Dec 31, 2009

Whither Brand Hyderabad?

The ongoing political crisis in Andhra Pradesh has many wondering what will happen to Brand Hyderabad and all the glitter it has gathered over the last decade. There is concern that if AP is partitioned, then investments will move away. Unrest is already affecting the business mood and the fear is that in future, Maoist violence may increase and weaken the city, or that a partitioned state that still controls it will divert resources to other lesser developed parts.

Telangana has had genuine problems about resource allocation, an exploitative political leadership and self-respect. The jury is out on whether this warrants a partition of India's first state formed on linguistic basis - read this Hindu editorial for one view. As far as Brand Hyderabad goes, I believe the damage is not irreparable. Urbanization is a mega trend and location wise, Hyderabad taps a massive hinterland. The divisive Telugus may go and serve other metros Madras and Bangalore, like they always did (it was more so before Unification in 1956). But this is clearly not a zero sum game.

If a new state capital for Andhra-Rayalseema is created, other metros may benefit, but this will also mean more construction on the new capital, more work leading to an economic boom. The Andhra-Seema folks may work with a vengeance and leverage the huge seacoast they have for the first time. And if the Telangana issue is sorted out without partition, then the Brand will only bounce back stronger. Brand Mumbai has been resilient despite several major terrorist attacks. Brand Delhi remains strong despite turmoil in nearby Af-Pak. Didn't Japan witness a huge ascendance right after the World War II mayhem? So fellas, stay optimistic and hope that the uncertainity soon subsides, giving people like us work to do. The sun shines brighter, once the clouds clear up.

Dec 29, 2009

Pench Trip - Croquet, Riverbed Running (4 of 4)

Sunday was our final day at Junglethlon, and that morning after breakfast we played a game of croquet. I had never played this Victorian game before but found it very interesting. Pradeep planted some hoops and sticks on the ground at various places and gave us a wooden mallet and four balls. Each player had to strike the ball through the hoops, hitting others’ balls to get ahead. It felt like a combination of golf (the putting) and billiards (hitting others’ balls).

After croquet, the final event of Junglethlon was river bed running. We trekked a bit to get to the river and then ran some 6 to 8 kms. Parts of the river were very scenic. I found a few trees in the dry riverbed that had massive bulbous roots, trunks and even branches making them look like they were made of potatoes!

Finally the time to disperse had come, and after the last meal together, the team left for Nagpur. On the way Pradeep showed us one of the schools that he supports and explained about the Pench Rakshak program. The work they do at the grassroots level in community support and education is amazing! We reached Nagpur railway station just in time, and said our goodbyes capping off a wonderful trip.

Pench Trip - Safari & Fire Making (3 of 4)

We rose early, not to miss our appointment with Mr Sher Khan in the Pench forest. Rudyard Kipling spent his time in this forest and this is where he wrote the famous Jungle Book. Having read this story to my daughter several times I was all familiar with Bagheera, Baloo, Mowgli, Kaa and others – the area is full of their pictures on various signboards.

Once the red tape at the forest office was done with by Pradeep, we set forth in our gypsy into the forest. We were assigned a guide, despite his efforts the tiger was not traceable. We saw the tiger’s pugmarks though, and several game like Cheetal (a deer), Sambar (another Deer), Nilgai (an antelope), Warthog, Peacock etc. At Alikatta, we enquired about the ‘Tiger Show’ in which tigers are arranged to be ‘sighted’ on elephant back parties. The wait was long and the group was not keen on the ‘arrangement’ though I was not so sure. We moved on, and more of the same sightings followed till we exited the sanctuary, and got back to another sumptuous breakfast of puri-bhaji, poha and omelettes.

Major Pradeep wouldn’t have us rest, and the next task given to us was to light a fire. It again may sound simple, but the effort proved humongous (if you have seen Tom Hanks do it in the movie Castaway). Getting the tinder to light up in itself is tough and takes a long time rubbing wood against wood. We tried using a magnifying lens and a paper (a shortcut actually) but even that failed! The lens would burn a hole into the paper but it wouldn’t light up! Meanwhile our eyes were so strained that they almost popped out of the sockets. Though we finally used a match, a major lesson was learnt in putting together tinder, twigs, air (yes, Oxygen), sticks and logs into a fire-friendly arrangement.

