Thursday, June 06, 2013

An open letter to Modi

Dear Mr. Narendra Modi,
First off congratulations for the by-poll victory in Gujrat. I know the media portrays your victory as one of the side-effects of polarization of  the state's voters but don't worry, you are not the first to do so.  I can't remember the any other politician being any better. Our dear Late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was there at its inception with the Shah Bano's case. Now there is Mayawati and his Backward class polarization, oh and before I forget, Mulayam Singh and his Muslim polarization who even withdrew terrorist cases to cement his polarizations.
Oh and the other thing, please stop dreaming and fighting for wanting to become the PM of this country. For aspiring to become a PM you lack the most important quality, being humble. India doesn't need a PM with animal instinct for good business or the will to lead the country. What it needs is a humble man who doesn't fight for this post, but rather gets it on a silver platter if he is genuflects before Shrimati Sonia Gandhi morning and night. This devotion my mate can get you from a non-entity to be seated on the top job of India. And whats more, since you are not serving the people in anyway and your devotion is only towards you know who, there's no need to fight and win an election. Of course, this would mean that you would have to continue this exercise of genuflection but other than that you will have no role. Your bills will be made by a non-constitutional body called the NAC which will consist of some jholawaalas and your Madam and you will be comfortably voted to the Rajya Sabha by local leaders of some state in the corner of India.
So please don't say it out loud. Be humble, say anything is possible and say it so feebly that people can't hear you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A trip to Korea

Flight to Seoul via Tokyo

Needed to wake up early to catch the 7am train to NYC. Amtrak always a comfort if not for the gossiping ladies, I would have also slept well. Once I reached Penn Station, took another LIRR train to JFK.
Had tickets with American Airlines which was giving me a nightmare for a few days, then came to know that it is operated by Japan Airlines which gave some relief. The alleviated situation took a down-turn when the last aisle seat on the flight(right next to the restroom) was the only seat on offer. Accompanied by two very old Japanese ladies who kept repeating the phrase “arigato gojaimasda” which I vaguely understood as “Thank You”. Hospitality of the Asian airhostess was top class. Tried to sleep for most of the time.
Landed in Tokyo at the right time(talk about Japanese precision), changed terminals to board the next flight to Seoul and got used to the people bending over all the time to say “Thank you”. Tried out the Japanese toilet with bum spray and perfume. Got some pizza to eat and slept for a while before boarding the next flight.
On the flight met this Chinese guy from St.Louis Missouri who was on vacation to seoul for 4 days. Exchanged facebook accounts and promised to hang out with him once in Seoul.
By this time stomach was showing signs of giving up since all I had was some bread, salad, fruits and pizza the whole day.
Once in Seoul the first crisis was to get to the hotel without getting lost or spending a ton of money on taxi. But first I needed Korean money. Lucky to find a foreign exchange right outside arrival. $1 is like a 1000 bucks in Korean currency. Felt like possessing a lot of money(around 100,000). Asked the help desk lady on how to get to the hotel and figured there was a direct bus to the hotel.  The bus turned out to be really comfortable and the roads even more so. If maruti has taken over delhi roads, the same goes for hyundai and seoul.
Hotel Room
Downtown looked beautiful in the night. Got to the hotel crashed on the bed, watched some Asian news and slept.

Sunday, May 20th

View from the room

 Owing to the jetlag and the direct sunlight in the room I wake up at 6am.  Get a better sense of the town from the room’s balcony. Grab free breakfast in the hotel and try to figure out the next thing I could do. After being really impatient till 9 am I call my ISM friends who happen to be working in Samsung in Seoul just to get scolded for waking them up so early at 9am on a Sunday.

