Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rapiscan systems - the Other Corruption

Usually when we say a politician is corrupt, we think about money exchanging hands. Not a lot of thought goes to other forms of corruption - such as power-brokering or abuse of power.
The central government in India is enormously powerful - the simple edicts that bureaucrats pass from their desks actually have consequences.
When we suffer a major erosion in our rights, it is fair to question the motivation of those powerful people in the center.
One such step is coming our way - in the form of the Full Body scanning machines, the Secure 1000 created by Rapiscan Systems.

The news story in Economic Times is here.

The article takes a kind of positive line with the "Indian-born" Deepak Chopra, owner of Rapiscan Systems. Economic Times is usually deferential to big corporations.

But what the article is really saying is that the Indian government is all set to unveil full body scanners in Indian airports. There has not been any debate or news about this (except for the fawning coverage of ET).
In a country that is now seeing major abuses of power by government officials, the LAST thing we need is airport officials videotaping passengers' "near-naked" walk-throughs and publishing it in the internet or threatening passengers with such images.

A few passages from an informative commentary on the "Secure 1000" scanner from Rapiscan:

Scientists from the University of California have publicly challenged the safety of the devices. The U.S. Airline Pilots Association, warns the TSA that they have offered no credible specifications for the radiation emitted by these machines. The USAPA has determined that frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks. The long term health effects of these technologies remains unknown.

However, The Food and Drug Administration has responded to concerns by announcing that the potential health risks from the Naked Body Scanners are "minuscule."
A Matter of Privacy

A full naked body image is produced by the Backscatter x-ray producing virtual strip searches without probable cause which opponents claim are illegal and violate basic human rights, arguing that the scans are a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano ensured passenger privacy and affirms that the images are permanently deleted immediately once viewed and are never stored, transmitted or printed. However, TSA officials admitted that the scanners are required to be capable of saving images for the purpose of evaluation, training and testing. Concern over the possibility of leaked images was further stressed when leaked photos documented by were made public on their site. The images were from a Florida courthouse scanner that may have illegally saved 35,000 images.

So, the Indian government, which faces no comparable threat as the USA; whose officials and elected leaders are abusers of power; is now contemplating getting a machine that will show naked anyone who tries to fly.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this purchase (and the resulting windfall for Rapiscan) happens not just because of the absolute need for it; but because someone up there has been perfectly lobbied by Rapiscan. It is one of our "industry-friendly" masters who has taken this awful decision.

As I said, there is corruption and then there are power abuses. Installing full body scanners in airports is a complete power abuse by the Indian government.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pawar proves my point

In my earlier blog I had connected Modi, Raja, the Telecom scam and the Nano car deal to a general confusion between "corporate friendliness" and corruption. All that you have to say is "create jobs" and you can justify any corrupt practice.
After liberalisation politicians have figured out how to make money and gain power while appearing to serve the nation at the same time. That is by saying they support individual businessmen and then yell that they were "business-freindly" when caught.
Being corporate friendly is NOT the same as being MARKET-friendly. Government leaders are expected to maintain a fair market - that is, to be MARKET-friendly. The market has buyers and sellers. Leaders are supposed to look out to BOTH their interests.

Instead what we have is CORPORATE friendliness - which translates to accepting money from corporations and then shilling for them. That was my point in my earlier blog.

Now, within two days of writing it, I found the BEST example of that in an Economic Times link today. Here is the link to the original story:
Pawar turns crusader for India Inc against Centre

As investigating agencies turn the heat on business groups over issues relating to corruption and insider trading, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar cautioned the government against “targeting” corporates without “adequate” reason.

He said recent developments that have triggered corporate disaffection with the government could have adverse implications on the coalition’s stability. More crucially, he went on to suggest that if this persisted, big corporate houses could shift their loyalties to the Opposition. “This will not augur well for the government,” Pawar is learnt to have said.

On Monday afternoon, Pawar raised the issue at a meeting of UPA leaders and warned that there was a “growing feeling” that the government was no longer “corporate-friendly” and had stopped having a “soothing effect” on companies.

The agriculture minister, who is known to be industry-friendly, is learnt to have presented this issue of corporate disaffection as one that affects the sentiments of the share market. Fluctuations in the capital market would affect the average investor, said Pawar, whose own tenure at the helm of consumer affairs over two stints of the UPA has witnessed volatile commodity market fluctuations.

Read that and weep.
So Pawar thinks the government is not corporate-friendly if it investigates wrong doings.
Note how the Economic Times frames this - read the title of the piece again. "Pawar turns crusader for India Inc against Center". Pawar is NOT crusading for India Inc - he is "crusading" for a few rich businessmen.
Secondly, Pawar is right that this may turn some corporations, the party's big donors against the ruling coalition. That is bad for the party - but NOT for the GOVERNMENT. The party is not the government in India. Something like this, although bad for the party, is actually good for government, isn't it?
So, that is what we are dealing with here. Pawar is obviously proud of his "industry-friendly" title, helpfully provided by the Economic Times and other media. What he should be called is "the corrupt agriculture minister". Replace "corrupt" for "Corporate friendly" in the above article and you have an accurate picture.

Politicians now actually have an excuse to claim they are creating jobs or they are corporate friendly - when actually what they are is simple: they are corrupt.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

2G, Raja, Modi and Greed

(Updated Below)
Ever since the 2G scam broke, I have been waiting for Narendra Modi, CM of Gujarat to say something about it. Then in a seminar, he was asked what he would have done if he was PM. Very original question. And he answered,"It would not have happened."
The reason I was waiting for Modi (or anyone in the media) to link between Modi and 2G is this: Minister Raja's claims during the 2G scam, his justifications and his mentor Karunanidhi's justifications seemed to be the SAME one's that Modi's defenders used during the Nano factory offer in Gujarat.
The rest of this essay will make that connection; and I will try to explore the philosophical underpinnings of the current mess.

Nano and 2G
What is Raja's crime according to the CAG? Raja bent the rules of allocating the spectrum; and favored certain businesses. This caused huge losses to the government - but the important part is that Raja violated the rules to favor certain companies.
But Modi did the SAME thing when he sought out Tata's Nano. He favored a SINGLE company, Tata, and showered a lot of government favors on tha company so that the factory will relocate to Gujarat. Why didn't ANYONE talk about corruption then? In fact Modi is hailed as a pro-business messiah.
Modi justified the handover of no-bid favors to Tata, a single business, as creating jobs and encouraging investment. Raja said he had acted according to policy - but the CAG report showed that he and his department had bent the rules to favor some businesses.
Modi's actions caused losses to the state of Gujarat too - there has just been no auditing of those losses. Raja could be prosecuted because he is a member of the executive. Modi, as the elected leader of a state cannot be. That is the only difference.

Crony Capitalism

Corruption has always existed in India. But in the last 20 years since liberalisation, politicians have come to realize that they have a MORAL argument FOR corruption. Modi's actions or Raja's can now be justified because showing favors to individual businessmen is now called "pro-business". It magically creates jobs.
I wrote a long article detailing the economics behind this here.
To favor INDIVIDUAL businesses is NOT pro-business - it is anti-business. By favoring Tata and showering a lot of favors to him, Modi has made it difficult for OTHER auto companies to thrive in Gujarat. 20 years back this will be called corruption. People will suspect that Modi took a bribe. Now, instead, Modi is called pro-business or business-savvy - even though he is neither.
This moral justification is now used by almost every politician. There is a justification of corruption of this form. Media seems to be convinced that Modi is pro-business - but the same standard should be applied to Raja too.

States are now expected to compete for business, and offer wild concessions to businessmen, offer public land and build roads for private businesses and so on; Raja simply did the same thing. His department "competed" for certain providers; and favored them. What is wrong with that? I think he was creating jobs; "creating wealth" as they call it now. We should make him Gujarat's CM.

The Government as a Corporation

Linked with this is the idea, that has gained traction in media over the past few years - the idea that a government should be run like a corporation. I remember that Chandrababu Naidu called himself CEO of Andhra. Modi is called the CEO of Gujarat.

When your government is confused with a corporation, your government leaders think their goal is maximise revenue. Hence the justifications for "bending" the rules; or justifying stunts such as Modi's.
There are several important reasons why a government should NOT be run like a corporation:
1. A government's role is ensure happiness and a level playing field for its citizens. That is its goal - not maximising revenue. Revenue helps, definitely, but there are higher goals for government.
On the other hand, a corporation's role has very little to do with happiness. The goal is maximising profits for shareholders.

2. A government leader's SPECIALTY is not in running a company; or to determine how much profit can be obtained. That helps, but their specialty is always in human relations or law. Thus, leaders who THINK they are running their government like a company almost always fail; they make short term decisions (like Modi). They fail because their role requires a different specialty.

3. Thirdly, and this is important for later, a corporation has no transparency requirements. It need not be a fundamental feature in a corporation. But in a government, transparency helps.

By confusing government and corporations, in ALL three of the above, government leaders in India have started acting like corporate leaders.
1. They think it is ok to bend rules to bring in revenue; they forget that their oath binds them to manitain the rule of law. Their oath has NOTHING about revenue.
2. They think they are, indeed, the best judges of maximising such revenue, even though they are not qualified.
3. They tend towards less and less transparency

This constant emphasis on revenue and a corporate picture of government has subverted the original intention of the Constitution or the leaders who formed modern India. Politicians now seem to have bought into a worldview of neo-liberal thinkers.
Earning extra money through cronyism used to be called corruption earlier; but now it is corporate-friendly. Even if you are "honest", you tend to make all the wrong decisions because of this worldview.
Then ultimately, your ministers do the same thing and you have a bunch of scams.

A government leader's role is to take the set of laws you have and apply them uniformly. It is not to speculate about how much revenue the government can additionally earn by bending those laws. The laws are there for a reason. They provide a level playing field in the market. If you think the laws are holding you down, change them through the legislature. Do not violate them and then talk about how it helped create jobs. That is not your role.

The Angst of Sonia

Sonia Gandhi complained that leaders have become more greedy. Manmohan Singh seems to be saying the same thing.
I don't think greed is the issue here. Why should government leaders be less greedy than any of us?
What we have now is a more subtle form of corruption. When magazines talk about corruption, they paint vivid pictures of suitcases changing hands. That is not how it works now.
The benefit for favoring certain businesses and bending the rules is to gain a powerful presence in the table. Raja or Modi need not get money transferred to them. They just have power, a power that is almost as sexy as currency. Karunanidhi has it. Jayalalitha has it. Maran has it. What these people have done, is they have gone and identified themselves as entrepreneurs. They consider themselves businessmen and women. And they think that is the ultimate career goal for them. Not being just an executor of laws.
You cannot fight this by appeals to personal quality. I don't think Karunanidhi or Jayalalitha are greedier than your average guy on the street. They are just in the wrong profession. Or the profession has bent to them.
If we fought tooth and nail and made the laws and the systems transparent enough; and in many areas, remove government power, then they will just move to professions more "natural" to them, such as owning and running companies.
We may even gain some benefit from that.

Update I:
I posted an update to this article called "Pawar proves my point" here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Geeking out with Endhiran

I saw the Tamil movie "Endhiran" a couple of days back. I liked it a lot, mainly because of Rajnikanth's excellent acting, the screenplay's internal consistency, dialog, and, of course, the beauty and stylishness of the special effects. I want to see it again.
The movie is impressive because, after a long time, you can keep thinking about the technical discussions about AI and Robotics in the movie. There is a consistent theme to it.

Asimov's Laws
When Dr.Vasi appears before the approval board, one of them asks if the robot obeys Asimov's laws. I was wondering about this during most of the fights before that scene. If the robot obeys Asimov's laws, it will not be fighting at all.
Asimov's laws were used in many of his Robot series. I read them in the novel "I, Robot". There are three laws and the whole novel is a series of situations structured around the contradictions between the three laws.
The laws are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In the final story of "I, Robot", a man runs for political office. But there is a suspicion that he is not a human at all, that he is a robot. There is no real way to prove it - until a situation based on the First Law comes up. Robots cannot hurt humans - and therefore if the candidate hits a human, he cannot be a robot. How this resolves itself I cannot reveal. You can read the novel.
So, Chitti is created for military applications - and therefore he is designed without the three laws.
The whole movie, thus, can be seen as a demonstration of what happens when a robot is designed without the three laws. But I don't think Shankar had that angle in mind. Dr.Vasi is shown as a noble person, who wants to help his nation by creating fighting robots. But there is a problem there - when you create machines which cause harm, they can be used by your opponents too. The "flipping" of Chitti (or his clones) to the dark side is actually inevitable if you mass produce robots for fighting.
In fact, we see such a phenomenon CURRENTLY. In personal computers, the original Terminate and Save Routines (TSRs) were intended for background processing. They were quickly adapted as the early viruses. Now, the virtual world is awash with computer worms and viruses. We have no control over the malicious use of programming. There is an escalating fight between unethical and criminal hackers on the one side and government and private security agencies on the other.
There are other ethical arguments against using Robots in combat.

