Maharani Ojima


This is the first ever time that I am writing about an Indian restaurant in Tokyo.

I was in Tokyo for better part of last week, and had the opportunity to have dinner with few colleagues at the Maharani Restaurant in Ojima area of Tokyo. The area is located towards the eastern part of Tokyo (some 13 stations away from the famous Shinjuku station on Tokyo’s complex subway system). It is easy to get lost in Tokyo’s Metro and Subways – Shinjuku is an underground city almost, with connections to various parts of Tokyo, and it always amazes me how the Japanese built such incredibly sophisticated underground systems several decades ago. And, couple of things continue to amaze everyone – how efficient the system works all the time (breakdowns are unheard of), and how easy it is to navigate once we understand the system interlinkages. Further, there is not much of noise anywhere, though thousands of commuters are always traversing the stations. One cannot hear loud noises or loud speaking – people move around in almost an eerie silent manner! Their discipline is simply difficult to believe or achieve in other countries (even the developed ones).

Well, let me come back to the restaurant. It is a smallish one, as most Japanese restaurants are, and located in a quiet neighbourhood with many apartments and small shops (it looked to me as though it is some part of Mumbai or Chennai). Not being in the central business area, Ojima is quiet with many old folks walking along the pavements, and some young ones riding their bicycles. Taxis have not changed in Tokyo for ages, with Toyota Crown still dominating the roads (very expensive with minimum fare starting at 410 Yen or USD 3.70, and accelerating fast as you cruise in search of your destination). I saw far less taxis in Ojima, and it is well covered by the subway.

There was no one in the restaurant when we reached it at around 6:30 PM. We ordered Rotis, Bhindi Masala, Dhal Tadka, Chicken Biriyani, Roasted Papads, and Raita. All items were well prepared and delicious. Of course, we ordered Kirin Beer which went well with the spicy Indian food. Our Japanese colleague enjoyed the food, and I asked him whether it was the first time for him at this place. He replied saying that he had been to this restaurant many times, and every time he had always relished the food. In fact, like in many developed countries, the restaurant menu displayed the severity of the spiciness of each item on the menu, and my Japanese colleague selected either a 4 or a 3 out of 5! I like Japanese food – especially the Sushi and Sashimi (yes raw fish), and also their unique Rice with the Chicken Gravy (called “Curry Udon”), and of course the Tempura Set. Mostly it is bland, except for the masala gravy on the Curry Udon, but it is pure and tasty. So, I always appreciate when a foreigner enjoys Indian food!

Though the Maharani Restaurant is small and the ambience probably gets only a 3 Star, the service is outstanding and rates a 5 Star. All the Indian staff and the Chef speak fluent Japanese (and of course, Hindi). They strive to make the patrons very comfortable with a polite conversation and smile all the time. They engage in some small talk with the Indian patrons.

The food and service are of high quality and I do not have hesitation in suggesting this place for a lunch or dinner. It costs approximately between USD 20 to 35 per head depending on the items ordered, and could be more in case one orders Sake or Whiskey.

That is my experience of Tokyo last week, though I had the usual business cocktails and dinners in 5 Star hotels. However, it might get boring as it is more of the same all the time, in most cities. The unique local experiences define the feeling for a place that one develops over time. Like the “Blue Bottle Coffee” that I had in the Roppongi business district – amazing coffee which would make you not to venture into a Starbucks again! And stories go on like that……..the world is fascinating if only we can get out there, not fixated on our laptops or smartphones. Talk to the people around – for example, I engaged in a brief conversation with a Blue Bottle employee, and it reveals another side of human life that we are totally unaware of!!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th October 2017

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Against International Agreements


President Donald Trump de-certified the Iran Nuclear Agreement yesterday.

This is one of the very few times that the U.S. has walked out of an international agreement that it had signed. In this case, there were several parties to the Agreement (called JCPOA or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – all the five of the U.N. Security Council Members, Germany and the European Union, all aligned on one side, and Iran on the other side. The JCPOA was the result of tortuous negotiations conducted over many years with the objective of containing Iran’s nuclear program and ambitions to become a nuclear power.

