Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Read Technology and I Muse

I think, as I read this:

“One billion people around the globe now have access to the Internet

Mobile devices outnumber desktop computers by a factor of two to one

Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. Internet access is now via always-on broadband
Connections

In the first quarter of 2006, MySpace.com signed up 280,000 new users each day and had the second most Internet traffic

By the second quarter of 2006, 50 million blogs were created—new ones were added at a rate of two per second

In 2005, eBay conducted 8 billion API-based web services transactions.”

The above document is from the messiah of Web 2.0 - Tim O’Reilly - who is pioneering the next big thing in online technology. It, I mean technology, changes so fast that one has to run to stay in place. Technology pessimist as I am, my grouse about technology is that it has alienated man and become a devouring monster of the Godzilla kind.

So what? I am comfortable with things technical. What you see on this page are examples of the technology of the future. The “John’s shared items” are widgets imported from other sites and blogs with a single click. The ones above it are RSS syndication buttons. The links below are the latest in tagging technology. Now, what? Perpetual beta? He, he. For more, as they say, watch this space.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How Do You See Bombay?


The results of a survey I carried out on "How Do You See Bombay" is out. Fourteen people responded (thank you people!) and here are the results for you to judge.

In spite of being a dirty and badly managed city (as they say) people would still like to come back to Bombay. Is there irony there? Do you think?

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Seats, Red Spit, and Being Steve Smith

My latest Short story (Seats, Red Spit, and Being Steve Smith) appears here. Do take a look.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Old Nostalgic Picture!


I fished out this picture of mine from some old albums nestling inside a cupboard which I was cleaning. I am sitting inside my editorial den in Army and Navy Building at Kala Ghoda, Bombay. At that time (Before I started gawking into a computer screen 12 hours of the day!) I was editor of the monthly journal of the Bombay Management Association. The magazine published management- related articles and had a circulation of 3000 copies and I did all I could to make it popular. (Yes, I had the sad duty of sending rejection slips, too!)

Those were pre-computer, pre-laptop, pre-internet, pre-cellphone days (see the clunky phone on my desk) and all I had was the Remington portable you can see beside me (misty eyed!). I used to type my editorial and articles on this beat up portable which I had to sell for scrap recently, as it had rusted from disuse. I enjoyed my work of editorship and got to learn a lot about publishing as it was done then, of which more hereunder.

Manuscripts were typeset and sent back by the press in long galleys. These were proofread and sent back to be manually pasted into page layouts. These layouts were again corrected and sent to press for a final proof. This proof was again corrected, made into positives, and then into plates and printed on offset machines. All this had to be done in one month and I had a hell of a crazy schedule back then. But, I loved the work, and those halcyon days still linger in a special place in my memory.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Much Do You Love Bombay?

Yes, how much do you love your city? Or do you hate it? Test the depth, length and width of your love or hatred by answering this simple survey I created on CreateSurvey.

Off to Kerala for the Kritya International Poetry Festival


I am off to Kerala next weekend for the Kritya International Poetry Festival to be conducted at Trivandrum in the Vylopilli Bhavan Center. I have been given a slot under Indian languages. (Guess Rati Saxena the spirit behind Kritya is right in classifying English as an Indian language, of course, it is!)

The literary greats who would be attending is vast and I feel humbled in their midst. From Malayalam there the following great poets and writers:

1. ONV Kurup
2. Sugath Kumari
3. K. Satchidanandan
4. Kavalam Narayan Paniker
5. Vishnu Narayan Namboodiri
6. Madhusudan Nair
7. T. P. Rajeevan
8. Vinaya Chandran
9. Lalitha Lenin
10. Savitri Rajeevan
11. Jaya Kumar
12. Deshmangalam Ramkrishnan
13. Anita Thambi
14. C.P Aboo Becker

Those from abroad include:

