Grandma's Tales

August 5, 2007

I’m not watching Bourne Ultimatum

Filed under: Games People Play,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 2:38 am

I watched the first two of the Bourne adventures and when I heard of the third, I said, “Bourne Again!” I wanted to see what Matt Damon was up to this time. “This week-end,” I thought. And then the story of Ashok Malhotra hit the headlines, making my plan redundant, even unnecessary.
Here is the Malhotra episode in brief. It is based on preliminary reports and all of them may not be accurate but this is the broad outline.
Fifteen years ago, Ashok Malhotra made a living dispensing chai-pani to members of the Delhi Assembly. He did this out of a broken down auto rickshaw. He still delivers (did till a couple of days ago) chai-pani to his customers at the spot. But oh boy, how the colour of the chai-pani had changed! And he got a lot more than a smile from his satisfied customers, most of whom were political vultures wearing the MLA label of legitimacy.
Today, this chaiwala has a fleet of luxury cars in his compound. All of them wear VIP number plates – something for which you need to pay a premium for legal ownership. He also owns property (real estate) worth Rs. 100 crores. His wealth is supposed to have grown out of the land deals he was involved in. When the DDA made land allotments, AM used his political connections and got several prime plots allotted to him under various names. Did he forge documents? May be.
Why would the politicos oblige him? He routinely lent his luxury sedans with VIP plates to MLAs for free use. See the perfectly symbiotic relationship here? The allotment of VIP plates for which AM probably didn’t pay a penny goes very deep – right to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s office.
Dikshit has claimed she doesn’t know Malhotra. According to another report, she explained that she signed papers granting VIP number requests on the recommendation of the transport ministry. She had done it in good faith.
Malhotra’s shenanigans came to light when the CBI was looking into irregularities in DDA land distribution. They suspected AM was a middleman in the DDA land scam. They landed at Ashok Malhotra’s house in north Delhi’s Mukherji Nagar looking for documents in connection with a DDA scam. And there they were treated to a line up of luxury cars with VIP number plates.
AM made his money in the land distribution deal. Why would he continue to make chai in the assembly compound? The answer is pure hearsay now, spewing out of disgruntled Congress elements, some pro and others against Dikshit.
Having filled his bank accounts (do they ever get filled?), AM was aiming for political influence. He wanted to play king-maker. The grapevine news is, he had given luxury limousines to 15 MLAs in a conspiracy to overthrow Dikshit as Chief Minister. (What are plain earthen plots when you can lay hands on political ones?) The CMs office got wind of it and the CM herself is supposed to have initiated proceedings against the “rebel” legislators.
All this is in speculation zone. The question here is simple: How did AM go from canteen owner to VIP contractor? How did he get these cars?
I wish someone would collect this and similar stories (Telgi, Harshad Mehta?) of roguery and thieving in high places. And sell them to Hollywood screenplay writers. Any day, they will make screen plays far superior
to anything the Bourne writers can think of – in intrigue, chicanery and the brazen exploitation of a system and the people it is supposed to benefit. Matt Damon and company can look forward to a lifetime of roles. Can they fight these villains and emerge unscathed? That will be interesting to watch.

So, now you know why I’ve dropped the idea of buying tickets for Bourne Ultimatum. Why would I squander dollars when I can have better stories in my backyard?


July 29, 2007

Who profited more? Kalam or the country?

Filed under: Games People Play,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:30 am

