January 28, 2010

My Chiti Chiti Bang Bang!

I have been driving the Zen for ~10 years now (not the same car:-)) and its time to change and move on. Unfortunately, Maruti does not make this model anymore. To date, I think its really the most handsome car in this segment. There have been so many new cars on the road offlate, but there is none to match this jelly-bean design. I guess the contemporary design is more the macho, rugged yet sporty look, that were typically in SUVs. Having sold the Zen, I am suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and feel a bit sad.. No, I am not a sentimental types, its just that I feel maybe, I could have used it for another two years as it was in quite a good condition. My little niece's oft repeated refrain is to take her in my 'blue' car, she will soon have to learn another colour:-).

I have decided to be a little adventurous and buy the latest hatch by General Motors - Beat. General Motors does not have a great reputation but my guess is Beat could beat that:-). If I am right, I will have a winner in my hands! I am not thinking about the other possiblity:-). I have asked for sprightly green and I am looking forward to driving it around, and paint the town Green! There are already hints at home of wanting to drive the Beat and I get shortchanged with an older car. I will hear none of it!

6 Basic Emotions??

I want to draw your attention to this intersting article in New Scientist. It says "joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust" are the 6 basic emotions that have characteristic facial expressions expressed the world over. But very interestingly, it lists 5 other emotions that vie for their place beside these Big 6, so to speak. These are elevation, interest, gratitude, pride and confusion.. But can't we recognise these 5 emotions when expressed? I can, for sure, identify these, in people. The article describes each of these five in some details.

Elevation: In the midst of last year's economic turmoil President Barack Obama's inauguration speech was powerful, inspiring stuff. Some of his supporters, hanging on his every word, will have had tears in their eyes, a tingling sensation on the back of their necks and a warm feeling in their chest as though it was opening up to let love and hope flood out. This feeling is what Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has labelled "elevation".Then the article very interestingly says, 'elevation' particularly, has been documented in people from Japan, India, the US and the Palestinian territories!! I wonder why?? I personally have felt this feeling each time I see my Guru, H.H.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Interest: Your head tilts to one side, your speech quickens and the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes contract as you become engrossed in mastering a bassoon sonata, understanding the thermodynamics of the universe, or perhaps just browsing your stamp collection.

Gratitude: Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that gratitude makes cohabiting couples feel more connected.The grateful feeling is a signal that we should get to know them better as they are the ones likely to be there for us in the future. So, once you are in a romantic relationship, feelings of gratitude serve as a little reminder of how great your partner is.

Pride: The conceited, arrogant feeling of pride has been called the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. Yet pride can also be noble. We all know the contented sense of achievement and self-worth that comes with having done well at something, whether it be achieving a promotion, building something, winning a race or figuring out a cryptic crossword clue.

Confusion: It's a feeling we have all experienced, whether in a lecture theatre, an art gallery or wandering around an unfamiliar city, but confusion is tricky to describe. Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that it is the "feeling that the environment is giving insufficient or contradictory information".

January 27, 2010

Going Green!

Just discovered another new product to reduce our carbon footprint, at an individual level. All of us use printers at work /home and since low cost re-fillers are bad and unreliable, we all resort to buying new HP cartridges, although they are prohitively priced. But we now have an alternative to buying new cartridges - a company that reconditions and recharges the used cartridge at half the cost and comes with a 100% guarantee and a money back option in case we don't like the product. They even claim to replace the printer in case their product causes any damage to the printer! Tall claims, yeah?? I thought so too... But I am now convinced that this is the way to go, for cartridges. You must all check their website http://www.cartridgeworld.in/ for more details. They have information of how this contributes to saving our planet and reducing our oil consumption!

I  visited their store at Kodambakkam (kodambakkam@cartridgeworld.in) and am impressed with their professional service.

