Monday, May 31, 2010

Do your bit for your environment !

From Deccan Herald - Sunday Supplement dated 30th May 2010
for World Environment day
by Aniruddha Sen Gupta (The writer is the author of ‘Our Toxic World’, a graphic guidebook to hazardous substances in our everyday lives.)

Ways out of waste
For complete text of this article, please refer to the link -
Below are some vital excerpts from the article -
The important thing is to become conscious of your consumption. Do you really need that thing you’re buying, or can you do without it? If you can’t do without something, can you find it in a form that has the least environmental impact? And once you’ve used it, is there some way you can deal with what’s left behind? These are questions you have to ask yourself all the time.
Here’s a checklist that you can follow:-
- When you go shopping, make sure you have enough bags for the different kinds of products you are likely to buy. That way, you won’t come back with unnecessary plastic (“the bane of our lives”, as Raj puts it). If needed, even take along newspaper, and get the sabziwalla to wrap things in it.
- Avoid packaged and processed food. Besides reducing waste, you’ll also be doing your body a favour.
- If you’re buying meat, fish or other ‘wet’ produce, take along a closed utensil that can be washed and reused.
- In all circumstances, avoid the use of bottled water. This is one of the biggest and most damaging scams the developed world has perpetrated, and is burgeoning into a huge problem for us as well.
- At home, segregate all waste into organic and inorganic.
- The organic waste can be composted, and the compost used to nurture your plants or your neighbourhood’s.
- For the inorganic waste, locate recycling options.
The thing about the world is, it’s an intricate tapestry of the living and non-living, in which you are just one small element. There’s the most important reason to act now. It’s not just the planet — your health and your life are also at constant and grave risk from the environmental disaster that has been brewing. And with none of these do you get a second chance.


Six months back, I would have stared at the above checklist blankly, scoring a neat zero. Currently, I must say I fare better and pass some critical requirements.

The change was not easy, it took time for a sudden urge to become a mandatory everyday process that I could not afford to forget.
The beginning to this change was totally lethargic with the excuses “I don’t have the time to keep this all in mind, who will remember to do all this and what/how is my action alone going to help?”

My Bangalore home is near a big market area in Tippasandra and a 2.5 km walk from my earlier office. It was in my evening routine to walk down from work, grab groceries, fresh from the market for my daily needs. I would be back home with my purchase of vegetables, fruits, greens, milk and eggs, in addition, a total of at least five plastic bags of varied sizes.

This went on for months until Viswa found the multitude of plastic bags at home irksome. He clearly loathed this unhealthy trend and kept insisting I buy a market bag, a big and sturdy one that will conveniently replace these plastic covers.

Again, I tried to dodge - I cannot carry the market bag in my office backpack, there isn’t enough place for it. I have to first walk home, get the market bag and then walk again to the market, get back and make food, in evening where I am truly hard pressed for time, why cause delay by this detour? Change is never easy and crib free.

Though initially for a month, I carried the market bag purely on Viswa’s insistence, always afraid he should not get angry with me, the practice, later, became volitional.
We have always had discussions on environmental changes, how times have changed in Bangalore since we landed in 2005, how plastic is a big bane. These conversations made me realize that I was not stretching too much to do my little bit to save our environment. In fact, there was no hassle at all.

The sight of Ulsoor lake or any water body – be it Cooum river in Madras or Hussain Sagar Lake of Hyderabad stifled with plastic bags of various colors and mineral water bottles was worrisome. There was more plastic in them than water and this plastic will not degrade. It will remain for years, after centuries, after you and I die and leave this world. It was clear that too much damage was done and that very little time was left to reverse it.

A not so pleasant experience to start with, turned into a compulsive habit. I always planned purchases of groceries and therefore always had the time to pick my bag and walk to the market, well prepared. We keep separate bags, one for greens (coriander/curry leaves/chillies), one for other vegetables and fruits; have containers for any wet food, say coconut malai/jackfruit pieces etc. These cloth bags are easy to maintain, to wash and dry and very sturdy. The shopkeepers are happy to see I refrain from overuse of plastic bags. There were signs of appreciation from them, other customers see me refuse plastic bags, stand for a while and think. I am not sure what they think but I hope it is for a positive change.

