Sunday, June 10, 2018

French Open 2018

Rafael Nadal is having incredible run at Roland Garros winning 11th French Open title. Unfortunately, the men's finals turned out to be a damp squib, as disappointing as Nadal-Del Porto semi finals. I felt very sorry for both Dominic Thiem & Juan Martin Del Potro. Both had a dream run-up to the end but faltered when it mattered most. I guess that's what makes the difference between "Champions" and "Wanna Be Champions". 

The biggest surprise was the women's finals. At the end of first set and 2nd game of second set, I thought the championship was a walk through for Sloane Stephens but, what a fight back from Simona Halep, simply incredible, unbelievable. She completely deserves the victory. I can imagine the exhilaration she must have felt at the end of the match.

Looking back, one of the most enjoyable match was the semi finals between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. No grunts, no squeals, no screaming, just pure quiet tennis. Only sound of Racket hitting the ball and squeaking of the tennis shoes.  

Tennis is one of the most interesting and enjoyable of games but, how I wish there was a limit imposed on the decibel of noise the players make. It gets too disconcerting & irritating. I had a tough time watching the quarter finals between Garbine Muguruza  and Maria Sharapova. It sounded more of a screaming match than tennis match. I had to mute the TV sound as I couldn’t watch the match with all the  squealing and screaming.

Tennis would be more enjoyable without all that noise most players produce. In reality, it would be a highly wishful thinking to expect organizers to put any control on the players as far as noise level is concerned. I guess, screaming, squealing, yelping and grunts have come to stay in tennis.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Politician's Speech

During my school and college days, I was fortunate to have a bunch of good friends. One of our favorite past times was sharing jokes. One popular joke was about a politician, a minister of something, who loved giving long speeches.

Once this politician, went to one of the third world countries on a friendly mission. As part of the mission he had to address a large gathering of people and pass the message of goodwill and friendship of his country. Before being seated on the podium, the minister hugged the local dignitaries with such warmth as if they were his childhood “buddies”.

After the master of ceremonies introduced him to the crowd, the minister began his speech with his usual “elan”. He thanked the dignitaries for inviting him to their great country and how he was happy to be in their midst. There was clapping from the dignitaries on the podium. There were scattered clapping and faint murmur from the crowd.

The minister then got into his charismatic demeanor with his outstretched hands and benevolent smile, he started his long monologue in a hushed tone, “I bring good news to you! The good news is, I am extending my hands of friendship to you, to redeem you from your poverty, your squalor and misery”. The people in the crowd stared at him with grim faces, but there were some murmurs, a little louder than before. The minister thought he heard the people chant what sounded like “Oom Galagala”. The minister thought to himself “hmm...that is good, the crowd is warming up to my speech”.

He continued, his voice rising few decibels, “I can understand your hopelessness, your desperation, because I have been there. I perfectly understand what it means to live in such misery”. The minister paused for his message to sink in. More people joined in chanting of “Oom Galagala”. Some grim faces broke up into broad smiles as they chanted. The minister was extremely pleased. Glancing around, left to right, right to left, the minister said to himself with a pleased smile, “now I got them where I wanted”.

The minister was sweating profusely from the extreme heat but it did not deter him, he continued with his long speech, every now then mopping his face and forehead. He started telling the crowd about his great philanthropic work, his caring for the poor and the downtrodden and innumerable development work. He went on to churning out string of his success stories back home. Every time he paused, the crowd went into rapturous chanting of “Oom Galagala” which got louder every time he paused. 

Soon the whole crowd joined in, some clapping in excitement, some thumping the person next to them on the shoulder or their arms. Even the dignitaries on the podium could not control themselves any longer, they too joined in, chuckling with every chorus of chanting.

Finally, the minister decided to stop as one of his aides was signalling him about time. The minister was very pleased with himself at the impact he had created with the crowd. He thanked the crowd for their patience. As the minister sat down, he asked the dignitary sitting next to him, what “Oom Galagala” meant. 

The dignitary answered, covering his mouth, trying to suppress his laughter, “it means, bullshit”!

The Third Obsession

The mass adulation and the crazy fan following that the film stars and cricketers enjoy in India is perhaps unmatched anywhere in the world. The size and richness of businesses connected with these two passions can be matched by no other business in the world.

There is a third unquenchable obsession, it is called "reality show". When you surf the Indian television channels any time of the day, more often than not, you are bound to come across one or more reality shows being aired.  It may be a musical show, a talent show or a comedy show, most often offering millions of rupees as prize money for the participants. Invariably, you can expect to see the same faces in the panel of judges, either appreciating the talent or giving advice on how to be better or simply laughing their brains out like crazed persons.

The barber shop, where I go for my hair cut, has a television installed in the shop. Most of the time some reality show or the other would be airing on the regional channels. Sometimes it would be an old Malayalam movie or the news. Perhaps it is a good business ploy. While you are waiting for your turn, and if you are not busy on your smart phone, it can keep you engaged.  But the problem starts when it is my turn for the haircut. 

The barber is not that much into reality shows. If it is a movie or the news then he gets very much involved and sometimes very animated. He would get distracted once in a while, either chuckling at a joke or heaving a long sigh at some tragic scene or news or cursing under his breath or muttering his opinion at some news item.