The Military Application of Robots
The original reason that militaries offered for using robots was mine-sweeping. Such robots will comply with Asimov's laws above. They won't harm humans. That was the original reason offered.
But, right now many militaries around the world are researching on robots for combat applications. The US military, right now, has drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles) deployed in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These are armed with missiles and have caused much damage in both countries.
To keep in line with Geneva Conventions, the drones require human input before firing. There have already been ethical questions about such uses. Let me address one angle of the drone controversy:
When a country goes to war, the assumption is that there will be checks for deployment of their citizens - atleast in democracies. Because there will be a loss of life on THEIR side, the decision to go to war is not taken lightly by countries, in theory.
But if you deploy drones which are operated by civilian contractors sitting thousands of miles away, you have removed one major reason which may deter countries from launching agressive war. Without loss of life, and facing no pressure from their citizens, a democracy can sustain a war purely through money and technology.

For this problem, a few people have argued back and said that war is a bad choice, but once a war is launched, a country is justified in using its technical might to win.
Thus, robots for warfare is being increasing seen as a technically brilliant advancement. It is also seen as inevitable.
This means that we will likely see a new kind of "arms" race similar to the nuclear era. It is no surprise that terrorists will seek to use robots in combat too - after all the same argument about winning applies to them too.
It is in this context that Enthiran raises questions.

Enthiran and Military Robots
If you think about it, a humanoid robot is NOT necessary for the conventional military. A conventional military may use complex machines, with a narrow range of purposes. They don't need Chitti.
The movie shows arms dealers and terrorists interested in robots. To me, that seems completely natural and inevitable. In fact, because Dr.Vasi designed the robot without the in-built (non-overridable) three laws, the entire sequence of events, from the interest of arms dealers to the hostile takeover of Chitti by Dr.Bora is unavoidable.
There are no international laws currently in place to govern use of robots in combat. Let us say that a robot brigade in a future war with Pakistan malfunctions and ends up killing a lot of innocent civilians. Who do you blame? Who will be punished?

Some random notes
1. Neural Schema Architecture is a kind of AI architecture that supplies "schemas" for different behaviors. These are the ones that Dr.Vasi says cannot be shared until the patent is obtained.
2. An Inference Engine is the core of an "expert system". It has a rule list, and it takes actions based on applicable rules. It also has a knowledge base. A kind of Inference Engine called Fuzzy-Inference can make decisions in uncertain situations.
Dr.Bora calls Chitti "just an inference engine". What he is saying is that it just evaluates rules and takes actions. He seems to be saying it is not "intelligent". 3. Contrary to what the movie says, Dr.Bora did not provide a contradictory command to Chitti in the approval meeting. He asks Chitti to stab Dr.Vasi and the robot attempts to do it. That command does not seem to contradict any other command (unless I am missing something).
4. Dr.Vasi works on Chitti for 10 years. What was he doing at that time?
The major portion of his work would have been the representation of knowledge. In the initial scenes, Chitti is fed martial arts, dancing programs and so on. Creating the knowledge of such expertise and representing it in storage is a major problem for expert systems. That part of it is much more complex than creating the physical body.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An interview with my wife (on art)

September of this year was our tenth marriage anniversary. I interviewed my wife (she is an artist) for that occasion.
This is the second interview in this blog; it is mostly about art.
RA: Hello SS. Can we start the interview?
SS: Enna vachu edhuvum comedy keemadi panlaye?
RA: No, let us be professional here. You will discover how skilled I am at writing and interviewing. You have only seen the positive side of your husband. Now you will see how serious I am with a subject. I am relentless and ask very tough questions. Lying is useless; you may as well give up now.
SS: Is the interview about art or you?
RA: Yes. About art. I know. I am just warning you.
(In the meantime, my son wanders into the room; wants to be part of the interview process. We convince him to go play with toys - "choppu". He has a little set of small wooden cooking utensils.)

RA: You know, art has always interested me. If you think about it, I am an artist myself - I draw with words.
I guess you could say I paint colorful characters.
(pause again)
I outline the landscape of life with my words.
Do you notice how good I am with this?
SS: (silence)
RA: Anyway, my point is art is such a essential part of our lives. But many people are not aware of it. They only have contempt for people studying art.
I guess you could say the same thing about writers. I have gone through a lot of insults in my life for being a writer. The first time I wrote something about the neighborhood cat, my father laughed at the manuscript and threw it away.
SS: You know, if you just want to talk about yourself, I can go play with the kid.
RA: Ok. I guess my question is how did you become a drawer? What interested you in drawering?
SS: I am not a drawer. I am an artist.
RA: Whatever.
SS: I am not a full-fledged artist. I came to know I had a talent for it in school. But I only thought of it as a separate field you could specialize in after watching the "Art of Painting" show by Bob Ross in the WYBE channel, Philadelphia.
I also had access to the Free Library of Philadelphia close to our home, which had an extensive collection of books on art (even for a novice).
RA: Now, that would be after your marriage to me?
SS: Yes
RA: So you could say I had a part to play?
SS: No, Bob Ross did.
RA: Ok, so then you went to the Community College of Philadelphia. What options does a person studying art have in the USA?
SS: They start from High School, where they create a portfolio. The idea is to get a BFA degree which makes you employable in Graphic Design, Product Design, Printing, Textiles, Interior Design, Architecture, Photography, Web Design, Animation, and even into movie and advertising fields.
Usually you apply to a private art school. The best is Rhode Island School of Design. New York University is famous. The Pratt Institute. UPenn in Philadelphia has a good art department.
RA: What are the options in India?
SS: Government Arts College, Chennai is good. I think Art director Thottatharani, actor Siva Kumar and many others studied there. The "elite" schools in India (like the IITs) are the National Schools of Design. The Ahmedabad NSD is very famous.
Again, you get a BFA (4 year) degree and then you can do masters (MFA).
One big difference is that the Indian schools have an age bar. Generally after 27, you cannot get admitted to any of these.
RA: Back to Philly. What courses did you take in CCP?
SS: I started with basic drawing and design. I never planned to complete a diploma there. (The CCP provides an Associate in Art degree; it is equivalent to an art diploma).
I had several streams to specialize in - Printing, Art & Design, Photography or Architecture. You take a lot of common courses and then take a few specialized courses (for 65 credits). I specialized in Art & Design.
They teach you drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramic work, basic design, three dimensional design..
RA: Now, when you say design, you don't just mean graphic design.
SS: No. There is a separate stream called design. They teach you Fundamentals of Design, Color Theory, use of space. For example, when I say three dimensional design, it has nothing to do with computers or animation. We had to mold or cast and prepare models. That was 3D design.
Such a design course, with no reference to computers, gives you a very strong foundation for all design work, such as Interiors.
The computer is just a tool. Design has existed for a long time.
RA: You also had to take Art History courses...
SS: Yes. You remember the heavy text books.
RA: We had a fight over where to keep them.
SS: Art History is vital to students because it inspires you with art over time and different cultures.
RA: In other words, it lets you copy not just from current artists but also dead artists.
SS: What we create now will be history for future generations. Varalaaru migavum mukkiyam, Amaichare.
RA: What was the teaching like? You had been to college in India. Was it different?
SS: We had to do creative work all through the semester. It was very stimulating that way. Like anywhere, there were good teachers and bad teachers. But I always felt good at school.
RA: Ok, for people finishing art school, where do you like to work the most?
SS: Ad agencies. They are the ultimate prize in terms of work. Also Design firms that do graphic design. One of my friends is specializing in product photography.
RA: Now, let us get to the crux of this interview. Modern art. Why is it so weird? One of my classmates in college said it was a complete scam because you could hang a picture upside down and nobody would notice. Kamal Hassan makes fun of it in the movie "Kaadhala Kaadhala".
SS: Sometimes it creates magic. It has to do mostly with your subjective interpretation.
The important thing is there is no "message" in modern artwork. There can be focal points, but the artwork itself cannot be reduced to a single message. It is like poetry - you just understand something that makes a connection. I think it plays with the viewer's emotions. A landscape or a portrait is about the scene represented by the artist. In modern art, the viewer plays a major role.
Sometimes people confuse messages with symbols. When we say "symbolic" (in India) we generally mean in terms of "something that is a hidden hint for something else". In the West, they actually mean symbols, cultural, historical symbols.
RA: So, if you see a human being drawn in a weird way, it does not "symbolize" anything? Such as his mood, or his nature?
SS: It can, but such art is not really "modern". Such symbolism has existed throughout history.
If a human being is drawn in a different way, then whatever it means to the viewer is all that matters.
You should not ask an artist what she "intends to convey" in a painting. In art class, if we are asked to talk about the masters' paintings, we describe what we see - such as if it is an oil or watercolor and other obvious features. But we never were asked to talk about the "meaning" of the painting. That is wrong when it applies to any art, particularly to modern art.
RA: So, it is like hearing a Ilayaraaja song and asking for its "meaning"?
SS: Yes.
RA: My classmate Vijay and I had an argument about modern art in college. He said that the art that we see normally growing up, such as in magazines, the European paintings, Ravi Verma's paintings...they seem more "natural" than modern art.

SS: European paintings brought in realism around 16th century because they did a lot of research at the time of the Renaissance. The proportions that they drew in were based on real human proportions. Before that, drawings in Europe were religious themed mostly. They also showed very ideal figures. The figures' sizes were based on hierarchy in society (you can still see this in Mughal paintings).
They had something called a register where the focus or the top of the painting was Christ or the King. The knights followed and so on. Serfs were shown as small figures at the bottom.
Now, that CHANGED to realism in 16th century. Even that included symbolism and hierarchies.
That is, the paintings that we consider "normal" would not have been considered normal 500 years back. Not in India, not in Europe.
Art has always had different streams and evolutions. You cannot judge between the arts of different times or different cultures.
RA: I would say that applies to music and writing and so on.
SS: Yes.
RA: Thank you, SS, for your time. Now, one final question...
SS: Yes?
RA: Do you think I am the best person in the world ever?
SS: I will answer that on our 20th anniversary.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Incredible India advertisements

or the idea that the problem for tourists in India is Indians.

I have below two videos from the Incredible India series featuring Aamir Khan:

There was also a recent ad that shows tourists disgusted at a kid peeing in the road, and other such "bad behavior" deemed by the tourism ministry.

First of all, almost every Incredible India ad I have seen features white people only - either young white women or young white men. I saw one ad with a Japanese person. I can understand that Bollywood stars won't feature in anything without white people, but this is not a song and dance feature after all.
The Incredible India campaign is commissioned by the tourism ministry. Someone up there in the ministry is approving these; so we have to wonder about the attitudes expressed in these ads. I AM taking them seriously as attitudes in the ministry and among our elite.

Attitudes in the ad
1. Tourists are white people, period; "internal" tourism, which counts for majority of tourists do not count. The Japanese, Korean and other eastern people don't generally count (even though they form a good percent of tourism targets anywhere in the world).
Africans! Don't even dare to show Aamir Khan with an African person. Darkies don't count.
2. The ads seem to mainly teach behavior - in front of white tourists. You better not have your kid pee in the road because white people may be watching. Thus, the ads seem to be (incredibly) suggest that individual people and their behavior may be a problem - more than (for example) the absence of clean public toilets.
By making such a suggestion, the ads present another way for Indians to judge other Indians. We behave a certain way because we are a developing country - a country still in the "Third World".
3. The ads always show white people "repulsed" by the bad behavior of Indians (such as throwing a banana peel from the bus). In that way, it assumes that they are judges of such behavior. On the contrary, I have personally seen Western tourists misbehaving in THAT SAME WAY. The reason is, of course, not difficult to find out - trash cans do not magically show up for them to drop trash in. Toilets don't magically show up for them alone. Given the Indian public systems's constraints, they behave the same way. They are in no position to judge.

