Dec 312010

The recovery from one of the biggest financial crisis. The revelations by wikileaks. Rise to fame of Paul the octopus, and the fall of the greats at the FIFA world cup. 2G and 3G making waves in India, for all the wrong reasons. The 50th test century scored by the living legend of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. The crowning of the youngest formula 1 champion. Death of Chinese hostages in Philippines. The Haiti earthquake.

2010, saw it all. Bared it all. And now it says goodbye.

Should we welcome 2011 with a happy wish? Why? This seems to be just another day!!

Nov 072010

India is a democratic republic. Democracy, the type of government followed in India, is defined as the government of the people, for the people and by the people. But with the way things are being run in India since independence, it has got all the wise and educated people of India thinking. Is democracy the best form of government?

As the US president Obama makes his trip to India, lots of talk is going on in the media about how these two nations can learn from each other about democracy. But is India really a successful democracy? When after sixty years of independence, we find 90% of the people below poverty line, can we say that democracy is the best form of government? I saw on tv an open session, with students questioning the US president about many issues including governance, ethics, religion and humanity. And I felt an urge to be there and ask a simple question. Though I don’t understand why I should be asking him this question, I would ask, “Which, out of democracy, communism, socialism, monarchy, dictatorship to name a few, is the best type of govenrnment?”

We are better of without dictatorship, since that means our hand are tied, legs are bound with invisible chains, effecively dissolving our freedom. Communism is very detrimental to progress. Monarchy is something we fought against for 150 years. And democracy is a combination of all these types of government, a government by many, though many’s a crowd. It does have a feel good feeling in it though.

So what choices are we left? Should we stick with lesser of all evils? Or go back to the old anarchy, since no form of organised government seems to work?

A fellow blogger Magali, has written a very thought provoking article about this. Read it here.

Oct 212010

Whirlpool and Goonj has joined hands to initiate the ek jodi kapda campaign, which will try to fulfill the clothing needs of the poor. All you need to do is donate your old clothes to the campaign, and they will ensure that it reaches the needy.

Do your bit for the society here.

Oct 102010

At first, he didn’t mind the barking dogs. It was a daily affair. He had somehow gotten used to it. The dogs didn’t insult him, because they were just the lesser intelligent species. It was the humans whose regular insults, and rejections were the hindrance to his normal life. He was looked upon as an outcast and never allowed in the high class vicinity. All he was trying to do was salvage something useful from the rich folk’s garbage. But a ragpicker is what he is, and it seemed that even these stray dogs had understood that.

He picked up a stone lying on the sidewalk, and threw it at one of the dog. But the dog was quick to avoid it by stepping aside and it landed with a metallic clunk in the garbage bin behind the dog. He picked another one, and his shot was on the target. A loud moan from the dog, was enough to disperse the entire pack away. Left alone, exhausted by the noon sun, he sat in the shade of a tree nearby, to have a gulp from his water bottle, and think about his life as usual.

It was an empty neighborhood road, as the people preferred to stay in their cool houses. Except for a black car, which slowed down near him, but didn’t stop. It went ahead down the street, and took a turn in the right hand alley ahead. When will I get to ride in such a car, he thought. Never, was his answer to himself. With the kind of money I get by scavenging these bins, I am sure……….wait!! Something is amiss. What is it exactly? He reversed his mind to a few moments, may minutes back. Something was out of place, he knew. A car had passed by, nothing unusual. The dogs….dogs were barking………he had stoned one………….first stone missed and hit inside the bin with a metallic sound….Metallic sound!!

His mind rushed faster then his feet. What was the metallic object. Plastic garbage bins don’t make metallic sound. My be another table lamp he could sell as junk? Or something else more useful? The 40 feet wide street somehow seemed miles before he reached the bin. A look inside revealed a black garbage bag, nothing more important for him. But the stone that he had thrown was on that bag and he needed to look further for the source of the sound. He lifted the bag to find something in it, something light, and rectangular boxy shaped. He remove it out of the bag, and it was a metallic briefcase, the kind used by scientists or engineers to store precious equipment. It was surprising, because people never threw briefcases in garbage bins.

