Wednesday, January 18, 2006

India Whining

Its what they are all talking about - India and China taking over the world. And it isn't China that adds the spice in these heated discussions, its the dark horse Homeland I belong to. Not many saw it coming. The land of spicy chicken tikka and lamb vindaloo, of beggars, of the Taj Mahal, of cheap software engineers (read job robbers) - which is how the average westerner sees India - was never one slated to make the big splashes. I've been seeing this all around me during my stay here in StrangeLand. My high point was actually when the cop that gave me a speeding ticket, not in the kindest words suggested - "So, you are from India, huh? I hear you are taking over the world economy". The unsaid words there of course were - "Getting rich by taking our jobs, huh? You wouldn't mind paying this ticket here, I'd imagine."

Why the hoopla?

The "India Shining" campaign was kicked off toward the end of 2003, when the incumbent political party decided to shine its shoes by showing how the country is shining. They pulled out all kind of statistics to show the progress the country had made during their rule. Sadly for them, the Indian electorate was smart enough to realise that the actual wheels had been put in motion before the government even came to power, by the outgoing party. Guess who won then?

Well, the economy hasn't let up its 8% annual growth, and the media, which plays such a major role in stirring things up, hasn't let up either. Just to give an example, visit the Rediff web portal. You will find a brand new news item or article by an "expert" either highlighting India's growth or comparing it to China. One day "We are 20 years behind China", and the next, "India and China economies will control the world market in 15 years". It just doesn't let up. The media quotes Forex reserves, GDP growth, the rising number of shopping malls and cellphone users, whatever it takes to make a mountain. And the whole world is hooked.

What's the hype and what's the truth?

The truth is, a country of India's size and rich heritage could never have been stopped. It was always an economy waiting to explode. And I believe it still is. We are getting excited at the first openings of a blossom. The question really is whether this bud will blossom or fade out like one of those overnight blooms. And right now either is equally possible.

Ok, so we have 140 billion dollars of forex reserves. But, aren't we forgetting the massive trade deficit we still have? Its definitely eclipsing this forex reserve figure. We are still primarily an importing economy.

IT rocks..We rule the software world. My brother has already written an interesting post on this fad. Yes, we absorb the largest chunk of all out-sourced software work. But, does it map to the revenue we make? Outsourcing as a business concept, in my view, will never cease. But, does it in anyway ensure we build a foundation to keep us going even when people decide to move to other havens of outsourcing? And to all those that think Indians are superior in intelligence, and smarter at work ethics and skills, well I have just one thing to say - God meant for all humans to be equal. Until we breed enterpreneurs out of our young software engineers, we will be slaves to others, and that takes us nowhere.

Shopping malls, multiplexes, branded clothes, faster cars - signs of prosperity, yes. But, by what scale? The Western scale again, isn't it? I wonder when this 'White man is superior' mental-block will be erased from our psyche, when we will stop embracing all things western as good. It is the west that must embrace our ethics. After all we are the ones with thousands of years of well-scuplted culture and heritage, whereas the western ideas are just flashes of brilliance, destined to fade out like our diwali fire-crackers. Instead, we are going out of our way, the other way.

My silver lining

When I see companies like TATA motors sealing bus production deals for South Africa, making their mark in the Eastern Eurpoean market, and looking for newer economies to venture into, I feel proud. When I see ONGC competing for oil fields in Nigeria with the big guns from the west, I feel excited. When I see so many more of our farmers getting access to advanced technologies to improve agricultural output, I feel happy to eat that extra roti! There are such stories all around us. Indian pharma companies using their low manufacturing cost, but equally good research background, to win contracts to make cheaper AIDS medicines, also comes to mind. But, they have all been overshadowed by the media hype surrounding the outsourcing industry.

Did you know that investors from the west shy away from venturing into Indian IT start-ups cos they require such a low investment, which in turn means lower returns? Where is the Indian investor in such times? Out of 10 enterpreneurs we conjure up, 1 ever manages to get funding, and mostly not to the extent she would want. 5 will lose hope immediately at the lack of excitement from investors. The remaining 4 will fight a losing battle and try putting in their savings and hope for the best. It's a sad story, where the typical Indian mentality of not taking risks, also shields them from all the good projects some enterpreneurs come up with. Any wonder then that all our best enterprenuers are in the Silicon Valley? And most of those here are into slave-work, the stable business - no matter how demeaning it is. Before you accuse me, you should know that I am in the same industry too.

Wrap up now, please!

India is a work of art in progress, poetry in the making, but we aren't firmly established to make it. To truly rule the world, we ought to ensure we can sell to the world first. We just keep buying. We ought to advance our technological base and our intellectual property a lot further to ensure we don't feed off foreign technology, and for this to happen, jobs like those of ISRO and BARC have to be atleast more appealing than the jobs at Infosys and Wipro. I could list a lot more, but these are good places to start. Everything else frankly seems to be pretty much in shape.

