Saturday, December 31, 2005

23:59:60- The Extra Second

An extra second will be added and the end of today to compensate for the slowing down of the speed of Earth’s rotation and in effect the year 2005 will be a second longer. Clocks around the world which usually switch from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 will this year have an intermediary second 23:59:60 before the time officially proclaims the arrival of 2006. The year 2005 like any other year has been remarkable in its own way, and for eternal optimists like me an extra second of this eventful year will always be welcome.

The year 2005 saw many achievements, disappointments, great joy, tragedy and unique events which like the unique events of any other year made the news. As early as January 14th, robotic messengers from mankind reached and left their imprints on Titan the moon of Saturn, when the Huygens probe landed there. Billionaire Steve Fossett in March set the world record by flying solo, non stop around the world. Back home, countless people in the south eastern states of India suffered the aftermath of the Tsunami from the previous year. Elsewhere in the world, on January 20th, the most powerful man in the western world was re-inaugurated as President of USA for his second term. His common sense and subsequently his popularity took a major nose dive ever since. “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove proved to be more qualified as weapons of mass destruction than those George W Bush was looking for in Iraq! In Iraq, Saddam Hussein no longer sat on the golden throne, but in front of a Judge who was going to try him for his crimes against humanity. Meanwhile back in India, “foreign hands” of Paul Volcker found large oil deposits near the Indian cabinet and Natwar Singh was drowned in the oil, thanks to Volcker and a songbird called Aniel Matharani. Cameras sprouted fangs in 2005 when "sting" operations caught many members of parliament with their pockets open and brought shame to the democratic system.

2005 also saw many noteworthy events in world of Indian sports. Greg Chappell became the coach of the Indian cricket team in May and a lot of hidden skeletons popped out of the dressing rooms. With accusatory letters, injured middle fingers and a lot of positive grit, Chappell has been instrumental in making the once lackadaisical team and bureaucracy, battle fit and head strong. Rahul Dravid became captain and Saurav Ganguly faced some humiliation, but did have a weak last laugh by getting a berth in the team he had been thrown out of as captain. Sachin Tendulkar shook off his tennis elbow and came back to score his record breaking 35th test century. Also in the world of cricket, the English beat the Aussies to re-capture the Ashes and from the Ashes rose the new stars of English cricket, Kevin Peiterson and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. In the world of ladies tennis, 2005 saw chubby, nose ring wearing Sania Mirza’s rising star and rising hemlines! She not only did battle with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in major grand-slams, but also fought off old mullahs and the fake morality brigade in India with equal panache.

Terrorists and extremists had a field day of a year. Iraq and Baghdad saw daily bomb blasts and France burned for a few days because of racial tensions. Terrorists tried to dampen the spirit of Diwali by bombing busy markets in Delhi, but failed just as they failed in dampening the spirit of Indian intellect by attacking the jewel of Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Science. Ecstasy for Londoners of being selected to host the 2012 Olympic games turned sour when on July 7th, London faced its real terror attack when a few terrorists blew up parts of the subway. The earth too did its bit of terrorism when it shook violently in the early hours of October 8th in North India and Pakistan killing countless people. While hurricane Katrina revealed the ugly side of USA, the rains submerged Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.

Harry Potter faced the biggest tragedy of his fictional life, but the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was the greatest entertainer for many of his die hard fans. A few steps behind, Daniel Radcliff who plays Harry Potter in the latest movie The Goblet of Fire, became the most sought after teen star in the world. Back in India, Amitabh Bachan came back as host of "KBC dvitiya" but suffered from a major illness and underwent surgery. Aishwarya Rai may have been one amongst the judges at the Cannes Film festival, but it was Mallika Sherawat with a poor, unsuspecting Jackie Chan tied around her fingers that made the eyeballs rolling. Maharashtra state banned bar-girls from dancing in provocative clothes but they did not lose their employment as they went on to dance in skimpy clothes on every one of the actor Emraan Hashmi’s movies. One thing that was not unique to 2005 was the number of celebrities who broke up and the number who tied the knot, booking appointments with the divorce lawyers for the future. Speaking of lawyers, they played a mojor role in the acquittal of the once king of pop, Michael Jackson of all charges, but the event made the "smooth criminal" permanently leave not only Neverland but also the US of A. 2005 also bid a few legends of Indian Cinema a final farewell; Amrish "Mogambo Khush Hua" Puri, Parveen "Sizzle" Babi and Ramanand "Ramayan" Sagar departed for celebrity heaven.

The world of medicine saw the threat from bird flu and scrambled to find cures and elsewhere unscrupulous scientists botched up reports about significant research into stem cell development. Science saw a good year with the new dual core processors ruling the roost and mathematicians solving hitherto unconquered puzzles. Ipods and PodCasting became a rage and Google shares rose to make many millionaires. Blogging became more mainstream and a lot of controversy hounded the Indian blogosphere. With the new news channels & new news papers, with new mediums of spreading the word around, the media in India became much more interesting. 2005 saw the launch of the world's largest passenger airplane, Airbus A380; the year also saw the newly named "Indian" taking the baton from Indian Airlines.

