Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

Whoever thought AC coaches are luxury!

I am back from the “Shoe-less trip’ through Kerala. More on the trip later.

I had alighted the Ananthpuri Express today at Tambaram this morning after a night in AC 3 Tier from Nagarcoil.  I was travelling in IIIA coach.  Now whoever thought Air Conditioned travel is luxury read this!

Unfortunately, I am a ‘wide-girth’ traveller (add 6.2 feet of height).  As always, my luck regurgitates the mucus and spits it on me every time I book on III AC on the internet well in advance. Yet again I was dumped on a side upper berth. Luck was a little on my side as it was not the usual Berth no 64 that I always end up with. This time, I beat it by half to 32.  All my hopes of exchanging it or occupying an un-occupied lower berth shattered once I entered the coach of the train that just arrived from TVC. The coach was FULL and everybody wants to upto Chennai Egmore. Of all the trains, this was the one with all the ‘senior citizen’ and ladies in one coach. As I said…luck spit on me.

Beer inspired two of my fellow travellers to make an attempt that hit the Times of India pages. The same beer conspired to get me down the side upper berth 5 times during the night!

Those who travelled on a side upper berth would know. It was nothing short of gymnatics to get up the berth. The well-padded ladders provided to climb up were of no use. Trying to get my foot on the lowest rung would tear the seams of my jeans, thanks to the size of my….

So I had to spread eagle myself in space above the aisle of the coach with one leg on berth 26, another on berth 29, left hand on berth 30 and right on berth 27 and heave myself with utmost accuracy onto berth 32. Had I missed, the 77 year old gentleman sitting on berth 25 would have been paste!

Imagine I had to recollect this sequence as soon as I woke up in the middle of the night. How many of you can recollect the multiplication table of 13 upon waking up from deep sleep? Got it? Now add a threatening bladder to the situation and imagine!

The bladder’s threat was the last thing on my mind as I tried to get down. I was more concerned about the 77 year old man. For some reason, he chose to make my night more challenging. He slept with his head towards the aisle while the rest chose to sleep the other way. My top concern was not to land my foot on the his throat.

When I returned, I had another challenge…I had to get back up there in the darkness. It was better the first time. There was light and the berths were not occupied. Now I had to contend with darkness, pairs of innocent hands and legs and one geriatric neck.

I tried a variation this time and used the ladders on either side to climb up like a monkey. Only I landed the wrong side on my berth. The pillow was under my feet! Now Indian Railways strongly believes that only babies travel by AC. So their pillows are tiny pads of cotton that can comfort only a 6 month old!. I need a good support for my head thanks to my apnea which causes me to snore like a disgruntled boar! I had sacrificed the rug and the two flimsy sheets by folding them up and plcing them under the pillow to increase the height. To add more height, I had piled my towel under the pillow as well. Now I had them under my leg. It took me a great deal more gymnastics (this time as a contortionist) to get the pillow set from my feet to my head.

The second time I rushed to the toilet, I decided to spend the night on the attender’s berth by the doors. Bad luck again. As I flushed and stepped out, I found a man snoring on it. His paunch was better pronounced than mine and his girth propotionately superior. His tight pair of jeans had an anomaly that told me that he had not only beaten me to this berth but was also better prepared. He had left his zipper partly open…probably to save precious moments.

By the time I was through round 5, I had mastered the entire exercise.

I would prefer the side berths of sleeper class any day. At least the windows are open. Imagine the situation in the IIIA Coach when the AC goes off and all the different cuisines in the tummies of the passengers start to pronounce their effect!

The programmed sounds of the wheels on the rails provide the much required rhythm to lull me to sleep and negate any other sound. The silent interiors of a IIIA coach accentuate the snores…multiple rhythms thanks to multiple cases of apnea. If this were not sufficient, one can clearly hear the wind blow, everytime a traveller lets go! In my case it was a concert of all the senior citizen around me. Since I could not avoid it, I joined the orchestra with my own little piece of “light music”.

Now there are reports that the railways is planning to add an extra berth between the side upper and side lower berths in III AC compartments Imagine the situation with 8 extra berths! This is a bid to increase revenue per coach. The railways would make money. The passengers would make war! People like me will die of claustrophobia or asphyxation.  It is time to move to even more constricted spaces…the low cost airlines and their sardine can aircrafts. This one is even more frightening, but at least I would not have to endure it for more than two hours!