I don’t mind the barber getting a bit of entertainment now and then especially after endless monotonous job of cutting hair. But not when I am sitting in the chair, with the scissors or the razor in his hands precariously hovering around my face and the neck while his attention is wandering somewhere else. It is one of the most scariest moments! It gets scarier if there is some heavy comedy scenes going on. The barber would go into a fit of suppressed laughter with his whole body shaking and the scissors or the razor bobbing up and down near my face. Comedy in some Malayalam movies can be real “rib ticklers”.

Many a times I thought of telling him to concentrate on his job. But then, you cannot mess with a guy holding a razor or scissors in his hands, that is dangerously hovering around your face and your throat. Sometimes I would try a feeble cough or noisy clearing of the throat, but it hardly works. So all I could do is just sit tight, tensed and hoping the barber’s attention would be back to his job.

There is something I have noticed, when we men are at the barber shop how we become meek, docile and submissive, like a lamb or like a puppy. The barber holds your head straight and you keep it straight, he bends the head and you bend it down, he lifts your head up and you lift it up, he tilts your head to the side and you keep it tilted. I am yet to come across a man who says, “I will sit as I like, you please do your job”. So much for the male ego, this is one time when it goes flying out of the window!

A wise man once told me that men develop a “circle of trust” which has in it among others, the barber, the butcher, the dhobi (laundryman) and the family doctor, not particularly in that order. It must be true! Several times the thought crossed my mind, that I should try another barber. But this guy knew exactly how I wanted my haircut, there was no need for me to tell him again and again. So, I go to the same shop, hoping that it is a reality show playing on the television, not a movie or the news.

The Indian News Channels are not far behind when it comes to reality shows. They too have their share of reality shows aplenty. Most often these events turn into a show of mindless shouting and screaming like crazed people. Sometimes these news channels carry their antics to extremes without any consideration for decency or dignity, all in the name of viewer ratings.

Anyone who had followed the events of 26/11 Mumbai attack on television would remember how some news channels turned the whole horrible event into a reality show. These media persons were so consumed with the viewership ratings, to be the first to capture the moments, that they did not even consider it as a national security issue.

When the rescue team was planning out strategy to rescue the people trapped inside the hotel, these channels were telecasting to the entire world revealing details of every tactical move with detailed commentary. Finally, they had to be literally shooed away by the security forces and told not to telecast the strategic move. But by then it was too late. Immediately after that we heard the “boom” of explosives going off and we saw balls of fire engulfing the very side of the hotel the rescue team was planning to enter. Who knows how many lives were lost or endangered because of that unfortunate lapse.

Finally, when a group of men and women were rescued from the burning building, the mass of media persons swooped on the poor victims, ran after them like a mass of crazed people. One woman journalist thrust a huge, red, ugly microphone into the face of a lady from behind and asked “madam, how are you feeling”! The poor lady and others had just been rescued after spending days of horrible moments inside the hotel building, with sounds of explosion and shootings going all around, and this media person ran after them just to be the first person to ask how they were feeling! How the hell did she think they would be feeling! How would she have felt if she was one of the victims trapped inside that hotel for days!

It was one of the most disgusting scenes I have ever witnessed on television. It was so sad and sickening to witness the display of such heartlessness and ruthlessness without any consideration for national security or any empathy for fellow human beings! The funny thing is, after this unfortunate incidences there was not a shred of remorse or regret in these faces, it was business as usual!

Why could not these people understand and appreciate that it was an event of national security, an event where lives were at stake! It seems, things like empathy and consideration for human lives are sacrificed at the altar of viewership ratings and utter sensationalism. As if, everything is a reality show!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Freedom Comes With A Price

Nothing in life comes for free and freedom is no exception. As someone has said, freedom comes with a price, paid through blood, sweat, tears and often with death. Most importantly, it comes with responsibilities and accountability.

India, our beloved country, has come a long way since it was ruled by various kings and rulers. For over two hundred years the country was under the yoke of the colonial power of the mighty British Empire. 

Early revolt against the British was started by Rani Lakshmibai, Mangal Pandey, Dhondu Pant, Ramachandra Pandurang Tope and many others.

Later the freedom struggle was continued relentlessly by Surendranath Banerjee, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,  Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu and many other brave and patriotic Indians. 

Finally, it took the bravery of the frail old man, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi along with others, to dare the mighty British Empire and to tell them to "Quit India". 

Today, after 70 years, as we again celebrate Indian Independence Day, the day of redemption from the British Colonial rule, we should not forget that the freedom of our country did not come for free. It needed sacrifices and struggle of many brave men and women. 

We should cherish and value our precious national freedom. Every citizen of India has the responsibility and accountability to protect the country from evil divisive forces that every now and then try to tear our country apart in the name of religion, community, caste, race, regionalism and ideology. 

Let us not fall into the trap of these hatemongers and merchants of chaos. Let us not let them entrap and ensnare us into believing the distortion of our national history. Let us not let the struggles and sacrifices of our freedom fighters go to waste. 

"Unity in Diversity" is the creed and strength of our nation, that bound every citizen together. It is envy of every other nation in the world. Let us continue to live by that creed. Let us practice and cherish our own chosen faith, culture and ideology in it's own sphere. Let us not malign others.