Misguided Ads

More than anything, WHAT is the purpose of these ads? That is something I have a hard time figuring out - the ones that feature Aamir Khan and teach behavior - what exactly are they trying to do? They seem to take a sneering attitude at the guy spitting Paan, or the guy dropping a banana peel from a bus. But why is that a problem that the TOURISM ministry is concerned with? Are they going to provide decent public toilets throughout the country or trash cans in all public places? No. That is not their job. So why are they even preaching to people about this?
You could say the same thing about the eve teasing of the white women in the ad. What, is that exclusive to white women? Otherwise everything is fine with women in this country?

It seems suspiciously that the tourism ministry considers Indians in public places (behaving within the constraints and nature of our system) as a really bad nuisance.

But this fits in with my overall theme over the past couple of years - there is a tendency in India to blame people for systemic faults. These ads show that tendency.
Think about this for a minute - we all have heard of how Indians behave very well abroad, but not when they land in India. I have heard that from when I was young. The assumption is that the problem is with Indians. But in reality, the problem is with India, the system here - not with Indians. Like any other people around the world, Indians respond to incentives.
The proof of this, is that tourists or other people on business here from abroad (including white tourists) misbehave too! I have seen this personally in beach resorts. In fact they behave worse because they know that they are courted no matter what.
The ads show the thinking within the tourism ministry - and they are a pathetic lot.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Allahabad Verdict - Comments

Summary of Issues and Judgement
The court has weighed on a number of issues in five different CIVIL suits filed between 1949 and 1971. Of these, Suit-4 was filed by the Sunni Waqf Board. This is the only suit in which Muslims are the plaintiffs. In the rest of the suits, the Hindu parties are the plaintiffs.
The suits have nothing to do with the Masjid demolition - that is a criminal suit. Therefore the judgement has nothing to do with Sangh Parivar's acts.
The judgements were delivered by justices S.U.Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and Dharam Veer Sharma. Justice Khan's verdict is sympathetic to the Muslims; while the majority opinion (Agarwal and Sharma) is sympathetic to the Hindus.
The judgements have covered a lot of issues - but most notably the majority opinion says:
- that a temple may have existed in the site in which Babar or his commander built the mosque.
- that the mosque is not built by Sharia and therefore is not legitimate
- that Ram Janma Bhoomi as beleived by Hindus, is at the site in dispute

and then the judges proceeded to partition the site between the Hindus parties and the Muslim parties in detail.
Please note that the judges expressed the above opinions because the Suits asked for opinions on these, not because they wanted to. The judges did skip a couple of issues as irrelevant.
Contrary to media reports, the judges did not say explicitly that "Ram was born at the site". Justice Agarwal says:
"It is held that the place of birth, as believed and worshipped by Hindus, is the area covered under the central dome of the three-domed structure.."
Justice Sharma simply decided the issue in favor for the plaintiffs (Hindus).

My opinion
1. I think the court overstepped its authority when it partitioned the site. If two parties are fighting for a title, the court cannot just go in and partition the site of dispute - that is not what courts are for. That is an administrative or arbitration settlement. The court,if it could not establish title, should have just dismissed the suits and allowed it to be settled through arbitration.
This issue (if the court overstepped) will probably be decided by the Supreme Court.
Reading the judgements, it seems that the judges felt the need to defuse the situation, irrespective of their authority. But this sets up a bad model.
We repeatedly see in this case (from 1949) that people have taken the wrong approach in this dispute because of fear of public (read majority) opinion. After all one of the core reasons for the suits is that the sneaky installation of the deities was not reversed for fear of popular backlash.

2. From a purely moral perspective, the judges' decision does not make sense (even if they had the authority). For anyone reviewing the issue, it is obvious that the masjid had been target of Hindu mobilisation and attacks for some time. This was true in 1934 when it was damaged. This was also true in 1949 when the deities were sneaked in.
Now, the motives of the people who brought the deities is clear - they had a wedge issue that administrators will be afraid to deal with. Getting the deities in such a manner was a work of incitement.
60 years later, the court has rewarded the inciters.
Now, the court has argued that this is a matter of faith. But it is also clear that this was an act of minority-baiting. The court addressed the faith part, but not the "protection of weak" part. If the majority's faith is against a weaker party, it is the court's role to protect the weak - not emphasize the faith.
Even otherwise, this "faith" is more manufactured. We all know that.

3. I also think the court has set a bad precedent based on faith. Note this - the verdict basically says Muslims have no right to the mosque because Hindus believe it is Ram Janma Bhoomi and the Muslims have no title. They do not directly say that, but that is the implication of their findings on the issues.
That is a very dangerous precedent. It leaves religious parties to create many more wedge issues. There are plenty of temples and mosques out there without titles. They are all now vulnerable.

The court summaries are publicly available - reading them, I was surprised by the judges' complete denial of issues to the Muslim parties. Almost every issue is decided against the Muslim parties. I feel sorry for them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

If I can program..

I am posting after a long time. Researching a long screed on the National People Registry. In the meantime, here is a filler.
It is true that in this day and age, people who know computer programming have an advantage - it is somewhat like auto mechanics but with more glamor and money. I was recently at my wife's sister's place. They are running a business and they had a problem with a sales product they had bought. One fine day the product stopped working. The product maker just denied support. And all their information was tied up in the database.
They asked me to take a look at it. This is an unknown product; I had no access to source code. But I could make the product work again. My relatives were very thankful and my wife very proud.
Computers still have a glamor in India. Its "mechanics" are still not sullied with the geek image that programmers in the United States have to bear. If you know a certain set of programming languages, you can understand how systems work and (mostly) what breaks them.
Given this, it is sheer luck that I chanced upon this particular field. I was a computer hater in college.

Computer Hater
I majored in electronics engineering as well as Physics. Our class had a few guys who were taking computer courses. "We" thought they were pathetic traitors to the cause of Physics.
"We" were a bunch of guys who thought it was fun discussing the existence of the centrifugal force when we were hanging in the bus footboard. We all thought we were the natural inheritors of Einstein's legacy. Even though I myself had difficulty doing Physics experiments in the lab without breaking things, I completely identified with the great physicists. I thought I was a "theoretical" physicist, like Einstein. (It took some courage writing that last sentence)
In my world, if you sucked at experiments, then you were a theoretical physicist.
Unfortunately I was bad with theory too.
We started noticing that a few of our classmates were going to NIIT classes. They all had books such as "C Programming". Since none of us knew anything about computers we decided it was not worth knowing.
Then college ended and most of my bunch of budding physicists went on to MCA.
I was shocked by this. I decided I would carry on the lone torch of Physics even if everyone in the world started learning "C".
I was in engineering college by this time; and our syllabus involved computers. In the 5th semester I finally had to sit before a computer and write something called a program.

What is all that blank space after C:?
One of my classmates Vijay was an expert in computers (he apparently has patents to his name now). I enticed him with a Rava Dosa and begged him to teach me DOS.
He sat before the computer and typed a few commands. He created a directory. He deleted one. He copied a few files. Then he explained to me that files were organized in paths, like house addresses.
"When you say your house is in 20, Some Street, Adyar, Chennai, India - you are pointing to your location. It is the same way with files. You have to tell the computer where the file is."
I was intently staring at the monitor. It had a C: and then a cursor blinking.
I said, "So what is all this blank space after C:?"
He said, "What blank space?"
I said,"You said there are files. But I only see a blinking dash."
He was confused. He said again, "It is like an house address"
I did not relent. "What is in the computer after C:?"

It took me a long time to realise a couple of things:
1) The computer monitor is not directly connected to the keyboard. There is something in between called the processor, memory and all that. That is, the computer is not a typewriter.
2)There is nothing after C:.

It took a lot more Rava Dosas too get that precious bit of knowledge.

My point is that when you don't know something, you automatically dismiss it. Then you have to take it as a course in 5th semester and your entire career depends on it. That is my point.

My encounter with Windows
Before I first saw a Windows machine (3.1), I did not think multi tasking was really needed. I was surprised that people were spending so much time on the ability to do multiple things at the same time with one computer. To me, it seemed like you would need two keyboards before you could multi task. Then you would need two people to type in the keyboards. Who needs one other person sitting near you and typing?
So that was my understanding of multi tasking.
(By the way, I had a similar reaction to constructors in C++. I did not understand why they would ever be needed, so I skipped the entire chapter on them)
Then I was sitting in a shopfloor one day and saw a computer with a screensaver. I saw the mouse and thought it was very cool. I tried to explore that computer to learn all about Windows.
Qucikly I found out that I could play Solitaire and so spent the entire evening playing Solitaire. That was my first attempt at learning Windows. That computer only had two icons. One was Solitaire and the other was Minesweeper. I thought Windows was completely lame.

The debate between Systems and Application programming
Once we understood that all the computer learners were being shipped off to the USA, we found a new interest in computers. I was convinced that I was born for computer programming, but I still thought of myself as a theoretical programmer.
At that time there were people who worked on Y2K; there were people who worked on network programming. In between there were weird people who were learning VB6, Java or HTML/ Javascript.
Now each of these were split into camps which knew nothing about the other. You can find some aspect of the below question, I am sure, still raging in campuses:
Would you be a systems programmer or an applications programmer?
In college, most people wanted to be a "systems" programmer. We had no idea what this meant. But in our minds, we would rather be someone who wrote code that everyone else would use (such as a tiny portion of an Operating System) than a mere programmer who ASSEMBLED such pieces.
That is, we wanted to write core functions that everyone else will call.
Now, as most people familiar with software programming will understand, this is impossible. Every programmer assembles their software - but that does not mean that the coding is easy. If anything, application programming is very complex because it has changing requirements. Application programmers simply address a different set of problems, and those are not trivial.
(The reason I emphasize this is because a few months back in a facebook discussion, someone told me that an AT&T scientist thought Indians were better with applications; but could not write really complex software - such as algorithms. This is hilarious, because applications model human interactions and transactions. These are hardly trivial )
So we have tribal warfare between the Javascript guys and the Middle Tier programmers; network programmers vs application programmers;C++ vs Java; C# vs VB; and so on. Each camp knows nothing about the other. The sorriest lot of them are the database developers who stand in a small corner and keep complaining.

I always took sides in these debates until I found out that all of these can take you to the United States. In fact the much detested web UI programmers have the best shot.

So I started from staring at C: and wondering what that was; and have ended up even winning my relatives' approval as a computer expert. All the while I hated everything new that came up the horizon until I learnt it.
My current hatred is for mobile app/web programming. I am sure it is just a fad and will go away shortly. I cannot imagine that people will actually access websites through mobile phone. That is what I have been telling everyone...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

தாடகா வனத்தில் ஒரு நாள் - Tamil Short Story

Please read and comment. Original post and comments here: Original comments and post
My new story, a Chola period Tamil historical novella, is at Tamil Story - ஒற்றாடல் 

தாடகா வனத்தில் ஒரு நாள்
இராமையா அரியா

நானும், ராமனும், ரிஷியும் அடர்ந்த வனத்துக்குள் புகுந்த ஓரிரு நாட்களிலேயே சற்றே பயமுறுத்தும் காட்சிகளைக் கண்டோம்.
பாழடைந்த ஒரு பிரதேசம். பாறைகள் அங்குமிங்கும் உருண்டிருந்தன. செம்மண்ணில் வெயில் தகித்தது. அங்கங்கே பெரிய மரங்கள். சில இடங்களில் முள் காடுகள்.
இரண்டு மூன்று இடங்களில் சில மண்டை ஓடுகள் கிடந்தன. ரிஷி சுற்றுமுற்றும் பார்த்தவாறே நடந்தார். நான் ஆவலுடன், "ஏதோ யுத்தம் நடந்த மாதிரி இருக்கிறது?" என்றேன்.
"இலக்குவா, தாடகை என்னும் அரக்கியின் உறைவிடம் இது",என்றார் ரிஷி. அந்த மண்டை ஓடுகளைச் சுட்டிக் காட்டி, "அவளுடைய இரை ", என்றார்.
என் உடம்பு நடுங்கியது. "மிதிலைக்கு இந்த வழியாகத் தான் சென்றாக வேண்டுமா?" என்றேன்.
சற்றுத் தள்ளி கோணல் மாணலாக ஒரு எலும்புக் கூடு கிடந்தது. அதைக் காட்டி, "என் சிஷ்யன் பிங்கலன்", என்றார் ரிஷி.
அன்று இரவு ஒரு பெரிய மரத்தின் மேல் ஏறி படுத்துத் தூங்கினோம்.

