Jan 012012
 

It’s 2012. Time passes. As I sit through a somewhat boring sermon in the church, I turn my wrist to see the time and find that I have forgotten to wear the watch. Again. My thought rotates around watches. And as always, I am reminded of a watch which I can never forget. This watch has had some influence on my life and I would surely like to have it back, if it’s still in existence. It was my Grandpa’s watch.

The story can be long enough to bore you, or quick and short leaving out the essence. But I care less and write as much as I fell should be written.

The watch was pocket watch, similar to the one Gandhi had. I do not remember the make, and I wouldn’t dare make guesses. Ever since childhood, I had been fascinated by everything mechanical. And this spring action watch was one equipment I loved to watch. Today we have quartz powered watches which require changing battery after a long duration. But this watch required winding up so that it wouldn’t stop. Everyday, after coming back from market, my grandpa would wind up the watch to keep it running. The second hand(smallest one), ticked away on its own, on a separate dial just below the number 12. I would sit minutes together watching it completing those many rotations, and along with that, the movement of the big minute hand. I wasn’t allowed to touch it until I came of age, which I guess was around the age of 7-8. At first, Grandpa would allow me to wind it up, but being scared that I would over wind it, he would allow me to give it only a few turns and then take over. Anyway, the spring was too tight for my tiny fingers to over wind. And after a few turns, my finger tips would become raw due to the serrations on the small winding knob. But I didn’t complain since I wanted to handle it regularly.

By that time, my grandpa had been explaining me all about the numbers on the dial and how to read time. I was, may be in 3rd grade, and one day, my grandpa dared me to tell the exact time. I took my time to read the numbers and their meaning with respect to the hands. Finally, somewhat scared, I muttered, “11:20”. “100 marks to you!!”. I remember my grandpa saying this in excited tone. My Grandma was very happy. Though not educated herself or being able to tell time, she strongly had a view that we all should be well educated, and I had passed one test for which she relied on the church bells. She proudly told around about my achievement, and though it took me quite some time to actually read time any time of the day, in her view I was the most intelligent boy in the village.

I kept learning the art of reading time for few more years on the same watch. And around sixth grade, the watch was gone. No, it didn’t stop working. It ticked as good as it ticked before. But the circumstances under which we had to part away with the watch were a bit disheartening to me personally.

My Grandpa had crossed 80 and time and again he fell ill. He was losing strength and he was sure that the time for his passing to another life was coming near. All he was worried about was not to burden his family with the expenses for the funeral.

One day Grandpa informed us that he had sold the watch. We were all shocked and asked him about why he did that. As it turned out, he had spent the money in taking a portrait photograph of himself and framed it. He had bought new footwear, new dhoti(a traditional cloth worn below the waist), a traditional jacket and the traditional black cap. He had prepared himself for the journey and didn’t want his family to bear the expenses. He had instead parted with his one beloved possession.

As the details of the events were later revealed by him, he had gone for a visit to the doctor where he met a man from a neighboring locality. During a conversation with him, the subject of time and watches had somehow crept up and my Grandpa informed about the pocket watch which he owned. The man was quite interested in the watch and offered my Grandpa 1100 rupees for it. The year was 1991 and 1100 rupees was a big amount. My Grandpa had immediately agreed, caught the next bus home, picked up the watch, went back and traded it for the amount. He had then used the money on the above mentioned articles.

He had bought the watch quite a few decades back for the sum of 35 rupees.

My Grandpa passed away the very next year, in his new clothing. And his portrait hung on the door frame for years till the house was demolished.

My Grandpa, and that watch, taught me to read time. One of the most valuable lesson anyone can learn. I always feel nostalgic whenever I remember that watch and feel that it should have been in the possession of our family. But the financial conditions of the family at that time, were “just making ends meet” and my Grandpa had enough self respect to not ask my mom or his other daughters, or his son for the money for such a cause.

The watch was gone forever. The man who bought it for such a large amount, surely had some knowledge of its value and am sure, the watch is still ticking somewhere. And I am hoping it’s ticking with a collector or someone who really cares.