2005 has been a good year and although the rotation of the Earth may have slowed down, time itself has set a blinding pace. Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock indicated that more has been achieved since 1800 than that was achieved since the beginning of civilization, and on similar terms a lot more has happened in the year 2005. If the world has slowed down to give mankind an extra second in 2005, I would be very glad to grab it to do that little bit more. Utilize 23:59:60 to the maximum extent possible since, as the headline of this web page says the second will be very unforgiving.

“To fill the unforgiving minute [or second] with sixty seconds [or milli-seconds] worth of distance run…”

Friday, December 30, 2005

Radio Frequency Identification

“How did you know we were lost?”

“The boxes told me- RFID radio tags on the boxes help track the shipment”

“The boxes knew we were lost”

“Then maybe the boxes should drive”

So goes the commercial for IBM’s On Demand Business. If you were following the trends in radio and communication technology over the past two decades, it would not be difficult to understand the above commercial. The idea of being able to track things is not new; it has been in practice since the inception of trade itself. RFID or Radio Frequency IDentification is the latest way of doing it, but this time it will not be limited to tracking commodities or shipments, RFID is set to revolutionize the way people live their lives.

Without going into the history of RFID, one can confidently say that it has been in the offing since the invention of wireless communication. The World War II was a watershed in the chronology of radio frequency identification when the British used this technique to differentiate between the Royal Air force airplanes and the Luftwaffe. The idea of using it to track the movement of animals and livestock herds caught up during the 1980’s. What has made the explosion of the use of this technique in tracking inventory shipments around the world, are the initiatives taken by the Retail Giant Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense in early 2003 to better manage their supply chains.

Before discussing the rationale and applications of RFID, one needs to understand the technology behind it. A Radio Frequency Identification system consists of the following essential components.

· A RFID tag or a transponder

· A RFID reader or transceiver

· Application and database software to analyze the data.

The tag is composed of an antenna and a wireless device. The RFID reader is composed of an antenna, a transceiver and a decoder. The tags are generally of two types, active tags are those which have an on-chip power supply and passive tags are those which use the power induced by the magnetic field of the reader. The RFID reader consists of a transceiver which sends out a periodic signal to inquire about the presence of any tags in the vicinity. The passive tags are cheaper as they do not incorporate any on-chip power supply but the range of their operations is smaller than those of active RFID tags. Each tag has a data storage device which is used to store data about the object being tagged. The four main frequency ranges that are active today are low frequency (125 kHz to 134.2 kHz), high frequency (13.56 MHz), ultra high frequency (868 MHz to 956 MHz) and microwave tags (2.45 GHz to 5.8 GHz).

Let us now examine what the use of these tags is in efficient organization of the global supply chains. In January 2003, Wal-Mart issued notices to its suppliers requiring them to implement RFID technology for all shipments to Wal-Mart by January 2005. This was in effort to improve the inventory stocks and schedules of the various Wal-Mart stores around the world. Although many of the suppliers were taken off guard by such a directive, most of them have complied fearing that they might be left behind if they do not do so. What this means is that, Wal-Mart stores can now effectively implement supply chain excellence principles like Just-In-Time by effectively monitoring and informing the suppliers of the availability of the stocks of the commodities being sold.

The cost of the RFID tags is currently around 50 cents and hence still very costly for implementation on all items and Wal-Mart accepts that it will be along time before individual items sold in their shops are tagged. Currently, the pallets of materials are tagged and tracked. A typical situation in the supply chain cycle of commodities in Wal-Mart would be as follows:

RFID readers are installed at the receiving docks of the stores and when the shipments arrive they are “scanned”. They are again “scanned” when the boxes with the tags are brought to the sales floor. Although due to certain privacy concerns they are not installed at the sales point, the box thrashing centers are fixed with readers which “scan” the utilized boxes. All the data collected is recorded and analyzed by the application software which is connected to an extranet with the suppliers who are updated real time about the status of inventory stocked at the Wal-Mart stores. What this means is that not only can the supply be replenished at the right time, but because of real time tracking it is even possible to accommodate for sudden surges in demand and effectively tweak the supply chain to suit such situations.

This is a great way of doing business and has revolutionized the supply chain management of major retail concerns around the world. But the applications of RFID are not limited to these applications. Cars are fitted with RFID tags which store data about the driver and other related details and are already being used to pay for road tolls by automatically sensing the car’s data by readers at the toll gate and automatically debiting a pre-paid account. This kind of system does away with the any waiting at toll gates and ensures smooth flow of traffic.

On similar lines one can imagine limitless applications for such a technology. Here are a few of them, some of which are already in application in various forms.

1. Consumers with unique RFID tags can walk in to stores equipped with RFID readers where they can pick up the items they want and walk out, debiting the prepaid account with the amount of their purchase.

2. Automobiles could be fitted with the relevant documents of the driver so that there is no need to physically carry them and police officers can automatically sense these in case of traffic offenders.

