Does It Constrain You?

I went for a Sunday morning walk with friends after a long time (after a gap of 3-4 months). DK said, we- the people in IT- become lethargic. The comment was pretty bold but probably not totally valid although I haven’t thought about it much clearly and even the discussion that followed was not very serious one. These discussions are mostly casual anyway.

While the discussion turned to other topics and switched gears, the main points behind that comment from DK and Abhijit’s perspective were that we don’t look outside the sphere of IT, and we are constrained by the field. Now, you must have discussed similar things often. The expression ‘constrained by IT’ was mainly about thoughts and social behavior. Of course it is not about the field of IT. I have seen a lot of people being limited in their thoughts and social behavior by the areas of their profession.

My way of dealing with these things is this:

I stay away from the terminology of IT in non-work areas. When I am alone- like currently when I am writing this- the terminology may creep in. But when I am with others- even with people from work- I avoid the IT language to the extent possible. You will never find me saying something like: vendor lock-in when talking about fruit merchant, a feature not a bug, etc.

Discussing things in the terminology of the domain being discussed is something I try to do as far as possible. Sometimes it is conscious effort but it is quite enjoyable. It is said that the language you use influences your thoughts. Just try it out. Whether you are in IT or not, try to use some a terminology, symbols, language which is somewhat closer to the thing being discussed than the one you are comfortable with and see what a mildly enjoyable thing it is. I think one of the factors (probably not a prominent one) is that your brain is refreshed because you express your thoughts differently.

Another way to deal with the ‘constrained by IT’ thing is to be a little humbler. Of course, it is not just about IT. But I think even though most of the IT jobs are about people and teams, the people in IT deal more with computers and structured ways than many other more social jobs. And so when they come across, to give a typical example, a PSU bank clerk- an SBI aunty, they find things irrational. Just calm down. There is no guarantee that when the chips are in their favor they- the SBI aunty, in this example- will be humble, too. Or even polite. But it is never about them, is it? It is always about you.

Don’t ignore other ways of life. Don’t get absorbed into those ways but people- including you- live their lives in very different but basically same ways. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with your way of life but so is the case with the others. Your problems are not vaporware but, similarly, others’ problems are real, too.

I know this sounds preachy. So here is an old but light refreshment.

A developer to his tester friend: I asked her to marry me. Earlier she said no. But on skype, just now, she said yes.

The tester friend advises: Take a screenshot, quickly, because some defects are difficult to reproduce.

Was kinda sweet, wasn’t it?

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Book Review: India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

I highly recommend the book India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha

Before jumping to the book in hand, let me say something about a different book. I liked John Keay’s India: A History. It is written mostly as a no-nonsense history. The time span it covers is huge and the the branches of history it touches are also numerous. And it is a very good book about such a diverse country.

I left it after the description of early freedom struggles. And that is why I started India After Gandhi’s (IAG) review by referring to that book. For most of us, history of India ends somewhere around 1947.  Guha quotes that ‘history as formally constituted knowledge of the past does not cover [the years after 1947]’

Why do I read books on history? I really don’t know. I am not a student of history, history does not necessarily motivate or demotivate me, I don’t even have any particular interest in it. I think that I read a few books on history once in a while because it interests me generally- not specifically. So maybe sometimes if the book is good (I have heard about it) I pick it up. But I might as well pick up a novel. So history does not carry any special weightage with me.

IAG is a very good book. It covers the things we should be aware of.

The book mainly talks about political history- as the sub-title underlines that it is primarily focused on the democracy angle. It does not talk much about films, art, music, sports, etc. But once I noticed that it was possibly deliberately so, it did not bother me much.

The author is primarily a chronicler. But he adds some very good insights to the description. But these insights are just balanced in proportion. So mostly it never seems that he is injecting his personal opinions, biases unnecessarily. He is neither swayed  this way or that. He observes, notes and puts things in context. For example, if I am not making a blunder, he has not mentioned Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw even once. And I had thought any book covering that period in history would have a few pages dedicated to him. But that is how the various contexts take shape in this book. A lot of things are abstracted and a picture forms at that level of abstraction.