January 22, 2010

Bt brinjal - Ban or Boon

I would like to draw your attention to a very nice Commentary written by Prof. G. Padmanaban from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, that goes by the same title as this post. He has very elegantly brought out the issues with Bt brinjal in the current context, for easy reading and assimilation for even non science people. He very clearly explains the results and tests done to ensure human safety. And very importantly, he brings out a very important point that I have also been emphasising.... Scientists are as concerned for human safety and will therefore ensure adequate and appropriate testing before applying for commercial release.

This in my opinion is a very important point. Why would scientists deliberately bring out a wrong technology?? To earn a bad name for themselves and Science?? It really beats me how and why the activists make the scientists to be in-human?

The other valid points he raises in the paper are the suggestions to the Government of India and policy makers to put in place systems in the country, that would ensure appropriate use of genetically modified crops.

Such articles and papers are very good and needs to be published in newspapers, internet websites, magazines for wider circulation and understanding for all. Since I am involved in this kind of research I am only too aware of the fact that the world is too polarised on this subject and there are far too many myths and wrong information being maliciously spread by activists in the name of 'educating the masses'. More appallingly, many times I have been asked my media persons, indirectly of course, if I get funding from the MNCs to speak "for" GM - food!!

Here is an appeal to readers to educate themselves and I look forward to many more such papers that offer constructive suggestions and solutions rather than telling us "don't do this". As my Prof always says, the subtle shift in our mindset from "Don't do - ecology" to "Do - ecology" is the need of the hour.

January 19, 2010

My dad - Part III

There are still so many other things my dad was good at...My dad was damn good at sketching!! Pen sketches he would make of whoever sat in front of him when he had no work:-). Its a real pity that none of us saved his sketches or I could have scanned them now:-). And he was a real creative person, I remember he would, every year, make Lord Ganesha from clay on Vinayaka Chaturthi, however busy he was at work, during those days!! He would ask us to have the clay cleaned, sorted and mixed with water and ready and he would get the Lord ready in ~ 2 hours flat, atleast 1.5 foot high idol. And he wouldn't just stop with the outline, he would get into details like the nails, toe nails, thread (poonal), dhothi, angavastram etc.., all with clay. It was a delight to appreciate his piece of art and we would feel bad on the day of visarjan (immersing the idol in water). Talking of creativity, I remember that as a kid, he would love to draw fine designs, as bindis, on my forehead.

He really was an extremely talented personality. We had the most enviable book and music collection. He used to read all kinds of books from fiction (Archer / Sheldon) to classic English literature (Shakespeare, Dickens) and he extensively read a lot of books on Hindu philosophy. He taught us kids on the values and teachings from the scriptures.

He enjoyed and experienced a good, satisfying life. I could give a glimpse of his daily routine to substantiate my statement. He would wake up by ~5.15 am; have his coffee and collect his thoughts and work plan for the day. He would then leave for the Gymkhana and play lawn tennis - one set. Get home, read the paper quickly, take a shower and do his daily prayers. He would read a part of Sundara kaandam everyday before going to work apart from his regular Sandhyavandanam, Purushasuktham, Shreesuktham etc. Have his brunch at 8.00 am and off he would be, to work.. a drive of ~ 20 Km to office. He would listen to almost half a concert en route:-). He never called home from office and those days, we didn't have the cell either. He would return by 8 pm if there were no concerts to attend. He would always regale us with jokes and anecdotes from his day at work and ask us about our day.

January 18, 2010

Bt brinjal - Consultations in India - a circus?

I know you all know my views on this subject and I am not going to talk about that here:-). Refer to my previous posts from the label - Science. But, I have serious concerns on how policy decisions are being taken in the country. Our Environment Minsiter Shri Jairam Ramesh very grandly announced that he will tour the country and hold consultations on the Bt brinjal technology and its implications before commercialization. Very nice, one would say at first. But going by what's happening in West Bengal and Orissa, its like a big drama being enacted out there... I mean a stage managed show, by both the activists and companies. Both sides are engaged in getting 'x' number of farmers and scientists to support their claims and Science or Consultation has taken a back seat:-).

