Saturday, December 31, 2011

WANTED: Doctors for Rural Outreach from Your Desktop

CKS is planning to start a rural outreach program using electronic media for medical consultancy in 12 villages initially. The plan is to reach out to the under-served communities of 12 very poor rural areas by bringing doctors closer to them using modern technology and on-line connectivity. Importantly the doctors need not move from their desktops, and they can do this service on a voluntary basis, without any remuneration, by sitting in front of their internet connected computers. All that we require from the doctors is a weekly two hours of committed time for a poor village, and CKS will take care of bringing the patients "on-line" for the doctors. Minor ailments can be consulted upon and answered by the doctor, and the major sicknesses will be referred to for further medical observation or visit to a physician.

Any doctor interested in and willing to support this initiative may write to us at We would be happy to get in touch with you and explain to you the process. Once again, note that all that is required of a doctor is just two hours from the doctor's heavy schedule once in a week. That's all that can make a difference


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Marketing the Disabled

Since there is a large fair in Bolpur on the occasion of Christmas,known locally as "Poush Mela", I went to see the fair. It was pretty large and well managed. As I was walking in, due to the crowd that was jostling from every side, I was looking ahead and walked, trying to avoid as much of pushing as possible. Suddenly I tumbled on something, and I almost fell over. When I looked back, I was shocked. There was a woman, on a wooden bed of about 1.5 ft wide, 4 ft long and about 1 ft high. The lady had just two limbs. Soon, as I walked around the fair, I saw at least three more persons, with one or two limbs missing in similar "beds" just in the middle of people's way. Certainly they could not have come there by themselves. So who brought them in? I began to ponder! And who is gaining out of bringing them in and taking them out? Something is really messy there, in this land of Rabindranath Tagore, just within the university complex started by the national poet. It is shame that people are marketing disability instead of giving dignity to these people. Someone should take action against this sheer shameless marketing of people's disability. This is nothing less than generating a beggary market. Hope the Chairman of Bolpur Municipality, the law enforcement authorities and the University administration is listening. And before we end, being the eve of Christmas let me wish everyone  
Very Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whose child is it, anyway?

On 20 Dec evening I went to a fast food restaurant that is close to CKS office for picking couple of parathas for dinner. I have visited this place several times. But that day I saw a young lad of about 12 years old doing odd jobs at the restaurant. The social worker in me woke up. Usually I do not eat in places where they employ children. Since I had already given order for the food, I took the opportunity to educate the manager of the restaurant. As the discussion went on one more gentleman to joined towards the end. The discussion went this way: Puthumai: Sir, may I speak to you something? Manager: Yes Puthumai: It is about the little lad working here. Manager: (agitatedly) So, what? Puthumai: The boy looks too small to work in the restaurant. You know that no child below 14 years is allowed to work in any commercial or domestic establishment in India? Manager: (angrier now) So, what do you want me to do now? Shall I send him away? Then he will go around stealing things. He will start snatching from people's necks (gold chains). He will come and steal from your house! Why don't you take him to your house, feed him, clothe him and educate him. I have no problem! Puthumai: (changes the strategy) No, my point is not that you are doing something wrong. I wish to tell you that in case of a raid you could be caught for employing a child! Manager: Ha... I know all the officers. They come here. They sit and eat out here. The Food Officer once asked about a boy I had employed. I told him I shall meet him at his home. And I took the boy to him and I told him to keep the boy, feed him and educate him. That's it! Will he? No! He just let me go! Puthumai: I see! Where does this boy hail from? Manager: (with a softened tone) He is a tribal boy. Look, his father had three children. And he has left them, and is living with another woman. What will these children do? Start stealing? This boy was working with me for a few days. Then because he was naughty, I sent him away. And he started stealing petty things around. And one day the police picked him for snatching a woman's gold chain. They beat him and they sent him back, because there is no point in pursuing the case for police! What will they do with him? Sent him to juvenile home? There are too many there, already. And pressing a case against him is useless for them. Then again I brought him here. At least he gets to eat here and gets some small amount of money. And learns the job! Can the government give job or teach job to everybody? Puthumai: No, that is not possible. Manager: Exactly. And if these boys are not engaged, then they will become Maoists! A customer: What did you say? Manager: What else? It is easier for the politicians to speak all big things. But can they do it? Can they educate and feed all children in the country? What is the perceptional rule in the country? Tribals are Maoists, Muslims are Terrorists! That's the perception going on.... Puthumai: Well, Sir, I need to go. But it was interesting to talk to you. See you. Good night. Manager: Good night. I began to wonder on my way back - With the Food Security Bill on the anvil in the Indian Parliament, and the Right to Education Act in place already, can we really change the mindsets? Can we really change the life of Indian children's destiny positively? Can the governments really take up these practical issues seriously? Or, are we going to be consigned to the fate of having millions of children like this one in the land of Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen growing up uneducated, less fed and with no social respect for himself?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kids Have it Big

