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India: individual versus the system

जनवरी 24, 2007

A commonly highlighted predicament faced by individuals from our society is that individuals are capable of achieving many positive accomplishments as well as scaling newer heights, but the ‘system’ does not allow any such growth. The question to be asked is, how true is the supposition that this so called ‘system’ is independent of the entity of the said individual.

A society as a whole has a different set of parameters with which it can be judged, measured and understood, compared to that of the individuals that comprises the system; something akin to the macroscopic and microscopic description of a statistical ensemble of physical particles. To state it more articulately, the society has its macrocosmic existential characteristics, which might differ considerably from any particular individual. It is the average value that determines the society, and any statistical parameter can not be applied to any individual member belonging to the collection. But, for any statistical system, it is very rare and difficult for any individual entity to go beyond the three sigma, a measure of divergence from the average value. Translated to the social system, this implies that an individual can at best accomplish a few times the average value of the accomplishments of his fellow beings, but the performance of society is determined by the overwhelming majority. The key here is the ‘overwhelming majority’, which is comprised of individuals! It is the microscopic property of the majority that determines the macroscopic features.

In a lifeless physical system, an external source is needed to add energy to the system, to lift the average value. For a living social ensemble also the dominant factor of social evolution is exposure to external cultures; but in addition there is the inherent urge of human beings to seek, learn and explore that causes the individuals to seek new goals, and slowly the rest catch up with the said individual who had that uncontrolled urge to break through the fetters of social conditioning. Every individual goes through this phase in certain phases of their lives when they have the urge to break the shackles and go beyond the average value, but in the case of ‘overwhelming majority’ the already prevalent conditions overwhelm the individuals and they cower back in to the shell of mediocrity and conservativeness. And this causes the ‘system’ to curb the ambitions of the individuals. Effectively, it is the collection of individuals who had failed earlier to curve a path for themselves who effect the vicious circle of the ‘system’.

Is there a way out to break free of this vicious circle? What effect does an individual have on the system? History teaches that all path-breaking evolution or revolution, be it social, philosophical or scientific, were brought about by single individuals who made the society slowly follow their path. As an example one may cite the Amul cooperative movement spearheaded by Verghese Kurien, or more recently, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh created by Mohd. Yunus, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace last year. But this individualistic approach is a very inefficient mode to move forward and can very often lead to failure, as exemplified by the massively botched up revolt of 1857 against the British dominance which ended in dire failure as it constituted of a few individuals trying to fan the nationalistic fervour in vain, without any collective consciousness! The collective consciousness, if awakened will lead to fulfillment of life of the society as a whole, and a majority of individuals taking positive, even if small, steps will uplift the average value. The ‘system’ will be working for the enterprising individual if the majority make small advances, then we will not depend on genius individuals to chart a path for the rest to follow. This, is the essence of democracy!

The realization of the fact that the ‘system’ is built up of individuals and if the system is working against any positive individuals then we all have to bear the burden of our collective responsibility, needs to be instilled and cultivated. Each individual of our society, no matter how much reasonable or successful they may appear to be, have to make conscious efforts to change the approach to our lives, take small steps towards positivity, and that and only that will change the system. We are yet to understand the implications of democracy, the sooner we learn the better.

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Beyond the sky

जनवरी 17, 2007

One more successful flight. 10th Jan 2007, ISRO begins the year with a spectacular launch of its proven and reliable work horse, PSLV C7. And this time to launch four payloads together, two Indian and two foreign. A feat in itself!Whenever ISRO launches a satellite, I remember two events. I will tell you both of them before we look in the present launch in more detail. Year 2005, there was a lecture by Prof. Mashelkar, the mastermind of CSIR and a world renowned chemist. He was talking about the scientific achievements of India. He gave a very interesting example. At various places on earth there are satellite receiving stations which receives data from many different satellite form many different countries viewable from that station and then send them to the respective owners. He was visiting one such earth station in South Africa in 1997. He asked them to show the best and the highest resolution images they receive there. So the officials took him to one corner to show him some examples. He was pleasantly surprised to see that the images were from IRS 1C. Yes, IRS stands for Indian Remote Sensing satellite. In fact till early 1999 IRS imagery was the highest resolution imagery available commercially in the world!