The case was not heavy, so he assumed that it was empty. But he couldn’t get it opened, as it had a combination lock. A briefcase like this will surely fetch me a couple of dollars, he thought. But he had to get out of this neighborhood. Anyone could sight him and would want to reclaim back the case. He walked a few yards down the street, and took a left turn in to an alley. It was the quickest way to his place. After a few quick paces of excitement through the alley, he heard a voice from behind. “There he is”, someone said. Two pair of footsteps, broke into a run, following him. He looked back with confusion in his eyes. Two men, fit to be wrestlers, were following him, and had just broken in to a run, to catch up with him., or may be catch him. Many a times he had been shooed away. Youngsters and kids had scared him in such fashion. But never had grown up men followed him.

His instincts for survival overpowered his body and mind, and he broke in to a run. He had an advantage. The advantage of knowing this alleyway like the back of his back. His bare feet gripped the cobbled path much better then the leather shoes of those men. He knew that the right turn after the next left would lead them all to a 3 way junction, and a little luck would confuse those men to a wrong path. He took the next left turn, and then the right in few steps. He headed straight for the path leading to his home. He didn’t look back. The sound of the following steps subsided. It had worked. He had shrugged them off. But there was no slowing down until he had reached home.

In due time he reached his shack, on the outskirts of the town. Only when he had settled down in his chair, the broken one which he loved so dearly, he realised that he had been carrying a briefcase all along. It struck like a lightening that those men were after the case, not after him. He racked his brain and remembered that one man was sitting on the passenger’s side in the car that had passed on the road while he was resting. He was good at remembering faces. He had just one look at the man in the car, but he remembered that the man had a big scar on his left cheek, the kind made by a knife in a fight. One of the men following him in the alley, had exactly the same features and the same scar on his cheek. His mind raced faster. The car had slowed down and seemed like it was about to stop, but had not. It had slowed down exactly near the garbage bin. They were supposed to pick up this case!! Oh My God!! This case was valuable. There was something important in it. Something that could change his life. Was it money? Were there drugs? Was it some vital information? He had to open it up to know.

He brought out the crowbar, one of the few objects that he had scavenged, but not sold. With quite some effort he was able to break loose the lock. The briefcase top lid flew open and he found himself staring at few packs of 100$ bills and a small black pouch. He had never seen so much money all together. In fact, if he counted all the money he had earned in his life, it would turn out to be a small amount as compared to what he was looking at. He quickly counted the number of packets and the number of bills in each packet. A quick calculation informed him that he was richer by 50,000$. That wouldn’t help him move to the king’s neighborhood, but he would be comfortable throughout his life.

His vision caught the black pouch again. What was it doing there. It couldn’t carry currency, so small it was. May be loose change. He picked up the pouch. It had a draw string which tied around its mouth to seal it. He carefully removed the string, all the while feeling something with the shape of small stones. His fortunes opened up with the pouch. On emptying the contents on his palm, he found himself holding few transparent, colorless stones. Diamonds!! He couldn’t believe his eyes. So this was the valuable thing that the men were after. Yes, they surely were diamonds. The couldn’t be anything else. He saw himself booking the Rolls Royce, the silver ghost which he had a fancy for.

Suddenly, reality struck him. He was a no-one in terms of earning such a huge fortune. He had no source of income. He couldn’t sell these diamonds in open market, as the government would notice. So would the people who were after this case. He couldn’t deposit this money in to his only bank account, as that would be noticed too. He didn’t know if the money was marked, or hot. He was lucky enough to acquire such a fortune, but was not in position to use it all of a sudden. He was in a fix.

He had to find a solution to this. He knew a pawnbroker who bought from him regularly. But this was not something junk. Nevertheless, the pawnbroker was the only option he had at the time. He took some time, relaxed, and thought it out. He would shift to some other town to spend his life. He could spend his money there. But he had to evaluate the value of the diamonds at the pawnbroker. He couldn’t risk showing them to anyone else in the town. It was evening, and if he started now, he could make it to the pawnshop before closing time.

With that thought, he hid the case with all the cash in a well hidden place, which he had used in past for his precious things. He took the pouch of diamonds in the inner pockets of his pants to keep them safe. He took out his spare dress, so that he wouldn’t be recognized if those men who had followed him, happened to pass him. All the while along the road he kept whistling at his fortune. He had never expressed happiness so openly throughout his life. All the while along the road he kept on planning and replanning his future. It was near closing time when he reached the pawnbroker. As there was no one in the shop, he showed one stone, which he had taken out of the pouch before entering the shop, to the pawnbroker. He also informed that given a good price, there were more stones from where this one came. With a glitter in his eyes, the pawnbroker examined the stone. He said that it was a diamond, but he wouldn’t know the value until the next day. as it was closing time. The pawnbroker asked him to come back the next day at noon time, when he would have the exact price for the stone.

