Tuesday, January 22, 2008

So, which grade is your country?

When I was 12 or 13, one of my classmates suggested that we grade all our teachers (which seemed fair since they judge us all the time). If I remember right, it was on a scale of 1 - 10 (10 being the best) and we were doing it during one of those periods when the teacher doesn't turn up but sends someone else to make sure we don't turn the class upside down.

Incidentally, that 'someone' for the class in question caught us chattering and giggling our ways to glory and realized we were up to some mischief. To our credit, we were honest (we couldn't think of a appropriate lie that connects the teachers to the numbers).

For some strange reason, 'someone' didn't appreciate teachers being rated. She found the whole exercise presumptuous and threw us out of class.

Now that I am old, boring and wise, I think it is a bad idea to rate anything unless it is strictly based on quantifiable results. Because under all those numbers you are being plain judgmental.

Why am I reminded of this obscure incident now? Saw this link where the flags are rated as A, B, C and failed - link. The author has defined best practices for how flags should look like and listed some rules of aesthetics. What is missing is the historical context behind the design of the flag and what it conveys about the country.

India is B- (with a score of 65/100).

And to put things in perspective - Pakistan is A+ (88/100) ;-)

Photo courtesy - iStockPhoto


Saturday, January 19, 2008

How do you change the world?

We at Sattva are doing a quick survey this month. We are trying to find out little things that you do, however trivial it might seem, which you think makes a difference.

For example, I know a friend of mine who starts talking auto drivers whenever he gets in to an auto. And if by any chance if the auto driver has small kids, he buys a packet of gems for the driver's kids. He believes that this will brighten the auto driver's day and that will spread the joy to other people he meets.

My boss religiously switches off every appliance before he goes home from work including the tube lights, monitors, and chargers. Another friend of mine does not honk, unless absolutely necessary and yet another friend does not waste food and makes sure he does not fill his plate with anything he does not need.

Of course we can be cynical about this and say that all this small things would never have any measurable impact. But these people believe that the little difference these things make matters.

So we would like to know if there is this one small thing that you do, or you know a friend who does that you think counts. It might be the most trivial, or a habit that your friends and colleagues always get everyone's attention to. We are extremely interested in every story you have to tell, and every little thing you have to share.

We are planning to collate your response in the January issue of Sattva. And you can then read the list to pick up some of these as your new year Resolutions :)

*This was the mail that has been sent to all readers of Sattva for our January issue. I would love to hear from you all.


Star Gazing

No - it is not review, for I am sure you have heard enough and more about the movie. Everyone seems to have cried at some point in the movie (though, I should admit that I managed not to. Just about managed not to). Though, I should cynically admit that the movie does try too hard to achieve this objective .

The film is nice. The music is good. The boy is fantastic.

I think a film works for you when you can relate to any character in the movie. I saw this whole film through the eyes of the boy's elder brother (Disclaimer - my younger brother is the exact opposite of Ishaan Awasthi. He is a whiz with maths and cannot paint for nuts :-) And my dad was never too stuck with the achiever's label. He wanted me to become a Journalist!). But the whole image of him struggling to find his place in the world, gaining acceptance among peers and becoming a star is something that I can totally relate to. And every time I had a lump in my throat was when I could see my brother in that boy.

On an aside, My favorite scene in the movie is when the boy dresses up before dawn, walks up to the lake to see the sun rise. I don't remember the last time I saw the sun rise - There was this one time, when I was in college. Sitting on top of a scaffolding on a September morning, I saw the first shades of crimson spreading across the sky. There was this one moment both the sun and the moon take either sides of the crimson colored sky. You could get down the scaffolding, walk on the dew topped lawns and watch the first flowers bloom and convince yourself that you are in heaven.

It is all nice and fair to recognize the stars on earth. But when was the last time you stopped and stared at the stars in the sky?


The story of two suicides

Just finished reading this (link) story of about two suicides. All forms of narration (novels, movies) are replete with instances of using two parallel stories with distinct similarities. But to observe that in real life is very disturbing. As the writer observed,
They had so much in common: Two young researchers obsessed with simulating common sense. Both Canadian. Both Net-savvy.
Both of them, though with contrasting fortunes, driven by the same objective, working on two very similar projects and finally ending their lives in uncannily mirrored fashion.

The article links to their personal blogs, official pages, pages on the web where they have left a trail of their lives, which makes the whole experience of reading about them surreal. When you usually read about lives gone wrong or suicides, you can suspend reality and read the account as a work of fiction. But in this case, they talk to you through pictures capturing moments in their lives when they were happier, letters that aren't crumpled and discarded but are on the web as live evidence you can scan, blogs recording trivialities and visions of changing the world - all this making them more like you and me.

