Monday, June 22, 2009

Books I read in India till date

This India trip has given me lots of free time and I was able to utilize at least a part of it to read some quality books.

I decided that I should read something about contemporary India thinking that it would help me understand India better.

Books that I read:

1. Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani
2. India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
3. A better India: A better World by Narayana Murthy

Interestingly, two of these books are written by the founders of Infosys, a highly successful and respected company in India and abroad.

'India after Gandhi' is a classic. The book deals with post- independence India and the narration was so good that I completed reading the 900 page book in about a week ( This is the third fastest I have ever completed reading a book. Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' and William Shirer's 'Rise and Fall Of The Third Reich' are the first two in the list).

Did I understand India completely by reading these books?

Definitely not.

But it is a start.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hate crimes down under

For the 90,000 odd Indian students living in Australia, the events that had transpired in the last two weeks were the worst they would have ever experienced. A series of attacks aimed particularly at Indian students led to massive protests by the students in Australia and even in India. India’s external affairs minister, S M Krishna said that he was appalled by such attacks and wanted the Australian government to act swiftly. Aussie premier, Kevin Rudd was quick to reply :"I speak on behalf of all Australians when I say that we deplore and condemn these attacks”.

Hate crimes are bad- wherever it takes place and whatever form or shape it is executed. I sincerely hope that this issue is solved quickly. I am happy to see that the two countries are taking measures to bring this issue to an end.

The worst part regarding this issue was the way these incidents are portrayed in the Indian press. These incidents are spiced up in the local television channels and newspapers and getting the parents worried.A recent report showed that there is a decline in the number of applications by Indian students to Australian universities.

My brother lives in Melbourne and my worried parents are watching the “hourly news” in all the TV channels and call him every day.Talking to my brother, it was clear to me that it was not as serious as it was portrayed in the Indian press. Recently, the number of crimes in general increased a lot in Victorian province and it so happened that some of the Indian students also got affected. (I am talking about robbery. Hitting Indian students, setting ablaze cars owned by Indian students are an altogether different issue and should be condemned).

Hope the Australian government takes measures to correct this issue quickly or else it would be difficult for the Australian universities to attract Indian students for the next term. Rs. 7600 crore in foreign exchange for Australia and more importantly, lives of Indian students are in line.

Tamil Nadu professional courses entrance examinations

Getting admission into Tamil Nadu engineering and medical colleges is fairly simple-attend the 12th board examinations and score well in the science and math subjects. It was not the same when I was trying to get into an engineering school. I had to attend an entrance examination (TNPCEE exam, which is far tougher than the board examinations!!) which was weighed 1/3 of the final eligibility score.

When I first heard that TN government is canceling the entrance examination and giving more (in fact, only) weight to the board examination scores, I was appalled. It was far easier to score a 200 in math in the board exam than to score a 30/50 in the entrance examination. I always thought that the best students are separated from the rest only through this entrance examination (this is similar in all competitive exams in India).

But, TNPCEE did pose a huge problem-students from cities and from rich background could afford to attend special coaching classes for getting a better score in the entrance exams. This gives an untoward advantage for a very small percentage of students.

Nandan Nilekani of Infosys writes in his book “Imagining India”, “Most parents could afford to send their children to state schools which had weak standards and taught only in the regional languages. This alone meant that in India if you are born poor it was very likely that you would remain poor for the rest of your life, and it was likely too that your children would not fare much better”.

I agree.

I think what the TN govt had done would help reduce (and might completely remove) the line between students from the poorer background to those from the richer background (who could attend coaching classes to get good score in the entrance examinations). Now the game is fair with no players under the influence of performance enhancing drugs(or coaching classes).

P.S: the bad part of this whole new system is that a lot of students end up getting the same cut-off score (there are always hundreds of students who score 100% in math, physics and chemistry) and to rank them the Government use students' date of birth, first letter of the name, rural/urban differences as some of the distinguishing factors.

Imagine my situation- with a birthday in September, with V as my name’s first letter and coming from the urban background, I would be placed last in the whole ranking list. Hi Hi!!!

India Votes-2009

I was happy to be here in India during the parliamentary elections, the largest democratic exercise in the world to elect a government. It was (and is always) a unique experience to witness the campaigns, interviews, and debates of the politicians. Election campaigns in India usually revolve around development, religion and caste. It is no different this time.

