Saturday, November 17, 2007

Om Deepika Om

I am sure you have either read a ton of reviews already or listened to people drone about it. I am not sure how much I can add to the existing mass of 'literature' out there. But never the less, at the risk of being redundant, I'm gonna throw in my two cents (err...let's pick rising pence instead).

All the nice things: It's nice to see irreverence to historical cliches in a movie tradition where parody usually means wars between fans. Nice to see actors willing to parody themselves indicating a high level of self-confidence and identity. Nice to see a montage of all those new media. Nice to see Bollywood throw parodical light at themselves although it seems like one giant self-congratulatory, self-reveling party. etc. etc. and all other good things you have listened about the movie in spite of the movie driving itself speedily into a huge-bollywood-cliche-spiral by mocking one in the first place.

Its a Bollywood movie after all, and it remains loyal to all the elements that make one: Changes genre gears every 10 mins, songs for no particular reason which are totally incoherent and anachronistic to the genre of the storyline, fortune-cookie-ish punchlines like 'Dil se Maango, Mil Jaayega; Film Abhi Baaki Hai' and of course all that super-star smugness.

I would have loved to see more out-and-out mockery than frequent shifting gears. The movie should have hung on to MORE cliches and made buffoonery by using elements like "Making Sandy realize that she was Shanti", "Maang Bhari Sindhur and Chutki Sindhur scenes sponsored by Maybelline Cosmetics", "SRK watching a DVD of Karz and realizing his past life (instead of frequent fire nightmares)". That's something for MTV short film, I guess, if only it had the equal audience, budgets and access to star cast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indian Case Law: Online and Access

Case law of Supreme Court of India is online here: http://www.supremecourtcaselaw.com/latest.asp

There seems to be a significant difference in tone between case law here and in India. While the tone here is more of reasoning with the reader (with some intense persuasive language), the Indian case law sounds more binary in its judgment (instead of painting the spectrum of possibilities). Well, I draw these conclusions from one single abstract I just read (a dispute of inheritance of pooja rights; funny!, esp. when the supreme court has pretty far-reaching disputes to settle). Got to read more to make a generalization. :D


A quick scroll down the page had caught me by pleasant surprise, the Supreme Court is addressing wide range of issues from FIR to Food Corporation of India to fines for late payment of electricity bills to stamp duties.

I understand they are of binding nature by the lower courts and lower courts probably reflect one some of the earlier cases while making new judgments, but what is astounding is the language barrier having law in English alone creates. As a result of this most people have little understand of whats going on, even though most of these resources are in public domain.

Even the privileged section of the society, which can read and write English, has almost never been schooled about the kind of the cases and judgments the courts deal with. I am not saying every citizen has to be a paralegal, if not lawyer, but the basic functioning of legal system and civil liberties are an integral part of high school education which is largely absent from Indian high school system. Most discourse in schools is around term of a Supreme court justice and who appoints him with very little functional knowledge. A recent NYT article talked about changing history text books in India and how it might usher new levels of public discourse. My joy knew no bounds ! Thats the way a country becomes a better democracy and steers its own fate. There is a good reason why most freedom fighters in Indian Independence movement were all lawyers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

60 years of Independence

Congratulations Sub continent ! Here are a few interesting essays on this eve:

What makes India's Democracy Special :
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6943598.stm

Unlikely heroes: Judiciary and the Election Commission of India:
http://www.hindu.com/af/india60/stories/2007081550120400.htm

Canadian Outlook on 60th anniversary:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/india/binks-india60.html

Britain's Lament on losing the action to US:
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/india/article2141186.ece

How Pakistanis see India:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2148170,00.html

Why is India doing so much better than Pakistan?
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2861707.ece

William Dalrymple "State of the Union" styled essay on Pakistan:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2148164,00.html

NPR's review of a new book called "Indian Summer" on the dramatic unfolding (including Nehru-Edwina affair) of 1947:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12445972

How Nusrat's music unified two cultures:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12801007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chak De - worth your time and money