Dec 152011
 

It was in preschool that I came across the english alphabet for the first time. We had a cursive writing book with all those dotted letters on which I had to trace the pencil, so very slowly at  first, but at a higher speed later on, to learn cursive writing. It was a very difficult exercise for me, given that I didn’t have a free hand at art, then and now. But there was a purpose to this exercise at this tender age. Ii itched a writing style in to my hand.

It was somewhere around class III that we were allowed to use a pen for the first time in school. I had graduated and the feeling was good. But my writing skill was as bad as ever. The difference between a pencil and a pen is that, in a pencil you get lot of resistance while writing so you need to put in that extra effort while trying to trace a smooth letter. This helped in inducing a curve in to my hand which is unique to me. On arrival of the pen, the resistance was reduced drastically and my hand needed a longer time to restrain the occasional slip of hand and get back those curves. But eventually I did manage to get back to my dirty handwriting and managed to get through those long exam sessions with some ease.

I do remember the last time I picked up the pen to write a few coherent lines on paper. That was during the marine engineering exam that I appeared for last year. Apart from that, the notes that I take down at my office do not qualify to be called as lengthy and meaning full sentences. They are just bits and pieces of information noted down at random intervals, and won’t help me with being in touch with my hand curves. Most of my work is done on a computer, in office or at home. All it does is flatten my finger tips due to the regular strikes on keyboard.

Gist is, the pen is almost as good as dead for me. But I can live with it. I am not going to be a writer. And if I am going to be, I can do it on the computer. But what concerns me more is the news I read today. A school in Mumbai has made it mandatory for students to buy an iPad for “learning process”. Some of the parents have accepted it while some are of the feeling that it will hamper the writing abilities of their kids. The school has given an option of either buying it outright or availing a financing option.

I will not go in to the ethics of making it mandatory. I will not argue on the ethics of the school giving out “options” for mode of purchase, which I feel, should be left with financial institutions or retail establishments, not educational institutions. There is not much information about the class from which students have to buy it, or what kind of actual educational tool will it be used as. But I give voice to the concerns of those parents who contest this decision with the argument of handwriting.

How exactly are the schools going to use these tablets? Are they planning to ask students to take down the notes on their iPad instead of their notebooks. If that so, it’s a shame that the art of writing will no longer be practiced by them. Handwriting is not at all an outdated way of learning. Secondly, at the tender age, if their wrists are subjected to non-ergonomic working styles, I am afraid lots of these kids will grow with problems at their wrists. So who will teach them ergonomics with iPad? Another risk being, who will ensure that the kids are not exposed to restricted contents on the web which will be freely available on the tablet? Who will ensure that the students use it only for educational purpose instead of playing angry bird during classroom periods?

And it’s a very expensive tool for learning which I feel is not required.

On the other hand, if the schools are able to control the use of the tablets to a restricted amount of time, it will be a boon. Students will be exposed, and when I say exposed I mean in both ways, to the age of the internet at the tender age. But then, the kids who can afford such luxuries at schools, surely have been exposed to these gadgets at their homes. So where’s the need?

All said, I just hope it’s not the death of the pen.

Oct 012011
 

21st August. I bought my first LCD-LED 40” TV. I was happy. 27th Sept. I made a deal of my life. I was as happy as ever would be. So what was the deal? For that, I need to start from the beginning…waaaaaay back!!

It was 21st August and I decided that enough was enough. The rear projection TV wasn’t enhancing my television experience anymore and I set about in search for a shop that would sell me the TV that I had decided for a good bargain. Wandering around some consumer goods stores in my neighborhood, I found that the price for UA40D6000SR Samsung SMART TV was about 71000 rs in most of the stores and the bargain was going to maximum of 500 rs less. But at one store, the salesman agreed to sale it for 65000, which, I thought, was a good bargain. I immediately got down to the financing details since the financing company was offering a interest free loan. With the down payment made, I went home, and my TV arrived in couple of days. Things were going on great.

Then I realised that I had not received the details of the financing even after 15 days. I tried to follow up with the agent who did the paperwork but didn’t get any details, only assurance that the financing would be through and I would get the details after that. After about 21 days, and constant reminders by me, I was informed that the financing had not come through. The reason given was something vague, which I would not digest. This left me a bit cross and I was in the mood of returning the TV wit ha refund of the down payment. Sensing that I was hell bent on doing that, the financing agent requested me to avail another scheme where the term would be longer but the installments would be less. Seeing that there was no loss to me, I agreed and immediately gave him the documents to carry out the procedure. I was assured by the agent that this time the loan would be through.