1. Mahnaz Badihian - American-Iranian
2. Massimo Sannelli - Italy
3. Mani Rao - Hong Kong, China
4. Heidi Arnold - New York, USA
5. Lana Derkac - Croatia
6. Patrick Cotter- Cork, Ireland
7. Gerry Murphy - Cork, Ireland
8. Tae Ho Han, - Korea
9. Roberto Piperno – Rome, Italy
10. Peter Waugh – Vienna, Austria

In their midst of these greats I have been given a small slot. I feel both honored and humbled at the same time. Guess, a beginning has to be made and I am proud to read my poems in my home state, the state of Mahakavi Puthenkavu Mathan Tharakan, my great uncle.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs

This blog is by someone who calls himself the fake Steve Jobs (You know, the one who founded Apple Computers?The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs).

But from the style and substance of his blog, he seems to be the real Steve Jobs himself. He claims to have invented the iPhone. Who else can claim that? His blog has a page rank of 6 and - hold your breath - around 30 comments per post (when I am happy if I have it in ciphers though I have named comments "Rotten eggs and vegetable"), and (it is rumored) silicon valley adores him.

Now, who could this Fake Steve be, huh?

Rant - Why I Love to Hate the Character of Lola Kutty


I have been meaning to write this for some time, but life, among other things, got in the way. I am a true blue hater of the character Lola Kutty (for the uninitiated, she is the loud character that comes on Channel V, the MTV clone parodying all things about Malayalis). Don’t ask me why, the reasons are obvious enough.

Firstly, (this is something that gets my goat, and goatee), her accent isn’t original – though she tries very hard. The character of Lola comes out as fake. The people behind the concept have done a wrong thing by targeting a community, parodying their way of life. I think they even tend to create ill-feelings against Malayalis by their portrayal of the Malayali stereotype. If this is not a slur on a community then what is?

They had a show where a Malayali chorus was organized to sing, of all things, Boney M songs. The singers, poor Malayalis, weren’t told that this is going to be a parody on their community. This means, they were singing in all earnest without knowing that they were being laughed at. Again, if this isn’t a slur, what is?

Alex is another character who is some kind of a sidekick, a dumb one at that. He has an obsequious nature and brings Lola everything from coconut water to don’t know what, and, here again, is an extension of the parody. He is shown always dressed in a lungi and a colorful shirt and has curly hair combed into a bouffant. Do all Malayali men look like him?

Lola seems to have captured celebrities’ fancy too. At a Bollywood function, stars – Amitabh for one – was seen hugging and saying “Lola we love you.” For what, may I ask; for wrongful portrayal of a community?

I have mulled at times about taking this up with the Advertising Standards Council (of which I was some hotshot functionary) but found that it doesn’t fall within its ambit. Or, maybe, the Prasar Bharti, which controls All India Radio and Doordarshan, or, just maybe, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The fact that a community has been wrongly targeted and the show which does this has survived so far is something short of miraculous. Why hasn’t the Malayali community (usually very emotional about their culture and identity) reacted to this slur? I wonder.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Neutral Are We?

The words most bandied about on the net is "culturally neutral" and "neutral point of view" etc. So, um, are we so neutered as to be so "neutralized?" Guess it makes my mind go a bit hazy there.

None other than the online encyclopedia wikipedia wants their articles to have a "neutral point of view" so that people don't post stuff that is self-motivated, and chauvinistic. As a content writer I am instructed to write in a "culturally neutral" language, i.e., no Indian words and phrases like "time-to-time" and "do the needful."

Okay, okay, I say, I have neutered my language, polished my content to avoid all those traces of my Indian-ness, but is that what we want?

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Is Pooja of Unsound Mind?

Continuing from where I left off in the last post. The police say the woman, Pooja Chauhan (pictured below with a baseball bat) is of an unsound mind. I think this is a cover up for their inaction on her complaints. I would like to ask them a question. How did she become of unsound mind? What drove her to this "unsoundness" as they allege? Her protest was a fall back of their reluctance to take action, or, it could be a matter of "money talks."