Yeah, and ensure we don't run outta gas, literally, in our push for industrial superiority. I cannot stress enough that India will have to take the lead in moving toward alternate energy resources, and not wait for the rest to take the first step. And stop bragging! To the west, we are coming dudes, just wait. And to all of us Indians, it's gonna be a heck of a ride, so hang on!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Teachers or Preachers?

Guruh Brahma Gurur Vishnu, Guruh Devo Maheshwarah,
Guruh Saakshad Parabrahma, Tasmai Shree Gurave Namaha.

One of the first shlokas I was taught when I was young. I think it was because it was so simple to remember as a kid. Later in life, I understood what it meant. A Guru is the teacher, the one who shows us how to live life, who sets us on the right path when we are young. In ancient India, it was a sacred occupation, and some of the great sages have also been the greatest teachers. Hence, they have been compared to Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh in this shloka.

My first Gurus

In my first years in school, apart from my parents, I had the utmost respect for all my teachers. I used to look up to them as some of society's greatest protagonists, as people who would shape how I live and quench my thirst for knowledge. Unlike now, when I couldn't care less about learning about diverse subjects, as a kid I was into the quest of discovery, exploring the unknown, and basically learn something new everyday. None of this holds true now, and I wonder if it has something to do with the teachers I have gone through in my 20 years of education. This is not a blame game I'm gonna play to clear my conscience; just trying to analyse what role my teachers played in my life.

As a kid, it was natural to look up to elders, and not just literally cos I was so short. I also perceived them as all-knowing and interacting with them gave me great joy. I was the quintessential "teacher's pet" too in school, atleast till the 7th grade. I think teachers always fall for the guy who tops the class most often. How shallow! I repaid them by almost worshipping the best ones, and someday wanting to be like them. Oh, how smart they were when they taught me about far-off countries I've never seen, about legendary kings who ruled our lands centuries ago, about how to find the square root of 27843, about how to convert a sentence in active voice to one in a passive voice, about the fact that light splits up into a rainbow when it passes through water. I was overawed.

Teacher, or a talking text-book?

Now that I think about it, I realise all they did was present bookish facts, most of them. Very few would actually perform experiments, force us to think on our own and question, and inspire us to dig deeper. They kinda got away with half-baked knowledge cos us kids wouldn't question. It was something inherent in a lot of kids - we don't question the elders, it might be a show of disrespect. Now, if someone taught me all that over again, I'd ask them back - Why do I need to find the square root of a number ever - what good is that? Where would I need to change a sentence from active to passive voice - I have no clue even now. Why does white light become multi-coloured when it passes through water?

I am reminded of the tale of one of my friends, Harsha. The teachers laughed at him when he was asked to add two numbers, and he neatly arranged the digits of the two numbers, and added them from left-to-right, instead of right-to-left. Come to think of it, I never asked my teachers why I need to add them from right-to-left. I just did it. How can the teachers even have it in them to laugh at little Harsha? When all he had was an innocent young mind that didnt see the difference between adding in one direction as opposed to the other.

I got the answers to most of the questions I'd never raised on my own, later in life. Life has its own way of teaching you - when you observe what's happening around you more carefully. In my case, I usually just observed the encyclopaedia. But, it drove home the point that all my education was just glaze on top of a doughnut. I had to mostly bake the doughnut myself, and my parents had a great big hand in that. What did teachers really give me then? The degrees I hold?

My ideal guru

I now see teachers who simply pass some stupid tests and start teaching young and eager minds, who have no idea what they are being fed. From all my years in school and university, I know that clearing the hurdle of a test is not the hardest thing in the world to do. More so, it is not the best guide to judging a person's aptitude. Teachers should know they are some of the biggest servants to our society, the ones who shape a child's future. And take some responsibility in what they do and how they do it. They shouldn't just cram our heads with facts and figures - we have the newspapers for that. They should realise the enviable positions they are in and utilise it to motivate young minds, to make them arrive at the answers to their questions instead of giving half-baked replies to hush them up. A true guru doesn't bring the water to the horse, he points the horse in the right directions so it can find water itself. And a really good one will ensure the horse notices the abundance of flora and fauna and natural artefacts around the water source, so that next time the horse can find it on his own, without needing a guru.

In their defence, I am sure the teachers will point to lousy salaries they take back home, and lack of adequate support from the establishments, and sometimes from parents themselves. I can't argue with that. However, I have seen a handful of good examples of excellent teachers, who have worked their way around all of this. I can still remember some of the really good teachers I had as a kid. To me they did invoke the thirst to seek more, although I quenched it elsewhere. Until the point, I realised I could no longer look up to them, and had to seek asnwers on my own, always.

