Archive for the 'Life' Category

Onam Festival – Down Memory Lane

Today is Onam Day – the day when Keralites all over the world celebrate the harvest festival irrespective of religion, cast or social status.The festival normally falls between mid August and mid September every year ,generally corresponding to the harvest season in Kerala, India. Malayalees await this season with a lot of anticipation and plan various cultural and sports activities for about two weeks . There are snake boat races in many lakes/rivers during the season . Families do the rituals of floral decoration in their courtyard , prepare for the SADYA [ grand feast ] on the Onam day , at times for four days continuously ,wear new dresses , and go out for shopping and movies together.

Looking back for almost three-quarters of a century , I remember in my early child hood , Onam was mainly celebrated by Hindu families , with the legend of Demon King Mahabali associated with Vamana , one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who defeated King Mahabali in battle. Vamana tricks King Mahabali into asking for 3 things , by which he banishes the king to ” Pathalam ” [ the nether world ] with a condition that the King can visit his kingdom once a year to meet his people. Onam coincides with such visits when the people put up their best to impress Mahabali that the prosperity which he left is in tact!.

I remember my father who was a lawyer used to invite his non – Hindu colleagues to lunch on the Onam Day and we used to enjoy such celebrations. All of us from the household used to serve food to our guests in plantain leaves – a 20 plus course Lunch with at least four  ‘Payasam” [dessert ] . We also used to engage in games like ‘Head Ball ‘ using a leather ball , play in swings , and watch teams of players performing ‘ Tiger and Hunter ‘ games visiting households. Most of the Joint families in those days owned large tracts of farm  land which the farmers tilled. The farmers used to bring ” tributes ” to the landlord , mostly a set of vegetables or fruits and the landlord gave them money or new clothes as return gifts.

Today , Onam has transcended to a festival at the state level with the provincial government leading it from the front organizing many cultural events. People of all beliefs without exception take part in Onam celebrations all over the world wherever Keralites reside  . The colorful festival has now taken a new meaning of societal integration demonstrating the rich traditions of the past to the younger generation.

Here is wishing HAPPY ONAM to all.

i Gen and Beyond – Profound Social Changes with Great Impact on Our Lives

Today, I was reading through a review of a recent book titled  ” i Gen ” authored by Jean.M .Twenge , in today’s Wall Street Journal [WSJ] . The author categorizes ” i Gen ” as people born between 1995 and 2012 , labeling this birth cohort [ generally known as Gen Z] as a group that doesn’t know a world without the internet and smartphones and is now 24% of the US population. The population of this group in India will be much more , I guess , with equally tech savvy especially on the smart phones  . India has more than 900 million mobile phones and counting with at least a third of it smart phones  . Recently , on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence , Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Group announced a package with a free smart phone and unlimited free calls and data for as low as Rs 159 [ less than $ 3 ] per month in his Jio Network for the first 20,000,000 subscribers ! I believe the pre -booking is almost done !

On the behavior side, iGen , according to the author , is neither cynical as Gen X , nor as over confident as Gen Y , with a radical departure when it comes to their views on religion , free speech  and relationships . Technology  and social media is central to understanding this generation’s experience , with their social lives shifted decisively from in – person interaction to the virtual world .   . Worse , they are not happy with their ” on line ” life!. A major cause of worry, according to the author is the stunted development of adult skills which creates a generation that prefers the ’emotional safety ‘ of virtual relationships to the messy entanglements of real ones .

From a Social Science perspective , Veterans [ Silent Generation – Seniors ] to which I belong adhered to rules , are  conformists , had a hard time growing up , believes in family values and became prosperous by hard work . The Baby Boomers who came after World War 2 , believed in equal rights and opportunities , were optimists and team oriented . The developed and developing world flourished because of their commitment and dedication . Gen X [ 1960-80 ] grew up in diversity of culture , are independent , entrepreneurial , informal , pragmatic , techno literate and  think globally . The Millennials [ Gen Y ] of 1980-2000 are more confident , achievers , fun loving , sociable , street smart , tech savvy – a  global community .