A few things were surprising: I now appreciate Nehru, Patel more. In fact, one thing I noticed was that the early politicians were thoughtful. The description of debates and discussions during those early years- inside parliament and outside- reminded me of similar thought exchanges from stories of American independence as I had read those in Franklin’s biography. I generally stay away from politics but I really hope that we have similar thoughtful discussions now.

I think it would be easy to quote a few things from the book. That way I won’t have to write much and the recall value will be better for me when I read this post myself in future. Of course not all quotes are by the author himself. He has borrowed quite a few from newspapers of the day, books, etc.

The author chronicles the partition (unquestionably the main victims of Partition were women: Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim), he talks about the adoption of constitution, a parliamentary system (a second chamber [Rajyasabha] to act as a check on the excesses of democratic zeal). He talks a great deal about Patel (an unmatched warrior in the cause of freedom, a lover of India, a great servent of the people and a statesman of genius and mighty achievement…. Patel did not covet his boss’s job) and how he got the princes and their states integrated into India. He talks about mighty exercise of holding elections and the people (politicians and bureaucrats who made it possible.)

Because of his contribution post freedom, Nehru occupies a large number of pages: Nehru had an unusual capacity- unusual among politicians, at any rate- to view both sides of the question…

For Jawaharlal Nehru, foreign policy was a means of making India’s presence felt in the world.

Nehru was its [of Indian planning] chief missionary.

He talks about the challenges to Nehru’s congress party(‘a democracy run by a single party automatically becomes a tyranny’)

He talks about Nehru’s unwillingness to remove Menon, defeat at the hands of China and it hurts (as it should, I guess). The humiliation that resulted was felt, as military defeats invariably are, by the nation as a whole.

Then post Nehru, when it came to the conduct of war Shastri was no Nehru.

By 1972 the Congress was subject to a creeping nepotism, and to galloping corruption as well.

The Naga problem.

The emergency:

Among the casualties of the emergency was the freedom of press.

[After he fell seriously ill, Kriplani] was taken to hospital, where all manner of tubes and wires were put into him. When a friend came visiting he had a fresh complaint: ‘I have no Constitution – all that is left are Amendments’

[When Sanjay Gandhi forced a ban on Kishor Kumar’s records] It was an act of petty vindictiveness in keeping with the times.

When one views the prime minister’s (Mrs Gandhi) career in the round, Sanjay and the emergency should be said to mark not a radical departure from the past practice, but a deepening of it.

Nehru’s halting yet honest attempts to promote a democratic ethos in a hierarchical society were undone by his own daughter, and in decisive and dramatic ways. The grievously mistaken dismissal of the communist government in Kerala aside, Nehru took seriously the idea of an opposition. But Mrs Gandhi paid other political parties scant respect.

JP movement and Janata party government. Janata’s attempts to humiliate the former prime minister were seriously misjudged.

the end of the emergency unleashed the energies of journalists as only the struggle for national independence had done before it…The spread of education and the expansion of the middle class gave an enormous fillip to Indian-language journalism.

Viewed from the more formal, purely political side, it appeared that Indian democracy was being corroded and degraded. If one took a more ‘social’ view, however, it appeared that Indian democracy was, in fact, being deepened and enriched.

The 1980 elections, notes the editor Prabhas Joshi, marked the ‘end of ideology’ in Indian politics.

He talks about Bhindranwale and 1984 violence. I was waiting for the mention of General Vaidya.

The way the 1987 elections were conducted led to deep disenchantment among political activists in Kashmir.

The elections, held in November 1989, were a body blow to the Congress Party.

Even by the standards of Indian history, the 1980s were an especially turbulent decade.

The policeman K. F. Rustomji noted grimly that Indian politics and administration were now captive to the ‘fanatic and the demagogue’, who ‘claim the right to organise the deaths of thousands under the guise of democratic dissent’.

