Thinking out loud

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Did that really happen?

I was watching "Troy" for the hundredth time today when it struck me. Did Achilles ever really think that his name would go down in history and hence he should fight at Troy? Or was it only Homer's imagination that created this surreal hero? A thousand years after something is written, how do we tell fact from fiction. It is hard enough even if something was written a year ago. A hundred years from now, how would someone reading "False Impression" (by Archer) tell if there really was an Anna Petrescu, an Olga Krantz or a Lady Victoria Wentworth with a priceless collection of paintings? All the records would show that there indeed was a 9/11 attack on NYC. Would they, the then citizens of the world (of course provided there isn't another ice age by then), make movies showing Anna (or Krantz) as an epic herione? (For all you know we'll make one ourselves).

The point is, how does one tell fact from fiction so far away in time? A more important question perhaps is, does it even matter?

Now this takes guts

I know it is not entirely fair for me to put up links to a youtube video because people without broadband are unlikely to be able to watch it... and there are a LOT of people here who do not have broadband. However, there is no way I can ignore such guts. You must watch Stephen Colbert land punch after punch after punch at the American presidency at the White House Correspondents' Dinner with, mind you, the President, the first lady and the who's who in American reporting present. A must watch.

Link Courtesy: The Digital Journalist

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Anti-Reservation Protest at IITB

A human-chain protest was held on 19th May, 2006 outside IIT Bombay. The protest was against the hike in reservations in educational institutes in the country. However, perhaps because of lack of police brutality or some such reason, the media did not find it good enough to cover it well. I have put up some photos from the protest at flickr.

Today, students go on hunger strike at IIT Bombay in batches of 24 hours. Will post photographs and commentary on the same soon.

Update: Its 3:30 AM on 23rd May and the hunger strike has been in progress for the last 14 hours. Several news channels have come and interviewed the students and several newspapers have enquired about the details. Hopefully reasonable coverage in tomorrow's morning news. Some photos from earlier in the day now up at flickr.

Update: It's 2:30 AM on 24th May. The Pro-reservation camp has been empty for the last 3 hours now. The government announces its intention to implement its reservation hike by June of 2007. Students in anti-hike camp still battle on. Multiple discussions in small groups. The nerves are strained. Others are asleep of exhaustion.

Update: Its 25th May, past mid-night. Alumni presence was seen today at the site of the anti-reservation hike protest. Mr. Shailesh Gandhi (a very active social activist) spoke at length with the students about what they can do to increase their support base and make their demands more relevant to Indian society at large. Faculty members, although bound by rules to not make statements to the media, made their presence felt at the site. They spoke to students and expressed their support to the cause. There are discussions about the next steps to be taken. Mobilization of more alumni and school students high on agenda.

Update: (25th May, late night) More alumni turnout today. Brainstorming about how to get a reasonable dialogue to start with the government. Proposal to take up the task of gathering data about current situation in the country instead of asking the government to do it. Students distribute thousands of pamphlets at key points in the city, exhorting people to participate in the "Maha-Rally" to take place at Azad Maidan on 28th of May.

News Coverage:
Anti-reservation protest goes hi-tech - Cybernoon
Defiant docs launch civil disobedience campaign - IBN Live
Medicos defiant, set up anti-quota agitation - Hindustan Times
Quota policy triggers diet plan - DNA
IITians, medicos gear up for a long battle - Hindustan Times
Anti-quota stir by IIT enters third day - Times of India
Government to implement OBC quotas by 2007 - Indian Express
IIT face off over reservation - Mid Day
IITians spread anti-quota message in schools - Times of India
Solidarity show: IITians go on hunger strike - DNA
Now, IIT students go on chain hunger strike - Mumbai Newsline

Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar's interview with Kamal Nath
Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar's interview with Arjun Singh

Protesting the politics of reservation - Amit Varma
Rashmi Bansal from Youth Curry talks about the "Karan vs. Arjun" interview and more
Rashmi Bansal from Youth Curry analyses the reservation argument
EvenStar wonders when Sachin will go to school
Its the thought that counts, right? - Amit Varma

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thank God Its Fridays...

...or was it Saturday? Who cares. It was fun; especially having read some nice things about myself on other people's blogs (:D). I'm talking about the MetroBloggers' meet at Andheri. The best part of course was the cool mix of people present. Right from the bald ones to the ones with long hair; ok, it was varied in other ways as well.

