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December 6, 2016

Treatment of parents

Filed under: common man, family, social change — neosurya @ 17:23

I had a friend (A) who posed a problem a few days ago: We were speaking about taking care of his father (B). B had a regular job, but did not take particular care of his kids. Each day after office, B came home for a short while in the evening, and stayed to himself. Income was regular, and the mother of A was efficient. So, the kids were able to get a good childhood. But it was very clear that B had no real role in their upbringing. A’s life was not ruined because B’s income was more than sufficient. B however, was totally disinterested in family life.

B (the father), and B’s wife (A’s mother) were living in Bangalore. A’s mother had recently passed away. Till the mom was alive, A and his siblings (a sister in India and a brother who was in USA) would visit B occasionally. Festivals and other customary visits were kept up. B and his wife regularly visited A and siblings also. For about 3-4 months a year, B and his wife would come and stay with A. But there was no real love lost between B and rest of the family.

B continued to visit his kids after his wifes death. But B was not a pleasant person to be with. His friends were no more, and he would continuously complain about one thing or the other. No major physical or financial damage, but there would be no fatherly (or grand-fatherly)  involvement as well. He would have an unpleasant face all through the day, and entering his room was like seeing a person who is sulking his way to the other world. B would be extremely particular about his schedule, food habits, and general preferences about daily life.

The challenge was that B was going to be over 80. There was no disease in particular, but he was getting old. Senility was bringing on other challenges.

A argued that B should be sent to an old home while B was still in OK health. Once health went down further, argued A, it will be difficult for B to adjust to an old home. B did not want to be sent to an old home. B was saying that to get his (substantial) self-gained property, A and his siblings must take care of B at home.

I had seen another father once like this. An old man, in his 80’s living near Tarnaka, Osmania University, Hyderabad. I had gone to him to seek legal advise. His room was on the first floor of the garage of an independent villa in Tarnaka. The villa was his own, but he had given the whole place for rent. His servant lived downstairs in the garage, and he lived upstairs. The room had a desk with an old transistor radio facing a window that overlooked the street. An old teak bed had been set towards one of the walls with a grayed out mosquito net that had seen more regal times. There were about 3 chairs in the room, but only one was empty. The others had huge stacks of letters and legal correspondence. There was a bookshelf on one side which recessed into the wall. It also probably held his clothes.

While discussing the legal problem, I had mentioned that I was from such and such company. The father slowly got out his sons card, and said you know him – “He is the senior Engg VP of ***. Do you know him? He is also into IT.”. This old man’s son was a very senior executive in a global multinational company. When I say senior, really senior – like the VP of a major engg. division of a Fortune 500 firm. He could have been my bosses bosses boss. The father was speaking about his son with pride, but it was apparent that he could not live with the son either. The old father made a point to mention that all his grandkids visit him during major festivals. “Even if they miss some due to exams, they come during Deepavali for sure.”, he said.

I have seen some unfortunate mothers’, father-in-laws, and mother-in-laws also in the same situation. Maybe there were good reasons to do this. Maybe the women or men created unhappy situations in the family. Maybe the father or mother were more nasty and looked mellow to strangers. Maybe there are some worse family secrets. Maybe this is a necessary feature of our modern, liberal, urban lifestyle. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I wonder, If we cannot take care of a mother and father who gave us birth, can we be good to complete strangers? If we give second chances to a terrorist, a murderer, a common criminal, why not parents? Maybe it is wishful thinking on part of a liberal society that humans are good. Maybe there is no true love among humans. Maybe. Maybe not.


June 4, 2014

The boiling milk

Filed under: common man, family — neosurya @ 17:04

As the night slowly opened up to the calm morning sun, Malini woke up to see her husband peering into the laptop. “Since when are you awake, it is not even six. Sleep for some more time.” she said. Vijay replied: “Good morning, I just woke up. I have to leave early for work. When did the kids sleep last night? Sorry, I just could not stay awake beyond 9:30.” Malini said: “They fooled around till 11:30 last night. They just have one more week. School starts and I shall tighten their schedule. Both will have to wake up at 6:00.”. Vijay responded: “Yes, that would be nice. I can take them on a nice long walk while you get the tiffin ready. Munde is dead, BTW”. “Which Munde?”, asked Malini.