3. Tags on the credit and smart cards can be made to be activated only when used by the rightful owner with a matching tag on the person so as to avoid cases of credit card fraud.

4. Tickets and other travel documents can be stored in tags which would be carried by the person, read by the readers at railway, subway or air terminals to check and verify the person’s identity before accepting to allow them to travel.

5. The most sublime use of the technology would come when these tags could be effectively “implanted” on a person’s body so that they can store data such as electronic keys and passwords which would enable only them to enter their houses, offices, automobiles etc.

6. Medicines and drug boxes can be implanted with tags which can be opened only by those with a matching prescription tag to avoid drug abuse.

These are just a few examples and the possibilities are limitless. With all these interactive possibilities the interest for this technology in the market is at an all time high. But before all these there are a few issues which need to be resolved. On seeing the above examples it becomes rather evident that misuse of such devices can become rampant. Privacy activists have valid points about how these tags with personal details can be used by corporations, government or unscrupulous entities to illegally monitor activities of people. Certain individuals can block the readers from properly scanning the details and involve in unethical activities by gaining access to restricted areas. The problems related to the use of these techniques are many but the constructive uses of this outweigh the negative impacts. When properly regulated they can prove to be a boon for the whole society and way business operates.

The task ahead in making this technology more prevalent in societies around the world is standardization. Currently, there are a couple of competing standards in use around the world regarding protocols used for communication between readers and tags, how data is organized in the tags, the level of encryption of data for various applications and so on. With proper regulations in place, the technology is on the verge of being a very critical part of the way society behaves and the future looks bright!


1. RFID tutorial:

2. The Wikipedia account on RFID at

3. Wal-Mart website and case studies.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility

Should companies be satisfied by complying with legal standards or should they be involved more in the ethical standards and conducts of society? Should there be a dichotomy between the society and the companies as there is a separation between the state and the religious establishment [or is there?]. Or should there be larger interest in public private partnerships? These were some of the questions addressed by Mr.Nandan Nilekani in the recently held lecture at J.R.D. Tata auditorium in Bangalore. Speaking in the inaugural event of the General Thimmappa lecture series, instituted in honor of the Cottonian stalwart, Mr. Nilekani the CEO of Infosys and an ex-cottonian himself, discussed what according to him where the causes, needs and explanations of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Globalization 2.0 and Globalization 3.0 according to Thomas Friedman in his book The World is Flat is when large corporations around the world have made the size of the world smaller, tinier and also “flat” it in the process. It is no wonder that these corporations are the main drivers of the economy and account for almost 50% of the largest economies in the world. With corporate giants like Wal-Mart being bigger than the economy of countries like Indonesia, it is not hard to believe that 28% of the world’s economy is accounted for by some 200 corporations. In such a scenario, would it be correct for businesses to adhere to Milton Freidman’s old adage “The Business of business is business!”

In his lecture, Mr. Nilekani discussed how such a narrow minded approach towards the responsibilities of global business houses would not be a constructive way ahead. He elucidated the following points as the key features which he believes form the basic framework of Responsible Corporate Citizenry.

1. Corporate Governance

2. Sustainability

3. Corporate Philanthropy

4. Public Private Partnerships

5. Corporate Advocacy

Corporate governance which further simplified he explained would mean the ensuring of fair and ethical practices in terms of labor handling and decision making by corporations. Sustainability of growth and wealth creation is another imperative for ensuring accountability. It was the last three points which he chose to highlight as the real significance behind a genuine implementation of the principles of corporate social responsibility. Corporate Philanthropy he argued was an active involvement of responsible corporations to the resolution of social stigmas of the environment in which they are functioning. Creating a difference in the context of the company’s employees and their social contexts is as important a function of the company as its main business interests. Further advocating the setting up of effective public private partnerships to improve the state of infrastructure and human intellectual capital, he argued quoting a few successful examples. He also explained how involvement in public private partnerships did not mean the private capture of public opportunities and services and categorically disagreed with such faulty generalizations. Imploring the gathered crowd of various corporate heads to take up corporate advocacy and involve in decision making at the government and bureaucratic frameworks he said that it was essential for ensuring not only trade friendly regulations but also for reducing the problems facing the global environment and goals of energy conservation.

It is interesting to note the amount of thought that is going into these topics which arise as a result of a successful business built on a capitalistic background wanting to better the environment in which it thrived. But the contribution of business to the society by being successful should not be underestimated. After all, what greater contribution can a corporation provide to society other than being profitable and succesful with the goals of creating a sustainable enterprise of wealth!

Note: This lecture was held at the J.R.D.Tata Auditorium at NIAS campus of IISc on 17th December 2005. This is not the same as the J.N.Tata auditorium which is also in the IISc campus where the deplorable terrorist attack took place yesterday (28th December, 2005).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Heinous Heinous Crime!