I know we live in a democracy and its all very nice to have all voices heard but this Consultation is probably the best joke of the month! So much of money and time is being spent on this and the outcome is nil. Jairam Ramesh is not going to get enriched with information in this process, at best, he will know who is on whose side:-).

Our government has taken and keeps taking so many decisions everyday, I wonder, why this Consultation approach is not being taken by other Minsitries.. I was just thinking how such meetings would be...

Our Finance Minister decides to hold consulations ahead of his budget to get the feel of people's feedback on taxes... Wherever he went, he had the Corporate lobby propping up people who spoke about reducing taxes to Companies. Then there was the lobby that had people speaking about reducing taxes at individual level. And there were the farmers' lobby (how can you forget them) who demanded more sops to do corporate / contract farming:-).

Not to be left behind, our Railways Minister also decided to hold Consultations ahead of the Rail Budget. Wherever she went, people demanded new trains from their state to Delhi. Many demanded creation of new railway divisions in their state! If all suggestions were taken seriously, she would have to introduce atleast 100 new trains in the current year!!

Is this the right approach to take, by Ministers? Oh yes, talking to all stakeholders and studying in depth, the subject are all important and must be done... but these kind of consultations on Bt Brinjal, at best, can be described as a circus:-)

January 17, 2010

Social networking sites

We all have accounts in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and such sites but do we really network?? As part of the herd and not wanting to be left out, I too succumbed to signing up in these sites, more to park myself in cyberspace than anything. Don't get me wrong, I am not some an asocial person or anything but I do find the charm and interest in these sites waning.

In FB, at first, we connect with long lost classmates and then we exchange notes and say the right things of how lovely to get connected etc.. but beyond that there is very little else to add or continue the conversation. Its quite funny, to log in and see some friends comment on some photo and 4/5 others 'commenting' or 'liking' it.. Then, there is Farmville and some other inane quizzes all your friends take and have that displayed... I feel so lost in FB, actually:-)

Twitter is even funnier, most people seem to be following than tweeting. I am not talking about official tweets and knowledge management kind of tweets in this post. General tweeting most often is as inane as "I had cornflakes for breakfast"!

LinkedIn probably is more meaningful but I must say I have not been very active there. Actually, my prediction is that sites like FB and Twitter will lose their sheen if the users don't evolve while LinkedIn looks like it will be here to stay.

Personally, I am more 'the blogger':-)

January 15, 2010

A billion+ Idiots, Not Just Three!

I went for this movie that everyone is talking about, 3 idiots ofcourse! and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Came back home and bingo! I got to read the latest talk C K Prahalad gave in Bombay, and I could see a clear parallel:-). The message both give Indians, is to aim for Excellence, rather than be Mainstream, in their different styles though.

The movie, apart from keeping us in splits, also gave us food for thought. Ah yes, its very easy to dismiss the present education system and censure it as it encourages students to rote-learn rather than understand concepts and parents do force their children to do what they want him/her to do... But, clearly, the message to take home is to excel in whichever field one chooses to pursue. Yes, its not an easy path and its probably very safe to follow the beaten track but the satisfaction of doing what one wants to do has no equals. Its a wonderful message for the youth.

And the talk CKP gave, as part of the Nani Palkhiwala Memorial lecture simply emphasized this point. He said that Indian policy makers must look towards to empowering and rewarding people with merit rather targetting policies for the masses...to build a new India. This will be very important in today's context where quality takes a back seat and populist measures targeting masses seem to be fashionable.

When people from such diverse backgrounds begin to speak the same language, I guess there is hope for India!

January 13, 2010

My dad - Part II

Its been a year, and as I look back this past year, I realise how much more I could have learnt from him. He was a person of many talents and varied interests. I had recollected a few incidents in my first post on him. There is so much more to say about him. He loved classical music, and we were regulars at every concert in atleast 4/5 sabhas in Bombay. He had no electronics background (he was a Chartered and Cost Accountant by qualification:-)) but was a huge electronics buff and self-learnt many nuances that only sound engineers would know. He would often carry his Akai deck with mikes and set up his system to record the entire kutcheri (with permission from the artisites of course). We have concerts of M S Subbalakshmi, M. Santhanam recorded by appa and they were of such lovely quality that was rare in those days... the 1980s. Unfortunately, they are on cassettes and I wonder if they are good now.