Day 0 to Kerala

Just packed a meagre back pack for the rail trip down the strip of Kerala.  There is a slight change in plan.

From Punalur I go to Tenkasi and from there to Madurai.  I would reach Madurai by 19.30 on the 17th.  I have an option of taking the 21.40 Nagercoil Exp and join Bharat and Shanx or wait till 23.00 to take the Madurai-Kollam passenger to Nagercoil and reach an hour and half later than Bharat and Shanx. The passenger has a First Class coach and currently, the lure of a travel in FC is beckoning me.

I might change the plans completely at Madurai. Instead I could avoid Nagercoil (and a chance to meet up with Bharath and Shanx at Kanyakumari) and proceed to Karaikudi via Manamadurai and take the MG passenger from there to Mayiladuthurai. From there, I could hitch a ride to Villupuram and catch the Vaigai Express to Chennai.

Depends on the appetite for an extra day of rail travel at Madurai.

Making a choice

I was digging some old messages on a defunct e-mail id (thanks to spam!). I found a chain-mail amongst the pile up. It was quite dated in circulation. The issue was blogged in rediff already more than a year ago and the matter was even older.  It was a typical one, much like those propoganda exercises started by the right-wingers and probably the BJP-Sangh Parivar kinds, passionately exhorting the masses with typical extreme calls to wake up and act. Except, this one wasn’t on issues dear to the aforementioned group. Rather it was on the treatment meted out to Raju Narayan Swamy, IAS.

This name is familair to me. Years ago my maths teacher had referred to him while indulging in his usual sarcasm. He compared us with Raju, the topper of IAS entrance and yet again dismissed our prospects of succeeding in life.  I had already read about him in Competition Success Review as the IIT entrance and course  topper who also topped IAS Entrance and training evaluations. He was posted as a district collector in Kerala.

I am sure Raju Narayan Swamy harboured no lofty expectations from job. He would have known the perils of being an honest and upright bureaucrat.  Predictably he got the goat of the political class and was asked to go on leave and then later posted to an inferior post (circa 2002). He took the slight as an opportunity to serve the United Nations in Paris. That was when the chain mails and public pleas started. Subsequently, the Achutanandan government reinstated him as district collector and also posted him to the district of Idukki to control revenue encroachments. It was the same Left government under a different leadership that had supsended him earlier.

The public propoganda is always there to support such exemplary persons. Raju might face yet another hurdle, yet another suspension.  History is replete with personalities like him who have constantly swum against the tide all their professional lives. But things hardly change at the political level. The chain mails urged people to wake up to the realities and make good use of their vote. Now who would the people vote to? People like Raju Narayan Swamy are bureaucrats and not politicians. If they stand for office, would they have enough clout and currency to change the administration? Would they be allowed to stand for the highest office?

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, a former IAS officer of 1980 batch (and a physician by training)  quit the Serivce to start Lok Satta, a movement for democratic reforms in India.  The movement has caught on well in Andhra Pradesh.  It might be viewed as a platform to nurture the desire amongst Indians for meritocracy.  One of the things that Dr. Narayan used effectively was the media to build public opinion.

Probably Dr Jayapraksh Narayan and Raju Narayan (hmmm…quite a coincidence) would stand for office, the day Indians reject conventions of democracy and demand a better choice. In any case, Dr Jayaprakash has already launched the Lok Satta political party in October 2006. One waits to see if he would contest in the next general election.

Mediocrity is a truth we must reluctantly accept. Else the likes of Raju Narayan Swamy and Dr. Jayapraksash would have been our political messiahs long ago. Men of action like Raju Narayan have no place in politics unless the rules of the game are altered drastically. Plato the philospher believed in the rule of the wise. But Emmanuel Kant the professed that intellectuals should stay away from public life – “The possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason.” Well, even Nehru or Lincoln had to make political compromises and avoid intellectual traps of rigid  moral stance. The Mensheviks could never survive with their idea of bourgeios democratic revolution. They were bound to go down to the Bolsheviks lead by Lenin who had made a more political choice of rousing the working class and peasants, the majority.

Would the bureaucrats have such political sense. the answer would probably be yes. But in a nation where only 60% can read and write and even lesser percentage with proper education, would a bureaucrat or intelectual stick out as a credible leader? The vote bank is in the villages not in the cities where intellectuals do not vote.

So what is the choice of future action for the likes of Raju Narayan Swamy?

