The fallacy of elections


Just this week we saw how democratic election results can be hijacked by instruments of democracy – I am referring here to the State Elections in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. As most people know, Bangalore is the famed capital city of the Karnataka State which is responsible for the IT revolution which propelled India as the world’s leading software services power.

This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time that such hijacks take place in the democratic process. By and large, India has proved that democracy does work as a system of government over the past seven decades, except for a brief two-year period when it was itself hijacked with the imposition of “emergency” in 1975 -77. Well, there are many lacunae in any system of government, and democracy is no exception. It has its own share of problems in implementation, but that is for another blog post!

The federally appointed Governor of Karnataka State invited the Opposition BJP Party to form the government, instead of inviting the ruling Congress Party which had formed an alliance with another party, the JDS. The number of legislators in this alliance was 117, as against the 104 in BJP. In the normal procedure, the Governor would have invited the biggest alliance which can then win a trust vote in the State Assembly.

However, the Governor invited the single largest party (the BJP) and gave it 15 days to prove its majority in the State Assembly, which is only possible if BJP is able to snare at least 8 legislators from Congress/JDS alliance. And, how will that happen? Just think about it. India has already passed the Anti-Defection Law, which means it would be hard for legislators or parliamentarians to cross the aisle and join the other party. It is also not moral to do so, having been elected under the auspices of the party under whose symbol the legislator(s) won the election.

In other State Elections in India, the respective Governors had invited the biggest alliance to form the government, not the single largest party. That suited BJP (the party which rules India at the federal level) in couple of States. However, in the case of Karnataka, they tried to change that rule which a Governor should follow once he or she receives the letters of commitment from the legislators.

So, what happened?

In a tense 3 days of drama, played out in the Supreme Court of India and in Bangalore, the BJP lost out against the alliance of Congress/JDS. I am not in favour of either party, but I am concerned when the powers that be plays out the political game with utter disregard towards established precedents under their own rule. The Supreme Court played a central and decisive role in the whole episode and determined what way things should go in Karnataka State Assembly – it gave just 24 hours to the BJP Chief Minister (who had been invited by the State Governor to form the government) to face a trust vote in the Assembly. So, left with no time to indulge in horse-trading both sides brought their safely guarded legislators to the Assembly for the trust vote. Facing the loss of the trust vote, the BJP Chief Minister resigned.

The whole drama could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had intervened and ensured that proper procedures are followed. The fight should be at the hustings, not at the assembly after the elections were completed. Exposing the respective parties’ machinations to the common man and to the world at large, and going to the Supreme Court which was forced to intervene are not good examples of running the world’s largest democracy.

This proves that at the end of the day, all politicians are the same in India. Some are articulate, polished, well-behaved, and most are corrupt and bend rules in their favour. However, when it comes to winning elections, they let lose anarchy and throw principles to the wind. Similar things happen in other nations as well in varying degrees. However, India cannot risk its strong democratic institutions and the three well delineated arms of governance – the Executive, the Parliament/Legislature, and the Judiciary. These are self-balancing to a large extent, and each one is expected to check on the abuse of power by any other arm, and eventually balance the overall system of governance.

What the Karnataka Elections proved is simple – the will of the people have to be respected and cannot be manipulated in the way that one party wants. The alternative would be to call for re-elections at a great cost, annoying the voters; or, to bring down the government once it has been formed by legislative techniques and defections. However, it has been proven time and again that the voters exercise their power at the hustings to elect their representatives and have the ultimate power to dislodge parties which do not perform to their expectations.

Viva La Democracy, or to put it precisely “vive la démocratie!”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th May 2018

 

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Lost in Translation and Lifelong Monogamy


It is hard to understand the 2003 movie “Lost in Translation” directed by Sofia Coppola which won the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay, and many other awards. Award-winning movies, in general, are difficult to understand as they convey a deeper meaning of ordinary life that cannot be easily grasped by one and all. Such movies can also be generally interpreted in different ways and there is usually some mystery around them.

“Lost in Translation” has no structured presentation as a movie story. It is about two souls – one old and the other very young – who are lost in themselves, but in a foreign land – in this case, Tokyo. The title is also a pun on the Japanese language which none of the main characters in the movie understand (all being Americans). I felt that the movie had nothing going on for quite a while, and suggested to my wife that we should see something else on Netflix. She also felt the same way for quite some time. However, we finally persuaded each other that we must see such a well-awarded movie to its end and see what really happens towards its end. And, what did we see at the end – nothing, yes, simply nothing. There is no conclusion, and not surprisingly, there is no beginning and no middle as well!