Each such generation brought along certain distinct  behavior and social dimension , generally towards the progress of mankind.  Today , in my own nuclear family , I can say that both me and my wife have adapted to technology  , spending about 3 to 4 hours a day on our smart phone ,  i pad or laptop , buying things and paying bills on line and able to understand GPS . A far cry from the days of coal gas buses , 78 rpm discs , analog radios , box cameras ,  and  35 mm movies in a theater . My children are very tech savvy , achievers with a great goal orientation and cannot live without net connectivity. My grand children spend more than half of their waking hours with electronic devices , especially when they are on a vacation ! . One really has to pull them away from a device to which they are glued in – with Netflix , Facebook , Whats App etc.

Where do we go from here ? . Technology is already leap frogging as a leading indicator of future possibilities . Cloud platforms , I o T , Automation , Robotics , AI and Machine Learning are making manual work redundant in almost all areas of repetitive and predictive work . Do the new Generation following i Gen soon compete with Robots and the like? . Does the sci-fi Star Wars become a reality in our lifetime ?  Will human habitats transcend the earth and move to the galaxies up there ?  What will happen to physical relations ? How about human cloning ? .  It is both scary and appealing  paradoxically at the same time !  I think it is time we need another Alvin Toffler to write a book on  ” Future Shock Revisited ”  .

Late Malli Mastan Babu – Living for one’s calling !

The distinguished mountaineer from Nellore , India ,Late Malli Mastan Babu – his mortal remains has been laid to rest yesterday at his native place. A life lived fully according to one’s calling is over.

It was at a function at the Hyderabad International Convention Center organized by Atlanta Foundation run by close friend Deena Harappanahalli , a few years ago that I had a chance to listen to Malli Mastan Babu. He spoke with passion about his mountaineering pursuits – climbing a peak in every country in the world – one attempt per month continuously! Initially , I could not believe him . I do not think any mountaineer in the world has attempted something like this ever. You are practically climbing mountains 365 days in a year including preparations !. Mastan Babu was a one man enterprise and he seldom climbed in a team . He did not find it easy to relate his unique drive and passion to others.

A young zestful life ended abruptly in the pursuit of one’s calling in the upper reaches of the Andes, South America. The noble soul has reached the upper echelons having fulfilled his mission on earth.

Long live Malli Mastan Babu and all those values he personified.

Gaana through Ages – Down Memory Lane

Back to this page after more than a year ! Motivation – my son’s presence at home and a request from my niece from Thiruvananthapuram recently .

Yesterday , we were downloading the popular “Gaana ” apps for my wife’s I Pad . A great app with many features indeed!. We immediately selected some of our favorite Hindi movie songs like “Woh shaam ” from Khamoshi. At the same time, I could not help but go down my memory lane right back to the 1950’s – the golden era of Hindi film songs . Even before I was introduced to Hindi songs, I was very fond of listening to songs mostly in Tamil and then Malayalam . The only facility available back then was the nearby movie theater where they used to play songs through a loud speaker half an hour before the shows. Occasionally , I could also listen to my favorite songs when some one organized a public function or a meeting and songs through loud speaker was an inseparable item before the start of such events basically to attract a crowd.

My grand father had a gramophone at home and whenever we used to visit his house during summer holidays , we used to listen to discs from Beethoven , K L Saigal , etc. It was a HMV [ His Masters Voice] make and we had to change needles frequently . Subsequently , in the late 50’s , we owned a radio at home and we were very happy to listen to our favorite songs from Radio Ceylon. The Binaca Geetmala program anchored by the famous Ameen Sayani was a sought after program. The All India Radio [ now Akashvani] did not have any commercial program then. By public demand but with great reluctance , AIR started a 30 minutes songs program called Vividh Bharathi sometime during the late 50’s. This was on a listener’s request format like they used to do in Radio Ceylon. This is now one of the most popular program with Akashvani.

The late 60’s saw the advent of TV in India and the Black and White TV programs of Door Darshan was an instant hit and for the first time we could watch song sequences in video format . At the same time, inexpensive plastic and even paper discs replaced the old conventional discs for songs and portable audio systems were available thanks to the advent of transistors . We had many choices now. I was the proud owner of an AIWA music system in 1972 !. Color TV and CD’s/DVD’s of the same technology followed.