The terrorist attack in Bangalore today is a clear case of the kind of intransigent evil which is unpardonable. The Indian Institute of Sciences or IISc as it is fondly know in Bangalore, in India and around the world is beyond doubt the best centre for learning in the country and perhaps in Asia. It is situated in a large campus in the vicinity Malleswaram, the heart of Bangalore city, with its beautiful English style buildings, large wooded area and a reputation of erudition. The incident of indiscriminate firing using automatic weapons like the AK47 and the use of grenades in a centre of education, which has been the alma mater of eminent Indians like Sir C V Raman, Dr. Homi Bhaba and others is unimaginable and heinous.

As the events of this incident and other similar incidents unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that these kinds of acts are motivated not by any kind of ideology but by nothing but a want of titillation for a few evil men. Bangalore is the fastest growing city in Asia. It has been in the limelight for all the good things that have been happening in India, in terms of technology, economy, information, knowledge and intellectual capital. Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat which is one of the top selling books around the world in 2005 is based on and mostly inspired by the success story that is Bangalore. With the focus on Bangalore as one of the cities in the world with not just beautiful gardens but the highest per capita intellectual capital it is clear beyond doubt that Bangalore is and will be the driving force behind a healthy and successful India. The IISc is as representative of Bangalore and its success story, as brightness is to the sun. It is the pedigree from which the greatest minds, the most successful people and the most capable individuals are bred. Instituted by no lesser an individual than the late Jamshedji Tata the IISc is a paradigm of success. And it is against this very capability of the Indian intellect that the attack today has taken place.

It should be very clear that the perpetrators of this heinous crime cannot hide behind any ideology since such attacks do not warrant any. It is weak cry by a few pathetic human beings whose only response to any form of competence is a blaring and violent display of their impotence. An impotence characterized by a lack of constructive capability, satiated by such pre-meditated acts of indiscriminate violence.

Terror Strikes Bangalore! IISc targeted!

There has been a shoot out at the J.N Tata auditorium today at Wednesday, December 28, 2005. Various news reports have indicated that around 7pm around the time when the international conference on Operations Research was breaking for dinner, gunmen in a white ambassador car drove up to the parking area and started firing. Reports are indicating that AK47 rifles and even a grenade have been used. All the gunmen have escaped. Around 5 people have been injured in the attack.

People injured have been admitted to M.S.Ramaiah hospital and Mallige nursing home, which are located in close vicinity to the Malleswaram area. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one amongst the injured people was Professor Puri of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi has died. Also Professor Vijay Chandru of the Computer Sciences department in IISc is also under critical condition.

The conference being held was on the topic of Operations Research and was exclusively for delegates who had registered prior paying an entry fee of Rs. 3500. As many as 25 foreign delegates are reported to have been participating in the conferences. Eye witness accounts of the situation shortly after the incident have indicated that there were around four injured people in the parking lot of the auditorium and many bullet marks around the parking area.

News reports at

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Has Bush Met Saddam?

Watching the “Video Delayed” broadcast of the trial of Saddam Hussein on CNN, I often muse about the former dictator’s state of mind. On December 21st, he alleged that while in custody of the US Military jailers, he was beaten up. Going by what happened in Abu Ghraib, it may not be an outrageous allegation, but it is highly ironic for a man who gassed most of his prisoners for sneezing in front of his statue, to be complaining about human rights violations. Besides he did commit one of the most unpardonable of crimes: hurt the oil business of the Bush family.

In 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait, Harken Energy, a company owned by the Bush family, took a plunge. Already suffering major losses thanks to the efforts of one of the future presidents of USA, Harken Energy was already very weak financially and oil rich Kuwait being captured by Iraq did not augur well for the Bushes. Bush Sr, had in 1989 soon after being inaugurated as president, opened up $1 billion in aid to Iraq, wanting closer ties, but had not envisaged this very aid being used by Saddam to hurt the Bush family oil concerns when he attacked Kuwait. Thus began the gulf war in January 1991, but unfortunately for Bush Sr, he could not capture Saddam during his reign. But, also unfortunately for Saddam, ten years hence, old friend Osama did him no good when he attacked America during George W. Bush’s presidency giving the Bushes yet another excuse to attack and capture their old enemy.

Come December 15, 2003 and the great and glorious dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was fished out of a small underground rat hole by the coalition forces. Sporting a false beard and looking disillusioned the man who ruled Iraq for 25 years surrendered without any resistance. From December 2003 to July 2004, Saddam Hussein was America’s prisoner, held in an undisclosed location, before being handed over to an Iraqi tribunal. Whether the decimation of Saddam’s regime in Iraq or his subsequent capture has made the world a safer place is still open for debate, but it is pretty clear that the Bushes have succeeded in wreaking revenge on their enemy. When I watch the television broadcasts of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his associates all of whom look like Bedouin bandits from the desert, I cannot help but wonder if the Bushes, George W or his father have gloated over their victory by actually meeting with Saddam face to face despite him being their prisoner of War!