Moving forward :

Coming to separation of organic from inorganic stuff, this is a vital habit I picked up from a long exercise. When trashing, I had to think for a moment, put vegetable/fruit or any organic waste into the dustbin, carefully transfer the empty bottles (plastic/glass) to a separate bag which at the end of a month would find its way to radheewala along with a bundle of newspapers. The organic garbage was collected every day morning by the garbage collector authorized for our area.

This separation process seemed to be a painful process in the beginning. There have been many instances where I dumped an empty sauce bottle in the dustbin meant for daily organic garbage quite absent-mindedly. These initial errors were corrected by Viswa, my constant monitor. He would find an empty talcum powder plastic pack, an empty squash bottle, catch me red handed and I could offer no excuses. I would hang my head down and say – “Sorry, it really did not strike me”. I have grown out of this problem by constant and careful practice. Now the separation task has become a casual attempt that does not require any pondering. Actually, if one seriously wants to do a little bit for saving our environment, these are the easiest things and the least he/she can/must do.

Viswa and I undertake many trips to Chennai over the weekends to visit our parents. For an overnight journey of 6 hours, we ensure that we carry a small bottle (a 500ml soft drink PET bottle that already exists at home from previous purchase) filled with water from home. This way we avoid buying bottled water from the station. Many people buy a 1-litre water bottle for a very short journey, leave it at home, buy another one again when they hit back to Bangalore on Sunday. When we are leaving from our homes, we can ensure, we carry some water we need for the trip than buy packaged water from the station and add to plastic bottle conundrum.

The World Environment Day is on June 6th. One thing is certain, the present condition of our environment is solely because of our (human) activities. Animals, birds and insects lived harmoniously before and still want to live in harmony with us. Only human beings have displaced and altered the environment drastically. If destruction was by us, then the repair work also needs to be done by us.

We took less than a decade to worsen the condition of our environment, we cannot correct it by observing just one special day. The effort has to come from all of us and for a sustained period, may be for many decades. The beginning might be small and appear insignificant but when it becomes a compulsive habit, a way of life for everyone, it will pave way for a beautiful and better world tomorrow, for us and for our children.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We are (virtually) never alone

I would'nt want to miss this article.
William Deresiewicz writes essays and reviews for a variety of publications. He taught at Yale University from 1998 to 2008. He has written the article below -

