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2008 April 19 [Saturday]

moola(h) mantra

ML walked in with a temper one morning and i was curious... her first grouse was the noise (construction work) in the adjacent building and as she did the dishes, I made breakfast for us all and we continued our general chatter, a daily routine now ! The few weeks that i've known her i've hardly seen her grumble, rather she always has a pleasant and smiling disposition, despite her difficult life[*0].

She spoke about issues pertaining to her children, family, money etc.. which is how I learnt that she has not opened a bank account, which in-turn got her a sermon from me. I never can understand why women dont take finance seriously. AFAIK, the story echo's with many maids working at every indian home and as a kid i remember my g'ma urging our maid to open an account and learning to use the government banks facilities, and so save money (atleast some rupees) every month. Evenso she did not initially but when she wanted to borrow a huge sum of money for personal reasons[*1], her 4 employers decided that it would be better to put that money in the bank or the men of the house would fritter away the money in drinking, gambling or what not.
So although ML does take money seriously, her husband is not an alcoholic and does repay debts, manages to educate the children, she still does _not_ have a bank account which means she does not save money imho. Cant blame her since according to her every penny earned is spent either on husbands health, daily expenses or childrens books/fees[*1],....

Fine ! Great ! BUT what about learning to manage finances? Most women leave the finances to their husbands. Well... one person i know does it all herself, rather her husband and in-laws trust her more than themselves but then such cases are a rarity. The vast majority still leave the decision making to the men (in whose absence they may take a leading decisive role) as far as finance is concerned. She says most women from her community get married at a young age, have kids before they are 18. Her daughter has taken up a summer job for two months as she was worried that keeping the girl at home alone when she went out to work is fraught with risks with too many frisky young boys her age doing nothing in summer. Didnt want her daughter to spoil her life as she has plans to put her through school/university.

Reverting, ML is terrified that they (bank) will ask for minimum INR.1500 as balance but after I explained the options to her she agreed. I promised to help her open a bank account with her daughter's first salary in the hope that she and her daughter learn to use financial services to their advantage.

For women (and some men) like her the fear factor revolves around illiteracy (usually inadequate English knowledge which imho is not illiteracy[*2] but then who can argue with the system), lack of knowledge (of their rights), fear the legal system, and i can go on and on. Is there a parallel financial economy running ...yeah, they are called money lenders and they can charge 40-60 % interest rates for small amounts and usually fool folks into signing away their village property/home or (in the case of women) pawn jewellery, etc.. Most times the interest rates repayment takes a lifetime ensuring that they will never repay the principal amount and forgo everything. Gah... its a pretty slimy industry and the circle of debt for these people just goes on endlessly.

Talking of finance, banking and credit, I am utterly annoyed with a particular bank which does not understand security in financial applications and insists of shoving a credit card down your throat. Since the call centre employees are just doing their job I hear them out each time and decline politely. End of conversation ! ... or so I thought... apparently, they dont take NO for an answer and a manager called (as if his team members calling daily wasnt enough) to say my application was pre-approved... doh, when i did not even apply !? So now I am supposed to take a pre-approved credit card when i have clearly told the QA manager that their **employee** was keeping tabs on me, leaking personal financial information and inshort harassing me. What is the guarantee that he cant access my credit card number by virtue of being an employee (hence priviledged) and misuse it - None whatsoever. I just dont trust private banks anymore !
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[*0] - Folks who dont fall in the BPL (below poverty line) strata, form a bulk between the lower middle class and the poor, also have a tough life with rising aspirations, desires and needs and wants, albeit a different struggle from the rest around them.
[*1]- The Indian government does not have a social health scheme like many developed nations and the taxpayers money poured into government run schools (including the public education system) is a joke but that is an issue for another blog post.

[*2] - Once an old man in the bank asked my help to write his name on the withdrawal slip (a cash withdrawal instrument used by folks who give a thumb impression as they are unable to sign/write their name -- usually in english -- , or maybe because they dont maintain a minimum balance of INR1500, hence are not given cheque book facility) and i spelt it wrong since Hindi is a phonetic language and English isnt. When his name did not match the entry in the system the bank manager flew into a rage and yelled at him, refusing to accept the withdrawal slip but accepted it when the old man pointed to me (a tale best left for another post). Incidents of public humiliation like that are enough to keep even the most thick-skinned person away.

2008 April 11 [Friday]

ponniyin selvan

Never having followed tamil literature, recently i read the english translation of "ponniyin selvan" by kalki. Translations are well just that but why allow that to hinder my imagination. Kingdoms, stories of kings (like ajatashatru, shivaji, maurya, pandya, chalukya, etc...) are so fascinating that one gets to re-live the woven tapestry and (his)story of the cholas coupled with superb characterization, detailed descriptions, an absorbing narrative, via words and a vivid imagination.

Our hero is Vandiyathevan, a reckless brave warrior and friend of Adhitha Karikalan (a Chola king) but after meeting Arulmozhi, he becomes his fan too like the rest of the Chola subjects. The story weaves back and forth between characters, situations, dangers, excitement, joy, sorrow and royal intrigue and nary a dull moment as it moves between locations, cities, and even countries.

kalki also wrote "shivagamiyin sabatham" and "parthivan kanavu" , again around the 1940's- 50's, which are again set in the semi-historic era. I am told that they are masterpieces too ...plan to pick up the english versions when i visit madras the next time.