2009 elections will go down in history as when the power shifted from one generation to the next. In the center, Rahul Gandhi took center stage whereas in Tamil Nadu, it was Stalin’s turn. Rahul and Stalin are similar- Rahul comes from the powerful Nehru dynasty whereas Stalin comes from MK’s kudumbam. Both of them took charge of the youth wings of their respective parties and helped them win the elections. But, while Rahul was thrust into politics, Stalin was groomed from a very young age to succeed his father.

Press predicted a victory for BJP in the center and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. But the results came otherwise. It was a massive victory for the congress and the DMK- both because of the efforts of Rahul and Stalin . Rahul addressed 102 meetings in 97 constituencies and Stalin criss- crossed the entire state for campaigning.

In Tamil Nadu, the 1 rupee/1 Kg rice scheme and the free television scheme did pay huge dividends. And in the center, “India shining” campaign and Rahul’s charisma (the Rajiv- Rahul similarity did help. It is said that Rahul watched lot of his father’s tapes and mimicked his mannerisms!!!) helped them win 261, an absolute majority.

While Rahul declined a position in the ministry, Stalin was offered the Vice- Chief Minister post in the Tamil Nadu ministry. This promotion was long due and people expected it to happen much earlier. Finally, at 86, MK decided that it was time to pass on the baton to his son.

But it was preceded by a huge drama. (There is no better thriller/suspense movie than the political drama that happens in India during and after elections!!!)

While the national headlines read, “Rahul- The Man. The Magic. The politics” (Outlook, June 1, 2009), “The Rahul offensive”(India Today, May 18, 2009), “Rahul Zing!” (The Week, May 31, 2009), the local headlines read, “Celebrations in the street, Struggle inside the house”(Junior Vikatan, June 10, 2009).

MK traveling to the capital and begging for ministerial berths for his sons, daughter and his nephew turned out to be a complete farce. Unlike 2004, when congress needed support from DMK for forming a government, this year’s results made congress dictate terms to the DMK. But the persistence of MK finally won ministerial berths for both MK Azhagiri (his son) and Maran (his grand nephew). The only unlucky one happened to be Kanimozhi (MK’s daughter). The gossip is that she would get a post once the cabinet gets expanded in the near future. As soon as MK packed the bags of Stalin’s competitors to New Delhi, it was time for Stalin to take over Chennai.

What I liked about the 2009 elections:

1. Good public turnout for the elections.

2. Rahul Gandhi.

3. Experienced cabinet.

4. First female speaker of the parliament.

5. Promotion to MK Stalin.

6. Rahul rejecting a post in the ministry.

What I did not like in the 2009 elections

1. Missing names in the voter’s list.

2. Rahul rejecting a post in the ministry.

3. Ministerial berths to first time MP’s

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Welcome to India

After traveling to Argentina and Canada, I landed in India- much excited and much more tired.

In addition to the usual customs inspection, I went through the mandatory H1N1 screening this time around. (I was a potential threat since I traveled to both South and North America before landing in Chennai. In fact, I submitted the details of my travel in the inquiry form. The doctor who was working at the screening center granted me permission to enter the India without conducting any further investigation!!! Just a week later, 2 persons got themselves admitted to a hospital in Coimbatore fearing H1N1 infection. Both of them just returned from the United States. If proper screening was done in the airport, I don't think such incidents would occur again. But the problem is that people complain that they are being harassed at the airport. I don't understand how the same people could agree to the screenings when they travel to US, Europe and more importantly Australia and New Zealand. It is always a vicious cycle. People complaining against the officials and officials in turn complaining again the people!!!)

India did change a lot in the last 5 years. I have heard this statement from everyone visiting India after spending some time abroad. India is a truly developing country indeed and one can witness changes every day.

The first thing that caught my attention was the well- developed highways. 5 years ago, it would take 7-8 hours for me to travel from Chennai to Dharmapuri, my native place. It took less than 5 hours this time around. Exits, emergency vehicles, patrol cars, toll-booths- reminded me of I-70!!!.

A good network of roads is vital for the country's development and with these newly developed roadways, India could aim for a much higher growth (8-9% according to Dr. Manmohan Singh) than the current 7%.

(Picture taken at Vidhana Soudha, Bengaluru)