Unlike Politics, sports give you a license to be irrational and support your team to the core. It's perfectly acceptable if you hate the opposing team and bully them with platitudes. As a supporter, you can be blind to the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses and cheer your team for all its fallibility. In a tradition (by that i mean, Bollywood) where its acceptable to paint the Goras of Lagaan as darkest devils possible or even all Pakistanis under terrorist masks, Chak De picks on an introspective note. It correctly identifies many of the problems associated with Indian team playing psychic. It starts with problems related to identity, multi-culturality and multi-linguality, continues with star-performer-takes-all mentality to basics of team playing before even starting to play any hockey. It then takes on more complicated issues of gender, equality and self-respect and does a fairly good job at dissecting them. The tone however remains observational/by-stander instead of getting preachy.

Shahrukh Khan, for the most part, remains the coach and not the Badshaah of sugar spilled Bollywood. Thankfully, little back stories for all characters, even Shahrukh Khan. No lady-love dying, taking death bed promises from him, no Ki-Ki-Kiran business (you know, how those line of stories can spiral). Cinematography is top notch with some professional sports cameramen expertise. Music is fairly good. Some of the dialogues are very well written with pages of unspoken footnotes. Casting is not bad, but could have been better. Overall, the movie respects your time and money.

Recommended.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pilani, Goa or Hyderabad?

Birla Institute of Technology and Science, one of India's premier technical universities is adding new campuses. They have three campuses in India now: Pilani, Goa and Hyderabad.

Here's a question: If you had to put your money on one of these campuses, which one would it be? I would definitely go with Hyderabad. The city has a vast establishment of premier central government research establishments like Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) etc etc. It is surprising there is no IIT (yet) in Hyderabad to leverage the enormous research potential of the city.

BITS should the seize the moment to collaborate and build effective research programs in such disciplines which have been fairly unconventional for India's academic establishment.

Which campus should students go for? To answer this question it helps to understand Pilani's geography. Pilani is well isolated from urban civilization with nearest cities Delhi and Jaipur at a distance of 200kms, making it an Archipelago. Generations of Pilani-BITSians pass on their wisdom of entertaining themselves to the younger ones making Pilani a unique cultural experience. But this has come at a cost. An arduous and bumpy road trip is not very appealing to collaborators, researchers, recruiters etc etc. Hyderabad's location advantage scores heavily over Pilani's geographical isolation. Hyderabad campus can turn out to be very competitive with Pilani campus over the years. What about Goa ? Well, a party school with a beach in 10 blocks? India's hard-working and aspiring students may pass on that.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sari catching sensor??

Ford has Ikon designed especially for India. It enables passengers to sit in the back seat with a turban, the doors are made to prevent saris catching, and it copes well with flooded streets and high temperatures: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/07/business_ford_india/html/7.stm

Copes well with flooded streets? So now we don't have to care if oceans rise due to global warming. :D

Thursday, May 03, 2007

France on Times Topics

NY Times World section has "France" into Times Topics section. It is of course because of French Presidential elections. It will probably be off the list once they are done with the elections. Its surprising Times doesn't have "Turkey" on the list. Its also kind of sad that 3/6 are 'problem' states.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Job Tips and Five Years

I was watching Indian Television last week and was pleasantly surprised at some of the programming. It was a show about job talk. The show was on a Telugu channel, but the programming was almost entirely in Indian English. The host talked about many useful "tips" to make oneself employable by an employer. My initial reaction to the tips approach was..."she must be kidding me." But I soon realized that its going to have a tremendous impact on students just entering colleges and thats how I try to contain my surprise at the fact that things are going to be vastly different in a matter of five years.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

No one deserves a tragedy


Nikki Giovanni's Convocation address:


We are Virginia Tech.


We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.


We are Virginia Tech.



On a different note, the gunman was initially identified as "foreign", then "Asian", then "South Korean" (who could barely speak English??!!!). Washington Post identified him as a "Fairfax man" in a couple of posts. The majority of press now just says "the gunman". KQED's Pacific time has an interesting story on the reactions when he was pronounced "Asian".