The period from 80 onwards ,saw rapid technological advances in audio and video equipment and we got the audio/video cassettes followed by the Compact Disc [ CD] and then the DVD. The advent of Internet brought the I Pod [My son gifted one to me].Soon the mobile technology revolutionized the user experience . The last few years , moved all these equipment to the background with the advent of cloud technology on which “Gaana “functions where we have live streaming of music on demand without any storage inside the device.

We still have a few gramophone records, some cassettes , CD’s , DVD’s at home as Collectors items reminding us of the ages music delivery traveled over the last 70 years or so.

The Legacy of ANR

The veteran Telugu Movie Star Akkineni Nageswara Rao , fondly called ANR is no more. He passed away yesterday in the wee hours battling cancer at the age of 91. The whole city of Hyderabad mourned his demise.

A movie career spanning 70 years , with many a laurels on the way ended ,leaving behind three generations of movie stars in house and a movie studio not to speak about the many institutions established by him over the years. The small time village artist from Gudivada rose to prominence not only as an accomplished movie star but a great human being , a thorough gentleman always willing to go an extra mile in alleviating the sufferings of the less privileged in the society.

ANR was an enigma to Telugu and Tamil movie goers and I remember my childhood days when we used to see his movies like Devdas many times over.It was a chance incident when I met him briefly at the Secunderabad club 10 years back over lunch. I was very happy indeed to meet one of my childhood hero in person.

Movie personalities like ANR , NTR or MGR from South India are not mere personalities but great institutions impacting the lives and dreams of the general public in many ways.They are also great models for the common man to look up to ,admire and worship , at times creating crazy fan clubs around. This phenomenon is unique in India and not seen in other parts of the movie world.

Long live the legacy of ANR !

War over Water – a possible scenario ?

The other day , we witnessed an ugly scene in our immediate neighborhood – The occupants of a five story apartment were fighting early in the morning outside over distribution of scarce water to all equitably.

We face the same problem in our apartments too but have not yet reached the flash point witnessed . We get water once in 48 hours as the bore water is enough to  meet the requirement of 260 apartment units and water tankers are not readily available. 12 years back when we bought the apartment , we had plenty of bore water but most of the source have dried up as the water level has receded . We were then 260 families and today there are more than 2600 apartments in the locality depending on the same ground water . No sign of Municipal pipe water yet !

While in the Army , we were trained to live on 5 ltr of water a day in the field conditions! – Water discipline! . During peace time , the Army had a norm of 200 ltr for a family of four . Outside in the civil world , water is never taken seriously as a precious commodity and wasting water is a national pastime ! . Leaking pipes and over flowing tanks are all around . People in India so far have given lip service to rain water harvesting and such initiatives to conserve and reuse water .

One question , no builder will give you a firm answer is availability of water when they talk to prospects. Indiscriminate building of domestic dwelling units with scant attention to future availability of water is the norm in any Indian City and the Government and local bodies do not do anything to stop this trend.

Many experts say the next world war will be over  water . At least , I am convinced it is  possible  in my neighborhood if the monsoon is delayed by one more week!

Zora Sehgal and Queen Elizabeth – Young at Heart !

The great veteran stage and movie actress Zoral Sehgal celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday . While cutting the cake, she sang her favorite Hindi song ” Abhi to main jawan hoon ” [ I am still young ! ] . The celebrated artist who started her career as a dancer with Uday Shankar and later with Prithvi Theatre has acted with four generations of the Kapoor family and is still going strong ! . She has a great stage presence even in a very small cameo role .

A few days back , I got a link from a friend where he sent me a copy of an advertisement of Duracell titled ” Longevity” showing Queen Elizabeth in pictures taken with US Presidents from Truman  to Obama spanning over 70 years ! . A rare collection indeed .

I could not help compare the two dowagers , Queen Elizabeth and Zora Sehgal , both still young at heart and have seen life at widely varying circumstances and witnessed the global changes passing through their span of life , like images which leaves indelible impressions on their minds . They have both assimilated these changes and continue to live life in its fullest glory . Long Live the Queen and long Live Zora Sehgal . This blog is a humble tribute to you both and to celebrating  LIFE !