By 1990, there were as many as 80,000 Indians in uniform in the [Kashmir] Valley. Thus, ‘the attempt to find a political solution was put aside in favour of a policy of repression’.

In the winter of 1989–90, as the Hizb-ul supplanted the JKLF, the Pandits became a target of attack. Because they were Hindus, and for no other reason, they were seen as agents of a state that had for so long oppressed the Kashmiris.

In the summer of 1991 the debt had reached $70 billion, of which 30 per cent was owed to private creditors. At one stage, foreign exchange reserves were down to two weeks of imports.

The changes introduced by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh in 1991 constituted a major departure from past policies. Even a year or two before they were undertaken, such reforms were considered unlikely or even impossible.

However, by the time the Supreme Court passed its judgement in November 1992, these parties were all prepared to endorse it. For they very quickly realized the political implications of the Mandal Commission Report, and the political costs of opposing it.

To be sure, some BJP leaders were taken aback by the turn of events. Despite his threatening talk the week before, when he saw volunteers rushing the monument[Babri Masjid], L. K. Advani asked them to return.

Despite his political weakness, and his apparently diffident personality, Narasimha Rao initiated radical reforms in economic policy. He also made bold moves in foreign policy. For instance, he took an active interest in forging better relations with the countries of South-east Asia. This was prompted by an awareness of the rising economic strength of the region, yet tactically justified as being a return to the ‘pan-Asian’ policies of Jawaharlal Nehru. It was also under Rao that India first established diplomatic relations with Israel and, reversing decades of frosty relations between India and the United States, brought these two estranged democracies closer together.

The rise of coalition or minority governments was a manifestation of the widening and deepening of democracy in India. Different regions and different groups had acquired a greater stake in the system; with parties that sought to represent them winning an increasing number of seats – usually at the expense of the Congress, which for the first two decades of Independence had claimed, rather successfully, to be a party that represented no section of India in particular but all in general. This deepening of democracy had however come at a cost – that of a steady loss of coherence in public policy.

when it came to India’s dealings with the rest of the world there was a noticeable convergence of views. Whether led by the BJP or the Congress, or indeed the various Third Fronts, the Union government was committed to enhancing the country’s military capabilities, and to a more assertive foreign policy in general.

The Indian bomb[1998] was wholly indigenous.

As prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee took forward the economic reforms initiated by Narasimha Rao. Besides further encouraging entrepreneurship, Vajpayee’s government gave a push to infrastructure development,…

Meanwhile, the surge in economic growth had led to an expansion in the size and influence of the Indian middle class.

With the opening of the economy in the 1990s, the guilt formerly associated with consumerism rapidly disappeared.

The rash of farmers’ suicides was perhaps related to the rapidity of social change in contemporary India. The new consumer society, its images carried into the villages by television, placed a very high premium on success and failure. Thus, when crops failed, or a new crop did not give the yield it promised, the personal humiliation felt was greatly in excess of what it might have been in an earlier, more stable, and less acquisitive time.

One reason for the continuing poverty was the government’s poor record in providing basic services such as education and health care.

From his home in New Delhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee spoke by satellite to tribals in Kashipur, whose kinsmen had died eating mango kernel because their crops had failed. ‘It is extremely unfortunate that in today’s world people die by eating poisonous material’, said the head of a government that could speak to its citizens by videophone, yet not supply them with wholesome food.

The anthropologist Bela Bhatia writes that ‘this sense of dignity is one of the principal achievements of the Naxalite movement’. Other achievements included an end to forced labour and a significant enhancement of the wage rate.

The prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, was in matters of state policy not always his own man.

While Sonia Gandhi would have liked to keep the alliance with the Left intact, Manmohan Singh was prepared to break it on the question of the nuclear deal, which he saw as vital to a wider India-US rapprochement.

Hazare was no Gandhi, but this second fast rivalled the Dandi March in attracting the nation’s attention.

Perhaps even more so than in other parts of India, politicians in Maharashtra were remarkably quick to skim off government contracts.