Sunday, 18 Dec 2011. Location Aminpur, near Bahiri, a little known tribal village near Bolpur. We three of us from CKS reached the village in the morning, and the children and villagers had been informed that there will be a small sports event in view of the Christmas and New Year on the anvil. We were delighted by the enthusiasm of children and the time went flying! In about three hours with the children and some of the villagers, we had won their heart, and they loved the fun. The winners were given prizes. There was an interesting twist in the games. Except for two of them, all others had some mental exercise along with the physical game. For example the little kids while running a 100 meter race had to stop at 50 meter point, identify the animal in the picture, write it in Bangla language and then complete the race. The older ones had a simple mathematical calculation to complete in a 200 meter race! This made it more interesting for children as the competition became a learning point as well. 

A week back, a drawing competition had been held as well for those children who are getting special educational support from our organization, and those children too received prizes. The joy is in giving. As the saying goes, the smell of a flower remains in the hands of the giver.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Largesse of the Government

The deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor has crossed 170 and still some are battling against death. The government of West Bengal has announced an ex-gratia of 200,000 rupees for the bereaved families. On 9th Dec 2011 after the major fire in AMRI hospital in Kolkata too the government announced similar grant. I wonder from where does this money come from. I have no problem in giving out the money, but my question is from where is this kind of money being generated? Before we discuss this, the death toll in the hooch tragedy has gone well past the total deaths due to Cyclone Aila in 2009. Only 139 persons died in the aftermath of cyclone Aila; but this tragedy has killed more than 170 people. Should we call it a disaster?

Now, about the money. AMRI is a hospital for the rich, of the rich, and by the rich. I am not sure if some of these families whose loved ones died in the fire really require this 200,000 rupees that comes from the government. The other question is, if people die drinking spurious liquor, and their families get 200,000 rupees, will this event become a tipping point, and the situation escalate that the poor think that they can die drinking spurious liquor, and their families can get the money, and live happily ever after?!!! We are walking on a very fragile paradigm. Secondly, what is the source of money that the government is giving out? If it is money of the general public and that of the tax payers, I am against. it. If AMRI authorities are at fault, the government must realize the compensation from them. Let them take 500,000 rupees per each patient. No issues on that! Let them take over the entire land and the building, and pay for damages. That would be exemplary, honest in every way, and not impinging on the money for development. In the case of the hooch tragedy, the government must attach the properties of all those involved in production, sale and permitting such sale. I might sound harsh. But unless exemplary punishments burn a hole in the pockets of these people, it would not be an example. 

There is something called Law of Torts. This is hardly used in India, although it exists. It is simply the law relating to civil damages. The only civil damage cases we see are some big politician asking for money from media houses for a perceived damage to their supposedly good name. We must take this further. Civil damages must be compensated, but the damager, and not by people's money. For heaven's sake, will someone say this to the Chief Minister, please!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Worst Continues....

The deaths due to the hooch tragedy (drinking of spurious liquor) mostly by the poor, rickshaw pullers, daily laborers etc has spirally as if we are watching a cricket match! The deaths that started on Wednesday have continued through Thursday, and by evening 6.00 pm we have 131 confirmed deaths! What a shame! 