Peer Group as Nuclear Communities

Tina Rosenberg in her  well researched book titled ” Join the Club – How Peer Pressure can transform the world ” [ Icon Books – ISBN :978-184831-300-2 ]  gives numerous real life case studies where Peer Groups have achieved spectacular social cure in finding solutions for serious problems like smoking , AIDS , Rural Health Projects , politics ,education  and the like. A common thread runs through all these case studies and it is how a peer group could leverage its nuclear community feeling and a sense of inclusion to achieve significant social cure.

The peer group as a nuclear community has great bonding and comradeship especially among young people . The members trust each other when there is no hierarchy and any pecking order. A problem facing such groups and needing an acceptable and lasting solution can be thrown open for discussion, alignment and adoption using carefully selected leaders who play the role of facilitators . The process should also facilitate intense discussion and introspection without any sermonizing or  ” talking down ” approach . Once the group owns the problem , creative solutions come up automatically and these become the new norms of behavior .

Some of the social issues facing the young people like drunken driving , road rage , social rebellion , drug addiction etc can be tackled effectively through such interventions with the nuclear communities  . Frank discussions , experiential learning and clever mentoring by members of the peer group can achieve great results without affecting the sensibilities of the members. Tina Rosenberg has many such success stories in her book for others to emulate .

A Missed Call to your Valentine !

The very popular advertisement by Airtel where a youngster gives a missed  call to the police when reporting an accident catches the mood of the Indian CPP  [cell phone people ] .

With almost 900 million users of cell phone in India , I am sure there will be at least 90 million missed calls originated on any one day [ we can verify this from the various service providers] . At least , I get missed calls from my driver , washer man , plumber or any service provider who wants to reach me for any business . I am expected to call back and check out what they want !

The concept and practice of  ” missed call ” is purely an  Indian innovation – a type of   ” Jugaad ” if you may say so.This zero charge usage of your cell phone is exploited to the hilt by many people. Some of the service providers have even a missed call alert application at a nominal incremental cost for you .

In the above environment , I am sure many Valentines would have received missed calls from their companions today on the Valentines Day ! . After all , they care for each other !


My encounters with Technology

Seven decades of one’s life and it is almost impossible to look back and comprehend the exponential growth of technology which brought both hope and despair to the humanity !

My earliest memory of technology is the gas powered bus which took us in eight hours covering a distance of 50 miles from our father’s place of work where we lived to our maternal ancestral home for summer holidays . It was immediately after the second world war and everything was rationed . This bus , I believe, used some industrial oil which produced gas to  work the engine . The big chimney or mast behind the bus was very prominent .

I had my first train journey from Trivandrum to Quilon with my father in Interclass [ the highest class permitted for Indians before independence ] . The steam engine threw out a lot of soot and was very slow moving. I had a taste of water transport when I was five or six when a motor boat  took me to my aunt’s house across the backwaters near Quilon. The so called pleasure cars were the norm for the rich  those days and the concept of a taxi car was evolving .

I learned cycling at the age of ten , owned a two wheeler [ scooter] only during my initial service with the Army as a captain . My first journey by air was in a Russian transport aircraft – the AN 12 of the Air Force from Chandigarh to Leh in 1967 .

I learned typewriting when I was 14 years old , saw a  mainframe computer during 1972 , worked on a PC ten years later , bought a laptop only in 2005 .

As a young boy , we used to wait for a trunk call at the telephone office for hours together . Sam Pitroda changed all that for India by introducing the STD service , soon the mobile phone revolution happened in India and we now have almost 900 million users of cell phones. I can now browse the internet on my cell phone and watch a video with clarity . The phones have become smart as well.

The bio scope with silent films of the 40’s gave way to the talkies and movies . The video cassettes soon took over and then came the Compact Discs and DVD’s . We now have flash drives , HD and touch screens not to talk about bar codes and NFC [ Near Field Communication] .

The pin hole camera , photographic paper   and hand held camera all have given way to digital devices and satellite imagery and google maps and You Tube with web 2.0 and social networking .

I fired a 0.303 rifle as a cadet , an air defense weapon system as an Army major during training , and worked on modifying a coaxial helicopter mounted weapon for use in counter insurgency operations. Today , we have laser and chemical weapons and hand held nuclear devices .

The Singularity University in the US predicts exponential growth in technology with resultant benefits in longevity , health and genome revolutions in the future . May be it is too much to expect in one’s life time !