I kept on following up on daily basis and after 7 days I was informed that the loan application was rejected. The agent asked me to go for the final option where the loan would be split in to two halves, one in my name and another in my brothers name. Sensing some sort of misdoings, I refused, but called up the agent to discuss a my home. The next day when the agent arrived, the first thing I did was cancel all my application forms that he had and took back all my documents. Then I asked him to refund my down payment and take back the TV. He went back to the store and within an hour I got a call from the store manager apologizing for the inconvenience caused to me due to his sales person and the financing agent. He even accepted to take back the TV and give and undertaking on his store letter head, saying that the finance deal was off and he would be responsible for  future debits from my account for this transaction. During this conversation I informed him that I was dejected by the service given by the dealer and the financing company and would go ahead with buying this model from other shop with full payment.

This statement was the turning point in the deal. The store manager immediately requested me to consider buying from him. He informed that he would give some more discount above the price for which I had bought the TV. But I told him that I was in no mood and hung up. I was quite certain that his “discount” would be about 1000 rs, so was not sorry for not accepting the offer. About half an hour later the store manager called up again, requesting me to keep the TV and pay the balance after some delay. And then he even offered me a discount of 8000 rs over and above the price negotiated earlier. He went on explaining how he had arrived at such a discount, but I was not listening. 8000 rs deducted from the negotiated price brought down the cost to 57000 rs from 71000 rs for which it is currently sold. After some small talk with the manager, I agreed to give it a thought and inform him later. Of course the decision was made. I was willing to pay that much amount at one go if I would get such a discount.

The very next day I swiped my credit card  and bought the TV. A unique situation from which I benefited.

This surely brings us to one conclusion. Even though the store manager offered me added discount, I am sure he might have kept some buffer, if I got in the mood of haggling further. Of course, I didn’t have the strength to haggle further. I was quite satisfied. But the point is, just check out the premium we pay in India in the name of new technology. I feel the manufacturing cost of the TV might be as less as 25000 rs. But after taxes, and a huge logistical community involved for transferring the TV from the Manufacturing unit to my home. The amount gets inflated to about 55000. And the retailers do the rest.

Sep 112011
 

After pampering him for 10 days, Mumbai is finally ready to bid adieu to their favorite lord, the Ganpati, on the day of Anant Chaturdashi.800px-Anant_Chaturdashi The slogans, “Ganpati Bappa Moriya, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar Yaa”(O lord Ganesha, come again early next year) will be in the air the entire evening.

In the evening, all the Ganesh idols around Mumbai and other places in India will be immersed in water. Water is believed to be the bridge between the heaven and the earth and the immersion of Lord Ganesha in water symbolizes his return to the heaven.

The departure of Lord Ganesha is an emotional even for the people of the house who have served him, looked after him, loved him for ten days. They will be eagerly waiting for him until next year while their heart keeps on resounding, Pudhachya Varshi Laukar Yaa.

Aug 152011
 

Few years back when I was sailing as a marine engineer, a colleague on one of my ships had bought a laptop from the USA. It was the thanksgiving season and the stores there were brimming with free gift and discount offers for most of the products. A core 2 Duo laptop was an object of desire back then, and the configuration that he bought would have cost him about 50-60 thousand rupees easily in India. But after discount, he got it for 650$ which came to around 28000 Indian rupees back then. Along with that he got few free items like a carry bag and a usb TV tuner card. For me, it was kind of an offer of the century. For anyone residing in USA, this was a daily affair. Sad thing was that my friend was an Indian, not a resident of the US, because the laptop had a very good money back offer if returned within few months.

Yesterday I read about a very good offer on Samsung LED TVs in the newspapers. So I went to check out in a well known local store. The very first disappointment I had to face was due to the fact that even though it is a very reputed chain of stores in my city, they did not stock the latest model of the television that I had in mind. They were an entire generation behind in TV models. Secondly, the staff was not sure what TV I was talking about and they had to keep on asking the one “expert-knows it all” guy that the store employed. I came back home and decided to call up the the customer support number that was given in the advertisement in the papers.