The case of Iran has always been different as compared to Israel, India or even Pakistan. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and so has always been bound by the terms of that Treaty. The other countries mentioned here did not sign the NPT as it was considered to be favouring the Nuclear “Haves” – basically the Security Council Members.

So, Iran had no choice – it had to honour the NPT which it signed off.

But then, Iran’s King was overthrown in 1979 and Iran entered a long period of antagonism towards the U.S. That story has been well documented and so I am not covering the same in this post.

Having successfully contained Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it was expected that Iran would comply with the terms of the JCPOA, and it did over the past two years (the JCPOA was signed in 2015). Under U.S. requirements, the President of the U.S. has to certify to the U.S. Congress that Iran has complied with the JCPOA terms every 90 days.

But then, President Trump had long been cursing and complaining about the Iran nuclear deal, and it was widely expected that he would do something against it, and he finally did. Now it is up to the U.S. Congress to either declare that Iran is indeed complying with the JCPOA terms, or it has not been complying. There are many Iran hawks in the U.S. Congress who are itching to declare Iran’s non-compliance (bringing other non-deal issues to the table) and impose sanctions.

There has been widespread opposition to President Trump’s unilateral move to de-certify the deal, by the other signatories to the JCPOA.

It is now expected that the deal will fall into disarray, and probably Iran will walk out of the Agreement, which would be a disaster. The U.S. will of course, be blamed all around the world.

But what concerns me the most is the impunity with which a global signatory to a legally binding agreement is tearing the same and throwing it into the dustbin (though technically, the U.S. will still remain in the deal). The U.S. is setting a bad precedence here from which it may not be able to recover. No country is going to believe the U.S. in an international treaty negotiation. Other major allies may not include the U.S. in future discussions or negotiations. There is a distinct possibility of a Security Council Veto on issues which matters the most to the U.S. There will be far less cooperation within the Security Council.

The bond between Russia and China will strengthen even further. Both countries will now try to protect North Korea from the same fate as Iran. North Korea will never trust the U.S. and is likely to ridicule the international community in the aftermath of the failure of the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

Is this a desirable outcome?

Not at all.

Legal agreements should be respected in letter and spirit.

Will the U.S. impose additional sanctions on Iran now? Highly likely.

Will Iran walk out of the JCPOA? Highly likely.

Will IAEA inspectors be thrown out of Iran? Likely.

Will the other JCPOA signatories re-negotiate the JCPOA under pressure from the U.S.? Highly unlikely.

Will Iran retaliate against U.S. sanctions? Yes, likely………in their own way.

Will the influence of Iran increase in the Middle East? It has already increased in the past three years.

Will the international community believe in the words and actions of the U.S.? Well, I don’t know, but there is increasing frustration.

What should the U.S. Congress do? Certify the JCPOA for Iran’s verified compliance as other allies have done, while passing a resolution which can criticize Iran for other acts of potential conflicts, such as ICBM testing, and suggesting that the JCPOA should be reviewed at the end of the first five years.

Let us avoid yet another war in the already suffering Middle East. In my opinion, all foreign armies should withdraw from all Middle Eastern and African countries immediately. Any conflict in which civilians are dying should be brought under the auspices of the U.N. Peace Keeping Force.

Time to stop the killings and rebuild the Middle East.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th October 2017

The Murderous Violence Against Innocents


On the day when the world’s most renowned and celebrated non-violent leader was born (2nd October 2017 in Asia, 1st October Sunday in the U.S.), the U.S. witnessed its most murderous violence against innocent people, perpetrated by a violent gun-loving murderer in Las Vegas. The non-violent leader I am referring to is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi, who preached absolute non-violence against the occupying British police during India’s Freedom Struggle.

America indeed has a serious problem. More than 15,000 people died in the past 12 months because of GUN violence, the highest among all developed countries. In the Las Vegas massacre, 58 innocent civilians died and over 500 were injured. These folks were among a huge crowd enjoying a country music performance opposite to the now infamous Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino – I remember walking past this place couple of years ago in Las Vegas.

