Monday, October 31, 2011

Technology Extracts a Heavy Price

Microsoft has come out with this envisoning thingy about the future. What I like about it is the fact that you can have a taxi by just putting on the relevant designer glasses. The girls walks seductively to the street intersection, takes her cool designer glass out and wears it, lights flash on the support rod, sort of sensor, and immediately a taxi comes and  stops near her. I like that one.

In Belapur where I live rickshaws are in short supply. The result is sometimes they are as lemmings, meaning there are a lot of them. Sometimes they are like the Panda, i.e., rare. I would like such glasses to be part of my accouterments. Oh, yes. I would. The rickshaw is not fighting a losing battle for existence but the poor rickshaw-wallah is fighting back. He needs to, or, he will be wiped out.

How about also pointing out to me the nearest idli-dosa joints when I am hungry. (I trust only hot-from-the-tava idli-dosas when I am hungry. They are hygenic in this germ-filled city.) Yes, there is a similar application on her i-pad-like contraption. As she is being driven in the taxi, she is holding a pad-shaped thing which has a map showing: eating joints, movie joints (so, I suppose) among other things. When she touches one of these things it shows the direction to these places.

Amazing isn't it? Who said the world is getting more complex in the post-Saddam, post-Gaddafi world. Yes, true, it is getting slightly more expensive. All these comes at a price, a steep price. I don't know how many farmers/technicians/support staff must have committed suicide to bring this technology into the market. But a price is extract for every new technology. I am just saying.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sad State of Superannuation

I am not in the ranting mode today. But I have been irregular of late and don't know what I should write about on the blog. Blogs are meant to be maintained, stupid. So maintain it. I am also tired after a journey, so will be brief.
What can be written? Let me see. Everytime wifey sends me to the market I get a shock. She sent me yesterday to buy cabbage, garlic, and tomatoes and it came to Rs 75. That money used to see my whole expense for a week back in the halcyon days of the eighties. Remember, Beatles broke up ten years before that? Of course, that has no relevance here. How is it that food prices are shooting up like this in an agricultural country? My outrage knows no bounds. No, I don't believe those who say inflation is all right. The government is giving away big salaries and pensions (around 60 per cent of our taxes go that way). But we, poor private sector folks, don't get any pension. A lot of people who find employment in the private are mostly not aware of the rules.
Of late, the thing about not having a pension has been worrying me. Though there is a superannuation scheme launched by the government how many companies implement it? These things come to mind because of the impending crisis of retirement. I have around six more years to go, yet, it worries me no end. Especially since I am not in favour of disposing of ancestral property. That is sacred. No touching that.
Well, I think government should implement superannuation for employees.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Ethical Are We?

Reading the papers these days is a pain. Look what one gets to read.
Jail for the head of McKinsey for insider trading.

I think it's a question of what is ethical here. In India we always
give away privilege information without even thinking twice about it.
We have no respect for propriety in these times. If someone asks us
about someone, we give the bad first and the good if at all. Gupta
must have said something in private and then it was picked up. We live
in a loose moral and ethical times while we are dealing with countries
which have a stricter code of morals. It's in our interest that we
update with the times and go along with what is ethical and moral
before it is too late.

Increasing globalisation necessitates more discretion in our business
dealings. Something which is ignored in organisations these days. Thus
you can find even established organisations running on pirated
software and where copyright rules are flouted without scruples. I
would even say our corporatedom is walking on the dangerous side.

Consider for example these facts: a foreign multinational will never
ties-up with an organisation if it is found to flout ethical laws.
Many Indian organsations are in the dark about this aspect. The
management is unaware because there aren't the usual ethical checks
and balances. For example go to the chat pages or forum pages of
investment websites in India and you will find all sorts of insider
tips being leaked there.