More about Saddam’s cruel history can be read at

More about the Bushes can be read at

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Desmond Tutu

As I rode my bike on the windy evening this past Monday from my house to the J.N Tata auditorium, I was filled with a sense of apprehension. I had that morning read in the newspaper that Archbishop Reverend Desmond Tutu was to deliver a lecture and when I had called up the organizers for further details, I was told that the lecture was for dignitaries and special invitees only. Upon a little coaxing the person on the phone finally referred me to the person who was in charge of organizing the event and told me to contact her if I wanted to attend the lecture. But expectedly, she was probably very busy with the organization of the event and I could not contact her during anytime in the morning or afternoon. I was miffed; here was a famous international personality about to deliver a speech and I would not have a chance to attend it for a trivial reason such as not being able to reach the event organizer on the phone. But later in the evening about an hour before the lecture was scheduled, I decided to go to the auditorium an try my luck at getting in. I had read in the newspapers about the strict rules and entry restrictions when Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had dropped in just two days previously and felt little hope of gate-crashing into this lecture. Hence with a sense of ill will towards the organizers but nevertheless armed with my notepad and pencil I headed towards the auditorium.

The J.N Tata auditorium is located in the vicinity of the large campus of the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore and is a part of the same organization. The Indian institute of Sciences or IISc as it is known around the world, with its beautiful buildings of the British era, and dense growth of trees which arch over the roads, is without doubt the best centre for research in science and technology in the country. As I was more accustomed to having visited the main campus of the institute, where as a courtesy of a friend I had had the opportunity to attend a few similar events before, I parked my bike inside and walked across the road towards the auditorium. I had decided that I would walk in and not stop unless someone inquired about my invitation. I soon realized by the presence of the many policemen that there was some government official present, but as I walked to the entrance I was warmly greeted by a person who without asking for any invitations inquired if I had come for the lecture. Upon my affirmation, he informed me that there was still time and I could make myself comfortable and help myself to a cup of coffee before heading towards the acoustic enclosure of the auditorium. Thanking my luck and not wanting to be very conspicuous I collected the leaflet that was being handed to everyone and made my way into the seating area to find a proper seat for myself.

The large auditorium with its plush red seats can easily accommodate up to 500 people and around 300 were already seated. The front rows were marked off with signs indicating that they were reserved for VIPs and VVIPs. I jealously eyed the front seats which were marked off for the press, fully packed with a bunch of journalists with digital cameras and wondered if and when I could get down there and sit as a member of the press. I also spotted a few noted persons already occupying the front seats marked for VIPs. Amongst them were U.R. Ananthamurthy, noted personality from Bangalore, Justice Bopanna also from Bangalore and Subrato Bagchi, the chairman of Mindtree. The leaflet informed me that the proceedings were to start soon with the inaugural speech by Dr. Kasturirangan, the man behind India’s space program and to be followed by short speeches from T. N. Chaturvedi, the governor of Karnataka, and Mr. Dharam Singh, the Chief Minister of Karnataka. I was informed by my neighbor that we were waiting for the arrival of the Chief Minister, after which the proceedings would begin. But fortunately or unfortunately, the chief minister could not, for reasons known to him find time in his schedule to attend the lecture.

But after a wait of around fifteen minutes, the compeer, most probably the lady who I had not been able to contact on phone earlier that morning announced that the event was to begin soon. And soon enough, to the applause of the audience gathered, Archbishop Reverend Desmond Tutu along with Dr. Devaki Jain, Dr. Kasturirangan and the Governor T.N. Chaturvedi walked onto the Dias. The archbishop a short-ish man with a bald round face and white hair, was dressed in a gray suit and had a hurried gait and comical look over his face as he seated himself on the chairs arranged on the Dias. Dr. Kasturirangan, who was also present in the capacity as the Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, a part of the IISc organization which was organizing the event started the proceedings. This, he informed was the seventh and concluding lecture being conducted in the honor of the late J.R.D. Tata, who was the founder of the institute. Throughout this speech and the speeches by the governor and by Dr. Jain, the internationally acclaimed peace activist and Noble laureate for peace, the archbishop was not very expressive and I felt that he looked bored. Even though Dr. Jain, who was responsible for persuading Reverend Tutu to make Bangalore a part of his itinerary, mentioned in her speech that the archbishop’s wit and sense of humor was well known, looking at him I felt that I would soon be bored by a dull speech.

But I was comprehensively wrong. Just as Dr. Jain was completing her speech, Reverend Tutu amused the audience by hurriedly reaching the microphone and not letting the compeer give him a formal invitation to deliver his speech. What followed was one of the best oratory performances I have ever seen. Starting his speech as Your Excellency and other Excellencies” and with his expressive actions and witty anecdotes he soon had the audience, me included, fully engrossed. He began by telling the audience that he knew that Indians were very shy. When he did not receive applause for thanking the Indians for their role in freeing South Africa from apartheid, he told the audience that “With a magic wand I have magically converted all of you into South Africans. Let us now give these Indians a rousing South African applause! The audience responded with a loud applause but it did not satisfy the reverend. He again waved his wand and said that the applause was not South African enough. This time he was greeted with an even thunderous applause for which the reverend quipped that this was only better than before!