National freedom does not come for free, it comes with a price. Let us be loyal to our country. Say "NO" to divisive forces. 

"One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors" - Plato

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How do you know!

Humour is everywhere, in that there is irony in just about anything a human does - Bill Nye, American Televison Presenter, Science Communicator, and Mechanical Engineer.

It was one of those visits to the hospital for my routine blood test to be done. While registering for the tests, the clerk asked me for the name of doctor who had referred for the tests. When I said "none", she gave me an incredulous look. I explained that it was my periodic checkup. She added "self" in the doctor's column. The pathologist took the blood sample and told me to come back two hours after having breakfast for the postprandial blood sample. 

I proceeded to the hospital canteen, had a sumptuous breakfast, which was not bad at all. To while away the couple of hours, I entered the outpatient area where I saw plenty of seats available in the large hall. Few people were already awaiting their turn to see the doctor. There were many doors with doctor's names all around the hall. 

I went around looking for newspapers or magazines to while away my time. There was plenty available for the taking. People don't read these things anymore. Actually in public places like hospitals and airports where there is a long wait, you don't really need anything else to occupy yourself. There is plenty of human drama on display if you care to watch. 

I found an empty row of seats and settled down,  making myself comfortable. Few moments later a couple sat in the seats in front of me. The man plonked himself with a thud. The woman sat down, took out her mobile phone and got busy swiping at the screen. The man clasped his hands behind his head, slid deeper into his seat, put one foot over the other and started shaking his foot vigorously. Couple of times the woman paused at what she was doing and gave that "if only I could burn you down" kind of look at him. The man continued with his preoccupation totally oblivious to the woman's glaring. 

After some time the man got up and walked towards one of the unmarked rooms, probably that is where the doctor's assistants were stationed. He came back and while sitting down he said "the doctor is late by couple of hours, it is going to be a long wait for us". The woman gave him an incredulous look and retorted "How do you know? Nonsense! He will be here promptly at 9". With that she went back to her smart phone, continuing with her screen swiping routine. 

How many times have we heard these questions, "How do you know? Who told you?". You are with your friend and someone you knew, especially someone in high position, comes along and you acknowledge each other with a greeting or with a brief chat, and pat comes the million dollar question "how do you know him? ".  How do I know? Just as you know things,  just as you know people! Why should it even surprise you! 

What makes people ask these questions? Perhaps some people either have a questioning attitude towards everything or they have an attitude of "how come you know it when I don't". Whatever the reason, it is quite annoying.

As I sat wondering about it, the man looked towards the woman and her screen swiping routine, looked to the left, then to the right, then got up and went towards the lift. Just then a group of men and women came in and occupied seats in one of the adjacent rows. Someone from the group went towards one of the rooms with a file and came back after sometime. The file passed around few hands, followed by some discussion. Someone took out couple of Tupperware that went around as they helped themselves to the eatable stuff.

tried to figure out who could be the sick person from that group. They all looked quite gay, no I don't mean as "being gay", they looked gay, jolly, chatting in loud, excited voices. It is interesting how hospital visits have changed over the years. Invariably the patient is accompanied by a battery of well wishers, either family members or friends. 

Even outside the hospital, you can see groups of people perched on the grass lawn in circles. Soon plates pass around and the "toshadaans" (food carriers) are opened and food passes around. It is quite heartening that people are able to find it convenient to accompany a sick friend or family member to the hospital, especially in these times when everyone is so busy with their own personal things. More than a hospital visit, it looks as if they were out for a picnic. No wonder "Health Tourism" has become so popular over the years. 

The man came back holding a packet of chips. He sat down and with slow dramatic actions opened the packet and offered it the woman. She glanced at the packet, looked at the man, and without any response went back to her routine on her smartphone. The man went back to his earlier comfortable posture and started munching the chips. 

Time ticked by and suddenly the woman got animated as if she was woken up from a trance, saying "so much time has passed, hasn't the doctor come in yet?". The man answered coolly without even turning his head "may be it is not 9 o'clock yet". The woman gave him that "if only I could burn you down" kind of look again, got up and went towards the doctor's assistant's room. She came back and sat down muttering "the doctor is late by couple of hours". The man did not even flinch, as if he did not hear a word of what she said. The woman went back to her smart phone, continuing with her "Gorilla arm" routine. 

I couldn't help chuckling to myself at the whole hilarious scene I was witnessing. After a while, I felt my back hurting. The steel benches they have in the out patient area are not bad, but not that comfortable enough for sitting for a long time. You try to settle down comfortably, you keep slipping out of the seat. I got up and went to explore other areas of the hospital where perhaps they had more comfortable seating. 

The Nephrology department looked good, it had plenty of sofas which looked inviting. But the Executive Health Check Up area was more tempting, more grand with plants all around, and beckoning sofas, almost like a reception of a star hotel. So, I decided to wait there and while away the remaining part of my wait, watching some more live human drama.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Clean Sweep Ignatius

So, we have a new president, His Excellency Ram Nath Kovind. The writing was on the wall on who would win the presidential election the day they announced the competing candidates. It was almost like one man race. I feel sorry for Ms. Meira Kumar, she ended up on the wrong side. She did put up a brave front until the end, asking voters to vote based on their conscience and claiming her bid as battle for ideology, not individuals. I still cannot figure out what gave her so much confidence of winning. However, there is small consolation for her, a saving grace, as she got the highest votes by a losing candidate in the last 50 years.