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Scattered pearls on a DC metro

A concert violinist and a modern maestro, Joshua Bell, received the Avery Fisher prize this week in New York. Washington Post conducted this little experiment of making him play in a Washington DC metro station during rush hour for loose change like a street performer. Mr. Bell played greatest pieces created by mankind like Johann Sebastian Bach's "Chaconne" and Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" for about 50 mins.

Guess what!! Just seven ppl stop to listen and appreciate the music and only ONE person recognizes that it is Mr. Joshua Bell. Fascinating story!!

Original story by post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html?hpid=topnews
NPR interview with Mr. Bell: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9521098

I vividly remember one such embarrassment. When Violin Maestro TN Krishnan came to Pilani in 1999, there was expected to be a crowd. But there were around 20 people and barely occupied the first row in the huge auditorium. For the Immanuel Kants of the group, here an pseudo-epistemological question, which is more embarrassing?

But I am sure the Bell story would have taken a different turn if he played on a Saturday afternoon in Union Square, NY or SF.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Splitter Hack


Splitter Hack
Originally uploaded by kaysov.
Each one of us had windows startup music blare in public places at least once or twice. Here's a little hack to avoid it. Just keep the headphone jack splitter always plugged in.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shoes from Japan and trousers from England?

There was a really popular patriotic song by Raj Kapoor which goes something like this:



Mera Joota hai Japani
Yeh Patloon Inglistani
Sar pe lal topi rusi
Phir bhi dil hai hindustani


(My shoes are Japanese
The pants are from England
The red hat on my head is Russian
But even then, my heart is Indian)


In an ironic twist of India's fate, shoes and trousers now seem to be made in India and the heart...not so much as the younger generations try to break free from the 'meaningless' shackles of the traditional Indian society !!

Mira Nair's Namesake

After 20 years of marriage, Aashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irfan Khan), the immigrant parents of the main character, visit the Taj Mahal. After the magnanimity of the Taj Mahal soaks into their consciousness, they start small talk. Ashoke asks Aashima why she chose him in the match making process, 20 years ago. She tells he was best in the lot when compared to a widowed father and a bald guy. By this time, both of them are fully blushing with just on the brink of breaking into a smile. She then asks if he would love to listen "I love you" like Americans. Later, back in the United States, Aashima keeps complaining, to her white co-worker/friend at the local library, how her now-working son almost never calls her. Her friend replies children are gone once they reach 18 in this country.

Mira Nair makes a clear point. People think and feel almost the same things, but some cultures choose to say some things out, while others say some other things. But the movie is not just about cultural similarities nor is it entirely about identity crisis as reflected in the title Namesake. The main character, Gogol (played by Kal Penn) is named after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. In a sea of white kids, Gogol finds his name so uncool that he changes his name to Nikhil.

So what's the rest of movie about? Most of the latter half was about Closure. The characters come to terms with a death and the guilt of not being around. Aashima grows stronger and Gogol finally comes to accept his name and the Russian author.

With Sholapur bedsheets on the beds of newly arrived and a gradual change in English accents of immigrants, Mira Nair makes 3 decades of time flow by smoothly. She makes the movie for Fox Searchlight but subtitles only Bengali and NOT Indian English. Nair has a flair when it comes to filming lovemaking. Scenes in all her earlier work, especially Mississippi Masala, have a strong woman-director signature. She continues the tradition and takes it a step further with the most honest lovemaking scene in a saree ever to be filmed.

With quite a few insider jokes, some US-thru-immigrant-eyes jokes, wonderful performances by all the cast, good music by Nitin Sahwney and some INTENSELY personal moments, Mira Nair's Namesake will linger in your mind for a while.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Funny Reject Letter

Dear School of Something at the University of Samething,

After careful review of admissions from different schools, I regret to inform you that I will not be accepting admission from your school. Please note that it has got nothing to do with your school but merely a space-time limitation of Einsteinian Physics which forbids me from staying at more than one place at the same time.

All the Best with your current and future students

Thanks
XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sell by mm/dd

BTFM dumped food 1
Originally uploaded by M.Eugenia.