Not a kind question, but let it be.
I don’t know when so much was written about an outgoing Prez of India. To me it reflects the love and affection he gained while in office and the anguish that a lot of us (oh, so what if we are called the “SMS” group?) felt when he left it. Kalam is news. More column space for him than the first woman Prez of India.
But then what Kalam says is worth reporting.
“I’m going away with two suitcases,” he said in his somewhat emotional farewell speech. He added he would be carrying all the books he had brought with him to the R Bhavan. In words recognised by all booklovers he said, “They are mine.”
Turning on the teacher in him, he said, “Don’t accept gifts given with a purpose.” He then quoted words from Manusmriti that say accepting gifts extinguishes the divine light in us. Once again he touched on his pet subject – making India fully “developed” by 2020. “Let’s hope we will be a great country with moral values,” he said.
At Anna University in his teacher’s garb, he corrected a speaker who referred to him as President. “I’m a Professor now,” he pointed out. He insisted his considerable audience interact with him if they wanted him to proceed. “What will be the dynamics in the Parliament if the 33% quota for women is implemented?” he provoked.
At Gandigram University he once again wowed the students. Here is an excerpt from a report:
Kalam walked in to thunderous applause. And when he waved out to the students, as is his wont, is they went berserk with happiness, the decibel deafening. When he rose to speak after the prayers the noise again reached impossible levels. He asked if students in the last row could hear him, and only after they replied in the affirmative did he continue.”
Kalam then talked about PURA, a project he proposed in 2003, I think in the parliament. “PURA is providing urban amenities to rural areas,” he explained patiently. He invited the Gandhigram University and the TN government to take up the project. “Drinking water should be clean. The village should be clean. I once spoke on this in Parliament. I am climbing, where is the peak? I am digging, where is the wisdom? I am deep in the ocean, where is the knowledge?”
This is where I see Kalam’s gain in his stint as India’s Prez. From a rocket scientist with nose stuck in the drawing board, Kalam has metamorphosed into a very personable man of wide-spread wisdom. His duties as President have given him a broader view of India’s needs and made him think more deeply about the application of technology for the kind of people he grew up with in his small town. It has given him a more mature, enlightened perspective of the real India, the marginalised India, the India of the backwaters that could become a creative wave, given the opportunity. From up in the clouds his vision has turned downward and now traverses the remote, thorny bushlands of India’s outbacks.
See, he chose to talk of PURA to these Univ students, not of ICBM, not of Insat Z B. His view from the hill became different from the one from his DRDO lab.
Five years ago, Kalam went in as the first Scientist to occupy the R Bhavan. Now we have an ex-Prez with a mind that encompasses the harsh realities of life in India’s neglected villages. Now, relieved of the ceremonial duties of the high office, Kalam is ready to exhort people to see the nation as he does. A nation that is so capable, a nation that should think in terms of equitable opportunities engineered through better infrastructure and education.
So what if Kalam wasn’t thought fit for a second term at the Raisina Hill? In the final reckoning, the nation hasn’t lost out at all. The right people are listening to him. May be out of those students who squealed when he announced he would be teaching them a term, there will emerge politicos and government officials who will carry his words with them.

July 25, 2007

Kalam is a friend of disabled people

Filed under: My Other Avtaar — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:42 am

You must have heard of this quote: You must go when people ask “why” and not wait till they say “why not”. Well, Kalam is going and the whole nation (with some notable exceptions) is asking “Why?”
In a recent issue of Success & ABILITY, I carried three stories in which Kalam was the hero. Every disabled person that met him came away with the feeling that they had just met a long lost friend. It will be good to meet with him at Anna University. when he takes up his teaching post.
Here is the speech he delivered at an event to honour people with disabilities.
03-12-2005 : New Delhi
Empower the People with Special Abilities

I am indeed delighted to participate in the National Award function for the Welfare of people with special abilities. I realize that it is very important to recognize outstanding employees, employers, placement officers, individuals, institutions and creative disabled persons from different walks of life. My greetings to all the awardees, who have worked consistently for many years, to achieve this recognition. I would suggest the Ministry may request all the State Governments to nominate a Project Director or a full time commissioner who will be responsible for ensuring the filling up of 3% reserved jobs by suitable special ability candidates under the supervision of an overall coordinator in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. When I am with you I would like to share with you an incident which took place yesterday.
<a href="http://presidentofindia" rel="nofollow">http://presidentofindia</a>

