August 22, 2007

MY TAKE, at a new address

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO Copy and paste this URL on your address bar;

Or, simply, Click on My Take by GVK

And I've also opened shop at Silicon India blog

August 15, 2007

A cash-for-appointment hoax

We’re not in America where they say that the resourceful can ‘pay’ their way to spending a night at the White House Lincoln’s bed-room. But then our desi mind works in weird ways. A couple of ‘enterprising’ Mumbai guys are reported to have claimed that they could arrange a meeting with the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan for anyone paying Rs.22,000. Their claim was reportedly telecast in a private channel.

I first learnt of something so preposterous from an R Bhavan denial: “This is to clarify that no such person by the name Sanjay Bhide and Niranjan Ganjawala as reportedly mentioned in the message or any other person has been authorised to bring people to meet the President." Dismissing the claim as mischievous, the R Bhavan spokesman reiterated that anyone could meet the President after taking an appointment.

Wonder how Bhide & Ganjawala came up with the idea that anyone would want to pay, in thousands, for an appointment with the President? It is not as if you tip the peon or office clerk to slip you into the office of a thanedar or tehsildar to get a file moving.

That the nation’s highest office is constrained to take note of such claim speaks of the influence of the electronic media. That a TV channel chose to telecast the cash-for-R-Bhavan-appointment claim smacks of irresponsible reporting and poor editorial judgement. Wouldn’t you say any responsible news media ought to have cross-checked such claim with R Bhavan before rushing to telecast ?

August 11, 2007

Taslima and the media

Far from condemning their attack on Taslima Nasrin a section of the Urdu media in Hyderabad is reported to have found fault with the three accused MLAs for their alleged failure to cause injury to the Bangladesh writer. An Urdu daily reportedly expressed disappointment that the assailants went into action “with nothing more lethal than bouquets”.

Frankly, I found it hard to take that anyone, notably from the media, could express such sentiments in cold print. A Deccan Herald report cited the Urdu media hitting out at the MLAs for making a hash of it, considering that the police reportedly arrived on the scene some 30 minutes after the event. For the unfamiliar the event refers to the widely televised physical assault aimed at the Bangladesh writer by an unruly group led by three MLAs at a Hyderabad Press Club function to mark the release of Telugu translarion of Taslima’s novel Shodh.

The writer who had to leave Hyderabad in haste under security escort later told Deccan Herald in Kolkata that she had been attacked elsewhere on earlier occasions, but “it was never like that Thursday (assault in Hyderabad)”. Expressing her gratitude to the press Taslima said that if it were not for the media persons at the venue, “I wouldn’t have returned here alive”.

I stand corrected. In an earlier post, based on my viewing of live telecast of the assault, I suggested that the media on the scene was perhaps less enthusiastic about rushing to the rescue of the helpless victim than capturing the attack, blow by blow, on camera. Here is what Taslima told DH interviewer Prasanta Paul: “The photographers could have just clicked on and on as they (assailants) would kill me, but see, they chose to save me”.

August 9, 2007

Attack on Taslima: Some questions

The attack on Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasrin by an unruly bunch led by three MLAs at a Hyderabad Press Club raises some questions.Extensive visual coverage of the incident was possible because of the media presence in strength at the scene of violence.

A couple of TV channels went ‘live’, with reporters in the thick of it all giving us a running commentary. The camera focused on vandals hurling books, bouquets (used as brickbats), furniture and things at a baffled Taslima. She was being shielded from taking direct hits by a grey-haired middle-aged gent who chivalrously stepped into the line of the missles-throw.

What intrigued me was that the foul-mouthed protestors made no attempt to block the photographers. They went about their vandalism in the full media glare; in utter disregard of the TV presence. This was unusual.It seemed as if they played to the camera. And the crew wouldn’t stop shooting as long as action continued. You may ask why the TV crew couldn’t put aside their camera and go to curb the attackers, instead of capturing their attack on film in graphic details. It’s a question that is easier asked by us than answered by the media persons.

The Taslima book release function was planned to be low key affair, in the presence of a group of invited media persons. Some of them were heard saying that there was no advance announcement of Taslima’s appearance. But trouble-makers apparently knew enough to mobilize a strike force. The police, on the other hand, appeared blissfully unaware, till after the attack started. Question is, how come the intelligence people didn’t know or didn’t alert the police.

Read in the papers the next morning that the assailants were charged, arrested, produced in court and freed on bail. And the visiting Bangladesh writer was whisked away by the police under security escort to the airport and put on the first available flight to Kolkata, where Taslima is living in exile.

August 1, 2007

Made-in-China toys

News is the US toy company Fisher Price is pulling out of stores in US and Canada nearly a million plastic toys, many of which are ‘Elmo’, because they contain potentially unsafe amount of lead. And those who have bought them in the last four months can exchange them for a safer toy. The toys for pre-school children were made in China.

I wonder where the recalled toys go. Shouldn’t be surprised, if they find their way to the Third World, notably ours. In recent times we have been flooded with consumer items that are sold at half the price at which our own products are made available. China-made toys look slicker than those turned out by many Indian toy makers; they are much cheaper.

In smaller towns (I know about Coonoor) itinerant traders organize full fledged exhibition/sales of China made items every other month. In Mysore a couple of dollar-shop type of outlets have sprung up to flog made-in-China products.

Factory seconds and third-country rejects appear to have a huge market in middle-class India.

July 31, 2007

MIT’s Intellectual philanthropy

Must thank The Hindu and Vijaysree Venkatraman for a lucid write-up on the OpenCourseWare (OCW), a website that provides free and unstinted access to material on some 1600 courses taught at MIT, Cambridge. Those who created OCW believe knowledge should be free and open to all; and that innovation and discovery are possible only if resources are shared. Highlights of the article:

NGOs have translated OCW content into many languages, widening its reach.

Some 150 like-minded universities, including those in China, Japan and Spain, have formed s consortium to publish their educational material online.

A Chennai user, 35-year-old businessman, is quoted as saying, “Some of the first courses I looked up were from the Sloan’s School of Management" (was then an MBA student at Madras University)”. He visits the site to learn about relativity, robotics or any topic he fancies.

The MIT initiative helps self-learners and the intellectually curious to acquire knowledge that would otherwise be possible only by joining a regular university course that every one, everywhere, cannot afford. . .Read The Hindu article . .

July 28, 2007

India of his dreams

It is not as if Indians aren’t dreamers; it’s just that parental, peer and social pressures wouldn’t let our brilliant minds deviate, in pursuit of their dream, from a straight-jacket education system.Writing in The Hindu Open Page E C Thomas poses the question: Have you come across any young person who is prepared to drop out of an IIT or IIM to throw himself into unknown waters to follow a dream?