In the 1960s, Dr. Bhagavathula Parameswara Rao received his PhD in Mineral Extraction from the Pennsylvania State University.  A lot of doors opened for him within the US. But he returned to India, to his native village and started the Bhagavathula Charitable Trust, an NGO for rural development. The man had a simple mission based on a simple idea.  Create opportunities of self improvement without depending on governmental aid.  The idea was that everyone must get together and act. He helped villagers mobilize savings and encouraged thrift, help them take up gainful occupation and develop co-operatives, enable women’s development, rural helath, literacy and vocational training etc. Dr Rao reasoned that rural development hinged on one factor – confidence building and action. he sought to end dependency of the development of poorest of the villagers using his simple philosophy of co-operation within community – self-help groups. Dr. Rao’s vision is to turn the 40 villages he chose as a part of his experiment to be model villages of success.

Dr. Rao reflects Emmanuel Kant’s philosophy in his article (a speech at Aid India ’99) where he says ” All our genius is used to make the system more complex. ” He refers to the bureaucratic set up.

Dr. Rao has been successful in his mission. He has definitely brought a change in the little landscape he has chosen to experiment with. he is not bothered about the scale of his work. He prefers to start small with definite goals. If only his model were replicated, there would be a greater impact.  All without government’s involvement.

Maybe that is the way to go for Raju Narayan Swamy.

A genius who chose to work through the government, a progressive mind that used the power of alternative media and opinion, a gentleman who sought simople confidence building measures. These are the stories of men who made a choice.

Shoe-less in Kerala

It has been almost a month since my last escape. Thanks to the bracing weather, it is time for another.

This time it is Kerala. God’s Own…yeah yeah yeah!

When I spoke about the trip to few of my friends, they went nuts. Kerala meant Kumarakom, Thekkady, Alleppey backwaters, the regulation houseboats or Wayanad for them. Certainly not what I had in mind. This is what I am planning to do:

August 15:  Chennai-Palakkad by Mangalore Mail

August 16: Palakkad – Nilambur Road by the first passenger at 5.45 AM. Nilambur Rd-Shoranur by the same train on return journey.  Shoranur-Ernakulam Jn. by Venad Express. Retire at Ernakulm for the day and meet Jimmy Jose.

August 17: Ernakulam-Kollam (via Alleppey) by TVC Express. Kollam-Punalur by bus. Punalur-Tirunelveli by the MG passenger. Tirunelveli – Nagarcoil by any train or bus.

August 18 Early hours: Nagarcoil Jn meet the diesel nuts and proceed to CAPE…er Kanya Kumari for the uninitiated.

August 19: Back to base by the previous evening’s CAPE-MS Express with Shanx and Bharath.

Of course, like all those trips before, this one will be a backpacker trip too….no shoes, no fancy togs. Just a small backpack , slippers and camera (and a tripod to shoot the sunrise at CAPE).

Yipee! I am going to Jimmy Jose country!

What does the HRD Ministry Not Do?

The Ministry of Human Resources has two departments; one for School Education and the other for Higher Education. Together these departments govern vast and diverse educational structure of India. Primary education is already in a dismal situation. Higher education needs a revamp to bridge the gap between the educated and the employable. The Ministry is meant to “provide a common platform for those relevant instruments and agencies which were contributing or responsible for the integrated development of citizens of India.” However apart from budgetary allocations, there is no dedicated annual program or a framework for strategic development of human resource employable skills. Asian economies like Singapore and Malaysia have already established programs and guidelines to facilitate strategic development of their respective workforce. Rather than developing a workforce development system to enable Indians compete globally, the ministry has been reduced to a pacifist when it comes to establishing a meritocratic society.

Mediocrity principle

Used to have a maths teacher in school who wrote me off 15 years ago.  I guess he would have the same opinion today. Most people are like that. They want the world to change to their opinion.

If I meet this gentleman  again, would like to tell him:

The Earth is a relatively ordinary planet orbiting a relatively ordinary star in a relatively ordinary galaxy which is one of countless others in a giant universe, possibly within an infinite multiverse

Life is organic chemistry thanks to the double-helix structure of DNA

There is a limit to human rationality

Humans share about 98% of their DNA with chimpanzees

Chimpanzees have actually undergone more genetic change than humans

All humans have a common ancestor with a chimpanzee about 6,000,000 years ago and that ought to be a monkey too!