Deciphering the movie’s message depends on your understanding of the American culture, way of living, and its psyche about relationships. It happens to be vastly different from Asian way of living. Lifelong monogamy has much less significance in America than it is in the East. We can see the challenges that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) has in his life with his wife of 25 years who is far away in the U.S. He struggles with his forgetfulness (about key dates in his daughter’s life), his wife’s curve balls (like when she says that he can stay back in Japan if he likes Japanese food so much), the difficult long-distance conversations he has with his wife, his comments about children, etc., In our lives, all such things are considered normal – we have issues with our spouses and our children, who doesn’t, but yet we proceed living our lives in the best way we can. Not that there absolutely no distractions or temptations, but we reconcile with our choices we made so assiduously in our lives, and realize that any deviations could cause untold hardships to our families. It must be the same way for Americans, but it sometimes appears so easy for them to deviate from a straight line of a solid family orientation.

On the other hand, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), comes through as a vulnerable, unhappy married housewife, who has not figured out what to do with her own life. She is unsure of herself, and does not know what to do next. She wanders around Tokyo in an almost aimless manner. Her husband is a celebrity photographer, who is always busy, and I wonder why he brought her along to Tokyo if he is always going to be away on assignments. She is left all alone in her hotel room, but it does not jell when the director shows that she has a number of friends in Tokyo – that comes through as unbelievable. Scarlett Johansson delivers a good performance in her role, but she pales in comparison to Bill Murray who delivers an outstanding, seasoned performance as a lonely rich Hollywood actor who has lost it all, though he has money and family. When he gazes through the night sitting in the hotel bar, it is so very communicative – he has a forlorn face, completely lost and lonely, and really sad and totally tired. He ignores the other bar drinkers and does not connect with anyone else easily. He is not connecting with his apparent fame and recognition anywhere in the world.

So the movie is about these two lonely people essentially who hook up in the hotel bar and develop what appears to be a platonic relationship which allows them to enjoy each others’ company while exploring the nightlife of Tokyo. It is indeed cool that two people who are separated so widely by age can reach a silent understanding of each other and then go on to eventually share their thoughts in an intimate fashion. It is rarely the case when anyone will easily open up their most personal views to a total stranger. But it happens in an almost effortless manner between Charlotte and Bob, and several times I thought that Charlotte desires a physical relationship from her longing look at Bob.

After seeing the movie, and thinking for a while, I am getting a bit more clarity on the director’s intentions and messaging. This is a movie for Americans as it almost perfectly reflects the issues and challenges that they face in their married lives (recall both Bob and Charlotte are married folks but yet totally lost and lonely, even with reference to their respective partners). Their ability to resolve those issues and challenges is always almost messed up due to the distractions that life throws at them – in this case in a remote country with a unique language, wherein one’s perceived loneliness can only increase!

Interesting though complex movie, but too slow moving for my taste. Both Charlotte and Bob do not attempt to resolve their problems by talking their issues out with their partners, and I wonder why. May be then there is no story for the movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th May 2018

 

Detroit and other in-flight movies


I get impacted seriously by some movies.

“Detroit” by Oscar Award Winning Director, Kathryn Bigelow, is one such movie which I happened to see very recently. It left a searing effect on my being for its utterly brutal showcase of American White racism against the African Americans in Detroit of 1967. I felt really very bad that cultured and educated people (the Whites) could do such brutally violnt things to others simply because those others were Blacks and considered slaves in American history. I did not cry (I do that rarely) but I was surely hurt and surely badly affected. When I connect the dots and see what is happening almost every day in the U.S. now, it is an inescapable conclusion that anyone can arrive at, that things have not changed much in America with respect to the utterly despicable practice of racism. I am referring here to the recent infamous incidents against Blacks in one of the Starbucks outlets, at Yale University, and at an AirBnB house. You just have to keep in touch with what is going on via CNN as they seem to report on such issues without feeling national shame.