These institutions produce excellent managers, to execute other people’s dreams, elsewhere in the world. Mr Thomas would like to know if India in recent times has invented any product that can be said to have revolutionized the world scene ? We are emerging as the biggest market for cell phone, a product that we haven’t created. Nor have we created digital camera, plasma TV, iPod or DVD. In engineering India makes products engineered by others. Our IT majors, says Thomas, are in effect sub-contractors to elite corporations. We haven’t created an innovative company such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. But Indians are prized for their execution of designs of foreign innovators. The Hindu article cites the instance of Google chief scientist Krishna Bharat who joined the company in 1999.

Mr Thomas would like to see, what he terms, a holly alliance of parents, universities, private enterprise and the state, with a hidden agenda to keep the fire of innovative spirit burning in our brilliant young minds. We must ensure that the best of us do not become available to the highest bidder... More on thes lines in Open Page.. . .

July 25, 2007

My take on Mira Nair’s Namesake

Gogol Ganguly. It takes half the run of the film for the character to come to terms with his name. Gogol. The guy who so named his son is dead and gone mid-way through the movie; and the son, so named, grown up and married, lives on to face ridicule from the partying American friends of his wife, an ABCD (America born confused desi).

Gogol, initially frustrated and, even angry, at his father, comes to accept his name, particularly after his father’s death. He gives up on his wife, who opted to retain her pre-wedding name. Presumably, she doesn’t feel comfortable with being addressed as Mrs Gogol.

What’s there in a name? Nobody seems to ask Gogol this, in the movie. His father, Ashoke had to come up with a name for his new-born on the spur of the moment and Gogol was the first name that came to his mind. He couldn’t think of any other, quickly enough; and mom Ashima, who had ‘Nikhil’ in mind, wouldn’t however name her kid without the sanction of elders in the family in India.

She tries to explain to the doctor at a New York hospital that she had written to her parents and a reply was awaited from Calcutta. Presumably, there was no e-mail then. The doctor cites the hospital rule – no name, no discharge. And that is how Gogol came to be so named by his father. Ashima accepts it in the belief that the family could always give him a better and proper name at the namakaran. .

How was Ashima to know that, unlike in her native Calcutta, a name-change wasn’t that simple a proposition in America? So the lad was stuck with Gogol, much to the amusement of his classmates at school. Years later when his son asks, “why did you do this to me, dad?” Ashoke explains the rationale for naming his son after his favorite Russian author, Nikolay Gogol.

I couldn’t catch what transpires here between father and son. I have problem with accented English, spoken at high speed. Besides, some characters in the movie mumble their lines or speak in whispers on occasions. I don’t know if many others have this problem with the Namesake soundtrack. English-speaking desis such as yours truly, who are not quite with-it with the English spoken in the US, could do with English sub-titles.

Mira Nair’s Namesake is a film with which NRIs can relate. Namesake storyline shuttles between Kolkota and New York. What happens to Ashoke and Ashima could happen to any NRI who sets up family in the U S. The film brings out the critical little concerns of desi parents with growing teenagers who have closer affinity with their American peers than their tradition-bound parents.

Mira Nair’s treatment is nuanced. How does a desi nari living in New York react to her college-going son phoning in to say he has a girl friend and that he would like to bring her home? How do parents cope when Gogol and his American girl turn up for dinner? The director brings out the discernable discomfort of Ashima at seeing her son’s gentle resistance to his girl-friend’s advances to place her hand on his lap or to give him a peck in the cheek in excitement.

It has his mother worried when Gogol’s home visits from the college hostel become less regular and his phone calls get briefer, fewer and far between. Her fears for her son were,presumably, unfounded. On learning of his father’s death Gogol has his head shaved off, as a mark of respect to the departed. When his otherwise orthodox mother tells him, “You need not have done this, son” Gogol responds, “I wanted to do it, mother”. One may read in this a social statement that the NRI youths in the US are all not totally lost to our sanskrithi.

July 15, 2007

Devi Shetty’s heart tips

Didn’t know Mother Teresa was Dr. Devi Shetty’s patient. What’s more, she inspired him to reach out to the poor and the needy. This was, presumably, why the renowned cardiac surgeon gave up his job at a corporate hospital to set up a notably patient-friendly Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore. Where, it is said, no needy patient is turned away because he/she can’t afford the expensive surgery. Dr Shetty subsidises the deserving. An uncle of mine was a beneficiary of Dr Shetty’s benovelance.

According to him, Indians are three times more vulnerable than Americans to this expensive disease. Women needn’t worry till they are 45, because they enjoy till then nature’s protection. So said Dr Shetty in a Q & A with a group of Wipro employees at a meeting arranged by the company. IT professionals among them, who worked to the US time zone, found it reassuring to have it from the guru that those who work night shift were in no way more vulnerable to heart attack than those who do more earthly hours.

I had the transcript of Dr Shetty’s Q & A chain-mailed to me. A subsequent Google search revealed it has been doing the rounds in blogs for a while. I counted 30 and gave it up. Like all other bloggers, I found that the Shetty transcript made such a compelling read that I chose to blog it yet again here. After all, yeh dil ka mamla hai.

Dr Shetty responds to a spate of questions such as whether the incidence of heart disease is hereditary (yes); why walking is preferable to jogging; how irregular food habit impacts heart; how tricky it is to differentiate between an attack and common gastric trouble; and what the heart’s worst enemy is (oil). You know what, Dr Shetty’s junk food list includes samosa and masala dosa. Read the full transcript.

July 12, 2007

Rail travel notes

Do you know of anyone who might know of someone who has said he/she liked rail food? I have yet to come across one who relished – I mean, yummy-yummied – a meal in the train. That the train food is no good isn’t worth writing about. What intrigues me is capability of caterers to serve meals in trains that are so uniformly tasteless.

I had occasion to try out rail meal during my recent travel to Vizag from Bangalore and back by Prashanti Express. The menu varied, from brijal in the day to beatroot at night for curry. There was variety, such as sambar, morkozahbu, bhaji, puri and rice. But they all tasted the same, every time.

Sambar, rasam are the kind of items amenable to fluctuating taste, even if cooked by the same hands. It has to do with the masala mix; making it a bit too hot one day, a little less salted on the next, and, occasionally, even tasty, through sheer human error. But railway cooks, it appears, are trained never to err on the side of taste. And this is an aspect of catering management, I thought, the country’s best known rail management guru ought to highlight in his talks at IIM-A and management lectures to visiting students from Harvard, Stanford or wherever.

Prof. Lalu P Yadav can tell his Ivy League undergrad disciples how caterers in India’s vast rail network manage to maintain standards of tastelessness and still sustain the demand for their meals. The server in my compartment (AS1, July 6, Bubaneswar-bound Prasanthi) turned up with dinner at 10 p m because there were 500 meals to be served that night and there was no one other than him to serve them.