Last week we lost over 90 persons in fire and this week due to liquor! All because someone is negligent, and the system is corrupt. I feel ashamed at times that we have not been able to save the lives of people who trust the government to protect them. The honorable Chief Minister has ordered an inquiry into the deaths. But what will they look into? Who were the culprits who were selling liquor? And who were the people who drank from them and got sick and died? If this is the point of reference then this inquiry will not serve any purpose. The inquiry should cover: how did these teams of liquor sellers continue to get patronage? Who was patronizing them? At what cost? For how long? Where else this is going on? And then, put them all behind bars, and make them culpable. It is not enough to bring in cases of culpable homicide. They must be charged with culpable homicide amounting to murder.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spurious Liquor Claims 34 Lives

According to breaking media reports in another kind of tragedy in West Bengal, in one of the worst hooch tragedies, at least 34 people died and over 100 were admitted to hospitals on Wednesday after drinking toxic liquor at Mograhat in South 24-Parganas district, West Bengal, India
CNN-IBN reports: "Thirty-four people died and over 100 were admitted to hospitals at Diamond Harbour and Sangrampur complaining of severe stomach ache, vomiting and loose motion after consuming the liquor", SP Lakshmi Narayan Meena said.
Four persons were arrested in connection with the case, Meena said. Angry locals smashed the liquor dens. Sunderban Affairs Minister Shyamal Mandal said medical teams were rushed from Kolkata while some of the victims were brought to city hospitals for treatment.
The state government announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of those who died.
Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee announced the compensation in the assembly"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tide, Wind and Rainfall Information

Center for Knowledge and Skills had inaugurated the Tide and Wind Information System (TWIS) on 6 August 2011.. The system brings down scientific information on Wind Speed,  probability of rainfall and quantity, and height of Tide on a daily basis for two days in advance in simple language that people can understand. The information comes with a color coding system so that people can be forewarned in case of a natural hazard. Specifically it uses a Manually Operated Display Board for giving out the information. The initiative that started in G-Plot in the far off Patharpratima block of South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, is now getting replicated in Brajabhallavpur in the same block. We are glad that Concern Worldwide came forward to make it a part of Early Warning system for the community in those remote villages. The project is being funded by DIP-ECHO and executed by Sabuj Sangha. At Brajabhallavpur 5 boards will be set up in five different locations benefiting hundreds of people who travel by boats and who frequent the local markets each day. In all, now in 8 locations the display boards will be functioning within this month. Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) is happy to be the technical partner in providing and sustaining the information flow to the community.

Smoking Doctors

At last the home truth is out. What do you do with the fire alarms in a hospital if the doctors smoke? Switch it off! This is what had happened in AMRI hospital in Kolkata. As mentioned in my story Hell of Fire a fire that broke out in that hospital had consumed more than 90 persons since the early morning of 9th Dec 2011. The initial inquiry shows that because there were several doctors who did not adhere to the national law against smoking in public places (hospitals are considered public places), the hospital management had to keep the fire alarms switched off so that people will not be disturbed too many times, and the doctors can smoke and do their duty freely. 

I believe, the doctors have a moral responsibility in this incident, and must be held culpable. Unless the smoking doctors are not punished, it is not going to send any serious signal to any doctor who smokes in work places. This is time for teaching people. Along with the management action must also be taken against such doctors because of whom the alarms were switched off.

Knowing that the doctors are a big lobby group, they may stop working! The government must invoke Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), if doctors resort to such. One thing is clear. This scar of the fire cannot be healed unless it teaches everyone a true lesson, including those in government.

On the Shores of Digha

On 5 Dec morning I traveled from Bolpur to Digha via Durgapur, picking in the ABSK team on the way. We were traveling for a training of Block and District Coordinators of the Polio Eradication Project supported by UNICEF and CORE India, of which I am the State Emergency Response Coordinator. 

A very long and tiring journey followed as we traveled through Purulia and West Medinipur districts. The road between Durgapur and Kharagpur, and between Belda and Digha via Egra was extremely bad. We reached at 5.30 pm.  As I reached the trainer team and I had to sit down to plan for the rest of the days. 6th and 7th December went very quickly as we mazed through the training module. I had two sessions in which I shared my views on Strategic Planning and Working Together through two animated stories. It was very interesting for all.

On 6th evening we also managed to walk down to the sea shore that is so crowded even in this non-tourist season, The unkempt roads, the poorly lit, shabbily kept shops and eateries are miles from making this destination into a good tourist destination. The way back was worse! Our vehicle kept getting a flat tyre repeatedly. We had to stay at last in Kolkata on 7th night, and travel back on the early morning of 8th. 