Getting registered for the conference and first impressions about the city
My friend reluctantly agrees to get up at 11am and give me a call afterwards. In the meantime I decide to get a first impression of the town around me and get registered for the conference. The weather outside is pleasant and sunny.
Downtown street leading to COEX
The convention center which is 20 mins away is a huge structure of steel and glass covered with granite floors on the inside. It is located right across a Buddha temple which also looks beautifully decorated with lanterns. After looking around the huge convention center I realize that ISCAS is not the only conference going on and that I would need directions. Once I reach the place where the action is I quickly register and get a name tag with “Mona Hella” written in bold letters. I guess I would have to get used to people calling me “Mona” for the next few days as it would be too much effort to explain who I really am.  
I quickly get the registration material and get out of the convention center to have a clearer look at the city. Seoul from the first look seems to be a developed city which is clean, has tall buildings and helpful people in general.
My online gaming craze

While walking back to the hotel I stumble upon this store called “PC BONG” meaning internet café. I had heard from a lot of my AOE friends about these being the reason for Koreans being so good at video games. So, I had to visit a PC BONG while I was in Korea. The experience was breathtaking. The café from inside was pretty dark and it took my eyes a while to get used to the low light. I could see cubicles and cubicles of computers arranged in rows with more comfortable seating than you can ever imagine. I had to try and see what it felt like playing a game in one of these machines. Two kids wearing fat rimmed glasses below the age of 10 were shouting at one another while playing starcraft2.
 I decided to grab a seat next to them and login to whatever they were playing only to realize that everything on my computer was in Korean. After the store manager couldn’t fix the language on my computer, I decided just to look around and talk to the kids once they were done with a game. “We play every day after school for 5-6 hours before going home, when our parents pick us up” ,the kid said, a good alternative to day care I say.
I get back to the hotel at 10:30am and wait for my friend’s call.  The call finally arrives at 11:15am and he tells me that they are going to a racecourse in Seoul and told me to meet them at the subway station near the racecourse.

Getting into trouble at the subway

Unlike NYC where I could use my iPhone to get directions to wherever I want in real-time, I had to plan this trip out meticulously by looking at the directions on the subway map that I had printed out before making this trip. I was starting to regret not renting out a smartphone at the Seoul airport.
Seoul Metro
Getting to the nearest subway was a breeze thanks to the directions on Google maps. Once I got there, however, it was a herculean task to get a ticket and figure out which train to get into. So I stand there staring at the subway map and the ticket counter and then back again till a lovely Korean lady comes up to me and asks me if I she can help. It turns out that I need a T-money card to travel on subways which can also be used in buses/departmental stores. I get one and thank her by saying “Kamsamhida”, one of the few words I picked up before making this trip. Got through the ticket checking counter which looked quite similar to the Delhi metro’s just to realize that I had gotten into a wrong route. Had to come out but couldn’t and pressed the emergency button that made a random guy come and open a backdoor for me and also pointed me towards the right direction. I finally get into the right platform and get a look around while I wait for the next train. The platform is quite splendid better than I have ever seen. There are big 50” touch screens which have all sorts of tourist information about the whole city and how to get there by subway, the station and the train is connected by wifi( yes underground subway has wifi, ever heard of such a thing?) . The train arrives and I get in. Samsung TVs inside show important information and of course the train has wifi. No wonder everyone around me was glued to their smartphones. I get down at the right stop and stare at the map while waiting for my friends. During this time 4 people come up to me asking me if I needed help. I guess my backpack foreigner staring at the map look gave them an impression that I was lost. So I decided to put the map away and sit in a corner to wait for my friends.
 Gambling at the racecourse

Finally my friends arrive and we reach the racecourse. The view from outside resembles any market in India with roadside vendors shouting and selling some notebook that shows the races of today and wagers. Having never gambled at a racecourse before we looked around for information on the notebook which was in Korean and not at all helpful. One of my friends decides to find out more about the race while we try to get something to drink. He comes back with the advice from the ticket counter that you shouldn’t gamble much if you don’t know Korean. Nevertheless, he buys wagers for $1 for each one of us. We try to figure out which horses we need to root for and get inside the arena.
The arena is huge and crowded and it seems that people are quite serious about the whole gambling thing. Meanwhile I lose my wager ticket and realize that my horse won. My friends curse me for having donkey’s luck and we get out of the arena dejected losing not a lot of money.    
Chenggyoenchen stream

We figure out the next thing to do and I bring up the idea of visiting the above stream which runs through the middle of the city. We take the subway and reach the place called “City Hall” and get a first look at the stream. It’s a beautiful sight, a clear stream not more than 5 meters wide is flowing through the center of the street with walkways around it and fountains and lights along its path. We decide to walk along it and see how far it goes. It’s a hangout spot for all ages; people relaxing after a hard days work, couples, tourists and kids. It is also the time of the year when a Lantern festival is organized and the whole stream is lighted with lantern strips across it.  I want to just sit there and massage my feet with the flow of the stream.

