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January 8, 2022

Information on meat, poultry, and fish processing

Filed under: agriculture, environment, nature — neosurya @ 20:49

This post was prompted by a conversation I had with a cousin on farming and food contamination. This is a question frequently asked by many people. I finally decided to put together a few links and articles that I could send to them as reference, instead of having to talk to each individual separately.

First, I have added some videos that gently introduce the topic. There may be some who are impatient and do not want to watch the video. For them, each video has a short summary. Then I added a few peer-reveiwed research articles which give more detailed analysis, and scientific proof. Finally, I have placed some videos of alternative ways to grow meat, and poultry on a small scale. Then my own personal take.

 Introductory videos

Summary: Less than five big conglomerates own the commercial meat industry in the USA. The companies use a significant amount of chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics. If someone tells me this does not get into the food chain, I find it difficult to believe.
Summary: These two videos are similar to the first one, but more focussed on scientific studies, and how meat/poultry lobbyists try to influence even independent research.
Summary: The above video is VERY GRAPHIC. I wanted to show how a commercial scale slaughter house works. It is one of the most humane design of a slaughter house that I had seen. Many of my friends considered even this to be quite disturbing. Poultry processing methods are even worse. Also, even if the slaughter house is well-designed, it does not fix the antibiotic and chemical overuse problem.
Summary: This video starts by showing how industrial pig farming can contaminate the environment. The farms where pigs are grown and the factories that process this meat release very harmful chemicals and make life miserable for neighbouring households. Next section shows how forests in Brazil are being destroyed to setup monoculture farming of soyabean. This degrades the soil, and the pesticides and fertilisers spoil the water and air. The trade of soybean is controlled by five large global companies. Next, it describes Mozambique where the farmers own much lesser land. Free agricultural land is less, and even forests are protected by Govt rules. There is stiff resistance to large companies capturing the farming economy. The video does not talk about India, but even here there are existing farmers and there is a similar strong resistance to corporate farming. Next it talks about Argentina, where again corporate farming is taking over rainforests and converting them to soyabean farms. Where does the soyabean go? To China for processing – into tofu and other products which again get sent all over the world. Next it shows Govt sponsored corporate farming in China. Next it talks about USA, where it talks about how large conglomerates eventually take over anyone who wants to do small farming or growing animals outdoors.
Summary: similar videos on shrimp and salmon farming.
Summary: Remote so called uncivilised communities, are more healthy as compared to modern societies. 

More detailed analysis

I will use ammonia contamination in food as a simple example. The meat processing industry and the supply chain is such that it takes a week or so for the meat to reach the store from the date the animal is killed in the meat processing warehouse. Since meat can decay fast, it leads to growth of bacteria like EColi. Also, even with the use of a lot of antibiotics, the industrial scale at which animals are grown leads to a large concentration of a variety of other bacteria. Exposing meat to ammonia is one way of ensuring that all bacteria within the meat is killed in the warehouses.
Summary: This video says that ammonia is a naturally occurring compound. It also claims that the percentage of ammonia increased in the meat processing industry is small. But if one reads the actual research papers, a very different story emerges.  

Example research papers:
Effect of ammonium hydroxide on quality of meat products, January 2018 Contemporary Engineering Sciences 11(31):1513-1532

The results indicates that despite having a lower yield on cooking losses (23%), beef filets have a palatable taste and palatability [39] phosphates are a substantial source of sodium. It has been reported that excessive sodium intake is associated with increased blood pressure (hypertension), one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and other health problems such as stomach cancer and kidney diseases [43].

In past incidents, the levels of ammonia in contaminated food which caused illness, ranged from approximately 500ppm to 1500ppm. Contamination levels as low as 500ppm in food products have led to stomachache, headache, nausea, sore mouth and throat, and vomiting among people who consumed the contaminated food products. Cooked chicken tenders contaminated with ammonia ranging from 880ppm to 1,076ppm caused 157 students and teachers to become ill after consuming them (Dworkin et al, 2004)


No regulation has been set up to establish the ammonia level in contaminated food products that will result in rejection as not fit for human consumption. Hijaz et al. (2007) showed that the background level of ammonia present in beef (ground chuck, eye round, and top loin) without ammonia contamination ranges from 95.6 ppm to 139.3ppm. The ammonia background in uncontaminated meat is due to biodegradation (Parris et al., 1983; Pivarnik et al., 1998) and enzymatic (Pivarnik et al, 1998) processes as the meat ages and spoils over a period of time during storage. (Laymans terms: Yes, Ammonia occurs naturally in meat. But, it is because of the decaying of dead meat. Increasing the amount of ammonia saying that it occurs naturally is scientifically erroneous, bordering on wrong.) 


A combination of all the tests would help determine which food products are safe and fit for human consumption, but would be time consuming and expensive, especially for sensory evaluation. (Laymans terms: If a research scientist says proper testing for ammonia is time consuming, good luck getting industry to use it.)

the average ammonia level in frozen meat samples was only 96.0±5.4ppm, which was approximately 6 times lower than the ammonia level in fresh meat (586.7±14.2ppm).  (Laymans terms: Fresh meat just approaches ammonia levels where it is dangerous. Frozen meat has less ammonia.)

