Tuesday, August 15, 2017

15 August 1947 : When a civilisation became a nation

I am born of Sri. and Smt. Jha, both from Bihar.

Both were raised in what I call the ‘Golden India’ - my parents studied in public schools, with the quality of education and integrity of teachers that rivals that of modern Nordic nations. They were trained in handlooms, gardening, science, mysticism, and humanities with equal ease. Moreover, they had kids from all classes and creed share their classroom with a sense of oblivion.

By the time I was ready to go to school, the public schools had started rotting, and my parents got me into convent schools - so that I would learn English, get a stable job, find a wife, raise kids and live normally! If someone would have asked me when I was 10, “Who are you?” - I would have muttered, “Prashant”, “Indian”, “Son of Mr. and Mrs. Jha” or “Boy”. My identity was based on my chosen noun, country, parents or gender.

Now in my mid thirties, at footsteps of mid-age, my identity is smudged!

Am I a resident of this planet, domicile of Delhi, a descendant of Biharies or citizen of India?
Probably all! As I have lived and worked across a dozen countries across Europe, Americas, Orient, Australia and South Asia - the national identity of being Indian is what most of my colleagues identify me with.

Often, it makes me think what is India.
The morning of 71st Independence day of India is probably a great time to meditate on what is India.

To me, India is one of the boldest experiment in the human civilization. Millions of people, with mind-numbing differences, embracing the idea of equality is India. I have traveled to over 100 districts in India (yes, that is off by bucket list) and I have seen more differences than similarities.

I have been intrigued about what do people from Patan and Patna have in common to be identified as Indians. It seems I know now.

Our spirituality - our belief in Good Karma, Cosmic Justice, Tolerance and Openness to Self-doubt, Questioning our beliefs to shape a new one.

Despite different skin tones, diet, deities, we are unified by a common civilization. Not by political parties, leaders, religion, language, wars or common enemies. Yes, they all have played a role in shaping our civilization but none of them have been more profound than our way of thinking and our way of life.

As I meditate more, it appears that 15 August 1947 was a significant day in the history of Mother Earth because one of it's oldest civilisation that embodied a collective way of life of millions of people(and now over a billion) got a new identity - India.

Let us celebrate what is common and enjoy our differences.

Happy Independence Day India!
I am proud to be born in the land of hope, humanism, and spirituality.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Truth, Trust and Technology

We live in a post truth-world where people believe in Facebook and WhatsApp forwards more than their own logic. With the American elections and the Indian public discourse riddled with fake news in last few months, I was wondering if such a thing actually existed. 
My life’s choices expose me to very little un-credible sources of information.
I read news using a set of tools (RSS feeds) that hand picks news for only a specific set of topics that interest me and then creates a custom newspaper for me every morning (and evening, if I wish!). I use Facebook to tell people that I am alive and kicking - not to read opinion shaping news!

But in the course of public interactions some very bizarre things happened over last few weeks:

1. I am a minimalist and hence don’t like owning a car - since I can get a car on demand. Uber and Ola have been my wheels since they arrived. But, increasingly a strange problem has been emerging. Both these providers use google maps as the foundation of their navigation. And if you live in the by lanes of Delhi - and have used Google Maps - you would relate to my problems. Google Maps loves the 100ft + roads. When I ask it to navigate from South Ex 2 to Green Park, it will by default put me on Ring Road!
Hey wait, I know a shortcut, uncontested, uncluttered and that cuts the travel time and distance by half.
But, is my advice of any use to the Uber driver. No! They would retort - Let us use Google Maps, it knows BETTER! A discussion on how google maps consumes our time, battery and data to tell us what to do - only leads to an argument. 
Round I : Trust on Humans loses!

2. I was recently tele-introduced to someone by a family member. 
We were to discuss life, technology, ethics, plans, career, etc. But a spoiler arrived. 
This time it was not a Google Product. It was a software from Scandinavia, known as Truecaller. This is a rather nifty app, useful in my opinion. But most people don’t really seem to understand how it works. When I would call, my name would show up as Apollo Jha! I have neither changed my religion, nor my name. And I haven’t been to moon on a NASA mission, yet! But the confusion this has created is incredible. Am I Apollo, or am I Prashant. Or, Am I someone else ? I looked under the hood of this app and realised that it does a few things without most of the people knowing. It steals all your contacts in the phone book and then uses that crowd-sourced information to alert someone who has the app, but not your name in their contact book.
Funny still, if my friends call me Teddy Bear, and they save my name as Teddy Bear, I will now show up as Teddy Bear calling, when I call a new number. This is ridiculous.
 A better version should be where, Truecaller should seek consent from people if they want to let go of their entire contact book to an unknown server and it should be an opt-in service. If I want my name to be listed in a directory, I should join, if not it is best marked as Spam/Not-spam! Do we really want to know the name of the spammers? I don’t.
This trouble doesn’t seem to have ended. Hours and hours of conversation has lost over a trivial bug. 
Round II: Trust on IT tools trumps.