But as it turns out, she alleged that in addition to her in-laws mistreating her and slapping her, even her neighbors joined in in slapping her. This happened to her in a situation where her husband - who promised to look after her in sickness and in health - was fully aware of what was going on. In such a situation, wouldn’t she – God bless her! – be placed under enough pressure so as to lose her mental equilibrium?

I know, truth could be causality here by, not such a huge and humungous causality. Her words have the ring of truth, and I can imagine what must have transpired there: the slaps, the abuses, the cruel words spewing from the people who should have treated her as their daughter. What if Pooja was their own daughter, in another’s house?

We tend to behave like pack animals, don’t we? And to think that she married her man for love, the man who promised to love and protect her (as the Bible says) “till death do us part.” Sorry for lapsing into mushy sentimentality here, can’t avoid it. The picture, the story, the events as it formed in my mind were too disturbing.

And, for the millions who don’t speak out, and suffer their indignation in silence, the picture of this woman in her undergarments, holding a baseball bat, this woman who has the guts to protest, should be a reminder to speak out. I don't blame her for taking this extreme step. (I am reminded of Jon Voigt in the movie “Walking Tall.”) I think she should be feted for her courage not called names.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Woman walks for justice with baseball bat in Rajkot!


And she walked, baseball bat in hand, a bag around her neck, bangles on her wrist (sign of her married status). Through the rain, the traffic of Rajkot (It's the city of Mahatma Gandhi's childhood. Gandhiji, what's happening in your country?), the puddles of water, the stares of people, wearing a white bra and a black panty, she walked. She has a good figure, would get notice anywhere, doesn't look like she has given birth, ever, so unsullied she looks.

In fact this picture (kindest courtesy: The Times of India [used under terms of “fair use”]) and the accompanying story made it to the Times of India's front page on July 5, 2007. It seems she was walking for a cause. Her in-laws mistreated her because she gave birth to a girl, and she alleged that her husband was of no help. So she had to leave house and live separately with her daughter.

She complained to the police against her in-laws. But the police allegedly didn't act on her complaint. So she had to take the extreme measure.

Imagine, just imagine, you are a woman (I am addressing men here, since I am one) with a dream of a ordinary life, getting married, bringing up children (sending them to school, packing their lunch, etc), going for a holiday or two, living an ordinary life like that of their parents.

And suddenly one day she finds that life isn't that ordinary, it's extraordinarily complicated. She is abused for not bringing enough money, abused for giving birth to a girl (no fault of her's), abused for simple things like not cooking proper food, et cetera.

Guess I have said enough.

Essay: Hypocrisy, Schizophrenia and the Wired World

Schizophrenia, Hypocrisy and the Wired World

The wired world is floating on a web of falsehood. At call centers, they aren’t called their real names, but depersonalized “Lisa” and “Sue” who, one finds, are actually “Lakshmi” and “Shanti.” That’s unfair, that’s untruthful, that’s cheating. It seems the corporates are out to cheat and grab in the guise of improving productivity. The work they insource (my own term!), is usually grunge duties that would cost a lot to get done in their own back office. But that’s the way the world is being run, and it seems the purveyors of appeasement can't do a thing about it. And, believe me it is schizophrenic: the way identities are westernized; the way youth are trained to talk and behave in an alien manner, and persuaded into thinking that being westernized is better than being what they really are, i.e., desis.

I am a networker, and like networking. I posted something online and a miscreant came and posted negative feedback under cover of an assumed name – which according to the sultans of the web is acceptable, and an agreeable practice. He attacked me (my person) and writing (even my thought process) from behind a mask of an assumed internet identity. I read the post again recently and became somewhat upset. I don’t know why he can’t cast away anonymity and show his real name, and, of course, give his honest view, as a law-abiding, committed person should. I think people such as him are ashamed of themselves, the way they are. Well, the better alternative would have been to make truce with his own identity and go ahead with his life, instead of opting for the schizophrenia and hypocrisy of his double existence.