Alternative ways of growing poultry/pigs/cows in small farms and backyards:

My final take

Half acre of land can generate ENOUGH food for a family of eight people to live comfortably. All they have to do is get out early in the morning and do a little bit of farming. One can grow everything without any pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers. We may have to give up jogging, but what access to fresh air and food we shall have!!! Two pairs of chicken will give two eggs a day. 14 FRESH EGGS each week at LITERALLY ZERO cost. I wonder who is really losing out here? We are so attracted to un-natural lifestyles that we forget to look at their ill-effects on our lives. We have diseases that are completely a result of the food that we eat, the sedentary lifestyle, and pollution from every modern product that has been developed.  Unfortunately, these kinds of statements make friends/family think that I suggest that one should become a hippie.

Personally, I cannot give up on every modern convenience and live like the hippies or Amish. I will not give up my job, because I love teaching and I love computers and coding. I may not splurge on new gadgets/home improvements, but I will have a house with modern comforts. I may prefer taking public transport, but I will own a car. I may use less processed food and try to eat fresh food, but if someone wants me to go to a restaurant, I will. You get the drift. But even with all this, maintaining a kitchen garden and a couple of chicken is not impossible.

August 11, 2021

Why do we lose so much time to online distraction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — neosurya @ 18:30

This article has modified parts of an article that originally appeared in The Guardian.

If social media convinces you, for example, that violent crime is a far bigger problem in your city than it really is, you might find yourself walking the streets with unnecessary fear. Since times immemorial, media was designed to attract, entertain, indulge, influence, and sometimes even mislead. Social media platforms (Facebook, twitter, youtube, online games etc) can do this even more aggressively because one, they have a lot more information about you. And two, they can monetize from even the smallest of your behavior. An online game may give you points and show how many more or less points you have as compared to other avataars. Due to this real-time comparison, you may eventually spend more time on the game, see advertisements you normally would not see, or even make in-game purchases. Social media may slowly encourage you to be a part of a vegan group, or a meat-only group, or support this or that political issue. It has already been shown that social media can make people spend on specific brands, spread half-truths, make people commit crimes, and even influence elections. Social media is often designed to make you feel very strongly about certain matters, and believe that those who differ from your opinions are the worst humans. When you believe a group more strongly, the social media can control your resources more easily. An unfortunate side effect being observed is that individuals start to assume that even family members who differ on say, a game, a political opinion, or even a food preference must be a very bad person. Online groups seem more closer, friendly, and supportive. This makes offline relationships hard to maintain.

Yes, Silicon Valley companies that are behind social media are responsible for the blame, and we cannot let them off the hook, but we should be honest: much of the time, we give in to distraction willingly. Something in us wants to be distracted, whether by digital devices or anything else. There is an inherent human tendency to not spend time on important matters. In truth, you are eager for the slightest excuse to turn away from what you are doing. Even if you quit gaming, or ban yourself from social media, or exile yourself to a cabin in the mountains, you will probably still find it very unpleasant to focus on what matters. You will find some way to distract yourself: daydreaming, taking an unnecessary nap, gossiping, cigarette break, or reorganizing the desk.

Truth of the matter is that the lives of most animals revolve around doing the same things over and over again – even the majestic tiger will hunt, sleep, mate. And this process will repeat itself again and again. We humans tend to get “bored” while doing repetitive tasks. Cooking, cleaning, doing work at an office, taking care of kids, spending time with a family member – these are important for survival in our society, but we consider them extremely tedious activities. And many artifacts of modern society were designed to reduce the time you spent doing these. The danger with social media is that it makes you feel that you are doing something important, but in reality it has managed to completely distract you. And not only that, it also makes you look at traditional relationships with suspicion if not outright hatred. Parents, children, in-laws, spouse, relatives, neighbors etc seem like enemies. In comparison, online groups and distant “friends” who “like” your every opinion or activity seem like perfect companions. And there lies the big danger of online distraction.

With other forms of media, like TV or movies, you knew that it was an illusion, a temporary relief. It is not bad to get distracted for some time, and in fact entertainment is necessary for most human beings. But online activities and social media make you feel that you are indulging in something real, tangible, meaningful, important. It is a honey trap that sucks out too much of our time and resources from things that truly matter. To make things more troublesome, it can be difficult even to notice when and how your outlook on life is being changed in this depressing fashion. Once the attention economy has rendered you sufficiently distracted, annoyed, happy, or angry, it becomes extremely difficult to escape from that sentiment. Your finite time has been taken away by any number of activities: you play a game for endless hours, you review a product, you participate in an online candle light vigil, a relay hunger strike, or spent an hour discussing with a “friend”. These activities generally have very small impact in real life, but they definitely take you away from real daily work. You will not realize that you wasted your time. Instead, you feel that you have done something significantly important. As the technology critic Tristan Harris likes to say, each time you open a social media app, there are “a thousand people on the other side of the screen” paid to keep you there. Our kids did not pick up a smart-phone on their own. We gave it to them. And kids started spending time on social media only after they saw other adults spending time on social media.