Overall, the training went good. The journey wasn't.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hell of Fire

A fire that broke out in a prestigious hospital for the rich and famous in the heart of Kolkata, known to all as AMRI hospital had a major fire breaking out on 9 Dec early morning and ending up killing 93 people, including 4 staff, and the rest being patients who came to the hospital to get well! RIP.

The government is blaming it on the hospital not having followed safety norms. The directors of the hospital are put behind bars and charged with homicide not amounting to murder. The government says they are revising policies relating to safety standards. But who shall bell the cat? In the case, the cat is the government. The disaster management department and fire services department have less interaction, and in spite of the fact that the civil defense department, the fire services department and disaster management department are under the same minister, the coordination has been less than expected. The State Disaster Management Authority is less than functional. At this point one thing must be said: it is time that all these three departments are merged, as all the three of them look into emergency situations.

The media reports say that the initial fire tenders went to the hospital to put out fire without any hydraulic ladders that can reach them at least to the fourth floor of the building. Whom to blame it on? Fate? Or, callousness? The ladders reached two hours late.

Finally, what about the hospital staff on night duty. The fire reportedly started around 1.30 am. But the security staff did not allow anyone to get it to help them, nor did they call for any assistance. This is absolutely unethical, unlawful, and amounting to murder. And must be treated as such.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dry and Long - Huge Rainfall Shortage in India

Northern India in general is going through a long dry spell. The report of the Indian Meteorological Department has shown that there has been a huge deficit in this year's rain fall. Whereas the usual North-Eastern monsoon period for western, eastern, north and north-eastern states of India stretches from 1 June to 15 October each year, the South Western monsoon starting from 1 October to December facilitates rainfall in the east coast of India. Looking into the available data and maps, the early rainfall in June was excess in many states, and normal in July. But, after that there has been a huge drop in rainfall. Though the cumulative rainfall for the period looks normal in most counts, in actual terms there has been very little rainfall since August in most states, and huge deficit in north-eastern states. 

The data available till date for the October to 7 December 2011 period shows further deviations, as the state of Andhrapradesh in south, several northern, north eastern, eastern and western states are under severe shortage of rainfall. The Gangetic belt is showing signs of stress as the average rainfall shortage for this period is above 80% in most cases. Although not much of rain is expected during this period, it is important in terms of agriculture, arrival of winter and warding of pests! The lack of rainfall has the potential to push up input costs on agriculture for small farmers who hold less than one acre of land, and increase debts for medium farmers who often take big loans. This could also hit production of vegetables, cereals and pulses of the winter crops and summer crops. On the one side the winter has set in very late. On the other side, the Indian agricultural industry is looking at deep drops in the coming summer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Body Shop and Animal Testing

Early morning I had reached Mumbai airport to leave for Kolkata. As I looked around for gate A7 in terminal 1A, I found next to it a shop called the "Body Shop". It had a lot of things that the affluent need for pamper their bodies. I was looking around to see how many things are there in life without with I still remain contented. As a background of the shop there was a huge wallpaper which had these words, "Against Testing Animals".  "What does this mean?", I asked the lady who was "manning" the shop. She said she didn't know....may be it had something to do with the commitment of the company against testing of animals for medical research and cosmetics etc. I began to wonder then what are we supposed to test on? Humans? 

How can we test on humans for possible adverse impacts of medicines in research? How can we test if a medicine would work or not in the first place? Not utilizing animals for tests in certain critical areas can actually push certain researches backward by decades. 

I believe Body Shop did not educate its staff as well on what else is in the shop, other than the materials that they were selling for the well-being of people who can afford. The philosophy behind it, literally, is however not the appropriate one per se.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sphere - Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

The new Sphere Handbook released in April 2011 has several new insights and better view of the crisis situations. The fundamental approach in the book is to look at standards in humanitarian response from the perspective of affected population, in stead of the humanitarian agency, as previous two versions of the book had done. The book also has the revised Core Standards, Protection Principles and several other new features. The Key Action in every standard is really a good guide for organizations to understand what type of activities can be taken up and the Guidance Notes are elaborate and well-written.