I am not writing a review of “Detroit”, but I would urge all my readers to see the movie. It is sure to create an impact. The violence unleashed by the Detroit Police against innocent Blacks is palpable, and is conveyed with powerful direction and camera. The infamous Algiers Motel scenes are sometimes too much to stomach. How can all this happen in a democratic country like the U.S.)? Not only all of these very bad and intolerable things happened in Detroit over six days in 1967, the police officers who committed torture and murdered many Blacks were let go in the jury trial which ensued the violence. That is American Justice system in operation!

Viewing all this from faraway, I do not believe that the African Americans will ever be able to forget (and they should not) the atrocities committed on them just because of their incompatible colour. And, such atrocities continue in America even to this day in varying degrees. Not every critic of the movie agrees with the main thrust of the movie – White Police violence brutally orchestrated against the Blacks with such visceral impact that it becomes difficult sometimes to watch this movie – for me it was a history lesson on American racism, but for several critics the movie did not convey the issues that exist even today in American law enforcement, judicial system, the inability of the nation to face up to serious issues pertaining to Blacks, et al.

Some of the other movies which might be of interest (I tend to see more of French and Italian movies on flights as I find them to be fascinating and inscrutable often):

“Made in Italy” – a complex portrayal of a meat packer (worker in a meat packing factory) who has several crises in his life and ultimately loses his job after working for 30 years, and how his somewhat difficult wife helps him to steer his way out of the morass. Fascinating and instructive, sometimes long winded, but nevertheless interesting. Obviously Italian movie.

“Normandie Nue” – A French movie about a smallish village which is fighting for its survival. Its mayor is a colourful and influential character, and almost always manages to hold the villagers together, however he fails when the villagers did not cooperate with him on a project to be financed by an American photographer (who asks them all to pose in the nude). Again a very interesting movie with an unexpected ending.

It is always interesting to see how the European movies intertwine social issues with personalities and individual lives, and strive to produce something of relevance to the audience who see similarities in their own lives or have witnessed something similar close to their neighbourhood. It is more pertinent to view such movies rather than escapist action movies (which unfortunately I like a lot) which have no relevance to human reality.

I will see more such movies when I fly again soon. In the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018

Stunning Infrastructure


I was in Shanghai earlier this week. I was visiting Shanghai after several years (I had been going to Beijing more often).

The Pudong Airport was big and clean, and the immigration and customs processing was fast, though they follow the Indian procedure of scanning every bag of every passenger which takes some time as compared to Singapore or even Kuala Lumpur. The other similarity with Indian airports was that there was a long line of placards held by hotel drivers to receive the arriving passengers, and this exists only in pockets at Singapore Changi Airport (and most other global airports).

I picked up some coffee at the Airport Starbucks upon clearing customs, and was surprised to note that the “baristas” at Starbucks understood my English and also had my choice of flat white coffee. As I knew already, China is the second biggest market for Starbucks worldwide, and one can see countless Starbucks outlets all over Beijing for instance.

I was a bit confused as I stepped out and looked for exiting the airport. Of course, my benchmark of Singapore does not always do good at most other airports, as the differences aimed at passenger convenience are often glaring.

The previous times I had taken a taxi from the Pudong International Airport. This time around, however, I decided to take the Maglev high speed train, though I had to anyway take a taxi to the hotel from the destination.

Though the Maglev has been running for more than 15 years, it is still a tourist sensation with a top speed of 430 KMPH. It makes the journey from the airport to its destination (Longyong Road) in just 8 minutes over a distance of 30 KMs. However, when I travelled, the Maglev train reached a maximum of 301 KMPH as displayed on the LED display in every carriage. I could not “feel” the speed but could see that fields and trees were whizzing by. There was no shake or any kind of inconvenience to passengers. It was very smooth, and before I realized, the train had arrived at its destination.

Taxi drivers in China generally do not communicate in English, and I am sure they do not understand spoken English. I always download the Chinese characters for my destination hotel (for example) and show it to the driver – I had to do this anyway at the Longyong Road taxi stand as there was no sign for special areas designated for picking up passengers by call taxis. In China, I use the DIDI app (Uber sold their rights to DIDI), which is as good as any with quick service, reasonable rates, and a unique facility of communicating with driver using English language messaging which will be read in Chinese by the driver (and his reply though keyed in Chinese will come to my app in English).

While inability to communicate to any taxi driver is surely an inconvenience, I would not place much emphasis on it as the DIDI app is wonderful and has worked for me effectively every time I had used it. The e-invoices are mailed to my email account, and there is an option to add tips to the driver if you are happy with his service.