Post lunch we went back to the night shelter task, cleared the floor of the large tent, erected the central pole that anchored the parachute, secured the parachute ropes to nearby trees. Srikanth and I deployed our fire skills in creating a fire place, a hole in the ground where the fire would burn through the night keeping us warm and the stories coming.

The next venture was to get into the jungle, walk around a bit, and then figure out how to get back. Before that we climbed a 25 feet tall water tank that gave a view of the jungle nearby. After walking around the jungle a bit, we used the sun’s position in the sky to determine which direction to return. We also learnt that at night, the crest of the moon always points west and on a full moon night, the ears of the bunny on the moon always point south.

Towards the evening, Srikanth, Manu and self took the cycles and headed to the check dam passing a few villages. It was a 6km each way ride, and was uneventful except for the spectacular fall I had. On the way back, I had gotten off road and was maneuvering my roadster back onto the road. While negotiating the sharp left, the handlebar reversed itself, abruptly stopping the cycle and sending me flying into the air. I fell on my bums, and then rolled over with barely a scratch. Had I resisted the fall injury would have been certain, I was happy that the fall was gracefully done.

The night was spent in the shelter we created, eating good food and listening to all kinds of stories. We also split into three shifts of two hours each for tending the fire. Pradeep later called up to say that the resort manager liked the shelter so much, that he planned to retain it.

Pench Trip - Building Machan (2 of 4)

The next day morning we visited Ramdham, a religious theme park on the Nagpur – Jabalpur highway. We had some time before the Junglethlon party picked us up at 11am. Major Pradeep Rao, Manu, Avni and Shrey welcomed us to the gypsy. It was a bit disappointing to see only four registrants though the Facebook page showed upto 33 people. The ‘extreme’ edition was scrapped as well – not that I was up for it (had a right calf muscle cramp and a left ankle-tendon pain). Nevertheless the drive to Pench was good – nice road and even nicer weather.

We stopped at Khawasa on the highway – Pradeep, Srikanth and I picked up roadster bicycles from Jaleel’s cycle shop. We cycled the 12kms to the Tiger-N-Woods camp located on the edge of the Pench Tiger Reserve. We were in the forest buffer zone and the ride was good. It helped ease up my calf muscle – cramps need massage and what better than a nice cycle ride? We passed Turia village and some Gond habitats before reaching the venue. En route, Pradeep pointed to a bad patch on the road saying he almost jackknifed into the ditch there – I rode carefully. My bicycle fall would happen later, on another ride.

At the venue, we had a quick ‘breakfast’ past noon – once again puri bhaji, and quickly got down to work. Our first task was to build a machaan on which six of us would spend the night. Pradeep showed us one with stilts in a nearby field, and another one on a tree without stilts. It all looked simple, but as we got down to finalizing the spot and identifying raw material, the complexity dawned on us. Should we leverage a clump of trees as stilts? Or do we build ground up? Can we strengthen the tree machaan if there is space for six? As we resolved these questions precious time sped by. We finally decided to use a parachute as canopy and built six stretcher type beds on stilts.

I had never wielded an axe before, but quickly learnt how to - find a foot rest for the left leg, bend at the waist but keep the rest of the back straight, swing fully and carefully hitting the wood into a V pattern. After some serious log cutting, I was a happy camper. Soon it was dark and we realized the stilts were not happening on time. The night-shelter task was abandoned only to be taken up the next day.

We sat around a bon fire having good food and even better banter. We spent the night in machaan style double bedrooms that were elegant to say the least – wide balcony looking out into thick jungle, well appointed bathrooms, large bed etc. Now Srikanth was serious about the challenge and spent the night in his sleeping bag, going to the real machaan near our camp site. Sincerity is his forte!

Pench Trip - Ramtek (1 of 4)

Srikanth, my colleague at work and i headed out of Hyderabad on the night before Christmas eve. Luckily we missed the Telangana trouble brewing in the city just as the Home Minister made an announcement that triggered protests. We took the Dakshin express train to Nagpur and reached the next morning.

From Nagpur we headed to Pench on a red bus. Only that the Pench we first reached (via Parsheoni, where we took a jeep) was in Maharashtra, and the other end of the Pench tiger reserve. Animated discussions with locals helped us convert this failure into a success – we were very close to Ramtek and decided to spend the night there (at a far lesser cost than Pench!).