I do not think the U.S. Government and Congress have any excuse now but to impose some controls over how guns can be deployed in a civilized society. But they will do no such things under the strong, incestuous influence exerted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Things will be forgotten, like it was after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 during President Obama’s tenure. No government and no congress has the power to outmaneuvre the very powerful NRA, who are the main reason for Americans currently possessing over 300M guns, the most of any country in the world. Not only that, most state governments in the U.S. are now permitting gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, an open invitation for their usage. Who can determine if it is intentional or not? The victims won’t live to tell their side of the story. The usual excuse proferred by the NRA upon the occurrence of every such gun violence will not hold water in any case – the NRA says if only there are enough guns donned by gun owners out there, gun violence won’t happen as there would be an immediate retaliation. Isn’t it laughable that Americans are buying this argument? How about shooting back at the Las Vegas murderer on the 32nd Floor of the Mandalay Bay from the ground below some more than 400 yards away, if only the music lovers all carried their guns?

The whole world is looking at the U.S. (repeatedly over the past 3 years of incessant gun violence) more carefully – how can the so-called leader of the “free world” be so ignorant of so much that needs to be done within its own country, how it fails to repeatedly protect its own citizens from gun violence, how it has failed to protect large cities, and how the whole government machinery is just spinning out of control under the eminent direction of the Honourable President Donald Trump. Among his many promises, Mr Trump assured he will take action against inner city violence and has often cited Chicago as the worst example of continuous gun violence.

My conclusion: nothing will ever change on the issue of gun control in the U.S. Hiding behind the U.S. Constitution is an easy way to fend off criticism from right or left. Judiciary won’t act against constitutional rights of citizens (“the right to bear arms”), despite some of these being outdated. So, there goes yet another wonderful opportunity to stop the carnage and bring sense into American society.

Most other Western nations have controlled guns, the best example being that of Australia under its gun amnesty program. It has been a big success, and major gun violence has long since been eradicated. People generally feel safe in countries with strict gun laws. The argument that America is a vast country, and so guns are needed in remote locations to protect oneself is also specious. If guns are controlled, it also means that guns will be controlled in remote locations. If there is a device that gun manufacturers can fit on all guns which would identify itself and give away its location before use, will that help? Of course, the NRA will fight tooth and nail against any legislative restrictions on gun acquisition, possession, and use.

So, there goes a great country which does not mind sacrificing its citizens and innocent bystanders for the benefit of gun-loving Americans and the NRA. How about the so many innocent lives lost? How about the sacrifices of young and old? All justifiable in the eyes of the NRA. Can it bring back those lives lost on the night of 1st October due to the violent gun-driven actions of a mass murderer who had so many guns ready in his hotel room? The NRA will justify anything to keep its gun lobby going. Do they have conscience? You bet they don’t.

Let us stay completely gun-free in our respective countries and societies. After all, we are already in the 21st Century and in the most civilized phase of our existence thus far, let us keep it that way.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2017

The Refugee Fear


The anti-refugee “movements” in some European countries have been sowing fear in refugee communities for the past couple of years. Several far-right fascist parties have gained public credibility in their nations, though they have not won the mandate to govern. The extremist views of these parties and social movements are a danger not only to refugees who are seeking asylum, but also to non-local residents of these countries who could easily be misconstrued as belonging to the refugee community. Even worse, locals who try to help the refugees arriving in their town are (or were) targeted by these anti-social movements.

I happened (by chance) to see the BBC’s show on Germany’s New Nazis: it was simply frightening to see the violent tactics of the Freital Group, who unleashed terror on the refugee shelter homes and almost escaped without getting caught over many months. Such insidious activities of a rebel group with the tacit approval of the “silent” majority, could have led Germany towards an abyss, from which it escaped just 70 years ago. Of all countries, it is rather surprising that Germans would accept such a radicalism in their society, which would engender violence, killings, and eventually, a move away from democracy towards a populist leader who would isolate Germany, stop all immigration, and segregate foreigners into “ghettos”. Rather sickening, frightening, and appears easy to achieve, right?