My experience with a special boy
I met Shri Siddharth Jayakumar at Chennai airport, who was born in Chikmagalur in Karnataka in the year 1980. He gave me a presentation using a laptop. His Fatherýs name is Shri Jayakumar and his Motherýs name is Komala. When he was born the doctors did not know what he was suffering from. Later on, they said he is mentally retarded. After detailed examination, it was found that he was suffering from Cerebral Palsy. As a result of this disease he has difficulty in co-ordination between his mind and body. He studied in Vidyasagar at Chennai. Though he studied very well, he has to dictate the answers to another student while writing the examination. In spite of this process in the 10th class examination he had scored 80%. He says he could not score more just because he was not allowed to do the practical and could not draw the diagrams. In the plus two examination, he had secured an overall 90% and scored 100% in computer science. It is pertinent to note that he is the only boy to score 100% in this subject. Later he studied B.Com and scored 75%. He wanted to study Master in Social Work whereas he was given M.A. Economics in the Loyola College. He has scored 78% in his final examination. Shri Siddharth after completing his M.A., worked as a teacher in Vidyasagar itself. Later he attended Disability Job Fair organized by Ability Foundation, an NGO working for the welfare of the disabled. In the job fair he was selected by ABN Amro looking at his academic track record. ABN Amro has designated him as an Officer for verifying the export and import documents of the clients. To enable him to perform this job ABN Amro has trained him to learn the banking and import and export procedures of countries like Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. He is the first student to be employed with Cerebral Palsy outside Vidyasagar. He loves Mathematics. He has a mission of carrying out social work particularly for uplifting the life of special people with multiple disabilities. What a beautiful thought. The experience of Shri Siddharth clearly brings out the special strengths available with certain people with some disabilities. Our social system and the educational institutions must recognize the strengths of the individual and provide the opportunity for these flowers to blossom. Here I am reminded of Ramanujan’s early experience.

Friends, the genius in Ramanujan had to be discovered by Prof. Hardy. This has been cryptically remarked at that time by Poondi Namasivaya Mudaliar with anguish, “It is the destiny of our nation that an Indian brain requires an acknowledgement from a foreigner. Why our people are hesitant to appreciate such a personality.”

In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that it was Prof. Hardy who discovered Ramanujan for the world. Professor Hardy rated various geniuses on a scale of 100. While most of the mathematicians got a rating of around 30 with rare exceptions reaching to 60, Ramanujan got a rating of 100. There cannot be any better tribute to either Ramanujan or to Indian heritage. Thus, our past is replete with example of our not being able to recognize our wealth. I am narrating these instances to you so that the teachers, educational institutions, employers, and the societal organizations become sensitive to the strengths of people with special abilities and provide them an opportunity to lead a normal life not through sympathy but through empowerment.

Recently, when I addressed the school children in Delhi, they asked me that why there is no reservation for mentally challenged children. From the examples which I described I consider there is a merit in the observation made by the boy. I would consider that there is a need to examine the feasibility of providing certain reservations for certain types of mentally challenged children also so that they can be deployed on certain jobs which they can perform efficiently. Today I met a girl Aditi Dubey who is hearing impaired and had participated in the roller skating marathon competition and successfully skated between Delhi to Jaipur distance 256 kilo meters. She was the youngest among the 21 participants. She is doing all her activities beautifully. It shows that how a person can defeat the impairment and succeed.

In this connection, I appreciate the action taken by Sakthi Masala, Erode (Tamil Nadu), who are employing physically challenged persons for many of their production activities. Thirty-two per cent of its employees were physically challenged and they are also rehabilitating mentally challenged persons. I would request the other corporate and government establishments to emulate this model. Now I would like to talk about rehabilitation of visually challenged people.
Conquest of vision challenges through technology tools

Last year I had announced about the launching of the Speech Applet by 26th January 2005, during my participation of the awards ceremony for the people with special abilities in December 2004. I am happy to mention that the Speech Applet developed by my friends which provides a speech interface to my website for the visually disabled persons has been launched on 26 Jan 2005. It has been made available to all, through my website for download, so that it can be configured at their web servers to provide a speech interface for the visually challenged persons. It has been used by many institutions that are imparting training to the visually challenged persons for making the content available and accessible. It has also been used by visually challenged individuals. On an average there are 8000 hits on this site and around 4500 used the applet for reading the text. You can download the Virtual Vision software from

In addition, I would like to mention that Arushi, a NGO based in Bhopal has made Braille of the English version of Wings of Fire and Ignited Minds and they are giving to the blind schools at the cost price. Similarly, Shri Gandhi Kannadasan has made the Braille of the Tamil version of Wings of Fire and is supplying free to blind schools and social organizations. Arushi has also made the Braille of 140 exhibits of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Children’s Art Gallery in both English and in Hindi. We have made the Tactile Garden with Braille board to explain about the herbal plants and flowers. Over thousand children are visiting this garden every year.