Recently a girl from Sierra Leone asked me to add her on a chat messenger. I did. The request is quite exigent. I don’t know who this person is; her profile page is blank, but I am lenient in such matters. It turned out that her late father, who was owner of a big gold mine, had left some gold dust in some bank and she wanted me to help her by transferring it in my name. Imagine! What the heck? Why should she want me of all the people, an Indian, so many seas and continents away, to do that? Maybe, because Indians are known to be such greedy suckers. See the absurdity of her request?

There is this cartoon that illustrates the hypocrisy that prevails on the net. It shows a shady looking man with an unshaven chin, bleary eyes, bald head, wearing a vest and pajamas typing on the computer “I am a blond bombshell, attractive, having voluptuous figure and horny as hell,” and on the other side there is the hag of a woman (with whom he is chatting), typing and grinning toothlessly, “I am a macho guy with bulging biceps, six-pack abs and looks like George Clooney.” That shows how hypocritical we have become, we denizens of the networked world.

The web is a web of falsehood as our online lives have also turned out to be. There are thousands of emails I receive from Alex, Joan, Linda who for all I know could be someone in China or Philippines who have names like “Han Li Chin” and “Sung Fu Fok.” They all have offers for plans to be millionaires overnight and also, pssst, sell cheap Viagra and Cialis.

And there are these lengthy emails from Ishmael Abidi from Congo who has been left a big fortune of million dollars by his wife who is a Congolese warlord’s stepdaughter's sister. He only needs $ 1000 from me to transfer the millions in my name. Hypocrite! Can I believe him? I click and send the offending mail to my “Trash” box without much thought. Sorry, Ishmael, I am no sucker for your offer of millions.

Come to think of it, none other than the doyen of the consumer movement in India was deluded by such an offer and gave his own and his organization’s money away to get his hands on the millions. Alas! If only they were true, and not falsehoods.

With the Internet the baser instincts of man seem to have magnified, no, multiplied. The Internet is flooded with sites that offer every debauchery known to man. From weird sex to cheap Viagra and Cialis, everything is available for your credit card number and name. And there are these greedy expatriate Indians who set up sweatshops in technology parks thinking they can be the next best thing to Infosys. It’s easy to spot them. The first thing they do is upload a website that says they offer everything in outsourcing from call centers (customer relationship management, or, CRM, according to them), supply chain management (Or, SCM) to medical transcription and even online secretarial services. The more the better. The more the hypocrisy the better it is!

And, then they go about promoting themselves. The idea is to give the appearance of size, “we are big” and all that. What they forget is to pay their programmers and content writers what they pay for babysitting their children back in the US. I know because when it comes to paying for the quality of programming and content on their websites they would say, “Well, take $ 500, or, leave it.” As for buying genuine software, they aren’t bothered. They know the stupid authorities in India will never catch them.

You can find thousands of websites of such companies cluttering the web with lousy stolen content, and bad programming. If the poor writer suggests that they write genuine content, his idea, and even his content is swatted down. And, yes, to impress they even put white papers on their sites. What white papers? They haven’t even begun operations and what white papers can they write? They have stolen these too! Shows their total bankruptcy of ideas. Also shows Indians everywhere are the same, unethical, immoral and compromised. It seems the anonymity of the net offers us the chance (not the choice) to be hypocritical and split personalities.

Whatever we knew as fair, equitable and moral aren’t anymore. The Internet, the wired and the connected world have seen to that. Today the shift has been towards how much you own, how much you can get paid for some skill that you have, and bargain hard to get the most you can. If you have none, such as the poor uneducated farmer, who has none of the skills of the wired world, then it’s better that you kill yourself as many are doing.

Is there hope? Is there a way out of this schizoid existence? I don’t know. I am in no position to answer that question.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Retailers Are Coming!


And they all are going into retailing. Would the neighborhood kirana shops be going, going, gone? The Tatas, Birlas have discovered that retailing is the in thing to be in. Even Walmart is coming. Today I saw a recruitment agency’s executives in tee shirts with logo and all, giving the spiel to every youth who would listen. The cause? Yes, they are recruiting for one of India’s top business groups. The business? Retailing.