2008 April 1 [Tuesday]

libre laptop

Hmm... I've been lazy about bragging about this : The OS free laptop that I had helped load Ubuntu was sold within that week. How cool is that !!

I cant take any credit for the sale as it was the efforts of the sales person there, but knowing  that i contributed indirectly to the sale makes me feel warm inside. Breaking down pre-conceived mindsets was not easy and the sales guy did a good job of selling it. His manager informed me that they were pleased enough to pre-load all the machines with it. Now I need to mail him the Ubuntu-AMD cd's :)

I wish more machines would be sold with _linux-inside_ (tm?) in India. Go experiment, Be different!

2008 March 22 [Saturday]

holi and linux

Gone are the simple water-balloon days and what used to be a fun fest gets worse with each passing year. Ugh, who wants to walk around with purple-green hair... Holi is so much safer with just good friends N family, given that its de'riguer for strangers to pelt one with balloons filled with chemicals, or eggs, stones, paint (nope, not the fabric kind) and other assorted rubbish-filled balloons all through the week before Holi. On Holi day absolutely anything goes. Besides Holi, many friends will be celebrating Good Friday, Purim (Jews), Navroz (Parsis), Eid, and Magha Puja (Buddhist)... a lunar co-incidence of 6 different religions or what ? Happy festivities y'All :-)

Recently, I saw some laptops on sale/display sans any OS (had Free Dos) at a retail establishment. I asked for a demo and (as expected) he could not provide one. I asked if he would load any OS of my choice and he hesitated. He probably thought I might hand out a pirated Windows CD to him or something illegal so that was my cue to give him an primer on what Gnu/Linux, Ubuntu, GPL, etc... was all about and he smiled that all-knowing smile while listening and I knew it was a home run. Its a relief that awareness is getting higher, people actually know what piracy is all about and dont stare blankly when you say "Linux".

I happily provided him the Ubuntu (but ofcourse :-)) CD and the manager nodded approvingly as we had some good eye-candy for all to see. Since they had a number of models on sale sans the OS, I handed out some Ubuntu CD's to go with the other machines. To see a machine running an OS that is not Windows sitting pretty amongst others is quite nice. Even more fun to see the curiosity it evokes among casual passers-by. The practical touch-N-feel to see-it-work helps a lot more :-)

Btw, Bruce Perens is standing for board elections and needs your help. Viva Free Software !!

2008 January 19 [Saturday]

Indian languages

Christian, the answer to your question is: India (but ofcourse :-)) has the highest number of languages, 428 (415 +13 extinct), listed in ISO 639-3.

2008 January 7 [Monday]

indichix needs list admins

Since I am spreading myself thin, i sent out a call for list admins for indichix. The purpose being to encourage grrls who have not started volunteering to make a start somewhere and as i see it, out here its best achieved by putting power and control in their hands.


Nothing huge, just a few minutes per week and as is the custom in "linuxchix.org" the more the merrier. Plan to keep it open till the weekend, which should be sufficient time for 'chix to respond.

BTW, whilst responding to the message (on the list), please do write a little intro about yourself, as much as you are comfortable revealing (ex. name, city, why and how you see yourself as a part of LCIN, how you plan to take this group forward, anything else you think is relevant to Libre s-w...), to help folks there get to know you better.... not mandatory, just courtesy.

2008 January 3 [Thursday]

India is not safe for women

The truth is that this country has a majority of male perverts and it is not a safe place for women. According to the Mumbai police commissioner the media should be rational and women should stay at home to be safe. He got a dressing down from his political boss for saying what a majority of men think and discuss in private but to be politically correct will not say it openly, atleast not with as much candour as the comissioner did. The media loves to spice up a story - rather than help the victims it will spend 15 minutes gathering news or clicking pictures of the crime.

Every Indian woman experiences this boorishness let alone foreigners or tourists who visit our country. So if you are a foreigner/NRI please think twice before bringing your daughters to India for a visit. The women in your life dont deserve the trauma that most Indian women experience daily.
Lets admit it, many people (dont blame just the media) derive pleasure from others misery and women are the easiest prey, atleast physically. So while men will worship the mother goddess, they will not hesitate to molest the same female form in public. That is the most common tactic used to subjugate women and it works everytime. How dare women ask men to be more humane and stop being a chauvinistic pig..... dont women realise that men are the torch-bearers of the lineage. Its another matter that the woman takes the burden of making the next lineage a reality. For most men its their birthright to leer at women, stalk them, sing raunchy Hindi movie songs, stare/ogle at fully clothed women of any age, threaten her for refusing a man's advances. Ofcourse the educated Indian male is cultured enough to never threaten or abuse openly. He uses veiled and subtle terror tactics like showing a newspaper clipping of a woman on whom acid was thrown (by a suitor whom she had refused to marry). In the higher elcheons of power this will take a completely different turn, akin to the glass ceiling syndrome. But let's not go there.