Ramtek has a lovely temple dedicated to Lord Ram situated on top of a steep hill. After checking into the Ramagiri lodge at the foothill, we climbed up the steep steps. It was only Srikanth, me and several langurs (monkeys) which seemed to have a free run there. There are three temples in a sequence located within a fort on the hill top. The architecture appeared to be a mix of North Indian style temple domes built on Hoysala style platforms. The serene atmosphere and the spiritual bearing of the langurs enhanced the winter breeze we were enjoying. No wonder, Lord Rama rested here before heading south to vanquish Ravana. And no wonder, Kalidasa sat on these very hills, composing the wonderful Meghadūta.

The Pench Trip

It was a trip that was made in the usual year end tradition that I am developing now. Go out into the wilderness, commune with nature and challenge oneself with a trek in the second half of a December. The trigger this year is a reflection of how the internet is impacting us - I found the event and the organisers on Facebook! The destination was Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and the event Junglethlon.

In the following travelog posts, i will provide more details on what transpired each day.

Aug 30, 2009

The Second Half Marathon

Hyderabad had its 2009 edition of Half & Full Marathon events today. And it was the occasion for me to complete my second half marathon. A decision to go for it was taken just two weeks back, in the euphoria after the Freedom Ride on Aug 15th. It was much like cramming for an exam overnight, and the preparation was not fully adequate. In terms of long runs, I could do one 10k run and another 9k. I was not sure of the 'how' but blindly went for it.

A big bummer was that i took the 'carb loading' thing too seriously. I must have overate yesterday and when I got up this morning, realized the tummy was not feeling right . Things could have gone worse, but i managed the run at a sedate pace and refrained from eating much (contrary to what is advised). The foot injury sustained in a charged-up Karate class was not helping much either. Overall I managed to still shave eleven minutes from my previous HM and clocked 2:27:38. I hope to improve this with better prep next time around.

I must thank the Hyderabad Runners group for the encouragement and guidance without which i could not have imagined running these kinds of distances. In my later teenage years i had sustained major shin injuries and any kind of running was fully out of question. The group led by the highly motivated Rajesh Vetcha, Satish Mandalika, Devyani Halder, VV Prasad, Vasu (vnug), Anirudh Pandey, Divya and many more, is a great example of excellence combined with humility.

The event itself is becoming more and more popular. This year there were several people from Kenya (where else, of course!), USA, South Africa etc. Several old men were running briskly easily beating people forty years younger to them! Many ladies and girls were also doing very well. Overall the run was well organized with lots of volunteers . Special mention to Riyaz, Srikanth who biked down from Habsiguda to Hitex, Sumanth who biked from Yousufguda, Deepthi who travelling from Fatehnagar and stayed at a hostel overnight, many more from my workplace. Let's hope this run gets a much bigger crowd next year.

Jul 23, 2009

More updates (Tweets) than posts (Blogs)

I can't deny the fact that over the last few weeks the frequency of posts on this blog have decrease. Now, the tweets - that's another story - they are on the rise and just today i noticed that i tweeted almost six times in a day! Micro-blogging aka Tweeting has caught on, and i am hooked too! It is much easier to share a tweet about a thought, a feeling, a reaction, a mood, an amazing experience - instantaneously. To post to the blog on a topic, one has to collect one's thoughts, wait for that moment when there appears to be enough time, and then type out the words - too much work!

Tweets on the other hand, demand neither preparation nor perfection. You can tweet any time (the phone is always there), and there is no edit - once out, it is out; unless it is so bad that you have to delete it (you are allowed to!). There is a sublime beauty in the 140 character limit!

Jun 27, 2009

Part of a Guinness Record!

Last month, i was fortunate to be part of a an extra ordinary event organized by Silicon Andhra, an event that pulled in a hundred sixty thousand people to sing the popular songs of a sixteenth century poet-saint Annamayya, on his 601st birthday. Annamayya occupies a unique place in Telugu history and literature - he had composed 32,000 songs devoted to Lord Venkateswara (Balaji). Each of these songs is a gem, and i had the good fortune of growing up listening to the LP records of MS Subbu Lakshmi singing them in her mesmerising voice. One of the most unforgettable experiences of my life was her live concert in 1994 (just the night before i had a big exam).