As a next step, we are working with the R&D institutions to integrate the speech interface with the open source operating systems in English and other Indian languages. In order to make it available in a cost effective manner, we are working towards providing a speech interface through the indigenously developed handheld PC to visually challenged persons. These hardware, software integrated system can be called as Virtual Vision. The government agencies and various private organizations can take up this mission of development and production of Virtual Vision. Now I would like to talk about the problem of hearing impaired.
My Experience with Cochlear Implants

When I visited Vikram hospital in Coimbatore few years back, I realized technological intervention is possible for bringing back hearing to the deaf and dumb children by implanting a device called Cochlear Implant. Dr. Aruna Viswanathan and her You must go when people ask “why” and not wait till they say “why not”. team demonstrated to me about the whole process of implanting the device and the subsequent training procedure to the children. I saw 4 year old deaf and dumb children. After one of month of implanting and training they spoke out few words legibly. After 6 months of computer-aided training, I have seen the children speaking normally. This touching scene moved me. I felt that I have to work to bring the cost of cochlear implant down, so that thousands and thousands of children in India and abroad can afford to have this device and lead a normal life.
Beautiful Mission of Corporate Industry

The people who are otherwise healthy in body and mind get isolated because of deafness. Helen Keller says if ýI were to be born again with physical impairment, I would prefer to be blind rather than deaf, as deafness isolates moreý. Hence it is essential to empower each child or adult with profound hearing impairment with cochlear implant as the child will be able to hear its father and mother apart from music. I would like to narrate one experience, which took place on 2nd October 2005 at Rashtrapati Bhavan. To mark the 60th Anniversary of Mahindra & Mahindra, the management decided to donate 60 cochlear implants to hearing impaired. I inaugurated this programme. The other corporate groups and social institutions spread in different parts of the country can also participate in this noble societal mission and donate a certain number of cochlear implants to the needy patients. The Government on its part can provide 150% weighted deduction of such contribution for purposes of computing income tax.
Indigenous Manufacturing of Critical support systems

Some development activity has been initiated to design, develop and manufacture low cost cochlear implants in the country. This should be taken up in a mission mode by at least two groups and we should aim at bringing out the basic cochlear implant without frills. For example, I understand that the number of electrodes needed for realizing reasonable audibility is just seven whereas manufacturers use ten, sixteen and twenty two. Electro Physiologists for ears confirm that the audibility improvement beyond seven electrodes is very marginal and the designers should keep this in mind. I am sure the scientists, engineers, and the medical community of our country will be able to take this challenge and bring out a cochlear implant within the next two years costing less than Rs. 1 lakh. In this direction, I appreciate the initiative taken by DRDO. We must succeed in this development, so that we can offer this product to many needy patients, spread in different parts of the world. I would request the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to catalyze this programme. Here I would like to read out the contents of a e-mail received from Mr. Sudhir.
“I am the father of a profound hearing impaired boy who got his cochlear implant (CI) at the age of two and a half years. CI has saved my child life and two years after his operation now he has joined Eurokids’ world famous pre-school along with the normal children. He is studying two languages simultaneously. I humbly request your good offices to issue necessary orders to
(a) Finance – for abolishing the custom duty and sales tax for import of implants and notifying the income-tax exemption to the corporate who donate CIs.
b) Health – to approve the CI as an accepted treatment and include it in the CGHS list. They can work out the details in consultation with the CI group of India Surgeons.
c) Commerce – to issue a circular to the corporate sector to consider the CI reimbursement cases sympathetically. It can also invite the cochlear manufacturer to set up production in India.”
I am reading out this e-mail so that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment can take appropriate action for helping the people with profound hearing impairment.
Now I would like to discuss my experience in Loni during October 2005.