மரத்தின் கடினமான கிளையில் படுத்தவாறே நான் வாழ்க்கையைப் பற்றி யோசித்தேன். பல நாட்களுக்கு முன்னால் அயோத்தியில் வில்லையும், அம்பையும் வைத்துக் கொண்டு மாங்காய் அடித்துத் தின்று கொண்டிருந்தோம். இந்த ரிஷி வந்து அழைத்துப் போனார். எனக்கு என் தந்தை தசரத மன்னர் என்னை அனுப்பி வைத்ததில் ஆச்சரியமில்லை. அவருக்குப் பாதி நேரம் எனக்கும் என் இரட்டைச் சகோதரன் சத்ருக்னனுக்கும் வித்தியாசமே தெரியாது. இன்னும் யாரை அனுப்பினோம் என்று அவருக்குத் தெரிந்திருக்காது.
ஆனால் ராமனை, பட்டத்து இளவரசனை எப்படி இந்த தாடி மீசை முனிவருடன் காட்டுக்கு அனுப்பி வைத்தார்? ராமன் மேல் அவருக்கு அடங்காத பாசம். மிகவும் நல்லவன் என்று ஒரு நினைப்பு.
லேசாக நான் கண்ணயரத் தொடங்கிய நேரம். வானத்தில் கொக்கு போலிருக்கும் நட்சத்திரக் கூட்டம் நேர் மேலே மிதந்தது. சில நேரமாக உயிரே போவது போலக் கத்திக் கொண்டிருந்த கோட்டான் கூட அடங்கி விட்டது.
'கரக்' என்று ஒரு மெலிதான சத்தம், ஒரு கல் நகர்வது போலக் கேட்டது. நான் தூக்கக் கலக்கத்தினூடே உற்றுக் கேட்டேன். மறுபடி அந்தச் சத்தம் கேட்கவில்லை.


ரிஷி பொதுவாக அதிகாலையில் தானும் எழும்பி, மற்றவர்களையும் எழுப்பி உயிரை வாங்குவார். 'பிரம்ம முகூர்த்தம்' என்பார். தேவையே இல்லாமல் இருட்டில் குளிர்ந்த நீரில் இறங்கிக் குளிக்க வேண்டும். பிறகு அவர் சொல்லும் மந்திரங்களைத் திருப்பிச் சொல்ல வேண்டும்.

மரத்தில் நாங்கள் படுத்துத் தூங்கிய மறு நாள் வெகு நேரத்திற்கு யாரும் மரத்தில் இருந்து இறங்கவில்லை. காலைத் தொங்கப் போட்டுக் கொண்டு கீழே பார்த்தவாறு இருந்தோம். எந்த நேரத்திலும் தாடகை பாய்ந்து வந்து காலைக் கடிப்பாள் என்று பயம்.

விஸ்வாமித்திரர் கடைசியில், "ஹூம்.. இந்நேரம் தூங்கியிருப்பாள். இலக்குவா, நீ முதலில் இறங்கு", என்றார்.

"அண்ணா, நீ தான் பெரியவன். நீ முதலில் இறங்கு", என்றேன் ராமனிடம், பயபக்தியுடன்.

ராமன் பயப்படுவான். ஆனால் முகத்தில் காட்ட மாட்டான். அவன் முகம் எப்போதும் ஒரே மாதிரி இருக்கும். எனவே சிரித்தவாறே என்னைப் பிடித்துக் கீழே தள்ளி விட்டான்.

மூன்று பேரும் காலைக் கடன்களைக் கழித்து விட்டு வில்லை இறுக்கிப் பிடித்தவாறே நடந்தோம். ரிஷி சற்று முன்னால் போன பொழுது ராமன் என்னைப் பிடித்து நிறுத்தினான். நாங்கள் தூங்கிய மரத்தின் அடிப் பகுதியைக் காட்டினான். அந்தக் கடினமான அடிமரத்தில் நான்கு கோடுகள், ஆழமான கிழிசல்கள் தெரிந்தன.
"கரடியா ?" என்றேன்.
"தாடகை", என்றான் ராமன்.
நாங்கள் ரிஷியைத் தொடர்ந்தோம்.
நான் சற்றுத் தைரியத்துடன்,"ரிஷியே, இவள் யார்? இவள் ஏன் இப்படிச் சாதுக்களைத் துன்புறுத்துகிறாள்?" என்று கேட்டேன்.
ரிஷி தொண்டையைக் கனைத்துக் கொண்டார். பிரமாதமாகக் கதை சொல்லுவார். "ஹூம்.." என்றார். "உங்கள் குரு வசிஷ்டன் இருக்கிறானே" என்று தொடங்கிச் சற்று நேரம் வசிஷ்டரைத் திட்டினார்.
தாடகை உண்மையில் மனிதப் பெண் (பூர்வ ஜன்மத்தில்). பயங்கர புத்திசாலி (இதுவும் பூர்வ ஜன்மத்தில்). வசிஷ்டரிடம் வேதம் பயிலச் சென்றிருக்கிறாள். வசிஷ்டர் தத்துப்பித்தென்று ஏதோ சொல்லித் தர, அவள், "மந்திரம் தப்பு" என்று வாதிட்டாள். பிடி சாபம். பார்த்தால் அடுத்த ஜன்மத்தில் ராக்ஷசி.
ராமன், "பூர்வ ஜன்மம் என்று ஒன்றே கிடையாது என்று ஜாபாலி சொல்கிறார்", என்றான்.
"அவன் ஒரு மடையன்", என்றார் ரிஷி.
"கார்கியும் அப்படியே சொல்கிறார்".
"அவள் ஒரு மடச்சி. பூர்வ ஜன்மம் என்று ஒன்று இல்லா விட்டால் இந்தத் தாடகை ஏன் இப்படி அரக்கியாக, மகாபாவியாக வந்து பிறக்க வேண்டும்?"
நான் ஆச்சரியத்துடன், "உங்களுக்கு எல்லோருடைய பூர்வ ஜன்மமும் தெரியுமா?" என்று கேட்டேன்.
"வந்தது, வரப் போவது எல்லாம் தெரியும்."
எனக்குப் பல நாட்களாக இருக்கும் சந்தேகத்தை இவரிடம் கேட்டால் என்ன?
இந்த நேரத்தில் மரங்களின் அடர்த்தி மிகவும் குறைந்து விட்டது. இன்னும் பல பாறைகள் உருண்டு கிடந்தன. நாங்கள் மேட்டுப் பாதையில் போய்க் கொண்டு இருந்தோம். ராமன் சுற்றிப் பார்த்தவாறே முன்னால் சென்றான்.
நான் ஆர்வமாக, "நான் எப்போதாவது, ஒரு நாளேனும், ஒரு நாட்டுக்கு அரசனாகும் வாய்ப்பு உண்டா?" என்று கேட்டேன்.
ராமன் சிரித்தான். "நீ எல்லா ஜன்மத்திலும் என் தம்பி தான்", என்றான்.
"ரிஷியே, சொல்லும்" என்றேன் நான்.
ரிஷி, "இங்கிருந்து தெற்கே வெகு தூரத்தில் குரங்குகளின் மஹா சாம்ராச்சியம் ஒன்று உள்ளதாம். கேள்விப்பட்டிருக்கிறேன்", என்றார்.
ராமன் மறுபடி சிரித்தான். "இலக்குவா, நீ கட்டாயம் குரங்கு மன்னனாவாய்" என்றான்.
திடீரென்று அவன் சிரிப்பு மறைந்தது. வில்லைத் தரையில் ஊன்றிச் சுற்றிப் பார்த்தான். "அது என்ன சத்தம்", என்றான்.
நான் திகிலுடன் உற்றுக் கேட்டேன்.
மெலிதாக மரத்தை அரம் அறுப்பது போல ஒரு ஒலி கேட்டது.
ரிஷி, "சிறிது நேரத்தில் நீங்களே பார்ப்பீர்கள்", என்றார்.
நாங்கள் நடக்க நடக்க மேட்டின் உச்சி தெரிந்தது. சத்தமும் பலப்பட்டது. உச்சியில் இருந்த ஒரு பெரிய பாறை அருகே ரிஷி நின்றார். கீழே சுட்டிக் காட்டினார்.
நாங்கள் பாறைக்கு பின்னாலிருந்து மெதுவாக எட்டிப் பார்த்தோம். கீழே கிடுகிடுவென்று இறக்கம். அதன் முடிவில் பல பாறைகள் அரண் போல நின்றன.
அதில் ஒரு பாறை ஏறி ஏறி இறங்கியது.
நான் உற்றுப் பார்த்தேன். அது பாறையே அல்ல. ஒரு மனித உருவம் தான். அங்கே படுத்து நல்ல வெயிலில் குறட்டை விட்டுத் தூங்கிக் கொண்டிருந்தது.
நான் ரிஷியிடம் திரும்பி, "தெரிந்தவர்களா?" என்றேன்.
"தாடகை", என்றார் ரிஷி.
மூன்று பேரும் பாறைக்கு பின்னால் பதுங்கி உட்கார்ந்து கொண்டோம். ரிஷி அவசரத்துடன், "ராமா , உச்சி வேளை. நல்ல நேரம். அவளைக் கொல்", என்றார்.
ராமன் சந்தேகத்துடன், "நாம் ஏன் இவள் இருப்பிடத்திற்கு வந்தோம்? காட்டைத் தாண்டி மிதிலைக்கு அல்லவா போகிறோம்?" என்றான்.
ரிஷி பெருமூச்சு விட்டார். சற்று யோசித்தார். பிறகு, "ராமா, உன்னிடம் உண்மையைச் சொல்ல வேண்டிய நேரம் வந்து விட்டது", என்றார்.
குருகுலத்தில் இப்படி யாராவது சொன்னால் பொய் சொல்லப் போகிறார்கள் என்று அர்த்தம் என்று சொல்லி கொடுத்திருந்தார்கள்.
"ராமா, இவளுக்குச் சாபம் என்று சொன்னேன் இல்லையா? அதற்கு விமோசனம் உண்டு. உன் கையால், தசரத புத்திரன் ராமன் கையால் இறந்தால் இவளுக்கு உடனடி மோட்சம்", என்றார்.
ராமன், "நீர் சொல்வது நம்புகிற மாதிரி இல்லையே", என்றான்.
"சத்தியமாக", என்றார் விஸ்வாமித்திரர்.
ராமன், "இவள் ராக்ஷசியாக இருந்தாலும் பெண். என்னை எந்தத் தொந்திரவும் செய்யவில்லை. எனவே நான் அவளைக் கொல்ல முடியாது", என்றான்.
"நீ சொல்வது தர்ம நியாயம். அது ராட்சதர்களுக்குப் பொருந்தாது. அவளுக்கு நீ வெறும் இரை. காட்டு மிருகத்தை, புலியை இப்படிக் கண்டால் விட்டுப் போவாயா?"
நான், "ராமா, ரிஷியே...", என்று தொடங்கினேன்.
"நீ சும்மா இரு" என்றார் ரிஷி.
"இல்லை...குறட்டைச் சத்தம் கேட்கவில்லை..அது தான்..", என்றேன்.
மூவரும் காட்டு வழியாகத் தலை தெறிக்க ஓடினோம். நான் தான் முதலில் ஓடிக் கொண்டிருந்தேன். சிறிது நேரம் கழித்து ஒரு இடத்தில் இளைக்க இளைக்க நின்றோம்.
ராமன், "கவுசிகரே, நான் அவளைக் கொல்ல மாட்டேன். இது அவளுடைய நிலம். இங்கிருந்து எம்மை வெளியே அழைத்துச் செல்லும்" என்றான்.
"சரி. உன் இஷ்டம்" என்றார் ரிஷி.
"ஓடிக் கொண்டே பேசலாமே", என்றேன் நான்.

