Today is the last day of 2017.
What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.
That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.
If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.
The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.
2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.
The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.
2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.
So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.
I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?
Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.
I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.
31st December 2017
Many of my St Marys’ High School classmates reverted on the post I published recently The Loss of a Great Life Teacher
I had obviously missed out on some of the key teachings of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J. Here is a summary of the comments provided by my esteemed classmates from those impactful, influential, and most remembered days at the school in Madurai, that I am publishing on their behalf:
Ganesan says – “………the first thing he wrote on the blackboard was ‘I expect great things from you‘………shall always remember him”
Chander says – “………the 4C of Fr Joseph are ‘Critical, Creative, Cultural and Communitarian‘………”. This needs no explanation, we all understand what the Rev Fr was trying to say.
Chakravarthy says – “………...whomever he has vented his anger on have done well in life. Even if he is harsh, he will come back next day with his trade mark smile. Once he even left our class in anger saying that he didn’t want to handle this class any longer. Very next day he forgot everything and proceeded as usual. That’s him”.
Ramesh says – “………….the drama show for the inmates of (Madurai) jail (prison), put up by Rev Fr………..a great philanthropic deed for those inmates……….”. Ramesh also says – “…………he was the first teacher who visited his students’ houses in those days……….he was a great lover of fine arts………..he introduced the habit of House Magazine,……….and our class was chosen to receive the first prize……..I remember to have received the prize on stage on behalf of our class in 9th standard………..”
Ashraf says – “……….he always used to say ‘I expect great things from you‘……….”
Shihan Hussaini says – “…………..LOSS OF MY FOUNDATION! There are people who are truly responsible for your foundations in your childhood. Fr Felix Joseph was my strongest foundation. He groomed me, moulded me, helped me, supported me and guided me all through my life. When I was in school and when I was out of school. When I was in touch with him and even when I was not. His powerful influence has chiseled many a young mind in St Marys’ Higher Secondary School where he was the Assistant Head Master and my class teacher. His ability to identify talent was phenomenal. I was cast in the lead in two plays that he directed – ‘Punnagaiyin Pugal’ and ‘Nulainthae Teeruvom’. His dramatic portrayal of the various characters and his acting every character out to teach us is vividly in my mind. His love and motivation for English vocabulary and his emphasis on all of us learning new words was legendary. When I expressed my love for oil painting and my inability to afford the materials, he gifted me my first oil paint tubes box and hog hair brush. He encouraged the pursuit of reading. He always gave me a pat on th eback and a word of appreciation when he found me in the school library. Can’t forget how he took the entire class to director K. Balachander’s movie ‘Tappu Taalangal’ and encouraged us to participate in a national film review contest. Individual boys were assigned to write criticism (critique) on various sections of the movie. I was asked to review ‘art direction!’. We won the contest and the first prize of Rs. 200 was shared by the boys. In later days when I was introduced in movies by K. Balachander, I narrated this to the director and he was keen to meet Fr Felix Joseph. Incidentally my first play with Fr Felix was called ‘Punnagai Mannan’ and my first movie with KB sir was (also) ‘Punnagai Mannan’. Fr Felix helped me to connect to Dr Michael Debakey, the pioneer of open heart surgery from Houston USA (after my childish, failed experimental open heart surgeries with white mice) and was instrumental in getting a personal scholarship of USD 100 every year from him (for me). When I met Dr Debakey many years later during his visit to Chennai for a seminar and thanked him, he was keen on meeting Fr Felix. Fr was personally responsible for evolving my acting, mono acting, painting, writing, oratorical, debating and other skills. When he visited me at home in Chennai, he presented my wife with a picture of Mary. He was in touch with my wife frequently as I was not reachable on phone many a time. It’s truly sad that he is no more. He lived a fruitful life shaping young minds and creating moral foundations for his students. I see his influence in every creative work I have done and will do. He will be remembered. Truly, Father, rest in peace………”.
Nanda Kumar says – “………For late comers in lower classes who come to get his signature, he used to tell them ‘Thank You sollittu poda‘……………”.
Anthony Jayakumar says – “………..God bless his soul! He was a great teacher and a wise man. He led a long and fruitful life………….”
KS Sekar says – “………..I can never forgive myself for not visiting him in my numerous trips to Madurai despite Ashraf offering to take me. He was committed to our batch like nobody I have seen. He pushed us to succeed on our own efforts. He beautifully handled academic slackers and extraordinarily brilliant and eccentric minds alike. I interacted with him extensively while at St Marys’. Not once did he try to impose his religious beliefs on me or criticize mine. I will never forget his rule to include vocabulary words in our essays. In my humble opinion, he was a true guru I was blessed to learn from………”
I have tried to capture as much as I could from the various WhatsApp messages. This is a summary which hopefully will stay in one place on the internet for all of us to refer to……..and show to our children and grand children.