For many the ultimate ego breaker is a woman not listening to a man and making her own decisions, which is equivalent to a western woman, generally deriled and regarded as too liberal, lacks morals, and unfeminine (dont get me started on the hypocrisy). By popular count, the Indian definition for feminity is : Men come first, second, third and women dont figure in the scheme of things. So dont protest and learn to live with zero respect. Ofcourse some educated women will protest that its not true and that they get a lot of respect in their family/personal life. Ahem, who makes the financial decisions with the money you earn? Its a rare "I do" that you will hear. I digress.

Lets stick to women and public spaces... the short of it is : Indian women have learnt to live with boorish male behaviour like the recent Mumbai, Pune or Bihar incidents. Although crimes against women happen all across the world, can you imagine such a public crime in any developed nation?. The difference lies in the fact that its easier to get justice in say NAmerica or EU or AUS unlike in India. Here the onus lies on the woman to prove her innocence. Even with all this evidence, this crime will go unpunished, and there are enough people to protect criminals. Thanks to police apathy, lax laws, zero support from other women, lack of support groups or sometimes lack of support even from their own family (most women will be asked to get on with life than waste time fighting crimes like these). Since women cant expect the state to protect them, martial-arts training should be compulsary in every school for every girl child and women should legally be allowed to carry the kirpan (a knife) like Sikh men do. That is the only way women can stop depending on the state or others to protect them from a mob of 50 -men- criminals.

2007 December 26 [Wednesday]

greetings

  • Bees love to dance..... Who could have thought that these tiny creatures with that nasty sting could be so smart and organised, pretty impressive ;-)
  • We know how politicians will stoop to any level to retain power at all costs ... the easiest is : Divide and Rule policy.
  • Music is food for brain !
  • How true... reminds me of a guy telling me he had a great sense of humor, he loved making fun of other people, ughh....
  • Merry Xmas and Happy New Year :)

2007 December 19 [Wednesday]

ubuntu-women article in fullcircle

Ubuntu Women is almost two now, so I wrote an article for the Fullcircle magazine (which is a really nice colourful mag :-)) as I wanted to highlight each UW volunteer and their involvement in the different aspects of the Ubuntu community and while proofreading it realised that Ronnie had given me a limit of 350 words and I had written more than double :-(.... Some heavy editing (almost by half, which is not that easy for me) later i was done so hope I did not miss any grrls. Ideally we need to get this done on the UW wiki pages. You can download it from here : http://www.ronnietucker.co.uk/issue8marketingPreview.pdf

Its been raining all day today and has managed to kill my ideal notions of how winter weather should be ... snug and warm in wollens, not rainy 'n soggy and increasing my caffine consumption by litres (literally). Atleast i got to eat undiyo (a nice gujarati dish), something i dont get to indulge in down here. Hmm... my experience with eating north-indian food in south-india has been dissapointing to say the least, so the less i say about it the better.

2007 December 15 [Saturday]

Encore

We did it...... after an anxious[0] morning and months of practice (...ok just 8 weeks), our ragitty troup managed to pull of an evening of karnatic musical performance. There was the usual excitement, anxiety (for the teacher), tears[1]. The juniors (kids really) started off before us and we observed that both instrumentalists (who were superb) hardly played as some kids were not able to keep the swara (tune). Thankfully by the time we started, the accompanists caught on very quickly and our hour long performance stretched out to a whole 90 min... and this without any tani avartanams (solo performances by instrumentalists). The major credit goes to our guruji's as they took a lot of trouble... no two students are the same, each of us has an individual way of learning, and yet they were able to acomodate us all with our individual uniqueness. In the past i had a teacher who took 4 months to teach one raaga, and needless to say i was not her student for long. Teaching is definitely an art ! Our team had girls with almost 10-20 years age difference between them and yet we sync'd well. Rather we were making such a ruckus backstage that the accompanists glared at us often, sometimes used the instrument to talk to us ...very interesting ;-)
Besides swara, in a duet or group, what is it that makes the team tick ? To me the most important thing is synchrony. Just as in a team, one person may have a strong voice, other shrill, yet another may have good gamakas, ..... so how do we keep all this in mind while performing as a team ?

SALT ...
Synchronise yourself to your team (members),
Adjust your voice/tone/pitch,
Learn to Listen ... i cant stress this enough and we all know how difficult that is in any situation ;-)
Train yourself to "Observe" the big picture (== the overall team output) and not just yourself.

[0] Most classical performances are impromptu, so no rehearsals with the accompanists (violin, mridangam, etc..]. The only time we will meet is on stage, for a live performance.
[1] A song was supposed to start on the 8th pitch, she could not and was upset when the audience spoke about it. Unlike western classical music, Indian classical/Karnatic music does not have written scale / musical notations .

2007 December 3 [Monday]

Patents are Evil

Today I read this news report calling for a boycott of Novartis products and remembered what i really felt about this issue years ago.....

In ancient India and China, for centuries exotic animals, plant formulations and herbal concoctions and oils were used to treat diseases. Ayurvedic texts dating thousands of years prove that this traditional knowledge has been in the public domain and passed down from generation to generation for free (zero cost). Keeping knowledge in the public domain ensures a fair and level playing field for everyone. However today's medical world is in a race to uncover the genetic bases of illness, disease and human genome mapping. Scientists and the companies and institutions that pay them have begun to monopolise their efforts with patents for their work. This gives a monopoly right to commercially exploit an invention for 20 years in exchange for publication about how the invention was produced. Pharmaceutical and agro-bio corporations argue that genes, plants, and seeds must be patentable, since they have pumped money and invested their time to develop gene-based drugs or biotech crops.