As Malini took the laptop from him, Vijay got up from the bed, stretching away the laziness from his bones. He quickly grabbed a shirt: “The minister, he died in a road accident.”. Malini was asking something, but he left the room in a hurry. “Good morning amma, good morning daddy”. His father was occupying the bathroom. Vijay hated using the bathroom in his master bedroom. He preferred to squat while completing his morning affairs. And the only Indian toilet would be captured by his father. There was a daily competition of sorts between the two. At least one of them had the uncomfortable pleasure of sampling the gastronomical smells left behind by the other.

Vijay reached out for his toothbrush, and found the usually white bristles shaded blue and orange. He remembered that Priya had used his tooth brush to color her dolls. Vijay walked to the garden and got a nice neem tweed for himself. As he continued brushing, he remembered the question asked by Malini. He went back to the bedroom and said – “Munde was the newly appointed rural development minister under Modi. He died in a car crash.” Malini took a few seconds to realize that he was continuing a long forgotten thread and said – “Oh, so sad.”.

Malini decided it was enough time trying to ascertain the meaning of the shlokas she was learning. After her reading, a good half an hour got sucked into ablutions and cursory chats with her Mother in Law. Her MIL, Vijaya was busy preparing pickles to be packed into porcelain jars. Her in-laws split time between two suburbs of Hyderabad; staying for three months at the IT hub of Gachibolwi with Malini and Vijay, and the following three months at their ancestral home near Alwal, where their Daughter was living with her family. Each quarterly transition was marked with frenetic preparations. Preparations, that changed with the prevailing season. Being June, the season of the sun God, the making of pickles and home-made appadams was in progress.

“VijayaLakshmi, I am going on my morning walk, you want to come or sit there with your children”, shouted Mr Murthy. Vijaya muttered to her DIL: “40 years of marriage, and he never calls me Vijaya or Lakshmi, he always has to use the long name. We will go for our walking OK, I will be back in half an hour.”.

Malini smiled at her, and started off for the kitchen; Vijay would need to leave soon for office. She also had to get ready for her Sanskrit class. She saw Vijay and asked him: “What are you looking for?”. “Nothing, I just wanted to make Ragi malt.”. As she looked about the kitchen, her expression changed. “What is all this? How many times have I to clean this mess. Day in and day out all the vessels are used up for making some or the achaar. I am fed up with this aavakaaya and appadam making. Look at this – VijayaLakshmi garu used up all the vessels, and there is not even a vessel to boil milk now.”.  As she walked over to the sink to clean a vessel, Vijay said: “Look, they do not mean anything bad, if they did not leave a vessel, we can clean it naa. Let me clean it for you.”. “No !!! it is not just about the vessel. They are not at all dependable. Leaving for this place and that place every few months. They do not follow a schedule. Every three months, they disappear. The first month and the last get spent in a massive cooking fest. At the same time they nag me that I should go for a job and they will take care of the children.” .

Vijay replied: “We should take these things with a pinch of salt. Look, when we visit your parents, your mom troubles me with all her odd customs, and your father – oh he is unbearable. But I do not fret. We have to laugh these things away.”. This statement fired up a powder keg: “How many times do we go to my place? Once or twice a month at max. In any case, this is not about parents, it is about cooking. If you are a daughter in law, you will know how difficult it is. I cannot tell them anything.”. Vijay replied: “Look, no one is asking you to behave in a certain way. I never tell you to make my breakfast, or do the bed. I do everything myself.” Malini retorts: “Does that make you a saint? All good husbands must do that, there is nothing special in it.” Vijay replied: “That is it. You do not have to make the ragi malt or anything, I am leaving for office.”. He then corrected himself, came back and said: “I even suggested that we should buy a flat. You never agreed.”. Malini, with even more fire retorted: “You make it sound like I hate them. I like staying with them. I just, do not like this travel and cooking business. Look at the kids, they are so happy now. Priya will nag me for three months for her grandmother. The children always ask me why they have to go. And I cannot stop them from going.”.

In the meantime, there was a loud hissing sound. The milk boiled over. Malini and Vijay looked at each other. And smiled.