Now the artist/singing fraternity is fairly politicized (which fraternity is not?) and fragmented. However it was impressive to see many of them come together onto one platform and pull off this event. There was a grassroots movement too, by people in many villages, towns, schools and corporates to learn the songs. Since some Good Samaritans at my work place (Rambabu Kaipa - a CSR champion, Srinivas Prabhala - an accomplished artist) took the lead, it was easy for me to venture slightly beyond bathroom singing. On the big day, my eighty year old grand mother and I made it to the venue, amongst the milling crowds and savoured the occasion. There was a spring in my grandma's step despite a nagging knee injury, and she handled the crowds like a charm! The only thing amiss was the real sound of 160k voices which was drowned out by the blaring loudspeakers relaying the artists on stage (G Balakrishna Prasad and his son).

The event clearly brought out, the deep hunger people have to learn and enjoy Telugu classical music. Hope music in the state get a big boost with this Guinness record making event!

Jun 9, 2009

The Last Eleven Years

Yesterday I completed eleven years of my work life. I have evolved a lot as an individual, yet in many ways I still remain the same 'old guy'. Incidentally over the last weekend, two of my companions on a long bike ride were trying to guess my age!

What caught my eye on the first day of the twelfth year, was this article by Ramachandra Guha on his reflections about the India of the last eleven years! He talks about how India is experimenting on various dimensions all at once - nationalistic, democratic, industrial, urban and social. I somehow remain utterly optimistic about how this evolution will culminate!

May 2, 2009

"Lashkar" by Mukul Deva

It has been a while since i read fiction, and Mukul Deva's Lashkar proved to be a wonderful resumption point. Lashkar is a fast paced and gripping thriller, with a plot based on terrorism and Pakistan. Mukul goes to the heart of the matter touching both how terrorism impacts people at a personal level, and how it needs to be tackled. Took me most of a Saturday to run through it, and be amazed at the fact pace of it.

I grew up reading a lot of war fiction by Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth etc. Mukul's military thrillers are clearly in this genre and he easily ranks well in this peer group. Strongly recommend!

May 1, 2009

"Indians Deserve Their Politicians"

Atanu Dey quotes this Financial Times article, and sums up that the Indian people deserve the Congress. An auto walla told me something similar yesterday evening. I was taking an auto rickshaw from Secretariat to Domalguda, hardly 1.5 km distance. Most auto wallas either do not come, or demand Rs 20-30 (way above the usual minimum fare of Rs 12).

This man was an exception, he smiled, and even politely enquired me about the elections. I told him about Loksatta the new party, and how it could win a few seats in Hyderabad. He nodded saying, "Well there are few educated people who will vote for them, especially in the Jubilee Hills constituency". When I suggested most other politicians are crooks, this young man (all of twenty years) concurred but added, "It is the Indian public that is to blame, we vote for them after taking money, we accept their biryani feasts and liquor packets and vote for them. We deserve their rule as we break the rules of civic engagement. We are the bigger thieves!". "Why, the other auto wallas demand Rs 20 for the same ride, isn't that too thievery?", he asked.

I came home feeling good about meeting one man with clarity of thought. He aptly summarised, what took an IIM professor a full book.

"Terrorism in India" & 'Secular' Bogeys

Rediff published an article titled 'Terrorism started because of BJP' and links it to 26/11 Mumbai attacks. I am not a die-hard political supporter of BJP, but still find this article absolutely inane, because it confuses the real reasons behind the rise of terrorism.

Global terrorism traces back to the Cold War political tussle between USA and USSR, when the latter invaded Afghanistan. The US cynically exploited religion to defeat the Soviets, by funding terrorists and the Pakistan Army (which got radicalised thanks to General Zia and created the Taliban). Pakistan has been using both the funding (very cleverly procured and blackmailed, it is now clearly an art) and the terrorists as a weapon against India (since it has no other Raison d'être), leading to attacks such as 26/11. Now this Frankenstein monster is turning against Pakistan and threatens to destabilise the South Asia region. Destabilising effects will likely be more terrorist attacks in India and deeper trouble in Kashmir, as these terrorists and some Pakistani Army elements sort out their immediate issues and refocus on India.

It is ridiculous to see this desperate search for Indian 'equivalents' for the AfPak terrorism patterns, and blame them as the causes, all just to sound more 'secular'.