Another distinct feature of our rail system that might interest students of communication management is the working of public address system at Bangalore railway station. Our railways have public announcers who tend to betray supreme indifference to aspects of oral communication such as diction, phonetics and pronunciation. And then, from where I found myself on Platform-6, one heard a clash of voices emanating from two different P A systems.

As one announcer belted out scripted messages about delayed arrival of the Brindavan Express, there was a counter voice, from another system informing us about the status of the Mysore-bound train from Jaipur. The blare of announcements, delivered in Kannada, Hindi and English, not always in a conducive tone and accent, made less sense than noise.

Yet another feature of customer service communication pertains to availability of wheel-chairs at the Bangalore railway station. My source of information on it was through word-of-mouth. And licensed porters were willing to produce a wheel-chair for you, at a price that is directly proportionate to the level of your helplessness. I paid Rs.60, beating down the initial asking price of Rs.150, to move my handicapped mother from platform 7 to 5.

Later I learnt you could get a wheel-chair from the station manager’s office by producing an ID card. There is also provision for requisition of wheel-chair by incoming passengers who can ring up a designated number. One would have thought information on customer services such as availability of wheel-chairs and the contact phone number ought to be displayed on closed-circuit TV or electronic message boards and also announced through the public address system.

Cross-filed in Desicritics

July 3, 2007

Karnataka legislators for China ?

I wonder whose idea it was to plan a China trip for the entire lot of Karnataka legislators. They add up 300 members – 225 MLAs and 75 MLCs. Their mission: a study of economic development models adopted in China. No wonder the external affairs ministry has yet to clear the trip,proposed to be made in batches this September. The Karnataka assembly speaker is quoted as saying that the China trip would help our legislators “change their mindset” towards development models to be adopted in Karnataka.

Even if our foreign office buys this story, you and I may have problem figuring out why so many of our legislators need to go abroad for a change-of-mindset. Understandably, China appears to have made remarkable progress, development-wise. So can we, if we have the political will and can effectively implement projects. More importantly, unity of purpose among legislators, divided by their party or caste loyalties, can work wonders. If only they learn to put economic interest of Karnataka above the interests of their caste, community or political party, we can be in a position to tell China a thing or two about fast-track development.

I share the speaker’s contention that legislators need a change of mindset. But do they have to go to China for this? Can’t we accomplish this change at lesser than the Rs.6 crores the foreign trip would cost the Karnataka tax-payers? Mercifully, the CM and the deputy CM are reported to have opted out of the proposed trip. Their entourage of officials and security squad may have to forego an opportunity to visit the Great Wall.

June 19, 2007

Father’s Day at the St. Francis

I don’t know about other parents, but my response to any suggestion involving spending money is to ask my son, ‘can’t we do without it’? This was how I reacted when our son and daughter-in-law came up with this plan of our spending the weekend in San Francisco to do the sights. Couldn’t this be done without spending money on hotel? After all, we live in San Ramon, less than a hour’s drive to San Francisco.

I was evidently missing out on something. June15-17 was a weekend for celebration – of Ravi-Meera’s wedding anniversary. It was Father’s Day weekend. And then our son’s son Siddarth, who completed 18 months this weekend, had to visit the aquarium and take a ride in a San Francisco tramcar.

It turned out to be our weekend to remember. It is not every day you get to stay at Westin St. Francis, overlooking the Union Square; a hotel that has been witness to history for the last 100 years. Putting us up there was Meera’s (daughter-in-law) idea. And Siddarth enjoyed the rides in the bubble-top elevator, in which we went up and down, often, between the lobby and our rooms on the 17th floor; and, at times, to the top floor at Level 32.

St. Francis is a heritage hotel. It played host to delegates at the 1945 UN founding conference. Greta Garbo had stayed there. So had Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The hotel has a MacArthur suite, so named to celebrate Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s stay at the St. Francis. A TV travel channel documentary recalled how St. Francis came to host Queen Elizabeth II. The queen who usually stayed in the royal yacht Britannia on her overseas tours had to be accommodated on shore because of rough weather conditions during her visit to San Francisco.

The Clintons dined there when in town. Actor Robin Williams, a San Francisco resident, could be spotted dining at Michael Mina, the hotel’s signature restaurant. So they said. I couldn’t bring myself to walk in there to check this out. Dining there could set you back by $100 plus per person. The four of us took to our rooms sandwiches and salad from Cheese Factory at nearby Macy’s; and parceled pizza from a Powell St. eating joint for lunch to be eaten at the Union Square.

I don’t know how much it cost us for the two-day stay. But room rent at the St. Francis couldn’t come cheap by any standard. I got a sense of the price level at the place when I discovered that a bottle of plain water cost $ 7. A six-minute overseas call made from the room would run up your bill by over $60. I ordered some roses from the hotel florist. The bill: $84 and 32 cents. I have the precise figure because the sales girl handed me back 68 cents when I paid out $85, in tens and five-dollar bills. If the florist found me weird, she didn’t show it. I must have been the only hotel guest who got away without tipping.

Cross-posted in Desicritics

June 13, 2007

Why Mysore?

Because it has a million residents with nothing much to do.Other than Infosys training centre a few small software companies there is nothing in the city. Its educated population need to go out of town to work.

Commute time for those locally employed is rarely more than 10 minutes.

Low cost of living.

Office space in Mysore is five times cheaper than in Mumbai; 43 times less expensive than Manhattan.

These are said to be the reasons for a US legal process outsourcing firm – Smith Dornan Dehn (SDD) Global Solutions – to set up shop in Mysore. But then the same factors apply to hundreds of other town. The company chairman Russell Smith is quoted in The Economic Times as saying his familiarity with Mysore had to do with yoga training.

Mr Smith, who learned yoga from Pattabhi Jois, said he decided to set up his LPO company after three yoga-learning visits to Mysore.The Mysore office located at Saraswathipuram handles legal work relating to leading entertainment companies in the US. The clients include Sony, HBO, a couple of British TV companies, the Clinton Foundation; and the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. The yoga institute is founded by Pattabhi Jois, whose yoga students include several celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Madonna, William Dafoe, Donna Karan. SDD is a Manhattan-based law firm.

June 10, 2007

NRI parents in the US: A life in slow motion

I have books to read, 24x7 Internet access at home, a collection of movie DVDs, cable subscription to desi TV channels, and 17-month old grandson Siddarth to clown around with. And yet, life in San Ramon, California, isn’t quite like back home in Mysore. It is not that I miss Mysore; it is more that I had expected much more from life in San Ramon. Creature comforts are okay. But there is only so much you can read during the day; only so long you can spend in front of a laptop. You get bored. You lack the stamina to keep pace with a grandson, making you go round and round to the chime of ‘Ring around Rosie’.

