Google Supports A Worthy Cause in India Thursday, Aug 31 2006 

Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, South India, is a unique institution. Founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy 25 years ago, the hospital performs240,000 eye surgeries a year. It operates five hospitals in the state of Tamil Nadu, treating 1.8 million outpatientsannually. Its 140 doctors see 5,000 patients and perform 700 surgeries a day. Above all, the hospital offers free service to two-thirds of its patients.

Aravind’s innovative eye care deliverysystem is recognised as a model for other developing countries. Much importance is given to ensure that all patients are accorded the same care and high quality service, regardless of their economic status. As a result of a unique fee system and effective management, Aravind isable to provide free eye care to two-thirds of its patients from the revenue generated from the other third of its paying patients.

Named after “Sri Aurobindo, one of the 20th century’s most revered spiritual leaders”, the hospital lives up to its stated mission rooted in the spiritual tradition that teaches selfless service to fellow human beings.

This month the hospital received a distinguished guest, Google co-founder Larry Page, with offer of support.

The hospital and the Internet company are going to become partners…Google will provide IT services for teleconferencing, build a virtual academyfor online learning, and establish facilities for teaching in the rural villages. The goal is “to leverage the new technology and connectivity Google provides,”…

Page has volunteered to loan out Google engineers to work with the hospital’s technology team to build a robust IT infrastructure to handle the volume of patient data. He has also offered to train the hospital’s technicians at Google’s offices and provide Google Earth technology to map India’s large blind population. (Link)

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To Speak or Not to Speak English Sunday, Aug 27 2006 

I learn that it’s beneficial to babies if parents baby talk to them (as they do in their mother tongue) in a second language of their choice from early days. Some parents who are not conversant in a second language engage a tutor to do it.

In our case it’s a problem. We’re in a dilemma.

I had made up my mind to talk to our baby in English while Ani vowed to speak only Malayalam, our mother tongue. But when I tried it I discovered that I didn’t enjoy it for the simple reason that it didn’t give me any sense of fulfillment . On the contrary, baby talking to Pranav in my mother tongue is a highly rewarding experience for me. Gradually, talking to little Pranav in English began to sound comical to me and I stopped it altogether.

It’s certain from our life style that Prananv will learn Telugu (the language of Andhra Pradesh) and Hindi (our national language) only when he goes to school. He’ll learn them from his classmates and friends. He’ll be going to an English medium school, so naturally he’ll learn English at school. Since Ani and I are teachers, Pranav will get all necessary help from us both. Then we’ll feel comfortable speaking to him in English, because his lessons are in English and using English becomes an absolute necessity. One language that he’ll never need at school is his mother tongue!

If we neglect the mother tongue now, when he’s still a little baby, he’ll probably never acquire fluency in it and our native culture and its heritage will remain foreign to him forever.

But, is it advisable denying our son the opportunity to learn English from us from his early days? Should we put aside all other considerations and talk to him in English? Or shall we use both English and Malayalam (won’t it complicate his little mind)?


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The Visa Temple Sunday, Aug 27 2006 

We went to Chilkur Balaji Temple on Sunday, 8th Jan 2006. My wife had suggested the trip and I agreed right away.

The temple, which is said to be over five centuries old, is some 50km away on the outskirts of the city from our place.

I had heard of the temple and its popularity among the ambitious young people seeking higher education in foreign universities or better careers abroad. For this reason the Temple is nicknamed ‘Visa Temple’!

It’s said that anyone praying to the reigning Lord Balaji (Vishnu)at Chilkur Temple for a visa to a preferred foreign destination is granted their wish. The aspirant-devotees whose wishes have beenfulfilled offer ‘pradikshan (circumambulation )’ around the temple by chanting the Deity’s praise. A round of 108 times is the minimum. Some do ‘sayana pradikshan’ (rolling oneself on the ground around the temple), an extreme offering expressing their gratitude and devotion to the wish-fulfilling Deity.

Chilkur temple is without any Hindu temple architecture or art work.It’s just a small concrete structure with compound walls. Another small shrine close by devoted to Lord Shiva shares the compound and the devotees pray there as well.

It’s said that 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit the temple in a week. Fridays and Sundays are the busiest days at Chilkur .

On our return, after a few kilometers, I saw two huge hoardings of ‘Higher Education in Foreign Universities’ and ‘Visa Counseling Services’ erected prominently on both sides of the road meeting the main road ahead.

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An Affirmation of Diversity Friday, Aug 25 2006 

School children in India are required to mug up a lot of stuff about ‘unity in diversity’ from their school textbooks. Most of it is in Social Studies textbooks. The intention is to help children imbibe a sense of affinity with everyone overcoming barriers of identity and promote the idea that the one identy that binds them all together is the inclusive national identity-they are all Indian.

 Sashi Tharoor, India’s candidate for the post of the Secretary General of the U.N., holds the view that "we are all minorities in India". (Sashi Tharoor.com.WordPress Tag: Shashi Tharoor)

In his latest column in the Hindu he repeats his favourite argument again and cleverly uses the example of linguistic diversity in India to affirm his belief. The denomination of a rupee note is printed in eighteen Indian languages (recognized by the Constitution of India), each in its own script, on the back of the note so that any Indian from any region of India can feel proud of reading the denomination of the note in his language. A fine example of inclusive representation.