Coming to the road traffic, I am happier comparing it to Indian cities or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur. While Shanghai roads are good with expressways dotting the city, the traffic is really bad at peak times, and as congested as you might have experienced in Bangalore or Mumbai or Bangkok. There are simply a huge number of vehicles plying the roads, and it is apparent that people have not been weaned away from cars though the subway system is superbly constructed and convenient to use. Since it takes significant time to travel by road from one part of the city to the other, or to the airport, or to the main railway station (Hongqiao Railway Station), one needs to plan the route and add extra 15 to 30 minutes to the journey time. After seeing the impact of traffic and witnessing some road accident on an expressway, I came to the conclusion that this is not something that can be fixed quickly in such a huge and densely packed city like Shanghai. The only solution is to use the subway.

I liked the Pudong area and wandered around near the main riverside area. There were thousands of tourists and city dwellers taking a stroll, and it did not appear to be a so-called “controlled” city of China, I could feel that it was more like Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture with emphasis on networking, socializing, partying, dining, enjoying what the city gives, and of course, making business deals.

I saw the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund, which is an iconic landmark in Shanghai (though I could not afford staying at this 80 years old hotel which has been wonderfully maintained). I walked through the hotel, and I should simply say I was astounded.

Finally, on the railway station infrastructure of China and specifically the one I saw in Shanghai, the Hongqiao Railway Station, I thought that China has perfected the art and science of building infrastructure for its 1.4B people from concept to execution times which are simply unbelievable. I came to the quick (and bad) conclusion that India will never be able to catch up with China on infrastructure – and I believe that even most Western countries won’t be able to catch up with China. It is amazing to witness what has been accomplished just in the past two decades (of course, money was never a problem for China, and manpower came in cheap as well). India specifically is very far behind, and the Indian Government should make it mandatory for Indian Ministers and top bureaucrats to attend China’s world-leading university programs on planning and execution. They just have to take a walk along any railway platform or walk outside the platform areas in the Hongqiao Station which is so spaced out with ability to accommodate thousands of travellers at any time. They even run a free mini-bus service from one end of the station to the other end – probably a little over a KM.

Even the processing of passengers is super efficient. If you have the ticket, you proceed to security check (yes they have like in airports!), or else you show the printout along with identification to collect the ticket. Then you just proceed to the respective gate, which opens only 15 minutes before the train departure time (they maintain accurate departure and arrival times, and all trains run like clockwork). Passengers are disciplined and queue up in front of the respective carriages (marked on the floor of the platform – no need to ask anyone), they get in upon arrival of the train, and within a few minutes the train departs. If you are late, sorry.

Simply amazing infrastructure with money very well spent – and which is being used by millions of people in an efficient manner. For people who want to travel by train in China, please note that First Class is actually one notch below Business Class. I did not know this till I saw the difference. Business Class section is separate, and it has only few seats (like, less than 10 in the train I took). First Class is like a good and well spaced out Premium Economy Class! I did not see the real Economy Class on the train. For a 200 KM high speed train (which ran at 260 KMPH), I was charged SGD 23 which I thought was quite reasonable.

So, am I embarrassed? No, but China’s achievements cannot be pushed under the carpet stating simply that they are a Communist country with hardly any democratic decision making. I simply do not agree with the foolish arguments from many Indians that India operates under different conditions so lack of achievements is totally justifiable. Another day, another blog post for us to thoroughly argue out on this fascinating topic!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018

Great Truths


Courtesy: My Classmate

  1. In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a Congress.

— John Adams

2. If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

— Mark Twain 

3. Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But then I repeat myself.

— Mark Twain

4. I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.

— Winston Churchill 

5. A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

— George Bernard Shaw
6. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to payoff with your money.

— G. Gordon Liddy 

7. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

— James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

8. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

— Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University 

9. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

— P.J. O’Rourke, Civil Libertarian

10. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

— Frederic Bastiat, French economist(1801-1850)

11. Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

— Ronald Reagan(1986) 

12. I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.

— Will Rogers

13. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free!

— P.J. O’Rourke 

14. In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.

— Voltaire(1764)

15. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!

— Pericles (430B.C.) 

16. No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

— Mark Twain(1866)

17. Talk is cheap………….except when Congress does it.

–Anonymous 

18. The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.

— Ronald Reagan

19. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

— Winston Churchill 

20. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.

