Friday, April 10, 2015

Getting back to First Principles

The current dispensation at the center is rightly pursuing the goal of encouraging manufacturing sectors to put India on the map of global trade and commerce. This is great news as value addition of raw materials will earn more income for the country. Demanding too much from one fledgling government is unfair. Yet, here is how a populous nation like India has to think differently in order to meet the basic needs of it populace if not its "aspirations."

Whenever I see Elon musk talk about how he came up with Tesla, SpaceX , PayPal he always speaks about going back to the fundamentals of Physics. He is 21st century’s leading entrepreneur and technological mind. Surprisingly he has an undergraduate degree in Physics. Of course one might attribute his success in business to a Wharton degree. But he always speaks how each of his businesses were based on first principles which he believed in. In his interview to Kevin Rose , he said the following

I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. Slight iterations on a theme.

“First principles” is a physics way of looking at the world. What that really means is that you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy. 

This actually made me think about the popular quip that is being drummed up by all politicians these days. "Development". The concept of development being sold these days is something on the lines of industrialization in the west, where labor was in shortage and machines were necessary. It is an improvisation of the 20th century models. The same approach can't be sustained in a populous country like India for more than a few decades.

We need to wake up to the fundamental truth that applies to India. We are a populous country.  The aim of industries on the other hand is to achieve maximum output with minimum labor resources. Of course there might be some tasks that could be done at a cheaper price compared to machinery. But manufacturing units strive to optimize on human hands.

If one were to analyse the supply-demand problem to a populous country like India, where everyone aspires to move to the cities and settle for a paid job, farmers should make more money than the rest. In a country where there are 1.25 billion people, farmers should be richest people as they have a decisive impact on your next meal. It must turn out to be a more profitable job than being a software engineer in Whitefield or a production engineer in Sriperumbudur area. People and businessmen must start ‘investing’ in this sector instead of running away from it.

Instead we are struck with low buying costs and lower selling cost model because of social security nets like PDS. Any attempt to disturb this system could lead to a case of ‘hoarding.’ In fact, agriculture in India can give more sustainable jobs to people than manufacturing sector (which thrives on machines and not people). The whole social security system has made the profession of farmers a nightmare. Unfortunately, the only palliative we have for them are relief packages and slogans like "Jai Jawan Jai Kisan". The situation of agriculture is totally opposite to what an economist would expect.

Considering the huge time consumed for commuting in cities, people must stop buying four wheelers and rely on public transport. In fact there can be private players in city transport systems competing with expensive BMTC buses thereby bringing down prices. (Even after considering cab businesses). The environmental impact of having millions of BSIV compliant vehicles would be much higher than a strong fleet of BS III compliant city transport systems.

If the weather is becoming warmer and electricity prices are going up, we must be building greener houses with a sizable dependence on solar power. Provisions for rainwater harvesting must become a norm rather than a rare exception. Of course the resource crunch in urban areas has turned resources like water into commodities. People are voting for lunatics to get these resources at an affordable price. [Read AAP]. We must stop humiliating basic supply demand laws. Otherwise Karma will always catch up someday and India will implode.

India’s growth is not tied to a single figure like GDP growth but also with simple things like access to food, water, power, health and stress free transport systems. We just need to get back to the fundamentals, the simpler way of doing things. Unfortunately we are busy blaming the government and leaders for most of these things while we prefer to stay in our comfort zones (me included) and politically correct arguments.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Twitter Transformed the Way I see Politics

Approximately a year ago, I was sitting in my hostel, wondering how to drag a slow Saturday evening. I was in my final year of engineering and had a good amount of time to spare. I considered myself an informed citizen as I used to regularly watch NDTV and read The Hindu newspaper on a daily basis. That sounds like a lethal combination now, but I did trust their reportage before I started using Twitter.

I was not mature enough to distinguish between ‘left’ and ‘right’ in politics. I must also confess that I was almost convinced that Narendra Modi was a monster emanating from Gujrat who had got away from the clutches of law after murdering thousands of Muslims (all credits to the consistent media coverage regarding to the issue) and he didn’t deserve to be PM. We used to have some debates on the issue in hostel. A friend who lived in the next room believed that Modi was a great candidate for PM, while I felt someone with a ‘cleaner record’ was suitable. I had somehow come to this conclusion without going deep into the issue, because I was unaware of the devious ways in which media could be manipulated. My prejudice drawn from TV reporters and newspapers made me raise my eyebrows whenever he made pro-Modi arguments.

For me, the Hindutva bandwagon seemed to be a divisive force largely due to the Babri Masjid demolition. However, I was totally unaware of the hidden divisive agenda of the Congress and Left parties which was sold as an ideal i.e. secularism. That was mainly because; my trusted media houses never highlighted their shortcomings while the word ‘Hindutva’ was attached with a negative connotation by default.