The second event was in May 1998, when India tested 5 nuclear devices. And the American intelligence agency CIA was breaking its head for failing to detect them in spite of employing two of their most sophisticated and high resolution spy satellite (The Key Hole series, KH 11 particularly) to look for these attempts by India. One Indian official made statement ‘It was not their failure but it was our success.’. Because the Indians knew exactly when the satellite was in a position to see them and what would be more visible and what will be difficult to see. And they took all the care to hide what they where doing. What he meant was clearly stated by one of the CIA official as ‘You can’t fool a country by these imaging satellites which has half a dozen imaging satellites of their own and has an experience of having more than a dozen satellites on space. They know when we are watching them and when we are not.’ Well if this does not prove ISRO’s ability then have look at the turnover of Antrix Corporation, a branch of ISRO which sells the imagery form these satellites allover the world including all the developed countries. They earned nearly 400 Crore Rupees last year form these images beamed back by our remote sensing satellites.

Lets try and understand what ISRO as achieved in it’s last about 40 years of existence. A typical launch consists of two parts, a launch vehicle and a payload. The technologies involved in both are completely different with their own complexities and challenges. And yes both these businesses are expansive (though ISRO manages with less than 50 times the annual budget of NASA!). ISRO followed a two pronged strategy, learn to build the payloads like communication and remote sensing satellite and launch them with the foreign help and with foreign launchers. And meantime learn to make launching rockets starting from very small ones like SLV-3 which could launch only 40 kg payload in the lower earth orbit (nearly400 km), to ASLV, PSLV (about 2000 kg in 1000km orbit) and GSLV (about 2000 kg to 36000 km geostationary orbit). Each step, more and more complex and the technology import becoming more and more impossible. Most of the technology ISRO had to develop on their own. Yes, contrary to the belief of some pessimist Indians and the ignorant media (most of whom incidentally can’t even distinguish between making a Diwali rocket and making a satellite launch vehicle), the whole vehicle including all the intricate technologies was made in India. It is disheartening to see that some people made stupid statements that these are all copied from Russia. This is the prize our scientists get for their work and dedication. More so when for the same job in Europe or USA they will get more than 10 times the money and all the luxurious life. Anyway, this can be discussed in details later. There is no point dishonoring the achievement of our scientists and engineers by giving attention to such stupid comments. The famous Cryogenic engine development is a very good example of how developed countries like USA tried to stop India from buying the technology from Russia and finally ISRO developed it on its own at the cost of delaying the GSLV project by few years.

Today ISRO stands on the strong foundations, where it has fulfilled the dream of people like Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan , A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and many others. Now they are looking to the future with projects like Chandrayaan-I and II, GSLV Mk-II, Mk-III and Mk-IV and may be manned space mission. On the payload front, ISRO has been doing a world class work. The INSAT series of geostationary communication satellites and IRS series, TES, Oceansat, Resourcesat, Cartosat-1 and now cartosat-2 forming the earth imaging system. Out of these, TES, Catrosat -1 and II can take pictures with resolution better than 1 meter. Yes, equal to or better than the highest resolution we see on the famous Google Earth.

First, about the launch vehicle, PSLV C7. It was the tenth PSLV launch and except the first one all nine in a row are successful. The details of the design are available on the net in all the details. The best place is obviously the web site of ISRO. This time it’s job was to carry four payloads, namely Cartosat-2, Space Recovery Experiment capsule, a small 56 kg Indonesian satellite and a 6 kg Argentinean satellite. All four tobe injected in about 640 km orbit Polar Sun Synchronous orbit . And PSLV did that job perfectly. The injection in the orbit was so perfect that the main satellite Cartosat-2 had to consume much less fuel to do the final correction to its orbit than expected and hence the operational life of the satellite will be about 2 years more than planned. For all non technical people, it is sufficient to say that, this launch involved a very complex operation and only a few countries can do this. All the four objects have to separate without colliding with each other out in the space. No scope for mistake.