— Mark Twain

21. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

— Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903) 

22. There is no distinctly Native American criminal class…………save Congress.

— Mark Twain

23. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

— Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995) 

24. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.

— Thomas Jefferson

25. We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

–Aesop 

FIVE BEST SENTENCES

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealth out of prosperity.

2.What one person receives without working for…another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work, because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!

Courtesy: My Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th May 2018

 

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

Benefit of Doubt


President Trump has to be given the benefit of doubt for the rapid rapproachement that is happening between North and South Korea. If the Summit held yesterday between President Moon of South Korea and Kim Jong Un of North Korea eventually leads to a peace treaty between the two Koreas, President Trump will claim credit for accomplishing what all the previous U.S. Presidents failed to achieve over the past 70 years.

Does the world believe that President Trump deserves credit for achieving what was almost an impossibility? Of course, any credit can only be given if North Korea agrees to destroy its nuclear weapons and loses the ability to threaten the world. I am sure that the U.S. would also demand that there is a verifiable, irreversible process put in place to achieve complete denuclearization. The U.S. would also demand that North Korea destroys its ballistic missile program, among other difficult and challenging demands.

The unfortunate situation in the Korean imbroglio has always been the involvement of the super powers. The Soviet Union, China, and the U.S. were all involved in the 1950 -53 conflict which ended in an armistice agreement rather than a peace treaty, which only means that the two Koreas have been technically in an unending war all these years. The super powers have always been engaged and always have hoped that they would be the beneficiaries in some way if there is eventual peace on the Korean peninsula.

Notwithstanding all the bad rhetoric between President Trump (via his infamous tweets) and North Korea, it is apparent that both sides are carefully evaluating the option of achieving peace. While that may not be good news for the arms manufacturers in the U.S. and the war hawks in President Trump’s cabinet who have been thirsting to launch attacks on North Korea, it is excellent news for the rest of the world and especially for Asia. North Korea’s eventual integration with South Korea could create potentially a large consumer market and attract global investments. The last Cold War era conflict would have officially ended, opening up opportunities for peace and prosperity for the Korean people.

In my opinion, President Moon of South Korea deserves full credit for giving the final push towards peace settlement via the great occasion of Winter Olympics, and constant persuasion of Kim Jong Un which seems to have worked out for both so well. He had the challenge of keeping both the U.S. and Japan at bay while working on his charm offensive. He did not want unnecessary and uncalled for escalation with an erratic President Trump and an almost helpless but whining Prime Minister Abe of Japan who is wary of anything to do with North Korea. President Moon persevered and it is clear that he achieved within 8 weeks what none of his predecessors achieved. He not only made Kim Jong Un cross over into the South for the meeting yesterday, he also stepped into the North in a show of friendship towards Kim.

Symbolism plays a big role in Asia, and a lot more in Korea. All the right moves were made yesterday, niceties were exchanged, pleasant speeches were made. What one does not know for sure is the inside of Kim Jong Un. He may be only 34 years old, but appears to be savvy and somewhat calculating. All these efforts may go to naught if he decides that the U.S. demands are not workable for him, or if the U.S. insults him publicly, or if the planned meeting between Kim and President Trump does not go all too well. Both Kim and Trump have big egos and are very pricky, and if Trump allows one of his leading hawks like John Bolton to say bad things in the meeting, then there goes a great opportunity for achieving peace in one of the last frontiers of war. I am worried that President Trump and his team may not listen to President Moon and may not prepare adequately for the summit in June. Kim seems to be well prepared. While he might agree for certain broad principles and a timetable, that might not satisfy the trigger happy bunch of Trump team.

Then what happens?

Stalemate and more sanctions. May be a limited war. North Korea will respond with more ballistic missile launches and more nuclear tests.

However, if the summit goes well and the peace treaty indeed happens, then the future is bright. And President Moon and Trump will be nominated along with Kim Jong Un for the Nobel Peace Prize!

So, here we are in a global conflict situation wherein the most impossible stuff are happening at a whirlwind pace. And, we can probably “hope” to see a Nobel Laureate in President Trump which people did not even dream about. This may be pure luck for President Trump. Tweets and threats would have earned him a Nobel Prize which gives big hope for potential Nobel Prize aspirants in future.

All said and done, let us give President Trump the benefit of doubt for what is happening in Korea, and offer our hearty congratulations to President Moon. Both deserve a round of applause from the international community. Also President Xi of China also deserves some credit for applying pressure on Kim Jong Un to come to the negotiating table.