January 30, 2009
The End of Solitude

What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.
So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn't say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That's 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she's never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she's never alone.
I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she'll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?
To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, albeit one restricted to a self-selected few. Through the solitude of rare spirits, the collective renews its relationship with divinity. The prophet and the hermit, the sadhu and the yogi, pursue their vision quests, invite their trances, in desert or forest or cave. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you, and the divine word, their pretensions notwithstanding, demurs at descending on the monarch and the priest. Communal experience is the human norm, but the solitary encounter with God is the egregious act that refreshes that norm. (Egregious, for no man is a prophet in his own land. Tiresias was reviled before he was vindicated, Teresa interrogated before she was canonized.) Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism, a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom. The seer returns with new tablets or new dances, his face bright with the old truth.
Like other religious values, solitude was democratized by the Reformation and secularized by Romanticism. In Marilynne Robinson's interpretation, Calvinism created the modern self by focusing the soul inward, leaving it to encounter God, like a prophet of old, in "profound isolation." To her enumeration of Calvin, Marguerite de Navarre, and Milton as pioneering early-modern selves we can add Montaigne, Hamlet, and even Don Quixote. The last figure alerts us to reading's essential role in this transformation, the printing press serving an analogous function in the 16th and subsequent centuries to that of television and the Internet in our own. Reading, as Robinson puts it, "is an act of great inwardness and subjectivity." "The soul encountered itself in response to a text, first Genesis or Matthew and then Paradise Lost or Leaves of Grass." With Protestantism and printing, the quest for the divine voice became available to, even incumbent upon, everyone.
But it is with Romanticism that solitude achieved its greatest cultural salience, becoming both literal and literary. Protestant solitude is still only figurative. Rousseau and Wordsworth made it physical. The self was now encountered not in God but in Nature, and to encounter Nature one had to go to it. And go to it with a special sensibility: The poet displaced the saint as social seer and cultural model. But because Romanticism also inherited the 18th-century idea of social sympathy, Romantic solitude existed in a dialectical relationship with sociability — if less for Rousseau and still less for Thoreau, the most famous solitary of all, then certainly for Wordsworth, Melville, Whitman, and many others. For Emerson, "the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society." The Romantic practice of solitude is neatly captured by Trilling's "sincerity": the belief that the self is validated by a congruity of public appearance and private essence, one that stabilizes its relationship with both itself and others. Especially, as Emerson suggests, one beloved other. Hence the famous Romantic friendship pairs: Goethe and Schiller, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Hawthorne and Melville.
Modernism decoupled this dialectic. Its notion of solitude was harsher, more adversarial, more isolating. As a model of the self and its interactions, Hume's social sympathy gave way to Pater's thick wall of personality and Freud's narcissism — the sense that the soul, self-enclosed and inaccessible to others, can't choose but be alone. With exceptions, like Woolf, the modernists fought shy of friendship. Joyce and Proust disparaged it; D.H. Lawrence was wary of it; the modernist friendship pairs — Conrad and Ford, Eliot and Pound, Hemingway and Fitzgerald — were altogether cooler than their Romantic counterparts. The world was now understood as an assault on the self, and with good reason.
The Romantic ideal of solitude developed in part as a reaction to the emergence of the modern city. In modernism, the city is not only more menacing than ever, it has become inescapable, a labyrinth: Eliot's London, Joyce's Dublin. The mob, the human mass, presses in. Hell is other people. The soul is forced back into itself — hence the development of a more austere, more embattled form of self-validation, Trilling's "authenticity," where the essential relationship is only with oneself. (Just as there are few good friendships in modernism, so are there few good marriages.) Solitude becomes, more than ever, the arena of heroic self-discovery, a voyage through interior realms made vast and terrifying by Nietzschean and Freudian insights. To achieve authenticity is to look upon these visions without flinching; Trilling's exemplar here is Kurtz. Protestant self-examination becomes Freudian analysis, and the culture hero, once a prophet of God and then a poet of Nature, is now a novelist of self — a Dostoyevsky, a Joyce, a Proust.
But we no longer live in the modernist city, and our great fear is not submersion by the mass but isolation from the herd. Urbanization gave way to suburbanization, and with it the universal threat of loneliness. What technologies of transportation exacerbated — we could live farther and farther apart — technologies of communication redressed — we could bring ourselves closer and closer together. Or at least, so we have imagined. The first of these technologies, the first simulacrum of proximity, was the telephone. "Reach out and touch someone." But through the 70s and 80s, our isolation grew. Suburbs, sprawling ever farther, became exurbs. Families grew smaller or splintered apart, mothers left the home to work. The electronic hearth became the television in every room. Even in childhood, certainly in adolescence, we were each trapped inside our own cocoon. Soaring crime rates, and even more sharply escalating rates of moral panic, pulled children off the streets. The idea that you could go outside and run around the neighborhood with your friends, once unquestionable, has now become unthinkable. The child who grew up between the world wars as part of an extended family within a tight-knit urban community became the grandparent of a kid who sat alone in front of a big television, in a big house, on a big lot. We were lost in space.
Under those circumstances, the Internet arrived as an incalculable blessing. We should never forget that. It has allowed isolated people to communicate with one another and marginalized people to find one another. The busy parent can stay in touch with far-flung friends. The gay teenager no longer has to feel like a freak. But as the Internet's dimensionality has grown, it has quickly become too much of a good thing. Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive — though contact, or at least two-way contact, seems increasingly beside the point. The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? How many Google hits does my name generate? Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.
As a result, we are losing both sides of the Romantic dialectic. What does friendship mean when you have 532 "friends"? How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven't seen since high school, and wasn't all that friendly with even then) "is making coffee and staring off into space"? My students told me they have little time for intimacy. And of course, they have no time at all for solitude.
