Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Diatribe on reservation

It makes little sense to provide reservation based on caste. If anything, we must provide for the rural, the poor and the handicapped. And them only.

Caste based reservation sucks.

There are those who say we must have "positive discrimination", an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. Our upper caste ancestors, they say, have abused the lower castes and structured society so they were discriminated against. And we can undo this by screwing the upper castes of tomorrow, who are largely involved in exchanging ring tones with the lower castes of tomorrow, who in turn believe oppression is when they're not allowed into an "A" movie.

To blame the errors of the past on the children of tomorrow is an absolutely ridiculous idea. I will not have my children pay for the mistakes of some idiots in the past. Female infanticide was and is a curse, and we all recognise it. Should we then kill male babies for next hundred years?

And caste downtroddenness, if such a word exists, was perpetrated by the lower castes as much as the upper castes. There are those, even today, who favour a caste divided society to keep social norms in place; norms that no longer accept reality, technology or change. Why do people fear inter caste and inter religion marriages? The same reason applies to some who want to keep caste differentiation in our society. And these are the very people who will call someone "SC/ST" in a derogatory way - and this label is firmed by reservations.

The more we reserve seats for the backward classes, the more we brand our society with the caste iron. We have to undo this only by removing caste reservation altogether; and provide only reservations for the needy - the rural, the poor and the handicapped. These are "fixable".

Think about it.

You can fix "rural" if the place you live in develops. Reservation helps; after all, if you study, you may be in a position to develop your home town.

You can fix "poor" by getting rich. Reservation helps, you study, and you have opportunity.

You can fix a lot of "handicapped" - if you can study, you can help with research of those with your disability, or earn enough to get more expensive treatment or survival devices.

You can never fix 'caste'. You're born with the tag, and you die with it. You can therefore NEVER achieve anything by reserving seats for castes. Or for genders (male/female).

(Some will say you can "fix" gender through sex change operations. But inherantly, gender needs no fixing - there is no shame in being male or female. There is no shame being of any caste either - that is only a birth tag. Are you ashamed of the day you were born?)

In fact you shouldn't ever discriminate those things; make it illegal to discriminate between castes or genders in any job or educational institution -> no such rule is enforced, in fact people still post ads saying "Wanted female receptionist" or "wanted salesmen, preferably male". This is disgusting - and should be illegal.

If we continue tomorrow we will need to make reservations, in jobs, for stupid people. Why? Because such people are discriminated against, no?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

KREC videos

It's been 10 years since I graduated - or it will be on July 13th - and I was getting nostalgic on a Saturday morning. It's called National Institute of Technology, Surathkal (NITK) now, but was Karnataka Regional Engineering College, Surathkal (KREC) when I was there (1992-96).

I spent some time with the Wikipedia entry on KREC and then came across this video:

It's a very sadly edited amateur video but has some of the elements that trigger a bout of nostalgia.

It begins with "Lamhe" (moments) - a mirrored render of 3D text using, I think, 3D Studio. This is what we used to do in college for our annual fest, Incident. The machines were so slow that we would painstakingly map all the points, figure out the right textures, colours and lights and pre-calculate the movements of the text, camera and lights - all on paper or in our heads, because a "render" took upwards of 8 hours. We'd then use the lab machines at 10 PM, when everyone was done, and set the render to run through the night.

Today, the same darn thing takes less than 2 seconds.

But I digress.

The video has some "moments" - of the hostel rooms, "Samudra Darshan" (SD), Classrooms, Copying in sessionals, stealing glances at the opposite sex, a kinda weird human "IT" formation in the main garden (Why???), bonfires at the beach, the ring ceremony, the farewells and the class photos. They'd look cheesy to most of you, but for me, they all trigger some memory or the other.

There's also an attempt at humour - the "muggus" (bookworms of sorts) arriving early at 8:05 AM, and the cooler dudes strolling in at 9 AM. The coolest dudes, such as yours truly, were usually there only in time for the 9:50 break.