Just like global warming, just like pollution, so it is with social media. If we want our future generation to be more meaningful, we have to be more meaningful ourselves. We cannot do this by limiting our time on social media. It will not work. Our will power is not sufficient to prevent us from using social media or online content. We have to increase our focus on the small pleasures of daily life (sleeping, eating, studying, grooming, spending time with real family members/friends/pets, playing games etc) and identify activities that are truly important.

May 14, 2021

Principles of Chanakya Neeti

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — neosurya @ 21:59

Chanakya, born as Vishnugupta, and also known as Kauṭilya was an Indian teacher / philosopher (BC 371- BC 283). He is the author of “Arthashastra”, a treatise on all aspects of governance. He was responsible for moulding a shepherd of Pataliputra into Chandragupta, the great leader. Chanakya installed Chandragupta as an emperor who replaced the Nanda Kingdom and established the Mauryan empire. Chanakya also briefly served as the prime minister of Bindusara, the son of Chandragupta.

Main Philosophies of a good country:

  • Security of life for all.
  • Protection of women.
  • Agriculture is essential for survival. It must be protected.
  • Land must be utilized to the maximum. Hoarding of unused land must be prevented.
    • If someone is selling land, they can sell to people in this order: the king, neighbors of the property, and other citizen. Selling land to people from other nations should be prohibited.
  • Borders must be closely guarded, even if the neighbors are friendly.
  • Allows business and trade to run smoothly. Taxes must be very low.

Main qualities of a leader:

  • Should have a sense of Universal morality
  • Yatha raja tatha praja. A leader is the face of the nation and reflection of the society and people.
  • Must always uphold dharma
  • The treasury does not belong to the leader. It belongs to people. Ensure that there is no wasteful expenditure.
  • Should not postpone or skip hearing law matters. Justice delayed is justice denied.
  • Combination of both worldly habits (dynamic, active, decisive, brave) and spiritual inclinations (wise, humble, caring, patient).

Observations on corruption and general administration:

  • Selfishness is part of human nature. A human cannot be honest lifelong.
  • One can predict how birds fly in the sky, but true intentions of Govt officers cannot be understood.
  • The tongue will always taste food before food reaches the stomach. In the same way, Govt officers will taste some part of the King’s money before it reaches needy. Corruption and bribery can be reduced, but not eliminated completely.
  • Award subjects and spies who report true cases of corruption. Punish subjects who make false complaints against officers.
  • Among Govt servants, encourage team work, regular transfers, and shared responsibility so that one person does not become too important.
  • Certain Govt posts must be temporary. Number of Government officers must be as small as possible. A large Government does not mean good Government.
  • Dutiful officers must be rewarded with permanent jobs, more responsibility, and honorific titles. They must be publicly honored in regular intervals.
  • If a judge or a police officer commits corruption, treat it very strictly. Society collapses if innocents are punished, or if justice is delayed.
  • Collection of tax must be a sweet, easy, and straightforward process. Avoiding of tax must have serious repercussions.
  • New rules and laws must be created by the King on advise from ministers. Law must be enforced by Govt officers. Govt officers must not use personal bias while enforcing law.
  • All neighboring countries must be respected. All borders must be guarded. All enemies of the state must be closely monitored.

February 17, 2021

Difference between work, tiredness and effort

Filed under: family, personal, social change — neosurya @ 17:49

A lot of students come to me saying that they are unable to cope with academic workload. It was also a common complaint from my colleages and juniors while I was in the industry. My take on it is that each individual must learn why their work is causing effort, and to learn to cope with it in a positive manner. I will explain my view of work and effort in some simple terms.

Work: The physical or mental activity that is expended by your body while doing a task. This task could be reading a paper, studying, cooking, playing etc. Even listening to music requires your ears and brain to do some work.

Tiredness: After performing a certain amount of work, there are some changes to physical or mental capacities. The muscles become sore after playing, reading, writing, cooking, washing or cleaning. The brain similarly loses focus, feels sleepy, or starts to make errors. In extreme cases the body just fails resulting in sever pain, dizziness, dehydration, health problems etc.

Effort: As a person is working and slowly getting tired, there are two effects: (i) If a person DOES NOT love the work, the person feels more and more tired. This also turns into other physical/mental manifestations like irritation, anger, resentment etc. Under this situation, the work and tiredness turns into EFFORT. (ii) If the person loves the work, or the result of work, the person keeps recovering from tiredness very quickly, or does not get tired very soon. And even if they physically or mentally get tired, they continue the work on hand. This feels effortless and one gets positive feelings like satisfaction, joy, and pleasure.

The key to success in most aspects of life – work, study, family life or career is to determine which work is effortless for you and focus on that. If some work makes you put in too much effort, it is better you stop doing that work, at least temporarily. At first sight one may think what will others say, maybe my teacher/boss/partner will be annoyed. But in the long term, it is better to focus more strongly on work that is effortless.