அன்று கிட்டத்தட்ட ஒரு காத தூரம் ஓடியிருப்போம். விஸ்வாமித்திரர் முன்னால் வழி காட்டிக் கொண்டு போனார். அந்தி சாயும் பொழுது ஒரு சிறு கானகத்தருகே வந்து சேர்ந்தோம்.
ரிஷி தரையைச் சுத்தம் செய்தார். இரவு தங்குவதற்குத் தயாரானோம். அரணிக் கட்டையைக் கடைந்து தீயைப் பெருக்கினார் ரிஷி. நானும் ராமனும் பார்த்துக் கொண்டு உட்கார்ந்திருந்தோம். கால்கள் வலித்தன.
"தாடகை கட்டாயம் இங்கே வர மாட்டாளே? பேசாமல் மரத்தின் மேலேயே தூங்கி விடலாமே?" என்றேன் நான்.
"சூரர்களே! நாம் அவள் எல்லையைத் தாண்டி வெகு தூரம் வந்தாகி விட்டது. எப்பொழுதும் மரத்தில் தூங்கிப் பழக வேண்டாம்", என்றார் ரிஷி.
சாப்பிட்டு விட்டு கால்களை நீட்டிக் கொண்டு தீயைப் பார்த்துக் கொண்டிருந்தோம்.
"இந்த ராட்சதர்கள் இப்படிப் போகிற வருகிறவர்களை எல்லாம் பிடித்துத் தின்கிறார்கள் என்று தெரியும். வேறு வழி இல்லையா?" என்றேன் நான்.
"ஆஹா! அருமையான கேள்வி! நீ கேட்ட கேள்வி எனக்குப் புரிகிறது."
"சாதுக்கள் வாழும் இந்த உலகத்தில் ராட்சதர்களைக் கொன்று சாதுக்களை யார் காப்பது? நல்ல கேள்வி."
"அப்படி அல்ல. காட்டைச் சுற்றிப் போக வேறு வழி இல்லையா?"
ரிஷி என்னைப் பொருட்படுத்தாமல்," சாதுக்களைக் காக்கத் தான் காக்கும் கடவுள் விஷ்ணு இந்த உலகத்தில் அவதரிக்கிறான். அசுரர்களைக் கொல்வது அவன் கடமை", என்றார் ராமனைப் பார்த்து.
"நான் கடவுள் அல்ல", என்றான் ராமன்.
"ராமா, நீ விஷ்ணுவின் அம்சம்."
நான் ஆத்திரத்துடன், "நான்? நான் யாருடைய அம்சம்?", என்றேன்.
யாருமே பதில் சொல்லவில்லை. ரிஷியும் ராமனும் முறைத்துக் கொண்டே தூங்கச் சென்றார்கள்.
நான் மரவுரியை விரித்துப் படுத்தேன். வானத்தைப் பார்த்தவாறே தூங்க முயற்சி செய்தேன். வானத்தில் கொக்கி போன்ற அந்த நட்சத்திரக் கூட்டம் தெரிந்தது.
கண்ணயரும் போது அந்தக் கோட்டான் அலறியது.
நான் திடுக்கிட்டுக் கண் விழித்தேன்.
காலையில் தென்மேற்காகச் சென்றோம். பிறகு தாடகையின் உறைவிடத்தில் இருந்து விரைந்து சென்ற பொழுது எந்தத் திசையில் போனோம்?
நன்றாக யோசித்துப் பார்த்தேன். எனக்கென்னவோ மறுபடி வடகிழக்கில் வந்திருக்கிறோம் என்று தோன்றியது.
காலையில் கிளம்பிய இடத்திற்கு மறுபடியும் வந்திருக்கிறோமோ?

ராமன் தூங்கி கொண்டிருந்தான். தூங்கும் போதும் அவன் முகம் அப்படியே இருந்தது. நான் அவனைத் தட்டி எழுப்பினேன்.
தூக்கக் கலக்கத்துடன் எழுந்து உட்கார்ந்தான்.
"என்னுடன் வா", என்றேன்.
அவன் கேள்வி கேட்காமல் வந்தான். எரியும் தீக்கம்பு ஒன்றை எடுத்துக் கொண்டேன்.
ரிஷி இன்னும் தூங்கவில்லை போலும். "எங்கே போகிறீர்கள்?" என்றார்.
"எனக்குக் கழிக்க வேண்டும்", என்றேன்.
"துணைக்கு அண்ணனா?" என்று சிரித்தார்.
"காக்கும் கடவுளாயிற்றே", என்றேன் நான் நடந்து கொண்டே.
கானகத்தின் உள்ளே புகுந்தோம். ராமனுக்குத் தூக்கம் போய் விட்டது. "என்ன விஷயம்", என்றான்.
நான் பக்கத்தில் இருந்த மரங்களைச் சுற்றிப் பார்த்தேன். ஒரு பெரிய மராமரம் ஒன்றின் அடியில் சென்று பந்தத்தை உயர்த்திப் பிடித்தேன்.
அந்த மரத்தின் அடியில் நாங்கள் காலையில் பார்த்தது போலவே நான்கு நகங்கள் அழுத்தமாகக் கீறியிருந்தன .
"ரிஷி நம்மைத் தாடகையின் எல்லைக்குள் சுற்றி அழைத்து வந்திருக்கிறார்", என்றேன்.
ராமனின் கைகள் உடை வாளை நாடின.

நாங்கள் திரும்பி வரும் போது ரிஷி எங்களைப் பார்த்துப் படுத்திருந்தார். ஆனால் அவர் விழித்திருப்பார் என்பதில் சந்தேகமில்லை. தாடகையின் காட்டில் எந்த மனிதனுக்குத் தூக்கம் வரும்?
"ரிஷியே, எழுந்திரும்", என்றான் ராமன்.
அவர் கண் விழித்துப் பார்த்தார்.
"ஏன் இப்படிச் செய்தீர்?" என்றேன் நான்.
ரிஷி பெருமூச்சுடன் எழுந்து அமர்ந்தார்.
"ராமா, இலக்குவா, நீங்கள் சத்திரியர்கள். உங்களுக்குப் புரியும் என்று நினைத்தேன்", என்றார்.
"ஏன் தாடகையைக் கொல்ல இப்படி ஒரு அவசியம்?" என்று கேட்டான் ராமன்.


தாடகா வனத்தில் இருந்து ஒரு யட்சனைப் போல வானில் எழுந்து, இரண்டு யோசனை உயரச் சென்று நின்றால் கீழே என்ன தெரியும்?
வட கிழக்கில் வெகு தூரத்தில் மலை அரசனாம் இமவானின் ராச்சியம். பிறகு பெரும் காடுகள். அவற்றின் முடிவில் முதல் நகரம் அயோத்தி. அந்த நகரத்தினூடே ஓடும் சரயு நதி அயோத்திக்கு அருகே சிறிது தூரத்தில் கங்கையில் கலக்கிறது. கங்கை தென்மேற்காக வளைந்து சென்று ஒரு சிறு மலைத் தொடரைத் தாண்டி மிதிலையை அடைகிறாள். மிதிலை, விஷாலம், ராஜகிருஹம், பொன்னால் கூரையிட்ட அரண்மனைகளைக் கொண்ட பாடலிபுத்திரம் - பெரு நகரங்களும், ஜனசங்கங்களும் பரந்து விரிந்த ஆரியவர்த்தம் மிதிலையில் இருந்து தொடங்குகிறது.
இவை யாவும் ஒரு காலத்தில் யட்சர்களும், நாகர்களும், ராட்சதர்களும் வாழ்ந்த காடுகள். நாகர்கள் கிழக்கே ஓடி விட்டார்கள். கடைசியாக மிஞ்சிய யட்சர்களின் நாடு அயோத்திக்கும் மிதிலைக்கும் இடையே இருந்த - மாலடம் என்று ரிஷிகளால் அழைக்கப்பட்ட - தாடகா வனம்.
இரண்டு யோசனை உயரத்தில் இருந்து உற்றுப் பார்த்தால் அயோத்தியில் இருந்து ஒரு பெரும் சாலை ஒன்று கிளம்புகிறது. தசரதனின் பாட்டன் ரகு பாவிய அந்தச் சாலை கங்கைக் கரையில் வந்து நிற்கிறது.
தென் மேற்கே, அது போலவே மிதிலையில் இருந்து ஒரு சாலை ஒன்று கிளம்புகிறது. அதுவும் தாடகா வனத்தின் மரங்களிடையே மறைந்து விடுகிறது.
யாருமே பயன்படுத்த முடியாத அந்தச் சாலைகளின் நடுவே, மலையும், முள்ளும், பாறைகளும் அடர்ந்த அந்த வனத்தில் யட்சர்கள் தம் கடைசி யுத்தத்தை நடத்துகிறார்கள்.
யட்சர்களின் தலைவன் சுகேதுவும் அவனுடைய மருமகன் சுனந்தனும் திரும்பத் திரும்ப மிதிலையில் இருந்தும், அயோத்தியில் இருந்தும் வரும் ரிஷிகளையும், அவர்கள் பின்னால் வரும் படைகளையும் தடுத்து நிறுத்துகிறார்கள்.
தாடகை சுகேதுவின் பெண். குகைகளில் தன கணவனுக்காகவும் தந்தைக்காகவும் காத்திருக்கிறாள்.
யட்சர்களின் அந்தப் போர் நல்லபடியாக முடிய வழியே இல்லை. தாடகை பயந்தது நடந்து விட்டது. ஒரு நாள் சுகேது கொல்லபட்டான். சுனந்தனின் தலை அயோத்தி கோட்டை வாசலில் ஏற்றி வைக்கப்பட்டது.
சுற்றி அயோத்தி மக்கள் கொண்டாடினார்கள். மிதிலைக்குப் போகும் சாலை, ரகு வம்சத்தின் பல தலைமுறைக் கனவு நிறைவேறும் என்று நம்பினார்கள்.
அவர்கள் தாடகையை, கணவனை இழந்த அந்த யட்சியின் கோபத்தை எதிர்பார்க்கவில்லை.
யுத்தம் அவள் தலைமையில் தொடர்ந்தது. இருபது வருடங்களாகத் தசரதனின் சாலை தூங்கிக் கிடக்கிறது. பல யட்சர்கள் இடை விடாத யுத்தத்தால் தளர்ந்தார்கள். ஆனால் தாடகை அயரவில்லை. இன்னும் கங்கையின் கரையை அவள் கண்கள் பார்த்தபடி இருக்கின்றன.
பெரும் படையுடன் யட்சர்களை மோதிப் புண்ணியமில்லை என்பதைத் தசரதன் கண்டான். அயோத்தியில் ரிஷிகள் தசரதனுக்கு யோசனை சொன்னார்கள். தாடகைக்கு வயதாகி விட்டது. சிங்கக்குட்டி போல, வில் வித்தையில் கை தேர்ந்த ராமன் இருக்கிறான். அவன் விஷ்ணு அம்சம். சப்தவேதி - ஒலியைக் கொண்டே குறி பார்த்துக் கொல்லும் வித்தையைக் கற்றவன். அவன் நம்மைக் காப்பான்.
துஷ்டர்களை அழிப்பது காக்கும் கடவுளின் பொறுப்பு.
எனவே, யட்சர்களின் கடைசி ராணியைக் கொன்று போடத் தாடகா வனத்தில் இரு இளைஞர்களை அழைத்து வந்தார் ரிஷி விஸ்வாமித்திரர்.
வந்த வேலையை முடிக்காமல் எப்படி மிதிலைக்குப் போவது?


ராமன் ரிஷியை அருவருப்புடன் பார்த்தான். "யட்சர்களை விரட்டிச் சாலை கட்டுவதற்காக நான் ஒருக்காலும் ஒரு அப்பாவியைக் கொல்ல மாட்டேன். அவள் பக்கம் நியாயம் இருக்கிறது. இலக்குவா, வா போகலாம்", என்றான்.
ரிஷி, "ராமா, நில்", என்றார்.
அந்த நேரத்தில், காட்டு வழியே, தூரத்தில், அந்தகாரத்தைக் கிழித்துக் கொண்டு ஒரு பயங்கர உறுமல் கேட்டது.
எனக்குப் புல்லரித்தது. மூவரும் காட்டில் உறுமல் வந்த திசையை உற்றுப் பார்த்தோம்.
"அவள் வருகிறாள்", என்றார் ரிஷி.