My Experience in Loni (A Rural Development Complex)
Pravara Medical Trust of Loni (Maharashtra) decided to fit atleast 1000 Floor Reaction ORthosis (FROs) to polio affected patients. Dr. Narendranath of NIMS, Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Executive (Brahmos), Chairman (ALIMCO), Pravara Medical Trust and NGOs worked together and arranged screening of over 3200 polio affected people around Loni village during the month of August 2005. On screening they found that 1200 people will benefit through the fitment of FROs. Dr. Narendranath and his team went to Loni arranged the training of local doctors and created a local FRO fitment centre. With the supervision of NIMS doctor, the local doctor commenced the fitment of FROs during September and completed the fitment of 1000 cases well before the end of September. I met all the people fitted with FROs in an interactive meeting at Loni on 15th October 2005. It was a beautiful feeling to see the smiles in the faces of children and adults with a newly fitted FROs. The creation of a fitment centre will enable Loni doctors to maintain the existing patients and also help fitment of FROs to new patients needing such fitment. Conclusion

Some time back, the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Hyderabad, had conducted a sports meet for all the physically & mentally handicapped children at National Stadium Hyderabad. In one race.., Nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 mtr race. At the starting signal, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, others except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back……every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked their arms together and walked together and finally reached the destination. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course. I would say that, you do not have to slow down. Rather by helping difficult areas, the feed back will make you go faster. If you pass this on, we may be able to change our hearts as well as someone else’s. “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle”.

Once again I congratulate all the award winners and wish you all success in your mission of bringing smile on the faces of all the people with special abilities in the country through technology.

May God bless you.

July 23, 2007

New info on Kalam

Filed under: Games People Play,Government — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:17 am

This information came to me from a friend. The writer quotes The Indian Express as the source, so I guess it is authentic. Read on…

Now another revelation — so far kept under wraps at Rashtrapati Bhavan (under presidential orders): In May 2006, President Kalam’s relatives from the south decided to descend on him (as relatives tend to often do). On instructions of the president they were welcomed by his staff at the railway station, and were looked after right up to the time they departed. But the Controller of Household was under strict instructions to keep a meticulous account of all the expenses incurred on behalf of the relatives — all 53 of them. Not once was an office vehicle used for any of them.
It was made clear by the president that he would pay — not only for the transport of all his relatives to and from Delhi, and also within Delhi, he would also pay for the various rooms occupied by them at Rashtrapati Bhavan and the food that was consumed by them — the rooms at the prescribed rate, the food on the basis of expenses actually incurred.
When his relatives left after a week’s stay, the president was of course sad to see them all go, but he was also lighter in his pocket: the total expenses debited to his personal account was Rs 3,54,924! As we practising lawyers often say in court “the facts speak for themselves”: President Kalam has set a high benchmark of rectitude in public office — worthy of emulation. And as a living embodiment of ‘Transparency-National’, his parting words of advice were: “Don’t accept gifts.” Delicately put: what he meant to say of course was: “Don’t accept gifts for favours in return.”
Of him it can be said, as Winston Churchill once said about his departed king: “He nothing common did, or mean, upon that memorable scene.” Memorable scenes are rarely re-enacted, but they are always remembered.

– Source: Indian Express
In this context, I remember a conversation with some friends. One of them asked, “The Prez nominee (at that time) is travelling all over the country to canvass votes for her election. Who pays for her travel and stay?”