Things that show how old I've gotten:
  • Hostel rooms seem to be much better - cupboards with doors that aren't propped up by duct tape, beds that can actually be slept in and all that.
  • Paved roads and painted footpaths! Wow. Though that might only be the walk from the girls block to the main block.
  • SD doesn't have the smokers anymore. Smoking is banned there. Kinda sad - the cigarette + chai was my favourite thing in the 9:50 break (and what used to wake me up).
  • There's no mention of Cresendo, Incident or Phoenix (Cultural and sports festivals). And no SAC. No Gate, no sunsets and no laat sessions in the hostels. Maybe all that has changed; it was SOOO much of our life then.
  • There are way too many girls in a class. That many would have been the sum total of the girls in our entire batch. Not that I'm complaining. Wait. Maybe I am - Why didn't we have these numbers???
There's another video of a basketball match. A night match in the floodlit courts. I was a college team player too, though right now I will only qualify to be the basketball. Notice that there's too many turnovers, bad shots and even a missed layup. But also an amazing three pointer and some neat offense. That stuff hasn't changed.

A few of us from the '96 batch are driving to college on July 13. Hopefully there will be enough alcohol to help us remember....and forget.

Monday, May 15, 2006


You've heard of the arranged marriage. And you've heard of dowry, the age old concept of giving money to the groom's family for something I don't entirely understand but agree is a social evil. And you've heard of boys making demands: that the girl should be fair and beautiful, that she should have studied in a convent but should not be a nun, unless you count the virginity aspect, but she should also gel easily with other people and so on. And much of this from ugly, pathetic losers.

The empire has struck back.

The arranged marriage market in India, and there's a reason it's a "market", is not the groom's domain anymore. Women, and more specifically women's families, routinely demand more of the "boy"; demands that are not only based on stability, but also on a deep understanding of economics and politics.

Let me give you the four eras I have seen. All are accounts I have heard from those who've been through this first-hand.

1995-1998: The H1-B years

"Do you have an H1-B?"

That was the dreaded question. H1-B is a visa for residency in the U.S. which allows you to earn the monthly moolah in dollars. 1995-98 wasn't the most happening time for the Indian economy, so most people wanted to go abroad - and the U.S. was the easiest destination, what with the H1-B visa, companies willing to take anyone, and scores of consulting companies hiring junta for contract projects. A H1-B visa meant weath, stability and a "foot hold" abroad. The concept of downsizing was alien to Indian culture; the only references to pink slips were coloured undergarments.

Scores of eligible gentlemen left for the shores of America, armed with Rasam powder, Ghar ka achar, Ten packets of Maggi and the H1-B visa. Soon they would settle down with a house, a car, and a prestigious account at the ubiquitous Indian Grocery Shop, and the only thing to do next was to find a bride. And then there were girls in India, whose families wanted their daughter to live in a U.S. house, travel in a U.S. car (Oh my gawd, a Hyundai!) and of course, to shop in the Great Indian Grocery Shop.

So the women's families would ask: Have you an H1-B? If not, sorry - we don't like trash. The remaining marriageable folk in India had to deal with the "second rung" of the girl market - the less fair, the less beautiful, and the lower dowry bazaar.

Without an H1-B, an arranged marriage was doomed; the aunts would whisper among each other,

"He's so dark, he's bald also"
"They couldn't find a H1-B, I think"
"Poor fellows. But who will give a H1-B to that girl? She was seen with some boys, by my cousin, and you know how picky these H1-B families are"
"Ya ya, my daughter, I have kept her completely away from all boys.I want H1-B only"
"And at least he should have applied for Green card"

Yes, the green card. Now people had figured that H1-B was a visa for temporary residency - six years at a stretch only - and that for a more longer term settlement, one would need to go down the Green Card route.

A Green Card is for permanent residents - and you can get one only if your company sponsors you. While it was considered a good thing by Indian that a company did, one has to understand the nuances of the Green Card application - you are not allowed to change employers, and if you do, you lose your green card application. The process can take years, and usually does, and during this time the company has the equivalent of a bonded labourer. Who even pays taxes. And cannot vote.

(Personal account: I got a lot of flak for leaving the U.S. in 1997 and staying on in India, despite a job offer abroad. I've never regretted that decision; but a lot of people tried to give me a lot of flak for it. To all of them: phooey.)

1999-2000 : No Green Cards please
The Green Card rush was a result of a deluge of H1-B applicants (and the other immigrants). The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) couldn't keep up with the demand (or didn't want to) and Green Card holders took a long time to get their piece of labour freedom.