The speech which followed was delivered with great panache and fluency. Ranging from serious topics about racial prejudice, economic imbalance and unjust wars to witty anecdotes and funny gestures he held sway over the audience which listened with rapt attention. Some highlights of the speech were when he strongly condemned the US led war in Iraq and said that if countries took matters into their own hands, then gross atrocities like the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be repeated without moral justification. The tears in the eyes of some of the audience members was clear proof of the insight of his speech when he talked about the magnanimity of a black teenager whose father had been killed before her eyes but found it within herself to forgive her father’s killers. He also had the audience in stitches describing the days of apartheid as bad old days and recounting an anecdote about a road sign in South Africa for the white rulers of the day which read Beware, natives cross here”, which was changed by a few natives to Beware, natives very cross here”.

He went on to describe all the oppressors from Hitler to P.W Botha and all the major holocausts the world has witnessed and said that these perpetrators would remain as nothing but footnotes in the book of history. Although I disagree with his views on issues about global trade and how redistribution of wealth is a necessity in today’s world, his intentions were not unjust. With his contention that eradication of poverty and not letting people feel insignificant was not altruism but the best form of self interest he did give credit to the thought that blatant altruism was indeed an unnecessary evil.

Although I am a staunch agnostic who strongly disbelieves in any oneness with a divine or supernatural force, Archbishop Reverend Desmond Tutu’s theological speech was very interesting. He ended his compelling speech with an awe inspiring analogy of human capability as a powerful eagle which flies high and disappears into the rising sun. The speech ended with a thunderous standing ovation by the audience which was overwhelmed by the cogency of the speaker. A further loud applause followed when Dr. Ahuja, dean of the National Institute of advanced studies in his vote of thanks implored the audience to greet the reverend with a South African Applause. As I and other members of the audience headed home, I am sure everybody in the audience felt that they had witnessed one of the best examples of oration in their respective lives.

(The full speech albeit with many spelling mistakes, is available on the NIAS webpage at the following URL. )

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Et tu, Ganguly....

Julius Caesar was stabbed and murdered in front of the whole of Rome; Saurav Ganguly was pushed down from the cricketing cliff in front of the whole of India. Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome was vain, arrogant but got the job done; Saurav Ganguly, Prince of Kolkata was vain, arrogant and got the job done. Caesar’s megalomania did not augur well with the other kings of Europe and Africa; Ganguly’s megalomania did not augur well with other kings of Asia and Australia. Caesar ruled with an iron hand; Ganguly ruled with an iron fist. Caesar took Rome to incomparable heights; Ganguly lead India to more victories than any other. Caesar would not have survived had the Senate elected another leader; Ganguly would not have survived as one of the “boys”. Similarities abound, but the most striking similarity is that, both Caesar and Ganguly were ousted by the same thing which they fuelled in their lust for power, a.k.a politics.

With the writing now on the wall, no amount of effigy burning can bring Dada back. Kiran More’s poor English might very well have been the reason for a certain harshness of his speech, but I think he got the point across very clearly. “I cannot have him in the team”, he said “He cannot bat at number six, Yuvraj Singh who has had an excellent tour, will do it”. With these words one of the most illustrious captains of the Indian cricket team was denied a berth. Ganguly had taken reign of the team when India’s greatest cricketer had failed at the helm. From the doldrums of that time to the euphoria of the World Cup final, Ganguly led the way, with a blistering pace. The same man today, found it difficult to occupy the spot of an extra in the Indian team.

Julius Caesar was old, battle weary and no longer competent to rule over Rome. Saurav Ganguly’s peak is long past gone and cannot be regained. The senate rightfully accused Caesar of incompetence before he was murdered; Ganguly too saw his misgivings haunt him before his forced exit. But both Caesar and Ganguly did NOT deserve their unjust ousters. But just as Caesar’s murder absolved him of his misgivings and immortalized his greatness, Ganguly’s ouster will make him a martyr. Caesar loved Rome and so does Ganguly love Indian cricket. But there is a startling difference in the respective futures of their empires. While Caesar was succeeded by incompetents like Octavian and Anthony, Ganguly is succeeded by a far better alternative, Dravid. Caesar is dead! Long Live Caesar!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Reading Classics

I recently read an excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe, which describes the marooned sailor’s chance discovery of a mysterious human footprint on his island after many years of solitude. Although this excerpt did not mention where it had been taken from, anyone who has read the book before would identify it without too much trouble. But as I read through the piece I became increasingly confused. This was not what I had read as a kid; firstly this was in first person with Robinson describing his feelings of terror upon seeing the solitary footprint in the sand, secondly the language and thoughts expressed were dark and described the sailor’s dread of finding the footprint rather than the sense of adventure and discovery that I had experienced while reading it as a kid. Only when I dug up my old copy of the book did I realize that it was actually a book adapted for young readers, an abridged version that I had read and believed to be a classic! I had received that book and many other such “classics” from my aunt on my 11th birthday. I then remembered the circumstances under which I first read the book; it was actually in a train back from Dharwad to Bangalore. I had just received the bunch of books, and was very eager to read them and unable to wait till I got back home in Bangalore, climbed up on the top berth of the train compartment and started reading the book.