Rationally speaking genes and crops are not inventions at all, and by allowing them to be patented, control is placed in the hands of a few. Patent monopolies on plants, animal species, human genes, and on new medicines, do threaten to harm developing countries in three ways :

One, higher medicine cost which restricts a citizens access to these new developments ;

Two, it eliminates cheaper local production as per the choice of a patent owner ; and

Three, it forbids farmers to cross-breed, reuse or use agricultural varieties as they were doing for thousands of years. As a result, access to new treatments could be restricted and seeds made too expensive for a poor farmer.


Consider bio-engineered seeds - Genes from rare species and subspecies are also useful in producing new breeds, whether by genetic engineering or ordinary cross-breeding. The drugs, seeds and nowadays the new breeds as well, are typically patented. This causes trouble for developing countries that use them. The 'seed treaty', adopted by UN-FAO member states was enforced in 2004 by corporate seed industry giants, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, who get a vice-like grip on agricultural developing economies in many countries in Africa and Asia. They get guaranteed access to all the system material which came from farmers and are free to use any material from the system to develop commercial products, make as much profit as they can without any obligation to pay back, on the only condition that others can use their final, commercialized products for further breeding. While they never have to share any of their own materials, except the finished varieties they put on the market, exclusive control over "material under development" is guaranteed to their private collections, discarded rejects from the breeding process and everything else.

This "seed treaty" gives more rights to companies than asserting for farmers' rights by granting non-existent, new privileges to industry. It gives seed companies free access to most of the world's public gene-banks without any obligation to share their own materials in return. I was born and live in India, which has a 70-80% agricultural economy. Most farmers are poor with an average land holding of 5-10 acres and take loans to buy seeds while reusing the seeds from a successful crop for the next season. If the patented and genetically tampered seeds are introduced these poor farmers will suffer financial losses as the seeds have been tampered with genetically and have lost the ability to reproduce the next generation of plants. Some new studies highlight the detrimental effect that patenting drugs, crops, and seeds can have on developing countries. Forcing developing countries to accept developed world practices in patenting was likely to lead to higher-priced medicines and seeds, making poverty reduction more difficult. Under World Trade Organisation rules many of the patents are applicable worldwide.

Vital medical research aimed at developing screening methods and cures for congenital diseases is being stifled by the rush to patent human genes and the corporate use of those patents to maximise profits. Some laboratories have received letters from Corporation's informing them that they have acquired exclusive rights to certain tests in the diagnosis or genetic testing of certain gene testing or of Alzheimer's, Cancer or AIDS disease. Genomic inventions by nature tend to be composition-specific i.e., based on the nucleic acid sequence of the gene and/or the amino acid sequence of the expressed protein. A host of gene patents covering areas that may be important in developing a malaria vaccine (for example) are hindering public-sector efforts to develop affordable vaccination for the developing world. Testing anywhere else would infringe that patent so enter the "company with the patent" - they can now offer to perform the tests but the price per specimen would be very high and un-affordable for the common public.

Cheap treatments for millions of AIDS patients in Africa ended when the Indian parliament passed a legislation bill that makes it illegal to copy patented drugs which made medicines affordable for patients around the world. Indian's were forced to fulfill a commitment to the WTO's intellectual property regime under which, if a generic's manufacturer wants to copy a patented drug, the Indian government will have to issue a compulsory licensce giving the patent holder a royalty, who need not consent. In toto, the patent holding corporation can demand a higher royalty or demand exclusive sale rights or if they have a tie-up with an Indian firm, a higher percentage of the profits. Myriad Genetics Inc., USA, has been awarded nine U.S. patents on the breast/ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as patents covering antibodies to the BRCA proteins which was discovered in the Sanger Centre in Cambridge and the Institute of Cancer Research and was first published by the British group in Nature in 1995. Yet Myriad simply issued a press release announcing they were patenting it, giving Myriad exclusive rights to commercialize laboratory-testing services, diagnostic kits, and therapeutic products that use the BRCA1/2 sequences.

Patents on the human genetic code inhibits research designed to turn the explosive growth in genetic knowledge into practical ways of identifying inherited disorders and finding cures. The discoveries of genetic sequences for specific diseases or traits have been patented, and so too for genetically modified organisms themselves. The human gene patenting in the hands of a few companies, rather than in public domain (free), is an even more dangerous idea. By picking out four areas where gene patents are being claimed \u2014 in diagnostic tests, as research tools, in gene therapy, and for the production of pharmaceutical proteins \u2014; patents can be inappropriately awarded to the detriment of the public interest. Utility is a critical component of a patent, and an inventor cannot obtain a patent without proof that the invention is useful which is a subjective matter, and difficult to define using objective standards.

