Monday, December 1, 2008

Right to Life

Every Indian is angry and asking for answers. How many more such deaths and destruction we need to go through? Nothing seems to help break this "Kumbhkarn" slumber of our people and politicians. Is it because we are utterly fatalistic and self-centered? Is it because we are too lazy to even bother to go out and make our voices heard and our ballots count? Is the constitution too weak to ensure accountability of our leaders? Is our country just too vast with too little autonomy at the states to manage a huge population and long border? Lots of easy questions but not so easy answers.

Terrorism is a modern menace that has no religion, no country and not even a specific ideology. It is almost like a occupation where there is recruitment, training and deployment to carry out a business. Of course, there are countries where it is easier to conduct such business and there will be always such islands where these businessmen are able to setup their camps. Few years back, Afghanistan, Sudan, Indonesia were the safe havens. Now, it may be Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia. So, blaming a government or a religion alone does not suffice. We need to prepare ourselves to protect our people and society from being soft targets. There are some steps that to be taken internally and there are tasks to be carried out in other countries, including hot pursuit, diplomatic pressures and multi-lateral cooperation with countries facing similar threats. Countries and societies must have infrastructure and systems that make it difficult to carry out such crimes against humanity.

Right to life is more fundamental than any other rights. If it is the lack of funds that is preventing the government from taking necessary steps, what about creating a security cess in the line of education cess? Our primary and secondary layers of security are outdated and stretched to the limits. Would the businesses and people mind paying a little extra to see a more sophisticated police force and a more pro-active intelligence? As long as the government can maintain some accountability and transparency with regards to the security cess, this may be the only way to upgrade our security. With prayers on my lips and hope in my heart...towards a more secured society!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NDTV TOYOTA Green Initiative

NDTV and TOYOTA have launched a Green Environment initiative/campaign on TV and Internet. You can take a pledge by submitting your name and email. I was surprised to see the count though. As on 12:42 AM on 2nd Nov the count stood at 8769, which I think is low. Apart from Eco facts and audio/video etc on environment and ecology, there are several interactive features to take quizzes and submit opinions on this nicely done site. I think this is a great initiative to spread awareness and induce people to preserve some of the stuff we have enjoyed for our next generations. Do take the pledge at

While you are at it, check out this nice site which has 50 ways to help the planet, some of which are more applicable for western or westernized audience but nevertheless useful to know.SHOWER WITH YOUR PARTNER is suggestion number 17! 50 ways

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poetry is History

Recently union minister Mr. Kapil Sibal was in news for an unusual reason. He had published a book of poetry! That got me thinking about the demise of poetry and poets in recent times. Poetry is almost ‘History’ now. Except for some ‘Hasya Kavita’ or ‘Humorous Poetry’ in Hindi, there is very little happening in this field of literature. I remember, when I was in school, poetry was as much a part of the English subject as prose and same thing applied to other language subjects as well. Is it the same in school curriculum now? I remember when I was in college; there was a news item in the paper about one English poet living in penury in Orissa. We had one of his poems in our curriculum and I felt sorry for him. But, I had a feeling that all poets liked to live that way and they got their satisfaction from writing. But, would such a poet want any of his students to take up that line?

I remember an incident when I was in 10+2 college. I had Oriya literature as one of the compulsory courses and there was a book of poetry in the syllabus. The various poems were well-written but were often pretty complicated and indirect in what they meant. I used to visit my uncle who is a Mathematics teacher to get some free lessons in calculus and there used to be one Oriya professor who used to visit their home regularly. I asked him once to explain me some of the poems and lo and behold, he just jumped on the chance. May be not many students were keen to study the subject in his college or he was really passionate about it. He used to spend hours discussing few stanzas and would often ask me to close my eyes and imagine the scenes. Since there was lot of disturbance from other people in the house, he would ask me to go someplace where I could contemplate in silence. Many times, I ended up in the bathroom, trying to imagine what the poet was seeing or thinking!

Unlike prose, which is fairly straightforward to read (there are some notable exceptions such as ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, considered the book of the century, which I found extremely difficult to read!), reading poetry requires a different attitude. If reading prose is like downing a shot or drinking a mug of beer, poetry is more like savoring old wine.

Poetry needs time to read, reflect and enjoy. Poetry needs imagination and indulgence to appreciate and one can not apply just everyday logic and rationality to poetry. Like an endangered species, poets and poetry need protection now. But, it may have been too late already. The computer is very adapted to write prose. Try writing a few lines of poetry and the spelling and grammar check will underline each line as mistake. That’s of course, in a lighter vein.

Be it English, Hindi or any other language, poetry was always the more celebrated art in literature. Poets were considered as romantic, charming, bold and intelligent. The poetry of Robert Frost ‘ The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep’, or that of Wordsworth ‘The solitary reaper - Behold her, single in the field,Yon solitary Highland Lass!Reaping and singing by herself;Stop here, or gently pass!’, so timeless in their beauty and so rich in meaning.

The art of poetry is too unfashionable in today’s fast world. Kids are spending most of their time in front of TV and reading habit is going down. This is not only in India but in most of the countries. No one seems to notice the slow demise of this form of literature. But, is it not really sad? Don’t we want our children to experience the feeling of reading poetry? Don’t we want them to feel the emotions wrapped up in those lyrical words? I am going to search for a book on poetry next time I am in a bookshop! I will update if I am successful.