But at least friendship, if not intimacy, is still something they want. As jarring as the new dispensation may be for people in their 30s and 40s, the real problem is that it has become completely natural for people in their teens and 20s. Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can't imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology — or to be fair, our use of technology — seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others. As long ago as 1952, Trilling wrote about "the modern fear of being cut off from the social group even for a moment." Now we have equipped ourselves with the means to prevent that fear from ever being realized. Which does not mean that we have put it to rest. Quite the contrary. Remember my student, who couldn't even write a paper by herself. The more we keep aloneness at bay, the less are we able to deal with it and the more terrifying it gets.
There is an analogy, it seems to me, with the previous generation's experience of boredom. The two emotions, loneliness and boredom, are closely allied. They are also both characteristically modern. The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest citations of either word, at least in the contemporary sense, date from the 19th century. Suburbanization, by eliminating the stimulation as well as the sociability of urban or traditional village life, exacerbated the tendency to both. But the great age of boredom, I believe, came in with television, precisely because television was designed to palliate that feeling. Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do, it is only the negative experience of that state. Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one's lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. In fact, it renders that condition fearsome, its prospect intolerable. You are terrified of being bored — so you turn on the television.
I speak from experience. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn't have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world.
So it is with the current generation's experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn't call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn't always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn't always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.
And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing "in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures," "bait[ing our] hooks with darkness." Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude.
But we no longer believe in the solitary mind. If the Romantics had Hume and the modernists had Freud, the current psychological model — and this should come as no surprise — is that of the networked or social mind. Evolutionary psychology tells us that our brains developed to interpret complex social signals. According to David Brooks, that reliable index of the social-scientific zeitgeist, cognitive scientists tell us that "our decision-making is powerfully influenced by social context"; neuroscientists, that we have "permeable minds" that function in part through a process of "deep imitation"; psychologists, that "we are organized by our attachments"; sociologists, that our behavior is affected by "the power of social networks." The ultimate implication is that there is no mental space that is not social (contemporary social science dovetailing here with postmodern critical theory). One of the most striking things about the way young people relate to one another today is that they no longer seem to believe in the existence of Thoreau's "darkness."
The MySpace page, with its shrieking typography and clamorous imagery, has replaced the journal and the letter as a way of creating and communicating one's sense of self. The suggestion is not only that such communication is to be made to the world at large rather than to oneself or one's intimates, or graphically rather than verbally, or performatively rather than narratively or analytically, but also that it can be made completely. Today's young people seem to feel that they can make themselves fully known to one another. They seem to lack a sense of their own depths, and of the value of keeping them hidden.
If they didn't, they would understand that solitude enables us to secure the integrity of the self as well as to explore it. Few have shown this more beautifully than Woolf. In the middle of Mrs. Dalloway, between her navigation of the streets and her orchestration of the party, between the urban jostle and the social bustle, Clarissa goes up, "like a nun withdrawing," to her attic room. Like a nun: She returns to a state that she herself thinks of as a kind of virginity. This does not mean she's a prude. Virginity is classically the outward sign of spiritual inviolability, of a self untouched by the world, a soul that has preserved its integrity by refusing to descend into the chaos and self-division of sexual and social relations. It is the mark of the saint and the monk, of Hippolytus and Antigone and Joan of Arc. Solitude is both the social image of that state and the means by which we can approximate it. And the supreme image in Mrs. Dalloway of the dignity of solitude itself is the old woman whom Clarissa catches sight of through her window. "Here was one room," she thinks, "there another." We are not merely social beings. We are each also separate, each solitary, each alone in our own room, each miraculously our unique selves and mysteriously enclosed in that selfhood.
To remember this, to hold oneself apart from society, is to begin to think one's way beyond it. Solitude, Emerson said, "is to genius the stern friend." "He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions." One must protect oneself from the momentum of intellectual and moral consensus — especially, Emerson added, during youth. "God is alone," Thoreau said, "but the Devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion." The university was to be praised, Emerson believed, if only because it provided its charges with "a separate chamber and fire" — the physical space of solitude. Today, of course, universities do everything they can to keep their students from being alone, lest they perpetrate self-destructive acts, and also, perhaps, unfashionable thoughts. But no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude. "The saint and poet seek privacy," Emerson said, "to ends the most public and universal." We are back to the seer, seeking signposts for the future in splendid isolation.
Solitude isn't easy, and isn't for everyone. It has undoubtedly never been the province of more than a few. "I believe," Thoreau said, "that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark." Teresa and Tiresias will always be the exceptions, or to speak in more relevant terms, the young people — and they still exist — who prefer to loaf and invite their soul, who step to the beat of a different drummer. But if solitude disappears as a social value and social idea, will even the exceptions remain possible? Still, one is powerless to reverse the drift of the culture. One can only save oneself — and whatever else happens, one can still always do that. But it takes a willingness to be unpopular.
The last thing to say about solitude is that it isn't very polite. Thoreau knew that the "doubleness" that solitude cultivates, the ability to stand back and observe life dispassionately, is apt to make us a little unpleasant to our fellows, to say nothing of the offense implicit in avoiding their company. But then, he didn't worry overmuch about being genial. He didn't even like having to talk to people three times a day, at meals; one can only imagine what he would have made of text-messaging. We, however, have made of geniality — the weak smile, the polite interest, the fake invitation — a cardinal virtue. Friendship may be slipping from our grasp, but our friendliness is universal. Not for nothing does "gregarious" mean "part of the herd." But Thoreau understood that securing one's self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings. He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself. Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