I may not lead any more active a life in Mysore. But I rarely find myself on loose ends in India, as I do in the US. Weekdays here can be bit of a drag;feel as if my life is being played out in slow motion. I feel like Siddarth’s toy train running out of battery. Apparently, many other NRI parents face this slow motion syndrome, which is not the same as life led at a leisurely pace.

This is evident from a post I read the other day on the Craigslist by someone from Sunnyvale, who is planning to engage NRI parents in the San Francisco Bay Area in group activities. After an e-mail exchange I learnt that the initiative comes from a public spirited NRI, Sundeep Chauhan, who says he has come across very many NRI parents in their 50s and 60s going through life in the US in relative isolation. Their working sons/daughters are not able to devote much time for them, except in the evenings and weekends. Weekdays of many NRI parents are marked by empty hours of waiting for their kith and kin to come home.

Sundeep attributes the slow-motion syndrome in NRI parents to ‘culture shock’ and the fast-paced working life of others in the family. He reckons that a support group to address the community needs of NRI parents would help them spend their US visit in a more fulfilling manner. Sundeep believes that group activities such as meetings to share ideas and interests with like-minded people and group outings to places of interest during weekdays could help.

This is our sixth visit, of my wife’s and mine, to the US, in as many years. We have seen it all and done all things touristy. At my age (68) doing the sights no longer interest me, though I have fun lazing about, with family on a sunny Sunday afternoon at San Francisco Union Square, over a glass of white wine, trying to keep pace with Siddarth running amok chasing pigeons.

The key is in grabbing as much family time together as possible. As I see it, the only reference point to my US visits is my son and his family. And if I don’t get to spend much time with them, I feel dissatisfied, disappointed, and, at times, defeated. That my son and daughter-in-law are not at hand whenever I feel like a gupshup puts me off-key. What makes it all the more frustrating is that I need to rely on them even for mundane things, such as visiting the local library or a used-books fair.

It took me a few visits to accept the fact that my grown up kith and kin have their own lives to lead. And that I am not the centre of their universe. Realizing this simple but tough-to-accept reality has made life a lot easier for me and, hopefully, for them. For visiting NRI parents, the point is not whether life is more conducive back in India than in the US. It is not an issue of Mysore versus San Ramon. I would like to have it both ways – live in India and also be able to visit often kith and kin in the US. San Ramon, for me, is a strange town where my only reference point is my son and his family.

Another aspect of life in the US for NRI parents has to do with their self-image. They might have been somebody big and important back home - a chief engineer, senior journalist, a chief secretary or a renowned businessmen. When in the US they are having to lead a life of relative isolation and social obscurity. They don’t get the kind of recognition to which they were accustomed back home, even from friends and colleagues of their US-based sons and daughters.

A 70-year-old NRI parent in Palo Alto who was a psychiatrist in a leading Mumbai hospital is quoted in San Jose Mercury News as saying, “In India I was in charge. Now, I don’t do anything; have to ask my daughter for money to go to the barbershop. It’s awkward”.

Reference: Indian Parents Association Yahoo Group.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics

June 2, 2007

Watergate, the unreported story

June 17 marks the 35th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. And America isn’t planning anything to mark the occasion. This may be because Americans do not know much about Watergate. A survey by a US TV channel some years back reported that a third of the respondents said they were not familiar with the scandal that drove President Nixon out of office.

Watergate brings to mind in most of us in the media the names of Woodward and Bernstein. It was the story that turned the two Washington Post reporters into media celebrities, though scores of other Washington-based journalists from several other publications contributed to the uncovering of the Watergate scandal. Lesley Stahl of CBS, in her memoirs – Reporting Live, writes that Watergate had glamorized journalism as a profession.

Hollywood immortalized the Woodward-Bernstein story in All the President’s Men, featuring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the lead. Lost in all the myth-making was the fact that it was the US courts and the Congress that had played the crucial role, not the press. Yet an impression was left that the press had single-handedly driven President Nixon from office, giving media an aura of invincible power, writes Lesley Stahl, who was in on the Watergate story right from the start. Those in the media know enough to realize the limitation of its power. Newspaper and TV coverage do not alter the course of history. Reporters and columnists can nudge the pace of pendulum in its swing, but cannot reverse the swing of the pendulum.

Watergate, however, changed the way the media reported people in power. According to the CBS reporter, it ushered in a swarm-around-'em mentality where reporters and cameramen hounded people related to a developing story. Considerations of public dignity and decorum are thrown to the wind in the pursuit of a story.As Lesley put it, Franklin D Roosevelt’s wheelchair and John Kennedy’s women had gone unreported because newsmen in their times respected and protected the President’s privacy. Watergate brought an end to the protections.

Writing of her experiences Lesley Stahl noted that she got assigned to Watergate because there was no one else her junior available in the newsroom.The story then was seen as a third-rate burglary at the Watergate office complex. Incidentally, CBS was the only channel and Lesley Stahl, the only television reporter that covered the early court appearances of those arrested for the burglary. As a result Lesley's first 'scoop' in her reporting career came when she and her cameramen bet the competition by telecasting the first picutres of the Watergate burglars.

Lesley’s complaint was that finer points in her reports and exclusive findings about the accused often went unreported on the CBS radio. Her superiors in the CBS newsroom, who relied more on the print media,didn’t think much of the Watergate story that was, at that stage, not even being covered by The New York Times. Lesley was the first to report that the burglars were from Cuba, with phony passports; and they had in possession wads of hundred-dollar bills, consecutively numbered. But her reports rarely went on the air.

As Watergate story got bigger CBS weighed in with a senior correspondent, relegating Lesley Stahl to be his number two. Her input was used by the prime Watergate correspondent who, at times, neglected to give credit for Lesley's contribution.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics.

May 19, 2007

When my deo spray posed a threat to America

I don’t know which colour-coded alert (orange, yellow, blue or black) is now on in America. But with my every visit to this country, I learn about new threats to its homeland security. I was careful this time not to keep my nail-cutter in the shaving-kit as part of my hand baggage during air travel. The last time I did, the officer at the security check (Hong Kong airport) took the nail-cutter away before I could board the flight to San Francisco.

They were after my shaving kit this time as well; at the security check-point in Seoul (during transit) the man picked out my deo-spray and said, “No, not allowed”, before tossing it into a thoughtfully placed trash-bin. Toiletries so collected at airport check-points can keep the shelves always filled at Chennai’s Burma Bazaar. The US federal security bans carrying gel (more than three oz) in any form in the hand-baggage.