With a boost to his joy, and his whistle, he walked the road back to his house. The next day, he started early to reach the pawnbroker. The road was isolated as usual. Along the way, he sensed that he was being followed. Looking back he saw few men walking their own separate directions, nothing unusual. Along his way he reached an isolated place with no houses on the roadside. The road itself was empty. His sight landed on a tree at some distance. He saw someone standing by its shade. As he came closer, he recognized the person to be his pawnbroker. At that moment two men came out of an alleyway ahead of him. These were the men who had chased him yesterday. He turned back to run. There we three more men standing in a group, staring at him, as if waiting for him to make a move. He had nowhere to go. A chilly realization ran up his spine. The pawnbroker had sold him out. That was the reason why he had asked him to come the next day. A trap was setup for him. There was no escape. The two men behind him came closer and put a mask on his face. Everyone of those five men tried to hold his one body part or the other. They pinned him to the ground. One of them asked in a stern voice, ”where is it?” He did not reply. He thought that his silence would buy him freedom. Maybe some vehicle would come down the road, which would scare these people. But he was wrong. He felt a heavy leather boot lodge in his stomach with a heavy blow. More blows started raining. He started feeling the pain. He wanted to shout, but couldn’t. He tried say something, but his mouth seemed to have lost the voice. He felt helpless, and pleaded to God that this be a dream.

The kicks stopped. Then he heard few dogs barking. He opened his eyes. The mask was gone. The afternoon sun looked straight in his eyes, blinding him for a while. A few feet away, he saw stray dogs barking at him. He looked around. The men were nowhere to be seen. There was no pawnbroker in sight. A realization of joy came upon him. It was all a dream. There was no briefcase. There was no money, no diamonds. Sigh!! But this was all a dream. He wouldn’t be found murdered on the sidewalk. He got up happily only to be barked upon by the dogs more loudly and vigorously. He picked up a stone and aimed for one dog. The dog dodged it and it landed in the garbage bin with a metallic clunk. He picked up another stone and aimed at the dog with success. And then he froze!! Déjà vu!!

A chill ran up his spine as the metallic clunk reverberated in his ears, while a black car came towards him down the road, slowing down.

Sep 272010

Do you think you have that knack for writing, but didn’t have any motivation to go ahead? Here’s something that might be a booster.

I always felt that I should be writing something. Lots of thoughts in my mind. Few ideas. But never took out some time to pen it down. Then a gradual introduction to blogging by my friend Jimmy, unleashed the crude writer in me. I stared blogging. And somewhere during the time, I wrote a letter to my favorite technology magazine, IC Chip. Guess what, even though my letter was nothing of revolutionary kind, it was featured as the star letter of the month(July). And I was promised a gift hamper from them. I received it today. And look what it contained!!

Gifts from chip magazine for letter published

A Multimedia keyboard, two laptop mice and a desktop mouse. And a set of earphones with cool pouch!!

The gifts, though may no be much in cost, are of great value to me, as this is the first time I have been rewarded for writing.

So do you have it in you? If you think so, start writing, and you will be rewarded suitably!!

Sep 252010

The regular readers of this blog know that I was a shippie until very recently. Shippie is a term used for a person who work on ship. I worked in the capacity of a marine engineer on five different ships. Following is not my resume. It explains to you the food habits on a normal ship.

My very first ship was with the shipping corporation of India. Before being inducted in the corporation, I had to undergo training for a period of one year under the guidance of very senior marine engineers, with lots of good tales to tell and experiences to share. I never had my mind on studies during the training period, but whenever any instructor recollected any incidence regarding food onboard(on the ship), my eyes would wake and my ears open up. From what they told, I had a general impression that the food onboard was good most of the times. Very rarely would it be bad. Bu it was always abundant and free flowing, considering the long voyages(journey between two ports). And the cooks seemed to be the best of all.