The use of patents or exorbitant licensing fees prevents clinical labs from performing genetic tests and limits access to medical care, jeopardises the quality of medical care, and unreasonably raises its cost. The high testing cost puts the new drug and testing procedure out of the hands of the researchers working on government grants, but need to examine hundreds of samples in the search for new mutations and possible therapies. Patent lawyers ensure that genetic testing is limited to specific corporate sponsored labs, thus diminishing access to testing which affects quality as the laboratories cannot cross-check their samples for quality control if one laboratory is doing all the testing.

As a society and from a humanitarian viewpoint ethics in biotechnology are crucial. The developed world is pushing intellectual property (IP) rules with selfish interests, with scant regard for the interests of the poorer developing nations. Patenting erodes bioethics as biotech companies have high financial gain via "biopiracy", moreso by basing their work on natural varieties, human genes found in developing countries or indigenous peoples. Practically, the best solution is to not to allow patents on genes, thereby keeping this knowledge in the public domain, and only give monopoly rights when real innovation and application has been demonstrated. People must be free to grow and breed all sorts of plants and animals for agriculture; manufacture medicine and use genetic engineering to freely commission the genetic modifications that suit their needs without paying royalties to multinational corporations.

Think, today your employer pays your medical bills so you can afford the best medical care. What happens when you retire? Compound costs with the annual inflation rate and coupled with the fact that India does not have a social security system in place nor a social medical system, unlike other nations - Australia, Canada, Chile, US and European nations to name a few. So who will pay your medical bills when you are a 60+ senior citizen with no government pension or public medical aid. Rising medical costs, inflation and the unknown future can burn up your savings post-retirement before you can cry "Help"!

lost in a maze

I spent the best part of an hour or more peering through the bangalore city map at google-maps plotting my route to get to IISc for foss.in tomorrow. From experience, i have a niggling doubt that i wont get there without getting lost in the maze of Bangalore's one-way roads and this is despite asking for directions a million times... I kid you not.... Mainly its the one-way roads here which literally drive me nuts. Coming from a city which has almost no one-way roads and definitely does not have a zillion roads leading to the same destination. TBH, many roads here are really wide (compared to Bombay) so what is the need to make them a one-way, except to perhaps drive up petrol/fuel consumption and thence contribute to global warming.

Another peeve of mine is : Trains - They are fast, economical and literally the lifeline and the best way to travel in Mumbai, but planners of this city do not think so. It does not have a rail network connecting different parts of the city. That really sucks. The MetroRail is under construction but wont see the light of day for another half decade atleast to become operational. Why didnt they do it earlier?

Traversing the one-ways is a challenge and the more directions i ask for, the more confusing the roads seem. I have lost my way umpteen times here which is ofcourse the best thing to happen to an auto driver ... the lucky sod! He could'nt have asked for an easier way to rake in the moolah. Despite giving him the exact landmark on MG Road, he insisted on testing my road knowledge and patience. At each fork i would be asked "straight, left or right turn... do you want to go via street1, street2 or that way... Arghh, gimme a break, I dont know and dont care except for reaching my destination in the shortest way possible.

Now what's with all the main, cross and what have you naming system... Every layout is properly named with a 1st Main street, 2nd Cross road and ... but hey i am not used to systematic, well-ordered layouts. I like directions like this : "Aage road pe seedha jake signal pe left marneka, saamne ek bada building ayega, udhar vapis left turn maro aur doosra galli mein teesra building". Simple na !

2007 December 2 [Sunday]

Run Lola Run

Have you ever been in a situation where you and another person are physically present at the same place at the same time, but he is fine while you feel hunted and stalked ... ?!?!

The other day, I found a man following and trying to stand very close, under the pretext of examining items on display at a store. There was tons of space so knowing what was coming next, i wandered away each time he came too close for comfort. After 10-15 min of "dodge-the-creep", I got fedup and hoping he would go away on seeing me with another man, I returned to stand next to AP who was busy enjoying the antics of a kid playing with a weighing machine.  Even so the creep was audacious enough to saunter next to us (near me actually) and listen in to our conversation. Irritated, i strode up to the weighing machine, banged my fist on it and looking at AP said, "Yeh dhai kilo ka haath jabde se connect hoga toh bahut darrd hoga kya? - Will it hurt a lot if this 2.5 kg fist connected to a jaw?"

Prone to exaggerate quite well, AP went on about how i broke his shoulder the other day, hand-two months ago, blah, blah.... I didnt choose to correct him that the last time he had fractured his hand was as a kid, rather, i enjoyed his exaggerated claims as the creep standing next to him was putting as much distance between us as possible. I don't find anything wrong in re-claiming my private space. On our way home I told him the whole story. So even if two people are physically present, each one is poles apart in terms of what we experience.

Back in Bombay, M and me were climbing down the stairs to the platform one day, when a train pulled in at the station. A wave of men rushed up the stairs from the arriving train. Now overcrowded places are perfect spots for men to misbehave and blame it on the crowds. Usually i use a blocking technique we had learnt in karate but yet this creep got an opportunity. In a flash i turned after him and wove my way up the stairs (i was going down) through the milling crowds, with one mojri on my feet (the other one having slipped off in the bustling crowd). After a few hundred yards when few people were around us, i (barefoot, silent) reached him and was amused to see the shock on his face on facing me. As he crawled away I turned and the crowd around me had frozen in time for a moment, then it was life as usual....all this in less than two minutes.