The phone was answered by a lady, who seemed to be harassed by repeated phone calls. She informed that this was nth number of times that she had informed that it was a wrong number which we were dialing. Then we called up few other store numbers that were given. One of them informed that the TV was not in stock but he could get it for me. He quoted the price as 81500 rs. which I knew was the fair market price, as I had done some enquiries before. Then I enquired about the offer and I was shocked to hear that the offer was only valid if I bought the TV for the maximum retail price of 1,01,000 rupees. Also the seller informed that 18 months finance scheme was available, while the advertisement informed that they had a 10 months finance scheme.

I called up another vendor given in the list and he seemed to have the model, but quoted a price of 94,000 rs. I asked him that another shop had quoted 81500 rs and he informed that the other store might have quoted without the offer. He was selling the TV with the offer for the M.R.P. of 94,000 rs. This was another shock to me as the M.R.P., which is printed by the manufacturer, Samsung in this case, was being quoted differently by different shopkeepers.

I had enquired about the price previously and I deduced that Samsung is bundling out some of their products along with the products sold on large scale, using the cheap market tricks which are bring used in India since a long time. Samsung delivers the TV to the sellers with price much less then the M.R.P., but is anyone wants to avail the offer you need to shell out the M.R.P. So what do you deduce from it? There are no free products in India. If anything is free, or if the products have been discounted, the prices are already increased for that product before they are sold under offer. I saw the M.R.P. for that TV on Samsung official website. It is 99,900 rs. None of the figures quoted by the sellers I spoke to, were anywhere near it. Infact the one person who quoted close by, actually quoted above the M.R.P. which is a crime by consumer laws in India. The M.R.P. for the TV on Samsung official site is way above the price a which it is sold in shops. The difference of about 15,000 rs. is not at all justified, since it gives a free hand to the sellers to loot the consumers at their will.

This is total Chaos in Consumerism. People are being cheated at all walks of life. I always do some investigation on the internet before buying any product with higher price. But not the millions who fall for such “offers”. I have seen people buying at huge price because either the product is being bought by millions or the chain of stores is well known or the offer is valid only for a short interval. But no one ever uses the tool, that we call the internet, to avoid being cheated. The people in USA have been effectively using internet to avoid being cheated. Websites like ebay, walmart, bestbuy, amazon sell out almost everything a person needs, with heavy discounts, free gifts and lots of guarantees about the genuineness of the product. People rely on this sites for half their shopping. Not so in India. We would buy from the few select chain of stores and get cheated rather then make an informed decision through the internet.

If anyone wants to have some fun, here’s the product link on Samsung’s official website. Go ahead, make some calls..

Jul 302011
 

Botanically called as Saussurea obvallata, or the Bramha Kamal as we call it, is a rare sight in it bloomed state. Named after Bramha, the Hindu God of creation, this night blooming flower with a once in a year appearance is said to be an indication of an auspicious event. People in India believe that only those people who believe in the auspiciousness of the occasion, have the luck to view the flower in this state.

I do not claim that I am the only lucky person to have seen it when its delicate petals were opened, but as soon as I got the chance today, I clicked some pictures which I wish to share with you all. So here they are.

I have used a white source of light, place at some distance to create the luminescence effect. Pardon my photography with a normal point and shoot camera.

DSC05804

DSC0578copy

    DSC05797 

Jul 252011
 

Press the shift key and the * key together. Then press the Space Bar once. Now type out the word BASIC. Press the Return key and then the break key”.

Those words were the milk on which I begun my nourishment in to the digital world.

The year was 1992. The Gulf war was on. The stock markets had crashed. I was in class VIII. And to escape the agony of the drawing class, and explore the new thing in India, the computer, I had got myself enrolled (paying exorbitant fees) into the computer class in lieu of the drawing class. I had no idea, neither did lakhs of people who tried to embrace this technology, how far this invention would advance. But there I was, listening ever so attentively to the instructor, as she dictated the steps we had to follow, in exactly those words. I never got the heads or tails of what I was doing, but following her instructions, I could display “Hello” or even my name as the output of the ‘program’. I was thrilled. I continued computers for rest of my school years, during which I learnt DBASE, WordStar and missed out on LOGO as I was ill during those classes. Then they taught PASCAL.