It was funny to note that the German local police feigned ignorance of any of the violent actions taken by the Freital Group for a long time, reminding me of the Indian Police and its ineffectiveness in the past. Only after the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office took over the investigation, things started moving, and eventually, the Freital Group was declared a terrorist organization. It is critical to understand that there will always be an apparent undercurrent of support for fascist and extremist groups amongst the population who have lost their jobs and feel that their lives are being threatened by refugees who do not follow the German way of life. Further, states such as Saxony have administrative and police machinery who had known about extremist tendencies and violent actions, but never took any action thereby undermining their credibility. Humans are fragile, and their idea of infallibility and superiority will reign supreme in their minds long after their predecessors are dead. You know who I mean here……….

Let me now explain my own views. I am not a supporter of uncontrolled immigration. Yes, I supported Angela Merkel when she decided to admit Syrian immigrants in 2015 into Germany, notwithstanding the fact that it could imperil her chance of becoming the German Chancellor for a record fourth time. However, more work should have been done on planning (a) the education of Germans about the rationale for taking in the immigrants (could have been done, I simply do not know); and, (b) the social integration of the immigrants into mainstream German society (also, this might have happened, but does not appear so looking from the outside).

Immigration is always a tough issue when economic conditions are not good. Even if things are fine, thought has to be given about sending immigrants into states where there is serious unemployment.

I am not against folks who oppose immigration. I am against those folks who incite violence and throw petrol bombs into refugee shelters, knowing full well that refugees have suffered an ignominious life in their native country under a cruel dictator who bombed them. What kind of people are these local Germans who do not have human emotions and sympathy and generosity?

Luckily for Germany, it is still the largest European economy, it is a wealthy country, and it holds the conscience of Europe as a whole (not the U.K.). Given its leadership position, Germany cannot afford to be isolated. I heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Merkel won her fourth elections recently, though her margins got reduced. Never mind, she has another four years to work on the German mindset. My suggestion to her – halt further immigration and work on integrating the million refugees that she has already got in. This is not hard heart or mind, it is simply focusing on enhancing the well being of the admitted refugees.

The other European nations have failed in their immigration intake, and are messing up their immigration policy. It is only a question of time before Europe loses its conscious democratic ideology, if no actions are taken immediately to educate the angry electorates.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2017

Eye & Eye


I have continuously worn eye glasses for 45 years. The spectacle is part of my life as much as any part of my body – sometimes (forgetfully though), I have even taken a shower with my glasses on. Clearly, I had come to consider that my eye glasses are an integral part of my being, and respect it as much, all these years.

So, imagine my plight without eyeglasses for the past few days! Really miserable!! Especially when the eye doctor instructed me not to read anything – whether newspaper or smartphone – for the next few days, after my cataract surgery. Yes, I had my first ever surgery of any kind last week on one of my eyes at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC). I will have surgery on the other eye next week. The difficult phase of life between the first and second eye surgeries is characterized by one eye being able to see long distance, and the other one unable to do so. It is a kind of funny situation as I walk around with one eye blurred, and not being able to wear my favourite spectacle frame. So, now I have no eye glasses, and that appears to be a situation when a man has no clothes!

The good part of the experience, is of course, the ability of the rectified eye to see long distance, and suddenly everything appears to be crystal sharp. I was sitting on the living room sofa, after a few hours of surgery, and was a bit startled to be able to read everything at a distance of more than 10 feet, even small letters on an equipment or a box. It was never the case before, and even with glasses it has always been tough to discern characters from a distance of more than ten feet, unless these are somewhat big. The other eye of course refuses to cooperate, as it is yet to be rectified.

I read about laser-assisted cataract surgery, and can only wonder how far things have progressed in medical technology. In fact, my doctor also commented on this point – that technology has taken us far ahead, but we still use files to write comments on. I remarked it is just a question of time when almost everything in life will be automated (coming from a technology company!).

In a nutshell, I have not been reading my emails and WhatsApp messages for the past couple of days, and this is a blessing in disguise, I should say. I have been able to think about substantive matters of existential importance (which always happens to all of us when we get out of a hospital), and that line of thinking throws up new areas to discuss and of course, blog!