Apr 30, 2009

Dream: An Oil Addiction Free World

I ran into this awesome video of Shai Agassi on the TED blog and was blown away. Blown away at the sheer guts of this man who plans to cure the world of its crude oil addiction. He is dreaming and building a parallel infrastructure of electric cars, battery exchange stations (kill the gas station / petrol bunk), clean power generating hubs that create the portable charges and new battery technology underpinning all this. I can't wait to see the Big Oil corporatedom kicked in its butt. Can't wait to see the filthy rich Sheikhs slowly lose their oil power, power that is being misused to foment terror wars and prop up despotic regimes in the Middle East.

Voting in the Indian Elections 2009

Much has been written about the Indian Elections 2009 and turns out that the voting turnout in 2009 has been higher than the previous ones in 2004. More significantly the urban, educated class which has hitherto been apathetic has turned out in significant numbers to vote. I had written about this before the elections started and the hunch turned out to be true. What caused this change?
  • New generation parties like Loksatta have emerged on the political scene - these seek to mirror the aspirations of the first time voters seeking change, and have enhanced the voter turnout.
  • Movements such as have added to this momentum, the turnout at the Hyderabad walk was large and showed the enthu among the IT crowd.
  • Not to mention Jaagore which caused quite a stir in mobilising voter registrations. I was impressed with their CRM like approach to voter databases; however THE missing part was ensuring voters confirmed their names in the electoral rolls - this alone could have saved a few lakh votes, given the scale of their campaign targeting One Billion Votes.
After the election day, I checked with my friends on their voting experience - many confirmed that they indeed voted and proudly showed their index fingers embossed with the indelible voter ink (apparently in Maharashtra they smeared the middle finger, leading to a comic sight with voters showing it up). However a fairly large number also reported that their names were missing from the electoral rolls. All these cases could have been avoided if only the prospective voters had leveraged one of the many web resources available:
  • - check your name in the rolls 3-4 weeks before the election data, if it is missing, immediately raise a request to the election office in your jurisdiction. In my case, I found my name but failed to notice the change in the polling booth; so on the election day, had to rush to the new booth i was assigned, some 4 kms away from my home.
  • - same as above, or the local equivalent
  • - same as above
  • - a wonderful tool comparing the profiles of the candidates in your constituency. This link showed me the picture for Secunderabad before i voted.
Hopefully the next election (which one fears, may not be too far away with the expected hung mandates) will see these trends intensify and the lessons learnt implemented. Technology would then have really helped influence change in the polity!

Apr 26, 2009

Biking now

After months of poking with the idea of buying a bike, i finally took the plunge last month and bought a Firefox Target, my first ever geared bicycle. The motives were many - get some exercise, make an eco friendly gesture, do something other than the plain old running that i fall back to, explore nature (atleast the green university campuses and cantonments in the twin cities), go on some long rides, splurge on myself (which I am not that good at) etc. The beautiful beast (no oxymoron) looks something like this:

I am well over the post purchase dissonance phase which thankfully was short. There are pricier and fancier bikes, but this is just what i need now. I did one brief lap in wilderness hidden within the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) campus (under the watchful eyes of HBC ace Sunil Menon), and several short road trips closer home.

I love the smooth ride of a bike, the almost noiseless way in which it rides the road. Cruising on the bike is next to the feel of a bird gliding! I plan to tweet about my bike escapades in the coming days. A distant but highly ambitious wish would be to complete the TFN this December.

Dream: A Wire free Paradise

We all hate bondage, no need to go all the way back to the Dark Ages of Slavery or Karl Marx's exhortation about 'nothing to lose but your chains'. How about the wires that comes with gadgets and appliances? Do they count as bondage?Name a single gadget that comes with no wires (do not skip the power cable)! The following is a view of a typical office desk:

  • Laptop: Power cord, Ethernet cable, Blackberry charger cable,
  • External key board connector cable, external mouse cable
  • VoIP phone with its own power cord and ethernet cable
  • External monitor with power cable, video out cable

The view at home is not much different, add more cables for the broadband - modem (ethernet cable, power cord, adsl splitter with two telephone wires) and wireless router (power cord, ethernet cable). So we have almost ten cables that help connect one to the world? More like ten chains around my limbs that get in the way of easily moving my machine to wherever i want to and work from where ever i wish.

The view from the street, especially in an Indian city or town would be one infested with the cable that brings home Cable TV. They literally grew overnight with the cable TV boom that happened in the early nineties. Another eyesore is the electricity poles and wires seen all over the country.