During the tenure of my five ships I had a very mixed view about this.

My very first ship, M.T. Subhedar Joginder Singh PVC, was a crude oil tanker, and being old, most of the voyages were to the Indian coastal ports(Except for that one time when we went to Labuan, Malasiya). So, food getting spoiled, was almost a rare event. But, I do not recollect a single day when all the three meals, were fit for a king. I would always be either a good breakfast, a good lunch, or a good dinner. But never a combination of two goods and one bad, or three goods all together on a single day. Be it diwali, Id, Christmas, or any other festival celebrated in India. The catering department pointed out that this kind of diet was abiding to the INSA-MUI rules, and was a balanced diet. Funny to hear this on ship where you work hard with heavy machinery under extreme conditions.

Here I must interrupt to explain in brief, a funny kind of agreement made between the INSA(Indian National Ship owner’s Association) and the MUI(Maritime union of India), with regards to food(most of the clauses from the entire agreement are very ridiculous, but I stick to food.)

The agreement states the type of meals a seafaring officer will be provided. It goes in length and details to explain the number of official meals, served by stewards, an officer is entitled to. And it does not stop here. The union has even quantified the amount of milk a person can have, in milliliters. And the catering officers stick to it. They have described in details what type of combination of food should be prepared for each meal.

So back to my ship, where we were served slices of cheese after lunch, as a mouth freshener. With only one good meal, we had to decide early in the morning which meal to load ourselves with, and adjust our other meals accordingly. The very first month when I was put up for a night shift along with the fourth engineer, I learned that its a common practice on ships during the night watch, to cook something in the galley(kitchen of the ship). Most of the times, we would boil eggs inside the engine control room itself, using an electric tea kettle. Which was forbidden, so don’t tell my chief engineer. But once I went to the galley, and being interested in cooking and all, and made some scrambled eggs. The next day, I found some chicken legs in the refrigerator. I fried two of them and shared with the other junior engineer. The third day, the refrigerators were locked with a custom made latch onboard. So no more “stealing” supplies from the fridge. For the next six months, we were scrambling eggs which we were supplied for our night shift.

On to the second ship, which I joined at Mumbai port, where picked up supplies for our journey to Iran. From there we were scheduled to go to mohammedia, morocco and the catering officer got some “news” that the ship was supposed to come back to Mumbai from Morocco. So he ordered for the minimum supplies, as he calculated that he could pick up some on the return voyage at the Suez canal transit. Just before arrival to Morocco, it was declared that we would be going to the Angola offshore oil field, and then to Houston. All the calculations went wrong. The catering officer could not pick up supplies from Morocco, due to the exorbitant prices(a slice bread packet for 200 rs and a dozen eggs for 400 rs.). And there were no provisions at Angola offshore field. So we had to cut down on our food varieties during the transit to Houston. A one point at the end of the voyage, we had no bread, almost no milk, no fresh vegetables(salads were stopped from the day the catering officer found that his calculations had gone wrong.) Those were the days when I came to know about chicken giblets. One fine morning, the menu announce that we would be served chicken giblet curry for lunch. I was thrilled since I was about to taste something new, even when we have a food crisis onboard. Only later did I realise that giblets were the spare parts of chicken, which included the toes.I am fortunate enough not to have read chicken giblet curry on any menu card, anywhere, after that day.

On the day of my signoff(when we are relieved from our duties, its called as signing off from the ship) I went for lunch, only to find prawns curry. I started eating it, and mid meal, I asked the chief steward about when he had picked up new supplies with the prawns. He informed that the provisions were from Mumbai, about 8 months, and hundreds of of run/stopped refrigeration operations, old. May be that was the reason I had to stay empty stomach from afternoon till 10 pm when I entered the Cairo airport. Another common thing on both these ships were the mackerel. Very old and dry. Felt like they had been purposely dried to preserve for many months. They stink when fried.

My third ship wasn’t any better, being the same old SCI mentality. In fact, I was a food on that ship, with all the bed bugs sucking out my blood.

Things changed a lot after I moved to a foreign flag ship. This ships, though managed by Indian staff from land, had a very different culture. Though the provision stores were under lock and key, we never went disappointed whenever we requested something to the chief cook, who was the in charge of the entire galley operation under the supervision of the Master(the captain of a ship is called the master. He is the owner of the ship while onboard and is responsible for its proper functioning.) Provisions were picked up just enough for the voyage, and a bit more accounting for any delays. There were fresh provisions every 7-15 days. There was no rule regarding how much milk or juice a person consumed. Also there was an advantage of working with Filipino crew. I could try out various dishes popular to Pinoy(Filipinos). Various kind of soups including pork, meat, shrimps, crab were common. Onboard was the first time I tried crisp fried squid(kalamari in pinoy). Steak was good. And, this was the first time I came across a full fledge party onboard, with barbecue on the poop deck(aft deck, or the deck on the back end of the ship). A pigs head, with apple in its mouth, was roasted almost every time we had a party. Parties didn’t require occasions. A long voyage with calm weather and a jolly captain would suffice. Drinks were free flow. Beer, whisky, rum, vodka, wine…you name it.

Then we had times when we officers, who had some interest in cooking, would take over the galley for one meal. Its would be fun, and the end product would be exciting. Its surprising to know how efficient, men, who have no training in the kitchen, can be in the galley.

Though the times have changed, and its rare to find a ship with the “free flow of good food” culture depicted by our senior instructors at the training institute, I still feel that with the combination of right people on board, the sailing tenure can be a fun. Food wise or otherwise. Tags: ,,
Sep 162010

I was a baby, I had no worry. I crawled on the ground, without any hurry.

As I grew up, my arms grew long. Carrying heavy school bags, my shoulders grew strong.

And before I realised, I took the charge. I had few responsibilities, some small, some large.

But now I feel burdened, and I feel its a mess. I need to do something, to relieve this stress.

Was today the umpteenth time that you felt sad for the poor children you saw on the streets, but couldn’t do much about it? Was today the day when you felt that your stock tips could have made many rich, like you? Did you find out something interesting today, on the technology front, which you wanted to share with someone? Did the recipe you tried today turn out to be good, but none of your friends had the taste to appreciate it? Did you feel frustrated today because the ministry is using your money to fill their personal coffers? Or did you feel like doing something different from what you always do?

Well, blogging is your tool!!

We have lots of things on our mind in our day-to-day life. They might be family troubles, work pressure, financial burdens. Might be the triumphs you can’t share with anyone, cause you have no one to share them with. Many more thoughts fly through our mind through our entire life. With every passing moment, a new thought jumps, which might be totally disconnected from your previous one. Such a flow of disconnected thoughts, bring about a turbulence in our mind. Our mind becomes unstable. Our decision making capabilities deteriorate quickly. And we age faster. Classic signs of stress!!

It is known by practice that opening up ourselves, relieves us of the burdens we carry around. So in past, people would employ writing, to relieve their stress. Many succeeded, but most failed, due to the lack of motivation. Motivation would come by appreciation of ones skills, or acknowledgement in the form of popularity of the creation. And it would all come by readership, which was hard to get in the ages without proper means of mass communication.

But now we have the internet. And we have, like a zillion net users, eager to read something new. And we have a tool called web log or Blog, where we can express ourselves and our feelings. May they be frustration, worry, rage, guilt, embarrassment, fear,love, excitement, triumph, joy,hope or just about any other. They can be expressed in a proper manner. Advice can be taken and given. News can be spread. Creativity can be showcased. Joy can be spread, opinions voiced out. Blogging a big part of life, and a source of income for many, can be a tool that shapes your life, helping you rise out of your own ashes, like the mythical phoenix.

Your thoughts will be poured out, in a more creative form, day by day, and as the reader base increases, so will your confidence. The turbulence in your mind, will turn to a smooth flow of a silent river. And popularity might even earn you something.

So blog to be stress free!!

Sep 112010 Tags: ,

Lord Ganesha, also known as Ganpati Bappa, has come back this year!! The favourite God of the marathi population, is being welcomed at homes in Mumbai and Pune with a pomp, even as I type. Vighnaharta, or the vanquisher of obstacles, brings happiness(hence called sukhakarta) and joy to the hearts of the people. Ganesha, stays for a period ranging from one and a half day to 10 days, when he is worshipped by his devotees. This is the time for all the faral(special delicacies like chiwda, karanji, shankarpali, modak etc.) prepared to please the elephant headed God. At the end of 1oth day, devotees will bid him farewell, with a plea to come back next year, and he is then submerged in the water.