But there was one more economic impact. As Green Card holders increased, and arranged marriages went ahead with their blistering pace, more and more applicants emerged for the "spouse green card" - a permanent residency permit for the wife of the green card holder. The INS was flooded and it became known that a spouse green card would take upto three years to come through - three unfertile years from the perspective of the potential bride's family.

The rule then was - H1-B okay, Green card no-no.

Counter attack of the Emmigrants: When it got known that the Green Card was in the final processing period, the H1-B holders would rush to India to get married before the green tarnished their otherwise unsullied H1-B reputation. This resulted in some hilarious affairs - the "Ten Day Turnaround" marriage.

U.S. companies typically grant only a two week vacation annually. It was imperative that H1-B boys visit India, do the "interviews" with girls, make their choice and get married. Earlier, such marriages would happen over two or three such visits - a meeting in december, another in January and marriage in March.

With the Green Card imminent, waiting would be catastrophical. So the chat-mangni-pat-byaah scene started to take massive proportions. Meet, select, get engaged and tie the knot: all in the two week vacation.

A friend of my mother's dropped in one day to invite us to her daughter's wedding. She mentioned that the boy and girl only met two days back and that the marriage was a week later. I was flummoxed.

Me: "So early? Don't they want to get to know each other?"
Mom's friend: "No time, baba. The boy has come down with seven friends, and their parents had already chosen 20 girls for them to see, in round robin fashion. If someone chose first, the others would choose from the remaining lot."
Me: "What???"
Mom's friend: "They have even booked the marriage halls. Seven of them. And even the dates are fixed. I am so lucky that my daughter was selected"
Me: "This is nuts! How can you be sure? Doesn't your daughter want some time?"
Mom's friend: "But where's the time? If he doesn't get married now, he will get his Green Card and then we have to wait for so many years no? And they are not even asking for dowry"

Imagine, the pride of one's daughter being "selected" for marriage, round robin, among seven friends. But I digress. The green card had brought this upon us.

2000-2002: Not the U.S. please. At least, not an H1-B.

With 2000 came the bust. Not the Pamela Anderson kind.

In the U.S., jobs went flying out the window. Companies shut down suddenly, without any notice, leaving hitherto employed and well heeled individuals stranded in the middle of their mortgage leveraged lives with little hope of finding any lifestyle equivalent employment.

Suddenly the H1-B visa was a nightmare: With the visa linked to one's employment status, the lack of a job meant you either found another job or left the country. There were horror stories of all kinds; the Indian couple that was pink-slipped and had to leave, lock, stock and barrel within a week. Mounting mortgage and car payments prompting people to board planes and rush back "home", leaving empty houses behind and their cars in the airport parking lots. The H1-B engineers playing contract poker to keep their visas, and ending up on the "bench" with no salaries.

Stories spread back home in Indai and obviously the first thing that gets re-aligned is the marriage market. You're an H1-B in the U.S.? You're dead, mate, because no self respecting bride family will even spit in your direction. Too risky, they said.

At this point, the Indian software market was booming. So suddenly those in the Indian Software industry weren't outcastes anymore. With opportunities in India creating cash rich engineers with fancy cars and disposable incomes, bride-families started to accept the Indian located engineer as serious son-in-law candidates. And with Intra-company visas (L1) opening up, the chances for travel were just as good.

So now it was Indian Engineer : 1, H1-B: 0.

Note: Green card holders were ok if they weren't in the software industry, or McDonalds burger flippers. And given just those two, I'd have thunk the burger flipper had the upper hand.

2003 onwards: Show me the money

And the boom in India has continued. The most recent story I heard was a heartwrenching one: A guy I know was complaining that he wasn't able to find a bride.

"Why?" I ask.

"Because they all earn more than me", he mutters.

"Whoa. What's the problem, then?", I ask, hopelessly unaware that the marketplace works on status, not logic.

He ignores me and goes on.

"And they all want me to own a car and a house. Otherwise, no deal".

Surprise, surprise. Employment is no longer any measure - it's your bank balance. But they can't ask you that, so they will work with visible wealth detectors - the car, the house, the home theatre system. You get 'em first, and then we give you a bride. And you better earn more than the girl, dude; we can't have ya living offa our daughter, get it?

It's amazing how the marriage market seems to be so well in tune with economics - it's not surprising to most of you perhaps, but it fascinates me. As a long term activist against forced marriages, dowry and female harrassment, it is heartening to see women demand their own. And eye-opening to see the male reaction: the bewilderment, the resentment and the unwilling acceptance of the new status symbols.