In some situations like school, this may not be possible. In a standard education system, you have to pass several subjects to graduate. In this case, find which subjects you can do effortlessly and become BRILLIANT at those. For the other subjects, use any of the following strategies: (i) Take tutions from an expert and interesting teacher for the difficult subject, (ii) Study with a friend who is good at that topic, (iii) Do the minimum possible work in that subject so you may still get reasonably good grades. Remember that the professional world requires you to be good and passionate about a few topics. Everything in the world cannot be studied by everyone.

The same goes true for relationships. You prefer working in an office, but do not like housework. You do not like dogs, but your partner likes them. You like watching action movies, your other family members do not like them. Your passion is to hit the gym and maintain a ripped body, your friends think otherwise. You want to be a sportsman, but your family forces you to stick to books. First learn what your mind/body prefers. And then focus on that. Doing anything out of external compulsion will lead to too much effort on your part, and eventually irritation, anger, resentment and even failure. Lying to your partner, friends, family about your preferences is even worse. At some time the truth will come out. But it will come out with bad results.

However, doing only what you like is not possible in all relationships also. You sometimes have to do an activity or work that you do not like. You do not like paying electricity, phone, gas, water bill etc. You do not like cooking, cleaning, getting kids ready to school. But because you are in a relationship you have to do it or share these tasks with your partner. To deal with this, focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. Remember that if you want those positive aspects, it is your responsibility to do these apparently boring activities as well.

Meditation can also help you deal with the negative aspects of effort. But that is a discussion for a different day.

It is difficult to identify your effort. And it is even more difficult to convince someone else and reduce that work. If you get cannot get out of work that causes you effort, the second best approach is to tell yourself that this work is inevitable. Use meditatation or any other tool you favor to tell yourself that becoming negative about the work will not help change the condition, or help you in the long term. But at the end, do not lie to yourself and hold the negative feelings inside of you. Recognize and eliminate them if possible. If not possible, keep looking at the negative feelings when you meditate; you will soon realize that you are stronger than those -ve feelings.

The Social Death of Marriage

Filed under: family, social change — neosurya @ 17:18

These days, women and men expect some thing very different out of marriage.

Men: They assume a wife to be a Submissive Girlfriend and Servant.

Women: Assume a husband to act as a Submissive Boyfriend and Servant.

This is not the view taken by everyone. But a significant majority of relation ships have ended up like this. A wife will not take feedback from a husband. Similarly, a husband would consider any suggestion from the wife as an affront to his ego.

A submissive girlfriend is some one who fullfils every wish and demand without requiring anything in return. A submissive servant does everything without a compliant. Women also tend to have the same expectation – when they get married, they think they are getting someone who will be more of a “servant” than someone with whom they can share their life.

Unfortunately, this is happening in a land where the marriage ceremony was supposed to explain in detail to a would-be husband and wife their responsibilities towards each other, their families, and towards the society.

This change is coming about because of:

  • Undue importance to individualism: Ads, movies, popular media, everything screams out – “you must be able to do what you want to do”, “Just do it”. If only individual passion is true, why should someone even live together, or get married? If what you do as an individual is more important – then you better not get into any form of relationship.
  • Distractions and stress: There is so much to do in the modern world, there is very little time for human interaction. Too many movies, too many places to goto, too many “friends” to follow and like. Facebook, instagram, youtube, whatsapp have become an infinite source of distraction, entertainment, and useless communication. This has many side effects – very little time left for family, being pulled in too many directions, couples get lost in the large palate of activities and end up with very few common activities. Think about this – If an indivdual has an issue at home, it was very difficult earlier to walk out and go somewhere else. It is so much easier now, with malls where no one knows each other. After a bad argument at home, one can go for movies with “friends”, or a shopping spree, or a bar, or to the sports club. This leaves very little time for the couple to actually sit down and discuss logically why there was a difference in the first place. If a child is scolded by parents, it is so easy for the child to speak to “FRIENDS” on an online platform and get sympathy. These “social” locations and platforms offer relaxation. But many forget that this relaxation is temporary – the mall or sports club will only be there till you are healthy and have money. The online “friends” will click on a like button, they will agree with everything you say. But that does not mean they will actually come and cook, clean or teach you.
  • Downplaying family life: Running a family day after day involves a lot of routine work. This is not celebrated anymore. If at all someone speaks about it, they talk about the “stress” of daily chores. Routine office work is also a drudgery. Then why is routine work at home more undesirable than office work? In the modern world, money or recognition from others has become the most important factor for life. Not oxygen, not water, not food, money. Jobs give money. Social activities give recognition and awards. So even if the jobs are dull, hard, and sometimes demeaning, no one considers them worse than family work. Even if you do not truly believe in the social work, you do it because lot of people give gifts / awards / recognition etc. But family work? NO.

January 9, 2021

The choice made by Jatayu

Filed under: education, family, personal, social change — neosurya @ 14:30

In the Ramayana, the King of Lanka Ravana kidnaps Sita after distracting Rama and Lakshmana. As Ravana carries away Sita in a flying chariot, Sita cries for help.