It reminded of a play that was a modern interpretation of Vikram and Betaal.

Today, you are there in Orkut smiling with friends, your scrapbooks replete with snide and 'similed' remarks, your pictures in front of Eiffel and the one with you in a leather jacket bearing the winters of Wisconsin. But when you die, what happens to your online identity? Does it remain forever as a memory haunting your loved ones of times gone by? Does that make it a ghost? An identity that will last forever?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Best of 2007

This will be the last time I will use this number, I promise :-)

2007 in Pictures - NY Times (and since it's NY Times, 2007 is only about Afghanistan, middle east, war, US parliament and George bush crying. But the pictures are nice!)

Best books of 2007 - NY times

Best movies of 2007 - From Roger Ebert, no less, who's considered the greatest contemporary pundit in America ahead of technology and management thinkers. He writes movie reviews.

100 things we didn't know last year - From BBC

What have you changed your mind about in 2007 - From Edge, mostly scientific

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bill's last days

A funny (in a quirky way) video of Bill gates' last days at office. If not anything, it's a nice celebrity spotting contest. I especially love the bit where Bono says, "We don't have any vacancy in the band". You can see the video here

Here's a similar one on Bill Clinton's last days at the white house - Video

What's interesting about both these videos is how two men with a lot of clout, can laugh at themselves.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

A slice of the world for all

Yesterday over lunch, one of my acquaintances said,
Two or three hundred years later, when we do achieve the ideal state of equality, people of that age will look at us and wonder how we could have lived like this, how we could have enjoyed delicious meals in restaurants when people outside did not have food to eat. Just as we look at Slavery and holocaust and wonder how people could have coexisted with such practices, the future generations will look at us and wonder how we could have lived with so much inequality.
It was a wonderful thought, full of optimism and a conviction that inequality does not a merit a place in the society just as holocaust and slavery. And I would love to be a part of her thought, believe that the world will see a day like that someday. But what is Equality really?

I, for one, do not believe in a system that aims to achieve absolute equality (like Communism, for instance). On the other hand, I believe in the fundamental principle of capitalism - Competitiveness. I believe that one should strive and work hard to achieve something substantial. There should always be the possibility for one to outgrow one's peers and the entire system. This dream is what drives men towards greatness, towards achievement.

In such a world, there is never going to be financial equality. There will be those that are rich and those that are poor. People will be spread across an entire gamut of occupations each of which will pay differently. There will be a small subsection of the world which owns substantially more wealth than the rest.

Equality for me is a world where everyone has the opportunity to do this. Where everyone's basic needs are taken care of, where everyone is provided with education and the skills that empower him to define one's future. Where even the most baseline facilities to the bottom of the pyramid are relevant and standardized. And what one does with it is entirely his own prerogative. Like the American declaration of independence says, everyone is given the right for "the pursuit of happiness" and not happiness itself. That I believe is a key difference.

Equality is not about sameness. It is about giving everyone choice.

To create true equality is not about abolishing poverty and redistributing wealth across everyone in the world. It is about creating opportunities for all. And that is what will drive true sustainable change in the society. The question now should be how we can achieve that. I agree that the answer is not straight forward. But at least, we know what the question is.

What do you think?

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Elephant Poop : Stanford Educator's corner

In these following words ("Eat like a bird, Poop like an Elephant") by Guy Kawasaki, I believe.
(1) Get out there, meet people, press the flesh, consume knowledge like crazy, attend seminars, etc. (birds eat a lot!). And (2) spread the knowledge, information, and contacts that you gained around, share of your time and talent (elephants are good at...well you know).
And so, as part of my efforts to "poop like an Elephant", here's first of the many sources of information that I found extremely interesting and informative.

Stanford's Educator's corner - http://edcorner.stanford.edu/podcasts.html.

Stanford, understandably, attracts a lot of leaders and visionaries to share their experiences. And some of the podcasts in the site are quite lucid and instructive. My personal favorite is
Shai Agassi, a fantastic speaker whom I have had the fortune of listening to in person.

I hope to be able to find at least one interesting site like this every week. And considering the wealth of information out there, I don't think it should be too difficult!

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine

In the first week of every month, the Sattva editorial team meets at seven thirty in the morning to discuss the month's issue. The idea of the meeting is to finalize the theme for the month and make a list of individuals and organizations to be covered as part of the issue. And the venue is always the same - Airlines Hotel, Lavelle Road.

