling. We head out towards 8th Cross, the “M G Road” of Malleswaram. The Margosa trees keep the drizzle away, but only until 9th Cross. I hear him before I see him. Tan tanna tan tan. And repeat. As we turn the corner onto 8th Cross, there he is. A kerosene lamp on his cart burning bright. Swish, swosh, swish, swosh are the sounds made by his ladle, as he sends the peanuts scurrying from one side of his pan to the other, and back again. Hot, fresh, salted peanuts. Heaven! His deft and experienced hands make three of those long, but thin paper potlas, cones, neatly folded in at the top, in quick succession. My potla is empty in a flash. Hands held out , and to my left and right, get me a few more more peanuts, and these are then savoured, one by one.

————-

This is a brief recollection of just one of the rainy May/June evenings in the 70’s while visiting Bangalore. A lot of my time was spent in my grandmother’s home on Margosa Road. The transition from getting to play cricket, hockey, football, pithoo, eyes-pais – late into the evening in the Delhi summer to rainy evenings every day in Bangalore was quite frustrating for me. The kadlekayi made up somewhat for it! 🙂

Final word: Well, the evening rain is back in Bengaluru (the North-East monsoon), and I got to sample the wares of one such kadlekayi vendor yesterday. He seems to have mastered the art of holding the potla while filling it such that not a single peanut makes it past the middle. His way to make more profit from the Rs. 10 that he earned from the sale. 🙂

The connected Indian farmer

What are the thoughts come to mind when you think of the Indian farmer?

  • someone who is unscientific and does not like change?
  • backward and unconnected?

Well, think again!

On Jun 17 2015, the Central Govt. took a decision to provide a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal of pulses.  The news item goes on to say:

in view of a large surplus of cereals in contrast to huge deficit of pulses, the Cabinet made an exception and decided to give a bonus of Rs 200/- per quintal for pulses over and above the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

“This is expected to give a strong price signal to farmers to increase acreage and invest for increase in productivity of pulses,” the government said. The decision is based on recommendations of CACP for the price policy for kharif crops for the 2015-16.

On Jul 4 2015, there is another newspaper report that gives us this tidbit:

Pulses have been sown in 2.26 million hectares so far, more than double the 0.97 million hectares sown by this time last year.
The high acreage under pulses could be on account of farmers taking a signal from the soaring prices in the market.

Yet another article published on the same day, provided this input:

On asset ownership, the survey shows that over 68% of rural households own a mobile phone

You might have already made out the connection. Between the Govt. indicating the increased Minimum Support Price (MSP) on Jun 17, and the sowing coverage report on Jul 3, the farmers have already responded to the incentive on offer! Not sure that most media, barring All India Radio, would have given the news item of the MSP increase sufficient coverage. Mobile phone conversations to pass on the message are most likely the reason for this quick response in increased cultivation.

Three cheers for “The connected Indian farmer”!

These are still early days for Kharif sowing, and the monsoon has still a long way to go. We shall see the results later this year. Hopefully, it will be a good one for all of us.

Libraries in My Life

post by a friend about his visit to the Dr. B C Roy Memorial Children’s Reading Room and Library in Delhi, freshened up my own memories of the libraries that I used to frequent in my growing up years in Delhi, and later in Mysore and Bangalore. So here it is …

1. 1970-78: A small lending library existed in the C block market of Amar Colony, from where my brother Chander, and I would borrow Sad Sack and Commando comics for a nominal fee. Towards the end, I remember borrowing a few Tintin’s from this place. As comics and books became much costlier (as did almost everything else!) from 1974 (OPEC crisis), the borrowing charges went up steeply, and down came the readership.

2. 1975-78: Frank Anthony Public School Library – We were allowed to visit the main library on the top floor of the main building, only when we were in 5th. A large room it was, but instead of remembering the books I read there, all I have are some vague memories of being bullied by seniors there. I do recollect that we had to borrow a book every week.

3. 1974-76: Delhi Public Library – the library in the mini bus – that used to come near Ram Mandir on Tuesdays, and on some other day next to the Gurudwara, near C block, Amar Colony – this is where I became a member first of DPL. I borrowed and read Rajaji’s Ramayana and Mahabharata for the first time from this place.

4. 1976-80: DPL, Shrinivaspuri, just off the ring road – this was a proper library. I remember paying 15 paise per library card as the joining fee.  The 2 km walk from home was a long one for my short legs, but one that was a pleasure when accompanied by one or the other friend from B block. My brother was a member too, but would not come with me. 🙂 One of the biggest problem here was to find a book that was “complete”! Some members/readers seemingly got vicarious pleasure from tearing the most crucial pages of any mystery book, before returning it. I remember taking one such book to the librarian to complain about it. Instead of sympathising with me, she started suggesting that I must have torn the page myself, as all the books in her library were “perfect”! I left in tears, wowing never to come back…but back I was, a month later 🙂

This was the place where I learnt to check for titles using the library catalog filed on cards …somewhat like the one below. Very few of my friends could find a book through this method, and it was one small thing that I could be proud about being good at. 🙂

5. 1981-84: The American Center Library – I got a membership with a recommendation from dad’s friend, and remember being told by the librarian as to how lucky I was to become a member at such a young age. 🙂 This was of course a far superior library experience compared to what I had experienced before. My main hope in taking up this library’s membership was that I would get access to a whole lot of NASA literature – about the various Apollo missions, but that never happened. Instead I got to know about how books, magazines and newspapers were being put on micro films, and like Bond, James Bond, I could actually read these micro films on a console.  The SPAN magazine was another attraction. They also had a documentary viewing console, with headphones attached. One had to “book” time on this, and it was operated by the librarian. I remember watching some documentaries on New York and Boston, and also being told by the librarian that I was hogging the machine! 🙂 The other fascinating thing for me was reading the week old newspapers – some of them as thick as an entire week’s Indian Express newspaper, our staple newspaper at home.