BJP/RSS followers must be extremely happy on the election of the new president, as he is a BJP member, also admirer of RSS ideology.  The current establishment (NDA) projected him as a champion of Dalits. So, that should make the Dalits ecstatic, except for Madam Mayawati, who is still seething with rage for not being allowed to say what she intended to say in Rajya Sabha. 

But honestly, why is there so much fuss for electing a new president. It is supposed to be a position independent of any political party affiliation, so it should be amicably decided unanimously. But no, it doesn't happen that way. There is so much of canvassing, promises made to states for more financial support, inciting pride for communities, strategic positioning for winning future elections, the list is endless.

So now that we have a new president, how is it going change our lives. Will it have a great impact on the country? Will the Dalits benefit greatly, will their lives become better? As for the common man, from what I have seen throughout my life, the president's position has very low visibility. We hear his speech on Republic Day and whenever some special message has to be conveyed. We read about him whenever some matter related to the Constitution or a bill requires his decision or when some ministers have to be appointed. We read about his statements when he congratulates someone's or country's achievements. We read news about him when a petition for commuting hanging of someone is to be decided. We watch him handing over awards to film stars, sportsmen and others. Most of the time it makes you scratch your head wondering "award for what". So, what exactly will be the impact for common man? Honestly, I do not know.

In recent times we have seen how things have changed with the Governors of many states, they have been taking more proactive interests in the affairs of the states. Perhaps, we may see more involvement from this president in the day to day affairs of the country.

During run up to the election, there was a buzz in the news media that, in 2010, HE Ram Nath Kovind was against minorities as he opposed religion based reservations because according to him Islam and Christianity were alien to the nation. Now that he is the President of India, his stance might change. Politicians may say hundreds of atrocious and outrageous things in the past but once they occupy the high seat, their attitudes change. We have seen it in the recent past how attitudes and actions have changed by 180 degrees. When it is convenient, their ambition to hold on to their power and position dilutes their arrogance, their outspokenness, turns them into fair-minded and broad-minded persons. In fact, the president has already given out couple of statements quite contrary to his earlier attitude towards minorities "We are diverse, yet united and one" and "every Indian contributing to nation building". With that, he has apparently projected his independence of any political party or their ideology.

I wonder how the Indian News Media will address the new president. The people from the fourth estate have strange ways of addressing politicians and it seems the politicians are OK with it. It has always been "Rao", not Prime Minister Rao, "Kalam", not HE President Abdul Kalam, "Pranab", not HE President Pranab Mukherjee, "Chidu", not FM/DM Chidambaram, "Siddu", not CM Siddaramaiah, "Diggi", not CM Digvijaya Singh, "Babu", not CM Chandrababu Naidu. This is from news media reporters, not from social media trolls. One news media already had a headline "Kovind takes oath today". In the next few days we will surely come to know what names the media has for the new president. It appears as though news media too has it's own brat pack! Who can blame them when there is no protocol to be followed. If it was there, someone would have surely pointed it out.

As for reporting news of crimes, the news media shows special reverence to the criminals or alleged criminals, "On being arrested by cops, the alleged rapist Mr. Alleged Rapist/Criminal claimed that he was completely innocent. Our reporter met the family of Mr. Alleged Rapist/Criminal. Actually, we are at his house, here, this is his house and these are his family members. Mr. Alleged Rapist/Criminal's Father claimed that his son was innocent, a very loving person, he was being framed by his enemies". 

Anyway, the election of a new president is done and dusted. There was special farewell party for the outgoing president. PM Narendra Modi and many others heaped praises using superlative words and expressions. In return, the outgoing president heaped his share of praises on them. I never believed in farewell parties. Most often than not, it turns out to be a charade. People don't mean one word of what they say. All you can see is the relief oozing from their faces and expressions that say "oh, at last that day has come, finally he is leaving, for good!". In the coming days, we may even start reading about the wrongs committed by the predecessor that are now being corrected by the incumbent.

Now, onward to the next election. In all probability "Ushapathi" Venkaiah Naidu will be the next "Upa Rashtrapathi". You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. He has already declared that he does not belong to any party. He has even condemned and warned Pakistan to remember the beatings they got some years ago. Yet, we have to go though the motions, the rituals. After that, we have many more elections to be conducted, many more election speeches to hear, revival of many more hateful rhetoric, and many more election results to get excited about. There is lots of work to be done, many more states to be won, many more civic bodies to be won. Loads and loads of history to be rewritten. 

Until then, the country will wait, patiently, hopefully. In all probability, there may even be many more hateful and communal incidences but nothing to be alarmed about, we can handle it, we have learned to live with it.

Life will go on, one way or another, with or without the politicians. We have plenty of diversions to keep us busy, overrated film stars, over glorified cricketers, meaningless film songs, mindless TV serials, TV debates and unlimited dose of reality shows, and of course we have the social media (war of words, abusive posts, posting of fake news, sharing of fake news, following the celebrities). Let the politicians decide what is good for us and our generations to come. After all, we have elected them, haven't we!