Some Good Rules to follow

During an office presentation –

After a small gap, I am back to my blog, with an urge to pen down some of my thoughts/opinions.

1) In an office presentation, at least in a Multi National Company, English should be the chosen medium to present, discuss and review a presentation. Preparing the presentation in English and addressing the meeting in English is one thing. It must be ensured by the listeners and the presenter that all questions and responses are in English. Regional languages like Hindi/Kannada/Tamil must not be used as a medium to exchange views. Though regional languages can be used for offline discussions/one on one meetings based on comfort level of the parties involved, in a general meeting, even when one is sure that all involved know a regional language, it must not be used in communication. One never knows who he/she is leaving behind unclear because of choosing a regional language for exchange of views.

2) Eye contact must be maintained with one and all in the meeting room and not just with the manager. The meeting/discussion/presentation is convened to convey ideas/information collected to all and sundry, not just to impress the manager and show him/her how much you know. This applies to all listeners as well when they have some crucial knowledge to share in the meeting.

3) When a question is asked to the presenter, he/she must be given some respectable amount of time answer. Only when the presenter claims that he/she does not know the answer (which he/she must candidly do and not spin tales), should the listeners provide their opinion/answers to the question raised. If nobody has the answer, the question must be taken offline with the presenter taking responsibility to find the right answer to it.

4) Always wait for a person to finish talking, not only in a presentation but almost always before pouring out your opinion. This saves a lot of time, paves way for a more streamlined discussion, prevents it from becoming a futile argument and stops a lot of chaos.

5) Never read out the contents of a presentation line by line. The presenter must be descriptive, use some diagrams/figures to illustrate and offer to go to the drawing board when necessary. The lines in a ppt slide are only for reference, to help presenter maintain a continuum. If the contents had to be read out in order by the presenter, the presentation can be emailed to all team members as an email attachment. The team members can read it line by line from their seats and save time by not attending a sermon.

6) Always be terse, non-repetitive and keep the number of slides in a presentation to bare minimum. If the topic is vast, break the presentation into logical parts and arrange more than one session over a short period rather than complete it all in one sitting. Preferably, avoid post lunch sessions, to ensure you have genuinely somebody listening to you. After all, you have put in efforts to convey some information, let that not fall on passive, sleepy ears.