There was even an Investment Banker around (I can't tell you which one of them he was though) who claimed that he was as old as any three other people present, put together. Then there was this programmer guy who was bent on figuring out why Google was bent on giving out free services (while he himself handed out DVDs to anyone who'd care to take them, or to those who wouldn't) or on talking about the super-cool SLR lens which had a 1/2.8 something throughout some zoom ranges. Whew.

Of course, there was Divya (who said nice things about me on her blog) who also told us how to get to Andaman other than by pissing off the British. Selvin told us about the horrors of being a techie in a financial institution while Tony told us how his cookery blog gets more hits than his regular blog (:D).

About the investment banker again. He told us how IIT+IIM grads are the ones investment banks hire these days... and so it'd be a good idea to go to an IIM. But what happens if I do manage to start my own chai-paratha shop which I've dreamed of for so long? Would I want an IIT+IIM grad to be running it? Too expensive no? (:P)

With me being as shy as I am (believe me, its true) I didn't end up talking to a lot of people. Next time maybe... which I'm really looking forward to btw, what with Sakshi promising us free clothing (whoops! was that meant to be a secret?).

I'll stop with what now seems to be a must for an entry describing the meet - "Much Fun Came".

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Metro and a proud Indian

Last year, on a trip to the US, I had been thoroughly impressed by the New York Metro rail system. The train coaches, etc were nothing to marvel about. They were simple enough. However, the impressive part was the way the system worked and the little thoughtful features that were part of the system. Inside each compartment, there was a map of the route that the train would follow so you would know how many stops there were to your destination. To the regular commuter, it is not a problem but for someone who travels occasionally, it can be a boon. For comparison, the few of the coaches in the Mumbai Local Train system carry such a map (this is not to say that I’m not a big fan of the local trains in Mumbai, but more on that in some other post). As the train approached each stop, there were announcements for the next stop and there were gentle reminders for people to stand away from doors, etc. The stations themselves were pretty nice. There were swipe-cards to open doors to get onto platforms and you could check the balance on your cards and could also get them “recharged”. Many had said then that I would find it hard to live again in India. I had contested that statement strongly and yesterday I got more support for my stand.

I happened to travel on the Delhi Metro yesterday, and there wasn’t a prouder Indian. The least I can say is that I was thrilled. We have not only managed to create a system that equals local rail services elsewhere in the world, we have gone one better. The Metro system boasts of contact-less smartcards for getting onto platforms, instead of swipe-cards. The platforms, whether two levels above the road or two levels below, are immaculately built. It has more security deployed (at least visibly) than the New York metro. The station at Rajiv Chowk (near Cannaught Place), is absolutely world class. The coaches are of the highest quality, with route maps in each coach, announcements before every stop, air-conditioning and all inter-connected as a single standing place. Train frequencies are high, as high as one every 5 minutes on some routes during peak hours. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited on the stations and on the train otherwise I’d have gone trigger-happy and posted tens if not hundreds of pictures of the system.

The fact that this system is so fantastically built and is being run extremely well too, is a source of pride. However, the social impact of this system is, to my mind, fantastic too. The amount of mental (and physical) strain generated while traveling in Delhi can be appreciated only by doing so oneself. Before the Metro arrived (maybe they should start a new era, such as B.C. and A.D.), if you did not have your own car, you were stuck with traveling in DTC buses (which thankfully were converted to CNG a few years back) or in an auto-rickshaw. Needless to say, the smoke, traffic (with blaring horns), and oppressive Delhi heat would pretty much destroy any desire to travel. Even the thought of having to move out onto Delhi roads could be depressing. However, the Metro is a completely different story. Of course, I traveled not at peak traffic but pretty much late in the evening which might make me slightly more biased than one needs to be. For a person like me having something like the Metro means that I will fret much less if I have to travel. I will spend less time traveling (peak hours or not, the time of travel from point to point is constant on the Metro, unlike on the road where travel time could vary from 25 minutes to 2 hours on the same route). I will be much surer about how long it will take me to get to a place and hence I can make much more definite plans saving even more time for myself and others who I might have to meet with. In general, productivity of every individual increases significantly. At least some traffic on the roads is reduced. Obviously the amount of traffic reduction on the roads is not commensurate with the increase in traffic on the Metro simply because the propensity to travel increases. My guess is that significant amounts of employment are being generated, not to mention the number of businesses that must have been setup to support the Metro. As the Metro spreads through the city over the coming years, I hope they continue to function as they are now and help mitigate travel problems in the city. Further, I hope they provide us with the confidence that all is not lost and we can build systems even in this country that will let us compete with the best in the world. Meanwhile, one more point to India.