Experience doesn't seem to teach us any lesson, election after election, we vote, hoping, "now there is a glimmer of hope, here is a politician of substance, honesty and integrity, someone worthy of holding the high office". With time, the realization dawns, albeit too late, that the politician turns out to be no better than "Clean Sweep Ignatius". 

It ends up in disappointment at the realization that, they are all the same, some worse than the other. They may claim to have different ideologies and better intentions than the others, but deep down, they are all made up of the same fiber, the same core.

We will continue to hear and read news about criminals, fraudsters, rapists. There will be lot of buzz and debates on prime time. Everything may clearly point to their guilt, but suddenly everything will go quiet, sometimes for zillions of years. It may even turn out that they were innocent. Either they become invisible from scene of crime or someone else has committed the crime by using their name/identity or somebody has hacked into their social media account or someone has tried to frame them. What is more, some of them may even become face of some initiative or the other.

However depressing and disappointing things may turn out to be, we will still keep hoping for better times that will really make us feel proud of the society we are living in. After all, hope is the one thing that keeps mankind alive! So, let us keep our fingers crossed and hope for better times.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Corporate Culture

It was a firsthand experience for me of how corporate culture flows from top to the very bottom of the organization structure, how the person in the lowest rung of the organization hierarchy is the best evidence of the policies an organization sets and the values it upholds.

It was one of those regular pleasant rituals of weekend shopping. After finishing my shopping at the mall, on my way back I stopped at a filling station to refill petrol in my car. As the fuel meter started rolling, I reached for my wallet in the trouser back pocket. I got a jolt on realizing that the pocket was empty, there was no wallet. I checked my other pockets, still no wallet. 

I got down from the car in desperation, checked under the car seats, but no sign of my wallet. I checked the car boot, searched through the shopping bags one by one, still no sign of my wallet. As I checked my pockets again, I felt a rustle of paper in one of my side pockets. There was some currency along with the bill I had settled at the shopping mall. I sensed a momentary relief at being saved from the embarrassment of facing the fuel station attendant with no cash or card to pay for the fuel. 

I was still dazed and reeling from the shock of not finding my wallet. It was not just the cash I was worried about. All my important stuff were in the wallet, my driving license, credit card, debit cards, more importantly, my residence card (work permit).  I knew very well what happens to expatriates who are by bad luck caught without legal documents in an alien land. 

I quickly paid up for the fuel and started driving back to the shopping mall, analyzing the situation. If there was cash in my pocket along with the bill, I did take out my wallet for settling the bill. Then the only explanation for the missing wallet was,  either I left it at the cash counter while putting the shopping items into the shopping bags or I might have placed it in the shopping cart while loading the shopping bags into the car boot. 

As I reached the mall, I found the parking lot where I had parked my car earlier and looked for the shopping cart. There were a couple of carts, but I did not find my wallet in any of them. I quickly rushed to the cash counter where I had earlier settled the bill. The cashier was busy billing a customer. The uniformed mall porter was busy putting stuff into shopping bags. He looked at my flushed face and with a smile said "You must be looking for your wallet. Please contact customer service". I felt a sense of relief run through the whole of my body. I felt like a drowning person who had been thrown a life line. I said a thanks but only a mumble came out of my mouth as it was dry with the shock that I had endured. 

I rushed to the customer service counter and I started mumbling "I lost my wallet...". Even before I could finish the sentence, the customer service staff asked me for my name. As I mentioned my name, he took out my wallet from under the counter, took out my residence card, verified my name and my picture, and returned my wallet to me. That is all it took, for the entire grueling, nerve racking episode to culminate into an unbelievable relief. 

I put the wallet into my pocket, and as I walked towards my car, thanking my stars, cursing my carelessness, I saw the same porter collecting empty shopping carts from the parking lot. With the same jolly smile on his face, he asked me if I got my wallet back. I said "Yes, I got it back. Actually I was quite worried wondering if I had left it in the shopping cart".  I was in an elated, thankful, and generous mood. So I took out some cash from my wallet to give it to the porter. He refused to take it. 

What he said next really bowled me over "Not only in the shopping cart, wherever a you lose your personal belonging within the complex of the mall, you will get it back. This is the policy of our mall. Our bosses remind us again and again that we have our jobs because of customers like you. Even if one customer stops coming to the mall due to such reason as losing their personal belonging, it is not good for the business. We make sure such a thing doesn't happen". 

I was amazed, stunned beyond words, listening to the simple, humble porter. He was a true reflection of the culture of his organization. Yes, the policies the top management makes trickles down to every worker to the very last rung of organizational hierarchy.

I had experienced this wonderful display of corporate culture, the business ethics, at Ruwi branch of Lulu Hyper Market in Oman. 

Now, I keep wondering if such a thing was possible in India too! Would I have got back my wallet intact!! I really wonder!!!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Paw in the bottle!

12th May 2017 turned out to be a Dark Friday when the world woke up to cyber terror in the form of WannaCry virus. According to media reports it has wreaked havoc by locking up over 300,000 computer systems across over 150 countries around the world. Most affected systems were from UK, USA, Russia, China, Spain and India. 