About the payload. The main payload was cartosat-2. It is remote sensing satellite with a one panchromatic camera which can take images at a resolution better than 1 meter. This imagery will be used by Indian and foreign customers for various applications like urban planning, surveying cities, crop estimation, etc. Also this imagery is regularly used by the Indian armed forces. (For example, in Kargil war the IRS images were used by the Indian army as well as air force to track and attack the insurgents. That experience led to to the launch of Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) in Oct. 2001 which is exclusively used by the Indian Armed forces.).

The second and a very unique payload was SRE. It is the first time for ISRO that a space probe is launched, it will stay in the orbit for about 12 days, performing some experiments and then it will be made to reenter the atmosphere. It will land in the Bay of Bengal with the help of parachutes and will be recovered with the help of the coast guards. This is the fore runner for the manned space missions. Though the reentry and recovery is not as spectacular as the launch, it is in some sense more complicated. The capsule’s exterior surface will be heated to temperatures close to 2000 oC due to the friction with the air, and obviously we are not interested in frying our future astronauts in side, the inside temperature should not cross 40 oC or so. (Well, the DRDO team has achieved this already for the Agni missile though!). This is the experiment people are looking forward to. The success or failure of this experiment is going to decide the future course for ISRO.

Related links: Web-site of ISRO, Official announcement of PSLV launch, News on CNN IBN about the launch (video)

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An Indian Diary – Economicst.com

दिसम्बर 22, 2006

It has been quite sometime since we had an informative post for our ardent readers.

What better way to break the writers block than to post … An Indian Diary -As on Economist.com

It is nice to see that we(Indians) are making news all across the globe (based on my personal experience watching the new on all the different languages i.e., Norwwgian, French, German, Swedish, English, Italian, Polish, Russian, Finnish and few more where I was not able to decipher the language). Indians are not only making news on IT but other regular jobs. Hail India… Vandemataram.

This link will provide you and insight of how people around the world think about India as a growing economy.

Merry X-Mas!!! ho ho ho

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Happy Deepawali

अक्टूबर 21, 2006

Wishing everyone a joyous and prosperous Diwali 🙂

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R. K. Laxman

अक्टूबर 20, 2006

Aged around 50 years or so, a balding head, wearing dhoti and a checked shirt with a pair of spectacles balanced on his nose. Who is this? This is you, this is me. This is the ‘Common Man’ epitomised by the great Indian cartoonist, R. K. Laxman. For years, we have woken up with the cartoon of the common page dutifully occupying his corner of the front-page of newspapers. His uninterrupted appearance has been a source of inspiration for many, a light at the end of dark-tunnel during the tough so cial times. He has been a mute spectator of all events, whether elections, scandals or plain homely domesticity. In his silence, we find an alert individual with endurance and perhaps the helplesness of the larger scale happenings. His voice is never heard. Yet, his presence signifies his attention to all events. He represents us all.laxman3.jpg

Usually, we associate cartoons with childhood and innocence. The cartoon world is one where humans and animals co-exist, the laws of physics are blatantly violated and humour is a key ingredient. It is a beautiful world devoid of tragedy and pain. For some of these reasons, cartoons have a universal appeal. R. K. Laxman’s cartoons depart from few of these characteristics, in the sense that his world of cartoons is realistic, inhabited by Indians and reflects the everyday situations that we encounter on the streets, market-places and in offices.

R. K. Laxman was born in 1924 in the cultural city of Mysore, the youngest of eight children. He graduated from the prestigious Maharaja College of Mysore. He started off his career as a cartoonist in 1947. He soon joined the Times of India and started the cartoon series ‘You said it’ through which the Common Man became a famed character. He has published several cartoon collections. He has also written few short-stories, essays, travelogues and novels. Lately, he penned his autobiography ‘The Tunnel of Time’.

The rustic fragrance of the TV serial ‘Malgudi Days’ (written by R. K. Narayan, brother of R. K. Laxman) was enhanced by the cartoons accompanying the wonderful song at the beginning and end of the serial. As we got to see Swami playing hookey to laze around and got familiar with his antics, we realised how full of life the cartoons were. I still vividly remember the cartoons. Who can forget them?