Let the MacKinsey case be a lesson. We need to educate our people on
the ethical aspects of doing business in a modern world.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Health and Happiness This Diwali - The Secret of Living Long

A few thoughts on Diwali. It's the festival of lights and I enjoy the view from the terrace, the resplendent lights, the bombs, the small crackers, the sparklers, the rockets. They swoosh and they tringg and they go plop over my head. I won't crib about how much money has been spent because man also needs a way to give vent to his/her joy and happiness. So it's good and in the fitness of things that a good time should be had by all.
There are these rules made by the authorities (meaning police, who else?) that bombs, what are called rassi bombs in particular, are banned. But the use of these bombs are omnipresent in our metropolis. On my walk I find that half the detritus of the crackers that have been burst are bombs. How come? How come they are sold if they are banned? Have we no consideration for the old who may go deaf with the noise?
Ah, well.
If we have any consideration for the old! Two days ago I and wifey were travelling to a friends place and an old couple (in their sixties, I might add) was our only co-passengers. The way the bus lurched when they entered leaving the man and woman holding on for dear life I had a rather fearsome premonition of what might happen to us after ten years or so. How can they be so thoughtless? How can they not think about old people who would be travelling by bus?
An uncle who was a train driver dropped in at home on Sundays. He is in his eighties and his health is something to be admired. He hasn't lost one tooth. He goes to bed at 10 p.m. and wakes up at 6 a.m. He is my mother's cousin, but mother lost all her teeth in her sixties. Shows how we can maintain ourself if we try. Uncle travels by train and by bus and even went to the U.S. all alone and travelled extensively throughout the country. I was a little heartened by his health and well being. These days vague fears are playing in my mind. Fears of life, mortality, financial stability, et cetera, especially after the spate of death I have witnessed recently.
Ah, if uncle can live so long and be healthy, so can I.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beware of Sweets You Receive as Gifts This Diwali!

Hm. What to say, but beware! Diwali, the festival of lights is upon us with its miasma of colours, lights, crackers that explode in the small of the night, showers of red, pink and green, sparklers, rockets, and such like. I like the season of gifting, of eating and lights. The lights are brilliant and almost every house is strung with blinking, winking lights, so resplendent in colours that one is transported into an out-of-this-world realm. It's the Indian time to be jolly as Christmas isn''t big in India, it's subdued, muted because it's the festival of a minority of christians (roughly 2 per cent of the population).

Hm. What was that "Hm" all about? Yeah, I am coming to it. Received some sweetmeat as gift yesterday. I was all praise for the gifter, actually a client. How considerate and kind! Went home and gorged on it seeing as it was full of dry fruits. Then the painful realisation came in the morning. The stomach felt distended, I felt queasy, kind of funny. Then it's been frequent visits to the rest room. Many visits and am still feeling funny in the stomach.

God! How can people gift infected sweets in this season of Joy. Absolutely insane, not to speak of being uncouth. I have my swords drawn for the client. How dare you poison me in the name of love?

Lesson: eat carefully this Diwali season. Season's greetings!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On the Subject of Libraries

I read this piece by Annie Zaidi about students in Aligarh Muslim University not being allowed to borrow books from the library. That spins off memories of my college days. The college has a well-stocked library, rows and rows of books, which were all kept under lock and key. I would look at the titles and salivate. I knew there was precious knowledge inside them. I ached to read good prose then. But we were only allowed to borrow text books. Damn! I think of all those lost opportunities that would have developed a better me. (I am not implying I am un-developed, please, critics give me a break!)

Another library I frequent - of which I am a life member - closes for a half day leave on Saturdays, which is the only day on which I can go there to borrow books. A shame, as this library is also well stocked with books donated by worthy people. The American Centre library is shifting to Bandra-Kurla-Complex, which will make it more difficult to reach. Imagine travelling through the killing traffic. I would choke from the automobile emissions, if not rot the night in this inaccessible place. (For out of towners: there's no transport in this area after 7 p.m.) Gah! I think people in India - at least, those who have some authority - are afraid to let us read. They don't want us to develop our minds, keeping us stunted for ever. In school, the meagre library we had was also under lock and key. "Boys and girls will tear the pages, desecrate knowledge," was the argument trotted out.

At this stage I will denounce those people who handle their books with extra care. As if it is glass. They would rather see their books under lock and key rather than read them. For God's sake books are meant to be read not to be worshipped. Children will handle them roughly, which doesn't mean we should deprive them of books.

What's with us and libraries? Why aren't we allowed to read? Why this phobia? Please, please explain, someone!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is It the End of Gaddafi?

There are gory images of Gaddafi online right now. Getty Images has posted this image which will earn them a lot of money. Frenzy! Frenzy! Frenzy! Nothing is confirmed by the media is agog, as it always is.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

French Journalists Series of Lectures on Nuclear Safeguards Cancelled. Why?

Here's proof of how diplomacy and arms purchases influence humanitarian and humane considerations such as a series of lectures on nuclear safety.

