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

Something mundane after a while………


The world is ever-changing. There are a number of things happening around the world about which I can blog (I usually do), but there comes a point when fatigue catches up with you and tells you to step away for a while. I am sure to come back to the global happenings scenario sooner than later, as it is simply irresistible.

So what am I going to blog about this Sunday morning (I shifted to the morning from my usual evening rendezvous with my blog as I have some engagement in the evening)? Nothing heavy, it is simply the experience of breaking my old iPhone 6 and replacing it with a new iPhone 8Plus.

Once someone gets locked into the Apple world, it is very difficult to get out. This is the way Apple (many examples come to mind from the past, like IBM) holds on to its client base, which is anyway enchanted with whatever Apple is doing all the time. There is of course, no question about the fabulous technology packaged in art form by Apple as compared to other bland competitors. Clearly, Apple does not have a direct competitor of similar stature. This is the primary reason why Apple is also able to charge higher prices to its customers who are ready to pay those prices, which sometimes appear atrocious.

Apple has had its missteps in the past like with the Mac line of computers. But with the iPhone, Apple hit the perennial jackpot, though it is not the top-selling mobile phone in the world. iPhone is something which you desire to own because of its elegant appearance, functions and features, and it kind of makes a fashion statement of sorts. Apple continues to innovate, though at a slightly slower pace.

Let me come to my iPhone 6, which I had owned for almost 2.5 years. It has had rough times during my possession (I still have it) as I am good in dropping the phone on office carpet (which is OK), on pavements (not OK at all), and in car parks (absolutely not at all OK). At one time, I had the entire screen cracked, and at another time, I had the bottom left completely cracked when it fell down with a swoop of the hand (mine of course) in the car park and went under a parked car. I did try to protect the iPhone with special screen which will allow me to drop without damaging the original display of the iPhone. However, one day I came to the sad conclusion that my nice handy iPhone6 has to make way for a newer and bigger phone.

Most of my friends and colleagues who are iPhone users had by now (over the past just 3 months!)  migrated to the iPhone X. I did not like the fact that the iPhone X does not have a home button, and everything needs to be done with a stylish wave of the hand, so to say. After some deliberation, I decided to get the somewhat unwieldy (though almost same in size as the iPhone X) iPhone 8Plus. I liked the display and the familiarity of the home button. The size of the screen also made it easy to read and play around, almost making the laptop redundant. While the battery capacity is higher than the iPhone 6, it still could not sustain more than 24 hours of usage, which was somewhat disappointing. It is necessary to keep charging the phone once the charge drops below 20% and build it up to 80% every day, or keep a battery bank handy all the time while on the move.

I know that Android phones have made huge progress, and in some cases cost almost as much as the iPhone 8 series. One has to look at the prices of the Samsung S9 and make a comparison. The display and battery performance are more brilliant than the iPhone for sure. The speed of operation is more or less the same. The whole hassle is that of the “familiarity” quotient – you like what you have been used to, and you like the fact that there is not much of a change in the way the phone functions.

I am getting used to my new iPhone 8Plus, and have kept the iPhone 6 for other uses (for example, I am going to use that old phone with the Jio SIM when I travel in India). Since I have kept both the old and new phones almost identical in terms of settings and apps, they feel the same. I do have an Android phone with an Airtel number for use in India, which I am thinking of jettisoning soon.

Well, well, that is my story of phone transitioning. There was not much of adjustments required while moving to iPhone 8Plus, except that the cloud restore was not possible due to the lack of space on the iCloud. So I went in the traditional way – connected my old iPhone to my laptop for a full backup using iTunes, and then restoring that backup on to my new phone. It took some tweaks and effort, but I managed to get everything restored on the new phone. It was a wonderful feeling when the new phone started behaving as though it was the old phone with a new clothing.

Apple makes these processes somewhat painless, though if you forget any Apple ID or password or passcode, you are in for a big touble. It happened twice to me in the past, but luckily it didn’t happen this time around.

So folks, that is my experience. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and avoid drinking alcohol,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2018

 

The News Bias


There exists a political bias in almost all news organizations. Most famous ones such as CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post are considered liberal, which means “leftist” in the U.S. News organizations such as Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and countless others are best characterized as conservative, which means “rightist” in the U.S. There is hardly any neutral news organization or publication anywhere in the world. The closest that I have seen are The Hindu newspaper in India, and The Guardian in the U.K. There may be others that I do not know, and my lack of mentioning others does not mean that there are no other neutral publications or TV news channels.