It is on such occasions I miss my wife. She has a way with the airport security officials. During our last visit to the US together we had our baggage scanned on arrival at San Francisco and I watched helplessly a customs official rummage my hand baggage and pull out a plastic container with betel nuts. As he was about to toss it into the bin my wife spoke up on my behalf. “It is supari,” she said, “we take it after meals for easy digestion”. The man saw sense in it, and asked my wife if there was anything else we were carrying. “No”, she said with a straight face, while I knew she was carrying rasam powder, milk sweets and banana chips.

This time my wife and I traveled on different dates. While I lost my can of deo-spray my wife had breezed through the airport formalities with her Mahalakshmi sweets and assortment of other eatables for her pregnant daughter-in-law and beloved son.

My son Ravi, who travels frequently within the US, says they were more considerate at domestic airports. Once at San Jose when he told the security officials he didn’t want to lose his after-shave gel. They offered to courier his can of gel to his residence at San Ramon. He wound up paying the courier charges ($ 10), which was more than what the gel had cost him.

My wife’s complaint is that I am anxiety-prone. My anxiety is that, unknown to me, my wife packs in sweets, eatables and curry power in supreme indifference to the restrictions at the US airports. My telling her about such baggage violations, sniffer dogs and the trash cans at the airport security checks has little impact. I get silenced by her saying, “I will take that chance, so long as you don’t blurt it out to them”. So I let my wife do the talking. I can’t bring myself to telling people at airports, ‘we’ve nothing to declare’, particularly when I know not what my wife'a baggage had that didn't show up on the electronic scanner.

Cross-posted in Desicritics and Zine5

May 11, 2007

SOFTEN: Infosys staffers' initiative

IT professional S L Manjunath e-mailed the other day asking if I could help him identify some localities of the poor who might need the used clothes his friends on the Mysore Infosys campus had collected. First, I thought it was rather naïve of my young friend to have come up such request. Because, the poor are found everywhere in our country. I thought all that Mr Manjunath and his friends needed to do was step out of their swanky campus to look out for them.

On reflection I sensed their problem. Not all poor people need be needy for the kind of clothes Mr Manjunath and friends wish to distribute – old jeans, branded shirts, skirt and tops, and salwaar-kameez. Handing them out at random to alms-seekers in front of temples may not be a good idea. I have seen well-to-do devotees doling out their used clothes to the poor lined up in front of Raghavendra temple on Thursdays. In most cases the takers are not the end-users. And the discarded clothes find their way to the neighborhood flea market.

Mysore Infosys is an exclusive township, housing some 4,500 company trainees, who come from all over India and abroad for a 16-week training course. Many of them, given to an upscale lifestyle, often discard clothes and things they sparsely use. Manjunath and a group of his campus residents hit upon the idea of reaching out to the needy with clothes they collect on the campus.

They formed a Social Forum to Enable the Needy (SOFTEN), initially to help the economically disadvantaged children in Mysore’s corporation schools to acquire soft-skills such as proper communicating and analytical abilities and improvement of language skills, notably, English. During the current school vacation SOFTEN plans to run a ‘soft-skills’ course for the benefit of deserving Class X students from some local corporation schools.

Presumably, the idea for collection and distribution of used clothes is a SOFTEN spin-off. In advanced countries they have Salvation Army and thrift shops through which the collected clothes are distributed. Collection of clothes and other useful items from those on Infosys campus would be easy, given the initiative of spirited township residents such as Munjunath. The problem is in evolving an effective distribution system.

If an operating system with a clothes collection centre on the campus, and distribution outlets in the city, can be put in place in Mysore, it could serve as a working model for Infosys and other IT corporate townships elsewhere in the country. Orphanages and old age people homes would be natural outlets for consumer useables. Public-spirited individuals and institutions that can spare show-room space and a couple of volunteers could come forward to set up used-clothes outlets, run by volunteers.

NGOs such as Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), Rotary and Lions Clubs, Institution of Engineers (which routinely rents out space for sales of books, garments, handicraft and other consumer items) can designate space for SOFTEN’s distribution outlet, where the poor and the needy could go to pick up the clothes they need.

It has been my observation that NRIs, notably young professionals, are given to discarding clothes, shoes and other serviceable consumer items as they go out of fashion, or when new styles and models are in the market. It would help if each NRI were to set aside five kg (out of their total baggage allowance of 60 plus kg) for bringing their used clothes on their every trip to India. The parcels of clothes they bring in could be deposited in drop-boxes set up at airports, to be picked up by the NGO coordinating distribution among the needy.

Crossfiled in zine5 and Desicritics.

May 8, 2007

Karnataka ban on lotteries

Those opposing the ban appear to have no credible case. The best Arunachal Pradesh (which petitioned against the official notification) could come up with in the Karnataka High Court was 1) It was a small state, with the state-run lotteries being its main source of revenue; 2) The state has made infrastructure investment in Bangalore for a lotteries distribution network; and 3) Lakhs of people, including the physically challenged, were dependent on lotteries trade.

The stress on the physically challenged wouldn't be lost on the handicapped,who are unlikely to be pleased with such crude attempts to plead their cause. Anyway, for most sellers commission from sale of lottery tickets can’t be their main source of income. Haven’t we seen children hawking lottery tickets in street corners?

A state, however small, that has to rely on lottery trade to run its affairs can hardly be considered a viable administrative unit..

April 30, 2007

Remembering Krishna Menon

The handful of people who still care will mark his 110th birthday on May 3, writes Shashi Tharoor in his latest column devoted to V K Krishna Menon. The man who was seen as Nehru’s blindspot didn’t endear himself with very many other politicians, presumably, because of his reluctance to suffer fools gladly. As Mr Tharoor put it, Krishna Menon’s approach was not calculated to win friends.He died a forgotten backbencher, without even a political party to call his own.

The only visual that comes to mind of his funeral (I was then a newspaper reporter in New Delhi) is that of his body laid out on a truck being surrounded by Madhavan Kutty of Malayala Manorama, Blitz Raghavan (I believe) and a few others.Known for his carping comments the man had a delightful way with words. He was fond of telling his British friends, “You know why the sun didn’t set on their empire? Because God didn’t trust the British in the dark”.

Shashi Tharoor wrote that his father had helped Krishna Menon set up the India Club at The Strand, right across the street from the Indian high commission in London. It was a place where one had masala dosa and tea at prices affordable to young Indian newsmen. The club was also known for serving Southie meal, notably rasam. The cook there, as the story goes, was specially brought by Krishna Menon from Tanjore. Have you heard this one, Mr Tharoor?

April 24, 2007

Can we visualise a self-governing Bangalore?

Union finance minister, Mr P Chidambaram, has come up with a radical idea to make Mumbai a truly global city. It needs greater autonomy and better governance, if it has to deliver on good housing, roads, schools, water, and all the rest of the items that give a place a global city status. An experts committee on Mumbai as international financial capital has said Mumbai needs to be seen across the world as a welcoming cosmopolitan and cultured metropolis capable of accommodating a large number of expatriates.