July 22, 2007

Grammar – 35 Punctuation

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:29 pm

Here is a request from a reader.
I have a request. Could you have a post on good punctuation? I consider myself a fairly decent writer, but there are some aspects of punctuation that bother me, mostly regarding quotation marks. For example, let us say that I quote a phrase as part of a question. Also, the phrase forms the last part of the question. Conventional schools of thought indicate that the punctuation mark must also be within quotes, and, to the best of my ability, I try to stick to that. However, a logical dilemma arises. Putting a question or exclamation mark within the quote somewhat modifies it, and may not represent the quote in the manner intended by the writer. I haven’t found any Internet-based sources that indicate what should be done in such a situation, and it leaves me in a quandary.
So, if you could help me out, that’d be fantastic
Here goes, NS.
We will take up quotation marks this time, specific to your question. As you point out, Q marks should preserve the intention of the writer. That should be our foremost aim.
[1] Q marks are used to “set off material that represents spoken or quoted material”, right?
[2] Q marks are also used to highlight titles of short stories, poems and articles.
We in India, have a problem with Q marks simply because we were educated to follow the British system of punctuation (which follows logic) and now read a lot of American writing where the punctuation is not always logical.
The simple rule in the US system is:
Full-stops and commas go inside Q marks. Period. Too bad if this is not logical to that sentence. Example: He said to her, “I love you.” In England this would be:
He said to her, “I love you”.
I now follow the US system for periods and commas within quatation marks. I have had to, since for a while, I taught American students how to write essays.
Example: “You asked me a question,” she said. “And here is my answer.” See that?
What about question marks and exclamation marks?
These are inside the Q marks. the following paragraph I found somewhere makes it clear. Note the marks carefully.
“I don’t care what you think anymore,” she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean?'” Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she were elsewhere.
“You know darn well what I mean!” Edward huffed.
“Have it your way,” Alberta added, “if that’s how you feel.”
What do we find in this conversation?
[1] Q-marks usually go in pairs.
[2] They become single when you need them for a quote within a quote. (“I already spoke to Hari,” she said. “And he said, ‘I care a rap!'”) I find placing three Q marks together a bit awkward and try my best to avoid such sentences.
[3] Question marks and exclamation marks are placed within the Q marks.
[4] Commas are used to set off direct speech. When the direct speech continues after the mention of the speaker, the sentence begins with a lower case letter. (“I was there,” she said, “and saw what happened.”)
[5] Place a full stop (period) and continue the speech and you need to start the speech with a capital letter as you always do. (“I don’t agree with you,” she said. “Because I know it is not true.”)
Now for quotes. When you are quoting someone we know as against some fictional character, you have no business to take liberties with punctuation marks. You just quote verbatim, period. If the quote is: Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!, you reproduce it with the punctuation marks. Your sentence would be:
Rousseau said, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” If you want to add, say, an exclamation/question mark to a quote, you write the quote, place all the punctuation marks original to the quote, set it off with the quotation marks  and then add what you want. Look at this: If your sentence is,
Did Rousseau say, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”?, that’s how it goes.
Do I answer your question, NS? Please ask for any clarification you need.

July 16, 2007

New words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 5:43 am

The latest edition of Merriam-Webster dictionary, used widely in the US, will go on sale this September. Not news except it will have an additional 100 words giving legitimacy to new ones used in pop culture, technology and current events. For example, the next time a show-off uses the word “ginormous” you can nod your head wisely, rush to the latest copy of M-W and look it up. “Ginormous” is a combo word, taking bits from “giant” and “enormous” obviously meaning ‘larger than “giant” and “enormous” put together’. Another hype word for a hype-or-die society.
Of interest to all of us is the word “Bollywood”. I guess America can no longer ignore the power and influence of Bollywood. And the dictionary recognises the fact the word is mentioned by more than a handful of people. If you think the word had to be included because of the Bollywood crazy Indian population in the US, think again. The bump-and-grind Bollywood movies are now watched by American-Americans as well. Bollywood dancing is big here and is used by fitness instructors. A lot of people feel “Bollywood” is not a flattering one, looking as it does like a poor cousin of Hollywood, but it is too late now to worry about it! “Bollywood” is legit!
A few more words from the 2007 edition:
Crunk: a style of southern rap music
DVR: abbreciation for digital video recorder
Gray literature: hard-to-get written material
IED: abbreviation for improvised explosive device (the kind a bankrupt terrorist who doesn’t have big backing might use or one the police can’t identify)
Microgreen: a small portion of any standard salad plant (say, a bud of lettuce)
smackdown: a kind of contest in show wrestling
speed dating (Surprising this word hadn’t found its way into the dictionary): a quick, round-robin way of meeting people
Sudoku: Yes, the word is in! Call it Japanese soft appeal! Have you tried this Japanese number puzzle?
Telenovela: A Latin-American soap opera. These are supposed to be the fathers and mothers of the TV serial-killers we are all addicted to.