I am in Pune since last Sunday to understand and learn this wonderful document, (I have been trained in the previous versions of the book twice before.) under the guidance of two senior trainers in RedR India. The four days long training which started on Monday has helped me understand the new standards in emergency response and how the assessment and response mechanisms can be improved, better coordinated and response to the needs of people can be with strong humanitarian imperative. Thank you RedR India!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Singing a New Song

There is too much of hue and cry about this song “Kolaveri di”. I listened to it thrice in YouTube, and added to the already 12.2 million hits in just about two weeks. It is neither a song nor a prose. It is not even worth a song that can be “sung” in bathrooms. Yet it seems to have an untold mystique to raise something deep down in the mind of people. It seems to have certain elegance and simplicity, and yet complex enough to play a tongue twister. Unless you know how Tamils use the “U” sound in most of their words, you cannot appreciate the rhythm of it. It just lets to tap your legs and enjoy the beats. Its just a group song. It is written in group, sung in group, danced in group. The meaning of the song makes no sense, well, hardly any sense. But who said any song should make any sense? Did someone say, music is a matter of heart and not of meanings?

Power and the Powerless

A few kilometers south of my home town in Tamilnadu lies Kudankulam. Not the most picturesque spot. But, as you travel along the coast from Tiruchendur to Kanyakumari, via Uvari, you just cannot miss this little village dotted by palm tress that scale high – Idinthakarai. And as you reach Idinthakarai, from your vehicle you can see the sea, and move down, Kudankulam is visible. Kudankulam is less populated, and is now the place of controversy. People of Idinthakarai, led by some local nonprofit organizations, people’s groups and supported by church leaders are fasting and protesting the Nuclear Plant that is under near completion in Kudankulam. The construction has been on there for more than six years, and the land acquisition and initial preparation of the place had started long before that. But there was hardly any muffle. There was no objection to the land acquisition or building till date. But, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan changed all that. People feared the safety of the nuclear plant. Someone poured oil into the fear, and soon the people were ignited. Protests, hunger strikes, road blockades followed. Still the stand off continues.

Lots of efforts have gone in: the former president of India, a nuclear scientist himself, visited the place and spoke to villagers; both the central and state governments sent several teams. No one seems to be listening….why?

  1. Predominantly Christian community that lies along the coast did not get much job opportunities in the power plant.
  2. Due to the construction and need for technical people, due to need for large number of work force, including cheap labor, there is huge influx of people from several northern and eastern states of India. This has lead to : decrease in labor cost in the area. Tamilnadu laborers charge higher than those from outside.
  3. There is a fear of increased crimes with sudden “disturbance” social fabric of the society which is now suddenly multi-lingual (from colloquial Tamil)
  4. Till last six months the DMK ruled which had huge support among the Christian minority, and the Kudankulam power plant was a brain child of DMK government. Besides that, any little dissatisfaction in the community was immediately responded to by the DMK government. But, on the other hand, the present incumbent, ADMK, is seen as anti-Christian in general. (This could be a reason why the agitations are being held within church complexes and supported by church leaders.)
  5. The cost of food supplies and other items have gone up, since the settlers from other states are moving in. Because these people are salaried, as central government employees, they are able to pay. But the poor of the area, the fishermen and the palm candy making agricultural community are not able to afford at the cost. This increases dissatisfaction.
  6. And finally, no one has guaranteed 24x7 electricity supply to these villages, as nearly 50% of electricity will be sold to other states, and rest will go to feed the State grid. The people of the area need fish processing, cold storage for fish packaging and transport for export to other parts of the country and globe. This need of the people has not been responded to.
So, the powerless have become powerful: by using their right to protest. And the powerful are not able to add power to the national grid. Powerless have their own ways of lighting up power !