Isn’t this the kind of vision many have for Bangalore? Mere location of a number of IT companies and BPOs do not make a Silicon Valley, as our consul general in San Francisco, Mr B S Prakash would tell us – ‘Silicon Valley is not a point in the map but a state of mind’. A defining feature of Silicon Valley, according to him, is ‘affluence in the air but with no signs of stress or striving’. We can’t say this about Bangalore, can we?

If we set up an experts committee on Bangalore as a global IT capital, it wouldn’t come up with anything very different from the findings of the Mumbai committee. Mr Chidambaram’s observation on greater autonomy and better governance was made at a conference organized by the Finance ministry and the Confederation of Indian Industry to discuss the experts committee report.

April 18, 2007

It wasn’t a kiss, says The Times of India

What Richard Gere did to Shilpa Shetty on stage in New Delhi the other day wasn’t a kiss. It was a peck, says The Times of India, making a finer point. And here we were, the uninformed, getting hot and bothered, protesting, burning effigies and shouting hai, hai slogans without as much as knowing a peck from a kiss. Now we have it from TOI, quite unambiguously, and I quote, “About the latest case of Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere, it must be clarified that it wasn’t a kiss, which is meant to be planted on the partner’s lips”.

“It was a peck,” adds TOI, “which in many countries is a normal way to greet each other, and not a sexual act”. It wasn't an S-act, agreed,; but it wasn’t a normal greeting either. Shilpa herself admits it – ‘Richard went slightly overboard’. People elsewhere in the world who peck each other by way of normal greeting are not usually seen bending over their partner in close embrace, while working on her cheeks, both sides, more than once.

The Times(Mysore edition)story – Curb national pecking disorder - carries a picture showing Richard, bending over Shilpa, in a ‘pecking’ position. Says the photo caption,‘The kiss that has nation up in arms’. Nit-picking apart, the newspaper story, played up on Page One, has it, “in a situation where the law is vague and the general public apathetic, the moral brigade seems to be usurping the space’. Shouldn’t that be read as ‘morality brigade’?

Anyway, the thing about TOI is that it gets down to the basics, just in case its readers are clueless even four days after the event, which has been played out in newspapers, TV channels and by bloggers (including this one). I can’t think of many other newspapers that would have given thought to the possibility that the millions who read the Gere-Shetty story and viewed visuals on TV and the Internet, wouldn’t have applied their mind to draw a line between a peck and a kiss.

Where TOI lays it on the line is in this sentence – ‘even the slightest of pecks can raise a furore in the land of the Kamasutra and Khajuraho. Correction, my reporter friend, we’re now known as the land of call centres and the Bollywood that gave the world the song number – Choli ke peeche kya hai. And I have a problem with the TOI report that says bizarre public reaction (to ’a slight peck or a mere brush of the lips’) is not something peculiar to India – ‘it seems to be a sub-continental malady’.

Such needless comparison, that in no way furthers the story, may not go down well with our neighbours. I doubt if the story would have played out in this manner, had a comparable incident happened in Pakistan or Bangladesh. I don’t know if TV channels there would have shown the tell-tale video clip, which fueled widespread public protest. One can’t imagine such incident happening there, in the first place. And in some parts of the world, the pair involved would not have got away with it, and survived to tell their tale to the media.

Cross-posted in Desicitics .

April 17, 2007

Some questions for our media

Fixing an emergency water pump at K R Sagar calls for celebration on two counts: -
1)That they managed to install the pump, at last; and
2)that the pump will ensure regular water supply in Mysore even during the peak of summer, when KRS water level dips below the 72-ft mark.

The scheme for installation of an emergency pump was sanctioned in Sept.2003; and the work was promptly handed over to a private contractor, who was to complete it by April 2004. A media report refers to the three-year delay, without any explanation. The delay is attributed to ‘various reasons’.

Well, what are these reasons? Wouldn’t anyone want to know? Did the authorities take action against the contractor, who remains unnamed in the newspaper I get. Should such person's identity be protected by our media?

The scheme, when sanctioned, was estimated to cost Rs.1.5 crores. What has it cost eventually? One would have thought the media would raise these questions with the authorities. If officials stonewalled reporters,it is understandable. What is not understandable is media’s apparent indifference. Now there is the Right to Information Act for the media to tap. Maybe, it is a hassle. The answers we get at the end of it all may not be satisfactory. Never mind if they don’t all answers. Media should try.They can do a story on how legislation works.

April 16, 2007

Civic 'shramdhan'

I wonder how Suryadevra Ramchandra Rao would have handled the situation caused by contamination of central water storage tank that supplies water to Mysore. That it has been in a state of neglect for years became public knowledge following recent media exposure through a citizens’ initiative led by ex-MLA Ramdas. The city corporation has since hired 150 men to clean up the tank and as a result water supply from the tank has remained suspended for the last three days and stay that way at least for the next three days.

With a more responsive civic administration the task could have been completed by now. The thought crossed my mind on reading about the Surat civic body chief in Sunday Herald. The way Surat under S R Rao coped with citywide garbage pile-up in the wake of the 1994 floods speaks of a responsive civic administration that inspired people to cooperate with the civic body. Mr Rao’s operating principle is “step out from AC to DC” (that is, from air-conditioned offices to daily chores at the street level).

The mantra motivated the staff and inspired citizens’ groups that mobilized residents into, what they called, ‘Rao sena’, to help in civic efforts. In Mysore our neighborhood netas can mobilize crowd in a jiffy for dharna, gherao or thod-phod of public property. If only they could use their crowd-forming potential for a civic shramdhan, our cash-strapped municipal corporation could have saved money on hiring labour, and accomplished the tank clean-up sooner.

The ex-MLA deserves our thanks for exposing this monumental official neglect. Had he followed up his good work by moving in his supporters for helping out with the clean-up of the water tank, the ex-MLA would have earned his credentials to become my MLA once again.

April 12, 2007

Talking (Kannada) Movies

Cine Maatu, a Bangalore forum of film enthusiasts, plans on screening a series of award-winning Kannada movies that are hard to find in the theatres/TV. As the forum convenor, Mr B R Gopinath, told The Hindu reporter Bageshree, the best of our films are less accessible to viewers than the works of international masters.

Among the movies the forum has lined up for showing, on the second weekend of every month, are Beru, Phaniyamma, Kanneshwara Rama, and a host of others accessed from Girish Kasaravalli’s personal library. His own movie, Nayi Neralu, is expected to be shown at the inaugural of Cine Maatu. The film maker has thrown open his vast collection for the benefit of film enthusiasts. It is an idea worth emulating by others with a personal video library.