A random observation about couples around us
While sitting there along the stream my friend shares a random observation that he has made of couples around. According to his theory, the similarity in the couples clothes are directly proportional to the intimacy level in their relationships. He showed us some examples where couples were wearing almost the same clothes and holding hands and smiling at each other while there were others whose clothes were completely different and they were walking as if they were complete strangers. There were also examples where only part of their attire like shoes were similar.
After our feet are really cold and our bellies hungry we decide to get out of this stupid game of judging couples and get something to eat. Seoul is a pretty cosmopolitan city in terms of cuisines it offers. We decided on pizza as a safe bet for vegetarians and grabbed a bite.
After we are done eating, we decide to get a look at the stream at night which now looks splendid with all the lanterns shining brightly. We also give our final comments on couples in Korea and put the matter for rest forever. It’s time to leave and I obtain travel instructions so that I don’t look like a lost tourist on my way back. Luckily I get back to the hotel without any further events and crash on the bed.

Monday, May 21st

Have to attend the conference today and thanks to the jetlag I get up at 6am again. Take the customary shower, get dressed and go down to the lobby to get some free breakfast.  Walk to the convention center and wait for the keynote speech to begin. Was looking forward to this presentation by Samsung President about present and future mobile solutions which is pretty impressive. Rest of the presentations during the day are monotonous and not the least bit exciting but I slug through them nevertheless to get a feel of what kind of questions I might expect when I present tomorrow.
Samsung’s cool products

Samsung had a organized a booth to showcase its upcoming products during the conference which was pretty impressive. Saw some Utradefinition TVs, transparent and flexible OLED displays and its processors with 22nm technology, all in all top class.
After spending most of the day attending lectures in the conference my new made Argentinean friend who looks nowhere close to Messi decide to get back to the hotel and get some dinner in the business district of Itaewon.
Evening in Itaewon
This place is near the US army base and has a variety of dining places to offer from Indian to Mexican to Italian etc. The streets are also full of shops catering to the American population, I can see Footlocker,Burger King, Outback steakhouse etc. We settled for asian food and my choice was chilli tofu rice and some lemonade to go with it.  
After the dinner I realize I have no money left and none of my debit cards are working and washing dishes or begging on the streets of Seoul briefly passes my mind. It’s a mini crisis of sorts because it turns out that I also cannot pay for my hotel if my card is not working. I do have some money stashed up in the hotel which might pay to satisfy my hunger. I write an email to my sister about this crisis and sleep hoping that it won’t come to begging.

Tuesday, May 22nd

My own talk and the preparation behind it
After I sort out my brief financial crisis, I start preparing for my talk. Since I have only a few slides I seriously had to practice talking really slowly saying each word clearly, be discrete and use hard to understand words like eco-system so that people cannot come up with random questions which made me feel like an MBA.  The presentation went fairly well and could answer the few questions that did arise.
Conference Banquet and the performances

The conference had organized a banquet at night along with some traditional dance performances. There was a Korean orchestra type thing played with all traditional instruments which I had never seen before but the performance was excellent. Post dinner I went to the hotel and put myself to sleep on some Asian TV.

Wednesday, May 23rd

For this day I had decided not to attend any more lectures and do some sightseeing as this was my last day in Korea. I decided to visit the King’s palace and get some souvenirs for my friends.
Gyuongbokgung Palace

This palace was huge in terms of area it covered. All the architecture was typical Asian style with structures fully made of wood. One weird thing I noticed about the palace was that there was a path reserved for the king between any two structures and you are forbidden to walk on it to this day. The Koreans believe that the King’s soul still walks these paths and no man should come in his way.
Another thing about Koreans is their peaceful way of life. These palaces did not have any defensive structures like walls or drawbridges with crocodiles or places from where you could drop hot oil etc. No wonder there walls were penetrated and their kingdoms eradicated not once but twice by the Japanese.
The Palace had several structures for King’s court, his rest areas, prince’s palaces etc ; all in all a good historical place to see.
Insadong shopping
This place is the Korean equivalent of Delhi Haat. As soon as you enter the market area you see expensive shops where nothing is available below $100. But then you walk a bit and see the typical chaotic Chandni Chowk type market where shopkeepers are shouting to sell you their stuff and you can haggle to get the best price.
Museum and farewell party