July 13, 2007

On the masterplan for Chennai

Filed under: Consumer caution,Games People Play,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 7:43 pm

Reader Jayasimhan T writes this note. Thank you Mr. Jayasimhan, for this informative comment. From all this, it is clear a lot of work is yet to be done to create a masterplan that will benefit all.
We should certainly appreciate the efforts taken by ‘The Hindu’ for the discussion and The Hindu’s aim towards creating a better society.
Though there was sufficient information from CMDA – there was no opportunity for discussion. We would have been glad if they could have provided the opportunity to discuss the master plan, which was the very purpose of the meeting.
I am an Architect. I have the following points to convey regarding the Draft Master Plan.
1. First of all, CMDA is incompetent to draft a Master plan. The correct approach would be to get town/city planning solutions from the best professionals across the world (in this field) and thereby arrive at drafting a suitable Masterplan.
2. A vision from hard-core professionals is needed for this purpose. Govt. officials are unsuited for this purpose – their (CMDA’s only job would be coordinate this and try to get the best professional input).
3. Architects or town planners from the US, UK, etc. who have in-depth knowledge of cities and its growth shall be able to deliver wonderful solutions taking into account the likely future technological advancements. They will study our socio-cultural context and then arrive at solutions. Moreover there are so many good town planners within India too, especially in Delhi.
Important requirements for this MasterPlan which demands to be provided:-
1. Land banks for the following public purposes:-
a) Huge Lung spaces within cities – which is the most essential requirement to fight pollution.
b) Land for Schools and Colleges – Educational requirements.
c) Land for Hospitals – Health requirements.
d) Land for Parks and Playgrounds – Recreational requirements.
e) Land for Temples, Mosques, churches, etc. – Religious requirements.
f) Land for Govt. offices.
g) Land for Community purposes – Community halls, etc.
h) Land for theatres.
i) Land for public shopping complexes and markets. Etc.
The above lands will have to be provided by the Government – no private promoter can be expected to provide these facilities.
These are social requirements – where the land has to be free (or very cheap) so that different strata of people (including poor) will be facilitated.
Too much of reliance upon private development will lead to chaos – as their only intention is profit – whereas a city does not necessarily run on profit motives.
2. Trees and vegetation – nowadays one can find that builders don’t plant huge shade giving trees (as they consider it a maintenance problem – (falling leaves, crows, etc.) – whereas trees are most important for climate control and exchange of O2 and CO2. Govt. should compel to provide shade giving and other useful trees.
3. Contour – the contour levels are very important in any Masterplan. Natural courses of water and water bodies, water channels should be recorded and further development should be based on contour restrictions – otherwise there would be flooding in developed areas where water will not find a way to go. This itself is a big topic and the CMDA, Corporation are presently floundering on this subject greatly. A great, great lot could be saved, if only there is some professional input in these agencies’ work.
4. Unapproved layouts – this causes real mess in city planning. The city should grow as planned. This is the curse of any city which allows it. The entire Master plan will fail if this is allowed or recognized. Strict action to enforce Masterplan should be taken.
There are several important issues as above, which can be resolved only by dedicated Town Planners who can give a Good form for the Masterplan to create a much better and lovable city.
N.B.:- Since, it is a huge topic, I’ve highlighted only some salient aspects. I’m cutting short my note for brevity. In short, one can say that the Draft Masterplan prepared by CMDA is severely lacking and hence should be scrapped in entirety.
The best City planning consultants from across the world should be involved in preparing the Masterplan for such a Culturally rich city like Chennai.
Compiled by:-
Jayasimhan T

July 12, 2007

Masterplan II for Chennai

Filed under: Consumer caution,Games People Play,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:22 am

First a note on Darmesh. Attend any effort to save abandoned animals, trees and people in Chennai, you will find Darmesh there. This extremely intelligent, exceptionally hard-working and very young man has taken it upon himself to voice the rights of the voiceless. I never found out what he does for a living. But I saw him working with People for Animals, at a meeting to spread information on RTI and now taking an active part in spreading information on the Chennai Master Plan. Here is a mail from him.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s (CMDA) second draft master plan will decide the fate of Chennai city and its residents for the next two decades. Even while a sham consultation is ongoing on a shoddy master plan, the city’s landscape is set to become even more hostile for economically weaker sections through the JNNURM projects. Nearly Rs.44,000 Crores will be invested over the next 8 years for various infrastructure and developmental schemes/projects. The majority of this money will go towards widening roads and building flyovers for automobile owners, while bus services, education, and other infrastructure that will benefit all citizens will receive very little funding. The plans primarily supposed to benefit the poor of the city have however fallen short of its expectations. Most of the data is nearly a decade old and in some cases even manufactured to fit into the proposed ideas under the plans.