Apart from bringing in quality movies for interested viewers, the Bangalore film enthusiast forum would arrange interaction of film makers with audience following every screening. Such interaction would be of interest to a far wider audience, if only the forum convenor could arrange to put out typescript of the proceedings on the web. The forum members could create an e-group or a website, to archive interaction with makers of award-winning films.

Films such as Beru, themed on degradation of values in the bureaucratic system and corruption in the administration, have relevance. One would like to hear from its director P Sheshadri about how he came to choose the theme and the hassles he had, if any, filming/distributing it. Sadly enough, the film has not got the kind of exposure it deserves. I recall journalist Krishna Prasad once wrote in his Deccan Herald column that at a special screening in Shimoga the award-winner Beru drew an audience of two. Yes, there was a turnout of just two persons for the show.

This must be an all-time record. Can’t wait to see how many Beru draws at the Cine Maatu screening (due April 15). Convenor’s contact number – 9242523523.

Title of this post has been copied from BBC World, with my apologies to programme producer Tom Brook.

April 11, 2007

Our man in San Francisco

Heads of Indian missions abroad are seen as remote figures, working at reports to South Block from behind closed doors in posh offices. They are usually seen showing up at public 'do's' – R Day flag-hoisting at NRI gatherings, tape-cutting to open an exhibition of works by a visiting artist – and heard holding forth at Indo-So-and-so Friendship Society meeting or a chamber-of-commerce seminar inaugural.

So, it wasn't with much expectation of a response I e-mailed our Consul General in San Francisco Mr B S Prakash on the need for an NRI/consulate initiative to donate desi books/CDs to public libraries in the US. This was a year ago. To my pleasant surprise he promptly mailed back thanking me for my interest, adding that he felt nice hearing from someone from Mysore. Mr Prakash did M A (Philosophy) from Manasa Gangotri and taught at Maharaja's College for a year before joining Indian Foreign Service. In his college days Mr Prakash was a keen debater in Kannada; recalls that among his partners in debating was Shubhachandra, now a professor in Jainology dept., Mysore University (Professor, are you reading this?)Ambassador Prakash(so ranked,in diplomatic hierarchy) admits to being nostalgic about his Mysore connection;his Gangotri days.

More recently, when I drew his attention to a particularly touching tribute to Poornachandra Tejaswi by a 16-year old Bangalore girl, Mr Prakash reminisced – "For me, in the seventies, totally caught up with the magic of navya, Tejeswi's writings were a welcome relief . . . that he was Kuvempu's son, and yet so different was another cause for marvel". I reckon we haven't heard the last word on Tejaswi from Mr Prakash, who runs a column in where he writes on literature, arts and lifestyle.

More articulate among those in our diplomatic corps write on lofty issues pertaining to international relations, global terrorism. Mr Prakash does it as well, for The Hindu edit page. He is equally proficient in writing about his experience in California. Mr Prakash's Rediff.Column gives one an insight into the man, his flair for writing and his mundane interests. He watches "a fair amount of TV, all kinds, movies, series, news, views, sports and scandals".

His recent piece – Get up and get rich – was triggered by a TV show featuring Donald Trump talking money. He can write knowledgeably about Barry Bonds, Bollywood stars. And about A R Rahman – didn't know that he was born in one faith, and a family crisis made him turn to another, making a Dileep kumar, an Allah Rakha Rahman.

Invited to preside over a Stanford University music festival evening when the music maestro was honoured, our envoy did his home work on Rahman. Which gave him material for a Rediff.column, with references about our reigning movie Khans and Rais and popular songs – Chaiya, Chaiya, Taal Se Taal Mila.

Mr Prakash takes in his stride someone using his web-space to take a swipe at the consulate, because no one picked up the phone when he called or many of the consulate e-mail responses are automated. My experience on this has been refreshingly different. Anyway, what has it all to do with Mr Prakash's writings?

Someone else asks, 'As CG, does Mr Prakash have nothing better to do?' He appears to have in mind a stereotype image of a diplomat. I would say the likes of Prakash have an edge over other less well endowed career diplomats. His reputation as a lifestyle writer can only help him widen contacts and give a human face to CG's office that is generally associated with issuing visa, stamping passport extension, and taking care of visiting dignitaries from India.

We have had writers, journalists and poets posted as heads of mission. Poet and essayist Octavio Paz was Maxican ambassador to India, John Freeman (ex-New Statesman) served as the UK high commissioner in New Delhi. Our journalists and columnists have represented India. I can think of three – Prem Bhatia (Kenya), Dr K S Shelvanker (Sweden), Kuldip Nayar (UK).

Cross-posted in Desicritics

April 10, 2007

CM and government officials

Mr H D Kumaraswamy heads a government in which, it appears, he cannot rely on his own officials. His complaint is that bureaucrats, far from addressing people’s problems, do not even deem it necessary to bring them to his notice.

CM says, if only the officials were responsive to public issues, he wouldn’t need to hold janatha darshan and go on night-stay in villages to get an idea of the extent of the problems such as housing, sanitation, water supply education and healthcare. Addressing a meeting of about 100 officials – DCs, zilla parishat CEOs, dept. secretaries – CM observed our officials could do with some compassion, a mother’s heart, as he put it.

This is in sharp contrast to the tough talking the CM did on earlier occasions. Whether or not his change-of-heart call works with officials the chief minister appears to have had a change of mind in coping with non-performing officials – threat has given way to an appeal.

Bringing Montessori into mainstream education

It’s good, it is holistic, and is child-friendly. And yet Montessori is widely seen as experimental, with parents and education policy makers not quite willing to accept it as mainstream school education. A report in The Hindu says the system has been adopted in just 10 schools in Bangalore, Chennai, till the fifth std.

I didn’t know Bangalore has an institute of Montessori studies, which has trained nearly 100 teachers in the past decade. A couple of teachers from the institute spoke to the media about the positives of the Montessori system. Every child works to his/her own time-table. The focus is on hands-on method of learning; on laying the ‘right foundation for blooming to happen’.

That’s fine, but does it get children the kind of grades they do, with the rote-based system? This is what concerns most parents. And this is why they prefer to put their children in conventional schools, where they are encouraged to rely on coaching classes and guidebooks to get through their exams. Does the Montessori Institute have an answer to such parental concerns?

The answer lies with the government. It needs to take a policy decision to have all primary schools in Karnataka adopt the Montessori method. The government school teachers could be suitably retrained.

Meanwhile at the Bangalore institute they are reportedly conducting seminars on ‘Understanding Montessori’ for the benefit of anyone who cares to attend – teachers, parents, social workers, child psychologists. Check out their website. Contact – .

April 7, 2007

Is this media ‘silly season’?