So, hopefully we should be able to sleep in peace with one less nuclear threat in the world.

Cheers, and enjoy the weekend with no alcohol of course,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th April 2018

 

The Big Decision


I decided to stop drinking alcohol in any form from today.

This is one of the biggest decisions any wine lover can make for sure. And, I am one. I do not enjoy any other alcoholic drink as much as I enjoy a glass of wine from a good winery of a good vintage. Occasionally I do have some single malt whiskey as most others are fond of that kind of drink, or a Corona Beer. But wine has been my drink of choice for a long, long time.

How about giving up wine?

It means a lot to me. I have written about a number of wines in my Blog – you just have to select “Wines” under the Category drop-down menu and you will see many wines that I have enjoyed drinking.

I am sure to get withdrawal symptoms.

I am told most people who have been alcohol lovers (like cigar smokers) would face significant challenges to desist the lure of a good drink. There is of course the challenge of what one would drink after one becomes non-alcoholic. In my case, I am not going to drink any of the sugary soft drinks, so I guess I would have settle for the well-established H2O, or water.

It is going to be challenging, and it is going to be funny to explain why I took such a radical decision. Such a decision is of course not taken or made lightly. It does take serious thought and introspection. It takes guts. It takes a lot of will power.

So, why did I make such a decision? What prompted me? How can I become a total abstainer after such a long time?

Why? Why?

One major reason is healthcare. One has to take care of one’s health. To keep ignoring what your physician says or advises does not become an option after a while. Then there is the spousal persuasion. My wife used to tell me that I spend close to 40% of her grocery bill on wines, and often pointed out that it is disproportionate. I agree (what else can I do).

Is that all? Are these the reasons that drove me to make a decision today? And, why today?

As most of my readers know, I keep reading a lot about whatever comes across my attention span. Of late, I have become interested in healthcare and life sciences, though it is not something natural for me (I am an Electronics and Communication Engineer). I will most surely read anything on medical innovation – new diagnostic tools, techniques, discoveries, et al. There is no shortage of biotech companies which are trying to change the medical world upside down.

While I am trying to adjust my own thoughts around some of these exotic and innovative stuff going on in research labs around the world, I found that I am not personally benefitting from the knowledge. So, I started to explore more on lifestyle and behavioural changes that could impact positively on my own health. Some changes I made to my lifestyle over the past couple of years were walking a minimum of 10,000 footsteps a day (I am averaging 18,000), taking up membership in a gym under the supervision and training of a professional trainer, consuming a variety of plant nuts (I have written about this in one of my earlier posts) and green leafy vegetables, and so on and so forth. Since I was (and still am) fond of wine, I resisted the investigation of the effects alcohol could have on the body.

Recently, I did so while happily drinking wine! I found that alcohol is not really a good thing for one’s liver, and could cause a litany of negative effects on the body and its organs which are far outweighed by the small benefits to the heart by drinking red wine. The medical opinion is divided. I consulted my doctor, and as expected he was not in favour of regular consumption of any type of alcohol. I persisted however, not giving up so fast.

It went on for some time until I saw my own fatty liver on ultrasound sonography test. The effectiveness of the liver functioning is affected when fat builds up in the liver cells due to alcohol drinking. It is not necessary that only alcohol drinking causes fatty liver. In fact, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is quite prevalent.

However, considering a combination of my health parameters and age, I decided it may not be wise to proceed drinking in an uninterrupted fashion as though nothing is going to be impacted; since my wine drinking and wine selection is based on some research which have led to a kind of passion for good wines, I know it is going to be rather difficult. In fact, I am feeling the withdrawal symptoms already, it being a Sunday evening now.

What should I do with the wine bottles that I had so carefully chosen and bought? My wife says just throw them – of course, I cannot in my good conscience do so. I will keep looking at them for a while till I get the courage to pluck one and gift it when visiting another family for dinner. It is going to be hard.

Well, my decision is most certainly a courageous one; it is unfortunately based on indiscriminate knowledge acquisition in the medical field, but fortunately supported by my doctor. My wife firmly and unequivocally supports my conclusions and decision.

Adieu my dear wine(s). Hope you folks (the wines I mean) do well.

I have to be determined, courageous, strong, and rely on my will power. I am sure I can do it.