Some women were vastly influential in Indian politics. But on the whole the status of women in India was not something to boast about…from the 1980s onwards there was a patriarchal backlash.

India needs experts rather than generalists to head government departments and regulatory institutions.

The first generation of Indian leaders lived mostly for politics. They were attracted by the authority they wielded, but were also often motivated by a spirit of service and sacrifice. The current generation of Indian politicians, however, are more likely to enter politics to live off it.

In India’s High Courts, once a case is filed, it takes, on the average, three years and one month to be disposed of.

The judicial system in India is painfully slow. And it is also shockingly corrupt…The evidence for judicial corruption is even more anecdotal than that for political corruption.

Democracy is about, among other things, the enhancement of individual freedoms.

One area where Indians have become less free in recent decades relates to artistic and literary expression.

Is India a democracy, then? The answer is, well, phipty-phipty. It mostly is when it comes to holding elections and permitting freedom of movement and expression. It mostly is not when it comes to the functioning of institutions crucial to the everyday life of a democracy. Most political parties have become family firms. Most politicians are corrupt, and many come from a criminal background. India’s law-makers are too often lawbreakers as well. Meanwhile, civil servants have lost their autonomy of functioning, doing what their political bosses ask rather than what justice or reason demands. The courts are slow and over-burdened, and not always fair either. The police are corrupt in good days and venal in bad.

 

Notes and quotes taken from:

Guha, Ramachandra. India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Lastly, R. K. Narayan as quoted by Naipaul: India will go on.

Naive

Monsoon; 5 year old kids looking intently at small puddles.
यहां एक earthworm, और यहां दो है.
आरव, यहां देखो, यहां दो, और शर्विन के पास तो बहोत है.
अरे हां. कितने सारे earthworms.
बारीश में घुमने जा रहें है वो सब.
मैं बोलूं? ये पापा earthworm है, ये ममा earthworm है, और ये उनके बेबीज हैं.
मैं बोलूं? ये पापा earthworm है और ये ममा earthworm है. क्यूँ बोलूं? पापा हमेशा ममा से लंबे होतें हैं.

Silly 5 year olds. Everyone knows that earthworms are hermaphrodites.

Echoing footsteps of years

Echoing footsteps of years From A Tale Of Two Cities

I was going to add this to the post Some Phrases I Like. But then decided otherwise.

Charles Dickens’ book is a great classic. It features the years of the French revolution. Somewhat slow in pace and very easy to abandon. May appear somewhat boring; or a lot if you are not fond of classics. At the same time it is chilling.

The heroine of the book, Lucie, is a lovely girl. She is close to her governess, her father and a couple of people. A small happy family and friend circle. She gets married to a gentleman and Dickens describes her happy married life at the beginning of a chapter like this:

A wonderful corner for echoes, it has been remarked, that corner where the Doctor lived. Ever busily winding the golden thread which bound her husband, and her father, and herself, and her old directress and companion, in a life of quiet bliss, Lucie sat in the still house in the tranquilly resounding corner, listening to the echoing footsteps of years.

I was reading the book and when I read this paragraph at the start of that chapter, I had to stop reading. For a brief period I just couldn’t go on. It is such a beautiful expression. I reread it. And thought that it was something great. This happens many times. Like for example, when travelling, you visit a spot which just leaves you speechless. The moment has to be enjoyed. It cannot be rushed. It is a quiet blissful moment. And most of the time it is very personal. Thousands of people may enjoy the same tourist spot with same intensity. But it is still special for you. And (at least for me) it is very inward.

It is not limited to reading, travel or songs. There are many such things. What are such things for you when you experience non-sexual ecstasy, so to say? Sometimes there is a pattern I guess. (And some other times there isn’t.) For example, I am very likely to be – to use an expression from The Godfather – ‘struck by a thunderbolt’ when reading books than, say, when I am discussing some politics related topic. Lata’s songs are more likely to resonate with me than some famous paintings. But for someone else paintings could be more striking than songs, etc. Are you aware of the things that resonate easily with you? Does being aware of these things or patterns lessen the intensity of the moment?