All these notions existed before I logged into my barely functional Twitter account. Initially, I restricted myself to tweeting quotes and replying to some random people I knew. Slowly I understood the concept of following strangers on Twitter and voicing out ‘opinions’ in 140 characters or less along with hashtags. As the number of free hours increased and tensions of placement subsided, I found myself spending more time on Twitter. This time around I shared links with some opinions and random people started replying to these. I was pissed off by these replies in the beginning because those opinions were contrary to my own. The first instance of surprise came when somebody ridiculed ‘The Hindu’ as a leftist newspaper. Slowly, I started to see the opinions of the ‘right’ wing or the saffron party supporters and their legitimate arguments.

I realized that I was not aware of the historic blunder by Rajiv Gandhi’s government in the Shah Bano case. I was unaware that the Congress government was also equally responsible for inadequate measures to protect the masjid. No media house investigated the progress of court cases related to other riots that had happened under the nose of ‘secular’ governments. Only the Gujrat cases were receiving international attention. This seemed unfair. Didn’t other riot victims deserve justice? I was unaware of the brutality of Sikh riots in Delhi. I sense some sort of agenda behind the filtered news and one sided story that was being sold to people on a daily basis. I smelled twisted articulation when I read news articles where we are repeatedly told ‘terror has no religion’ but recent attacks on churches are always by ‘Hindutva elements’ (even before investigations).

By the end of September 2013, the Narendra Modi campaign had taken off and many discussions began on my Twitter feed. This time around the stark differences between the right and left showed up on my mobile screen. This time around I searched in the internet to see if those arguments were true or not.
I also felt that I had to see what Narendra Modi had spoken in the past about ‘development’ and how serious he was about it. I started to search some videos on the internet and finally ended up watching this Narendra Modi speech at the Hindustan Times leadership summit. I found this fellow to be an impressive orator and an innovative thinker. I felt that India could actually progress with the approach he outlined in that speech.

Later, I read up on the independent SIT that probed the Gujarat riots and its findings. The argument of ‘lack of trust’ in the nation’s highest court’s verdict among leftist media seemed to be dubious. I was also appalled to see that no such attacks were made on perpetrators of Sikh riots for a sustained period of time. The hollow arguments of Modi haters became more obvious as days passed.

Some of the vague comments and multiple faux pas by Rahul Gandhi became a rage on Twitter. In fact the entire hostel block shared the video of Rahul Gandhi’s interview and laughed in glee at his na├»ve demeanour and incoherent answers. Most of us dubbed it as a comedy show. The choice had become almost obvious by then. The Congress leader had proven his lack of clarity regarding several issues in his interviews and speeches. Twitter was vociferous on these shortcomings though the mainstream media was milder in its critique. And slowly, I started to critically analyze the programs and articles of my erstwhile trusted sources of news.

In addition to the larger argument between ‘right’ and ‘left’, one cannot ignore the way in which rise and fall of standards in AAP created huge ripples on Twitter. It oscillated from sheer optimism to utter disappointment due to the way they conducted politics. Other issues like public anger over mysterious death of DK Ravi made sure that politicians heard the sentiments of the public through sources other than mainstream media.

The presence of alternate views and sources of news on Twitter had indeed raised my level of awareness. I believe there would be many people who might share a story similar to mine. The quality of debates we had at college on politics was enhanced by our exposure to views on Twitter. In the end we all travelled home and made sure that our vote was casted and our voice heard through the ballot box. I hope that this platform remains vibrant and makes sure people’s voices are heard and the inaccurate/ biased reporting is exposed to the public

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Chikku Tree and Other memories

It is surprising how the most pedestrian things evoke memories of the past these days. I can’t make out why , but it does. I was rocking my chair at home yesterday and remembered that it was a disease that was programmed into my DNA since school days.

We had these little chairs and hexagonal shaped tables (formed by joining two trapezium shaped ones) in school. This was supposed to form a group in the class. I understand that this is unconventional when compared to the benches in normal schools. Yes. Our school was unconventional in more than one ways. Rocking the chair was the most involuntary thing that we used to do. But, sometimes some of us fell. And the onlookers couldn't help but burst into a huge laughter. The teachers warned and scolded us not to rock those chairs, but we still did, not matter how many times we fell. We were incorrigible as far as this habit was concerned.

I had Chikku milkshake the other day in office canteen and I was directly transported to my old house in Tumkur. Our neighbors had a huge garden which included two big Chikku trees. Every summer I used to climb those trees and pluck Chikkus before they ripened. I used to put them in gunny bags filled with Ragi to ripen them. Of course, the neighbors didn't care. It was also a de facto cricket ground. Today those two Chikku trees are no more. The whole garden is gone. In its place they have built a commercial complex.

The third memory I wanted to write about was the 10.20 breaks in school.  Even the coffee break at work is exactly at 10.20. Usually it was hard to concentrate in the last ten minutes of the class before break or lunch, especially if there was a tasty dish in the box. We used to look at the watch again and again and curse the minute hand for refusing to move faster. Sometimes it is the same case in office. I usually wait for that minute hand to hit 20 on certain days if not all.

I don’t think that I’d be the only one who keeps going back to those good old days. I sincerely hope so.