May be there are few more good rules which have to be kept in mind. Please share them with me in comments to this post.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Simple and Effective Writing

Swaminathan S. Ankalesaria Aiyar, a leading economic journalist, inspires me to grab the Sunday Times newspaper. His column - Swaminomics has been my favorite for quite some time. Varied topics are discussed in his column in very simple and effective English. The ideas are not complicated, intent is clear and crisp - truly reader friendly.

I liked his entry in his column dated - 09/05/2010 and below is the link and complete text of the article.

The sentences in Brown Bold have been highlighted because these brought an instant smile on my face. Even, I have heard my teacher utter them. That's precisely how Mr.Swami writes and the reader gets an instant sense of recognition with the topic discussed - be it politics, economics or science.

Raman Effect: fingerprinting the universe

At school, we were taught that Sir CV Raman won the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering the "Raman effect". But when we asked what exactly the Raman Effect was, our science teacher fobbed us off, saying "it's very complicated." Clearly, even he didn't know. Cynical students wondered why a complicated discovery without any obvious use had won the Nobel Prize.

But today, Raman's discovery has finally become a breakthrough technology. Hand-held scanners called Raman scanners, weighing just one-third of a kilo, are being used by US narcotics squads and airports to detect drugs. Security experts think that Raman scanners may be the best devices to detect explosives carried by terrorists. Safety inspectors are using Raman scanners to detect hazardous chemicals and gases. Police forces are using Raman scanners for forensic work.

The scanners work by detecting the molecular structure of the object they are scanning. If you shoot a beam of light on an object, a very small part of it interacts with the atoms of the object and scatters light in a pattern or spectrum unique to that particular molecule. This is the Raman Effect. It is difficult to detect, and typically needs lasers to amplify the signal. Every molecule has a different Raman pattern. This is why Raman scanning has been called the fingerprinting of the universe: it can identify substances as surely as fingerprints can identify humans.
Identifying the chemical composition of a substance typically requires chemical and physical tests that take time, maybe days. They typically require a sample to be extracted and destroyed while testing. But Raman scanning can take just 20 seconds. It does not require cutting, extracting or destroying a substance. Scanners have a laser, spectroscope and an electronic heart that can recognize Raman patterns. This yields almost instant recognition of target substances.

For instance, narcotics squads in the US are using Raman scanners programmed to detect up to 100 drugs. At the scene of a crime, or during airport security checks, the scanner can tell whether a substance is heroin, crack cocaine, amphetamine, or plain chalk. Security experts can programme scanners to detect different sorts of explosives such as RDX or nitroglycerine.
For decades, Raman's discovery could not be converted into easily usable or affordable tools. In his time, equipment for lasers and spectrum separation and scanning were primitive, bulky and costly. Only in the 1980s did laser technology progress to the point where it was compact and economic. This new technology was most popularly established in the CD player: a laser could scan a disc to play music.

Scientists in many fields, including space and telecom, began to research applications for the Raman Effect. Some found ways to enhance the Raman Effect by adding surface metals, making the effect easier to detect. This led ultimately to the invention of scanners that could detect trace elements of less than one part per billion. Such scanners can identify minute quantities of bacteria, chemical pollutants, or explosive elements.

A recent article in The Atlantic, a US monthly, says that Raman scanners are gradually becoming big business. It cites officials at Delta Nu, a manufacturer of Raman scanners, as saying that scanners are already a $150 million business, and growing fast. The company's scanners currently cost $15,000 each, but it hopes to cut the cost to just $5,000 in the next five to ten years.
Researchers at UCLA and Intel have incorporated the Raman Effect on silicon. Because of its crystalline structure, the Raman Effect is 10,000 times stronger in silicon than glass. Researchers at JPL and Caltech have found other ways to increase laser efficiency. This has driven down size and costs.