If ever a victim musters up the courage to question her attacker, the first question (accompanied with an insolent leer) will be "batao, maine kya kiya? (describe what i did?)". Now which woman would want to describe the horrible creepiness she has been through, just so that the perpetrator can embarass the victim even more in public... most women i know prefer to curse a few bad words and walk away, with the assailants laughter or snigger or taunts echoing in her ears.

It would be impossible to pen each incident as i know its not the last and moreso I didnt experience anything different from what every woman in India whether she is from a city, town or village has at one time or the other in the course of her life experienced..... molestation, harassment in public or verbal taunting. Defined by Indian laws as "eve-teasing", each Indian woman is expected to tolerate and not retaliate. If a creep thinks he can physically assault me in public he should be prepared to take a fist to his face peppered with some very colourful language. In public, most men will not help because many guys think it happens to other women and never one's own....which is farthest from the truth.

Try this, ask each woman in your life about her experience and she will have a story to tell. Most women are embarassed to talk about it and have come to accept it as a part and parcel of daily life and frankly when one is groped, pinched, brushed by, verbally abused or commented upon almost on a daily basis, women tend to get stoic and desensitised to the reality of violation of the individual's private space in public spaces.

As for taking legal recourse, its an absolute waste of time, money and energy to approach the police or courts for eve-teasing and harassment complaints. Absolutely nothing positive will result from that. When I heard of the blanknoise project (IMHO, they propagate and advocate passive tactics which very few Indian men will understand) in Bangalore, I thought why does Bangalore need it ... its more spacious than Bombay (and less crowded) so with space available men will forget to accidentally bump, grope, brush against women. Err.. i was/am wrong.

2007 October 25 [Thursday]

CreditCard fraud in the making

It all started...

More than a month ago, when I had filled an HDFC bank credit card application form i got a verification call within 3-4 days from the outsourced agency handling the bank's credit card processing. The caller took a lot of personal information and something about his questions made me suspicious and I asked him his name. He took offence to that and said "You are not supposed to ask questions, only I can ask" followed by "Do you want the card or not? I can reject your application now." (those were his exact words). Alarm bells rang in my head at his outburst but keeping my cool I asked him (yet again) for his name and if he was really a bank employee as he had taken sensitive private infoormation during the phone call and his reaction made me suspect whether he was an actual bank employee. Then he became more rude and threatened to reject the application, so I asked for the call to be escalated to the Bank manager and he and his colleague (he was repeating what I said to his colleague) started laughing. When I insisted he give his name he gave me a false name (as I came to know later), mumbled something about the Manager not being available and disconnected the call.


The harassment begins ...

Two or three days later I get a call from a HDFC bank employee(?) again asking me for my residence address which I gave. When he said he will send a person to collect a photocopy of my salary slip, pan card, photo and other documentation for a credit card, I told him NO, as that was already given with the first application so why did he need them again. Then he changed the track and said it was for a fresh credit card application, which I refused as I had applied once and didnt need 2 credit cards from HDFC bank.

Very often I would get a call from different numbers claiming to be the callcentre of HDFC bank asking if I wanted a credit card? Each time I would decline but I was getting suspicious since the calls were from different numbers and the caller had a standard, -- I am a bank employee and will send person to your house, keep docu's ready -- line. His overeagerness to collect documentation proof told me something was amiss, despite my repeating that one card was enough.


Clueless HDFC Bank...

I was busy and had forgotten all about the application, by which time 3 weeks had passed so I decided to go to the bank to check on things, where I was told that the application was declined (but they didnt know how) and I could re-apply only after 6 months. I explained the incidents with the verification call and wanted to know on what basis the application was declined but the manager said that he could not access that information. I find that totally unacceptable, as that meant that an HDFC bank employee had less powers (cant even get access to data) than an outsourced employee who could reject applications on a whim, be vindictive and rude and harass a customer privately. While I was talking to the Manager, two other customers came up and said how they had been harassed by the credit card division and had to make payments for no fault of theirs. Most people are so thrilled about owning a plastic, want to flaunt their credit card that they dont read or see the fine print, dont ask uncomfortable questions and later end up in trouble, paying interest rates as high as between 35-55%.


Glaring security issues ...

Well strange things were about to happen, as I learnt later when by chance I met another employee and mentioned this harassment. They connected me to their QA person who was very helpful especially when I explained the glaring loopholes in the security. A little later they confirmed what I already knew, that my application was rejected, but strangely the order for verification process which is initiated by the bank was not initiated by the bank.

What the heck ......?

0] So how did my application reach the hands of the verification caller if the bank did not initiate /act on the application?

1] They checked and found that the number the first caller had called me from belongs to some government office. Hmm... so much for security of your sensitive data ...and my suspicions were right all along :-/

2] According to the bank only the bank employee has a right to do verification for credit-cards... then how did I get a call from a person who claimed to be a bank employee but they say Mr.XYZ does not work there. Now this HDFC employee has access to my personal information, had powers to reject it, be vindictive, call me at odd times later asking me to apply for more cards, and all this without an application following due procedure and not being sent for verification.

3] Even if a credit card is issued in future, the person indulging in this fraud can easily gain access to the credit card number and misuse it, simply due to the privileged employee (insider) status he enjoys.