R. K. Laxman pays great attention to details. The ambience of a particular situation is brought out magnificently through a few strokes of the pencil. The beauty and humour of his cartoons lies in its simplicity. He conveys the joys, the frustrations and fortitudes of the protagonist through this black and white medium of lines and curves. The humour exuding from a cartoon usually belongs to the protagonist. His most famous protagonist is, however, a mute listener and a spectator to the events (usually political satire), the details of which are expressively brought out. The effort is enterprising and commendable, not only for the choice of the medium (cartoonery) but also for the manner of expression.

R. K. Laxman cannot be called a cartoonist alone. He has played a larger role in awakening us to the social, political and bereaucratic tangles through his quiet humour. R. K. Laxman, has successfully managed to enthuse the people with humour about the mundane happenings. Some us have been numbed by the continuous flow of scandals and corruption to make us pessimists. His cartoons have brought hope and optimism to us. To those of us who have become lethargic, his cartoons have aroused us to play a more active role than be mere spectators. All this with a few curves and lines of a skilful hand and a sharp mind!

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Our Identity – Part III

अक्टूबर 18, 2006

This article in Our Identity series is essentially in response to the following comment we received in one of our earlier posts.

Comment:The reason why foreigner’s hate about India is still we have typical traditional image. Most of the foreigners complins about overcrowding and dirty places. There are hardly clean places over India. When you go metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Bengalore, first you come across with beggers and pollution. Even though we are progressing very fast these things still keep our ‘Typical Indian’ image.

Well, this was not the main focus of the topic our article was addressing. But the points raised in this comment are partially true and of great concern. First of all what is our traditional image? Dirty cities? Dirty people? Forget about image, what is our tradition? If you are considering dirty and crowded places as our tradition then it is wrong. So let us deal with them in two different accounts. First our traditional image and our traditions. If the outside people think our tradition is dirty places then it is not their fault, they simply do not know. But it will be our fault if we do not know our tradition. Let me give an example. No body has damaged English language more than Americans did. But we in our country consider speaking US English is being modern. Can you imagine an announcement in say, Delhi station in bhojpuri or Maithili (mind that they are dialects of Hindi not distortions). Most of us will say… ”Kis ganwaar ko laakar announcer bana diya”. Shall we say the same in Los Angles airport for an American English announcement. Traditions do not fall from sky. We make them. What we do today is the tradition tomorrow. And what the rest of the world accepts about us is what we are proud of and not just proud of but the things we practice. A person walking in to flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt wearing a dhoti will be looked upon as a clown by Indians more than foreigners. But at the same time a person walking in the same flight in Bermuda is considered ”Hep”. Ever thought why? Do we ever talk in Hindi or in any regional language when we go to shopping malls in India or places like Westside, Reebok, Nike? People working there, are all Indians and I am sure they talk to their , doodhwallas, sabji wallas, dhobi etc in Hindi or in their regional languages. No, we think if we talk in Hindi across the counter it will be sign of backwardness. We, the people of our beloved India talk to each other in a foreign language. Not because it is better than the Indian language just because we are worried about our image! But just imagine if most of the customers start talking in Indian languages, in few days all the toilets in these shops will have boards in Indian languages instead of ”Ladies” and ”Gents”. When our children see us using an Indian language they will consider it more important and have a affection for it. This is how traditions are formed.

Now about out external image…. dirty and polluted cities. Just try to imagine what we are attempting. Have you seen how the crowded European cities are? Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels…..go on… Where on this earth do you have suburban train system taking more than 6 million people every day from one place to another? That to above ground meaning dealing with people encroaching, crossing tracks etc. Paris metro does less than 4 million per day though most of it is under ground. We have problem, nobody denies. Look at Paris metro station they are as dirty as any of the Mumbai suburban station, why? just because number of people. Go to about 200 km north in France place called Caen it is so beautiful, neat and clean, you will hate Paris. I have been to many European cities and the kind of crowd they handle, Indian system is doing much much better. Pollution, it is the price paid by all the big cities around the world. Question is what are we doing about it? Aren‘t we the one who first take a holiday on the election day and then just shout against the government for not doing anything (Or choose an inexperienced film actor or actress over and experienced politician?)? Aren‘t we the one who throw the garbage anywhere we want? Aren’t we the one who, while traveling in the trains throw garbage in the train? We have problems, many problems but we have one most serious problem. Do you know which one? We sit on the problem and shout about it! How many of us will shout anti government slogans if an extra tax is imposed on the private vehicle owners of the city or say the toll rate for the city flyovers is increased. Have you ever thought how much amount of tax the so called developed country population pays?