Five percent of the systems affected worldwide was reportedly from India. However, the government hastily responded with "The impact of WannaCry ransomware attack has been limited to five or six isolated instances so far and there are no reports of any substantial disruption to India’s IT backbone".

It is quite interesting how the enormity of the damage was accidentally stemmed by a young technology expert Marcus Hutchins. While the world was grappling with the cyber terror, Marcus Hutchins accidentally discovered the "Kill Switch" to stop the propagation of the malware. It happened when he was going through the sample of the malware, he discovered an unregistered Domain Name. He quickly bought the domain and registered it. To his surprise the propagation of the malware stopped as soon as he registered the domain (domain was "sink holed").

How exactly did WannaCry wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world? WannaCry is a Trojan virus, a “ransomware” which in effect holds the infected computer hostage and demands that the victim pay a ransom money in order to regain access to the files on his or her computer. WannaCry demanded ransom to be paid within 3 days through Bitcoins, ransom amount would be doubled after 3 days. After 7 days, the affected files would be lost for ever.

So, did any one really fall for the threat? It seems many did fall for it but according to experts, the hackers must have made less than $60,000. One reason, they said, was because many people did not know how to pay the ransom. Bitcoin is a kind of digital currency stored in an online "wallet", transactions not easily traceable to the hackers.

Even if the financial gain may not have been substantial to the hackers, the indirect effect of malware seemed to be much more by way of "Denial of Service" (non availability of the system to the users). Computers that had important data stored online were the most badly affected. Health systems were primary targets. NHS of UK was quite seriously affected. Many critical surgeries and procedures had to be postponed due to non availability of online patient records from the NHS systems.

As for the IT security experts, it was busy times once again. There was a barrage of articles and talks on IT security with list of "Do" and "Don't" from IT security gurus and security evangelists. Common among suggestions were related to Windows Operating System and Anti Virus software: install Anti Virus, patch/upgrade regularly, migrate to latest software version, update Anti Virus everyday, back up data (too late for this, may be for future attacks), train employees on best & safe practices, do not click anything from unknown source (most valuable suggestion in my opinion) and so on.

It has been reported that Cyber Security stocks jumped up after the 'WannaCry' attack and IT sales boomed. Perhaps the spurt in business was because of sudden sales in products and services. Sometimes I wonder, if perhaps a vile conspiracy was going on, driven by financial greed. Whenever such incidents take place, I cannot help wondering, who exactly was to be blamed for such events. Is it the manufacturers of IT products or the "bad guys" (black hat hackers) or we the buyers of the systems! 

We cannot blame the "bad guys" for they do it simply because they are "bad guys". They could be doing it for financial gains or simply because they like the challenge or they get a thrill/kick out of causing damage and mayhem. Some of them claim that they were doing a favor to IT community by exposing software vulnerabilities. Whatever the reason may be, the fact is, very rarely is any of them caught. They will continue to hack systems and continue to thrive in their evil objectives.

WannaCry succeeded in its objective by exploiting a weakness in Windows Operating Systems. Microsoft Corporation has blamed NSA (National Security Agency) for allegedly creating and revealing “EternalBlue”, which is a hacking tool used to exploit the vulnerability in Windows Operating System. The tool was reportedly stolen and leaked to the public by the hacker group Shadow Brokers. The same tool was used by the hackers in WannaCry Trojan. 

I guess, this must be one of those exceptional circumstances when users of legacy systems operating under non-Microsoft platforms must have counted their blessings for staying with legacy systems!

Since the exploitation happened because of vulnerability in Windows Operating System, can Microsoft Corporation be blamed for the disaster of such mammoth proportion? Is it necessary to release software that requires, not dozens or hundreds, but thousands of fixes and patches through out the year? Why cannot more time be spent on the quality of software, on improving testing procedures and quality assurance procedures to reduce the number of fixes and patches? Do they have to go on releasing new versions in quick succession even before the current version stabilizes? 

We may ask any number of such questions without much use because there is nothing called "perfect systems". Software is built by humans and as they say "it is human to err".  Perhaps, when Artificial Intelligence comes of age, we can expect perfect systems but until then we have to live with faulty or not so perfect software.

Manufacturers of IT products cannot keep up with the "bad guys" who are always ten steps ahead. They adopt all sorts of nefarious (some call it intelligent) methods, even brute force to find ways of penetrating into software and plant their viruses. It is an amazing fact of life that humans achieve higher levels of competence and creativity when it comes to carrying out nefarious, illegal, criminal things.

Moreover, the manufacturers of IT products safeguard themselves through disclaimers which redeems them from legal responsibility, doesn't matter about moral responsibility. The bottom line is, technology companies are in business to make money, for profit. So they will primarily focus on growing their businesses.

That leaves us the "buyers of IT products" who are to be blamed for accepting any software by clicking "I Agree" button without even reading the disclaimer notice. Not many of us have the time and patience to read the disclaimers written through extensive legal jargon, written in small almost unreadable fonts. Even if we did take time to read it, what option is left other than to "accept"? Ultimately, we end up blindly clicking anything presented with "I Agree" button. 