After finishing my shopping I went back to the hotel to rest my bones a bit before I could go to the conference farewell party and the museum visit.
We visited the Korean museum which had old age Korean artifacts which bored me to death. Exhibit after exhibit showcased old pottery and chinaware and budhha. So I comfortably settled at a nearby coffee shop and surfed the internet while I waited for the farewell party to begin.
The farewell party consisted of some performances by Korean fusion bands accompanied with good food and camaraderie. Returned to the hotel, packed all the luggage to leave the next morning and crashed on the bed.

Summary of the trip

I was skeptical about this trip before I came to Korea because I did not know how I would manage being a vegetarian and not knowing any Korean. After spending my 4 days here I realized that sign language is enough for human beings in general and language is not a barrier at all. In general Korean people were really helpful and compassionate. I could get around the city fairly well without knowing a bit of Korean.
I would love to be back here if possible and even learn a bit of Korean beforehand.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Look I cleared JEE: schmuck!

Contrary to popular perception, I endorse the decision to scrap the JEE and admit students into the country's top engineering schools through a single entrance exam. In all fairness there is nothing special in JEE, it is just another burden on the student entering high school. They do hand pick the best students in the country and make them brighter and world class so that they can get out of the country and drain their brains elsewhere. Whats the big deal in purifying gold from 95% to 99% ? If the IITs are so good and trust their teaching and research standards, why can't they brighten up the little duller of the lot.

I still remember the harrowing two years when I had prepared and passed JEE to get into one of those top colleges. Day after day, month after month all I did was go to coaching classes which cost a fortune and taught me the megalomania that the IITs weren't. Think about this issue from the perspective of a high school student and the burden he has to go through in preparing for 10 different entrance exams, all different format, all requiring separate set of skills. There are so many entrance exams that in the months from January-May of each year, all the Sundays are booked in all the schools across the country just so that these exams can be written by millions of students with dreams of an engineer or a doctor.

What the JEE has done over the years is give rise to entire cities whose economies thrive on the students preparing for these exams. These godforsaken children leave their homes, skip high schools and sweat it out in the coaching classes of which just one is not enough sometimes.The luckier lot gets to stay at home but is constantly reminded of the streets on which they might need to beg if they don't qualify. Parents, relatives, friends, friends of friends, even a passerby has some advise for you.There is so much free advise available all around that if it were all put together in a single person, it would humble the likes of Sri Sri Ravishankar and his Art of Living.

Please get rid of the JEE, AIEEE and all the entrance exams and make way for one single exam which tests students based on aptitude and reasoning. Why is it important to know how a pulley works or what a semiconductor is or which part of the body is used to digest sugar? Aren't the engineering and medical schools supposed to teach this stuff? All that should be required of the student should be basics of mathematics,physics and some chemistry(I would do away with this too if I could). Don't fill students with useless information that they will not need for the rest of their lives. If they do choose the devil and decide to join mechanical engineering, then it makes complete sense to teach them how a pulley works and maybe even hang them from one.

P.S.:Kapil Sibal, you might be the most hideous person I have ever seen, but I support you on this one.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why this Mamtaveri Di!

Woman is evil, period. In politics though she is also venomous, overpowering, jealous etc. Basically a recipe for disaster. Be it the case of the "dalit ki beti" Mayawati or "Ma mati manush" bullshit  Mamta Banerjee.
Goldman Sachs would probably want to take tips from Mayawati on how to double your money in 5yrs. Luckily for the people of UP, the cyclists were able to get their punctured tires fixed and beat the slow moving elephants. Otherwise, the multiplication would have taken an exponential slope.