6. 1980-82: British Council Library – Unfortunately not a positive experience. The librarians used to make visitors feel unwelcome; something to do with the AC environment being sought after by many Delhi-ites I suppose! Membership was too expensive, and the few times I visited, I had to come up with innovative school  projects as the reason to spend a few hours browsing.

7. 1981: Central Secretariat Library – this library had so many old newspapers, that when I went there in the summer of 1981, I spent a few days to find out how and why the Indo-Pak war of 1971 had started, and how it finished. I remember that the librarian or their assistant, actually helped pull out volumes of newspapers from upper shelves, that had to be accessed using ladders, and allowed me to go through them for hours together. I remember that I noted down a lot of details about the war, and a lot of questions too in a notebook. Lost it though. 😦 To get access to this prestigious library, all I had was my Delhi Transport Corporation bus pass as my identity card. Doubt that a common citizen can even access that wonderful library now.

8. 1978-83: The DTEA, Lodi Estate school library – I read one of the most fascinating books on Astronomy, when I joined school in 1978 (8th). Pity that we were hardly ever encouraged to spend time in the library from 9th onwards.

9. 1984-88: National Institute of Engineering, Mysore – I visited the smallish library one the very first day in college, only to be told that I should wait till the library cards were issued! Later on, the library room expanded into a much larger space. The reading room was a nice place to be, and in the evenings one could study with hostelites who obviously did not have cooperative room mates! 😉 I don’t remember borrowing many books, but they were all technical books for sure.

10. 1990-98: Eloor Lending Library – I was introduced to this famous lending library, my cousin Sridhar, himself an avid reader of fiction. The book deposit and lending fee were quite high, but then at Eloor, you always got the best service. New books, neatly covered in plastic covers, and you could request for new titles too. Back then, when they were the only big library in namma uru Bengaluru, they used to have regulars for their fiction, architecture, fashion and technical book sections. I was introduced to Garfield here, but most of the books I used to borrow were related to Programming.

11. 1990-94: IISc Library – A fantastic library that I go access to with the help of my boss’s contacts in IISc. I did not get permission to borrow books, but I had permission to refer to their huge collection of Computing related magazines and journals.

12. 1991-94: British Library, Bangalore – I convinced my boss to pay for my annual subscription to this library for 3 years. I remember finding the atmosphere a bit stifling, but perhaps it was me, carrying a chip on my shoulder, from the injuries inflicted by it’s counterpart in Delhi! 🙂 My best memory of this library is finding Saki again! I had read Saki’s short stories in the English Reader in school. So, it was great to find H H Munro alias Saki again. It was an old edition, and the librarian was reluctant to even issue it to me. Once I returned it, the book never made it back to the shelf. 😦

13. 1992-94: National Center for Software Technology library – I had access to this library when I was doing my Post Graduate Diploma in Software Engineering course with them. Back then, they were in the V V Towers building. The library room of NCST provided me with one more positive memory. It is in that room that I presented one of the RDBMS projects we worked on – creating an Oracle database that could provide information on bus routes, based on starting and end points. Possibly the only time that Shri P. Sadanandan said “Well done” to me in the entire course! 🙂

14. 2010-13: Kwench Lending Library – this was a unique experience. These guys tied up with my office, and for a nominal monthly fees, would come and deliver, as well as pick up books from the office. The best part was that there was no time limit for keeping the book. There would be reminders, gentle emails reminding you once in a few weeks, in case you had forgotten that you still had the book with you! I borrowed a lot of novels from here for my mom, and she was quite  sad when this arrangement came to a rather abrupt end. 😉

15. 2014-till now: The Woodrose Club library – I discovered this library only late last year, though it has been present for a long time now. A decent collection of books; good enough to keep my mom happy!  She has already read the first of James Patterson’s many novels, and Rohington Mistry’s classic Family Matters, borrowed from here 🙂

Who will guard the guardians?

V. Ramani's blog

Let me tell you a true story. The protagonist and the locale do not matter; this happens to the poor every day in Bharat that is India. However, to make storytelling easier, let us call our main character Sunil, a name one could encounter anywhere in India. Sunil is a migrant who runs a very small shop, polishing the meagre gold jewellery owned by the poor residents of his locality. Since this is scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, he takes on the occasional, temporary job of driving private cars and auto rickshaws — very much a member of the huge unorganised sector in India.

It all started one fine winter morning when four hefty men barged into Sunil’s small shop and forcibly bundled Sunil into a private vehicle parked outside the shop. No one knew who had taken him away or where he had been taken. His…

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