Lots of eye drops go into the operated eye every few hours, and this is part of the recovery process. I am going through that now, and it will continue all through October (4 weeks for each operated eye). The guidance and service at the SNEC has been excellent, though it is a government facility. I got a friend’s strong referral for a senior consultant at SNEC, and that is how I landed there. The professionalism and strict adherence to procedures and processes are what distinguish such institutions.

OK, I will have to stop writing further as my wife is frowning, and asking me why I am violating the code of conduct. Will report later on how life is going to be transformed without my favourite eye glasses.

In the meanwhile, have a good weekend, and a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 October 2017

 

 

 

Kindergarten Fight with Nuclear Missiles


I like the maturity and pragmatic approach of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, when it comes to his comments about global affairs. He is a diplomat par excellence, one of the best in the world, with solid experience and an intellect which challenges most others in the diplomatic arena. He is 67, yet going strong and has seen four Secretaries of State of the U.S. during his Foreign Minister tenure for the past 13 years. He is also very polished and known for his tough negotiating skills. No wonder President Putin kept him going on the job in a consistent manner over the years.

In his comments last Friday, he called the exchanges between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea as a “kindergarten fight between school children”. He also called for “hot heads to calm down”. So he called President Trump as a school child wanting a fight, and also as a hot head.

Most appropriate, right?

Only these two school kids are itching to get into a nuclear war with nuclear tipped missiles. That is a big problem for the world.

We also have President Trump on record in front of the august assembly of world leaders at the UN General Assembly that he would destroy North Korea completely if the “rocket man” attempts to attack the U.S. or its allies. That might seem OK, but it surely is not at the U.N. An irresponsible early morning tweet may be fine, but not in a formal address to the U.N.

President Trump has a long way to go before he is taken seriously as a true leader of the free world, like his predecessor was………he is acting unpredictable by the day, and is not in tune with world’s expectations of the U.S. Why go for another war, when the U.S. is still not able to resolve the wars it engendered in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. President Trump, it appears, also wants to fight Iran, a much better equipped nation than North Korea, though not with a nuclear bomb as of now.

It is no wonder Mr Lavrov is feeling this way about this abominable exchange of words between the U.S. and North Korea. South Korea and Japan must be shaking with fear on this rhetoric, as they know that President Trump is impulsive, and Kim Jong-In is totally unpredictable with a lot up his sleeve. A nuclear holocaust over the Korean Peninsula will also not be allowed by Russia and China, both having land borders with the Koreas.

At the end of the day, the “hot heads” have to cool down. But, unfortunately they won’t. Simply because, Kim Jong-Un is probably preparing for the next missile launch or the next nuclear explosion, irrespective of what President Trump or his neighbours or the U.N. demand. All those demands and sanctions are totally irrelevant to him. He will proceed on his own plan, without any consultations with anyone, not even China. I think China has lost leverage over North Korea. It also appears that North Korea is leaning towards Russia.

If the U.S. – South Korea military exercises are postponed, that would be a first calming step in the process. Obviously, there is no lack of military preparedness on the part of the U.S. or South Korea – they are apparently ready for a war with North Korea any time. However, their collective maturity should make them defer their joint military exercises which annoys the North Korean Leadership every year. Why not do it when you can actually do it without any loss of face?

But President Trump won’t have it as he sees it as a concession to the “rocket man” on a “suicide mission”.

Who will blink first, then?

Surely not Kim Jong-Un. He will continue on his mission to make his country nuclear and missile capable, that is not going to stop.

I am sure that the Pentagon Generals are not advising President Trump to launch a surgical strike to take out the nuclear sites in North Korea. Whether there is a war or not, it is not advisable to provoke a reaction from the North on the hapless citizens of the South, just 30 KMs away from the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). It is estimated that at least 1M citizens will perish even in a limited war with mutual attacks from both sides (the U.S. will primarily attack from air and sea). And a tactical nuclear weapon from the U.S. to stop the war will not stop it, as the Koreans (like the Vietnamese) have proved to be extremely resilient when it comes to war and hand-to-hand combat even. The war will not stop, and the Koreans will not forget the U.S. for taking an unnecessary military action which would plunge the entire peninsula into an endless war.