Development comes at its cost, we should be ready to pay it. Again I must stress, that what Indian is attempting is near impossible, no country attempted this and more importantly with in 60 years of autonomy. Which developed country have a history like us, with over 150 years of exploitation, torture, oppression and then so called freedom garnished with partition, injection of the poison of the religious hatred in the society, poverty for a huge population and the famous and the most potent slow poison of bureaucracy as icing on the cake? Now to make it happen we all have to push from all the fronts. We have enough people crying over the spilt milk, way too many to actually push the cart. What we need is more and more people being positive about things, because this attitude just gives us a reason and encouragement to fight, fight for a good future. For us and for our next generation. At this moment I can’t see better example than this years Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus who opted to fight rather than sit in the sofa in front of a 29 inch televisions and shout about poverty in Bangladesh. Finally, we are up to making history or I can say we are going to be history of the far future and to achieve this we need all hands. And as the President says we can and we will.

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Our Identity – Part II

अक्टूबर 15, 2006

Continued from Our Identity – Part I

But then the obvious question is “When so much is happening in India, why are you still reminiscencing the ancient glory at ‘Vande Mataram’? Talk of today’s times”. The answer to this question is, however, in another query. When can you call somebody an Indian? Come on, it’s not a tough question. A man named Fakirchand who is a resident of Kolkata drives a cycle-rickshaw to earn a living. On what basis will you determine whether he is an Indian or not? Will you check his passport (which, incidentally, he doesnt have!) or will you look at the fact that he was born in India? The answer is neither. For Indianness runs in the veins, it is in the heart and mind. Our hero of today, Fakirchand, eats roti and speaks Bengali. If required, he attempts Hindi too. He works very hard to make ends meet as he has a family to support. He works tirelessly throughout the year to collect money for Durgapuja. He even makes Goddess Durga’s idol with his own hands. He likes ‘Machcher-jhol‘ and rice. Now, imagine the same Fakirchand working in a renowned software firm in Kolkata. He spends six months of the year abroad, goes for a vacation every weekend with his wife and kids, and eats in Pizza Hut or McDonalds. Well, his explanation is ‘You see, the kids these days love pizzas and burgers!’ He doesn’t have time for Durgapuja or Kalipuja, everybody converses in English at home and all that the kids know of Bengali is ‘kichchu kichchu’. And not to mention the Pepsis and Colas which form an integral part of their meals. And so the saga continues. Now, dear reader, you decide. Which of these two Fakirchands can be called an Indian?

We must recollect that neither Fakirchand nor his kids are at fault. They are just moving with the times. The progress of India should be accompanied by progressive Indianness. I must stress, that all the products of foreign brands or identities are not bad. However, the decision of what we accept and what we don’t should be ours. I also like pizza. But under no circumstance can it be compared to the ‘khichdi’ and ‘methi ka saag’ (along with Desi ghee) made by my Mother.

Today the term ‘Brand India’ is becoming increasingly common. I feel hurt. For, this country is our Mother. The faith and devotion to her should spring from within. We need to decorate India with the same faith as that we do towards Mother Durga. We needn’t advertise to get the attention of other countries. India has been and is great. And this is because of the respect, that we, her children accord to her. We needn’t put up advertisements and hoardings. We need to clearly comprehend the role of our past glory as well as our present times. If we were prosperous earlier, why is it not so now? What have we done? What mistakes have we committed on the lanes of time?

We must remember our identities, lest we lose the battle after winning. It is possible that McDonalds will be taken over by some Indian company, one day. Nevertheless, it would not become Indian till it served ‘Sarson da saag’ and ‘Makke di roti’ alongwith fancy burgers. The day this happens, my friends, I’ll take a dip in the holy Ganges. And if this doesn’t, damn! I shall give up drinking ‘chai’.

(To be continuted… with inputs motivated by comments on our Hindi and English blogs.)