It takes me exactly fifteen minutes to get from my house (at Airport road) to Airlines hotel (I wonder why they call it that) - fifteen blissful minutes of no signals, no traffic and no blaring horns. The hotel has all the idiosyncrasies of an edifice that has been there and seen that. Ancient tables with porcelain tops, waiters dressed in white doing you a favour by taking your orders, unused rickety artifacts (like dilapidated swings and motor cars) that remind the old timers what the place had once been, gardens and corners that are painted in disuse and delicious coffee and tea served in huge glasses (none of your cups and saucers).

And the smell of puke! You try in vain to find that one table which can take you away from that smell. You indulge in conversations with extra zeal just to take your mind off the stench lest you should add to that invisible but omnipresent human discharge. But like those giant birds once sang of another hotel, as much as you try, "you can never leave"

The place is huge. Apart from the actual restaurant, there is an open area outside (where we meet) with more than twenty tables. There is also a hotel which I have never seen anyone use, one that exactly looks like guest houses next to old bus stands that are worn and out. But you know, when you see them, that there was a time when they were sought after. In addition, there is a bookshop, a corner house, a nice spacious parking lot, a juice shop, a play area and lots of muddy free space.

Once a Sattva colleague told me that the place was much bigger than what it is today. The play area, she told me, was huge and a lot of parents used to meet in the evenings to spend time with friends while the children entertained themselves to no end in the play area. Soon, the hi-risers arrived and the part of the area was sold off to them. And I guess, since then the families have stopped coming.

But there is something about that place - like the fact that, that is the first restaurant in this part of Bangalore to open in the mornings, where you can sit and talk and enjoy your coffee - that makes it a haven for those like us to meet in the mornings. All around us, I have seen people talking about workshops to be organized, reunions that have to be planned, trips that that have to be scheduled and many times, memories that have to be caught up with.

In my first few months as the editor, I put a lot of effort for these meetings. I scoured the net and came up with a list of early leads and contacts. I just didn't want to go unprepared for the meeting and was being my own paranoid self. But there are times when I go there with an empty hand and watch the issue evolve in front of my eyes - purely by the magic of six degrees of separation.

It is amazing how many contacts you can come up with when five people meet together to discuss an issue. No amount of google search is going to give you, for example, a contact of a guy who sold oranges all his life just so that he could build a school in his village. What will you search for to get such a contact? And there are always mothers of friends, some workshop you attended, someone you read about - where a name comes with a story, an experience and a recommendation.

Like this bit about Airlines hotel - Google knows Airlines hotel as an unstarred government approved hotel. It doesn't tell me that the hotel's the first place you can get delicious coffee and that kids used to play there a decade ago. But my Sattva colleague can and that makes the story more intimate, a story you want to tell.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

An argument finally laid to rest!

If ever you hear the oft-quoted argument again, and I am sure you will considering the frequency with which it appears in every male vs female (in other words, "that caveman who is my boyfriend / husband") argument, here are the facts (link) of the case.

A very amusing article indeed.
He admits his unusual expertise has put his three kids (one of whom is economist and "Freakonomics" co-author Steven Levitt) through expensive universities.
Damn! We seriously need to revise our academic counseling and career options!


A blog a day - The beginning

So, it is a happy new year and all, a time painted all over with broad strokes of fairytale optimism and super-hero faith in yourself; all of this forcing you to make resolutions that you will laugh at on any given day.

I have my resolutions for 2008. And part of it is to write a blog a day. Now, this is plain presumptuous of two counts.
  • I had a brilliant idea of making a best of 2007 list of my blog posts. It was then that I realized that I have in all written only 12 or so posts in the whole year and a best-of list didn't make much sense. So to scale from 12 to 365 (30 times!) is a tad unbelievable.
  • A blog a day presupposes that I have something interesting to share everyday. You might find it hard to believe if you have not actually met me in person. If you have, you will just laugh on my face.
However, I shall persist.

The reason I started blogging back in 2004 were for many reasons. I didn't know many people, didn't have much to do and had a lot to say. More importantly, I wasn't doing anything even remotely creative in my life and I badly wanted to write (a habit I picked up seriously when I was ten).

Today, fortunately, I have sufficient avenues (and commitments) to write regularly. In 2007, I officially worked for 4 magazines and was the editor of two (I know, what was I thinking!). Each of these responsibilities cover the entire gamut of work involved in creating content. So blogging (and the need to truly say what I feel as compared to what has to be said) unfortunately took a back seat. I have been furiously typing inside my head trying hard to capture moments as they pass me by. And I have realized at the end of the year that there is a 'b shaped hole' (Aww!) that any amount writing does not fill.

So, I am back to blogging. It might not be the same type of carefully crafted (yet mostly pointless) content I have posted before. But I am hoping it will be more like a journal that gives one (and in later years, me) an idea of what I was thinking when 2008 walked on my face. And for some strange reason, you might find interesting and engaging too!

Well, that is the hope. Wish me luck.