There is nothing wrong with some bias, as news editors are, after all, human beings, and have certain orientations and thought processes in their heads as they handle news and news analyses. However, they are not supposed to twist or tweak the factual news to their advantage, with an insidious purpose in mind. It could be that they wish to provoke an anti-government or anti-establishment public reaction, which goes against the grain of news gathering and publishing. The editorials could convey what the editor(s) wants to comment on the main news of the day, but the reporting has to be absolutely factual, as otherwise it could turn dangerous, as we have seen recent instances especially in India with fake news (“faked” news) dominating and corrupting the public’s view of the happenings. Such reporting happens in many countries around the world, and is designed to serve the political orientation of the editor or owner of the publication.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there has to be a law to regulate news, much like in the old days when news publications could be prosecuted for incorrect news reporting which results in public mayhem, destruction, deaths, violence, etc., (this used to be called “censorship” in old times). There is nothing wrong in seeking to enforce law and order against what is famously known as the “Fourth Estate”. I am not inclined to believe that a carefully calibrated law and order enforcement against an erring news publication or TV channel or news organization can be termed as shutting down press freedom. Everyone is subject to the same laws, so what is so unique about one segment of the society?

Well, we might need a “news ombudsman” to ensure impartiality, and to enforce actions against all publications without fear or favour. It is easier said than done. Any government appointee is going to be at least slightly biased, and so it is critical to select someone with the involvement of the government of the day, the political opposition in the parliament and the judiciary, and to embed sufficient powers in the office of such an ombudsman, who can issue orders to law enforcement, much like the Election Commissioner, or the Head of Anti-Corruption Agency.

News organizations should also include all social media platforms such as FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. They need to be regulated simply because they are more powerful than any brick and mortar news producer. News on such platform posted by anyone spreads at exponential speeds and rumours could create havoc. We have also recently witnessed how FaceBook sacrificed the personal data of millions of people who use their platform for monetary benefit. Given the proclivity of the younger generation to take up social media platforms with amazing speed, it becomes essential to moderate such platforms without causing damage to the neurons of youngsters at a very young age.

I enjoy flipping the news channels between CNN, BBC, Fox News, CNBC, and other local / regional channels. The priority given to news coverage varies across the channels. Sometimes what you think is a very important piece of news does not even merit a mention in some of the channels. If things do not go well for the audience of Fox News, then the anchors distract them with some unimportant sidelights. And so on and so forth. Of course, it requires a worldly intelligence to segregate fake news from what is real. It is not an easy skill, as fake news could easily be debunked and thrown away upon a refresh of the news website; it could be worded in a convincing way which reflects in certain measure some amount of truth, or it could be covered by a famous news anchor. If Russia is disliked by most news channels for ideological or political reasons, it is very easy to spot that dislike. If China is berated for trade or intellectual property thefts, that also gets highlighted in a big way. There are hardly any counter arguments that you would hear in the world famous TV news channels against their own governments or allies. It is not unnatural, but it is not normal in a news reporting organization. There are, of course, good examples of news reporting which is balanced and also good analysis of news with differing viewpoints which we get to see sometimes, but such balanced coverage is slowly declining in my opinion, as the audience wants “supportive” analyses, not “destructive” analyses by political commentators. There is also disdain of these commentators or opinion-producers amongst the common public, as they are repeatedly used throughout the year, with more or less the same views. They are either “supportive” of the government, or in some cases “destructive” of the government’s stand on issues. Eventually, people will realize that anyone on this planet can have a view of his/her own on any issue which may or may not affect him/her. Nothing wrong with that position either. The point is that fast-talking commentators have not helped to define a news organization, they only reflect their own biases in their opinion piece.

Looking at the overall stained news scenario, it is but normal to conclude that we should make up our own news – what I mean is that, you pull together pieces of news from various publications using some software which can generate your own news as per your own criteria. If I am a conservative, rightist kind of person, then my filters would produce news that I am looking for! Tomorrow, I could become a liberal and I will then get to enjoy the “liberal” view of world news and happenings!!

Well, folks have a good weekend, and avoid drinking alcohol,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th April 2018 (Today is TAMIL New Year, Wishes to my Tamil Friends and Families!)

The Mechanism


Institutionalized corruption has been the bane of good governance in most developing countries. Even in developed countries corruption masquerades as expensive lobbying, with quid pro quo for almost all favours done by the powers that be. Unfortunately, corruption is instinctively embedded in human psyche – the premise is that almost everyone has a price, like everything has a price, and provided that price is paid, that everyone is available to provide a service. It sounds obnoxious and bothersome to say the least, but it is a practical reality most of us have encountered in our lives. There is no denying it, it is very rare for a person not to have experienced or seen it.

When corruption is institutionalized in the system, like it is feeding upon itself in embedded circles, then we have a very serious and dangerous problem to handle and fix. When public money (basically taxpayers’ money) is siphoned off by government-owned companies through the well-oiled system of awarding contracts at inflated prices to chosen contractors, who then reward the politicians and ministers who appoint directors on the board of these companies via a money laundering scheme, then corruption is well entrenched. It is not possible to eradicate the scourge of corruption irrespective of change in governments or officials. The law enforcement becomes part of the system as it comes under the Justice Ministry, which is just another government machinery to ensure that the above-described system stays in place.