Several birds, animals and repitiles hear her cry, but no one is able to intervene. Some are just plain incapable of flying, others are too scared to face Ravana. Jatayu, the king of of vultures was an old bird. He barely had strength to fly, and he knew that he was no match for Ravana. But Jatayu did not hesitate. He saw that adharma was happening before his eyes, and he felt the need to take action. He rose into the sky and fought Ravana. The fight ended in a short span, as Ravan cut off Jatayu’s wings.

As Jatayu lay bleeding and close to death, Rama and Lakshmana approached him. Even as Rama held him in his arms, Jatayu did not say – “Look, I tried saving Sita and now becasue of that I am dying.” Instead, he said – “Pardon me Rama, I did not have the ability to stop Ravana and rescue Sita. I could not stop adharma from happening.”

When we see that society is going down a wrong path, we have three choices:

  1. Do not try to change anything. This is a reasonable choice if your assumption is: “The Lord has created this situation, and the Lord shall change it. In any case, all is Maya.”
  2. Attempt to make a change, but only if it has a guaranteed outcome or benefit. This is a wrong choice, an adharmic choice.
  3. Attempt to make a change, irrespective of the consequences. This is the choice made by Jatayu.

Steps 1 and 3 are born out of different forms of Bhakti. Step 2 is ahankaara. The choice one makes usually depends on their mindset, previous karma, and their current circumstances. And this choice will effect their future karma.

June 18, 2020


Filed under: army, democracy — neosurya @ 15:02

This story is called “Orders”. This is purely fictional.

The location is an international border near the Himalayas. It is the afternoon of 31st May 2020.

Col Ramamurthy asks: “Call the 2IC”

2IC (Lt Col Amit): “Jai Hind Sir”

Col Ramamurthy: “What is the status on the ground?”

2IC: “Sir, Two days ago, at the dawn of 29th May, about 40 enemy combatants who were standing at pickets on their side, crossed over and came 200 meters into our side and setup two tents. By the evening of 29th May, we had orders to push them back. Capt Abhir and Lt Mihir with about 200 men are pushing back the enemy soldiers. Maj Singh is in charge sir. As per orders, we are not using lethal force. Our enemy has started using makeshift weapons, batons, and sticks studded with nails. While the resistance is stiff, we are managing to push them back with hand to hand skirmish. We are using defensive equipment like shields. Our men have been at this all through the night of 29-30, the whole of yesterday and last night. The first tent has already been cleared sir. In another half a day we should be able to clear the other tent. By the morning of 2nd June, we will be able to push them back to their side of the border sir. There are four casualties on our side sir.”

Col Ramamurthy: “We have fresh orders now. I need to be face to face with the enemy. Let us go to the pickets.”

Col Ramamurthy is about to board the jeep and leave for the border. The 2IC responds:
“Sir, why are you leaving for the pickets sir? This is not standard procedure. Please give us orders and we shall execute them.”

Col Ramamurthy: “Is the truck with the equipment ready?”

The 2IC responds:”Sir, I must insist. You cannot endanger yourself by going to the skirmish area. Please give us the order.”

Col Ramamurthy: “No Amit, these are orders that I must deliver in person.”

The HQ is only about 1.5 Kms from the border. As the jeep and the two trucks move towards the border, Col Ramamurthy thinks:
“I have been with this Battalion for several years. Some of these men have seen me as a fresh-faced Lieutenant, straight out of the Indian Military Academy. Now, I am a Colonel, and am in charge of their Battalion. I have seen some of these men from the age of 18. I have trained these men to fight with guns, grenades, mortars, and ATGMs. Now, I have to tell them to put their training aside and attack the enemy without firing a bullet. Amit is right. Under standard procedure, I have to issue orders from the HQ and the officers/jawans must execute them. I can understand the compulsion under which my superiors have given me such an order. They may have their own compulsion to follow procedure. But thanks to God, I am under no compulsion to give such orders verbally. I have the choice to stand shoulder to shoulder, give the order in person, and move forward with my men. Enemies have entered my country, and I am unable to use my weapons to save her. Yes, it is tough. But orders are orders. And my Battalion will be victorious.”

The jeep comes to a halt about 300 meters from the pickets and the area of the scuffle. Capt Abhir walks towards the jeep.

Col Ramamurthy: “Capt Abhir, each truck has 100 iron rods with barbed wire rolled at one end. Distribute them evenly across our 200 jawans. We will fight the enemy with these.”

The night is cold, dark, and bitter, where every bit of exposed skin shrivels in seconds. If any part of the body comes in touch with exposed metal, the skin would peel off. It takes about an hour to distribute the rods. Once all the rods are distributed, Col Ramamurthy takes up position in the center and says: “The enemy stands in their pickets posing a risk to our mother, and to the honor of our Battalion. We have to remove them from there. But we have orders to not fire even one bullet. We will execute these orders and emerge victorious. Charge!!!”


In the melee, 20 Indian soldiers, including Col Ramamurthy are martyred. The Battalion goes mad on seeing their colonel down. But orders are orders. No bullet is fired. 40 enemies are killed; the pickets are vacated. The orders are executed, and victory is achieved. But at what cost?