Another passion he had was plants.. We had a nice and small garden in our house in Bombay (quite a luxury actually) and we had quite a few roses at home. I remember appa used to water the plants and the many fruit trees (so would I) and notice the pest attack as it started and wonder what to spray.. We used to go buy fertilizers, pesticides etc and tend to the garden on weekends. And I remember he used to do grafting and make crosses between yellow and red and white roses etc.. Maybe I developed my interest in plants unconsciously from him.

Another activity he would spend hours in the weekend was, wash and polish his car. Looking back it was always an Ambassador and he had all versions there was to it... but he would polish and wax it for hours on Sundays.. I remember once attempting to help him and he told me the indicator that he used - the reflection of oneself in the car must be like it is on a mirror:-). I wonder if anybody does such things today (my husband certainly does not:-)), and appa was an extremely busy person and in a high pressure job as part of senior management in Britannia Indistries, but always found time to unwind at home through these varied hobbies.

He was a perfectionist, for sure, and therefore was highly impatient with people who didn't 'measure up' to him. I do miss appa! I realise I am coping with the loss, by sharing, through this blog. Check out some of our snaps of home, car etc.

I will probably do a Part III with some photos, soon.

January 5, 2010

Coconut palms

I visited coconut palms at many places in the coconut belt of Tamil Nadu, mainly Udumulpet, Pollachi, Anamalai. I learnt so many aspects to coconut cultivation, traditional talls versus dwarfs versus hybrids.. I got to meet different kinds of farmers, all very progressive and serious about farming and yet with some distinctness.. Oh yes, I feasted on delicious tender coconut and had no regular water for more than 10 hours!!

It maybe so fashionable to criticize hybrids but I could see these farmers enjoying the benefits of hybrids and the difference it has made to their quality of life. Some farmer said he educated his children in Engg college, now owns a petrol car, all thanks to these palms. One said, he has developed a coconut resort in one portion of his field from the profits derived from these palms. All in all, they were glad they were using hybrids because the conventional trees gave them no profits, just allowed them to break even!

There was one particular progressive farmer who seemed to know so much about crops, farming, issues pertaining to agriculture in India, food crises that is looming large in India etc etc... He was a living walking encyclopedia:-). He was so well read, it would have put many scientists to shame!! I would have liked to spend a day with him but I could spend only two hours with him.

My perspectives on farmers have rather been vindicated and I would certainly jump at more opportunities to interact with them

India - how different people are!

I was on a whirlwind trip criss crossing few districts of Tamil Nadu in the past 2 days and I was astonished to see people walk by the side of the road for days on end, on their annual pilgrim trip to the holy shrine at Palani. I was told people walk from down south, from the east coast and from other places to converge around the Pongal festival, at Palani. It takes them many days (~ about a fortnight) and there were makeshift arrangements en route for the pilgrims to rest and nap for a while before they move on.. Amazing grit and devotion and penance, don't you think? I, for one can't imagine myself in their shoes even for a day. Actually, they were all barefoot:-) walking on asphalted road!!

Many of you may have seen such similar scenes.. I wonder what drives them to do these extremely tortorous things to themselves.. My friend joked that he and I wouldn't because we have not sinned so much:-). Jokes apart, its really amazing and admirable to see these people, young and old, all wearing a similar kind of yellow dotting the skyline.. The person who was driving me around remarked that as the destination neared, they would be so weary and tired that they would almost crawl on all fours, to reach the temple.

This in my opinion is spirit and determination. Since we seem to have an overdose of it, why can't we make use of these positives to improve the quality of life in rural India, in particular, I wonder.