Monday, November 28, 2011

Diapers and New Age Children

The other day I was talking to a senior lady. She is only educated up to the primary level, and was married off in her teens, and had three children, all of them settled now in life. I saw this lady forbidding her younger daughter when she was tying the diaper for her son. I asked the lady why is she stopping her. She had this logic: These days there are so many children who get quickly discouraged and take to extremes. We hear of young students committing suicide. (West Bengal has highest student suicide rate in the country.) We also hear of young children taking up arms against their own friends for frivolous things. This is because these children have not learned "control" when they were young. What do diapers do? The diapers teach children that they need not control! And as young kids, even before they learn to speak properly, they know that they need not control their own basic instincts: instinct to excrete and urinate. The parents are not concerned about when the child urinates or excretes. So, the child need not be concerned about it either. This gets into the child as part of its basic trait: uncontrolled behavior following uncontrolled body and emotions. Naturally, you end up with children who cannot control anger, failures, success, and disappointment. 

Well, it makes sense, when it comes from very senior citizens. Someone said, the problem is children get fixated at the anal stage, as Freud would put it. It is right what that woman is saying. Time to reflect folks! Get rid of diapers!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Retail and FDI

India is looking at allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail markets. India also hopes that this would lead to creation of at least 4 million jobs, and the investment has to be to the tune of a minimum of 100 million US $. So, with this India expects huge inflow of foreign retail marts to start huge stores across the country-- from Wal Mart to Burger King, everyone will be looking into tapping the 600 billion $ Indian retail market ! Although I am personally in favor of opening up the Indian market, certain things seem to hit hard the Indians. And I am afraid of this one too.

Let us start with the first assumed benefit: 4 million jobs in the country, with possibility of another 4- 6 million jobs in allied services. Well, but how many will lose jobs because of this? That one is answering. Few years back, when Pepsi and Coca-Cola where allowed into the country, initially they were allowed to sell drinks in a bottle of 500 ml or more. Now, that meant, keeping the local companies live, including many who were making cool drinks from their own homes, and were selling in the local market in container bottles of 180 ml and 300 ml. Then the law allowed these giants to sell 180 ml and 300 ml bottles as well. Suddenly, the home based entrepreneurs and small vendors vanished! Even my own brother lost business! When I asked him three years ago why his business was going down, he said this as the reason. Now, his business is fully closed, and is unemployed. I do not know how many extra people Coke or Pepsi employed. But I know that some people lost their livelihood too.

During my trips in Eur0pe and the U.S. I have heard some of my friends saying how small shops cannot do business because everyone goes to the big shops, the super-markets to get things cheap, make their own choice and ultimately....leaving the small time vendors heart-broken. I am apprehensive of this move of the government.

The second presumed benefit is, if more money flows in, then inflation would come down! That is really funny. How much of inflation came down with the first round of reforms in India? 3 - 4 percent? But then it went up again. It is now hovering around 10-11 % Cost of basic goods have gone up. Gone up skywards....

What we need today is agricultural reforms--a second green revolution, that benefits both the farmer and the consumer. There are too many middlemen surviving on the farmers' plight and consumers' woes. This must end. Now.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Children Die of Hunger in Expectant Superpower India

India is longing to be considered an Economic Superpower in the globe, and to become a permanent member to the Security Council. However, things are looking grim as the new Human Development Report of the country for 2010-2011 has exposed: Over 35% of children continue to be born malnourished and underweight. My favorite channel CNN-IBN exposed how in one district of the industrial state of Maharashtra alone over 500 children are dying each year due to malnutrition and hunger. View the video at: Malnutrition

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Team Anna Exposed

Mr. Anna Hazare and his team of great servants of the country who have vowed to clean the country of corruption have been thoroughly exposed! They have recently gone to Hissar in Haryana state of India to tell people not to vote for Congress. Nothing wrong with that if their intention of cleaning the country matches with action. The only person in the fray with no criminal records against him is certain Mr. Jai Prakash of Congress! And his nearest rivals of Haryana Janhit, Indian National Lok Dal and the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly--all these three have several criminal cases pending against them, according to their own affidavits filed along with their nomination. What an irony! It is a SHAME that Team Anna wants to support cleaning the country of corruption and criminality in politics, and yet thrill the politicians with criminal background through their indirect support. By asking to vote against Mr. Jai Prakash they are asking people to vote for criminals! People must see their true colors. Someone said it on TV, this team Anna smells saffron. Or, to tell it bluntly, they are full of hypocrisy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Apple of the Apple