This act of clicking "I Agree" button develops into such a habit that most people end up clicking and sharing anything that is posted on their inboxes and social media timeline. Whatever may be the argument, in the end, we the "buyers of IT products" end up paying a heavy price. That, unfortunately, is the sad fact of life.

It seems as if we are all caught up in a strange kind of vicious circle. If there were no threats to our systems, who would buy all that goes into protection of systems (software, hardware, services, frameworks)? 

If 100% fail safe and fault tolerant systems are built (which is highly unlikely), who will pay for upgrades? Then what will happen to technology businesses?  If perfect systems were built, who would want maintenance and other IT services? 

If people are stuck with systems that keep on grinding tirelessly day-in and day-out without any failure, then what excitement was left? What will happen to the thrill and excitement of that new software release, to that release of new model or brand? What motivation would be there for research and development? 

So in essence, we are stuck with the way things are now, the endless game of cat and mouse. And who ultimately pays the price? No prizes for guessing.

We the buyers of IT products are done for, stuck, cornered, doomed. They got us "hook, line, sinker", the day the first version of MS DOS was distributed for free several decades ago. Actually, there is nothing in this world which comes for free. Everything comes with a price tag. If not now, we pay the price some day later, and oh boy how we pay, we pay through our nose. 

I am reminded of a story of how they caught monkeys. According to the story, monkey hunters placed nuts in huge bottles which had very narrow necks. When a curious monkey chances upon the bottle, it grabs the nut but it cannot get its paw out. With the nut in its hand the fist becomes big, so big that it cannot pass through the narrow neck. The "poor gullible monkey" is caught in a hopeless dilemma. It doesn't want to let go of the nut because it wants it so badly. It is stuck with the bottle because it cannot move much because its paw is stuck in the bottle. And that is how the hunters catch the monkey. That just about sums up situation we find ourselves in.

Coming back to WannaCry ransomware, experts have been frantically trying to find the source behind it. Until few days ago, no one seemed to have any idea, though there were few theories. According to Neel Mehta, a security researcher at Google, the virus could have originated from North Korea. He claimed that there was proof of same signature between WannaCry and previous viruses they had used in other attacks. Though there was skepticism initially, experts have started accepting the possibility of such a theory.

While the world was reeling from this cyber terror, some people found the situation to be quite amusing. I was chatting about the ransomware with a work place acquaintance, who sounded as if he was reveling in some kind of euphoria. When I pointed out that obviously the hackers behind the virus didn't make much money out of the cyber attack, all the efforts have gone waste, for nothing. His amused response was "this is only a trial, just wait, the big one is coming soon".

I often wonder what creates such a euphoria in some people! While the whole world was in shock, guys like him are in jubilation which is particularly extreme if the victim happens to be America or Europe.

It takes me back to an incidence that happened many years ago, on 11th September 2001 to be exact. As I was driving home after work, I received a call from another work place acquaintance. As I took the call on the hands-free set, I heard the person having an uncontrollable fit of laughter "ha ha ha ha". I could hear the sound of news on his car radio. After he managed to control his laughter, he asked "have you heard the news?". I had no clue what he was talking about. I said  "what news? what happened?". 

He again went through another ecstatic fit of "ha ha ha ha" and said "Oh man, America is on fire". I couldn't quite grasp what exactly he meant. Was it a figure of speech? Was America really on fire? Then he said, "you listen to the news, you will know better what happened". He ended the call with another ecstatic guffaw "ha ha ha ha". 

By then I had reached home. As I tuned in to international news, I just stood there, totally dumb struck by what I was seeing on the television screen. The twin towers of World Trade Center were on fire, burning out like candles, people were jumping off the roof or through open windows. Thick, dark smoke was billowing from the burning towers, ash was flying all around what was left of the towers. People were running helter-skelter on the streets screaming "oh my God, oh my God". Dozens of firefighters were trying desperately to put out the fire, the firemen covered with ash, looking as if there was snow on their hats and dresses. There were screams of horror, pain and disbelief in the background. The whole thing looked like scenes from one of Bruce Willis movies and yet it was all happening in front of everybody's eyes. 

My mouth went dry and I felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. What I was seeing on the television screen was unbelievable. It was bone numbing horror! How could anyone in their right mind be having a laugh about such a terrible tragedy. It was something unfathomable.

Most funny thing is, these very same guys would run off to USA or UK at the drop of a hat and enjoy the freedom, the excitement and all the good things these countries offered. Even when it came to their children's education, their first preference would be USA or Europe. That is the unbelievable hypocrisy!

Friday, March 31, 2017

You hate it, you love it

The dust has finally settled down after some exciting game of cricket, albeit few ridiculous fracas and uncalled for aggression on and off the field. We can safely declare, cricket is definitely not a gentleman's game.

Yet again the country was in the grip of cricket fever for several weeks. The Indian team created history by winning back the Gavaskar Border Trophy for the 8th time by causing a major upset to the Australian batting lineup in the fourth test. The win was most incredible considering that India was comprehensively beaten in the first test match by 333 runs. It was a real feat for India to come back from that loss and win the trophy with an excellent display of bowling and batting.

As usual there has been torrents of accolades heaped on Virat Kohli and his "boys". It is not easy to explain the way cricket casts a magical spell on every (most) Indian. It is incredible how the nation unabashedly adores these "boys" and puts them on pedestal, treating them like Demigods. After all, it is just a game!