24th December 2017
My most impressionable years were spent at the St Marys’ High School in Madurai city of Tamil Nadu State in India. Those days it was a different society, a different education system, and a different method of teaching. I spent 6 crucial years in the secondary school (6th grade to 11th grade), and for three of those years I went through a transformative experience under the tutorship of Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.
I am a member of the WhatsApp group of St Marys’ of my batchmates, and it was through that platform I learnt of the demise of Rev Fr. I also saw his pictures, and it brought back a lot of memories from those days which continue to influence me even today.
Rev Fr Felix Joseph was a firm assistant head master, and a teacher for our class. He displayed immense strength in character while showing his kindness in many ways. Our class comprised of students with varying degrees of talent and naughtiness, and he dealt with each and every student in his own personal style, without causing a fear psychosis. Students were, of course, afraid of him due to his firmness in demanding discipline and class work quality, but that never detracted the students from demonstrating their talents to the Rev Fr. He had a strong interest in literature and cinema, and also in journalism. He published his movie review in a local Tamil magazine, which attracted widespread attention, as Jesuit Fathers are not known to be very social and cinema-oriented.
Rev Fr Felix Joseph took personal interest in the development of many students – he specifically encouraged students with talents in extra-curricular areas such as sports and games, art, dramas, painting, writing, film critique, public speaking, etc., I know of my class mates who have benefited in a significant manner due to his personal involvement, guidance and mentoring. He shaped so many of us who were struggling to find our feet in this world, while goading us towards a better academic performance all the time.
He never tried to instil any Christian religious values – but, he emphasized the importance of a value system to be developed by oneself and to be followed. This is an important distinction when over 90% of the students were from the Hindu religion or philosophy. In this context, I would point out that Indian parents, of the educated variety, mostly preferred to send their children to Christian schools those days. When the school asked us to bring used clothes for charitable purposes, we all brought without any question. When we went around the statue of Jesus Christ with candles in hand, we did that without a religious orientation – we knew that all religions were the same (and still, remain the same).
Rev Fr Felix Joseph was well known for his love of the English Language, English Literature and English Vocabulary. He insisted that we broaden our knowledge of English and its application, by learning a lot of words and reading a lot of books. The value of that work was revealed during later part of our respective lives, when we could all stand our stead proudly in front of any one from around the world and hold our heads high.
A life spent in moulding young minds and lives must have been a rather enjoyable and fruitful life for Rev Fr Felix Joseph. He was a wise man and an excellent teacher of not only the English language but life skills. As a batch of students in a formative stage of our lives, it is not an exaggeration to say that he was the one single teacher who was instrumental in positively influencing all of us and guided us towards the next stage in our lives. I would say most of us survived successfully thanks in no small measure due to his unselfish contribution to our lives.
Rest in Peace Rev Fr Felix Joseph, S.J.
Cheers, and Continue to follow his guidance in the rest of our lives St Marys’ friends,
17th December 2017
More than any other country on this planet, I would say that India needs free access to the internet to help it leapfrog to the next stage of its already large economy (the Indian GDP just surpassed that of the U.K.). In order to sustain its economic growth, remove system inefficiencies, open up new opportunities for entrepreneurs and alleviate poverty levels, India needs to subsidize access to the internet for citizens earning less than USD 10 per day.
That figure is a mind-boggling 500M people in my estimate, mostly based in rural towns, and villages. Even large cities have huge populations of people with no access to electricity, or even potable water. Given this situation, is it not laughable that I am suggesting internet as a free (or almost free) utility for the people to use ?
No, it is not a matter to be sniffed at. Given that tablets are now available at less than USD 50 (though not great looking), access to the internet utility becomes the major constraint for those masses of people who are at the fringe of the Indian economy which is still slated to grow @ 7.5% or more this year. The key enabler for these people is going to be knowledge and application of knowledge to their vocations and school learning. And, how is India going to deliver knowledge and actionable learning to the masses when its educational infrastructure is so weak ? How is India going to develop its intellectual capabilities beyond the IITs ? There are many questions but it is unquestionable that people provided with opportunities at the right times in their lives make it to a successful life later in their lives. Opportunity is critical and the Indian economy would not be in a position to deliver opportunities to the roughly 10M people coming into its workforce every year, most of them waiting for a job. That is close to 1M people every month!
Facebook and Google are opening up the airwaves in India by offering WiFi access in railway stations and other public places. While their goals are not entirely philanthropic, such initiatives by private corporations have to be commended when the national resources are tight to deploy access throughout the rural areas of India. I believe that India stands to benefit in a huge manner when all its villages and rural population are connected via satellite-based internet. Already 400M Indians are connected to the internet via their mobile phones.