French journalist Naike Desquesnes was all set to deliver a month-long trip series of lectures in India on "Covering Nuclear Energy Post-Fukushima" at six Alliance Francaise centres. (Fukushima reactor in Japan had a melt down, read here.) That's when she received a phone call from out of the blue. The caller was director of Alliance Francaise, Bangalore, who said the lecture series is canceled. Oh-huh. Reason?

French nuclear plant manufacturer Areva thought the subject wasn't appropriate as they were negotiating to sell the said plants to India. The matter was delicate in the post-Fukushima scenario. More delicate since India had insisted on post-Fukushima nuclear safeguards to be completed.

Now, poor yokel that I am, I don't know why the corporate is afraid of a mere journalist (one of my kind I guess) speaking about safeguards when all is going to be well with the world, in post-Fukushima world, as I am told. Now, why this diplomatic brouhaha over a simple matter as a series of lectures? Smell something rotten here?

Will our talented investigative journalists do an expose, please?

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Lemony Snicket on the Occupy Whatever Movement

Here's a rather thoughtful and gently humorous look by Lemony Snicket at the "Occupy ---- (whatever, just fill it in, folks, it could be landing on your doorstep soon)" movement that the world is in the throes of right as I key my rickety fingers this on my board.

Point 5 is a gem, a non-sequitur, nonetheless:

5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

Rather brightly and inventively put, Lemony. Bravo. You're the guy, man. In India 90 per cent of the people live on the edge, starving. But their neighbour eating cakes will not share. All ministers of the present cabinet fantastically rich in the last 5 years. How? How did they get their cakes?

Meanwhile, here, Soutik Biswas of the Beeb examines whether India is in the throes of distress migration. Diwali, the festival of lights is around the corner. What will it imply for the starving millions? I don't know. Will they get a bite of the rich neighbour's cake? Or, a bite of a karanja (an Indian sweet), at least?

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apologies! It is Julian Barnes for Sense of an Ending

Apologies! It's Julian Barnes who won the Booker Prize for "Sense of an Ending" and not Michael Stewart for "King Crow," as I had wrongly reported here on my blog.

Congratulations to the winner! As for the wrong reportage: work pressure and a frenzied life, you know! It's common these days. You go to press with what you think is a breaking story and realize it is all wrong.

However, electronic media, newspapers, do not apologise these days. They are too arrogant to do it these days. But I do. Apologies, again!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sanjeev Bhatt Gets Bail

The way it is going in Gujarat, I don't know where things will be ten years from now. The latest is that Sanjeev Bhatt got bail after 18 days. The matter is of course sub judice so I won't like to comment. Why was bail delayed? Why did his wife have to write to the central home minister to intercede? Is a police office who wants to blow the whistle not likely to get bail? That would be deterrent to all police officers, in my humble opinion.

I am not much of a political person. So I don't comment much on political issues. All I do is wait and watch for the inevitable to happen. In the case of the state, how can the present chief minister claim responsibility for development and take it away from the industrious people of Gujarat. It has always been a state known for the hard-working nature and keen business sense of its people.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Demonstrations Everywhere - Occupy Wall street and Others

It seems from my Twitter feeds that Salman Rushdie is supporting Occupy Wall Street. Here's what it says on the Occupy Wall Street official website:
After triumphing in a standoff with the city over the continued protest of Wall Street at Liberty Square in Manhattan's financial district, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread world wide today with demonstrations in over 1,500 cities globally and over 100 US cities from coast to coast. In New York, thousands marched in various protests by trade unions, students, environmentalists, and community groups. As occupiers flocked to Washington Square Park, two dozen participants were arrested at a nearby Citibank while attempting to withdraw their accounts from the global banking giant.
It was flash mobs, peace marches, and now it is Occupy Wall Street. What a way to protest, man. Seems the whole world is protesting something or the other. Occupy Wall Street has spread to 1500 cities world wide, making it into a global phenomenon. Add it to the Anna demonstration in India (Yes, I count this as India's own contribution to the general unrest among people.), the demonstration to oust the dictator in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, oh God, it's people cry for justic, yes, people crying out for justice against corruption and dictoatorship. And, I guess, it has all been brought about by the social media and the telecom revolution. When people talk to people, the slimy underside come into full view. Yes, that's what I think. 