And why were these orders issued?
Short reason is that India did not want a war. Why did we not want a war?

  1. Peace: Was it because our foreign policy is on a misguided mission to uphold “peace”, “harmony”, and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”?
  2. Bad border infrastructure: Was it because our politicians ignored roads, airfields, infrastructure in borders where there is no option to get kickbacks?
  3. Zero defense technology: Was it because our scientists could not build a flying aircraft, usable tank, or a reliable rifle?
  4. Weak economy: Was it because our executive branch continues to harass companies, startups, honest tax payers, and in the process stifle the economy?
  5. No human capital: Was it because our best brains became: tired of an incompetent country, greedy for more riches, and left for better avenues?
  6. Declining civilization: Was it because our culture, country, and lifestyle is just a rotten shell, just waiting to be kicked in by a hungry neighbor?


Whatever be the reason, this Bharatavarsha needs to introspect. And correct this fast.

Skirmishes and battles can be won by men. But wars are won by countries. An unprepared country will decline. Talks of peace and global harmony are great. But so is the protection of ones own constitution and culture. Especially when such a constitution is under attack by an undemocratic, authoritative power.

Most people who gave detailed media comments probably had very little military knowledge, and even lesser knowledge about that area. Even the most confident, experienced, and battle hardened commander will tell you that one can be prepared for a skirmish, but one cannot predict if it will go in our favor or not.

What one can say for sure is that in terms of policy, economy, mindset of citizens, we are leagues behind our bigger neighbor. We bicker on things like defense procurement, taxation rules, labor laws, even basic things like water sharing between states, or garbage disposal in our cities. These fundamentals are so weak that at this point, Bharat cannot afford to get into a long war. But, we are also strong on some aspects – democracy, working population, soil fertility, access to natural resources. However, a country/civilization runs the risk of losing its advantages soon, unless it is careful and moves extremely strategically.

May 6, 2020


Filed under: religion, social change — neosurya @ 13:34

This is a ramble. Call it a smoothie made of misplaced bonhomie + corona conditioning. 🙂

Thread no 1:

Very early on in my career, I had decided that I wanted to live in a village. I wanted to work hard, but the kind of facilities and comforts I wanted were different from those offered in cities. It is only my incompetence that I still continue to live in a city. A few close friends and family had asked me to move to the USA. It does not matter where one lives (USA, India, or some other country). What matters is that these people believe in a city, urban lifestyle.

To live in a city with all its so-called modern comforts, I have to work and maintain a culture of success. The claim made is that people go to school, college, and office out of their own choice. But do they? Industrialized society presents in front of people a certain picture of success-culture. A person who goes to Wharton or Harvard is a success, someone who goes to  Univ of Tennessee is less successful, someone in community college is a failure. A person who writes code perfectly is a success, someone who does accounting is less successful, and someone who can do perfect dish-washing is a failure. Living in AC is comfort – sitting under a shady tree is backward. Eating stale food in a high class restaurant is enjoyment – making home-made pizza, avakaya (pickles) and vadiyaalu (rice crackers) is backward.

The result is that people in a hyper-competitive environment stop looking at each other as humans, but tend to see each other as bits and pieces of steel that can be converted into parts of a machine. A human who can be converted into a strong part is better, someone who cannot be converted is weaker. Instead of celebrating abilities and accommodating differences, we try to bring everyone to a uniform beige color.

End result:

  • A majority of our social and economic structure celebrates a very narrowly defined lifestyle. The following is generally considered “good”: 5-6 bedroom house in the suburb, an apartment in downtown, 2-3 cars, international vacations. The “success” narrative does not examine whether such a lifestyle really leads to happiness. More importantly, this view of success does not care about global warming, pollution, or in general damage to other species and our planet. We are stuck in a consumerist world that is literally “enjoying” itself to extinction. And if someone suggests a slow, non-consumerist, sustainable life they are branded and ridiculed as “greenpeace activists”, “technology deniers”, and “cult members”.
  • Society tends to give importance to certain kinds of jobs. For example, almost everyone accepts that housework is an activity that has no value, while  working in an office is a glamorous job that can transform society/ contribute to economy, increase GDP etc etc. Care-giving roles like parenting, taking care of elders, keeping a beautiful home are extremely central to human life. But these cannot be assigned a dollar value. So such roles are considered “undesirable” and “useless”. What is the contribution to GDP of Neil Armstrong’s mother, or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s father? Are we to believe that Martin Luther King learnt nothing from his parents?
  • Society does not let a person decide his/her own level of comfort. There are new products, new vacations, new experiences invented every day. A lot of pressure is applied on people to keep on increasing income levels and keep on spending on these new innovations. If you earn Rs 10 lakhs, then society expects that person to take a loan and spend Rs 15 lakhs to buy a house and a car. If you earn Rs 15 lakh, then you are expected to take a loan of Rs 30 Lakh and buy more. No one asks if this new car, a new house, or a new vacation truly gives happiness, or even health. Should people be under continuous pressure to spend so that they can enjoy? Is this the best way for humanity to live?
  • For entertainment, pleasure, and company, people have stopped relying on human interaction. Alcohol, violence, social media, games,  and other such stimulants feel more attractive. There are very few communities where physical events, people, and family are still a source of pleasure.