In sum, I for one will not trust credit card division of the bank as

- they have no control over their own/outsourced employees,
- are not proactive about customer complaints and grievances,
- are utterly clueless and careless about existing and potential security loopholes,
- seem to take financial fraud lightly and totally reluctant to take action and/or preventive measures.

2007 October 20 [Saturday]

Ubuntu and Utsav

"Ubuntu is strongly based on Debian and (going deeper) GNU/Linux". Many community members are voicing their thoughts in favor of Debian and some have even filed bugs #154274 on LP , since DD's had blogged about not crediting Debian visibly in the latest Gutsy release. Paul had suggested we keep a page similar to MacOSX's "foundations" summary which sounds workable. Ubuntu/Canonical knows and does recognize the foundation on which it is built upon but the website when searched for "Debian" gives this result whilst a search for "GNU/Linux" gave fewer meaningful results. I hope that changes soon and GNU/Linux and Debian get their place under the sun (now is that another TM violation :-P).

Happy shubh Dashera, and with that ends 10 days of fun ...until next year ...:) but hey i still have deepavali to look forward to. Thankfully we have a festival every other month so its nice in a way but too much work [hint: cooking] and socialising. Russell had blogged about caring for your introvert which is so not happening in the Indian context ... I can just imagine the reaction my nosy colleague/neighbour /acquaintance (add people of choice) would have if I had to wave that under their nose, they would probably just tear it up as "bakwas, stop being so snooty".

2007 August 11 [Saturday]

almost on page3

There was a media party this week and if anything we were having a blast. The media was there in full force and I almost made it to the page 3 ....I realised it when I saw the pictures in the papers and that too coz I knew where I was standing.

Knowing my distaste for publicity thankfully my face was not fully visible.... but yet i got ribbed for my claim to fame being - the crown of my head ... hehe !

After the earlier bad experiences I must say thanks to all my friends and colleagues who take the trouble to drop me home and/or shove me out of the office....Thanks y'all :)

2007 August 1 [Wednesday]

Open robbery in Bangalore

Lately, time has become a scarce and a treasured commodity and I keep wishing we had 25 hours in a day. Probably its because I have not yet settled into the new city, its life and weather.

My knee still hurts after the hit when a rashly speeding driver decided to jump the signal. But the worst are the auto-rickshaw drivers who think its ok to fleece you of your money. Women traveling by auto's after sunset are not safe and since I am not yet familiar with all the roads and by-lanes, I've had 3 bad experiences in the span of one week - the first time it was a drunken driver who decided to ferry me in the wrong direction and on a lonely stretch of road at 10pm. Yesterday, one auto driver decided to do the same and veered off the main road onto a lonely stretch while I was returning home at 9pm.

A friend helped me reach home safely but everyone who heard about this started advising me to be safe and not take auto's after 7 pm to be safe which is understandable, but what if there is some emergency work? - Its so inconvenient and highly frustrating especially after having lived in a city that never sleeps. In Bangalore, being an auto driver is an open license for "robbery" of your passenger.

2007 May 19 [Saturday]

indian blog spammers

Spam on blog comments is not new but off-late it has been increasing. Since the last year or more, the maximum visitors were from USA among other countries. Lately India has topped the list comprising 61.46% of the total visitors to my blog.

The old theory that Windows machines are taken over by viruses and become spam bots in return is not completely true, because the maximum visitor comments on my blog was from a machine running the Firefox 1.0.7 browser with Linux as its OS located in India with the host being : triband-mum-59.182.8.82.mtnl.net.in (59.182.8.82), who left around a 100 comments on a single blog entry.

Well, outsourcing has aided the Indian economy and how.... we now have local spammers who have learnt to use Gnu/Linux in such a commercially productive way. Ideally I would have kept comments open but now am a reluctant moderator on the verge of turning off all comments which seems to be an unfriendly option.

addendum : How to make the life of a spammer even more easy

2007 March 19 [Monday]

gudipadva with friends

Happy Gudi Padva / Ugadi to everyone !

It was a nice weekend visiting, talking to friends and eating pavbhaji and falooda's after such a looooong time. I do miss the tasty fast(junk?)-food found only in the streets of Mumbai! I wanna indulge in misal, ragada and more panipuri.... gee, I'd better stop! Having forgotten to get any night clothes I rummaged in D's shelf to find a pristine white pant, thick and old-fashioned with interlocked stitching. Suddenly I realised I was staring at my old dogi (uniform) from 8th grade and thrilled that it fit me after so many years , only to be told that its no surprise given the rate at which I have been losing my health these few months =)

The jacket and belt were long gone but this pant brought back old memories..... of strict discipline, laughs after class, warm-up two-knuckle pushups on a stone floor, stomach crunches , perpetually aching muscles, and who can forget the ultimate torture - the single arm 2-knuckle pushups, which seems unimaginable today 8-) Thanks to my parents (who thought it was better to learn how to protect myself rather than learn dancing) I can take care of myself when harassed on Indian streets. For a long time I never dared to used it publicly until that talk with Anamika (name changed). She was 8-years my senior at school, a black belt, who dropped by at school one day to pull me out of history class to encourage the 2 girls (out of 70 students) to continue training. I remember asking her how she found the courage to break a man's arm as he had misbehaved with her at the bus-stop. It was conflicting with my ideas of non-violence (both religious and gandhian), not to forget the peer pressure (other girls didnt think it was cool or feminine enough to use self-defence).