February 16, 2012

The dead farmer and me.

Filed under: agriculture, common man — neosurya @ 06:25

Extract from an interview in Tehelka with our Environment minister “Jairam Ramesh” [1] (Words of the reporter tho, not of Jairam).

We are inextricably linked with the dead farmer in the emerald green field. Every high-velocity water-tap we open, every light we switch on, every extra hour of air-conditioning we carelessly run, every drop of petrol we waste, snakes back to the battles being fought with blood and bullet on the ground. It has never been more imperative that we understand that.

September 25, 2010

Environmental concerns in agriculture – a very old problem

Filed under: agriculture, common man, environment, gandhi, gandhian principles, global warming — Tags: — neosurya @ 17:21

I often used to think that the environment concerns in agriculture could not be very recent. Similar concerns should have been present earlier as well. After all, the human species has been cutting down trees and establishing itself as a mono cropper from sometime now. I used to wonder how early people would have reacted, especially the farmers in India.

I have been reading Ramchandra Guha’s “India After Gandhi” [Reviews: 1, 2]. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary India. Since we are talking about agriculture here, I will put a few relevant excerpts. Guha’s book contains the following discussion between a village lever worker (VLW) and a farmer (MS):

VLW: What do you think of the new seed?

MS: What can I think? If the Govt. thinks it is good, it must be good.

VLW: Do you think it is better than the local variety?

MS: Yes, It resits disease much better. It can stand frost and rain, and there is more demand for it in the market.

VLW: What about yield?

MS: I cannot say. Some people say it is more, others say it is not.

VLW: Some people say it is not as good in taste.

MS: They are right. It is not half as good. If the roti is served hot it is more or less the same, but if we keep it for an hour or so it gets tough as hide. No, it is not as good in taste. People say that we all get very weak if we eat this wheat.

VLW: What is your experience?

MS: Many more people suffer from digestive disorders these days. Our childern have coughs and colds. Perhapes it is becasue of the new seed and sugar cane. It may be that the air has been spoilt by the wars.

VLW: And what about the new fertilizer?

MS: They increase the yield; there is no doubt about it. But they probably destroy the vitality of the land and also of the grain.

There is another quote included by Guha, a letter by Gandhi’s disciple Mira Behn dated 1949:

The tragedy today is that educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with the vital fundamentals of existence — our Mother Earth, and the animal and vegetable population which she sustains. This world of Nature’s planning is ruthlessly plundered, despoiled and disorganized by man whenever he gets the chance. By his science and machinery he may get huge returns for a time, but ultimately will come desolation. We have got to study Nature’s balance and develop our lives within her laws if we are to survive as a physically healthy and morally decent species.

The discussion between the VLW and villager was first published by S C Dube in 1958 [Links to book: 1, 2], and the letter above was written in 1949. One can imagine how far back people were thinking about the effects of chemical farming and the resultant socio-environmental issues.

For those who are new to environmental problems in agriculture, I had previously blogged about a few aspects: Bt Brinjal, Double standards in Organic food, One Straw Revolution.

India’s changing villages: human factors in community development

September 23, 2010

The Commonwealth dRain…

Filed under: common man, democracy, India, politics, social change — Tags: , — neosurya @ 09:56

A few days down the line, we would have headlines that say – India is largest Gold medal winner at the commonwealth games. Guess why??? None of the leading athletes from other countries would attend, that is why. Several top athletes have pulled out of the games – some citing health reasons, some security, and still others – “personal causes”. These are but euphemisms to hide the true cause: (i) Unscrupulous contractors have used this event as a money making mechanism. True, media may have blown some of the problems, but we have to admit that there is no guarantee of good construction. The main Stadium, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium had been constructed in 1982. Most of the costs have been toward renovation. Renovation can be expensive, but not Rs 70,000 crores. (ii) Delhi has become an unplanned mess, with the local populace considering the event not as something to be proud of, but as another Government activity that they have to bear. This event could have been held at a place like Bhopal, or Nagpur, or some other town that needed infrastructure. (iii) There is likely to be little audience for the event. Maybe the Govt. could bring in truck loads of people promising them biriyani and a packet of hoonch like they do for the elections. Some of these “common” people could even participate in a game or two – maybe high jump, to leave the stadia and run from the boredom. (iv) Organizing machinery that exudes absolutely no confidence to attendees [1].

