Around the recent gastroenteritis
scare

in Bangalore, NDTV was running a poll:

NDTV Poll on Bangalore

Then, there was this whole one hour dedicated to hearing viewpoints
from Veerappa Moily, Swathi Ramanathan and the general public
regarding Bangalore’s infrastructure.

Okay, okay, I know most of you by now are saying “Oh, come on, don’t
you have anything else to talk about? You’re so boring”. Maybe I am,
but when I shift most of my “outside” chores to the middle of the day
just to avoid traffic, and hate going out on Sundays because of long
queues for everything, it affects me and I’d like to know if the
situation can improve or not.

I liked how Swathi Ramanathan explained that the business people have
come together to pitch in their part. The way they’ve analyzed the 15
critical junctions leading to the Bangalore International Airport
which should have good roads otherwise traffic will bottle up here and
will throw us into further crisis, err okay, I’ll stop here.

It reminded me of the Singapore 1:1 Island
Exhibition

I visited on Day 12 (Jan 02, 2008) of my Singapore trip.

(To be honest, I was a little hesitant to write about this topic, even
though this is my space, my blog. The last time I wrote
something, people
wrote in to say that I’m not Indian enough because I talked negative
about our current situation and asked me to go ‘home’ to Singapore or
USA!)

Singapore Day 12 013 Singapore Day 12 031 Singapore Day 12 022 Singapore Day 12 047 Singapore Day 12 193 Singapore Day 12 101 Singapore Day 12 133 Singapore Day 12 159

You can see many more photos in my Day 12 photo
album
.

I absolutely loved their Skyline
newsletters
where
they discuss the upcoming developments. Do check out their last
Nov/Dec 2007 edition.
I can almost guarantee you that you’ll come away inspired, especially
the Design Wonders section.

It’s not so much about Singapore that amazed me, it’s the fact that
they have such a vision about the place they want to live in, and the
effort that goes into planning of such things, the importance given to
design and architecture, and finally ensuring proper execution.

And it is a seemingly open process. Visiting the Urban Redevelopment
Authority website
shows the first sidebar on
the left which says “I need info on Master Plan / Land Use Planning
/ etc.”

Maybe that’s what we need for cities like Bangalore?

It would help if things were more transparent, instead of the government
hiding facts
like a part of Lalbagh that would be razed for the metro. Or something
like what Stefan Magdalinski
did with TheyWorkForYou?

CitizenMatters.in seems to be a step in
the right direction, but at the end of the day, it’s just competing
with the hyperbolic news channels. I think a more useful idea would be
a website with a categorical depth of works happening in the different
parts of the cities, the government offices involved, what is being
done, and so on. But the website is still useful, for example, via an
article on ward works
came to know about this:

Coalition Against Corruption Guru Ravindranath Tel: 65734444

If you have noticed any governmental apathy in your area, CAC and
Guru Ravindranath will guide you in fixing things.

Question is: Would I call Mr. Guru if I do come across something?
I have this eternal fear regarding these issues about getting into
something that I’ll regret.

My favorite memories of my Singapore trip is Day 9 (Dec 30 Sun). We
went to Pulau Ubin island. What
is the only activity on this island? Cycling.

Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 023
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 038

It was fun to see people of all ages, from families to large groups of
teenagers to avid cyclists all here for the same reason. It reminded
me of Cubbon Park on a Sunday evening.

The first thing you see on entering the island is shops on either side
to rent out cycles. We went in, took cycles and started pedaling, all
in a matter of a few minutes.

Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 042
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 043

Those giant “Thailand coconuts” were simply fulfilling.

Next, we randomly cycled and ended up at Chek Jawa. We read about the
sea life conservation efforts that go on here. The highlight was the
bungalow, along with the view of the sea.

Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 051
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 074
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 056
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 063
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 065
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 076
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 075
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin

The above few dark sunset photos are courtesy of Abishek Nair (just to
make it clear that the good photos here are not taken by me).

We had become obsessed with the view here and just enjoying the
sunset. Finally, we had to push ourselves to explore some more and
return back the bikes. We even did some bird-watching (seriously).

Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 085
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 088
Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 089

I was sad to take a bumboat to get back to the mainland, but I did get
to see the planes dive to land in the airport which is right next to
the beach.

Singapore Day 09 Pulau Ubin 102

Like a broken record, I keep coming back to What are the killer web
applications for
India?
So,
I decided to make a list.

A list of websites that are useful for most people in India. But what
kind of websites am I looking at? The website should be something
useful enough to compel a person without internet access to go to
a cybercafe just to access this website
.