The immense hero worship not withstanding, the way they roll in money is mind boggling. Just a few days ago Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had doubled the Annual Retainership fee of Grade A players from 1 Crore to 2 Crores. Grade B players to 1 Crore and C grade players to 50 Lakhs. As if that was not enough, the match fee for Test, ODI and T20 are also doubled. It certainly pays to be an Indian Cricketer!

At times it makes you green with envy and anger at the amount of money being doled out just for playing a game. But then, you can't help loving the game. Cricket has that kind of mesmerizing power over us. We have a kind of a love-hate relationship with this game.

There could be some odd (extremely sane) people who may not have fallen victim to this unexplained obsession but overall, the bug has bitten most of 125 crores of Indians. 

Even the judiciary is not far behind. Lack of judges is the most stated reason for long pending cases, pending for 10, 15, 20 years, cases related to brutal rapes, molestation, brutal murders, hit and run cases, land disputes, and so on. But when it comes to cricket or movies, the courts somehow find time for quick deliberations.  

Recently, the Hyderabad High Court found time to pull up Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) for spending nearly 76 Lakh rupees for four days of breakfast and lunch during one-off test match played between India and Bangladesh. Makes you wonder, what exactly were they feeding them, pearls for breakfast, diamonds for lunch!!!

Soon the yearly money spinning mega event, IPL10, will start. Some of the "big boys" will be again rolling in crores of more money. It is gain 60 odd days of cricket festival. It will again be a grand display of lucre.

And here is the hot news! On the request of BCCI, a Committee of Administrators has been appointed by Hyderabad High Court, which will oversee the IPL10 matches being played at Hyderabad venues. Such is the power of this game called "Cricket". It has the power to make people, however poor, rich, famous, or powerful they may be, to prostrate before it, to toe it's line. You hate it, you love it!

Who really is minding the store!

Sometimes or the other, we all must have come across stories of people who claim to be gifted with clairvoyance. People who claim to have the power of communicating with souls of dead persons, through seances, through trance or using some other tools (Ouija Board, for example). 

It seems Ministry of External Affairs of India (MEA) is also gifted with the power to communicate with dead persons through Email! Incredible and fantastic as it may sound, it is not exactly true. 

An Indian man had recently died of heart attack in Saudi Arabia. The Vice President of Migrant Rights Council had registered grievance on behalf of the family of the dead person on the Online NRI Grievance Monitoring System of MEA (Madad Portal). In response to the registered grievance, the MEA promptly responded with an email addressed to the "dead person", informing him that a complaint has been registered on his behalf and as requested his mortal remains would be repatriated to India at the earliest! It may sound unbelievable, preposterous, ridiculously hilarious, but it seems, this is true!

Details of the email had come to light because copy of the mail was also marked to the person who registered the grievance (VP of MRC). According to him, this was not the first time such a thing had happened, similar incidences had taken place several times before.

It is not clear if the glitch is because of bad design of the MEA system (Madad Portal) or someone at MEA keeps goofing it up. In all likelihood glitch could have taken place because of either or both the reasons. 

The way IT glitches are taking place in the government organizations, it makes you wonder, who actually is running the government IT Systems! 

Here is another shocking news that highlights the sad state of affairs related to IT systems of a very important government organization. It was recently reported that the portal of the country's anti-graft watchdog Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had crashed on November 28 and "all data", I repeat, "all data" stored online till that date has been lost. What is more shocking and very hard to believe is, the data was never backed up!

So now, it seems that details of all cases of corruption in public offices are lost for ever. It is reported that National Informatics Centre (NIC) has been trying to retrieve the old data but without much success as of March 16 this year. It is also reported that, the CVC has been sending regret letters to all Right to Information (RTI) requests from citizens.

The whole thing sounds bizarre and outrageous. It is very hard to believe that one of the most important systems of the country for fighting corruption did not have a disaster recovery plan in place! The implication of this is very grave. It implies in very simple words that details of all cases related to corruption in public places is lost for ever. It is as if with a single incidence, all the people involved in graft have been granted reprieve from their crimes. As if someone said "abracadabra" and all signs of cases of corruption had vanished into thin air. 

The CVC data loss incidence raises several important questions. One such question is, was IT audit of the system ever carried out anytime internally or through an independent party? If yes, then how did they not discover absence of data backup which is one of the most basic requirement for business continuity? 

The whole thing sounds quite bizarre! What is more shocking is, there was hardly any discussion on this grave matter neither in the news media nor on social media. Hardly anyone had raised any question if this was really a system failure or human failure or result of some other more sinister stuff going on. 

It seems the shocking incidence of total data loss of CVC got buried deep under the most trending and raging news, Yogi Adityanath becoming Chief Minister of Uttar Predesh. For weeks now, this seems to be the most important topic the country has to deal with. It is very sad that people would rather indulge in muck heaping, trolling and other forms of sensational and vain activities rather than discuss matters of grave importance to the country. 

With such kind of misplaced priorities, is there much hope for the country? God help us if this is the quality of IT systems installed in the government organizations, and of people running them, and weird things that are taking place. We certainly need lot of prayers and good luck!