Civil servants in charge of the event may be able to pull off a magic trick or two. But people of calibre, like top athletes rarely not put their trust in magic tricks. They trust planning and strategy. The only people adopting strategy seem to be contractors who have come up with methods to fleece tax payers. About Rs 70,000 seems to have been spent on the games [1, 2], while the original budget seems to have been for Rs 11,494 crores [1]. The games had been awarded seven years ago[1, 2]; there was no need to have delayed construction for so long. Even the smallest component could have been finished well in advance.

Like in a dark, paradoxical comedy, a saving grace could be that  Dilli has floods, and the Yamuna is a meter above the flood level. The Jawaharlal Nehru stadium is about 2 Kms from the Yamuna (View map here). It is also the stadium that would host the commonwealth games, if they happen that is. Officials behind the commonwealth games can now blame a likely sham on the Gods.

A list of athletes who pulled out: Australia: Stephanie Rice, Dani Samuels. Kenya: David Rudisha, Edwin Soi, Asbel Kiprop, Linet Masai. Jamaica: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell. England: Andy Murray, Lisa Dobriskey [1, 2]. Some of these withdrawals are due to injuries.

September 8, 2010

Cycle Yatra.

I recently joined the Bangalore Bikers Club. And the very first post got me interested. The post spoke about the “Swapathgami Cycle Yatra“. A brief note about the yatra:

it is a week long cycle trip into rural
Rajasthan. What sets this trip apart from a general cycle trip is that
we do not carry any money, electronic gadgets or first aid medicines
with us. We stop at villages along the route and find work to earn our
board and lodge.

The following you tube video is from the yatra in 2006:

August 12, 2010

Plagiarized work – honest work is dead???

Filed under: common man, education, research, science — neosurya @ 23:11

As part of my professional duties, I review research papers that are submitted to conferences. I have been reviewing some papers that were submitted to an international conference. For those unfamiliar with the research arena, conferences are places where researchers submit articles that discuss their recent projects. These articles would typically be 6-8 pages in length, usually with description of the problem, the method used to solve the problem (algorithm, math formulae, code etc), and results of testing the algorithms.

Most researchers are supposed to submit “original work” at conferences, i.e. the algorithms or code should be their own, and should not be taken from someone else. If they do take it from someone else, they are supposed to mention where they took the algorithms from. Even if part of the algorithm is from the researcher’s own work that he had submitted in a previous conference, he is supposed to mention that this part of the paper was submitted earlier.

So, there is this paper by author “X” in front of me – the complete paper has been copied from page 2 to page 5 from another paper written by author “B” in 2005. Author “X” has submitted a paper written by someone lese in 2005 as his own paper in 2010. Author “X” cannot even claim that they did not see the 2005 paper. The 2005 paper is quite reputed. If the university of author “X” has even a half-way decent policy on ethics, X would be removed from college. I can only wonder what the professor who guided this student “X” was doing.

So, here are a few ground rules when it comes to writing honest articles:

  1. Never, ever copy work from somewhere else. There was this wise-crack student in college who once asked me “how would I reference the bubble sort algorithm, it is known to every CS student”. I told him he should mention the MIT white book as reference for that. Jokes apart, unless something is as common knowledge as E=MC2, one is supposed to mention a reference. (Even for E= MC2, one is supposed to cite Einstein [1])
  2. If you need to write from someone else’s article word-for-word, please put it in quotes. If it is more than a paragraph or so, clearly indicate the start and end of such copying.

However, not everyone has their head screwed on in the right way when it comes to plagiarism. Even regular authors have plagiarized; case in point is Kaavya Viswanathan [1, 2]. If one goes by this article, she does seem to be getting more successful now. But she had to move away from writing as a career. Good for her, it was still early in her life and she was able to change to a different profession. But not everyone has similar luck. Cheating in the academia can kill one’s career. You may get that pat on the back from your boss, but when it will hit you in the future you will not be able to get back on two feet.