3. I recently lost a bag at Geneva airport. Last flight in Geneva - and the last train to city was 40 minutes away. As the Q from the luggage belt started to dwindle, I was worried. I was the first one to arrive there. But my bag was not in sight! I waited, and then finally the information board said that the luggage to come next was from a different flight. Disgusted, I headed to the baggage office, to see where my bag was. The executive after a check with my boarding pass told me - your bag has arrived. It is on the belt. I told her my story - I was there since the beginning of time, but to no avail. She said her system says the bag has arrived. She nearly scolded me for being careless as to have missed by bag on the belt and that it would go into quarantine for security reasons. Then she checked if my bag was in quarantine - No, said her system! She looked at my handbag and asked if this was the bag I was looking for? I almost smiled in disgust! What happened to my bag next is immaterial. The trust in a computer screen is more than in a living person - in flesh and blood! 
Round III: Tech trumps over Human Information System.

I usually don’t rumble on my blog, but these three incidents in last few months make me think that if we continue to let search engines or apps shape our beliefs and perception of reality, we would be doing it at the risk of losing who we are - imperfect human beings.

I would rather like to be lost in a city than mechanically commute from point A to B.

While lost, I might discover a Partner, a Saathi, a new Corner or even Myself!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Upgrading the Anti-Defection Law - putting a tube on the neolithic wheel !

Electoral reforms:

One of the most striking inventions that set humanity in motion was a wheel. But we would have been stuck if we chose to stay with the wobbly, donught-shaped discs of stone that jumped & bumped. 
So, how did we move on and gain speed ? By making it smoother, reducing weight by adding spokes and reducing bumpiness by putting a pneumatic tube on the circumference.

When a product was made - it was done by a creative empathiser who operated out of his box of empathy towards the world. But why is that the product did not remain useful forever. If product is an answer to a problem, the product would lose value as the problem itself will change. 

Imagine using the neolithic wheel on a freeway! 

Similarly when rules are made - they are made for a certain time with contextual empathy.
That is a fairly long explanation to come to the point of electoral reforms.

When India became a country and our forefather wrote our constitution, they did a great job with contextual empathy. They foresaw problems, but it would be unfair to expect them to foresee things as they would shape after five or six decades.

Let us look at elections: the party with simple majority gets the invite from the Governor to form the government. That is simple. But it became complicated as fractured mandates started appearing. Then came the ‘fair norm’ of ‘Single Largest Party’. This led to the concept of Common Minimum Program. This has led to another problem - blackmailing by smaller parties to keep the bigger parties in power. Common Minimum Program conveniently shapes as Common Maximum Plunder under disconnected coalitions.

What if the rules of ‘horse trading’ apply on the pre-/post- election coalitions. I know this is not very clear. Let me try to explain. 
Case example: In Goa there 40 MLA. A simple majority means that the government must have the support of 21 candidates. But the common minimum program once enacted would keep the CM on toes as he can face the black-mail by the smaller parties - who could conveniently switch to join a potential Congress government.

Is there a solution to this trouble ? What if the anti-defection law would apply to not a party but the group in power. This would mean that a smaller party can’t evade anti-defection law just because it has three members. Instead the group size must be 1/3 rd of the group of MLAs (i.e. 7). Hence to bring down a coalition government there must be exit of at least a third of MLAs from the coalition.

This would bring down instability in a multi-party system. Any takers ?

I hope we can upgrade the 52nd Amendment, 1985. Using a neolithic wheel on an Expressway ? Maybe put a pneumatic tube on it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Open letter to Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and other e-commerce platforms!

Dear Jeff, Binny Bansal and Kunal Bahl : Congratulations on boosting consumerism this festival season in India. Congratulations for managing logistics of galactic scales and for spreading joy, promoting happiness and creating jobs.

I must admit that you have changed our world. Over a decade ago it was almost aspirational for a resident of a tier II or III city in India to get the latest laptop/mobile/camera locally. One had to wait for availability in the local shops or worse still had to wait for someone to go to Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore.

But, this festive season, I wanted to give Chinese goods a miss!
How can I send a part of my hard earned money to a country that blatantly supports terrorists and Pakistan's attempts to wipe off the planet's oldest civilisation.

Being an online marketplace that has the ability to help buyers make choices - it would be nice if you gave us a choice to know. To know where a product listed on your platform was made.

I request all of you to implement a simple identifier on your platform that helps us (the ordinary buyers) quickly identify the country of origin for a product. I think that is anyway a right for the customer.

I hope you will implement it soon - if not for patriotism but for at least the consumer rights !