ராமன் கீழே கிடந்த வில்லை எடுத்துத் தரையில் நிறுத்தினான். நாணை நன்றாக இழுத்துப் பூட்டினான். காட்டில் மரங்கள் சலசலவென்று ஆடின. என்னுடைய நண்பனாகி விட்ட அந்தக் கோட்டான் காள்...காள் என்று கத்தியபடியே பறந்து சென்று விட்டது.
என்னுடைய முதல் யுத்தம் எப்படி இருக்கும் என்று சிறு வயதில் பெரும் கற்பனை செய்து வைத்திருந்தேன். குதிரைகள் என்ன, யானைகள் என்ன...சதுரங்க சேனைகளும் அணிவகுத்து நிற்கும் என்றும் , நான் ஒரு யானை மேல் அமர்ந்து பலப்பல வியூகங்கள் வகுப்பேன் என்றும் எண்ணியிருந்தேன். இப்படி நடுக்காட்டில் எவளோ ஒரு காட்டுமிராண்டிப் பெண்ணால் பிறாண்டப்பட்டு இறக்கும் நிலையை எதிர்பார்க்கவில்லை. ராமன் விஷ்ணு அம்சம்...எப்படியாவது தப்பி விடுவான். நான் ஏன் இந்தக் காட்டில் வந்து மாட்டிக் கொள்ள வேண்டும்?
காட்டுக்குள் பல பேர் ஓடி வருவது போலிருந்தது. நான், "யட்சர் படையே வருகிறதோ?" என்றேன்.
ராமன் உற்றுக் கேட்டு விட்டு, "இல்லை. அவள் மட்டும் தான். இது ஒரு அசுர தந்திரம்", என்றான்.
திடீரென்று ஒரு பெரும் மரக் கிளை எங்களை நோக்கிப் பறந்து வந்தது. ராமனின் நாண் ஒலித்தது. அம்பு பறந்து கிளையை அடித்து வீழ்த்தியது.
"பலே", என்றார் ரிஷி.
இப்பொழுது சட சடவென்று கற்கள் பல பறந்து வந்தன. நாங்கள் மூவரும் அவற்றில் இருந்து தப்ப அங்குமிங்கும் ஓடினோம். சில கற்கள் எங்கள் மேலே வந்து அடித்தன. வந்த வேகத்திலேயே கல் வீச்சு நின்றது.
நான், "ஏதாவது மரத்தில் ஏறித் தப்பலாமே?" என்றேன்.
"வீரர்களுக்கு அது அழகல்ல", என்றான் ராமன்.
சற்று நேரம் முன்னால் அவன் குனிந்து ஓடியதை மறந்து விட்டான் போலும்.
அதற்குள் சில மரங்கள் வந்து விழுந்தன. மிகவும் குறி வைத்து எறியப்பட்டது போலத் தோன்றவில்லை. ராமனின் அம்புகள் அவற்றை எளிதாகப் புறம் தள்ளின.
காட்டில் இருந்து பெரும் உறுமல் ஒன்று மறுபடி கிளம்பியது. நாங்கள் சலிப்புடன் ஆயத்தமானோம்.
ஒரு உரத்த அலறலுடன் தாடகை மரங்களின் உள்ளிருந்து வெளிப்பட்டாள். தீயின் மங்கிய வெளிச்சத்தில் அவள் உருவம் பல மடங்கு பெரிதாகத் தெரிந்தது. அவள் கையில் இருந்த ஒரு கூரிய கம்பத்தை எங்களை நோக்கி எறிந்தாள். வேகத்துடன் வந்த கம்பை ராமனின் அம்பு சந்தித்து அப்பால் விலக்கியது. அவள் காட்டுக்குள் சென்று மறைந்தாள்.
ராமன், "நம்மிடம் அம்புகள் குறைவு", என்றான்.
நான் வியப்புடன், "திட்டமிட்டுத் தான் இப்படிச் செய்கிறாளோ?" என்றேன்.
"அப்படித் தான் தோன்றுகிறது. எல்லா அம்புகளும் தீர்ந்த பின் நாம் வெறும் வில் குச்சிகளுடன் சண்டையிட வேண்டியது தான்", என்றான் ராமன்.
தாடகையின் உருவத்தை முதன்முதல் பார்த்தது என் மனதில் பதிந்து விட்டது. மிகவும் உயரமாய், பனைமர நீளக் கை கால்களுடன், அரை அடி நீளக் கோரைப் பற்களுடன் கனவுகளில் வரும் பேயைப் போல இருந்தாள். அவளை எங்களால் நிச்சயம் சமாளிக்க முடியாது. அகோர மரணம் எனக்குக் காத்திருக்கிறது.

மீண்டும் பயங்கரக் கூச்சல்...மீண்டும் கல்லெறிப் போர்...மீண்டும் ஓட்டம். ராமன் மேல் ஒரு கூரிய கல் பட்டு ரத்தம் ஒழுகியது.
நான் களைப்புடன், "நாமும் பதிலுக்குக் கற்களை எறிவோமா?" என்றேன்.
அவளுடைய மரக்கிளைத் தாக்குதலில் ராமனின் அம்புகள் முக்கால்வாசி தீர்ந்து விட்டன. எங்களால் நடக்கவே முடியவில்லை.
இன்னும் சிறிது நேரத்தில் களைப்பில் விழுந்து விடுவோம். எதிரி மேல் எங்கள் அம்புகள் ஒன்று கூடப் பாயவில்லை. தாடகை வென்று விடுவாள். ஆனால் எவ்வளவு நாட்களுக்கு? இன்னும் பெரிய படைகள் வரும். இளவரசர்களின் மரணத்தை அயோத்தி மக்கள் மன்னிக்க மாட்டார்கள். இரு அனுபவமற்ற இளைஞர்களை இப்படி எதிரியுடன் மோத அனுப்பிய தசரத மன்னரை யாரும் குற்றம் சொல்ல மாட்டார்கள்.
காட்டுமிராண்டி தாடகை இரு பச்சிளம் பாலகர்களைக் கொன்று விட்டதாகக் கதையைத் திரித்து விடுவார்கள். சிறிது சிறிதாக யட்சர்களையும் ஒழித்து, தாடகையும் கொல்லப்படுவாள்.
முடிவில் அந்தச் சாலை நிறைவு பெறும். மிதிலைக்கும் அயோத்திக்கும் இடையே வணிகர்களும் வண்டிகளும் போய் வரும் ராஜபாட்டையின் ஒரு திருப்பத்தில் எங்களுடைய சமாதிகள் சிறு வீரக்கல்லுடன் கவனிப்பாரற்றுக் கிடக்கும். நாளடைவில் அதுவும் அழிந்து போகும்.
எனக்குக் கண்களில் நீர் துளிர்த்தது. ராமனின் கடைசி இரண்டு அம்புகள் மிச்சமிருந்தன. எங்களைச் சுற்றி எதிரிகளின் தலைகளுக்குப் பதிலாக வெட்டப்பட்ட மரக் கிளைகளும் பல வகைக் கற்களும் கிடந்தன.
தாடகையின் உறுமல் சத்தம் அதிகரித்தது. ராமன் வில்லின் மேல் சற்றுச் சாய்ந்து நின்றான். ரிஷி, அவனிடம், "ராமா, நீ சப்தவேதி அல்லவா? ஏன் தயங்குகிறாய்?" என்றார்.
ராமன் அவரைத் திரும்பிப் பார்த்தான். பிறகு ஒரு அம்பை எடுத்து வில்லில் பூட்டினான்.
"அவளைக் கொல்லாமல் நீ இந்த இடத்தில் இருந்து தப்பிச் செல்ல இயலாது", என்றார் ரிஷி.
அவன் மெளனமாக இருந்தான். வில் வளைந்து குறி பார்த்தது. தாடகை மறுபடி உறுமினாள். அம்பு பறந்தது.
"ஓ" என்று ஒரு அலறல். தாடகையின் பெருத்த உடல் தரையில் "தொம்" என்று விழும் சத்தம் கேட்டது.
மூவரும் காட்டைப் பார்த்தபடி நின்றோம்.
"செத்தாள்", என்றார் ரிஷி.
"இல்லை...நான் அவளைக் கொல்லவில்லை", என்றான் ராமன்.
காட்டில் இருந்து எந்த அசைவும் இல்லை. பிறகு யாரோ, ஒரு சாதாரண மனிதப் பெண், தீனமாக முனகும் சத்தம் கேட்டது.
"போய்த் தலையில் ஒரு கல்லைப் போட்டு மோட்சம் கொடுக்கலாம்", என்றார் ரிஷி.

காட்டுக்குள் நாங்கள் நுழைந்தோம் - நான், நடுங்கிக் கொண்டே ஒரு தீப்பந்தத்துடன் முதலில் சென்றேன். எனக்குப் பின்னால் ரிஷி. கடைசியில் விஷ்ணு அம்சம். என்ன நியாயமோ.
எந்த நேரத்திலும் அவள் என் மேல் பாய்வாள் என்று முதலில் எண்ணினேன். ஆனால் அந்த மெலிதானப் புலம்பல் சத்தம் நெஞ்சை உருக்கியது.
ஒரு மரத்தின் மேல் சாய்ந்து தாடகை அமர்ந்திருந்தாள். அவள் காலில் அம்பு பாய்ந்து நின்றது. கீழே ரத்தம் குளம் போலத் தேங்கியிருந்தது.
அவள் எங்களைப் பார்த்து பயப்படவில்லை. முறைத்தபடி இருந்தாள்.
"ராமா, இன்னும் ஒரு அம்பு இருக்கிறது", என்று நினைவுபடுத்தினார் ரிஷி.
ராமன் கோபத்துடன் அந்த அம்பை எடுத்து முறித்துத் தரையில் போட்டான். "ரிஷியே, அவளை நன்றாகப் பாரும். என் தாய் கௌசல்யாதேவியைப் போல அல்லவா இருக்கிறாள்?" என்றான்.
நான் பந்தத்தைத் தூக்கிப் பிடித்தேன். உண்மையிலேயே தாடகை ஒரு மானுடப் பெண்ணைப் போலத் தான் இருந்தாள். மிகப் பலசாலி. ஆனால் மானுடப் பெண் தான். அவள் முகம் அயோத்தியில் உள்ள பல பெண்களைப் போலத் தான் இருந்தது.
ரிஷி மெளனமாக இருந்தார்.
ராமன், "உமக்கு யட்சர்களின் மொழி தெரியும் அல்லவா?" என்று கேட்டான்.
"ஆம்", என்றார் ரிஷி.
"நான் சொல்வதை அவளிடம் திருப்பிச் சொல்லும்", என்று என் கையில் இருந்த தீப்பந்தத்தை வாங்கிக் கொண்டான்.
"என் கையில் உள்ள அக்கினி சாட்சியாக, இந்த மாலடம் என்னும் தாடகா வனம் இனி யட்சர்களுக்குச் சொந்தம். அயோத்யாபுரிக்கு இந்த நிலத்தில் எந்த உரிமையும் கிடையாது. இது பட்டத்து இளவரசனான என் மேல் ஆணை. என் தாயின் மேல் ஆணை", என்றான்


தாடகையின் காயத்திற்கு மருந்திட்டுக் கட்டுப் போட்டோம். பிறகு அவளிடம் பிரியாவிடை பெற்றுக் கிளம்ப வேண்டி இருந்தது. எங்களுடைய மூட்டைகளைப் போர்க்களத்தில் இருந்து எடுத்துக் கொண்டு நடந்த பொழுது லேசாக விடியத் தொடங்கியது.
விஸ்வாமித்திரர்,"ராமா, என்னை மன்னித்து விடு", என்றார்.
"இப்பொழுது மிதிலைக்குத் தானே அழைத்துச் செல்கிறீர்?" என்றான் ராமன்.
"ஆம். கவலைப்படாதே. இருந்தாலும் எனக்கு உன்னைப் பார்த்தால் வியப்பாக இருக்கிறது. உன் பாட்டனார் காலத்தில் இருந்து போர் புரிந்து வரும் நிலத்தை எப்படித் தியாகம் செய்ய உனக்கு மனது வந்தது?"
நான், " நமக்குச் சொந்தமே இல்லாத ஒன்றைத் தியாகம் செய்வதில் நம்மைப் போல வராது", என்றேன்.
தூரத்தில் யட்சர்களின் சிரிப்பொலி கேட்டது.