“The Mechanism” is a Netflix serial which just started running – it is about the systemic corruption in Brazil, which is still playing out in real life. You might have seen that the ex-President Lula da Silva has been arrested and sentenced to years in jail, and his successor Dilma Rousseff is also facing corruption charges. I have been seeing the serial for the past couple of weeks, and it has got my full attention. I can visualize how the same system would work out in other countries that I know of.

What surprised me in the serial is the passionate commitment of the law enforcement officers and their loyalty to each other as they fight the corrupt villains together sometimes, and on a disjointed basis on other times. It is funny to see how the lead officer fights off the prosecutor during a press conference. At the end of the day, it is all about human emotion, and how that plays out while the almost real story spins out of control. The Mechanism also shows how important it is to have an impartial judge who carefully evaluates the evidence before signing off the search and seizure or arrest warrants. When someone cannot be bought, then the story turns in favour of ultimate justice.

Many of us have experienced the most simple variety of corruption – like the official at the property registration office demanding a cut before registering the sale or purchase of property, or the driving license official asking for a price, etc., Many of us have only “read” about institutional corruption – how public funds that otherwise could be usefully deployed to pay for much needed infrastructure or citizen services, are tapped by unscrupulous public companies and politicians which keep developing nations poor for ever. This is a sad story playing out in most countries. There are only a very few lucky countries which do not have this plague afflicting their system of governance.

I was never that much interested in Brazil, but The Mechanism brought Brazil right front and centre – a fascinating country indeed. It is the 8th largest economy in the world with more than 207M population, and a GDP per capita of over USD 10K. It is the largest economy in South America and prior to 2012, it was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, meriting its inclusion in the McKinsey BRIC group of countries.

Large countries do have large problems, and Brazil has not been an exception.

Corruption has roiled the country out of shape over the past several years, damaging the presidencies of multiple presidents. It is always surprising to find that the pressure to maintain the status quo is just phenomenal – as we see in The Mechanism, the previous Attorney General (called the “wizard” in the serial) tries to negotiate a deal with the incumbent Attorney General on behalf of the 13 corrupt contractors who, he maintains, are crucial for the survival of the Brazilian economy! And, when that pressure builds up all the way to the President of the country (as is shown in the serial as well), then one can imagine the enormous stress that can be applied on honest law enforcement officials and judges.

The serial is not over, and I have not seen all the episodes. But is easy to figure out the impact of corruption in the Brazilian society, as the water utility company which comes to fix a broken pipe in the serial demonstrates the corrosive influence of systemic corruption by passing off the work to a small time contractor who will then feed back the bribe to the company officials.

I have not seen serials on corruption – this is probably the first one. The creator of the series has done an amazing job (his name is Jose Padilha), and the key actors have performed exceedingly well, though personal animosities do take an overarching role disturbing the main theme of the serial. But let me forgive that distraction and focus on the positives of the serial!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

08 April 2018

 

Flirting with Gymming


What kind of title is that? I had to call it something while trying to figure out what I am going to write about this Saturday evening. I decided that it should be about my new experience at the gym, which is kind of changing me in several ways. I also thought it is appropriate to write about the experience, as I have just completed 50% of the 44 classes that I signed up for, as of today.

I have had several flings with gymming over the years, but nothing has been consistent. Most of the time it was just visiting the gym at the condo and checking out the various equipment without any expert guidance from a friend or a trainer. Sometimes I get an urge to go to the hotel gym when I am travelling, again to check out how a gym at a nice hotel is equipped. I just used to run, sorry walk, on the treadmill and lift some weights and that justified the need to carry my gym shoes and dress while travelling. The condo gym never worked out as usually there was no support of any trainer.

And so it went………with no physical gain from gym related activities over all these years. The only benefit I got was from my usual walking which I have maintained consistently every day of the week – currently my average is 18,000 steps a day.

So one day my wife asked me what I am doing at the gym. I smiled sheepishly and she anyway knew. She forced me to take up a 44-class trainer led program at a leading gym not far from where I live, and to start with I was quite reluctant giving various reasons why it will not work out for me. But she rejected my rationale, and made me start up from the last week of December. Now I am going into my 14th week with 2 classes per week, but then when I travel I miss my classes.

I should say that my trainer is pretty good – let us call him R. He has been tasking me from the very first class in serious gymming, and for the past couple of classes I have been inducted into “free weights” – using my own body instead of the benefit of the machines (which I have been doing almost in every class anyway). Free weights like dumb bells and weights task you like anything and are significantly tougher and more beneficial than the usual gym machines. R told me that repetitions are what matter the most, not increasing weights. It can even be 4 or 6 KG dumb bells, but the work these do on one’s muscles is just incredible. The other technique is “isolation” – instead of using both hands, just train one hand at a time. It is very tough but it is good in building the weak arm. I am learning a wide variety of techniques and approaches towards muscle building from R, and he has been doing this for the past over 2 decades.

