Monday, July 29, 2013

James Burke's Connections, Laxmibai smoking a hookah offends and the Story of Ekalavya

Watching James Burke's Connections, I was rattled by my lack of exposure to a critical analysis of India's history so that we have a better understanding of why our society stagnated.

The following comment in "Textbook image of Laxmibai smoking hookah sparks row" perhaps indicates why our education is so poor:
The publisher has issued an apology for hurting sentiments of students, teachers, parents, educational institutions and others concerned.
I recall only a minimal description of the period between the "Golden Age of India" and the invasions which followed centuries later. We were taught more about kings and kingdoms and very little about the society  in general. Even if there were no great empires and small kingdoms were fighting each other, why was there so little change in society? What kept India a static society? If the society was rich so that it was attractive for invaders, what did we do with the surplus?

Are some of the reasons for our society's status quo still present?

For example, is Drona really the villain in the story of Ekalavya? We admired Eklavaya and I do not think I have ever come across a criticism of his actions.

Drona seems to act consistently  with the rulers protecting their own position. It is Eklavaya's cutting off his thumb which implies conforming to the society and status quo rather than trying to change it. And we are brought up on Ekalavya being heroic.

I have often felt that in our modern Indian society as well, desire for respect is confused with insistence on obedience.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some light shines on bureaucracy: Will affidavits and stamp papers disappear?

I wanted to highlight the news 'Unnecessary' affidavits done away with, Punjab counts its gains but couldn't find it after a few days. That is until the news Union ministry wants to do away with affidavits, the Punjab way.

The only disheartening part is that the union ministry needs a concept paper! The nuisance of the stamp papers and affidavits must be obvious to any person who has had to deal with government bureaucracy and that, I am sure, includes the bureaucrats themselves!

I frequently wonder that if the current processes do not encourage lying. It seems from our processes that our statements have no legal binding unless they are on  a Judicial Stamp paper. Hopefully, that is not true but who knows what is present in our laws. Here is a silly example of Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Grim reminder of why I stopped commuting and quit teaching

The news about an accident in Kharar between a school bus and a private bus was a painful reminder of my rationale for not continuing to teach a course at IIT, Ropar. This was the route on which I drove :(

I had forgotten the number of times the private buses had terrified me. I was beginning to feel that perhaps I should not have stopped as I find myself not exploring as much of software as I used to.

I wish there were a way to nudge drivers into acceptable and socially responsible behaviour as Stockholm did in handling traffic congestion.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dealing with Metamorphosis with cards for “tough times” or “extended illness”

I loved this cartoon, probably, created in celebration of the birth anniversary of Kafka.

I had recently reread Kafka's Metamorphosis after a gap of 40 years. It was as powerful an experience as it was 40 years ago. I did not find it quite as gloomy as my recollection of it. However, it definitely follows the Vonnegut's Kafkaesque shape of a story.

One factor which I think I had not appreciated in the early twenties was the reaction of outsiders, that is people other than the family members. It is difficult for people in general to know how to react to such a scenario. So, it is nice that the greeting card industry has found an opportunity to meet the needs of the customers as I found in this article in the Economist. The image on the article is terrific.

However, I am not really certain whether I would prefer a card to indifferent silence.

Pointless differences makes an unhappy tax payer

I discovered yesterday that the salary for government jobs is computed from March to Feb instead of the financial year - April to March.

It doesn't seem like a big deal, except that I had included the March salary in my tax return last year. I had ignored examining the Form 16 as no tax had been deducted for the few months I had taught.

This year's Form 16 included the March salary as well and tax deducted. So, I will have declared one month's salary twice and paid tax on it twice!

I don't think it is the extra tax I am paying  which bothers me. Rather, it is the inconsistent rules which make it easy to violate rules and, thus, creating the fear of bureaucratic hassles. Effectively adding needless anxiety and tension.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Should we punish officers who make the rules instead of the ones who take bribes?

As I read 'Passport verification for sale!', I keep wondering why is there not enough discussion of why our society keeps creating such opportunities.

The key point for me was
However, with a large number of young workers from other parts of India working in the IT and other sectors in Bangalore and needing to travel abroad at short notice....
Even without a short notice, our rules are painful for mobile workforce. IT personnel are very much mobile. They change jobs. They change residences. They change cities.

Even about 5 years ago, I had a tough time opening a new bank account. I was not working full time. I had accounts in other cities but I could not open one locally easily. I succeeded but it would have been even harder if I tried today.

I had a problem trying to register my car. Fortunately, by chance, I got a voter id card just after I bought and replaced the old car.

I once needed to open an account in SBI for what turned out to be an embarrassingly small pension from the PF office. Since my long term plans are to settle in Goa, I tried to open an account in Goa. I own a flat but its address in the sale agreement was in terms of village records and not particularly useful or acceptable by SBI. I had proof of residence for a place in Margao as per my passport. As per the rules, that would have been fine! It did not matter that I did not stay there. However, I would have to open the account in the Margao branch :(

I had a PF account at the same branch but that was not usable for SBI as PF account was an account on behalf of central government and not SBI!

Although I was upset with the SBI officer, but it was not her fault. Fortunately, people in Goa tend to stick to rules.

The real point is - why can't we have a correspondence address and an address for which proof of residence is available. I think it is because our government is too busy  trying to prevent potential illegality that they are oblivious to the inconvenience and irritation to perfectly legal residents. Worse. As the news above implies, perfectly legal citizens are compelled into indulging in, often via an intermediary, in illegalities :(

I can't forget the line of Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers :
Little did the professor realize that he was carrying away the very evil he had come to destroy
In fact, my biggest disappointment with Manmohan Singh's current government has been that the government has done very little to streamline administration and eliminate pointless rules, which was my understanding of his promise when he became the PM. (Wish I could find a link for that).