Although Hindi is India’s national language, the notion that Hindi enjoys majority status is false.

"The Constitution of India recognizes 18 languages today, but in fact there are 35 Indian languages that are each spoken by more than a million people — and these are languages with their own scripts, grammatical structures and cultural assumptions, not just dialects (and if we’re to count dialects, there are more than 22,000. over 35! Dialects 22,000!"

But when two educated Indians meet somewhere "it is in English that they establish each other’s linguistic identity"!

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Million Dollar Bloggers Friday, Aug 25 2006 

Some of these guys are not entirely unfamiliar to me, for I’ve read one or two of them. But I’ve never imagined that they are known as ‘mainstream bloggers (MSB)’ earning millions of dollars out of blogging. They’ve blogged their way into millionaires’ club.

Who are they and how many millions do they earn? See a few of the dozen or so with their figures:

Nick Denton (Gawker Media)—$3 million

Boing Boing—$1 million/year

Rafat Ali (Paidcontent.org—more than $1 million/year

Michael Arrington (TechCrunch)—$60,000/month ($720K/year)

Drew Curtis (Fark)—potentially $600K/month ($7 million/year)

Brian and Lisa Sugar (Sugar Publishing)—projected $15 million by 2008

(Link)

For the insightful article on which the above content is based go  here.

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A Grave Public Health Crisis Wednesday, Aug 23 2006 

Pesticola War 2.

The Govt of India has caved in to the MNC pressure. Coca-Cola and PesiCo are given clean chit by the health ministry.

This was actually expected. A Govt that cared for the health of its people,
especially children, would certainly have notified the standards that
the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has formulated and finalized in
response to the directive from The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) set up in 2003,
instead of dismissing the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment
(CSE) as lacking “scientific and statistically valid basis”.

“The current study was conducted by the same Pollution Monitoring Laboratory
of CSE, which had tested samples in 2003. It will be recalled that the
two soft drink companies had raised numerous issues regarding the
veracity of the CSE study and the capabilities of its laboratory staff,
which were scrutinised and debunked by JPC in its report. The JPC
endorsed the methodology and the findings of the 2003 CSE study. This
time, further improvements have been made. Firstly, the laboratory is
now accredited with ISO 9001:2000 quality management system. Secondly,
the laboratory has confirmed the presence of the pesticides using an
expensive and state of art equipment — the GC-MS. “We have fully
complied with the JPC directions and are even more confident about our
findings,” says Chandra Bhushan, associate director at CSE.”
(Link)

The CSE has been emphasizing from the beginning that their target is not
the two soft drink giants, but the Govt of India, which they felt had
been backtracking on the issue of notifying the safety standards. The
two soft drink MNCs have been opposing the move. The latest tests by
the CSE and the publication of their results on Aug 2, 2006 were
intended to sensitize the Govt and the public alike about the harmful
pesticide levels present in the popular colas and the health problems
they will cause to the consumers.

Suddenly the issue snowballed into a highly sensitive problem of national importance and a major crisis for the two domineering global brands.

The Govt’s clean chit is only going to worsen the situation for Coke and
Pepsi, which are seen by the public as the symbols of marauding MNCs.
It’s a new India where information spread like wild fire through scores of TV channels, numerous newspapers and phone networks.

One of the latest news reports reads: Several citizens’ groups including environmentalists and
parliamentarians on Wednesday joined hands and called for a ban on soft
drinks manufactured by MNCs Pepsi and Coke, which have been given a
clean chit by the government.”

The news report says that various citizen movement groups have “charted a three-month protest programme
throughout the country wherein they will go to schools and colleges in
both villages and cities to educate them about the hazardous effects of
consuming colas.

“The programme also includes a week-long complete blockade of all transport facilities for the cola products in November.

The protests are being organised under the banner “Coke Pepsi Quit India”.”

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Pesticola War Friday, Aug 18 2006 

The ongoing cola war in India is not the famous battle between the global soft drink giants for outsmarting each other for the domination of the market. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have joined forces in India to fight the public, the press, politicians, state governments and the judiciary.

The two want to challenge the allegation that their soft drinks contain harmful levels of pesticides. They want to prove to all concerned that the testing and quality control procedures for their products follow stringent global standards.

“The Coke you drink in India would be as clean as the Coke you get in Paris,” Coca-Cola Asia group communications director Kenth Kaerhoeg said.

A report published recently by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, observed that their tests on samples of soft drinks made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo contained “cocktail of three to five pesticides” exceeding 24 to 140 times the norms set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. They had tested 57 samples from 25 different plants of the two companies.

The report has kicked up a storm of protest which has resulted in six state governments banning Coca -Cola and PepsiCo products in and around Govt buildings and Govt funded schools. The state of kerala has imposed a total ban. The Supreme Court of India has ordered Coca-Cola to divulge its secret formula to Govt investigators.