As R says, if there is no pain, there is no gain. The machines look good, are easy to understand and operate, and one feels good using the various machines at the gym. However, a collection of machines only delivers overall exercise, not specific muscle-building activities. R told me that I am weak in my arms, shoulders, and legs – and over the past 14 weeks or so, he has been addressing my weaknesses progressively. It is like going through a university course, with all the work being done by the student and the professor just providing appropriate guidance only.

Sometimes, I feel totally drained even after 30 minutes of the 60 minutes class. It is occasionally “back-breaking” so to say. But I get encouraged seeing other trainees under other trainers who are going through similar experiences (only that they are all much younger!). R, however, told me that age is not an issue or hurdle, as long as instructions are followed and muscles are addressed appropriately by the various exercises.

I should say that my perspective on life is beginning to change. I know that I am not into gymming for the “body building” passion; I am into gymming to ensure my muscles do not waste away, and I am able to carry my frame as I age. It may or may not work, but I believe that going to gym under a professional trainer is the right approach. If you throw in your “weight” behind the program, you might start to see some improvement. I wonder at these trainers at the gym, who are into training for 12 hours every day for six days in a week – incredible commitment to a single pursuit. I do strike up conversation with R almost during every class while resting between two exercises, and I was surprised to learn that he trained as a mechanical engineer, but chose this profession to follow his heart. Amazing guy!

So, here I am, almost at the middle of my training program. It is getting increasingly tougher every class as I navigate the program, but there is no escape from this serious commitment designed to help myself. I would strongly encourage my audience to consider the possibility of gymming under a professional trainer, it is something which will be highly productive given the right quality of training.

It took me more than an hour to recoup my energy with some good coffee and snacks after the gym activity, but at the end of the day I feel good about this commitment and investment. It may not turn into a passion, but it is likely to persist during the rest of my life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

07 April 2017

 

The Dead Arm Shiraz 2014


Excellent wine from d’Arenberg winery, McLaren Vale, South Australia. McLaren Vale has a climate resembling the Mediterranean, suited to growing a wide variety of vines. Shiraz is the best known varietal from McLaren Vale, thought there are other popular ones also cultivated.

When someone gifted me this wine, I was curious to learn about the origin of its name. Who would call a wine as “the dead arm”? Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by a fungus, and the part of the vine which is affected becomes dead wood. However, the other part produces vines of intense complexity, and the “The Dead Arm” Shiraz from d’Arenberg is the product of such vines.

Please read up about this unique wine at “The Dead Arm”.

The website of the vineyard is at The D’Arenberg Winery.

This wine has a deep purplish colour, dominated by dark fruits with strong intensity driving up the flavours. Highly rated by various reputed reviewers, The Dead Arm remains as the flagship Shiraz wine from the d’Arenberg winery which was established in 1912. I enjoyed this wine, very much influenced by its complexity and richness on the palate. The concentrated tannins in this wine provide a spicy and long finish, lingering for quite a while.

I have tried a number of Shiraz wines from Australia – I will not deny the fact that Australian Shiraz is world-class with some unbeatable vineyards. However, after a fairly long time, I am witnessing the resurgence of Shiraz in my household as the preference has always been for Cabernet Sauvignon, or Malbec, or Pinot Noir. This is good news, now I have a chance to explore some Shiraz wines when I go wine-shopping!

If you are looking for a full-bodied, intense, fruity Shiraz, you cannot go wrong with The Dead Arm. It is somewhat expensive and not easily available in Singapore, but can be ordered online in other countries. I would suggest that you bring out this bottle after a few years of cellaring, say after 3 to 5 years, and you will see that you have a winner in your hands to please your guests.

Wine is like golf, it requires a lot of understanding and time investment. There is never an end to the array of good wines from around the world. Of course, most of the time we choose the wine that we are already familiar with – which means that we intimately know the wine that we are predisposed to choose. So, it is necessary to keep the memory strong. I use the Vivino App on my iPhone which keeps track of the wines I have enjoyed in the past. It is almost like my wine database!

It is not true that I drink a glass of wine every day. Of late, I paced it out so that I drink a glass of wine twice every week, which means I look forward to it, and when it happens to be some new wine that I took a chance upon, it becomes even more inviting.

Be a responsible drinker, and do not drive under the influence of alcohol. I leave my car at home in case I am joining a party or get-together. It is much more convenient when you do not have to drive, as then the evening is “open” for some investigation and experimentation!

Today is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for all Christian friends it is a very important day – have a great Easter Sunday folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 April 2018