Cheers, and enjoy the rest of your weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2018

 

 

 

The worsening traffic nightmare


India has always faced ever mounting infrastructure issues as its economy has expanded year after year over the past decade and a half. The country has consistently under-invested in infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, seaports, logistics), exactly opposite of how China’s infrastructure has been built ahead of its economic growth demands. Well, as they say the elephant takes time to get its house in order, while the dragon whizzes past at a tremendous, almost unbelievable speed even compared to Western standards.

So we have an India which is bursting at its seams, unable to cater to ever increasing domestic demands for all kinds of services. More than 115M Indians took a flight in March 2018, which is almost 10% of India’s population. This is a fantastic growth of nearly 24% Year-on-Year. But it exerts enormous pressure on airport infrastructure and capacity management. This has always been the issue in India. Almost everything is under planned, with the result being overcrowding and inability to manage demand with limited supply.

The only positive thing is that there is a sprinkling of brand new airport buildings and roads all over the country, and seaports are being upgraded. My guess is that it will take not less than another two decades before India catches up with China in terms of the country’s infrastructure – it could be faster as people would demand the same – there is after all a breaking point when things are likely to go haywire.

I experienced the road traffic jams in two Indian cities earlier this week – Bangalore (Bengaluru is the new name) and Chennai. I have not been to Bangalore for quite a while, so I was surprised with the traffic situation. Traffic in arterial roads was moving at snail’s pace, and it took more than two hours to reach Electronic City from the Airport. I should say that the Bangalore Airport was good (though not comparable to Mumbai or Delhi Airports) but it has been located some 50 to 60 KMs away from the city. I was also quite taken aback when the taxi swerved into several side roads (away from the highway) in order to cut the time of travel, but that ruse did not work out. Why can’t the city planners work out a straight toll-based expressway like in most global cities? Why should all visitors suffer just to get to the city, taking a good two hours and sometimes more? Why should the route to Electronic City cut across the key roads of the city instead of being connected to the Airport via an entry to the expressway, and so on and so forth………..there are no answers from our Bangalore colleagues however. Everyone is wondering, I guess, like we were! I later discovered that there is a helicopter service from the airport to Electronic City, but it was too late. Not only that, I found that the cost of the chopper was not very much higher than that of the taxi service, but it would cut the time taken to just 15 minutes.

I believe the charm of a city is robbed by traffic chaos and mismanagement. Bangalore was a beautiful garden city admired by many but inhabited by ex-army folks, retirees, and public sector employees. The IT revolution has of course benefited the city’s economy greatly, no doubt about it. It has however damaged the ecosystem of the city and its surroundings. People from all over India (and many international people) have made Bangalore their home.

Coming to Chennai, I should say it fares better than Bangalore in terms of traffic management. I was however, not happy with the deterioration that I witnessed just over the past six months – there has been a strongly felt absence of road works and enhanced traffic routing all across the city. While it takes only 30 to 40 minutes to reach the centre of the city from the Chennai Airport, one has to navigate it like a city road, as there is no expressway to the city. The road is jammed with auto-rickshaws, cars, heavy vehicles and the like, making the vehicular movement rather slow. Traffic light violations are rampant, and the notion of “might is right” is slowly encroaching on road traffic in Chennai (I think it is an export from Delhi road culture).

I also found that it took longer to get a call taxi this time in Chennai. I was using the popular OLA app for getting auto-rickshaws for shorter rides (less than 5 KMs) and cars for longer rides. I had to plan in an additional 15 – 20 minutes to get an auto-rickshaw and at least 30 minutes for a car due to the bad traffic conditions on heavily congested roads. It took me 40 minutes to get a taxi at 6:30 PM on a Saturday to go to the airport.

Overall, I find that India’s development comes at a heavy cost of lost productivity, with traffic situation being only one of the factors. People are irritated on the roads, and small accidents are not uncommon in city roads, often leading to fights and stoppage of smooth traffic flow. Traffic violations are on the rise. Wi-Fi is becoming a much sought after service on taxis to kill time. Transportation is a most basic requirement of people and it is the responsibility of the government to provide ease and flexibility in transportation. It is going to cost India more than a trillion dollars to get its infrastructure in place, and that will take not less than twenty years in my opinion.

Cheers, and enjoy India’s traffic in a pleasant manner, and without getting into road rage,

Vijay Srinivasan
21st April 2018
Chennai International Airport