The book at that time gave me a lot of glee and was the first book which I read and re-read about ten times. Although I had been told the story before, I found reading this book extremely invigorating. Only now when I read the book, mused about the illustrations which it had in each page and read an excerpt from the original, did I realize what further depth of thought this classic contained. Dafoe’s Robinson is utterly terrified upon seeing the footprint in the sand. He struggles to understand this unexpected phenomenon amidst the fears of being haunted by the devil and in spite of the solitude reasons out why it cannot be a supernatural occurrence but an evil much more terrifying. When he later finds that his fears of savage cannibals is actually true, Robinson again struggles for confidence in his religious beliefs, questioning whether the miracle which had saved him until then was actually a gift from God. The author’s life paralleled his hero’s in many ways; Dafoe was initially ordained to be a religious minister. But not finding this to his liking decided to become a merchant. He was successful in his initial years but in 1692 his business failed and he had to undergo a lot of hardship. He decided to pursue a career writing political articles but ended up antagonizing the royalty and again was in debt. Finally when he decided to turn towards writing fiction, he was almost sixty and had not succeeded very well in supporting his wife and family of six children. Robinson also endures varying degrees of success. Like Dafoe, he also decides not to pursue his family occupation of Law and decides to be a merchant sailor. The incident between Robinson and his father who is against his son becoming a sailor could well have been inspired by Dafoe’s experience with his parents during his early days. Dafoe found large success with his first novel Robinson Crusoe, and went on to write other noted books like Moll Flanders & Colonel Jack. But unlike his hero Robinson, Dafoe did not have a comfortable old age. He died a broken man largely in debt, alone and frightened.

Reading this excerpt has made me realize that all these years I had been under a wrongful impression of having read this and other classics. Reading the abridged versions introduced me to these books when I was a kid but now I have to read the originals to actually understand the greatness of these books. Books like The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, are all great classics, which I have only read adapted abridged versions. Reading authors from today like those of Sheldon, Archer, Forsyth and the likes is very interesting indeed but for me classics have always held a strange charm. The sense of grandiose adventure and subtle humor in the classics are unparalleled. Emily Bronte’s cult classic The Wuthering Heights is a fascinating example of depth of thought expressed in any kind of prose. The humor of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and that of Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat is original and rib tickling. Descriptive and factual classics like Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail & and Edward Ellis’ The Chieftain’s Daughter, which are stories of early explorations and settlements of the American continent, are superior pieces of literature.

For anybody interested in reading such classics which are not all easily available in the market I suggest the internet archive called Project Gutenberg. [ ] They have a large collection of e-books which are freely available for interested readers. I have been reading Bernard Shaw’s classics like Pygmalion, Man and Superman, Caesar and Cleopatra, How He Lied To Her Husband and other such superb plays through these e-books. Project Gutenberg is heaven sent or people like me and with the recent discovery of my poor history of having read these original classics I am sure to find a lot of need for it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Charity and its interpretations

Conflicting ideas infect my mind when on the subject of charity. On the one hand there is a strong urge to help the needy in their time of need. But even as I write this very sentence, Bacon’s lines come to mind; He says,

“Charity will scarcely water the ground,

If she must first fill a pool”

It took me some time to first understand the above quote when I first read it. Is charity imperative on a person? Can a person of lesser means be content by feeding himself first before feeding another? Of course, the previous sentence is appalling to many. How can one be expected to donate when in need himself?

Society has her own interests in charity. She interprets the aforementioned ideal based upon context in which it is rendered. I will elaborate on this a little later. I would like to understand charity as a state of the mind. So, is helping the needy in their time of need charity? This brings us to the question of what is the need. The ‘dhoti, kapada aur makan‘on one hand and the other needs of entertainment. Why I said that charity is a state of the mind is because the charitable urges a person has should be what his or her mind dictates rather then those dictated by society.

I started and ended the above paragraph with the word ‘society’ to emphasize the fact that charity today has become a obligation. Let me now write about a wealthier man, whom the society deems fit to be amply charitable. We as elements of society do tend to judge a person by his charitable quotient. If a wealthy man donates, gives, shares a part of his wealth he is considered a good man. A good man in the name of society. But what about a wealthy man who does not give, as required by the society? What if he does not want to share it with others who according to him do not deserve it? He is very comfortably deemed, as a bad man without much thought behind the reasons why he does not lend in the way society wants him to.

Wealth is one aspect. What about a teacher who teaches a group of poor students in his spare time free of cost? Is this charity? Well this is a subject to heated debate. The debate arises out of the question whether the teacher is teaching a subject the society wants him to teach. If a teacher, who is willing to teach for free, but lays certain ground conditions about his methods of teaching or his subject of teaching, he is not immediately accepted to be charitable. A teacher who expects his students to learn what he teaches is not being charitable. Society wants him to teach the weak what the weak want, it wants the weak that are thought to be masters in the subject, but the man who teaches these people is not to be credited for this achievement.