India is not only a huge consumer market which is becoming more knowledgeable about the products the people wish to consume. It is also a melting pot for all kinds of experimentation that companies would like to pursue in the interest of testing their offerings. India is also an entrepreneurial nation of youngsters rushing to launch their new ideas or adaptation of ideas which have worked elsewhere. Given that the government is pushing the idea of a “Digital India”, it is not surprising that the population is warming up quickly towards the concept of all time and real time connectivity to test ideas, consume products, evaluate anything and everything. This is nothing short of a revolution in the making.
The good thing about India is that there is space for everyone. With its English-speaking workforce and modern orientation, India will become the third largest economy of the world by 2030, if not by 2025. It is critical that India offers opportunities to its aspiring people via the concept of free internet. Such an offering can even be positioned as free for 3 years, followed by USD 1 per month thereafter, for segments of the population which has an annual per capita income of USD 2,000 or less. For people earning above this figure upto a cap of USD 5,000 per capita, the rate could be fixed at USD 3 per month. People outside this cap would have to pay the commercial price. Such a subsidy scheme would go a long way in facilitating internet access to the teeming millions of Indians, transforming the country towards a Digital India.
I do hope this happens for the benefit of all Indians.
11th June 2017
It has been just about two weeks since I started wearing a Fitbit Alta device on my wrist in my quest to measure my walking performance.
I have seen an amazing change in my otherwise staid walking behaviour. For the record, I walk for about 2.1 KMs every morning (Fitbit measures this distance and also says that I walk for around 3,000 steps) of the working week, and almost 5 to 6 KMs for the weekend morning. So, I approximately walk around 21 to 22 KMs every week.
My challenge has been on setting a target for the number of steps. Initially, I set 7,500 then increased it to 8,500. I realized one day that this figure is not good enough as the American Heart Association says the average number of steps a person needs to walk everyday should be around 10,000 steps. I kept looking at that message from Fitbit for a few days, and then decided to increase the target to 10,000 steps.
It was easy to achieve between 6,000 and 7,000 steps during the period from waking up till returning home in the evening from office. However, I found that I am not that great a walker in the evenings, and could barely ratchet up another 1,000 to 1,500 steps in the evenings. This resulted in couple of behavioural changes.
I started walking within the office more than I usually do. I started walking more often to get a glass of water, for example. That might add some 300 steps. I also started pacing around a large room or meeting area or pantry when I got a call, or I had to make a call to someone. I found that this added a substantial amount of steps, sometimes in excess of 2,000 steps – instead of sitting and taking calls or making calls, I started walking every time. Together with the water trips in the office, I was easily able to add a minimum of 3,000 steps a day, which took my average walking measure close to 9,000 / 9,500 steps.
The balance was easy to make up by walking around the house in the evenings, pacing while taking calls in the evenings, etc., So, I started doing above 11,000 steps a day. I saw this kind of improvement in just about couple of weeks after starting to wear Fitbit.
The other important and somewhat compelling reason for wearing Fitbit was the comparative measurement of other folks who are connected to oneself and using Fitbit. I was able to see how I was doing compared to a few of my friends and colleagues. As it happened, several of my friends and colleagues were veterans of Fitbits, and have collected many badges on the way. They were clearly above 80,000 steps during any preceding week, while I was barely making it to 70,000 steps. This gave additional push to my behavioural change, and I have just started thinking of adding more steps to my daily rigamarole.
My estimate is that 85,000 steps in any one week is a very good figure to achieve for most folks (average of 12,000 steps a day). During the weekend day, I am also trying to ensure that I walk for over 6 KMs at the minimum. There is enough motivation to do so, given the nature trails in Singapore. I get into issues only when I travel, as I have to replicate the steps measure over a treadmill in a gym which is not exactly equivalent to open air brisk walking.
Overall, Fitbit is a good gadget addition to the list of gadgets we all end up with. May be I should go in for the latest device which also has heartbeat. I noticed that the Health app in my iPhone is not exactly producing the same as the Fitbit figures (the app produces far lower numbers as compared to Fitbit numbers). I am going to check out the latest Fitbit device or any other device which can give me more parameters.
Walking makes one feel good (I am sure running also does that). Walk more and eat less is my new motto.
23rd October 2016
Five decades after bullet trains (“Shinkansen”) revolutionized land transportation in Japan, it is the turn for India to enjoy such high-speed mode of travel with its speed, convenience and elegance. Japan is funding most of the investment required for the bullet train service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and if this proves successful, then we can see all the key land corridors connected by bullet trains in the next couple of decades.