Here’s what I have so far:

Note: The definition of usefulness here is in terms of the concept.
However, these websites are not verified in any sense. There’s no
guarantee that they are good or even trustworthy, but I would encourage
you to check out their services if they are useful. That’s the whole
point.

I’ll keep updating this list as and when I find more such websites.

Update: Added BookMyShow, KRSTC.in, MapMyIndia.

Update on 2008 May 15 : Added Handiman

I’ve been provoked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Incident 1. It all started on Day 2 of my Singapore trip (Dec 23
Sun) when a hotel owner was too friendly. Maybe he didn’t have much
work, but anyway, he got pretty chatty with us and was asking about
how we like Singapore. All we wanted to do was eat noodles.

He started talking about his visit to India, and like most
Singaporeans, he had been on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I can
still remember the angst in his voice.

He said that the central government in India is good but the state
governments are bad. Strike 1. I had to agree.

He said that it’s not a safe place for businessmen to invest money. He
said one of his close friends made huge investment, but when the
government changed, the policies changed and the friend made a huge
loss. Strike 2. I don’t know much about such things, but I can imagine
that it is possible.

He said that India hasn’t advanced enough, there’s still too much
poverty, there’s still so much chaos. He said ‘take a look at China’.
For example, if the parents invest some amount with the government,
they’ll give back 10 times the amount in 10 years, or something like
that, and this is guaranteed by the government to safeguard the
child’s future. I don’t remember the numbers he used but I was
impressed with what he said. Strike 3.

I was beaten and didn’t know how to fight back.

I’m not a patriotic guy. I don’t go around burning boards written in
non-state languages, nor do I go around speaking only in Hindi and
refusing to speak in English. But I believe in the concept of India
as a nation and I instinctively feel that I should defend my country
when someone makes says negative about my country.

But I was stumped. I was completely caught off-guard. I didn’t know
what to say. I just nodded. I desperately looked for things to tell
him. But I got nothing. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of things
to go back and tell that hotel guy that India is a great country, but
what do we really have?

Specifically, the question is:

Post-independence, does India, as a nation, have achievements to
be proud of?

I’m not talking about our ancient history or ‘culture’. I’m not
talking about what some Indian did when he went to a foreign country,
or even someone who went out of his way to achieve something within
India (like the paeans being written about Tata Motors and their Nano
car).

I’m talking specifically about the 1. post-independence era and the 2.
‘as a nation’ part.

A week after that incident, I was still trying to forget about it. But
the same thing happened again on Day 9 (Dec 30 Sun) with the store
owner of a bookstore that Abishek and myself randomly walked into. We
had a long conversation about Buddhism and our beliefs of God and how
we pray. It’s surreal that we randomly started talking our intimate
spiritual beliefs with a complete stranger. But such is life. And then
she mentioned the same exact things that the hotel owner did. She
specifically mentioned that she was appalled at the poverty when she
went to Bodh Gaya.

Yes, we are talking about poverty, not just about the beggars on the
busy roads of Bangalore, but he fighting-for-food kind, the kind that
we saw in ‘Swades’ movie.

Incident 2. After visiting the Kaala Chakra
exhibition
,
I realized how influential India has really been, especially to most
of South East Asia, from language to politics to trade, Indian-related
stuff is everywhere in South East Asia. I used to wonder about why
Tamil is such a common language here in Singapore, and only after
I visited this exhibition, I realized that this goes back to the B.C.
ages!

Notice the irony that I got to know more about Indian history and
influence when I’m outside India.

Probably because there is such importance given to history and culture
in Singapore. But people in India have no time for such things, we are
still fighting and struggling for our basic needs.

This immediately reminded me of “Maslow’s hierarchy of
needs”
:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

We are still struggling in Levels 1-3, that’s why we are just touching
Level 4, and we’re a long way from reaching Level 5 of Self
Actualization. At least, my point of view.

Incident 3. I know there will be lots of people that say that I’m
wrong, and that everything’s fine in India. (It reminds me of Rahul
Bose in the “Everybody Says I’m Fine” movie.)

The problem is that everything’s fine as long as nothing bad happens
to you or you witness it, only then you realize how bad the situation
is.
God forbid, you end up in an accident, only then you realize the
problems with the police, the hospital, the insurance, and so on. The
situation is the same everywhere, irrespective of the aspect of life.