While I am saying all this, I also feel these days that the pressure is too great to perform. We are shifting from a society that expects well-thought out ideas, to a society that expects quick results and cool ideas. I am reminded of a video that I saw long back on “Vignyan Ashram” [YouTube]; I had blogged about it here. The founder of the school “Dr. Kalbag” says at one point (Translation is mine):

I had visited a school in the city, the principal of the school said that students in the city school were better at mathematics and science. I asked him – yes, your students are better at Math, but if my students are writing an exam, I can leave the classroom even while they are writing the test. I will be confident that my students will want to trust their own knowledge and not depend on the crutches of cheating.

October 15, 2009

Feels wierd…

Bt Brijal was given an approval for commercial cultivation in India [1, 2, 3].I did my bit by sending a fax about this, and am consciously trying to do my bit by doing other things, and writing about them.Interestingly, the Govt body employed to be in charge of genetic products has been called “Genetic Engineering Approval Committee”. It’s URL has a one line explanation about its’ role. I am curious as to why this body is called the “approval committee” as opposed to “regulatory committee” or something else. Guess the underlying assumption is that somehow GE is already going to be approved and, once it is approved there would be little there to be regulated.  Incidentally, all the safety reports related to Bt Brinjal were from the company Mahyco itself (URL).

But this is not the only thing I am feeling wierd about…

China is pretty pissed that our PM visited Arunachal Pradesh [1,2], and our media did give a whimper of response [1]. China had sometime back also started issuing visas to J&K/Arunachal residents on a piece of paper, as opposed to stamping them on the Indian passport [1]. China’s attitude reminds me of a distant cousin who used to resort to cheap tricks in order to make me look bad in front of parents.

I believe that India can be very strong when it comes to things like these. But my belief aint good enough, a billion other folks need to share the belief. Ahem… well, a few among the billions would be OK.

July 4, 2009

Times of India ads on You Tube

Filed under: ads, common man, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — neosurya @ 09:05

The media houses have some really great ads these days. The Lead India Campaign “Tree” video is popular anyhow, but here are some more:

Ad about the Indian national anthem:

Aaj Tak ad on Eve-Teasing:

Aaj Tak ad on Smoking:

A video on Bombay (More nostalgic than real tho):

TOI take on a nakli 100-rupee note:

TOI hockey ad:

Commercial cricket, not a commercial on cricket:

Indian independence day (Dont know the source):

Corruption works:

December 12, 2008

Question by the "COMMON MAN" : How wretched do I have to be?

Filed under: common man, NGO, social change — neosurya @ 05:26

This is in response to an article that was sent to me by a friend.

The article mentions the following:

===== Snippet Begins ====
“The hard reality of this country is that we are living in two Indias. One is for the rich, who matter, and one is for the poor, who are invisible,” said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer who runs Social Jurist, a group that litigates education cases on behalf of the marginalized sections of society. “In India, you can use the poor for your benefit. He should cook your meals, wash your utensils, scrub your clothes, but when it comes to doing justice for the victims of other bombings, there wasn’t this level of outrage. When poor people were attacked, the country wasn’t suddenly insecure. This is a fundamental injustice, and it has led to authorities ignoring attacks.”

Mumbai, with more than 14 million people, is India’s most populous city and has often suffered tragedy. In 2005, monsoon flooding killed more than 400 people in the city in one day, and the main victims were the poor. One Indian media study found that a fashion event got more local coverage than the flooding, which affected many slum dwellers. Mumbai is home to Asia’s largest slums.

Although India’s economy is booming, poverty runs deep. Nearly half of all Indian children are clinically malnourished or underweight, on par with the rate in Bangladesh and worse than in Ethiopia, according to UNICEF. Even as the economy has grown by up to 8 percent, child malnutrition has declined only one percentage point, to 46 percent, in seven years, according to a 2007 National Family Health Survey, part of a government report.
===== Snippet Ends ====

This article defines a common man with a bar that is too high. As per their definition of a common man, I would not be a common man. A majority of AIDers would also not be common men (or women).