By now, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Where were we going to use DBASE, or WordStar, or why would we buy a costly piece of electronic equipment just to add two numbers? And what was this Pascal all about? But I always scored good in the computers exam since I was good at memorizing or learning “by heart” as we called it.

The real breakthrough in to understanding what programming was all about, came when I was in the junior college. As it happened, I opted for computer science since I was scared of dissecting cockroaches and rats in the lab. And as it turned out, I was scoring poorly in computer science as well. Then I joined extra coaching with a particular teacher from another junior college. And my God, that guy was amazing. He explained how exactly LOGIC was to be applied in to programming and then taught us the syntax(grammar) of PASCAL and later C. I started seeing computer programming in new light by then. 386 machines were just so common and the 486 machines were admired and envied. Windows 3.1, with its “colorful” desktop was just arriving. On the rarest of the rare occasions would we get a peek at a machine with such configuration.

But my heart was in to machines, those moving assemblies which we could see and predict and with very little guidance, I picked up Mechanical Engineering as a branch to make career in. I successfully pass through the course, within the minimum possible time for passing the examinations(no failures, straight success). Programming did taunt me from time to time during engineering studies, and I picked up FEM/CAD/CAM(Finite Elements Methods/Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) as a vocational subject.

That was the time when it struck me that I had not learnt enough of the programming. The above vocational subject involved designing using C++ programming, and I had stopped short at C during my junior college days. I tried to apply the concepts of C while programming in C++ and I passed through, miserably though.

And by the time I completed my engineering, I got my first personal computer, with the latest configuration at that time. It did cost my dad a fortune, but with the Pentium III processor, 64 MB RAM, and windows 98 running on it, I was not complaining. The year was 2000. I did learn lot of things on it. I learned how to use windows, how to install OS and other software, how to play games, rip music, watch videos. I learned to use the internet using the dial up connection, which cost my dad a fortune on telephone bills each month. I learned to assemble a computer from scratch, troubleshoot the operating system, rectify the problems. I learned a lot.

The only thing I forgot to learn was any specific programming language. I had the brains to apply the Logic properly, but didn’t have the guts to change my field from hardcore mechanical engineering to software development. Few of my friends changed, and they did succeed. I, meanwhile, was comfortable with the machineries, since they were physical, real and visible to naked eyes.

Due to lack of any good job opportunity, I finally choose marine as my career path and then invested some six years of my life into it, with good returns in monetary terms. The world meanwhile moved on from Pentium IV to hyper-thread to dual core to Core 2 Duo. Microsoft dished out Windows ME, XP, and Vista. By the time I decided to leave marine, I was a proud owner of a Core2 Duo laptop with windows vista and 4 GB of RAM. Alas, I hadn’t known how soon it would turn obsolete. Core ix series and Windows 7 was just around the corner.

I was good at computers while onboard. With almost none of them having any knowledge of troubleshooting a PC, I was the doctor whenever any PC related problem crept onboard. On ship, I was the God of that small machine. Onshore, I was way behind. I missed out on many issues of Chip, the technology magazine on which I fed for information and by I used to swear. I missed out on lots of technological advances while onboard. But then I had submitted to my life and being a genius in computers was not an option.

Now I have left marine life since about 3 years. I work onshore and my work keeps me glued to computers for about 8 hours a day. I am sure that it has become an integral part of my life. And I am even more sure that I am not making the most of it. I could have been a genius computer programmer, had I chosen to be that at a certain point of time in my life. I could have been the one who wrote the blog editing programs instead of being a lame blogger who uses it. It would have been so much different. It would have been so great to see people surrounding me using my program for their daily use. Like I do now.

But then, I wouldn’t have got the time for my blog. I am sure I would have envied those bloggers, as the programmers envy me now. I would be just a faceless programmer, unknown to the outer, real world and not a blogger with friends in that circle. Life wouldn’t be like what it is now.

And you know what, I am happy with my life now. So, even if my 18 years of close contact with computers didn’t make me someone great in in that field, I don’t care. My Odyssey is still digital, but the destination is different.

 

Also I have some lessons from my experience which I would like to share with you.