I stopped when I read the expression and when after a couple of minutes I resumed reading, I noticed that the name of the chapter was also the same. I felt happy.

Jean De Florette And Manon des Spring

Recently saw a good movie series

Jean De Florette and Manon des sources (AKA Manon of the Spring) which is Part 2 of Jean De Florette.

Part 2 requires part 1 references. So part 1 should be seen before part 2

Some phrases I like

Every now and then I’ll list some phrases, constructs, quotes I like in this post.

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प्रत्यक्षाहुनी प्रतिमा उत्कट… After a long while I listened to the Geet Ramayan. Not the whole set; but just a few select songs. And while listening to ‘सेतू बांधारे सागरी’ I stumbled upon a line ‘प्रारंभास्तव अधीर पूर्तता’. I liked that phrase. And while playing it in mind, I suddenly remembered this प्रत्यक्षाहुनी प्रतिमा उत्कट and then I stopped, rewound my playlist and played the starting song ‘स्वये श्रीरामप्रभू ऐकती, कुशलव रामायण गाती’. गदिमा म्हणतात, कुशलव रामचरित्र गाताना निर्माण झालेली रामांची प्रतिमा ही प्रत्यक्ष रामांपेक्षाही उत्कट आहे. Wow.

गीतरामायणामध्ये अशा ब-याच रचना आहेत. उदा. ‘या दानासी या दानाहून अन्य नसे उपमान’

Let me know which Geet Ramayan songs you like.

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Orange colored periwinkle: An embarrassing moment

I was not and still am not so good at drawing, sketching or painting. I was a good student – topper in the school, very good in sports, etc. But drawing and some other art forms were a strict no-no.
By a very odd coincidence at the start of our school term, there was a shortage of drawing teachers (probably some teacher retired) and for that whole semester, we got a teacher who used to teach maths and geometry at junior college that was associated with my school. He was good at drawing.
Once he noticed or heard that I was good at maths and all other subjects, but was not so good in drawing, he ignored my drawing almost completely. At the start of class, he would explain some concept of drawing and then ask the class to draw and paint something. And immediately afterwards would ask me to come forward to his desk and then would give me some difficult mathematical problem to solve.
In the next class, he would want the answer to the problem and would want to know how I had come up with the answer. My ways of solving those mathematical problems were not very elegant obviously and then he would explain me some aspects where my logic would fail and teach me some advanced mathematical concepts. And then he would give me another problem to solve. He would say you can complete your drawing at home and let us see if you can work out this math problem during this class today. If not we would look at it in the next lecture. And it continued to the next class.
There was no getting away from it. He ignored my drawing assignments completely and focused on developing my math skills. He liked to give me math problems and I became his favorite. (I encountered those math concepts again at college level.) I enjoyed learning those things then but my friends would make fun of me. Still I enjoyed it. And I almost never bothered about the drawing assignments. I completed those but just because I had to. But there was no heart in it.
Once the teacher asked me to come forward and out of habit, I went to him with my ‘math notebook’ in hand. He then sent me back and asked me to bring my drawing book to show him. Wow. I can recall the situation almost completely. When I was going back to my desk to fetch my drawing book, all my friends were surreptitiously laughing, mocking, winking at me.
In the previous class he had asked us to draw a Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus). At home, I had managed to get the plant in correct form, shape and proportions. But somehow I had messed it up. And I had not been able to see what exactly I had messed up. Something was not right. But what it was, I couldn’t say. He examined the painting for a long time and then said, ‘Oh, you have painted it in orange color, is it? That’s new! We, in our locality, broadly speaking in India, have pink colored periwinkles. I can say with confidence, that I have never in my life seen an orange periwinkle. So, I agree that it is an innovative idea, but we will let the rest of the class paint it pink, if that is ok with you. Is it?’
I still enjoy that sarcasm but in that moment I did not know where to look.
Sadafuli

Sadafuli

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