I hope Japan does not want war, either. Traditionally, it has sided with the U.S. thought process, so there could be some disparity here between South Korea (which surely does not want war as it stands to lose the most) and Japan.

At the end, I see that Russia is playing a wiser role, articulating a well-calculated strategy on how war is not an option and everyone needs to return to the negotiating table. Given that Russia has some leverage over North Korea (providing employment to the impoverished North Koreans), it might be time that the U.S. listens to Russia, though they both seem to be having interminable issues of all kinds.

But this is about War and Peace.

Everyone should strive very hard to stop war from happening.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th September 2017

Wisdom – knowledge, experience or age?


What is “wisdom”?

There is a simple definition – without any attribution, I think that wisdom is one’s ability to reach intelligent conclusions on any problem statement, with a combination of judgement, insight, experience and knowledge that one has accumulated over the years. Of course, there should be ample common sense, a keen understanding of the issues on hand, an analytical mind, et al.

However, wisdom is not just knowledge only. Neither is it just experience. And, I don’t believe that wisdom accrues based on age – meaning it is not necessarily true that wisdom is directly proportional to just age. The older one is, the wiser he becomes – this is not true, while it may be true in exceptional individuals who combine other factors to become a sort of sage with head filled with abundant wisdom.

It is also not true that young people are waiting to gain wisdom. There have been thousands of stories of young individuals who are far wiser for their age, and have even built companies at a rather tender age, and running their business with financial and technical acumen, not seen even in much older folks.

So, wisdom has a qualitative edge to it which is sometimes inherent in the individual. Experience does add significant value to people, and helps to generate an insight into problem resolution. Knowledge is important, but much less important than experience and judgement. We find older folks (like me for instance) are more judgemental (not a good thing), more critical (not a bad thing), and less wise when it comes to seeing new things in a new light, or even existing things in a new light. Being judgemental is not a good thing, but having a good judgement is a good thing. Hope you understand the difference. Being negative does not add to one’s wisdom either. We can be critical, but cannot be negative.

Increasingly, we find that young folks between the ages of 10 and 30 are playing in the world with wisdom that did not exist in us when we were their age. So, we need to understand that the context, ecosystem, and social development have progressed in an exponential manner just in the last two decades, which has produced wisdom in many young people.

Why did this not increase wisdom in the older people?

Interesting question. My answer may not satisfy the older folks, however.

As we age, we set our minds on things which we believe are unchangeable. What are these things? Integrity, Honesty, Affection, Commitment, Focus, Dedication, Determination, Achievement-orientation, and a lot of ego. We think and believe that in essence, we are innately good people, and we can do nothing wrong. At least, nothing wrong that could affect other people. Nothing wrong in the moral, spiritual, religious, or intellectual spheres.

In other words, we get fixated on things which are important and critical to us.

We also do not update ourselves to stay in sync with the fast evolving human ecosystem, and we dismiss most of it as not relevant to achieving what we had achieved in our working lives. We continue to live in our own space, not really accepting what our children are doing while they are growing up. This means that mentally and intellectually, we stay disconnected, though we yearn for a complete sync.

It does not take more than 30 seconds to put your right hand on your heart and feel if what I am saying is true or complete hogwash.

I truly believe that though I have kept myself technologically updated, in my mind I am still the same old guy from wherever I came from. Nothing much has changed in my mind, though I do certain things not compatible with my heritage like eating non-vegetarian foods and sending ugly WhatsApp messages, etc., We all have to make an inventory of things that have changed in ourselves from the time we started going to primary school.

When I am still the same old guy, how am I going to change myself? Can I ever change? Can I challenge myself? What should I do to generate “new” wisdom in myself?

I have not finished. I am just at the ground floor of this rather interesting and challenging topic. This blog post came about because I met one of my mentors (who really thinks I am a rebel in most things I do) this evening, and he suggested that I should start analyzing the subject of wisdom vs. age……….that set me thinking.

Wine has been banned at home for some 10 days, so my brain is a bit challenged to think more at the end of my Saturday. However, don’t you guys think this is a good and relevant topic for all of us?

Let us exchange notes and discuss.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd September 2017