  • It doesn’t matter what path you choose in your life. Stick to it and make it lead to your destination, and,
  • Technological turnaround cycle has become very short, so wait for the right moment before you buy your computer. And anyway, your machine will go obsolete in six months.
Jul 142011
 

17 souls lost? More than 130 injured physically, more psychologically? Was this a déjà vu of 7/11?

Rewind back 5 years and 2 days.

11/7/2006 the date. 11 minutes 7 bombs, the attack. For them it was a number game. But for the 209 killed, it was the day they didn’t meet their family one last time. For the 700 injured, life would never be the same again. The world condemned the attack, as it condemns even today. But that’s what politicians do. Meanwhile, people were too shocked to react. Carrying out routine work had turned out to be dangerous. The fear for life haunted the people, not only in their dreams but for real. Mumbai was paralyzed for few days. It stumbled back to life. The incident was left behind, but not the scars.

Fast forward to 2008. Armed with sophisticated equipment, a group of terrorist entered the city through its least guarded entry point, the sea. The took the city at gunpoint, sparing no class of people, be it rich or poor. 164 were lost to this one side battle, 308 wounded. It took three days to bring the situation under control, with just one of the 10 terrorists arrested alive. He languished in the prison, which has been turned into fortress of a kind, at the expense of the tax payer. Meanwhile, the world condemned the attack, promised all the help, gave none, made a fool of India, its politicians and its people. Mumbai was paralyzed. It took a while to recover. But we were back on our feet.India meanwhile managed to handle this case disastrously, and the people gave up hopes of any justice. Then it became business as usual. The scars of 7/11 had vanished, so had those of 26/11.

Fast forward to present. The attack was as well planned as the previous two, and countless others carried out in past. The desired results were achieved by terrorists. The world condemned the attack. One Mrs. Clinton even said that no matter what these people try, they won’t succeed in their intentions. I failed to understand what other intentions these terror outfits could have other than killing innocent people, which they seem to achieve quite comfortably. Meanwhile, the people in the vicinity took note of the attack. They seemed to be very angry on the television. But they didn’t seemed to have been scarred by this event. They did help in the rescue efforts. But the events didn’t paralyze Mumbai. Trains were on time. No one left office early for the fear of another attack. No one stayed back at the office for the fear of same. In the morning after the attack, all the regulars of the train were present. There were no heated debates about who were responsible, or the chronology of the events, or how our security could be improved and where we went wrong. It was the usual talk about collecting the monthly train group fund money, or arranging a picnic that weekend. The trains were as full as any usual day. They were on time. No one skipped office due to fear of another attack.

Mumbai seemed to not take much notice of this incident. It had found some medicine for its recurring injuries. And the medicine was good. Mumbai had healed fast. It was life as usual.

Jul 042011
 

Who says we are a country full of poor. Just look at the vast amount of wealth, and I mean legal wealth owned by individuals without being involved in scams and without having any corporate links. If you have been following the happenings of past few weeks, you will be amazed to know the amount of wealth we have bestowed upon our Gods and Goddesses.

My God!! A trillion rupees hidden(though not with any wrong intentions) in the secret vaults below the temple!!! I had been to this temple. I had seen it’s grandeur. I expected it to be the last place with an yearly budget of a state hidden under it. This treasure has been collecting under the temple for many centuries now, and the royal families didn’t ever touch it, even during the hardest of times. Their intentions were noble. But what use are such intentions if the money is not put to a good use for the people. The Gods and the Goddesses desire no piece of this earthly treasure. So what’s the point of preserving it for them, while the people who donated it need to go abroad, separated from their families for a long time, to fill their hungry stomach? Why let this wealth rot under the temple, while people who parted with it, are without three meals a day?

Forget the scamsters. You can’t get the money back from them. But Baba Ramdev, Satya Sai Baba trust, Sree Padmanabha temple trust, Sabrimala temple trust, Tirupati temple trust, Siddhivinayaka temple trust, Divine retreat centre, Tabor Ashram and many other religious trusts who make such kind of money, can’t you all come together and do something for the society who has bestowed, whatever little they had, upon you? Bypass the government. Build your own schools. Build your own hospitals. Fund your own industries so that the unemployed get work.

God will never want this earthly possessions. He always wants you to love each other. Help each other. He wants you to live by his teachings.

%d bloggers like this: