Three Men in a Conference Room

What’s worse than Three Men in a Boat? Three Men in a Conference Room [This could have been made into a MTV quiz question]. Full points for guessing that correct.

However, that’s not quite the best answer. It’s ‘Three Men who claim to do research in Computer Science but having many other varied interests sitting huddled together in a Conference Room when nobody’s watching and working on the giant problem of figuring out what it means to do a single unit of work’. That’s not very succinct. So, let’s just stick with ‘Three Men in a Conference Room’ (which pretty much describes it anyway). So, if you have been using your brains on steroids, you must have already guessed the protagonists of the story. Let’s call them – M, G and K.

When you are discussing extremely esoteric abstruse concepts like what it means do so some work, the conversation can take many turns, meandering around with flippant frequency, confusing everybody involved. Sometimes, verse gets thrown in:

K: So, we have to keep track of everything – the job, the task, the assignment, the activity, the process, the worker, the employer, the system, and (of course) the gig. Check the thesaurus — are their any others that we need to consider?

M: But, you forgot the solution. What are we doing the whole exercise for?

G: (non-chalantly) Job Kar beta, Solution ki chinta mat kar [Do the Job, don't worry about the solution -- an oft (mis)-quoted verse of the Bhagwad Gita]

M: And the activity is the meta-level concept and lives on

G: The tasks keep coming and going for each activity.

K: (Reminiscing) As Tennyson had said: For Jobs may come and Jobs may go, Activities go on forever.

M: (ExasperatedMinutes to write before I sleep, Minutes to go before I sleep

As you can very well imagine, this does not bode very well for human sanity.

The conversation meandered to outsourcing. We are such hypocrites because we teach children to do everything themselves, and when they grow up they are taught words like outsourcing and core-competency (Child: Mommy, hygiene really is not my core-competency. Maybe I can just outsource bathing to you)  – and we concluded with err… (ah, yes!) the conclusion that an extreme form of outsourcing would be when Apple Computer is stripped down to one person — Steve Jobs.

Americans beat Indians at their own game? BW got foot in the mouth!

BusinessWeek carried an article about IBM’s success in India, it’s ramping up of operations in India very quickly to 53,000 employees, and winning big in the IT outsourcing deals in the subcontinent, especially from telecom operators — which is a gratifying read. However, the email from BW in my inbox had a line that completely pissed me off:

IBM once looked like a lumbering giant next to India’s agile tech upstarts. But in scarcely five years, Big Blue has come to dominate the Indian market, with a staff of 53,000 in the country and huge R&D centers in Bangalore and New Delhi. Read this edition of the Asia Insider to learn how the Americans beat the Indians at their own game.

The article never said anything to that effect! My best guess is that some guy in the PR department at BW who was responsible for the uninteresting, mundane and morbidly boring task of sending out spam suddenly suffered from a bout of foot in the mouth.

First of all, I don’t think anybody has beaten anybody in this game of outsourcing. The money has come following the talent, and it’s not just IBM, but Accenture (India’s the second largest Accenture operations), EDS (which acquired Mphasis – here and here) and all other IT biggies are making bit bets on using Indian talent to fight Indian vendors like Infosys, Wipro and TCS who have been snapping at their heels. However, I am not sure if that can be termed a win of Indian talent or of the American business acumen. (Actually, I would not prefer an argument about winning and losing at all — since it is too early to predict anything — the Indian IT vendors who used to be mere outsourcing outfits earlier now want a larger piece of the pie, become consultants, and go after bigger money. For example read this, this, this – I didn’t try to get the best articles in the area, but just some of the recent news).

<!– Digression begins

Another interesting aspect, is the comparison of the Revenues, Profits, Market Capitalization and the Price/Earnings for some of the biggies. ['b' indiacates a billion US Dollars and 'm' a million US Dollars. Data taken from Google Finance today.]

Company Revenues Profits Market Cap P/E Ratio
Infosys 3.08b 850m 25.8b 27.33
Wipro 3.64b 711m 19.71b 26.67
IBM 91b 9.4b 152.37b 17.19
Accenture 18.22b 973m 30.21b 19.45
EDS 21.26b 470m 11.59b 19.11

It seems obvious that Indian companies are far more profitable than their western counterparts for every penny (or cent perhaps) of revenue that they make — and the markets reward them accordingly. If you look at the MCap column, you would realize why the biggies are unable to try their luck at acquiring some of the larger IT companies in India — because they are bigger than the western counterparts! (IBM of course, has many divisions, and it might be difficult to get data on their software services division). So much for winning and losing.

end digression –>

Until recently, I thought that foot-in-the-mouth was not a very communicable disease and spread only on contact with a creature named George Bush. I have, obviously, been proven wrong. Ronen Sen recently caught it, and now BW! Looks like its spreading faster than I imagined. Is somebody aware of necessary vaccination which I can take?

And we shall overcome…

Lumbini Park, Hyderabad Abhishek was rather happy. His first semester mid-terms just having ended at his engineering college, he and a bunch of friends had taken a long train journey to Hyderabad to enjoy the frills and thrills of a big city. Life in a rustic small town in the state of Maharashtra can get rather dull, without too many sources of entertainment. They all need a getaway. A chance to see traffic, high-rises, to savour pizzas, and to ogle at pretty women sashaying in a mall. Even a ride in an amusement park is a fair deal. And there was a laser show lighting up the sky – what luck!

image At the same time Sheila felt a craving for aloo tikki. It had been such a long time since she crossed the Narmada and made her home in a place where she could not find roadside chat vendors, who would charge a pittance for a mouth watering snack. Having gone to Koti Bazaar to buy some GRE books, she always inevitably landed up at a chat vendor to relive those moments, that taste.

Abhishek and Sheila were both excited, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Hardly did they know that their luck had just run out. Some SOB had made sure that it was the last time they were amusing themselves with such trivialities. Who would tell them that it is safe no longer in India to walk around on an idle weekend.

The two blasts that ripped Hyderabad yesterday terminated Abhishek. Ctrl + Alt + D, as he would have learnt so early in his engineering lessons. And mutilated Sheila – she who had high hopes of studying abroad, of liberating her family. Smashed.

The Times of India writes:

The killing just doesn’t stop. At least 40 people were killed and scores injured in two powerful blasts in Hyderabad, one at an amusement park packed with weekend holidayers and another at a landmark eatery in the heart of the city on Saturday evening…

Weekend holidayers ripped open in a blast. The sad part is (via The Hindu):

A group of 45 students from the Amritavahini engineering college in Sangamera town, Maharashtra, on a sight-seeing trip to Hyderabad, took the brunt of the massive explosion at Lumbini park.

When I think about it, I cringe. Barely a year ago, I was myself in an engineering college. And since it was in a village setting, we often made trips to a big city (Calcutta) to satiate our thirst for city lights. And who doesn’t crave for chat? Those mouth watering snacks you can get for a pittance?

Even if we forget the suffering of the victims, the unbearable agony of their families, and the rude shock to their friends, forget about individuals and stare at a larger perspective:

Such vicious attacks prove that cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, emerging icons of a vibrant nation, are firmly in the cross-hairs of terror groups which have made India a country with perhaps the highest number of civilian victims of terror (leaving aside war-torn countries like Iraq). [TOI]

I am not sure what our reaction should be. We mourn for those who suffer, but we need to show the perpetrators that we are not affected by them. Our lives should carry on — we flinch but we fight, we are devastated but determined. The growth phase that we have been celebrating lately — which has obviously been an eye-sore for many — can not slow down — not because of a bunch of freaks. We need to push further, undeterred, unrelenting, unwavering. The elephant, pulsating with energy, must show empathy, but not slow down. For that is what the freaks have been hoping for. For that is why she should not succumb. For that is why the country needs to learn from Bombay. For India is more than geeks, nerds, corrupt politicians, baniyas and snake-charmers. For it is also the land of milk and honey children extol. For it is that India for which we live. And fight. And, we shall overcome. Someday.

[Of course, the stories are made up. But not the reality]

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Feedburner down? (and what is feedburner?)

Looks like feedburner is down. I just went to check my readership figures and it showed Zero subscribers. In all humility, I accept that I don’t have too many readers, but I feel happy for every click I get (don’t the others?) and so keep checking the figures ever so often. Anyway, this is what feedburner shows me:

image

Definitely something fishy! Google, what are you doing? First the confusion in the Gmail Logo and now this?

Anyway, for those who don’t know what feedburner is: Feedburner is a service that lets you redirect all your readership through a single access point. Think of it as a gate through which the feeds would pass. Hence, you can do a bunch of stuff with your feeds:

  • Add stuff to your feeds, like advertisements, or burn amazon associates id to every book review you post
  • Make several changes to your feed format to make it standards compliant and provide other frills. It would also provide better uptime if you have a self-hosted blog
  • Clip your blog posts so that people reading it in a reader are forced to come to your blog and increase hits (*wicked curled lips*)
  • Publicize it better, with those cool-looking “617k subscribers” (not mine :P) type logos
  • Provide extra services like ‘Subscribe by email’
  • Of course, track you readership
  • One benefit which I love but is often glossed over is to be able to change your blog URL and still have people get updates on the same feed. You can essentially tell people to go to a different room at the gate, to lift the paradigm of my earlier example

Feedburner has a page on its site where it gives reasons for using it. It’s good a video too (though I haven’t watched it!)

Feedburner was recently acquired by Google. Google also added a new feed-redirection feature to their blogger service which lets people redirect their blogger feed. I wish wordpress.com provided that (you can do it in self-hosted wordpress though)

If you are serious about blogging, feedburner (or a similar service) is a must have. Provided they fix the aforementioned problem, that is.

[Others seem to have noticed it as well - WebFiles Simon Sandossu]

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Change in GMail branding – Have you noticed?

Looks Google is changing the branding of Gmail to Google Mail. It seems that Google lost rights to the GMail brand name in Germany and that is now being followed up in some other countries.

Since 2000, Daniel Giersch has held the brand “G-mail… und die Post geht richtig ab” [G-mail... the best way to go postal]. Under the G-mail brand, he operates a number of physical and electronic postal services with thousands of users, as he explained to heise online in March of 2005. Giersch therefore had a court issue a temporary restraining order against the use of “Gmail” before winning the main proceedings at the first-instance district court of Hamburg (Az. 312 O 475/05) against Google in April of 2006. Google appealed this ruling and has now lost the appeal

The legal dispute, which also detrimentally affected users, has also been extended beyond the German legal system. Currently, charges have been filed in Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Looks like there has been another incident in the UK. In fact, there is a relevant BBC report dated way back in 2005. However, this is the first time I am noticing the change in India.

GMail before:

gmail

Google Mail now:

image

Funnily enough, the brand change seems to be in effect in one out of two of my email accounts. Perhaps they are slowly transitioning users to the new branding. Have you noticed the change in your email branding?

[There is another brand change story which is doing the rounds now-a-days -- UTI Bank to Axis Bank -- but that, of course, is for entirely different reasons]

[Email brand name change has been common lately with Hotmail transitioning to Windows Live Hotmail. This has beset the Redmond giant with quite a few problems because people have been worried about rather frequent name changes]

Shakuntala Remembered by Little Jasmine Theater

image I went to a performance of Shakuntala Remembered by the Little Jasmine Theater group. It was an English Adaptation of Shakuntala as originally written by Kalidasa using a number of translations. The story is about Shakuntala who is wedded to Dushyanta (a gandharva wedding, no less!) during one of his hunting sprees, but subsequently forgets about her completely and even humiliates her in front of the whole court.

The performance was actually a fusion of theater by Kirtana Kumar, a kalari performance by Anmol Mothi and guitar sounds by Konarak Reddy. Kirtana carried almost the whole performance and the narrative on her own shoulders, and Anmol mainly spoke with his body — moving it delicately with lyrical quality, in fact, his dialogs were in Malayalam (which is something I didn’t quite get the motivation for). Each of them were great by themselves, but the fusion didn’t happen. It seemed more like a pastiche stitched together hastily. It seemed like three artists performing separately, but not a single performance which it should have been.

imageAlso, there were a number of meta-stories around the main plot — of Vyasa and Narada and of Shakuntala talking to a bunch of wise men. There was a meta-meta-story about terrorism and of loss of self-righteousness in the yuga of kali. These felt completely forced. The connection to terrorism was just not there — for some reason the sutradhar kept talking about terrorism which to my ignorant self seemed completely unrelated to the rest of the plot. There could have been other ways to establish relevance to current affairs, some better than showing recent terrorist activities on a video at the beginning of a play about love.

However, in the midst of this, it dawned to me that mathematics was not one of the strong points of Kalidasa (or his translators). Shakuntala waited for Dushyanta for 12 years, which they equated with 4380 days (or some other number ending in zero). Since 12*365 ends in a zero (because 5 and 2 would be factors), and the number of leap years in a span of 12 consecutive years can not be more than 9 or less than 1, this number doesn’t seem quite right to me. Perhaps some algebra I don’t know about :-P On second thoughts, there can be a fallacy in this reasoning. Let’s see if somebody can point this out.

The mathematical digression, and the very poor joke aside, they play was a decent performance, but not the best that I have seen. They should have worked harder on the screenplay. It remained a good performance, and can not be called superlative, and will not make it to my spaces blog.

Some more coverage: here, here and here.

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Finally, a technical blog!

I have done it! I finally fought off all my languor to start a technical blog, something I have been thinking of for quite some time. The blog has been born out of my desire to see better analysis on technology rather than technical news reporting (or which TechMeme is the best place). The content of the blog will obviously be limited by the knowledge of the author – any field of technology today is so deep and there are so many open questions that it is impossible to do justice to writing about it without spending a year or two working in it.

As I said, I plan to write few posts, but hopefully those which have more meaning and more technical depth. I will not talk about new products or services, fads and fashions but rather try to give commentary on more fundamental aspects of technology. I do not work in the Internet domain, and hence, I may be out of date, out of context, out of sync or all of the above, but hopefully the blog will be of use to some :)

So, to kick off the new bog, there is a rather long post on Identity (the best topic I could think of), the laws thereof, and a discussion about some of the newer federated identity management systems. Here’s presenting to you:

kpowerinfinity on technology

[Almost a week of reading has gone into it. Wanted not to underline this point, but well, had to :) A kind spattering of comments will be helpful for both the motivation of the author as well as in deciding future direction.]

It all has to start with I, doesn’t it?

It always has to start with the self. The self is the center of the world in the brand new avatar of the Internet. While it feels gratifying to be acknowledged as The Master of the world, I would perhaps have been more comfortable just having the royal seal at my disposal. However, idempotent as we might be, we have to realize that in the increasingly fragmented world, we need better techniques of establishing ourselves. The self needs better means of self-expression and self-authority. And, thus, my first blog post in my new technical blog starts with a discussion of identity management systems on the Internet.

A discussion of identity management systems has to start with the Laws of Identity, penned by the grand daddy of all-things-identity at Microsoft, Kim Cameron. Unlike what people would expect, the laws are not written in a technical language with complex cryptographic equations making them esoteric, but rather in a very accessible language because they talk more about the philosophical aspect of identity rather than the technical, a very important consideration in the design of a mature technical system. The seven laws (over-simplifying them) are:

  1. User Control and Consent: The user is the King, the Queen and the Jack. The identity meta-system must recognize the user as being the final authority on whether he wants information to be disclosed, and ask him/her at every instance. It should also have means of protection against phishing and other attacks.
  2. Minimum Disclosure for a Constrained Use: Information disclosed should be the minimum required for the completion of the current task. Essentially, there should be no need of disclosing credit card information if you try to comment on this blog. Also, if a site just needs the single bit information whether a person is above 18 or not (as many do!), they should not ask for the date of birth, since that means divulging more information.
  3. Justifiable Parties: This is from the experience of the failure of the over-arching vision of the Microsoft Passport identity management system. The law states that there should be a justifiable need for an identity provider and its interactions to have identity information. Essentially, there is no need to unify my Social Security Number of Tax Identification Number with my MySpace account. Users may not be very comfortable having one identity system for all uses. I may not want to divulge my company identity when surfing objectionable material online.
  4. Directed Identity: This, to me, seems like a corollary to the laws 2 and 3 above. It says that there should be unidirectional identity handles which don’t reveal more information about the identity than that required. For instance, if my employer allows me to ex-officio access IEEE Journals, IEEE should not be able to get my identity handle, except for the information that I work for a particular company which allows me access. Also, identity providers should be like ‘beacons’ emitting identity information as allowed by the users, but establishing an identity relationship with it should be a uni-directional identity relationship. This is essentially to prevent correlation of identity-handles. Cookies are an example — while a cookie might authenticate a user in a widget, cookies cannot be shared across sites to avoid correlation. Of course, there can be ways to defeat this purpose and those are essentially the instances that are undesirable.
  5. Pluralism of Operators and Technologies: Cameron states that one single monolithic system can never be enough for all our identity needs. A person might definitely want to have separate providers (Windows Domain Authentication, Open ID, Paypal) and technologies (Kerberos, Web Services) for different use-scenarios and may not want to correlate them for obvious reasons.
  6. Human Integration: Cameron makes the point that we need better design of UI to prevent identity theft and ensure privacy during the interaction of the human and the terminal on which they authenticate themselves. There can be many a slip between the cup and the lip, and this is becoming all the more apparent thanks to phishing and other kinds of attacks. We need better methods to prevent identity systems masquerading as others, and more secure means of communication between the user and his terminal for identity information exchange (biometrics?).
  7. Consistent Experience across Contexts: Cameron tries to make a point for a universal identity information entry interface across the various kinds of identities we might like to maintain (professional, personal, financial), but the point seems more for Windows Info Card (I’ll talk about that later). It seems inspired by our carrying different kinds of identity cards in our wallets, such as the Driving License, employer ID card and so on each of which have the same experience (show the card and gain access).

It is great to have somebody’s wisdom and experience captured so concisely in a set of seven rules. That is what lets us stand on the shoulder of giants and build bigger and better technologies.

The laws seem simple, intuitive and practical, and are extremely general. I think that is its biggest undoing — since they do not give formal semantics of the laws in a mathematical language, it is very easy to have ambiguity and doubt in terms of their interpretation. (A mathematical formulation of something as general as identity is not very easy either). Also, since they are written in such general language, there can be very loop holes and an actual identity system would have to do a lot of thinking to make them very robust, secure and private. I would only request Cameron to explore writing more formal means of expressing these laws and have extensive case-studies (I may not have looked very carefully for them) and have more extensive discussion about privacy, security and so on — concepts that are becoming very pertinent by the day. I would also like to see more discussion from the perspective of the identity system — things such as identifying bots, using captchas, and establishing authenticity of information a user enters (is the user really over 18?). He should perhaps consider writing a book!

A theoretical discussion of identity systems is not of much use, so I would endeavor to discuss some systems in use today. The simplest by far is the simple login password form backed by a text file/database that you can implement in under an hour. My guess that is a pretty robust solution for most simple sites. The downside is a registration process and the need of remembering one more set of usernames and password. The fact that most of us practically use the same usernames and passwords for every site is a matter of convenience as well as a significant security threat. If any one of the sites of compromised (which is very much possible because such under-an-hour hacks can not possibly maintain the highest standards of software quality), the risk of all your accounts being compromised is quite high. Also, it is very difficult to ensure consistent interfaces, and security of transactions. Varying privacy policies might well mean that the user control on the information s/he has divulged to one party is rather suspect. However, they serve their own purpose. This method is quick and dirty — and works well in a rather large number of scenarios.

Of course, identity is very well understood in an enterprise setting. Kerberos and Lightweight Directory Accesss Procotol (LDAP) have been around for ages and have been the subject of a lot of research. There are standard implementations that can be used like a black box, and single sign-on within a single enterprise is probably a well-solved problem (that is a rather speculative statement). It is a much easier problem also because if we consider the scope of privacy and security etc. is a single enterprise intranet and the problem as well as their solutions are primarily technical. If, however, we consider a federated identity management system for the whole of internet, the scope is much larger, and the deliberations are not just technical, but philosophical as well, since it involves trust between parties who don’t trust each other :)

Another concept that tries to ensure convenience is Open ID - a federated identity management system. The aim is simple — to use identification information on one site to automatically establish it for some other sites. For instance, if you have WordPress blog and you want to leave a comment at LiveJournal, you can provide your WordPress blog URL and LJ automatically uses Web Services to establish identity. There is a user-consent phase and since it is not controlled by a single party, it is preferred by many (unlike Passport). The scheme works well for simple single sign-on areas which are public facing. This has recently been backed by AOL and Microsoft which has lent a lot of weight to the OpenID system. However, the system only establishes a basic protocol. The Open ID site unequivocally states that it is not a trust system and doesn’t try to control spam. I would also be worried about using it in a general setting because if one site gets compromised the taint can spread across the federated system (this probably needs to be studied more). Another problem is that, since Open ID itself is rather vague about security and a number of other points, I very much envisage individual corporations coming up with their own standards (much like Javascript) which would yield a number of child-protocols perhaps not interoperable.

Microsoft is promoting the Windows CardSpace (nee Information Card and many other names). This follows the common practice of lifting paradigms from the real world into the virtual. A user can have a number of cards provided by various Identity Providers which Windows would save securely. When a website (Relying Party) wishes to establish the identity of a user, he would be presented with a secure dialog where he can choose which identity information to transmit, much like you looking into your wallet and taking out either your business card or your Driving License as required. Microsoft provides a number of cryptographic protocols which form the bedrock of secure transmission, and the initiative can not be successful without the participation of the other parties involved (one of the biggest problems due to intense competition). I am sure it would satisfy Cameron’s laws since Cameron would have been obviously involved in the development process. However, I can very easily foresee myself lifting the problems from the real world as well — what happens when my wallet gets lost (laptop stolen, or even virus infected), people cheating about credentials, Relying Parties passing information around (that could compromise the whole system!).

On the Internet itself, identity for very specific applications has been worked out to a little extent. Paypal and Google Checkout establish your identity with respect to financial transactions, and have become hugely popular. One of the oldest technologies on the internet (email) still remains the most popular means for establishing your identity in the online realm. How much progress have we really made in the last decade or two?

Considering that identity is a problem which is not well solved even in the real world completely, my guess the virtual world will only lag behind. There are a lot of new technologies, ideas and we have to wait and see which ones click. However, my humble guess would be that as Cameron himself proffers that there should be a pluralism of operators and technologies. The application and the usage scenario should be clearly delineated before starting to design any system (which is so true!) and it is easier and viable to solve specific needs (financial identity, enterprise setting). Scoping the usage always makes the problem tractable and leads to success (perhaps after a few iterations). My concern is that none of the current technologies clearly scope their work and that would be my biggest gripe.

[Another review of identity related technologies at Read Write Web. There is a conference Internet Identity Workshop as well. If you want a fleeting identity to login to sites which unnecessarily want login, you can check out Bug Me Not. Thanks to Mohit for some initial pointers.]

Independent India: The discussion continues…

[Two other worth reads: John Elliot at CNN Money (India at 60: A Nehru Dream Comes True) and Rajdeep Sardesai at IBN Live (Needed: A Lesson in History)]

I heave a sigh of relief when I read things like these in the papers:

Nobel Laureate Mistaken for Street Vendor

She was wearing a Mayan dress, the traditional attire of indigenous people in central America, and the hotel’s response was also traditional: throw her out.

Staff at Cancun’s five-star Hotel Coral Beach appear to have assumed this was another street vendor or beggar, so without asking questions they ordered her to leave. Except, the woman was Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, UNESCO goodwill ambassador, Guatemalan presidential candidate and figurehead for indigenous rights.

And our neighbors haven’t taken too kindly towards car owners. In the bid to improve the quality of air in the run up to the Beijing Olympics next year, the city has come up with a wonderful new idea to test if they can reduce the number of cars in the US. I have always felt glad that some bolt of lightning like this can not come and havoc my life, while I live in India. Sample this:

tjblog: Odds and Evens — 1.3m Cars to be Taken Off the Road

Finally, yesterday – at yet another press conference – officials announced that they have decided to implement an “odds and evens” system during the last four days of the “Good Luck Beijing” test events. The measure will remove 1.3 million cars from the road on each of these days. On August 17 and 19, only vehicles with odd-numbered number plates will be permitted to take the streets, and on August 18 and 20 only those with even-numbered plates. Drivers caught breaking the rules will be fined a rather measly 100 kuai. A blanket ban on all city and provincial government cars will also be implemented over the four-day period.

Drivers whose plates end in 0 will not be able to enter into deep philosophical arguments about the nature of zero with traffic police, as city authorities have already indicated that 0 is officially an even number.

I have always wondered about the subtle connection between mathematics and philosophy, but it was never so apparent in public life earlier!

Not to be outdone, cops at our capital were ready with a booklet instructing girls in the north-east to dress appropriately since here has been increase incidence of rape and eve-teasing. Since, the women from the north-east are victimized very frequently, they came up with a prescription for the victims instead of going against the criminals. I have always wondered how we tend to take the most convenient path in India. And the instructions are not very kind:

India Together: Be Safe, Don’t Exist

“When in rooms do as Roman does” (whatever that means). Under security tips: “Revealing dress to be avoided.” “Avoid lonely road/ bylane when dressed scantily”. And “dress according to sensitivity of the local population.”

I have only read excerpts from the booklet. For all its good intentions, it is clearly inappropriate and offensive to the sensibilities of women from Northeast India. Not only does it give gratuitous and useless advice to women but it also proceeds to tell everyone from northeast India how they should behave in Delhi. How else can one explain a sentence that reads: “Bamboo shoot, Akhuni and other smelly dishes should be prepared without creating ruckus in neighbourhood”. Smelly dishes creating a “ruckus”? This would be amusing if it were not culturally offensive.

Anyway, India can still claim to have made a lot of progress in the last 60 years. So much so that Amartya Sen makes an argument in his essay ‘India in the World, in the Hindu special supplement on I-Day (I can’t seem to find it online!) that India which earlier “never liked being confined to just minding its ‘own business’, seems now dedicated exclusively to that minding, pointedly excluding larger ideas and objectives. In fact, Indians seem to have become skeptical of the ‘vision thing’”. He makes an argument about why India should celebrate the success of its political democracy and have a stronger voice in world affairs. He grumbles that India has let go of the leadership position that Nehru had created for it during the non-aligned movement. His lament is that Indians now suffer from a ‘ethical near-vacuum in our global thinking as an inescapable result of the priorities of a market economy’. ‘The alleged skepticism in the ‘vision thing’ is really an alternative vision — one that Gandhi and Tagore, even Nehru, would have found a little difficult to comprehend’.

While I do agree with Sen that India should brandish its new position of importance in the world economy and take a moral leadership position, I also believe that we have made rapid progress in the times when we shut our minds to meddling in other people’s affairs and concentrated on cleaning our house instead. And if we try to stake claim to moral leadership, we might just be held in the same negative light as the United States, which has made its mission to cleanse the world of anything George Bush doesn’t like. I would rather that India continued in this path of self-discovery and introspection and improved the life of the billions that inhabit it, and when a situation does arise when it can add some value by saying a few words of wisdom to interested parties, to delve into its own experiences and tender advice. I would not be a very keen supporter of India peddling free advice to unwilling states. (Amartya Sen knows a lot more than me. I am just trying to interpret his words)

Sen also talks about India’s rapid progress in crime control, especially ‘in his humble Kolkata’, which often goes unnoticed. He cites numbers — the average incidence of homicide in the principle Indian cities is only 2.7 per 100,000 people with a measly 0.3 in Kolkata. The numbers in some international cities is devastatingly high eg., New York 5.0, Los Angeles 8.8, Mexico City 17.0 and Rio de Janerio at an astounding 34.9. This indicates the strength of the social fabric in India and Sen speculates that culture, mixed-neighborhoods, family life, and mainstreaming of economic discontent into politics (particularly in Kolkata) might be some of the reasons. I am with Sen on India having a much lower crime rates than many of these cities (having visited NY and LA and finding them rather unsafe). I have, however, two doubts:

  • I would like to know what correlation homicide rates have on other violent crimes, such as crimes against women, stealing, burglary and dacoity. My humble surmise would be that India might have higher rates of smaller crimes primarily because going the whole hog and committing murder would still be a mental block, and also because weapons are not that easily available in India as in other places.
  • Are these officially published numbers? I know of many instances when the police refuses to take down FIRs in India to keep its books clean, in fact a systematic suppression of crimes which explains the low crime rates in Uttar Pradesh. While I agree that the numbers can not be cooked in the case of homicide, this would be an important consideration while collating data related to petty crimes.

I was still happy reading Amartya Sen’s articles despite the fact that I might not find myself agreeing on a few counts. Jawaharlal Nehru had said:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the sound of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

And Sen’s article indicates that India is ready, now, more than ever to find utterance of its sounds in the global cacophony.

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Thakur Ka Inteqaam

Another Viral by WebChutney. It’s a must watch:

I just love the sights and sounds of Sholay, even if it’s in a caricature.

Webchutney has made a lot of very enjoyable virals in the past including Chitthi Aayi Hai and Makkadman.

Chitthi Aayi Hai  Makkadman

Here is an older list of their virals. I also discovered the WebChutney blog, where they post a lot of interesting stuff. It’s going right into my GReader.

Made my day!

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