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Euphemisms for "Advertorial," in Short "Paid Content"

Here's Mint editor R Sukumar's view about what are called Media Marketing Initiatives at Mint (a HT group newspaper). He mentions that in Mint these advertorials (advertisements masquerading as editorials) will be clearly termed "Media Marketing Initiative" somewhere in the copy and, presumably, readers will take care to treat it as paid content. It's a laudable effort on the part of Mint to delineate paid content from editorial and maintain the "Chinese Wall" between advertising and editorial. However, many of Sukumar's contemporaries do not erect this vital wall.

When I was executive secretary of the Advertising Standards Council of India, this issue had come up several times for discussion. At that time I had taken it up with Indian Newspaper Society (INS) and various government departments and the directive issued was such "advertorials" should clearly state "advt." in the copy somewhere to warn readers. However, newspapers have chosen to ignore this advise and have devised their own euphemisms to delineate advertisements from editorial. Times of India calls it Optimal Media Solution.

I see this as an effort by the print media to survive in a diverse market and in an environment of total commercialism. There is more and more competition to eat away clients' advertising budgets. Having worked in both sides of editorial and advertising I can say that the market is indeed fragmented and very fragile.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Amazon the Next Big Publisher?

From giving us online book purchasing portal and the kindle (book reader), is Amazon gearing up to be the next big publisher? It could be good as well as bad news for authors, such as yours truly (eternally, hopeful). All's not lost for the writing, printing, publishing industry, one expects.

Signs of this is already causing a stir in publishing industry. Amazon has hired an industry veteran to head its publishing division indicating its seriousness. It could be a massive thing, the extent and reach can well be imagined.

If all goes well (one hopes, of course), books could go digital without taking the hardback/paperback route. Imagine a book being published in digital form and being distributed on the net for downloading. It's already happening I am aware, but not on the scale it is expected to. Can all the book lovers opt for a Kindle? I know it's handy, but what about storage, breakage, batter charging, et cetera? The worst thing about a gadget is the hours you have to connect it to your electric plug charging it. And, then, it lets you down when you most need it.

Here's what's happening at Amazon: has taken its most aggressive step yet toward competing head-on with traditional publishers: It's hired Larry Kirshbaum, a literary agent and the former CEO of Time Warner Publishing Group (now Hachette Book Group), to start a general trade imprint.
Until now, Amazon's imprints have focused on genre fiction like mystery and romance. By hiring a high-profile industry veteran to focus on "quality books in literary and commercial fiction, business and general nonfiction"—and by releasing those books in both print and digital formats—Amazon is announcing itself as a serious competitor against the "big six" traditional trade publishing houses.
We don't know what the big six have to say about this. But I hope the re-organise big time from vast bureaucracies to more efficient digital publishers.

Hat tips: GK John via Prem Panicker.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reading "To See the Mountain," Anthology of The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011

I am reading "To See the Mountain" an anthology of submissions for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011. The stories are of a high order of literary merit and imagination. I am humbled by the local colour, the crispness of the language, the lilt of spoken dialogues, mostly missing from short stories arising from the sub-continent. Some of the characters stay with us for long, long since one has read about them. The depiction of local colour is vivid and vibrant. Where have we gone wrong, guys, writers from the sub-continent, apparently the fountainhead of literary merit. Or, have we become corrupt in our literary endeavours too?

Actually, there's so much bitching and gang-formation in the sub-continental literary realm. I don't know why. The fact is: once it comes to be known that one is an aspiring writer the back-stabbing starts:

  • He?She? He/she can't write to save his/her life
  • He doesn't know grammar from kachumbar
  • His writing stinks to high heavens
  • No imagination
  • He/she is too ambitious
  • And so on... I need not go into gory details here, but point is made.
We - writers in the sub-continent - are a universe within a universe and we are a divided universe at that. We love to stab behind the back, not offer constructive criticism, advise, mentorship. Write to an established writer for help (I have contacted quite a few) and you will be ignored, even ridiculed. There is silence, and the silence is a bit ominous. Our established writers won't stand on the side and applaud, they will probably smirk and laugh behind your back. It's sad. It's sad, but true.

Chairman Hisham Matar of the Caine Prize has said about the winning short story "Hitting Budapest": "The language of 'Hitting Budapest' crackles. Here we encounter Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho, a gang reminiscent of Clockwork Orange. But these are children, poor and violated and hungry. This is a story with moral power and weight, it has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary. NoViolet Bulawayo is a writer who takes delight in language."

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs R.I.P. An Icon Passes Away

Steve Jobs is no more. RIP, Steve Jobs.