What is then, the difference between a teacher and a preacher? They remind me of the modern preachers who grow beards as a sign of their sainthood and dress in simple clothes as a mark of enlightenment, and captivate audiences with talks about religion and how to live life. They never give the rationale behind anything they say, and people don't question them either. It would be disrespect to a sagely human - after all he knows it all. It is our lack of knowledge and the readiness to grasp blindly what comes our way, that makes sucess stories out of unmotivating teachers and haughty preachers. Can something be done?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wake Up!

That's a call to myself, for sleeping around and not posting for a long time..or so you think. I'm all stirred up right now - I just heard one of my favourite ground-breaking songs..It's called 'Wake Up'. By Rage Against The Machine. Pure exciting guitar riffs and awesome rapping by Zach. The song kicks off with a heavy riff that sounds like Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir'. After that it only rises in tempo toward the end, where he screams out and insists we wake up!

Those of you not familiar with the song, please look back to The Matrix, where at the end, Neo calls up from a phone booth and doles out a threat, before flying away to this song. Those of you not familiar with the movie, life ain't worth living right now, is it!

The Message

Yeah, there's a message. Most of RATM's songs carry a message. The song wouldn't have been great without its motivatingly penned lyrics. It's about how the governments use their authority to muffle the protests, to sideline the obvious and to simply hide the truth. In particular, they stick to the example of the American government.

'Movements come and movements go,
Leaders speak, movements cease
When their heads are flown'.

Not scared to take names either -
'You know they went after King
When he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot'

And one of the most powerful statements -
'Networks at work, keepin' people calm
Ya know they murdered X
And tried to blame it on Islam'

It's not just love

For all those of you still leading life with an ear only for the pop divas and the boy bands, you have no idea what you are missing out on. You obviously do realise that life is not just about love and heartbreak, right? The real life has problems, wars, politics. Hell, these mushy crooners don't even sing about humanity or the environment. How hard is it to write a song that goes - 'You are my fire, my one desire', and then 2 lines later - 'Am I your fire, your one desire'. I used to write better poetry when I was in 2nd grade. And even then I wrote about emporers and heroes.

Music as a weapon

I've heard statements like - 'Music is a really strong tool. You can use it carry any message through' - many a time. Then, why do so many of these cacophonists choose to send only one message through? Love, beauty, weeping after a heartbreak, sex? Ok, that's 4, but eventually it amounts to nothing, just a few mushy females and their sad boyfriends who go through this hell just for the sake know what!

Why doesn't anybody sing about the environment and the extinction of rare species? Oh, wait, Megadeth did, with Countdown To Extinction.

Tell the truth, you wouldn’t dare.
The skin and trophy, oh so rare.
Killed a few feet from the cages,
Point blank, you’re so courageous

Why doesn't anybody sing about the treacherous stupidity of a war being fought in Iraq. Oh, wait, System Of A Down are already nominated for a Grammy with B.Y.O.B (Bring your own bomb).

Why do they always send the poor?
Why don't presidents fight the war?

Why doesn't anybody write about dreams and deja-vus, stuff that happens to us everyday. Oh, wait, Iron Maiden has Dream Of Mirrors dedicated to this freaky feeling.

Have you ever felt
the future is the past
but you don't know how...?
A reflected dream
of a captured time
Is it really now, is it really happening?

Why doesn't somebody write out against dictators that still rule some parts of this world. Oh, wait, Sepultura have penned Orgasmotron in their honour.

I Twist The Truth, I Rule The World, My Crown Is Called Deceit
I Am The Emperor Of Lies, You Grovel At My Feet

One last why doesn't. Why doesn't somebody write about the soldiers who defend our borders, goto war, blindly obeying the decisions made by superiors who sit in the comfy interiors of their palaces. Oh, wait, Metallica have already penned For Whom The Bell Tolls on that pretext.

For a hill men would kill, why? They do not know
Suffered wounds test their pride

Morons all of these to waste time and creativity to write about real stuff. Who listens to this crap? Without love, there's only wars, bad presidents, and nightmares. Boy Bands rock! Britney rulz.

Wake Up!

Whadda I got to, whadda I got to do to wake ya up
To shake ya up, to break the structure up

It's sad to see that all the song-writing credits goto mushy or latino or hip-hop singers, while these other artists really churn out creative and meaningful stuff. I'm gonna be like the Missionary and try to convert every friend of mine to give these artists a shot, and see for themselves what they are missing. Meanwhile, you go and grab these songs I listed and give them a deserved hearing.

'It has to happen sometime,
It has to happen somehow,
What better place than this,
What better time than now!'