I had this experience the other day. I am moving house (since I don’t have much space in my present abode, I am reconstructing it into a two-storied building and meanwhile I have this one-bedroom flat as temporary arrangement), and this happened last Sunday as I was buying some cleaning material for the flat from the neighborhood kirana shop. Since we buy from him on a regular basis (our orders are placed on the phone and he delivers to our house, even if it is a small, emergency order for candles!), and have trusted him over more than nineteen years we have been living here. As it was also raining we were making the usual small talk.

I told him that we are moving to a nearby place. He suggested to me everything I should buy, including which cleaner is effective for the toilet, the floor, and which mop would last long and was money’s worth. I trusted his information, and all the products he suggested. He is the filter, thorugh whom I have avoided buying the soap that would give me a rash, the hair oil that would not take away whatever hair I have on my pate. I bought all he suggested because I have built this rapport with him over the years.

Is this trust, this camaraderie with the local retailer, going to die once the big retailers come into the glitzy, glassy mall down the road? I dare not broach the subject with him. But I am sure they (the retailers) wouldn’t deliver me a supply of candles in an emergency.

PART TWO

Just now I visited the nearby mall. I don't shop much at the mall, I go there to look.Actually, I find roaming in a mall very relaxing, I am at peace looking at the hundreds of styling gels, thousands of fruit juices, after bath splashes, even exfoliators (God alone knows what it is!).

The Dollar Store (yes it is called that) store manager is training the sales person. “Good evening madam, here's a special offer.” The guy isn't saying it confidently, so they go over and over again. “Say it again,” the manager says overbearingly.The boy cowers.

Then I go into the food market. I don't usually buy from here, but I am here to check how confident I am. There are aluminimum foils “Buy two and get four FREE.” I can't believe this! For ninety two rupees I am getting three hundred rupees worth. My wife would scream if she hears this, being a purveyor of special offers.

And you won't believe this: they are selling credit cards inside the super store. Yes, a girl is there beside me, eagerly filling the form, of an already ensnared customer. I buy a packet of six socks which I consider a good deal, and then move to the long queue at the cash counter.

It seems a family has bought their year's worth of moong dal, chana dal, wafers, snacks, etc. And the matron of this family and her daughter are delving into the huge cart to bring a never ending cornucopia of daily necessities. And the clerk runs out of change. So he goes hunting for change and almost fifteen minutes pass as I look this way and that. Finally to kill the time I buy a two packets of biscuits which seem cheap.

And I am done!

If this is the future of retailing, I might as well get used to it.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Indian Journalists: It's Wake-up Time!

Why do Indian newspapers and magazines shy away from in-depth coverage of issues like "farmer suicide" and "police atrocities in Jammu"? Was the question that skimmed to the surface, in a manner of speaking, when I read this article in the website of Columbia Journalism Review. Having been associated with journalism, however peripherally, well, um, I guess I can be forgiven for encroaching into this terroritory.

Read about how Indian media skip substance for style in this thoughtful article by Basharat Peer(CJR: Style Over Substance) who is now in the US.

Seems that any serious reporting on India and its problems are being done from outside of the country. Excerpt:

Meanwhile, there is another side of the ”rise of India.”It is a darker side, brimming with complicated stories that demand detailed reporting and space–in print or on air–to be told properly. In the rural areas of India, for example, thousands of cotton farmers have committed suicide after falling hopelessly into debt. It is a continuing tragedy, which has yet to find its James Agee and Walker Evans. With the exception of the detailed reporting on the subject by Palagummi Sainath, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, a Madras-based English-language daily, the story has been largely ignored. The effects of the industrial expansion on traditional, tribal-dominated rural areas are invisible in magazines and newspapers; they are mostly not interested in such grim subjects.


We have P. Sainath, who wrote "Everybody Loves a Good Drought," but we need more like him and friend Annie Zaidi who has done this excellent expose on Manual Scavenging for Frontline.

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