Religion as a faculty is such a society. I can confidently say that there is no religious philosophy, which does not ask its followers to be charitable. I can, with equal confidence, say that there is no religion, which does not decry those who seek the fruits of their charitable endeavors.

…Similarly, all the great religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, recognize and encourage the duty of materially well-off persons to aid the less fortunate…” quotes the Encarta Encyclopedia in its article on Philanthropy. (The italics are mine). The article says that all the religions recognize and encourage the duty of a materially well off person to aid the less fortunate. I reapeated the above sentence with the italics to emphasize the word ‘duty’. It is this concept of charitable duty of a person, which I called charitable quotient in one of my previous paragraphs. Society judges people based on fulfillment of this duty.

Religion inspires a charity of its own. I would term this ‘blessed charity’. In this form a wealthy person makes donations to his religious organization for its well-being. The religious organization no doubt may or may not divest some of these donations for social welfare specific to its interests. There is no debate on this aspect. But, religion says that for doing this good no fruits should be expected. As a matter of fact religion also says that you will receive the fruits of your good deeds without expecting it (and by not expecting it). This raises a question; why shouldn’t one expect, want something when he will get it? Here we are told that ‘wanting’ is wrong. We are told “when you are born you don’t own anything, when you die you again don’t own anything, why then do you claim something to be yours and expect dividends from it?” This is not correct. When a person dies his material property may still remain but his intellectual property is no more. His mind is no more. No one can claim that a persons mind is not his. Thus when a person’s mind is entirely his own and no one can claim it to be theirs, a persons material property is entirely his as long he is alive, and has every right to claim it to be his.

For people who question about the mind being the sole property of a person and claim that many people only have borrowed minds, or borrowed intellect and have no claim over their own intellect and capacity of vision, I would like to quote Kahlil Gibran,

“For one man’s vision, lends not its wings to another”.

For however much others and their thoughts might inspire one, every person forms his own ideas on the subject. And for this very reason that every man's mind is his and his alone.

Charity is not a duty to be completed for the society or anyone else. Every person should be charitable to his or her own causes, encourage charity that does not blame the poor for their plight, and by doing this and only this, would anybody be really charitable to the society and to his or her own existence.

Note: I wrote this in late 2002 for my older blog, but did not publish it then.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Writer's Block!

“Writer’s block”, I guess that is what inspired these words that follow. I read a book about journalism recently, which prophesized that a person cannot aspire to be a newspaper columnist if he cannot write. Typing will do too. Fancying myself to be the next Dilip Padgoankar, Jug Surayia or Dave Barry, I started writing this piece. But soon I found, as I stared into the screen that I did not know what to write about. I wondered whether this is what is called as writer’s block. Well I am not really a writer to qualify to have writer’s block, but what I was enduring could not be called incognizance or absence of ideas, but rather an absence of concrete opinions about anything to comment upon volitionally.

As music was playing loudly in the background maybe my chimerical and fertile imagination was not triggering. But I was in no mood to turn the music off even though I felt that my chances of a portentous arrival in the league of the Padgaonkars and Barrys would be compromised. I settled to just turning the volume down. Now that the music was really in the background, these noumenal notions started to take shape. For the uninitiated, “noumenal” is an adjective for a word which describes an idea or an object that can be intuited only by the intellect and not by the senses. I went through many such topics as I tried to grasp on to one that would inspire me to write.

It wasn’t the words that failed me but my own opinions about these subjects. To effectuate what I am describing let me give an example. One of the topics that is always haunting my intellect is the subject of capital punishment. I would love to put on my pirate’s bonnet and grunt “Off with your head, mate!” whenever the Finance Minister tries to tax my fringe benefits or when someone’s mobile phone disturbs the acoustics during a seminar or when someone drops a catch. But then my assiduous big head comes up with conflicting opinions about the subjects, like the fact that my boss’ fringe benefits being more than mine is actually bad for my boss. This capriciousness about the subject incapacitates me from commenting about it.

So vacillating are my opinions about this that I find it difficult even to satirically justify its authenticity. I find this particularly appalling because satire is one of my strongholds, as I am often accused of being very cynical and satirical in my opinions.

Obtuse humour is one of my favorite topics. Whether it is writing about anatomical oddities or pseudo pretentious habits of people I enjoy a free flow of thought and opinions. But about other more challenging notions I fail to take a side or change my mind.

Whether or not it is writers block, it has definitely made me believe that I have become obstinate. The encyclopedia gives an interesting quote made by a one Lady Asquith. Quoting in “Fine art of political wit”, she says,

“He has a brilliant mind, until it is made up.”

This sort of aptly describes my condition. If only I could have concrete opinions about all subjects, I could probably write long articles about them. Until then at least writers block limits me to write such articles as the one you are reading now. Nevertheless, writers block does help to build my vocabulary. It makes me write articles that have words, I have never even heard of before. Again this makes me undecided whether writers block is good or bad.

Note: I wrote this piece a long time ago for a different blog. Decided to post it here since I have not been able to write anything else for a couple of days now!
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