Here you can find the complete details to the beliefs and the origin of the festival.

Check out the photo of the Lalbaugcha Raja(The king of lalbaug).

Lord Ganesha
Aug 292010

I had some trouble getting my internet settings right on Airtel GPRS connections, so I called up the technical support. I selected English as the preferred language thinking that it would be easier to converse. Oh, I wished!! Little did I know that I had selected Indian BPO English, or Inglish(read this as,”language which you get when the BPOs train too hard to get out some heavy US accent out of their employee’s), as the language.

People who have called up the customer care cell of any service provider, would agree with me. Or at the least, the people who believe in the good old unaccented (Indian accented) english would agree. What has happened to the the english taught in our curriculum? Why do the call centre employees drop all the conjunctions from the sentences? Why do they have rabble out in hurry? Why is want to becoming wanna? Are they mistaking it to the US accent? Why can’t they sick to plain old accent which they have by birth, so that we “slow” Indians understand it properly?

India is said to be one of the major hub for BPO operations, with lots of multinationals servicing their customers through call centers located in India, operated by Indians. Do we provide the international clients with the cream of the employees, or is this kind of pathetic, messed up accented language passed on as english to them?

Aug 282010

This happened a few days back. As my monthly travel pass was about to expire, I went to the railway station to get it renewed. To avoid the peak hour rush at the platform level booking office, I chose to use the booking office on the foot over bridge, which people rarely used. There were very few people ahead of me, and few more came after me in the line in sometime. The person at the counter was old, and quite slow, which seemed to be due to his age. People in line ahead of me, were getting restless and and kept on passing comments at his slow speed. Eventually, it was my turn to book my pass. I noticed that his speed, the lack of it rather, was not due to his age, but due to the modern system that he was using to issue the tickets. It was taking him some time with me because he was unable to call up the name of my destination station on the screen, using the short codes used by the computer. He actually didn’t know the short code for my station, because it was out of the way from the regular route, and would have been rarely used by him. People behind me were getting restless and kept on taunting this man. Finally he had had enough of it, and burst out in anger, yelling that they could go to other booking windows if they were in a hurry.

People would see this as the lax attitude of government employees. Many feel that this man, or people like him, do not want to put in enough efforts to learn the job in new way, because of their laziness. Some say that the government should lower the retirement age so that people like him are out of the system, making way for younger generation.

I would say that this man was one of the best ticket issuing person in his days, when they had the old card system. Maybe, he could blindly take out the correct card ticket from the correct shelf for each and every ticket he issued, during those days. But these computer!! He is unable to get the hang of the intimidating user interface, or the QWERTY keyboard. He had never applied for a typing job, never taken a typing course, and now was not the age to speed up. The railways booking system was upgraded, but they couldn’t upgrade the man simply because, he was not upgradable!! He had a job which he did perfectly well till now, but a small machine has rendered him less of use, more of an obstacle in the system.

So what should the person do? Put in more efforts towards learning the system? Believe me, it’s difficult to get older people to learn how to use mobile phones to their fullest potential. Forget the computers. Above that, programmers design the user interfaces, thinking that a scientist would be using it, not a layman.

So should the person leave his job and retire? What about all the financial commitments he has back home? His son has to go to college this year. And his wife is not keeping well. So will his pension meet his needs? People!! This person is a ticket issuer at the railway counter, not the owner of the railways, who can afford luxuries of leaving his job before retirement.

Why not change our attitude towards him? Why not take it a bit easy with him? If we are always in a hurry, which we always are, why not use the other automated systems that the railways have put in place for us?

Think us to be him in a few years. Some crazy scientist invents a gizmo, and the world, the younger generation, accepts it gladly, in lieu of the computers, which we are masters at. Should we be expected to be masters at the new gizmo? Some of us will be able to learn it. Not all of us. It will be something out of the world for us, at that time. Just think of an old man who excitedly tells someone, how a computer popped up his photo on the screen, while we take it for granted, and laugh at this man behind his back. We will be this old man in few years!! Do we want to be laughed at, taunted behind our back, when we grow old? It’s not for the old people to catch up with us. It’s for us to slow down things for them.

Needless to say, I didn’t get my pass at that window. I didn’t complain. How could I, given the circumstances?

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