Steve Jobs is no doubt the Apple of the Apple empire. It is a virtual world in which he alone ruled. There were many co-founders, but everyone knew apple. His followers revered him, and his rivals shuddered at each launch of the Mac and Apple application. He learned little by education, by life and experience an ocean. His speech at the Stanford University is considered as one of his masterpieces of reflective thought--empirically sound, profoundly Augustinian, and yet existenially appealing the young. As a mark of respect and tribute to the man, many news channels, papers and on-line sites have reproduced the same. For those who have missed it, we present it for you here:

Steve Job's Speech at Stanford University

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much

Friday, September 23, 2011

Checking In

Due to terror attacks India has made it mandatory for all hotels to check and preserve a copy of photo identity cards of its guests. When I landed in Srinagar, my driver straightaway took me from the airport to Shah Abbas, facing the picturesque Dal Lake. My room had been already booked through my friend Aamir. (Thank you Aamir for the wonderful travel plan you made for us.) As I reached the reception they asked me to fill a form mentioning my name, where I come from etc. When I took out my photo identity card to give it to them, they said they do not require it. I said, "But is it not mandatory that the visitors' ID cards must be checked and preserved?" The manager replied, "That is only in India, not in Kashmir. We want people to come, stay with us and spend time with us. So we do not harass people." It is surprising at the way he distinguished between India and Kashmir, and that in spite of so many terror attacks, (just couple of days before a bomb set in a suitcase had killed 17 people outside Delhi high court), this hotel had not learned anything. No wonder, at the same time, two young boys were detected to have sent e-mails claiming a particular terror group taking responsibility in the Delhi high court case, and the mails had been sent from a cyber cafe in Kishtwar in Kashmir, and the owner of the cyber cafe had not registered the names of the teenagers, although it is mandatory to do so. If money matters more than safety, we shall have none. (In picture: working in relaxed mode on the boathouse)

Waning Paradise - Melting Glaciers

Between 9 - 14 Sept I got an opportunity to be in Kashmir. First time in the so called "paradise on earth". The trip was highly eventful, about which I shall write in the next post. We had a good driver who took us around to some of the best places. But everyone had one thing to complain about: lack of rainfall and high amount of heat even in September, when it should have been cooler. The only place where we could see a bit of ice was in Sonemarg. But the weather was terribly hot, and the ice was in small patches on the glaciers. Thinking of climate change issues? I was talking to the horsemen who rent their horses at abnormally high price even for an hour's ride. The men said that even the horses are finding it difficult to walk in the heat and many of them suffer due to high exposure to sun. Though the evenings were cooler, we used fan in the boathouse so that we can have proper sleep. Kashmir still has the charm of miraculously changing weather which changes from a warm bright sunny day to a wet cold rainy time with very little warning. It almost comes without a warning. But for the paradise itself, it is waning. (In picture, a woman rows a boat in Dal lake to reach her son and sister to school)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Improving Transparency

One way to improve transparency and reducing black money is to start with smaller things in life--like moderating vegetable and fish markets and regulating rickshaws. Each smaller thing also requires customized solutions.

Let us look at the case of the vegetable and fish markets in our towns and villages. Now, these shops do not give any bills, and the deals made are in smaller amounts. So, what we need to do is to promote billing. But a small vendor may be uneducated and in the rush of things may not have time to write a bill. So, the simpler thing is to have pre-paid bills of rupees 2, 5, 10 & 20. Each of these bills may be commonly printed and purchased by these vendors at a cheaper price, and each of these tickets / bills might cost just 10 paise (a miniscule fraction: i.e. 1/10 of a rupee; and as of today, 1 USD = 45 rupees). So, this would be a small but steady tax flowing into the government's coffers, while the government is able to track which vendor is actually selling how much of products. Customers must be encouraged to ask for these tickets along with their purchase, and in any case the vendor adds the small cost in his/her product. An alternative would be, like in the sale of matchboxes & cinema tickets in which a small logo tag from the Excise Department is added, the bills also may contain such a tag. In the case of rickshaws too we can do similar exercise.