My new story, a Chola period Tamil historical novella, is at Tamil Story - ஒற்றாடல் 

Update I:
Thaadaka's story as described in the Valmiki Raamyana is in the links below:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lying while leaving IT companies

A few days back, a fresher (2009 batch) came to meet me at home. A month earlier, he had started working for a huge MNC in Chennai. He had been looking for work more than an year and finally this clicked.
Except that they had him attending training in QA instead of his core interest - database programming. He had a certificate in Java. [Nothing wrong with QA. Just that this guy was not interested in it]
In the meantime, a company which had actually offered him in campus (but then had made him wait through the recession) came back. They were recruiting again and they could have him working in Java.
The fresher faced a dilemma - he had attended work at the MNC for a month, in pretty much pointless training. He wanted to quit. He had not signed any bond. He wanted to know if he could resign; and whether there would be any problems.
I advised him to tell the HR in the MNC the truth. Tell them you were bored with testing and you had decided to leave. Let them know the situation and then leave.
He went and told them the truth.
I will tell you what happened at the end of this post. But before that let me rant about IT companies a bit.

The Lying Culture
I had posted earlier about a white guy who asked me if lying was in the Indian culture. I have seen HR and line managers in IT complaining that people are not honest. "Why don't they just tell the truth about leaving?", they say.
You know why they don't tell the truth? Because you can't handle the truth.

IT Employees lie when they say grandma is dying and they are moving back to the village and tilling the field; when they say (I am not making this up) resigning and starting an MBA school; when they say they are moving to another city and starting a company for selling churidaars.
They lie and say anything to get away from YOU.
Because they know you are power hungry. You have THE POWER - to ruin an employee's life by lying in background checks. They know how vindictive you are - that if the management asked you to go after someone you would do that. You would call up people you know at the destination company and ask them to "be warned" about this "nasty developer you have just recruited". They know you will delay the (legally mandated) relieving order. They KNOW you will exercise your power.

I know all of this happens; we all know all of this happens. Yet HR and Managers have the gall to complain about lying when we leave a company. Of course, we lie. We lie so that we can leave in peace. In any culture, people do not come after you if you are bereaved about a death. So we have to say that our long-dead grandma is dead again.
If we just said, "I am leaving your company and joining the company over there", would you all shut up and bless us with the sacred relieving order?
No, you would talk to us for 15 days about staying, going onsite, giving a promotion, threatening to talk to our parents (believe me, has happened), and so on and on.
In India sane IT employees do not let you know which company they are joining next. When a bunch of people behave that way, it is fair to ask the question why? To say "It is cultural" means you are a moron. The answer is, of course, that we are worried about the nature of people with power, some power, any power.
Because people with power always choose to exercise it.

My Experience Not Lying
I resigned from a big Indian services company when I was in the USA. I had been with them for 2.5 years. I decided to stay in the USA, while they wanted me to go back offshore and work on a project.
I had completed ALL the transitions for my onsite work. The offshore team was already set up for 6 months. If I left, it was not a big loss. I was not leaving at a critical time - it was a maintenance project. I had done all I could (along with the excellent onsite lead) to operate the project smoothly.
I resigned by email and let them know I was giving two weeks notice. I told them I was joining another company.
The Account Manager onsite called me and harangued for 2 hours. He said it was unethical for me to leave at all (nice try; it was not). He insulted me to his heart's content. I said I was available for the two weeks notice period. But he said it was not necessary.
Did I deserve the call or the insults? No, but I am sure he enjoyed it.
I met one of my classmates last week and he tells me that the idea around my former company was that I had "ditched" the company. I was surprised because he had joined a few years after I left, and I am not that famous a person. But I got confirmation from a couple of other people.
So, to recap - I had resigned; given notice; and left. That is ditching. And it is so bad as to make an example out of it.
What I should REALLY have said to the Account Manager is this: "My grandma in the USA has died. In her last will she wanted me to leave your company. How can I ignore that?"
By the way, the Account Manager "ditched" a few months later.

What happened to the Fresher?

The fresher (you should read from the beginning) went and told them he was leaving them and HR freaked out. They found out that they had not got the bond signed. So they asked him to stay back for two months - although it served no purpose;he was in training, and no revenue would be gained.
He went the next day and said his father was sick and they HAD to move to Bangalore because his father's whole family was there. They shut up.
If HR will shut up only on hearing lies (that everyone know are lies), that is what HR will hear. You don't have to dig through culture to find that out.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

When television first spread across Tirunelveli, there were people who frowned at the development. Television viewing was a community endeavor - you could expect half the street to be at your home for the Sunday movie.
My father got a television in 1986 - it is still at his home.
At that time people would visit other people's homes and find that they were not welcome. They were not as interesting as "Vayalum Vaazhvum". If you went to someone's house between 7:30 and 8:30PM on a Friday (Oliyum Oliyum or Chitrahaar time), you would probably have a lifelong enemy.
Now, from the safe distance of 25 years, I can see that we were going through a transition to more nuclear communities. Nothing wrong with that, but it created some tension.

The Idealistic Balu

During that time, my father was associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). It was a tumultous period, about to get more tumulty between 1989 and 1992, a period that ended in the criminal demolition of the Babri Masjid.
High ranking Tamil Nadu VHP cadre would visit our home pretty often.

There was a young VHP member named Balu stationed in Tirunelveli at that time. He was a extremely polite, nice person. His family wanted him to marry and settle down. But Balu was a nationalist. He (along with many others in the "Sangh Parivaar") had no plans to marry. He was waiting for Akhand Bharat (a future plan of the RSS in which India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will reunify and form a mighty nation of software programmers).
Balu visited our home often. He had a lot of respect for my father and mother. They tried to tell him to marry, but he was not convinced.
Then my father bought a television.
Initially we had Doordarshan, Hindi, telecast from Kodaikkaanal. Our family still maintained a rule - if a visitor came in, we were to switch off the television. The switching off was easy in 1986 - while watching the news with Rajiv Gandhi's face plastered all the time.
The next year Tamil programs started coming in from Chennai. Balu still was visiting our home, but my father had a noticeable disinterest in Akhand Bharat, or in reclaiming the Dalit-Muslims of Meenakshipuram. He was talking about avoiding "social commitments".

The Ringing of Temple Bells

Soon we left Tirunelveli. My father was slowly disengaging from VHP and RSS contacts. But the fires of communalism were burning bright across India. Apparently not everyone had bought televisions. Advani started going around in Raths, pretending to rescue Lord Ram from a 500 year old affront.

On Dec 6 1992, a couple of my classmates came to meet me at home. They wanted me to accompany them to the nearby temple; apparently there was to be a peaceful protest by ringing temple bells for the Ayodhya temple at 12 Noon.
What really happened in Ayodhya at 12 Noon was far from peaceful. That is now history. But why didn't I accompany my classmates to the temple-bell-ringing?
Because there was a new movie on the cable channel at 12 Noon.

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

Cable television had just arrived for the Chennai middle class. Music director A.R.Rahman had also arrived on the scene. Mani Ratnam was at his peak. The Chennai film institute cameramen had just begun to kick butt.
That was the early 90s.
From that time on, my family was completely hooked on cable. There were several new channels within a couple of years. Further, we all were proud that "our" cable channels telecast even the newest movies immediately. We had no idea about piracy or copyrights. We just thought the new cable technology guys were hooked with the movie makers and all of them were telecasting arabic sub-titled Tamil movies in our television purely out of benevolence.
Time to introduce my grandmother.

My grandma was the bestest grandma in the whole wide world.
She was smart, the sanest one in the family. She was around 90 and managed most of her tasks herself - even though she was blind by then.
I had a habit of narrating world events (she was completely briefed on the First Gulf War). I kept her abreast of the progress of the Agni missile. Our only point of difference in politics was that she believed the Nehru family were royal. I tried to educate her about democracy (she had voted many times in her life). But she was very emphatic on that.
Apart from these, I also told her stories of the movies I watched. She usually did not like the stories much. She would listen to the whole thing and then say "Bad story" and walk away.
When the movie Gentleman was released, we all went bravely to Vetri theater, Chromepet; fought in the crowd; got tickets; and watched the debut of director Shankar. As you all probably know, that movie cannot be "seen with family". It had too much eroticism, and was not subtle. But the movie is very, very fast. It is just spectacular.
I came home and narrated the story (editing out the nasty parts) to my grandma. Surprisingly, she liked the story. She had a lot of sympathy for "Kicha" as the lead character was called. She also understood that the very rhythmic song "Ottakatha Kattikko" was from this movie.
Within a few days the cable company announced they will be telecasting Gentleman that Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoon, I asked my father and mother and brother to sit together and watch the movie. This rarely happens; we all usually end up fighting. But that day we were all ready and it seemed that we could watch the movie without beating each other up.

The doorbell chimed at 12 Noon.
It was Balu.
Balu who? Yes, the same Balu who was the tireless worker for VHP, whom we last met running around Tirunelveli.
After five years, Balu had finally gotten married. But he was still passionate, I think. He had brought along his new wife to meet his ideal family.
Unfortunately the television was on. And Arjun was beating up people in it.
We all sat down. The conversation was mostly one-sided. Nobody switched off the TV.
Balu kept talking and we all kept watching television.
I think he was slightly disillusioned. His wife fidgeted in her seat. Surely, Balu must have thought, there must be some remnant of that old dignified family.
Then "Ottakatha Kattikko" started. There was commotion in one of the inner rooms. The door slammed open and my grandma came feeling her way to the living room.
She said, "Is it Gentleman?"
I said, "Yes, Grandma"
"Oh, that poor Kicha. He tries so hard, but the police is after him", said Grandma.
And then she started keeping time for "Ottakatha Kattikko".

Balu left and we never heard from him again.

It makes you wonder - If everyone in the country had cable television in 1992, that old Masjid may still be standing.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The issue of banning Tamil speech in schools

I had a chance to interview my esteemed nephew, Arjun - he was transitioning from 8th std to 9th std. In the middle of his very busy schedule of watching TV and listening to "Singh is King" songs, he allocated ten minutes for me. I will write the detailed interview later, but for now, I wanted to highlight something. The interview started with him asking me a question about writing in Tamil.
"Why would you write in Tamil? Write in English and a lot of people will read it", he said.
I said, "I have tried writing in English. It is not my native language and I write Indian stories, which sound stilted in English. My English is not fit enough for first class writing."
He understood this to mean that I had scored low in English. He said, "I get lots of marks in English."
I said,"But think about your logic everyone around the world should be writing in English. There should not be any Spanish, French or Turkish writing at all. That is not the case, right? There are enough people to read those languages and that is so in Tamil too. There is no real first or last in languages. Every language is equally good."
He responded with this: "If what you are saying is true, why does our school prevent us from talking in Tamil, ever?"
I was stumped.

A couple of days after this discussion the school near my home had announcements. It was the opening day and the principal gave a long, rambling talk as usual (in bad English - I have written about this here). This was the person who had banned facebook and promised to put cameras in every classroom.
In the middle of her talk she said this:"I don't want my students engaging in bad activities, such as talking in Tamil. I don't want that."
There were many parents standing at the door, since it was the first day of school.I wondered what they thought of this.

Where does this come from? Why is this not called fanaticism? How could any sane society tolerate that its schools ban its own native language?
I have wondered about this, but failed to come up with any good reason. It requires a bunch of sociologists to figure out what is going on here.

Fixing the Fanaticism
There is an important issue in balance here. You see, schools have a right, as private entities to fix any rules they deem necessary, as long as they submit to the education departments' requirements. The government cannot directly go ahead and legislate out Tamil hatred from schools.
There are two questions:
1. Why did we reach this stage?
2. How can we fix the underlying reasons?
It is easy to call the school principal an idiot. She is ignorant, sure, but she is responding to some kind of pressure or confirming to some social tradition, when she bans Tamil.
Where exactly is that pressure coming from? Is it coming from the parents? They are the demand side, the "buyers" of education. Are they expecting that schools completely ban Tamil within the campus?
May be to a certain extent, but education is a seller's market. A parent is constrained a lot in shopping for a good school - it is not like shopping for a product in a store. Your school has to be close to home, for example. It is not as if a parent would seek out a school and then can AFFORD to decide, "No, this school bans Tamil. I won't admit my child here." They can't, that is why there are long lines in front of every school.
Sure, we have reached this stage starting from colonial times. Knowing English was no doubt an advantage then. But what happened after independence? In particular what has happened in the past 40 years when ostensible Tamil lovers have ruled this state?