Researchers at Stanford University are experimenting with Raman scanners to diagnose cancers in various organs. River Diagnostics in Rotterdam is marketing a bacteria analyzer that hospitals can use to instantly detect deadly pathogens. One day, Raman scanners may make blood tests obsolete: a scan may suffice to tell you the content of glucose, cholesterol, uric acid and other elements in your blood.

Scientists aim ultimately to create a database of Raman patterns of every substance for easy identification. This is similar to Nandan Nilekani creating a national database for fingerprints and irises to identify every Indian. Databases have already been created for narcotics, pollutants and explosives, which is why scanners have already become practical tools. Every time they are used to catch a drug smuggler or terrorist, or to detect a cancer or pollutant, we can give thanks to CV Raman. School teachers can now teach students why exactly the Raman Effect is so important: it fingerprints the universe.


Another post from Swaminomics - a beautiful article that states the differences between Rights and Entitlements.


Date: 29/08/2010 - Sunday Times (Swaminomics blog entry in Sunday Times of India, Bangalore edition)

Title: Let's not confuse entitlements with rights

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In a pensive mood

After a long time, a good article, quite thought provoking, appeared in Sunday Times newspaper dated 09/05/2010, by Swapan Dasgupta, very famous Indian journalist and political commentator.

Here is the link to his blog/article - and below is the complete text of the article -

Face it, India is all about caste

In recent times the world has witnessed a lot of crying over spilt milk. Germany has apologized to the Jews for the Holocaust; Japan has said sorry to the US for Pearl Harbour; the Pope has publicly taken the burden of his errant clergy on himself and bowed his head in shame; the federal government of Australia has apologized to its aborigines for wilfully killing so many of them; Russia has apologized to Poland for Stalin's massacre of its non-Communist leadership in 1939; and 13 years ago, the Queen apologized for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Compared to these grave wrongs of history, the abuse showered on long-forgotten British civil servants by the cheerleaders of Indian nationalism seems a case of petty theft. For six decades, generations of Indians have been taught to believe that the colonial rulers saw India through the lens of ignorance and prejudice. Sir Valentine Chirol, a distinguished journalist who was prolific on 'Indian problems' epitomized the type of Englishman Indians loved to despise. Writing in 1926, Chirol observed that "Hinduism could not build up a nation because the one vital structure which it did build up was the negation of everything that constitutes a nation."
The "vital structure" that Chirol alluded to was caste. National allegiance, he felt, "was secondary to the loyalty each (Hindu) owed to his caste since his caste was his karma, determining much more than his present life, namely, all his lives still to come."
Chirol mirrored the colonial perception of India as a land obsessed by caste and unable to rise above it. Since the foreign rulers never aimed at being social reformers, they attempted to accommodate this caste obsession in public policy. They documented caste in all its bewildering complexities in the Gazetteers and, most important, attempted to quantify caste allegiances in the Census operations from 1881. As Census Commissioner for the 1911 Census, Sir Herbert Risley went one better. It wasn't enough merely to record the caste preferences of individuals. To make life easier for policy makers, the Census had also to identify "social precedence as recognized by native public opinion." In other words, the administration had to locate a caste in the ritual and social hierarchy and determine which caste was high, intermediate or low.
Risley's attempt to define caste precedence triggered an upsurge in civil society. Caste groups mobilized to redefine their varna status, undertake changes in ritual practices and even press for changes in caste names. India experienced a bizarre ferment with caste leaders pressing for vegetarianism, restrictions on widow remarriage and changes in the rituals governing marriage and mourning. The Census led to a government-induced process of what MN Srinivas was later to call 'Sanskritization' — social changes premised on the belief that Brahmins were role models.
For nationalist historians, Risley was a villain promoting 'false consciousness' and furthering a divide-and-rule approach to undermine national unity. The Census was perceived, not merely as a quantitative exercise, but a divisive game which, in the process, reduced Indian society to a hideous caricature. Even though Mahatma Gandhi felt compelled to accommodate the 'depressed classes' through the Poona Pact, the conventional Congress view was that caste, like religion, was purely a social institution that had no place in public life and political decision-making. There would be some compensatory discrimination in favour of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but that's where the encroachment of caste would end. In line with this thinking, the first post-Independence Census in 1951 dropped the enumeration of caste altogether.
So strong was this nationalist consensus that when the first Backward Classes Commission was appointed in 1954, reputed Gandhian and anthropologist Nirmal Kumar Bose proclaimed "the desire and will of the Indian nation to do away with the hierarchy of caste…and prepare the ground for full social equality." Indeed, when the Backward Classes Commission identified 2,399 non-SC and non-ST communities as 'backward', the report was fiercely contested by Congress.
In five decades, politics has come full circle. Last week, the Cabinet deliberated on the wisdom of reviving the enumeration of caste in the Census. There was no unanimity but the government finally conceded that was little point persisting with the old nationalist consensus. Already politicized by democracy, caste has become the basis of the government's elaborate redistributive programmes. Sixty years of experiments with modernity have proved to be mere ripples on the surface; the depths of India's 'vital structure' have been unmoved.
India owes an unqualified apology to the British Raj for suggesting that its officials didn't understand India and, indeed, vilified it. It's our nationalist modernizers who have been defeated by the 'real' India. The future appears to belong to the khap panchayats. Chirol was right and we may as well acknowledge it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Do you belong to the CREAMY layer ?