A city and associated pressures force people to be competitive. Some amount of competition is necessary to survive. But beyond a limit it is self-defeating. Life becomes a continuous war against a co-worker, neighbor, family member, and nature. It is not that moving to a village will automatically convert someone into a less competitive individual. It is also not that I want to become lazy or celebrate laziness. Super-competitiveness is having too much ego, pride and lack of humility. Laziness and super competition are two ends of a pendulum. An example is  Arjuna from Mahabharat. Arjuna was certainly not lazy. But he was not competitive, he was super-competitive. He considered himself to be the best archer. In some ways, Arjuna even forced his teacher Dronacharya to ensure that no other student was the best archer. As per mythology, Arjuna was refused an entry to heaven because of his super-competitive nature. He had to take three more janmas. And in each janma, he had to endure defeats before he could realize the folly of being super-competitive.

Thread 2:

Even with all our intelligence, humans routinely misunderstand each other. It is more easy to be suspicious of the other person, as opposed to take them on positively. It is always easy to criticize as opposed to construct. Each human due to his or her intelligence creates an “ideal of perfection”. And when the other person does not meet this ideal, the result is anger, disappointment,  and frustration.

With modern lifestyle the number of differences between people have multiplied. In my childhood, there were only 6-7 movie theaters in a large city. And getting a movie ticket was a challenging task. So if a family managed to watch a movie once a month – that was itself a cause of celebration and joy. Now, we have a dozen multiplexes with 10 screens each. Getting tickets is a breeze with smart phone apps. There is so much choice of movies, choosing the right movie is itself a war. And God forbid if someone does not want to see a movie – that person is considered a swamiji, dodo, and scarecrow.

During the cold war, US and Russia operated on a theory of  “Mutually Assured Destruction”. They were deeply suspicious, rarely talked to each other. Families are also doing the same – not talking to each other.

Thread 3:

Some say the Gita is a poem where the Lord asks Arjuna to fight. Some say it is a poem of peace where the Lord says that all war is fought in his name.

Gita and Mahabharata is all about introspection. A lot of wrong happens in Kurukshetra. Towards the end, the five children of Draupadi are murdered while sleeping at night. Ashwattama even tries to kill the future child of Uttara by shooting a divine arrow into the womb. But how could Kurukshetra be avoided –

  • Maybe the pandavas should have accepted their fate. After all, their own brother Yudhishtir had gambled away their kingdom to the Kauravas.
  • Maybe Dhritrashtra should have put aside his blind love for his son Duryodhana. With blind love for his own blood, Dhritrashtra was unable to see that the late Pandu was his own brother. If he thought about it, King Pandu was dead. Dhritrashtra was the only caretaker of the Pandavas. The Pandavas were in a way his own sons.
  • Maybe Yudhishtir and his brothers should have been little more restrained while building Indraprastha. Why show off your affluence, knowing well that your cousin was already jealous of you?
  • Maybe Duryodhana should have tried to control his intense jealousy towards his cousin brothers – the Pandavas, the children of King Pandu.
  • Maybe King Pandu should not have shot an arrow to kill the sage and his wife who were having sex in a forest in the form of a doe couple. This mistake eventually led to the death of King Pandu, and his blind brother Dhritrashtra became king.
  • Maybe the Kuru dynasty should not have punished Gandhari’s parents after finding out that Gandhari was married to a goat before being married to Dhritrashtra.
  • Maybe Gandhari should not have tied a blindfold to her eyes. She could have then used her wisdom to guide her blind husband and her son Duryodhan.
  • Maybe Gandhari’s father should not have trusted astrologers who said that Gandhari should marry a goat before getting married to Dhritrashtra.
  • Maybe when she was a young, unmarried maiden, Kunti should have not called upon the sun God to give her a baby. Maybe society should have accepted children from unmarried women.
  • Maybe Satyavati should not have insisted that her own blood line must be kings. Maybe Satyavati’s father should not have placed those conditions in front of Devadutt?
  • Maybe King Shantanu should have controlled his hormones and not lusted after Matsyagandha.
  • Maybe sage Parashara should not have had sex with Matsyagandha and converted her to Satyavati.

Mahabharata and the Gita is all about how “society and human rules” are just castles in air. What did Satyavati gain with all her persistence that only her children should become heirs? The eventual heir – Yudishtir was born of Kunti and Lord Yama. Neither of them were directly the blood lines of the Kuru dynasty.