I don’t know how better or worse we are compared to other countries,
but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in a better situation. There is
simply no reason to! We have the money, the people, the resources…

Incident 4. I came to know recently that at a premier medical
institution in Bangalore, teachers are openly telling students that
if they don’t “help” the teachers (i.e. pay them money), they will
make sure that 30% of the students will fail!
I am not kidding
you, this is for real. Where’s the sanctity of education? Where’s
the concern for the students’ future? Where’s the concern for
encouraging future doctors (especially because the number of
doctors is already dwindling)? Where’s the concern about setting
precedents for future of medical profession? Even if they don’t
think long term, how will students afford this? I know many
medical student friends who have struggled to pay the hefty fees,
what about these students who simply cannot afford to pay bribes
to teachers?

Incident 5. Similarly, lecturers in PUC colleges have stopped
teaching in college and they tell students that they are anyway going
to tuitions. If not, they should join their own tuitions! What happens
to all those students who can’t afford it?

Incident 6. Abishek’s close friend and special effects friend Osmand
is a third-generation Indian. When he was about to fly from India to
China to visit his relatives, he was abused that he was a Chinese
person, and this for a person who’s born and brought up in India his
entire life! The difference in attitudes was telling when the Indian
immigration officer made him wait for 3 hours to prove that he’s an
Indian compared to when he explained, that he’s a third-generation
Indian originally hailing from China, to the Chinese immigration
officer, he said “Welcome home.”
Now, Osmand is as Indian as it
gets, irrespective of how it looks. Tell me, who’s the racist here?
Osmand is so fed up of this attitude that he wants to go back to
China.

(more…)

On Day 7 (Dec 28, 2007) of the Singapore Trip, I visited the
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Esplanade
can be compared to a jumbo-sized version of our own
Rangashankara but on a much grander
scale – while Rangashankara is a place where plays are produced and
played (pun intended), Esplanade is a place for all kinds of
performing arts including music.
It has a 1,600 seat concert hall and a 2,000 seat theater. It was
opened in Oct 2002 and within 5 years, it had 5000 performances and 20
million visitors.

Singapore Day 07 070

What I was impressed most with Esplanade was the story behind
it
from
the conception to its architecture. There was a ‘Passages’ exhibition
on display explaining the story and I watched 3 videos on the TV
screens and I was very inspired.

The ideas was originally conceived in the 80s by the then Culture
Minister of Singapore. However, he realized the time was not right for
a performing arts center when they’re still building a nation. In the
last decade, the same person became the Prime Minister and got things
moving. There was a long process of conceptualizing what Esplanade
stands for, and in the end they said it’s a performing arts center
for the people, and the stress on the ‘common people’ aspect can be
seen in every decision, in every aspect of the place.

For example, the weird open-glass structure was a result of their
focus on “for the people”. How? They wanted common people walking by
to be able to look inside on what’s happening and to consider it part
of their society and that they can participate as well, and not think
of it as just some building for some crazy artists. So, the structure
had glass through which people can see, but considering the climate,
the architects came up with the leaf-like structure which can be
controlled by computers to fold. The result was that during the
daytime, people can look inside as well as the sun’s heat gets inside
the building. During night, the metal leaves are closed, and the heat
remains inside. What a beautiful design! In fact, this architecture
has won many awards.

Singapore Day 07 053

Similarly, they set up restaurants inside the complex so that the
general public can use this as an excuse to visit the place. Even the
shape of the building is like the common-in-Singapore durian fruit for
the very same reason!

Durian

On Day 8 (Dec 29, 2007), I went back to Esplanade to experience the
free weekend concerts at the WaterFront called “stage@powerhouse”,
and boy, was I impressed with the local talent.

There was a performance by ‘The Rhythm Chefs’ who make music out of
kitchen utensils! It sounds stupid, I know, but seeing these guys
performing live, their music was actually catchy.

Singapore Day 08 026

Later in the night, they got the audience involved from tourists to
mostly kids who were excited at being able to bang away to make some
music together.

As I’ve written before, notice how Singaporeans make things as visual
and as interactive as possible. The crowd really liked the
make-your-own-music session.

Singapore Day 08 039 Singapore Day 08 041 Singapore Day 08 042 Singapore Day 08 043

There was also a stage show by bands such as the ‘Peep Show’ band.
They were decent but the lyrics were way too clichéd. I liked the tune
of one of their songs “I know”.
There was also a performance by a band called ‘Comic Strip’ (if I’m
not mistaken) and they were more of a big orchestra doing everything
from pop to salsa-like songs. They kept the crowd dancing by the bay,
although I couldn’t understand which language the singer was crooning
in (apparently it was English, no offense meant).