So the wish is for a chain free world - one where devices communicate through wimax, bluetooth, infrared, wi-fi whatever protocol you name it, but lose the wires please. What about electricity and the ubiquitous power chargers? Arguably electricity heralded the tyranny of the black wire and by now the earth is mired in billions of miles of it. Technology promises a way out - there is talk of space based power stations that harvest the sun and beam the energy via microwave streams. California and Japan are already on this path. Hopefully the world will one day have something common with what was two hundred years ago - no obscene wires lurking around.

Dream: Coastal Living in India

I have often been asked by some people abroad, about the apparent lack of interest Indians have in 'living the coastal life' despite having a long coastline. I must admit, I did not have an answer, except mumble that the Indian idea of 'living the life' is different from what the Americans, British or the Australians may have. Indian kids in general do not grow up on the rich feast of sports and active lifestyle that kids in such countries do. Our kids are anyway constantly prodded by their parents to do three things: study, study and study more. And when these kids grow up, they don't change; in most cases active lifestyle may mean watching the next T20 cricket match, firmly ensconced on the couch with that bowl of potato chips.

Fortunately i spent my childhood in the coastal cities of Visakhapatnam (aka Vizag) and Paradip - as a child i remember awaiting our weekly trip to Ramakrishna Beach in Vizag. In Paradip, our school gang used to tear up the beach after every major exam. The tremendous feeling of post-exam-mania release would always find its vent near the Bay of Bengal. And the summer holidays had numerous bike trips from our township nestled in Paradip Phosphates, were always to the deserted beach. But all this was raw energy with absolutely no supporting infrastructure for sports like sailing, yachting, parasailing, canoeing etc. The same is true even today though some sports are faintly picking up in places like Rushikonda near Visakhapatnam. Indians are slowly waking up to a more active lifestyle, what with increasing global exposure of the IT generation: groups focused on Running (eg: Hyderabad Runners), Cycling (eg: HBC), Adventure (eg:, etc have emerged speaking of only one place - Hyderabad.

Now coming back to the coastline theme, India has all of 7,517 km of it, and except for pockets such as Goa or a few kilometres of beachfront property in major cities like Mumbai, Cochin, Madras, Visakhapatnam there is not much of Real Estate activity. Even the big boom of the last five years did not differentiate Coastal areas per se, as a hot zone. In my home state of Andhra Pradesh, the big Coastal Corridor project that was hatched by Chandrababu Naidu in his term and then continued by the Congress government was dropped due to political pressure - the government could not figure out an easy way of compensating the displaced and since it was an election year, they developed cold feet and scrapped it.

Big development is required in the coastal areas - to attract industry, the services sector which bring in jobs and hence people who will spur demand for quality houses on the beaches. Such demand will also carry a niche that demands quality coastal living.

Apr 5, 2009

Potential Post Election Scenarios

The election fever is surely on in India and people are hotly debating potential scenarios after what could very well be the most closely fought election so far. No one's got a clue of who will win at the country level, or in states like Andhra Pradesh. The pendulum could swing any way making the results highly unpredictable. 

My hunch though is that the BJP may just be able to pull ahead as the single largest party in Parliament. The reason is that the Congress may cede ground in AP, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi (though they just won the state elections) and Maharashtra. Orissa and WB may not make up for the loss. A BJP government in an era of failing and strife torn neighbor states (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka) is slightly better than having Congress steer foreign policy.

Trends in World Religion?

Newsweek has an interesting article titled "The Post Christian America" - more than 10% of Americans now identify themselves as non-believers. This trend if indeed true has major ramifications in a world increasingly getting polarised by religious hatred and divisions.  

It is possible that a similar trend is being played out in the Islamic world with the mega-trend of globalisation creating a similar feeling of 'openness' among people. This would have led to a huge backlash by vested interests (read Wahabbi Saudis) using religious fervour as a weapon to beat everyone around into submission. For instance the recent Taliban moves in Swat Valley and the overall context of Taliban in Af-Pak going back 25-30 years could be just part of that context.

In the longer run, this trend could point to a world where well, religion isn't all that matters. If one doesn't care what religion the other person claims to (or doesn't bother to) follow, then the world could definitely become a more peaceful space.