The Failure of English Education
Here is my shot at an explanation:
You start out first with the fact that your range of jobs immediately expands if you learn science and technology in English. We are a developing country and not at the forefront of research and development in most fields. The words that we use at work (Kalai Chorkal in Tamil) are generally in English. The process of translating Kalai Chorkal to Tamil is slow (although it continues to be done by admirable people). You are a better hire if you know learn technical subjects in English. This explains why schools offer two streams, Tamil and English medium, with English medium charging more. That is just Economics at work.
The next step is to speak English fluently - not just knowing technical terms or understanding documents. Ideally, (think about this carefully), your school education would be SUFFICIENT for this purpose. That is, if you took English as a language in your school, then that class education should make you fluent in English.
We all know that is not the case - just as that is not the case with any subject in our system.

If English is to be taught as a foreign language, then it should be taught right - with practice sessions and interactive classes - not as you would teach any other subject like History. If English was taught correct, it will be enough to learn it in the English class.

My point is that the school principal near my home forces kids to talk all the time in English because she KNOWS that her own school curriculum is INEFFECTIVE in teaching good English. If her school was effective, she won't care what language the kids speak outside of English class.

Thus, the myth has taken root, that you can talk English fluently ONLY if you talk in English all the time. That is what the schools are attempting and they do seem to make it a selling point.

So, my theory (I could be wrong) is that schools force kids to speak in English all the time because they have no faith in their own English teaching system. But you can't blame them. They are probably right in their belief. As I have explained before (in this article), the examination system decides how you educate students. I believe the examinations are all wrong. So that is what you get in your education.
How then, can we go about correcting this situation?

One way is simply a blanket ban by the government on such rules by schools. But it would be thrown out of court, at least for minority institutions to whom the government has no right to dictate. I believe that such a ban would also be an infringement on the rights of private institutions - who knows what else the government will ban next?

Second is to focus a lot on English education - this is completely paradoxical. But if you had excellent resources and require good English education standards at the English SUBJECT level, schools simply may not feel the need to ban Tamil. I realize this sounds very contrarian.

I also think that the Tamil Nadu government should do a LOT more to save the language from extinction. It IS the government's responsibility in this country. But that is for a separate post. Two related points here:
1. Modernise Tamil education too - stop the stupid "Manappaada paattu".
2. Teach some post-modernist thoughts at school. There is a common view that languages (or music or art, for that matter) are hierarchical and that there is a single path to modernity. The past forty years of post-modernist thought has completely broken this view, but it is not yet taught - as a concept - in our schools.

PS: Tamil society, in the world outside school, has fought against such school bans. There is a reason words such as "Peter" or "Mary" entered popular Tamil lexicon. In school and college the kids who spoke in English all the time (without reason) were thought to be uncool, when I was growing up. I don't know how it is now.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bollywood is not about movies

I will make a case below but let me lay out my conclusion first - Bollywood is not the Hindi film industry. Films are simply ancillary to it. Bollywood is a brand, a brand that helps corporations sell products using a small clique of new aristocrats. It is really about manufacturing artificial demand, by a tie-up of big media, consumer goods producers and film corporations. The movies and their release are at best ancillary to their purpose. The original Hindi movie industry has been taken over and supplanted by these corporations.

A Voyage of Discovery
I remember watching the Hindi movie "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" in Devi theater, Chennai, back in 1999. This was Karan Johar's first directorial venture. The movie release was preceded by the usual promotions. One of these was an article in the magazine India Today. The magazine had a photograph of a college lobby with lockers for students and Sharukh Khan walking bouncing a basketball. The article said Hindi films were going through a resurgence in costumes, artwork and stories (I guess in that order). When I watched the movie I could feel it. The college in that movie seemed "like in America". The students had individual lockers (while my college barely had a bathroom). Kids went to a giant summer camp and the actors went from country to country. You would be forgiven for thinking that colleges in Bombay actually looked like the newer ones in the United States.
Later I learnt that the movie was a big hit in the United States and UK. Nothing critical came to my mind while watching the movie.
A few months later India Today again published a "puff piece" (as journalists call it) on the Hindi film world. It said that the movie industry was attracting the interest of corporations, both in India and abroad. The article mentioned that story discussions were now done using powerpoint presentations! There was talk of bound scripts and market analysis and such. The article thought it was a great thing. What could go wrong with that?
This corporatisation of that industry was more and more associated with professionalism. There was excitement that our movies would now be as "good" as Hollywood movies - after all Hollywood movies were made by corporations and now, so are ours! People talked of "genre" movies and much was made of Ram Gopal Verma's "Factory" production house.
Ten years later, there is not much to show for that corporate revolution. The powerpoint presentations seem to have made the situation worse. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Soon I was in the United States and the flood of promotions even there was astonishing. The movie Devdas was on the (desi) airwaves, television and online all the time. The movie did not do well in India, but it did well abroad. Suddenly we were in Cannes, for no good reason. Our movies were still bad, but Aishwarya Rai was on the red know, the carpet reserved for white people! Who designed Aishwarya's wardrobe? and so on.
Initially this was amusing but me and many of my friends were annoyed that Hindi movies were so "westernized". A standard movie started like "A guy and a girl are sitting in the Waterloo station, London, talking..". Most Hindi movies that we came to know about (that is, that were promoted) were very weird, to say the least. Almost all the movies were set abroad. Even if they were set in India, it was an India that most of us had not seen - it had palatial buildings in which NRIs landed in helicopters, for one. You would not see a normal road or tea shop.
Even "Dil Chahtha Hai" which was a great story, showed a "global" Indian - a person who flew to Australia and went to operas.
It would be fine if there were a couple of movies like this, but every movie was this way. It was as if the stars will not act in "local" settings.
It revolted me and many of my friends so much that most of gave up watching Hindi movies.
To make fun of this trend, I wrote a blog post four years back - here. That post is still one of the most popular posts in this blog. But I believe I got it fundamentally wrong.

Post 2006
In the last few years, the Hindi movie industry increased in its weirdness - which they now called escapism. Watching a movie like "Black" or "Saawariya" or "Jaane tu ya Jaane Naa" or "Kabhi Alvidha Naa Kehna" was excruciatingly painful. They all acted like they were born and brought up in the West, while talking perfect Hindi. The colleges, costumes and everything seemed..incongruent. It did not make any sense.

Please note that in the last ten years, Bollywood, in spite of its insistent rebranding and propaganda (that is what it is), is still a loss making industry. They mostly depend now on a nostalgic NRI community. Most Hindi movies flop.
You have to wonder, then, what is going on. I had noticed these trends:
1. That the national film awards committee now gave more awards to Bollywood movies and presented more of those movies in foreign award shows.
2. That the actors and actresses were generally drawn from a small pool of models, celebrities or star children. There were rarely any "normal" actor who was promoted. This is unlike, for example, the Tamil of Malayalam movie industries (although the trend is noticeable now in Tamil).
3. That the movies rarely addressed any "real" issues or social issues. They showed, at best, relationship problems. There were no comments on caste, or women's issues or even traffic.
4. That the stars rarely seem to suffer from a flop - they simply act in another flop movie and then another and so on.

Realization sets in
I decided early last year that I would look for economic reasons for people acting a certain way, instead of blaming individuals or culture. I wrote a long post on this here.
What are the incentives for Bollywood? That was the question I wanted to answer. In my post making fun of Hindi movies, I had assumed that their "imitation" of the West (that makes movies look like fancy dress competitions) was born out of foolishness. I thought they were simply like the idiots who wore flowing gowns to coffee shops.
But what if they were not? What if we are the real idiots?
In other words, what are the incentives that makes Bollywood run the way it does? How can they make so many flop movies and survive on the same cycle of incongruent stories, huge promotions and finally bad letdowns?
The answer came from a close friend. She asked me to look up the term "brand ambassador" and a few actors' names.
For example, if you search for Abhishek Bachchan and brand ambassador, you see that he is promoting Videocon DTH, Motorola, BIG 92.7 FM, Idea! and so on.
Hrithik Roshan, who has been giving out flops for a long time, is the brand ambassador of Acer, Provogue, ITCis John Players, Reliance Mobile and so on.
Well they are established actors, after all.. how about new comer Ranbir Kapoor? He has only acted in three movies of which two were flops, right?
He is the brand ambassador for Pepsi, Nissan and Panasonic India!
Where am I going with this?
The "actors" are not really actors. They are really fronts for an elaborate corporate game.
What has happened is this:
1. Corporations move into making movies
2. They realize, quickly, that instead of going the hard route of actually making good movies, they can make a lot of money for themselves and the stars by USING the movie as a way to sell merchandise, music and consumer products.
3. The actors now can make more money by making advertisements than in movies (By the way, in spite of all the talk about Hollywood, Hollywood stars do not act in many advertisements). Indian movie actors have become, basically, advertising models.
4. The actors tie up with products, the movie corporations tie up with products - and so people make money whether the movie is a flop or not.
5. Then they sell the movie for television viewership and make a lot of money there too.
Shyam Benegal described this in a recent CineBlitz interview - the focus is on becoming a star, because as a star you can make money sheerly out of a "brand" name. All that you need is name recognition. You do NOT need to have acted in any successful movie.
In other words, the movies are actually "events" which help companies launch product prmotions. They do not signify ANYTHING more than that. What we look for, story, screenplay, acting, camera - all of these are really irrelevant for the ECONOMICS of the Bollywood industry.

Hence, I present you the retard looking Ranbir Kapoor, the unibrow Imran Khan and the building of a brand.

In a giant tie up between corporate media,corporate production houses, consumer goods sellers and corporate PR firms handling each and every aspect of an actor as a brand - the Hindi film industry is now taken over by a bunch of carpetbaggers.

You know this - look at the amount of propaganda unleashed on us by the media houses prior to the release of, say, Gajini or recently, Kites. There is such a network of product tie-ups that is difficlut to untangle.
The sole purpose, now, of a Bollywood movie is to launch advertising campaigns. It has NOTHING to do with a movie.

This explains some of trends I commented on earlier.
1. It explains why the star pool is open to a small clique - because the members of the new aristocracy have better connections and better name recognition. If all that you cared about was branding, why would you use a nameless actor from Bikaner?

2. Very importantly, it explains the SUBJECT matter of these movies - if your whole goal is to increase consumption and promote a lifestyle that "looks" rich, then you can see why Bollywood movies focus on relationship issues in New York or action sequences in the Bahamas. Why would they ever show actual issues? Why would they ever show caste or communal issues? Most movies look like an American teenager's (a particularly stupid one at that) fantasy. This is not escapism - they have simply called it escapism to justify their path.

3. Also, it is pointless, given this, to accuse movie makers of copying other movies. If your core problem is that your movie industry is about selling products rather than movies, then who cares if those movies are copied?

The corporations have taken over the mantle of all those who came before them, in an actual movie industry and then replaced them with Public Relations images. And they have sold those images to us.

Who is the loser in this? The Hindi movie audience has been had for suckers.
Ten years after the much-hyped corporate entries, this is the result.

PS: There is a possibility that someone would read this whole piece and decide that the issue is really that I am culturally backward or anti-Western or even anti-Corporations. I will just point out a couple of things for such people:
There are many movie industries around the world that are run by corporations. Although they do have issues sometimes in quality and some bias in favor of corporatism, none seem to have reached the low-point of our industry. The Hindi movie industry was not at a very high standard even during the 90's. There was already nepotism in the industry. But the corporations took all that and made it the current monster (The only consolation seems to be that the movies still suck but at least they show London around). Reflexively cheering corporations was wrong.
The incentives now are set up to ignore good movie making. They think that is INCIDENTAL to the "product" success.
When I say good movies I do not mean "Pather Panchali" type. I know people jump at that. I mean commercial movies like Munnabhai, at least. Do not pass of Krish as some kind of great movie so that we all feel happy that "our" India made a super hero movie. That is all I am saying.
Finally, before you accuse me of being anti-Western, anti-progress (people think both are the same) and all that, hold on. I just don't think there are ANY colleges in India where the kids look, dress or dance like in the movie "Jaane Tu Ya...". I would love such colleges, believe me, I would hang out there all the time. It is just that the movie looks like it is a fancy dress competition where you say, "let all of us pretend that we are all in an all-Indian Ivy League college somewhere in the UK and that we are all born and brought up there and talk in Hindi and our parents are all Indian but let us just say we have English customs...and so on".
That is not escapism, it is pathetic. As I explained, that movie was really about launching another set of product promotions and making Imran Khan a brand so that he can become another brand ambassador.