Marriagonomics is here to stay. Only now the balance has shifted.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Stick it up their behind" day?

I read this today on Ryze: (emphasis mine)

It has been calculated that if everyone did not purchase a drop of petrol for one day and all at the same time, the oil companies would choke on their stockpiles.

At the same time it would hit the entire industry with a net loss over 4.6 billion dollars which affects the bottom lines of the oil companies. Therefore "thursday september 22nd " has been formally declared "stick it up their behind" day and the people of this nation should not buy a single drop of petrol that day.

The only way this can be done is if you forward this e-mail to as many people as you can and as quickly as you can to get the word out. waiting on the government to step in and control the prices is not going to happen. what happened to the reduction and control in prices that the arab nations promised two weeks ago?

Rremember one thing, not only is the price of petrol going up but at the same time airlines are forced to raise their prices, trucking companies are forced to raise their prices which affects prices on everything that is shipped. things like food, clothing, building supplies medical supplies etc. who pays in the end? we do!

We can make a difference.if they don't get the message after one day, we will do it again and again. so do your part and spread the word. forward this email to everyone you know. mark your calendars and make september 22nd a day that the citizens say "enough is enough"

Why don't we all walk to work instead? Or use bicycles? Or only travel with Reva Cars?

That's the only way the concept may make sense: If I don't buy petrol on that particular day it means nothing - I can tank up on September 21st or wait till the 23rd. And if it appears that I am stranded with a near-empty tank, chances are I will go straight to the bunk and fill 'er up.

Why? Because if I don't, the only behind getting the sticking up will be mine. The oil companies don't give a hoot about our collective "not-buying" of petrol - they know we'll buy it either today or tomorrow. This "oil companies will choke on their stockpiles" bit makes for dramatic reading but in reality they are more than willing to wait it out, but you and I need to drive tomorrow.

But not driving a gas guzzler to work - walking, bicycling or otherwise - makes perfect sense. Not for giving the oil companies a certain finger, but for our own health, wealth and wisdom. Lesser pollution, more exercise, and the lack of FM radio on the road will do wonders for me, at least.

(Oh and the whole thing is an urban legend. Read more about it)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Plagiarism update

News from the plagiarism front:

1. It's getting hotter by the day, and I want it to rain. I know this has nothing to do with plagiarism, but it's bloody hot mate.

2. K.R.Chandrashekar has "acknowledged sources on his web site". What this means is that he has said that:

I acknowledge the material I have borrowed from the Internet - news items, pieces of columns and articles

And given a list of articles.

Rajeev Srinivasan is one lucky guy. He got ripped off thrice!

I'm still ticked off; this is still blatant copying and the authors don't get no say. It's not about just acknowedgements, it's about not getting the original author's "okay", about not giving them part of his proceeds, about my paying for what is effectively an irrelevant collection of internet material, and also about twisting the words around so they mean something altogether different.

Acknowledgements are one step forward. But Mr. Chandrashekar, you need to learn to give proper credit - meaning, don't twist their words, don't copy more than a couple sentences, and quote their NAMES in the book. You need to release a new edition with the changes, and recall the current one.

3. Minkey Chief is angry. He says, "Dai Deepak! Can you put your updates on separate blog entries? "

Deepak is sorry. Deepak has therefore bowed to the dictates of the Chief and dedicated an entire bullet point in his honour. And he's got a darn good web site.

4. Kaavya Vishwanathan is screwed. For those of you who don't know, she had written a book called "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life". She copied a large amount of content, with K.R. Chandrashekar-esque word-changing techniques, and got a $500,000 two-book deal with Little, Brown . (now called Little, Drowned) People weren't too happy when the found out that she'd copied from more than one author and perhaps from another Indian-American novel.

Kaavya admitted the plagiarism and apologised saying "The copying was unintentional", but believing that would involve a frontal lobotomy. Eventually, the publishers recalled the book and said ta-ta to the second book as well.

And now, a newpaper named "The Record" will investigate Kaavya's articles as an intern with them in 2003 and 2004. "We have no reason to believe there's anything wrong with her copy. But in light of what's going on, we thought we should check her stuff out."

It's a big bad world, isn't it.