I am saying this out of awe and admiration for an icon of multi-culturalism, a harbinger of technology. As I tweeted recently "high-technology has made products cheaper but it hasn't ensured customer satisfaction." I think Apple products ensured some levels of customer satisfaction, that's why they are so expensive. I have salivated about an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, but haven't got even one (not yet). Meanwhile, keep salivating, jealous man. All I have are Korean, Finnish, Google, and Microsoft products. Hm. I know somethings are never fated for me.

The whole thingamajig of technology has been deeply understood by one man. Steve Jobs. That's why he made Apple into a giant whose income is more than that of the total income of the U.S.A. Like any true entrepreneur, he has also created jobs throughout the world. This achievement from a man of mixed parentage, who has Caucasian and Arab blood is something fascinating. I have heard that the U.S.A. is a land of immigrants and like the present President Barack Obama Steve was multi-cultural. Therein lies the country's strength.

While I am still mourning the death of my father-in-law, I also mourn the passing away of Steve Jobs. Years ago when I was editor of Ambit (the magazine of the Bombay Management Association) I had written an editorial about Steve Jobs. I don't know if anyone remembers that editorial, or, if there's a copy available anywhere. At that time Steve was this handsome and intellectual-looking youth, a little older than me (I won't state how little!) and was in the prime of his entrepreneurial venture which he started with meagre investment. Recent pictures of him showed him as rather old and prematurely wrinkled. It is said that he disliked buttons. That's the reason he wore turtlenecks. No buttons. That's also the reason iPhone doesn't have buttons but touch technology. Today, in death he has become much more than an icon, worthy of a Nobel, no less.

So, let's sit back and think about where technology has led us. As someone said, "If somebody had told me about the iPad in 1984 I wouldn't have understood what he meant." As a person who did his writing during that time on an old portable remington typewriter, I can feel the difference between that old contraption and latest core2duo computer I am using with high-speed internet. Technology has advanced so far and it will advance further. iPads may even display live television feeds and movies on demand.

But where will all this end? Is it the end of the world as we know it?

Nothing more to add than Steve Jobs R.I.P.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Goa Thinkfest, Go

The goathinkfest is an event organised by Tehelka and Newsweek and brings together a panoply of the best minds, performers and musicians in the world.

The line-up is awesome, though I don't know many of them, but I guess they should be awesome to be featured in a Think Fest. For example the first page features: Aamir Khan, Abhay Deol, Ashish Nandy, among others.

I will be a Think Blogger if approved. So I look forward to the event and the opportunity to network with some of the best minds in the world. I take this as a humongous opportunity not to be missed.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

R.I.P. P.T.Mathai, He of the Gentle Manners and Style

Writing this inside a train bound for Bombay. It's as I tweeted on Twitter, "from vada sambhar land to vada pao land". What curious contrasts, what differences, what serendipity. Went to Kerala briefly to attend a funeral.

As I look out (now, this minute) at the greenery floating back in one stream of liquid speed, I feel the sadness of separation and the newness of expectation. Father-in-law passed away. R.I.P. P.T. Mathai, he of the simple ways, he of the helping nature (many are the times he pulled me out of penuriousness), he of the smile and pleasant manners, he of the gentle admonitions has passed away. I will miss him. Last time we met, he had told my wife that he wouldn't be around during our next visit. I couldn't believe the news of his death. It was such a shocks as shocks can be. Nastily it struck and rendered me speechless. There was the funeral in a small church, well attended of course. There were close relatives. (It behooved me to arrange for the photography session, calling all family members forward.) There were the eulogies to a pious man who emphasised bible education for the young and was active in the Sunday School education system. He taught children how to sing and pray. Somehow, I think there is a valuable lesson in it for me. And then the body was interred, the last glimpse was had, the tears shed, the memory will remain. 

Father-in-law was a head master in a local school before retiring. His body was kept in the school for some time before the funeral for the students and teachers to pay their respects. Crowds turned up and filed past. There were eulogies by former teachers who taught with him, even an octogenarian who studied with him.

In this world of instant wish fulfillment where an eulogy is being written in a moving train, P.T. Mathai was a man apart, an enigma, a rarity, a man with a distinct identity. His was a world of struggle and willingness to share another's pains. Alas, he is no more. P.T. Mathai, may your soul rest in peace (yes, he believed in a soul and in a heaven).