According to an estimate shown on BBC's One Planet, a third of all food in the developed world gets dumped. A lot of food goes waste in the developing world as well. But the reasons for wastage are vastly different. In the developing world, a lot of the wastage is because of inefficiencies in supply chain, inadequate refrigeration facilities etc, where as in the developed world, a large chunk of the wastage is at the household level. For instance, in UK alone, out of US$ 38 billion worth of annual food wastage, the retail-store sell-by expiry contribution was a mere $3.54 billion !! They clearly got their act together.


As you might have guessed, information can play an enormous role in minimizing waste in both worlds. A little e-chart on the refrigerator that keeps a tab on expiring foods can be an approach. Another approach could be letting people know the amount of energy and water spent in growing all that food. For example, fruits take water 100+ times their weight. A lot of developed countries import food (as shown in this map) which means wastage of water at places where its usually scarce.


One key insight from both IS210 and IS243 has been: "The key to supply chain optimization isn't moving things faster according to plans, it is moving things smarter according to actual demand" (which implies its more about managing information than actual physical goods). Corporates in developed world have realized and enormously benefited from this for a long time. Besides not seeing any benefit from this realization, developing world poses another significant problem. Its really hard to see an end-to-end system where there are a million different vendors and farmers both of whom have little holdings and revenues. It's a challenging problem and pay-offs can be as large as significant elimination of global poverty and hunger.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Less of Pakistan, more of China


This is might be pretty obvious but let me just say it out for the record: "India and Pakistan" seems to be occurring less and less in news and "India and China" is on a slow rise (notice the little spike somewhere mid-2006). But hey it takes a little bomb blast or a gun fire in the border to get the "india and pakistan" spike up, so just keep your fingers crossed hoping nothing abnormal happens.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Enough Coverage?

Steve Herrmann of BBC talks about BBC and its place in Rising India. He also asks how they differ from/compare to the local media channels in India.

Here at UC Berkeley, there is a little tradition of having the main pages of selected daily newspapers on a library wall. There are six slots, two of which are taken: The Washington Post, The Guardian. Two of the other four slots are most often (9/10 times) taken by the Jerusalem Post and the Arab News. The final two slots are more generic, usually taken by South China Morning Post, The Asahi Shimbun, The New Anatolian, Irish Independent and rarely (i mean rarely) there is The Times of India. So everyday when I look at that wall, I tell myself “Well, Middle East is definitely important. But is it worth 9/10 times when the two giant countries China and India are rising ??”. I get a similar feeling when I watch BBC in India. BBC is of course outstanding in its coverage, analysis etc. etc…but does it cover enough of India when it does Indian programming? Most of the times, it is far less when compared to NDTV and its ilk.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

If there should be a change to this famous phrase about the inalienable rights of citizens asserted by Thomas Jefferson in the declaration of Independence, it should probably be the spelling of happiness to happyness (note the y).

The movie inspired by real life rags-to-riches story of Chris Gardner, a self-made millionaire, set in the early 80s. One of the first scenes of the movie shows Reagan talking about years of economic downturn on one of those old TVs with a knob. Chris struggles to sell a portable version of a hard bone density scanner (or whatever) which btw looks like a 80s portable computer given that the movie is set in San Francisco. Anywho, he has a really really hard time paying the bills and house his kid.

Chris has a thing for neatly dividing his existence into phases like "being stupid", "running across SF" (to catch up with 101 things trying to pull apart his already below the poverty line existence)* etc. As the movie detailedly fleshes out the abject poverty of a black man, it can get very depressing and even tear-jerking. But on the upside, smiles, smarts and most of all the fatherly love and the warmth between him and his son keep you hoping for that concluding phase of brief period of happyness.

The movie avoids saccharine sentiment but at the same time takes two full hours to sketch out Chris Gardner's exhaustive runs up and down the hills of both San Francisco and his own life.

The movie for the most part concentrates on details of pursuit of riches (or in this case, riches for bare-minimum existence), but the movie has its greatest justification for the title, when in the end Chris realizes part of his what-i-can-be-dreams and starts walking away from constant disappointments with himself.

* Being poor has a huge price. A study about price comparisons in Dharvi (the biggest slum of Bombay and Asia) and a close-by well to-do neighborhood has concluded that clean water is about 30 times costlier in Dharvi.