Elections 2009 - Technology & Youth Make It a Turning Point In India's History

The election scene for 2009 is slowly unfolding and though i was unusually aloof in the beginning, the excitement is catching up and i now find myself scanning news and even volunteering for a new political party. A significant development this time has been that people instead of shrugging their shoulders at the dirty political landscape, are actually wanting to do something. Baby steps abound, examples include:

  • Leveraging the Net to share information on criminal backgrounds of politicians (
  • Professionals like Meera Sanyal (a banker in South Mumbai) contesting the elections
  • Professionals across cities launching the Pledge to Vote campaign (, the Hyderabad event just happened today morning near the Hussain Sagar lake with thousands participating
  • The Jaagore campaign titled One Billion Votes India, which has been running for several months now and supported by leaders like NRN of Infosys
  • Eminent entrepreneurs like Rajesh Jain forming support groups such as Friends of BJP (that can also act as pressure groups) with leading political parties. 
  • Hectic usage of Orkut for canvassing which is perhaps the Social Network with the largest penetration in India.

But the most impressive of all developments is the launch of Lok Satta Party as a political movement. Launched by a former IAS office, Jayaprakhas Narayan this is the only party with clear cut plans on removing poverty rapidly in 5 years, building infrastructure etc. Obviously they are not promising dole outs that make beggars out of voters. Loksatta has picked up momentum with several professionals joining them and supporting them as volunteers. You can check their web site and Twitter site to know more about what they are doing.

Other events that have fanned these embers include Obama's election in the US last year, demonstrating that nothing is impossible in politics. The 26/11 attacks in Mumbai too have stirred people into taking some action. 

These steps will only pick up momentum and I clearly see a strong working alternative emerge that will capture 8 to 10% of the popular vote next time around. Our politicians, smart as they are will soon start to appeal to this voter base which will mean a true change in politics. The virtual circle will progress leading to a more mature polity in 10-15 years from now.

Mar 18, 2009

Liberated from Windows

I always had a fascination for Linux and Open Software and last month finally push came to shove and i made the move on my home laptop. The trigger was a 'yahoo lover' worm that wriggled into my Windows XP laptop somehow and started creating huge problems. So i ditched Windows lock stock and barrel and installed Ubuntu Linux. The installation was not a very simple affair but i persevered and am enjoying the benefits now. The system boots well, i have most of the software i need and the performance is pretty good. Firefox ran well until i realized it had issues with Flash movies which means no YouTube. Opera came to the rescue and i am already loving this browser compared to Firefox (almost as much as Linux over Windows).

The only pending issue is getting iTunes to work on Linux; Apple is never going to release a version for Linux and i am trying alternatives. Most can do basic iTunes stuff but i need something that syncs podcasts well. I am not that worried about the Nike+ runs which i will sync manually or write a small script if i am upto it.

Jan 31, 2009

My Vipassana Retreat

The new year started on an excellent personal note - i finally managed to make time (ten days) for Vipassana meditation retreat; something that i was mulling on for almost a year. The break finally came on January 1, actually i had to break away from the usual busy schedule to create space for this.

What got me there was my initial curiosity about meditation, something i had never done in even a half-serious manner. The closest was some Pranayama, which it turns out is somewhat a mechanical exercise, compared to serious meditation. And what i discovered during those ten days was immensely beneficial - several a-ha moments, the biggest being that this technique opens up an entire new world to you, one in which everything from the breath to the body, thought, feelings are all facets of a single reality. Digging deeper into this reality will take you to THE ultimate (whatever it is). I feel like a new born in this path, and am no where qualified to even contemplate what that later stages are. The key as they often say during the course is to take it easy (be 'Equanmious and Aware'), whatever may happen.

Of course it was not easy staying away, being cut off for those ten days - no telephone, no blackberry, no reading, no writing, no television, no newspaper/magazines, no internet, no going out etc. Oddly enough it was also liberating in a way though the pain of staying away from the family and being incommunicado was pinching. But having made it through, one feels one is ready for anything!

Ushering in Obama

It so happened that after two and a half years I made a trip to the United States of America, the night before Obama's swearing in as the US President. What a momentous occasion - though none of the post election frenzy was evident, one could clearly feel the after effects and the optimism with which this nation is looking forward to his rule. When checking into a Manhattan hotel near Times Square at midnight, the hotel receptionisits both Afro-American were unusually kind and saying that in Obama's rule all good things can happen.