Though the per capita consumption of carbonated drinks in India is among the lowest in the world, it’s a $ 2 billion market and the two soft drink giants have cornered 80-90% of it.

Can they afford to loose that market lead in a nation of 1 billion plus people?

Links: BusinessWeek Online, Asia Times Online, Time Asia Edition.

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The Birthday of a Deity Thursday, Aug 17 2006 

One of Hinduism’s most beloved Gods, Lord Krishna had his ‘birthday’ celebrated yesterday by his devotees in some parts of India. Others, like the state of Kerala in the South, celebrate the ‘birthday’ today. Since the tradition tells us that Lord Krishna was born at night, fixing the exact day for ‘Krishnashtami’ is sometimes tricky for the pundits. It depends on the almanacs they chart based on the Hindu calendar.

Myth, legend, faith and devotion combined with religious scholarship have gone into the making of the Krishna cult. Whether Krishna was a historical figure is not a question that troubles devotees. For them the divine personality of Krishna described in mythological narratives, devotional songs and other sacred literature, lived and redefined by saints and savants through ages matters most.

There are many temples, big and small, dedicated to Krishna. Though the deities in these temples are representations of Lord Krishna (or Vishnu, of whom Krishna is an incarnation), they are known by many different names. In fact, each deity has many names and different devotees prefer one or other names of their choice to make their supplication to the Lord. Vishnu Sahsranama celebrates one thousand names of Vishnu and devotees chant these names as part of their daily worship.

There are many modern movements and cults built around the divine personality of Lord Krishna. ISKCON is probably the most famous among them.

It is customary for devotees to dress and deck up their baby boys like Baby Krishna on ‘Krishnashtami’ and seek blessings from the Deity for the kids and the whole family. This is done as a part of the puja (worship) which consists of decorating the Deity, lighting lamps and incense sticks before the deity, offering many sweets, chanting prayers, etc.

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Terrorism and Pakistan Friday, Aug 11 2006 

Since the British Authorities succeeded in unravelling the ‘airline bomb plot’ and arresting the suspected Islamist terrorists in London, Pakistan is painstakingly portraying itself as playing a key role in the operation that averted a huge tragedy.

Pakistan wants to be seen by the international community as a front-line country fighting terror along with other nations and thereby gloss over the fact that its soil is still being used by terror groups.

Two of the arrests made in Pakistan in connection with the ‘airline bomb plot’ are Britons of Pakistani origin. Two of the British Muslims involved in London tube bombings last year had visited Pakistan prior to the bombings. Al Qaeda kingpins are believed to be hiding in Pakistan or on the Pak-Afghan border. Forces fighting Taliban in Afghanistan are aware of the bitter truth that Pakistan is slack in containing the Taliban menace.

And more than anybody else India knows that Pakistan is the breeding ground for Islamist terrorism. Because India is a victim of Pakistan instigated terrorism and has been left alone to fight it without any international support.

The latest major terrorist strike in India was on July 11th (7/11) this year. A series of seven well coordinated and precisely executed explosions in railway stations and on passenger trains that evening killed about two hundred people and injured thousands.

I don’t know whether Mumbai blasts made headlines in the rest of the world as the ‘airline bomb plot’ did.

But Pakistan held a series of press meets to deny its role and lecture India. Pakistan accused India of making baseless allegations and gave Indians some advice!

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Ways of Communicating Thursday, Aug 10 2006 

We are very good at choosing the right means of communication depending on the need and the choices available to us. And we have a surprising range of options available. How have these options affected the way we communicate?

A recent Swiss study conducted by Stefana Broadbent, who studies the economic and social aspects of telecommunications, says that:

Each new channel or media that appears slowly redefines the uses of the older existing media…: IM is currently redefining usage of short messaging; blogging is redefining the usage of e-mail; VoIP is changing the nature of a phone call. New patterns of communication emerge slowly, stabilize for a period, and then change again when new channels come along.

But how? See her explanation:

• The fixed phone is the collective channel: “a shared organizational tool for the whole household,” with most calls done in “public,” because they are relevant to other members of the household. Only 25% are done “privately,” from one’s bedroom or study.

• Mobile voice is “the micro coordination channel”: It is “the preferred channel for last-minute adjustment of plans or updates on where people are and what they are doing.” Surprisingly, “80 percent of all exchanges are with only four people.”

• SMS, or short messaging, is “for intimacy, emotions, and efficiency. Only the most intimate sphere of friends and family are contacted by SMS, and the content of the messages is often related to ‘grooming’ and emotional exchanges.”

• E-mail is “the administrative channel,” used to support online activities such as travel reservations and shopping, for coordination with extended social groups (clubs, friends, acquaintances), or for exchanging pictures, music, and other content with close social networks.

• IM and VoIP are “the continuous channels”: “users open an instant messaging channel for the day and then just keep it open in the background while they do other activities; they multitask—and step in and out of a conversation.” This starts to apply to VoIP as well (think Skype).

• Blogging is the broader networking channel: “Personal pages are often primarily a center of communication with friends and people online in general.”

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