Every taxi driver has a turn over of not less than 600 rupees a day, because that is their break-even point. Imagine that big cities have not less than 1000 taxis. The minimum turnover without any accountability is: 600,000 each day. The taxi meters all must be fixed with a prepaid gadget. Accordingly, the driver and the passenger must be able to see in the digital meter: the distance covered in the trip and the minimum fare only. At the end of the journey the actual bill may be only through the print out with a printer fixed on the meter. Now comes the most important point. The prepaid gadget for which the driver has purchased credits will automatically lose some credits for each trip. It is more like a prepaid voucher in a cell phone. Let me explain: Driver X purchases 100 rupee credit and recharges his system. Then, at the end of the trip, the bill comes out with the details: The vehicle number; Distance traveled : 3 km; and Cost : Rupees 30. A tax of 1 percent, i.e. 0.30 paise is deducted from the prepaid credit, and the driver has a balance of Rs. 99.70 in his account. When the balance goes below 5 rupees, at the beginning of each trip the system gives a warning, and if the balance goes negative, the system refuses to switch on itself with a warning message for recharging.

We will soon notice that most road taxes can be reduced if such innovative and compulsory taxing systems are followed with minimum burden on any service provider or customer.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Transparent Communities, Transparent Government

There is so much of discussion continuing, and people planning go on fast if the anti corruption bill, known as the Lokpal Bill is not stringent enough, and if it is not passed by the parliament. I have some primary questions to be raised before we plan to stop millions being swindled. The patrons of anti-black money and anti-corruption bill need to pay attention to this.

Let us take simple two examples of two small towns in India: Raiganj, the place I worked for over 6 years; it has a population of about 150,000, and Bolpur - Santiniketan, the place of the national poet Rabindranath Tagore, and the eminent economist Amartya Sen--both Nobel laureates. The town has a population of over 250,000. Let us look at the vegetable market and the rickshaw pullers of these two towns as an example. The vegetable market in Bolpur must be having a minimum turn over of not less than 50,000 rupees a day, and Raiganj would have about 50,000 as well, because it has a bigger wholesale marketing system as well, being closer to lots of villages cultivating vegetables. So, on any given day these two towns alone have a turn over of not less than 100,000 rupees. And, believe me, never has any one asked for a bill from any of the vendor, whether it was a purchase for 10 rupees or for 1000 rupees. The maximum you would get from a bigger shop would be a small piece of paper with a scribble of the amount on it. Let us say, in a year only for 300 days these markets are open. These two towns alone make a turn over of 30 million rupees (3 crores) in royal black. Now, count the number of towns and cities in India-- you would never end up counting the the amount that goes unaccounted.

Let us look at the rickshaw pullers in these two towns. Raiganj has about 150 rickshaws on an average on road, and Bolpur has about 250 on road on any given day. Any rickshaw puller would agree that on an average they make not less than 100 rupees a day. So, 400 rickshaws x 100 rupees is equal to 40,000 a day, and 330 days of rickshaws running in a year would result in 13.3 million rupees changing hands in black. Well, no one asks a rickshaw puller to issue tickets or bills.

I have taken two raw examples, leaving aside the bigger ones to show how we promote black money at every level. This money has to be spent. Black begets more black. And that is the father of larger corruption. (Mother is the human crave for more!)

So, we must have simpler solutions. I shall explain some of them in my next blog.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Flood Struck

Natural disasters seem to chase human kind everywhere. Incessant rains started on 16 June continued till 19 June, and there was flood like situation in several parts of the State of West Bengal. According to government reports nearly a million people were affected, and at least 30 persons have died so far due to landslides, flood and lightning. On Tuesday, 21 June evening, Mr. Nasir Ateeq from Unicef Kolkata office called me and requested that I help out the coordination process. Since the need of the hour is to have a needs assessment organized immediately, I was in Kolkata on Wednesday, and helped to put a team together along with the State Inter Agency Group, Unicef, CARE, World Vision and few other NGOs. And on 23 - 24, we were in Bankura and Purba Medinipur districts of West Bengal doing Emergency Needs Assessment (ENA). By late evening of 24 June, the ENA report for distributed for wider audience and for appropriate action by partner non-profits and government.

Though the days were tiring, yet I was happy that I could contribute to the welfare of the people in whatever little way I can and I could. (The image below shows the southern part of West Bengal, and the blocks affected by floods.)