Coming to the Mamtaveri side of things, starting with closing the nano factory in Bengal to FDI in retail to price hike in railways, she has showed us that she is worse than the Communist who were way better with their Bandhs and working holidays who were like polar bears in hibernation during their rule. That is actually way better than opposing good policies for growth.
She was lucky enough to get a chance to ruin the present state of Bengal.

Mamta (no I won't use Didi for her) is like that astronaut who wanted to put the spaceship on reverse gear when all the thrust(The Indian Common Man) was trying to push it forward.
For her to get an insight on the condition of Railways, she should be made to sit on the tracks after a train with people having full bladders has passed through it. Sadly, this exactly describes the state of affairs our Railways is in.

She has learned one thing for certain though, how to use people's votes to ruin this country. Every time a sensible policy is put forward by the UPA, which is not quite often, she shoots it down by flexing her pawns(MPs) in the Lok Sabha. This time around though one of the pawns reached the other end of the chessboard and tried to become a messiah of Railways, but she would have none of that.

Pro-poor for Mamta means to impoverish every PSU,the government and the industry so that the poor don't feel alone anymore. She wants to take us back to stone age without cars, without trains, plowing our fields on a bullock cart. Thats progress for you from Mamta.

P.S: She is not even a woman by any standards when she refused to start an investigation of a rape victim stating it as a propaganda against her.

P.P.S:I do feel like Arnab Goswami when I talk about politics, going around with a lathi in my hand after the politicians.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

India and the fallacy called Democracy!

I dare call India, a state of many monarchies. I agree that we have elections once every 5 years which are bought on the basis of biryani and some blankets, but what happens in between those 5 years is nothing close to Democracy. We have a political party which should be better known as Gandhi pvt. ltd., another which supports radicalism and many more which are born and based on thugs and dacoits. These people rule the roost, spend national assets, try to divide people based on caste and religion and shadow it all in the name of democracy and the so called supreme parliament. The agitation for Lokpal bill is a classic example, where even though we saw the middle class and the old man, Anna Hazare sweat it out, all that the political class could come up with was a debate in the parliament which said that we(parliament) are supreme, we will do what we want, you guys can keep ranting or ridiculing us on media.

A look at the political parties brings back the memories of the monarchs that ruled India pre-Independence. Congress can't dare to think beyond the Gandhis, DMK has its own monarchy with Karunanidhi who has kept up with the tradition of a king with many wives. Mulayam Singh, Late. MadhavRao Sindhia,Late Rajesh Pilot,Pratibha Patil, Late YSR Reddy all have their sons/daughters in politics. The only saving grace here is the BJP which hasn't followed this trend yet. Also, I must thank Narendra Modi, Didi(Mamta Banerjee), Amma(Jayalalitha) and Mayawati for not finding suitable matches when they were young. Regardless of the monarchy, most of them are run with the support of/by local thugs, who aspire to become MPs or MLAs one day. A resume with many murders and rapes would be perfect to become a politician.

Talking about the media which is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy, instead acts like the fourth pillar of the parliament. All primetime shows are parliamentary type debates moderated by Darth Vaders(star wars anyone?) such as Arnab Goswami. The funny part about all these debates are that you can listen to the same tunes in all the news channels because its the same politicians that flock from one channel to the next. Since when did moderating debates become part of news reporting?

 The result is pretty clear, India is far behind in all kinds of indexes, be it poverty,literacy, human rights,women empowerment , infrastructure etc. The growth India has experienced is entirely due to personal efforts of the people(middle-class) who are just fed up of expecting anything from the government. Classic example is the suburb of Delhi; Gurgaon. The total lack of governance in this part of the city is made up with personal efforts like generators for electricity, personal taxis for transportation, private security guards for security etc. The reason for low voter turnouts in the urban areas can be traced to this very reason. We have created our own mini India. Those who are still expecting free grains, free electricity to run their pumps and other incentives ,constitute the backward sections of the society. These people constitute the majority of the voter turnouts. Hunger and poverty drives them to beg/plead for the basic necessities from the government. Meanwhile, the government is busy in improving its statistics by lowering the below poverty line bracket to Rs26/day. I dare Sonia Gandhi to leave her mansions and try to live on Rs.26 for a day.

PS: Why do we have a mannequin in place of a Prime Minister?