Not talking of reservations, economic disparities/advantages and the related CREAMY layer. This is purely about ICE CREAM INDULGENCE.

Lunch table conversations at office in the last few weeks have been revolving around a certain ice cream parlor/chain - NATURALS (Ice cream of JUHU scheme from Mumbai). People who have resided in Mumbai for an appreciably long period have been going GA GA about it.
I visited the website - and the craving began instantly.

Last Sunday, an evening stroll down 100 ft Road in Koramanagala, starting from Sony World Junction, led Viswa and me to a "Naturals" outlet. Yes, serendipity - we spotted a Naturals Ice cream of Juhu scheme (since 1984) parlor on 100 ft road, Koramangala, after Umerkot Restaurant.

We decided to try out three flavors - tender coconut, mango and papaya-pineapple. A single scoop in a cup/cone is priced at Rs 33 and the waffle cone attracts an extra 5 Rs. The ice cream is truly OUT OF THE WORLD ! Especially the tender coconut flavour melts in your mouth stealthily leaving behind tiny pieces of malai (tender coconut chunks), that's what one calls ambrosia and we felt like GODS there. The mango ice cream was no less sumptuous, fresh, ripe mango pieces blended in rich ice cream made us drool for more. The papaya-pineapple flavor was also equally refreshing.

The ice cream indulgence continued for a second day as if the earlier quota was not enough. We visited another outlet of Naturals Ice cream at St.Marks Road (House of Lords, opposite SBI main branch) on Monday and dug into a feast of mango and tender coconut ice creams, pretty addictive flavors, I must admit.

We left with a vow to come back, try other flavors like Chikoo, Water Melon and Kala jamoon - the flavors of the season. We express many thanks to Mr. Kamath, who just did not stop with an idli-dosa outlet like most others from his clan, for his innovative recipes, for a refreshing thought that has elevated the taste of ice creams to an entirely unparalleled level.

From conversations, I inferred, there are many Mumbaikars who reminisce the Naturals experience and talk about it at length, feel Bangalore is a home away from home with the opening of Naturals outlets. There are others who have religiously thrived on its flavors for an year or two and now consider eating it, an old age custom.

For us, the first timers, it is just the beginning, our love for Naturals ice cream will remain on a NEVER SAY DIE high note.

I always felt Dinshaw ice cream (I had them as a child on my visit to Nagpur, used to have them while getting back to Chennai from Delhi at Nagpur Railway station during my college-home trips) was the undisputed winner in ice cream business. At places where Dinshaw was not available, I felt happy and content with Kwality Walls. A visit to Naturals ice cream parlor has shuffled the top order. Definitely, it is Naturals on spot no 1 for me.

To Bangaloreans, in case you want to belong to this creamy layer, rush to the nearest Naturals parlour :)