The best performance of all, was a performance of ‘Hotel California’
by a couple of 12-year old kids. We were so blown away, Abishek,
Srinivas and myself, we were just speechless. The kids were supported
by an experienced guitarist guiding them (but carefully and sometimes
slyly letting the kids do most of the music). He said “Please don’t
think that your 12-year old children or nephews or nieces just listen
to music, they can play well too. I would encourage you to send them
to Esplanade and help them learn to play music just like these
talented kids right here.”

It was interspersed with the singing performance of a teenager girl.
She had surprisingly good control over her voice and sung some popular
pop and rock songs.

I seriously wonder if I have any talent in anything that can match
these kids. Damn.

Even on the way back down the underground passages to get to the
subway trains, there were paintings and artwork by 5-year old and
6-year old kids all over the passage.

Singapore Day 08 019 Singapore Day 08 020 Singapore Day 08 021 Singapore Day 08 022 Singapore Day 08 023 Singapore Day 08 025

We need more articles like this one by Prof Dr Geetha
Viswanathan

(emphasis mine):

Makara Sankranti, also called the harvest festival or Pongal, falls
on January, 14 or 15, when the sun passes from one zodiac sign to
another. This festival marks the beginning of Sun’s journey to
northern hemisphere, called utharayana.

Homes are cleaned, white-washed, and red mud smeared along the
walls. In front of the house fresh cow dung is smeared and designer
rangoli designs made. A make-shift stove is built on the verandah
and a new mud pot decorated with turmeric leaf and rhizome used to
cook newly-harvested rice in the presence of sunshine. Sweet pongal
is prepared, offered to Sun God and distributed to all.

In the evening a mixture of roasted gingili seeds, dry coconut
copra, and jaggery is distributed to all friends and relatives along
with sugar candy.

On the third day cows are decorated after bath, their horns painted,
and body smeared with turmeric. A small heap of dry hay is burned.
Each cow is forced to cross the fire at least three times. Then
camphor is burnt and aarthi is shown to the cow, especially to the
udder and back. The cow is fed with sweet pongal and gingili
mixture.

All that is not meaningless tradition. There is hard-core science
behind it.
White-washing the house with calcium carbonate
(collected from molluscan shells) helps to kill spiders and other
insect vectors in house. Fresh cow dung in presence of sunlight
produces methane which forms a thin film in front of our house and
prevents entry of bacterial pathogens and also kills microbes. Red
mud will close all pores in the house which are breeding place for
many vectors.

Cooking rice in presence of sunlight helps to get vitamin – D for
one full year. Gingily is a good antioxidant; dry kenel of coconut
is anti bacterial agent and anti viral agent. Dry coconut has
saturated fatty acid which prevents infections. Dry coconut has
lauric acid, which is a very good antiviral agent oil in the nut
helps to rejuvenate the muscles and enhances hair growth and
premature aging of our skin.

During this season that signals the end of winter and beginning of
spring followed, is the optimum period for viral and bacterial
colony to breed. Mumps, measles causing adenoviruses breed fast
during this period. These viral infections can even cause damage to
chromosome 17 and create a chromosomal or genetic disorder which can
be passed on to next generation. Eating coconut gingili mixture with
anti viral agent helps to prevent the viral attack. Turmeric used in
pongal is also an antiviral agent.

Cowpox viruses belonging to poxvirus, foot and mouth disease virus
and anthrox leptospirosis are found to breed during this season,
which is their optimum period. These cause disease in cow and
buffalos, encephalitis infection is transmitted through milking.
Cowpox milker’s node, Orthopox virus causes infections in cows,
buffalos, mouse, monkey, rabbit, camel at temperatures between 25-
41 degree centigrade. Cowpox is absent in Europe because the
temperatures are lower than the optimum for the virus.

Crossing the fire by the cows reduces the chance of the infection;
camphor arathi will also prevent infection of theses virus because
camphor is an anti viral agent.

So it can be seen clearly that our ancestors had a good reason to
do what they did. It is time we realised that.

I’m just amazed at how our ancestors took a proactive approach to
health rather than our our reactionary approach, and that too, we
depend on artificial means like manufactured pills compared to their
simple clean natural ways.

True story.

On Day 7 of my Singapore trip (Dec 28, 2007),
Chinmay and myself were at
‘The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ shop. The lady in front of us in the
queue said this. When we heard this, both of us looked at each other,
with the look that meant “Did I just hear that right?”, and then we
burst into laughter.