She explained why ahimsa was fine until you see and learn to draw the line at physical harassment which is so de riguer on streets here. All the women I have ever known have had a similar story and how much they hate it but rarely do anything about it. Some women have initiated novel ways of protesting against such behaviour but then simply talking and ranting about it or telling the whole world that you were harassed is of little solace unless women are given self-defence classes against physical violence from a young age. As Anamika told me so many years ago - "Be proactive and save your life".

2006 August 3 [Thursday]

false advertising

Most phone/cell companies sell their phone users database to telemarketers without user-consent which is something we live with, even through calls at odd moments when companies try to sell X/Y/Z credit cards and so on… but recently an advertising agency has been trying to palm off tobacco products as health-related products. (Those were the exact words used !!)
The sales agent would not give out the name of the tobacco manufacturing company, which I guess would be revealed only if I heard the longish information pitch, rather she kept insisting that this tobacco product was healthy (sic) as it contained lower amounts of tobacco when compared to other brands of cigarettes. Despite asking to take my number off the database the call center does not give up.

Advertising and marketing products with typical jargon twisting is one thing (maybe even justifiable) but using the convoluted logic that a tobacco-product is healthy as it had a lower tobacco content, hence can be marketed as a health product (exact words used by 3 different agents) is an outright falsification of years of tobacco-related scientific cancer research. India has a substantial illiterate population and millions of teenagers who ape their film star’s on-screen smoking antics, all easy prey for such products but more disturbing is the involvement of Indian companies who dont spare a thought for the disastrous health consequences.

2006 July 19 [Wednesday]

a prayer

The silence was deeply moving.

2006 July 18 [Tuesday]

violent identity politics

Today, Mumbai will pay homage to victims of the terror attack and we decided to take it to the streets with candles and silence at 18:24 IST. All along the 7/11 blast has been linked by the media to the Kashmir issue which has been an on-going tussle for 5+ decades, much before the advent of the 90's which changed the face of terror all over India. There is definitely no excuse and no root cause for terrorism, and violence should not be justified with illogical reasoning.

All our life we constantly struggle to define and understand human identity based on factors we perceive as important like religion, race, social / financial status, nationality or entirely out of imaginary mental feelings. Our experiences and circumstances also conditions behaviour and attitude in life which explains somewhat, why some people resort to violence in pursuit of an identity.

Probably change could start with : ‘Who am I?’ , which addressed individual identity via self-inquiry but this "non-attatchment to self" theory is also echoed in some sections of Theravada philosophy, both converging and sometimes taking parallel paths to self-discovery, an internal process.

2006 July 6 [Thursday]

water water everywhere

... and not a drop to drink !

Just kidding ... but its heart-warming (and jaw-aching :-)) to answer calls from frantic friends and family who are justifiably concerned when they see pictures flashed across all the news channels and print media about your once-upon-a-time beautiful, turned stinking, currently sinking city being in disaster mode aided by the complete collapse of civic services and basic infrastructure grinding to a halt with the advent of torrential rains since the last 5 days. Will this be a repeat of last year or 26/7 as its commonly known? Who knows ... I sure hope not.

The Municipal body recieves crores of rupees as revenue each year for civic infrastructure but cite inadequate funding coupled with continued migration of people into the already over-pupulated city as the reason for the current situation. This is farthest from the truth as you can get. Being an island city is just one part of the picture, rather the proliferation of slums has everything to do with the Municipal authorities turning a blind eye and is not due to a lack of funds as they like to claim.

The reality is nobody knows if the existing funds are being utilised properly since corruption has always been closer than a shadow in each politician(s) life. Migration occurs in other cities in India too with people looking for a better quality of life but quickly realise that life in the big city is not as rosy as depicted in Hindi films. Too late... the harsher aspects of city life here is something people quickly adapt to without complaining just like R.K.Lakshman's Common Man but that does not mean the authorities are not responsible or accountable to the citizens and they should be doing a better job of handling the civic infrastructure properly.

Forget Singapore and Shanghai, we just need proper roads and a decent sewage system.... Is that too much to ask ? If these problems were not enough, the advent of rains always brings with it a viral attack (or flu) and despite avoiding street food its not something you can escape however careful you may be. So for now its simple fare like bissi-belle-hulli-anna and pongal till things get better.

2006 May 19 [Friday]

the market returns

A crashed market yesterday which had R all excited at the prospect of good pickings but my feelings are mixed and i guess the party is not over yet ... let's see what happens today .....

2006 March 6 [Monday]

ubuntu.IN loco team

last year i had written the initial wiki-draft for an INdian LoCo team but not finding an appropriate list to post about it, i kept silent.

two days ago, other local ubuntu users saw the potential of having a IN-specific team and things got moving forward. Yesterday i added more ideas and links to the wiki page and now we have quite a few people joining ....isnt that cool :-)  After the CC meeting on tuesday, we will have our own mailing list and a web-site but meanwhile you can hang around on our IRC channel #ubuntu-in on irc.freenode.net :-)

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