The Gita and Mahabharata is a call for humans to introspect and think. Instead of fighting physical and mental wars, determine the best course of action by putting aside your ego. And stick to that action, do not worry about the result. And more so, never seek acceptance from other humans. Most human beings do not understand their own minds, how will they understand each other. 🙂

May 4, 2020

Cabin cupboard

Filed under: army, social change — neosurya @ 16:03

At the National Defence Academy, and the Indian Military Academy, several cadets train under the supervision of a Company Commander or COCO. A cadets room can be inspected at any time by the COCO. And it has to be spick and span. Not like your usual hostel room. In addition, the academy announces “cabin cupboard” dates. The checking is even more aggressive on these dates. The photo below shows how the room of a cadet is supposed to look on cabin cupboard days. The room is not much different on other days as well. But on cabin cupboard days, the room needs to meet a critical specification. See the shirts on the hangers? On any day at the academy the COCO can barge into your room and check if your shirts are neatly arranged on a hanger. But on cabin cupboard days, suck it up cadet !!! The rack has to be arranged in a specific order – a jacket, followed by a shirt, followed by 2 uniforms. The rings on the hangers have to be inward, and not outward. This arrangement can be changed – for instance you may be told to have one uniform, one shirt, and one suit. And it extends to other parts of the room as well – there need to be exactly two bottles on the bedside table. One red and another blue. The bed needs to look spotless. The bathroom needs to have exactly a certain set of items, having certain colors. Your clothes shelf needs to have exactly a specific number of vests and handkerchiefs arranged in a certain angle. There are also claims that there is a book with a set pattern of display items. I never saw a book, but there must be a specification hidden away somewhere, amidst all the documentation of the approved ways of rogering a cadet.


On top of all this, the COCO can come and check at anytime of the day or night. So, the cadets keep their rooms spotless, make their beds, and polish every part of the floor. At night they sleep on the floor so that the bed stays spotless, that is if they get to sleep at all. A typical dialogue between the COCO and cadet could be:

Officer- “Are these OG socks?”

GC no 1- “Sir, yes sir”

Officer- “They do not look OG to me. Take 5.”


Officer- “Why is your bottle less red in color”


Officer- “All right. Take 2.”

Take 5, take 2 these are not dosas or parathas. These are restrictions. Typically, 1 restriction means you have to assemble at a specific location and run for 5 Kms in full battle gear. And if you do not finish the run in a specified time, you get more restrictions. And restrictions place such a hard limit on your already stretched schedule, that a cadet with a restriction will eventually make a mistake and get other restrictions. And there can be more –

Officer- “Why is your curtain not having a restrainer” (Curtain restrainers may not be in the specs)


Senior – “Sir not in the spec sir”

Officer- “You@%$@s. Dont you know that curtains need restrainers? What do you mean it was not in the spec? Company ko fall in karo.”

When COCO says “company ko fall in karo”, everyone gets about 2-3 minutes to dress up, come out, and fall in. If your company is lucky, and that is a big IF, the COCO would be breathing commands down your neck and you would only be standing through the night with/without clothes. Generally you are not lucky, and a few hours are sucked off into a hapless loop of running, front roll, back roll, cream roll, or whatever else the COCO fancies. There are several articles dedicated to training at the IMA, an example is here:

I was reading up some articles on psychology, and came up on this paper “Development and evaluation of an intervention program to manage stress among trainees at the indian defence academy”, Harini Kumari R and Shailaja Shastri (Link to original). This paper had a survey of all training meted out at the academies. Cabin cupboard came out as the second most stressful aspect of training, ranking even above punishments. The first stressful factor was “time management”. A table from this paper is below:


Which begs me to the question – why is this done? To instill officer like qualities. An army officer may be deployed to undertake tasks where minor mistakes can have expensive repercussions. A battery left uncharged can make your team lose all communication, a small piece of shiny metal can give away your position, a knot tied wrongly can lead to equipment or people falling off. An officer also has to be patient, confident, hardworking, caring, determined – and a host of other qualities. Training is done to imbibe all these qualities into a soldier. Some get more of these qualities, others get less during training. Some soldiers forget aspects of this as they age. But by and large, most good soldiers have these attributes tucked away somewhere.

Cabin cupboard cannot be part of training in civilian institutes. But I wish there was some semblance of discipline. It may come in handy. These days, there is a lot of discussion about COVID-19. There are discussions of how the kaam waali bai (house-help / servant) was not coming, and how daily tasks had become a torture. There are also grumblings of how our lifestyle was changing, how the Govt was not taking care of migrants/economy/healthcare, how X could be done differently. And then, I remembered cabin cupboard. And the lesson we had learnt – we could not change the rules of cabin cupboard. We could not escape the restrictions. But, we figured out ways to handle it – some of us perfected the art of keeping the place spick and span, some of us became physically strong, others took the restrictions with mental coolness, some even figured out a way to speak their minds to the COCO. We became better in some way or the other. There were also others who pointed fingers at everything but themselves. And in the long run, their ignorance made them suffer a lot more.

COVID-19 is like cabin cupboard. You cannot change the rules. You cannot escape the restrictions. You look inward and become a better person, or you point fingers at others and suffer your ignorance.


April 22, 2020

Open source

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — neosurya @ 08:57

Lot of people have a misconception that open source is just taking a bunch of code and putting it out there. Not quite. A usable open source project would need to be supported. A few golden words from Kelly Davis, the Manager/Technical Lead of the machine learning group at Mozilla


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