P.S. Oh, and this is my first ToonDoo. ToonDoo has way too many bugs,
it took me one attempt to create the comic strip, but 15 min of 4-5
attempts to actually get it to save properly. Even now, the text cloud
in the first panel is in the wrong direction even though it was proper
when creating it.

On Day 5 of my Singapore trip (Dec 26 Wed), Abishek and myself visited
the Greek Masterpieces from Louvre
exhibition

at the National Museum of Singapore.
This was the largest collection ever to be allowed to be borrowed from
the famous Louvre museum in Paris (which you might have heard of from
‘The Da Vinci Code’ book).

Singapore Day 05 009

The exhibition was so comprehensive that I was amazed. I raised my
eyebrows on seeing a ‘Sports’ section and went on to read stuff like
this:

Untranslatable, the word ‘agon’ denotes a gathering, and more
specifically games and competitions, but also struggle, combat and
battle, a trial or a debate, and a critical moment even.
Personified by a winged man running, the notion underlies the whole
of Greek civilization which has been described as ‘agonistic’ that
is founded on the spirit of competition.

Then, I remembered that Olympics Games were started in Olympia,
Greece. Duh. But the important thing to note is that they started it
in 7th century BC! They gave sports so much importance more than 2500
years ago, and compare it to the situation today in India, except for
cricket (My theory is that cricket was made popular because it is the
perfect advertiser-friendly game ever, where else will you get a 15-20
second ad break after every few minutes i.e. an over!)

Next, I learned that theater was about politics and way to live, and
the audience was paid to attend including their wages for several days
since they would have to take off work to attend these plays!
Now,
that is a truly modern society!

Greek philosopher

There was so much more that I just couldn’t digest it all in such
a short time: poetry, sports, religion, philosophy – Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, schooling children with 3 teachers on specific areas of
life, religion linked to running of the state and city – including
patron deities protecting the city such as Athena for Athens, heroes
such as Heracles (Roman ‘Hercules’), Achilles, Ulysses, Paris, etc.,
Zeus was King of Gods, there were 12 Olympian Gods including
third-generation gods and goddesses, Alexander the Great was the
greatest conqueror of all time, Romans stole most of the Greek
artifacts since they were obsessed with Greek history and so they made
copies of Greek statues and much of what we know about Greece is
actually from these Roman copies.

Singapore Day 05 002

A very interesting section of the exhibition was the “Dress like
a Greek” section. There were a couple of robes kept, just like the
ones you see the Senators wear in ‘The Gladiator’. There were
directions in a poster on the wall. People took interest in trying it
out and taking snaps. I was amazed at how they make everything visual
and interactive in Singapore. This idea was a masterstroke in my
honest opinion, because it makes something like history that can be so
dry to be accessible and understandable for a layman. There were more
sections such as a huge wall for kids to write their own sequels to
the story of Troy (basically where Odyssey by Homer took off), and
there were many hilarious writings by the kids.

(more…)

A while ago, I was asking myself Where are the killer applications on
the web for India?

Today, when I read ReadWriteWeb’s article on The State of Innovation
in India
,
a thought struck me about the relationship between innovation and
universities. Everyone knows the story of about how many companies
like Yahoo!, Google, Sun Microsystems all started at Stanford
University, how FreeBSD came out of Berkeley University, and so on.
I hope you also know how the great Nalanda University in the 5th
century
was a hotbed of
advancements (more on that in another story).

Is it that a strong ideas culture is instilled only in a good
university environment and the ecosystem around it which includes
startups and businesses
? Perhaps this explains why there is such
amazing stuff being incubated at the TeNeT, IITM.

It reminded of an article by Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Yahoo!
Research

where he says:

India’s real infrastructure problem–with no solution in sight–is
not airports or electricity; it is the virtual nonexistence of
graduate education and research in information and other crucial
technologies. Consider this for starters: The U.S. produces about
1,400 Ph.D.s in computer science annually and China about 3,000. By
stark comparison, India’s annual computer science Ph.D. production
languishes at roughly 40. That number is about the same as that for
Israel, a nation with roughly 5% of India’s population size.

Now you may ask why is this important? That is best explained by
C.N.R. Rao, Science Advisor to India’s Prime Minister speaking about
why money is spent on moon rockets when there is poverty to address:

You cannot be industrially and economically advanced unless you are
technologically advanced, and you cannot be technologically advanced
unless you are scientifically advanced.

Amen.