The article says that train bombings only affected “really poor people”, and in saying so, it completely ignores local realities. What, really does the article think a middle class individual is? I remember traveling to college everyday in a second class compartment in Mumbai with 10-15 of my friends. I too may have been dead if the attack were on my compartment. My mom missed the 1993 blasts by a hair’s breadth. I was significantly pained by the developments of July 26th, when Mithi river combined with rains lashed the city. Several of my friends lost their apartments with everything in it. Some of my colleagues had friends who died saving lives. Articles such as these do not do justice to the individuals mentioned above. I agree that media attention for the Taj attack shows how high-society damages are being considered very important. But at the other end, it is also fashionable to highlight only the “completely helpless”. There is someone in the middle who always loses out. 🙂

This someone in the middle is the householder who owns a scooter (If he has a car, he is in pretty bad shape, since he is too filthy rich), has a mortgage on a flat (If he owns one, hard luck – the Govt should be doing nothing for him), two kids who go to school, and a job (or two) that consistently lets the family meet ends. The family tries its best to save, it is conscious of society, but its consciousness is either directed towards religious charity, or it is very busy in maintaining a tight ship. In the worst case, the consciousness is overwhelmed by the feeling of “Every man to his own – no one is helping me, so why should I help others.”. This someone in the middle is often ignored by the media and establishment.

But then, why am I writing this email to you, and not to someone else, maybe the editor of the Washington Post. This brings me to the real grudge. I have always been outraged that our establishment exhibits callous behavior when common people die. It’s reaction to the parliament attacks has been significantly different from say, the July 26th rains in Mumbai, Bihar floods, 1993 bomb blasts, Bhopal tragedy, the train bombings, and for a host of other issues. However, I also have a grudge that this person in the middle is systematically ignored by NGOs as well.

It is neither right, nor necessary for most NGOs to stick to this definition. Of course, the poor appeal as poster ads, but in the long run it is very damaging if the NGOs seek holistic and sustainable development. The issues of a middle-class individual – “access to clean water, decent roads, honest establishment, honest livelihood, nice education” are very much in line with those of “the poor”. One blame that can be placed on the middle-class individuals is that they are not (yet) 100% desperate for these resources, and have not (yet) extinguished the facilities at their disposal to guard families from a lack of resources.

I have held a household in India now only for about 3 months. In these short 3 months, I have begun to learn why it is very difficult for the so called middle-class to sustain themselves, and why they find it extremely un-realistic to help others. Few examples:

1. I have acquaintaces who hold top jobs, and would in no way fall under the category of “opressed”. Their kids receive education in a decent school amongst several other “decent” ones. The student teacher ratio is 1-60. The education he gets is nowhere close to marginally good, let alone ideal. The civics and moral science class is a heap of rubbish. What, then is the position of NGOs here?

2. I had been to the police station recently. It was incredible to note the level of apathy meted out to the ordinary police by our establishment. For the kind of facilities provided to them by our Govt., the work they do is amazing. I can only imagine what they would be able to do if someone were to ensure them security of their families and decent living condition. This police, alas will also fall below the bar of “the common man” who should be helped.

3. Several flats in Bangalore have to purchase bottled water. It has come to be accepted as a norm. The ground water is horrible. The middle class has not been told that this is sub-standard living. They will continue buying water because they do not know any alternative. I do not know if there is any solution for this.

4. Teachers in private schools do not get paid the salary they have signed up for. Almost all work for peanuts, while parents dole out significant amounts by way of fees.

There are several instances where the “middle man” always loses out and no one even likes to comment about it. Presumably, he has the ability to help himself. The latter is alas, just a presumption and very far fromt he truth. I would go further to say that if we do not help these individuals, NGOs and politico-social organizations (like Governments) are losing out on a large support base. If we can provide them with some simple assistance, some semblance of social responsibility in their daily lives, they can potentially become a sustainable force that will ultimately assist social development. This “person in the middle” has incredible resilience, the ability to help himself, and the intent to help others. But he needs assistance. The person is regrettably always ignored in the cross-fire between “high-society” and “marginalized”…

I guess if I had to summarize this in one line, I would put it as follows:
“How wretched should I be to get help from your hands?”

BTW, for those who know me better, I am not going to stop the current activities I am involved in. This entry mentions what I think is in-appropriate ethics on behalf of various establishments. I will continue my current work, and strive to create gradual changes.

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