This is a huge milestone in the relationship between the two most powerful democracies in the world – Japan and India. Japan has also agreed to transfer nuclear technology to India after a long period of reluctance. In combination, these two milestones will provide the much needed boost for the Indian transportation and energy sectors in the years to come and further, solidify the partnership between India and Japan.
The Shinkansen system has not had any accidents over the past 50 years or so, as against the bullet trains from China which has had one major accident in the recent past. The reliability of the Shinkansen, combined with very low interest financing by Japan, and transfer of technology for local manufacturing clinched the deal for Japan.
However, one cannot ignore the Chinese competition. China has been working aggressively over the past couple of years in conducting feasibility studies for the New Delhi – Mumbai and New Delhi – Chennai corridors. These implementations will entail a very huge investment due to the distances involved, and my view is that the Indian Government will be hard pressed to ignore a competitive offer from China. The bullet trains from China are obviously lower-priced (like anything else) as compared to the Shinkansen which comes with a very long experience and expertise of inventing and running such systems with an impeccable accident record. However, a developing country like India will need to consider both the countries’ offers before making decisions on every corridor, and politics might eventually dictate such decisions.
India deserves to be served by such fast bullet trains as trains will become an “economic” mover. For the Indian economy to continue to flourish, the efficiency of the transportation sector, especially rail transport, is crucial. This combined with improving infrastructure logistics, will pave the way for the “make in India” campaign to be successful over the next decade. It will be easier to connect the metros with bullet trains than with roads, if one ignores the financing required. Further, trains provide mass transportation as compared to roads in India which still do not measure up to international standards – most people on the roads seem to be driving their cars followed by lorries. It is obviously not possible to run very long distance buses (for more than 500 KMs) due to passenger fatigue and other considerations.
Given the above situation, bullet trains provide an excellent alternative to the congested road systems of India. If one can travel at the speed of 300 KM per hour on bullet trains, why bother using flights for shorter distances ? It takes a long time door to door when one uses flights anywhere in the world, even for shorter flights. One prime example is the time it takes to reach your hotel in Kuala Lumpur from your home in Singapore. It takes not less than four good hours to go through the two airports, with the flight taking up less than 40 minutes. This is the reason why a high-speed bullet train is being contemplated between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. This is one of the highest air traffic routes in the world.
I am happy to see the closeness developing between India and Japan, this is a much needed collaboration. The Indian Prime Minister has taken a fascination towards the Japanese Prime Minister, and personal chemistry does deliver some wonders in due course of time. Japanese technology for anything is one of the finest available anywhere in the world (I am making this statement in a generic sense), and if India could find a financially meaningful way to leverage various Japanese technologies in its “Make in India” Campaign, then both countries would benefit enormously.
Let us not forget that this is a Democracy to Democracy partnership. The Japanese apparently see value in catering to the large Indian population, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this partnership becomes the most critical, defining strategic partnership in Asia, between any two countries.
13th December 2015
Last week, I visited the Texas Book Depository on Elm Street in Dallas.
While I had been to Dallas several times, this was the first time I thought about going to see the place where President JF Kennedy was shot in 1963.
It was an experience !
The Book Depository has been maintained like it was way back in 1963, some 5 decades ago. I thought the entry fee of USD 16 was somewhat on the higher side for what was essentially a lesson on freedom and democracy.
I read almost all the placards in which JFK’s life history, his passions, his determination on civil rights, and his fights with communism were so well documented. I also saw the couple of film documentaries on his life, especially impressed by the one that was shot after his assassination.
When I looked at the spot chosen by Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot the President, I was indeed surprised. It must have been a rather tricky shot – in fact there was a tree in the line of fire. There were so many doubts about this assassination leading to several congressional inquiries. It is very difficult to believe that an assassin took a shot on the President of the U.S. from a bookstore and almost got away, and that too, from an improbable angle with a USD 12.78 rifle that he purchased via post.
I spent an hour and a half and then walked down to the exact spot on the road where the President’s car was when he was shot, marked with an “X” mark on the road leading to the underpass. An “open” presidential car procession is inconceivable in today’s world.
The oratorical skills of President JFK continue to impress me. His vigour and passion, his deep interest in the arts, his ability to fight against the Soviet Union, and his very deep conviction on Civil Rights for the blacks are all elements of a world-class leader.
Well, that was a rather young and high-potential leader’s life cut short by a brutal assassin, who was probably mentally deranged anyway.
If you are in Dallas, make it a point to go to the downtown and see the Bookstore Museum. It became, and continues to be, an critically important milestone in the development of human freedom and democracy, and is a beacon for people around the world in memory of a President who cared about freedom of people all around the world.
27 April 2013