Those in the media know of, what is called, ‘silly season’ when hard news is hard to come by and reporters contrive news stories to keep themselves in print. When I set up a media blog with young friend Anand Balaji we would remember to sponsor an award for the silliest story of the season, comprising a citation plus a basket of Ooty carrots.

Among nominees for this category would be this Page One story in The Hindu (Bangalore) with the headline – ‘How safe are IT professionals working in booming Silicon City?’ Isn’t that a mouthful for a newspaper headline? The recent murder of software engineer Manoj Kumar has thrown up this all-important question, says the story, and cites statistics to substantiate the reporter’s statement. Readers are told there have been three such murders (software guys) in the last two years.

The news report speaks of “a notion that professionals from (IT) companies are increasingly becoming soft targets for criminals”. This is bit of a stretch because the suspects in all the three murders are said to be first-time offenders, not hardcore criminals.

The Hindu story is bylined. I don’t wish to name the reporter, as the focus here is on the story, not the reporter. It is not the reporter alone who can be held responsible for this silly story. The sub-editor (do newspapers still have one) who is accountable to the published text has evidently not exercised his news judgment The guy who gave the headline must have been particularly blank-headed to have come with something so bland as the ‘how-safe-is-it’ headline. And then the late-night editor, or whoever decides on page one stories, must have been hard put to it to find anything better for the page one bottom-spread slot.

April 6, 2007

Arguing India

Argumentative Indians are everywhere. Four of them - from New Delhi, New York, Toronto and Reading, UK – have clubbed up to set up a blog to argue it out. They are drawn from varied fields – college teacher (Debjani), chartered accountant (Kaiser), university professor (Ananya) and newspaper woman (Ishani). A four-line statement of purpose that goes with their group blog – Arguing India – says the idea is to understand India, appreciate her myriad contradictions through arguments and contestations.

My contact in this argumentative group is Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Associate Professor (political science) and Director, International Secretariat for Human Development, York University, Toronto. I have been in touch with her, in the sense I keep sending her alert mail on posts I wish to share with others, and Ananya has been unfailingly prompt in appreciation of my gesture. I haven’t got to argue with her, yet. The professor is said to be ‘passionate about arguing’.

Her group blog, in its statement of purpose, raises provocative questions:Is India a democracy (at all)? Is she booming (in real terms)? Does the caste system still exist? Come on, Ananya; the real argument is over the quota system, which, some would argue, represents a radical role reversal of castes in political terms. Brahmins are now the quiet ones, with so-called lesser castes making all the noise.

And then, the arguing bloggers ask, ‘Is ‘Water’ an accurate representation of India’s reality? If it were so, why wouldn’t India have adopted the movie as the country’s official Oscar nominee? I have flogged my prejudices in my blog, and in Desicritics. Perhaps,Ananya could make a reference to my take on ‘Water’, to only put a bit of polemics in Arguing India.

April 4, 2007

The ‘flat world’ effect

The Hindu carries a revealing story on Bangalore fruit marts where California grapes, Chinese pears and Washington apples compete for shelf space with desi varieties. This, presumably, is the ‘Flat World’ phenomenon to which Thomas Friedman and Nandan Nilekani refer when they talk of leveling the playing field. I get a few other messages from The Hindu story that deserved a byline of the reporter who did it.

1)Bangaloreans, by and large, prefer desi fruits because of the price advantage.
2)There is no appreciable price difference between apples from Shimla (Rs.90) and the ones imported from the US (Rs.100). Which, I reckon, means that transportation costs of sending apple from Shimla is nearly as much as the expenses in air-freighting it from Washington. The message here is that the produce from Shimla can do better, sales-wise, in Bangalore with a streamlined transport, and better packaging and cold storage facilities.
3)I wonder if the ‘playing field’ has been 'leveled' enough, for apples from Shimla and organges from Coorg to find their way to the fruit marts in Boston, Brisbane and Bejing.
4)There is a sting in the tail of the media story. It refers to a Basvanagudi fruit stall owner who flogs desi apples with stickers saying, ‘From USA’. A 'flat world' side-effect?

Our media news priorities

Karnataka government has suspended 157 doctors for staying away from work, health minister R Ashok told the legislative council during question hour the other day. That most of them were disinclined to work in rural areas is no less significant. The minister also informed the House that 14,770 posts remained unfilled in the departments of health & family welfare; the dept. of ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy; of unani, siddha and homoeopathy; and the dept. of drugs control. Didn’t know our government had so many departments.

An acute staff shortage in government hospitals doesn’t make headlines. Deccan Herald carried this info under ‘At a Glance’ column, clubbing it with two other items on a Town Hall dharana by a group of Hindu activists in Bangalore against alleged religious conversions; and a road accident claiming three lives in Arsikere. The Hindu published it under Karnataka news-briefs.

So much for development journalism. To quote blogger Viju, giving her reason for taking to blogging, “It (mainstream media) has no room for what I love; development journalism”

April 3, 2007

Coping with copying in exams

Karnataka education minister Basavaraj Horatti has decreed that SSLC candidates found copying would now be debarred for three years, instead of a year or two as was done earlier. This is a deterrent insofar as the students planning on copying in exams would now think thrice (not just twice) before taking the plunge, besides upgrading their anti-detection skills. It has been established that copiers are usually smarter than exam invigilators.

The (mal)practice has now become a joint enterprise involving students and unscrupulous teachers. Recently it was reported that 52 Bangalore SSLC candidates had their answer papers replaced with ghost-written ones, in as many as five subjects - Kannada, English, Hindi, Math and science. That they managed to get this far before detection speaks of lapses in the system. We’re dealing here with a candidate-examiner collaboration on an organized scale. Three school headmasters are reported to be in custody and six others face criminal charges.

Debarring candidates – whether for two or three years – makes sense only for those who are found out. But then candidates who are determined to copy and the teachers willing to accommodate them abide by the 11th Commandment – ‘Thou Shall Not Be Caught’. So long as we press on with the current exams system, copying wouldn’t go away. The only way to fight the menace is, perhaps, by reinventing an exam system in which copying would be pointless. Open-book exams may well hold the key. Would it work in all exams?

Educators and policy-makers ought to think of devising a system in which students are tested, not so much for what they know on a given issue or subject, but for their knowledge on where they could find relevant information. In the age of information overload propensity to identify right sources, presenting relevent information in context, and doing it all within a specified time assume importance. Info is free; packaging it in answer papers takes intelligence and gets the grades.

Here is a thought, how about an Internet-driven exam system? In which candidates (with laptops in ‘hotspot’ exam centres) could browse the Net to get answers.On test would be their presentation skills and propensity to identify sources tap-able for answers. Candidates would be required to list their sources for the benefit of examiners. I know this system would not be compatible with all SSLC subjects. Math is one I can think of, where an open-book approach wouldn’t work.