Friday, October 17, 2008


The late night press conference by a visibly emotional Naresh Goyal, the Chairman of Jet Airways, is very significant for the Indian corporate sector, especially the aviation sector. Not only that Mr. Goyal reinstated all the staff that were recently retrenched, he put staff welfare over business economics and management strategy. He called the staff as members of family, comparing them to his 19 year daughter on many instances and asked them decide how to take care of the economic situation. Whether Mr. Goyal did it under pressure from the tremendous media attention the layoff received or from political figures, he sounded very genuine about his concerns for the company’s staff. He questioned management’s decision to cut costs by laying off staff in the lower salary brackets.

This action will of course be welcome by one and all, except those in the company worrying about the plunging bottom-line. However, time and again, it has been proved that if employees put their heart and mind to work, the company usually comes out stronger and more profitable than the competition. Southwest airline is one such example which has both employee satisfaction and profitability have always gone hand in hand. While lay-offs during times of economic downturn have been common in the IT industry at a large, Infosys, has never laid off staff for such reason. Mr. Narayana Murthy and other senior management members have always found alternates to retrenchment such as re-training and redeployment. Answering questions regarding the huge cash reserves Infosys keeps, NRN says Infosys should be able to sustain itself even if there is no business for the company in an year.

This event will definitely create tremendous pressure on other companies who might be contemplating staff layoffs as a last ditch effort to counter the current economic situation. And what about those who receive employment offers and then they are sent regret letters? Should they be entitled to some benefits as well? In a free economy employment is always at will and this applies to both sides. In India and other countries where there is no social security and opportunities for employment are not equal, layoffs would cause the kind protests we have seen in the case of Jet. In the worst case, it has led to violence and the recent killing of a CEO of an Italian Multinational in Noida is a case in point. Hence, staff layoffs have to be handled very carefully and with compassion and proper planning. I don’t know how Jet management planned the layoffs but I would avoid the following:

a. Not telling people that their jobs have been taken away till they are waiting for their transport to arrive for them to report for work
b. Not informing the employees regarding economic conditions and state of finances for the company and what actions the company has already taken and are planned for future.
c. Not informing the employees either in person or in writing till they found out from friends and team leaders about the retrenchment
d. Letting go of such a large number at one go and not reducing staff from middle and senior management
e. Not paying some kind of financial compensation, ideally three months pay, at least one month pay.
f. Lay-offs just before a major national festival like Deewali, when people shop and gift the most

Anyways, Kudos to Mr. Goyal for being a businessman with a big heart! Time will tell how this event influences the airline’s future.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mobile phones in aircrafts

Every in-flight safety announcement includes the mandatory caution against use of mobile phones as they ‘interfere with the onboard navigation system’. When phones were fewer and flyers were more sophisticated, this instruction was easily complied. Cheaper flights and even cheaper cell phones have led to 100 percent mobile penetration among the flying crowd. Making calls just before taking the flight and just after it has just touched down given the flyer-cum-owner a great sense of ‘having arrived’ quite literally. A few other factors such as a jazzy phone and a cute companion on the next seat, a latest tune as ring tone or sheer love for earphone music are in my opinion adding to increased usage of cell phones while the doors of the aircraft are still bolted and pressurized.

I have been noticing with alarm the increased frequency of these die-hard cell phone users ignoring the ‘switch off your mobiles’ instructions with as much ease as the ‘in the unlikely event of an water landing..’ instruction. When I notice such a person at close distance, not only does my acrophobia get a notch higher, I feel stupid about abiding by the instruction. Even though I feel really tempted to make a complain, the only thing I can do is just wishing that someone from the crew notices the person and censures him/her.

Have you ever noticed that the ability to complain directly reduces as the sophistication of travel increases? One does not mind throwing a few insults at a guy sitting few seats away in a bus, but, the complain gets milder if you are traveling by train (I am excluding the local trains of Mumbai from my sample space here) and even milder in air. The spectrum of complains in terms of promptness and loudness has a direct correlation with the class of travel in a train too. Of course, air travel being at the top of traveling class, one can only mutter a few things to himself or let out a few grunts towards the sky looking at the window in case of objectionable behavior like a swift push back of the front seat or not switching of a mobile phone that may ‘interfere with the onboard navigation systems!’.

So, are the mobiles really a threat to flight safety? If so, should they not collect everyone’s mobiles at the beginning of the flight, just like they collect headphones or blankets at the end? Of course, they would then have to track which one belonged to whom. A little search on the internet reveals a ton of information. I recommend the wiki article on ‘mobile phones in aircraft’ ( . Possible interference with aircraft equipments (not conclusively tested and hence left to the airlines to take precautionary step of switching off) is listed as a cause. Another interesting possibility is that the mechanism that allow cell phones to work on the ground (nearest tower picks up the signal while other towers are free to serve people near them), can impact the cellular network when the phone is over a city and multiple towers are equidistant. Of course, there is no conclusive proof about this too.

However, certain airlines have agreed to allow mobile phones on their planes using an on-board station that receives the mobile signal and transmits to terrestrial stations using a different wave length. Well, soon we may be allowed mobile phones in the aircrafts. However, I sincerely hope that it does not happen or if it does, airlines offer ‘no-mobile’ zones. Why? Imagine yourself sitting in an economy class seat on a long haul flight with passengers on your sides just chattering away! The last place free from the mobile menace will also be lost.