What will Chennai look like, who will the new ‘development’ benefit and whom will it harm, who will be heard and who will decide what’s the best for us? Agencies representing the software industry, the real estate sector and other corporate houses have made clear demands and presented vision papers to the Government. But no such consolidated vision has emerged from the city’s working class communities, the poor or those who work amongst them.
What would the city need to look like if the aspirations of the city’s poor are to be addressed? What forms should consultations take to assimilate and articulate these aspirations? What role could community groups, voluntary organisations and public-spirited individuals play in enabling this process? These questions define the agenda of the meeting proposed to be held on 14 July, 2007. We invite your organization to participate in planning the future course of the campaign and to challenge the JNNURM and the CMDA Master Plan in its current anti-poor form.
The agenda for the meeting:
Session I (1:30pm to 2:30pm):
Understanding the JNNURM and the CMDA Second Master Plan –
Mr. Louis Menezes and Mr. Devasahayam.
Session II (3:00pm to 4:30pm):
Presentations on areas of prime impact:
i) Shelter and Evictions – Ossie Fernandes, Human Rights Foundation
ii)Transport – Parimala Jayanthi, Penn Thozhilargal Sangam
iii)Health – Dr. Rakhal Gaitohnde, Community Health Cell Chennai
iv) Water – R. Srinivasan, Pudu Vellam
v)  Livelihood – Sujata Mody, Penn Thozhilargal Sangam
vi) Environment – Nityanand Jayaraman, Journalist and Environmentalist
Session III – Opportunities (4:30pm to 6:00):
Discussion with panel; moderated by Dr. Rakhal Gaithonde, Community Health Cell, Chennai.
DATE: 14th July 2007, Saturday
TIME: 1:30pm to 6pm
VENUE: Madras Institute of Development Studies
79, Second Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar
Chennai – 600020
For more information Contact Dharmesh Shah 9444416546.
The Hindu published a critique on the first draft of the Master Plan. It was written by Bharat Jayraj of Consumer Action Group. He too had highlighted the facts raised by Darmesh here.   

July 10, 2007

Rape of my city 4

Filed under: Games People Play,Government,Language,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:28 pm

saidapet_forest2_reduced_resolution-1.jpgThe time has come to write about it. The Civil Society Group consisting of members extremely concerned about the lovely avenue trees being cut in Chennai city, allegedly to make way for a better flow of traffic, met last Sunday. After the merciless cutting of trees in front of Raj Bhavan, apparently for road expansion, a member of this group used the RTI to find out how many trees would face the axe in the coming months. The meeting was to discuss the information she got. Read the result of that RTI first.  I corrected the mistakes as much as I could, but you get the idea.
Chief Engineer (General) & Public Information Officer,
Corporation of Chennai, Chennai.
Dr. Suchitra Ramkumar
Yellow Building
Damodar Gardens
(The School-KFI Campus)
Besant Avenue
Chennai –600 020.
C.E (GI).C.No.A 1/449/06 Dated: 24-5-07
Sub:- The Right to Information Act furnishing details of mass felling of trees — Reg.
Ref:- I) Letter from Dr. Suchitra Ramkumar, dated 24.11.2006 Requesting to furnish details.
With reference to your letter cited above, it is to informed that the
details requested by you are enclosed herewith.
I) Details of any letter circular received seeking action on trees.
i) Letter received from Joint Commissioner of Police Traffic Greater
Chennai, Vepery Chennai — 7.
ii) Ref. No.C.No.347/JCTlCampus/06 3.8.06
iii) No. of Trees about 793 situated in all the Zones of Chennai ‘
Corporation (List enclosed)
iv) Action requested to take action to removal/transplant trees to ensure free flow of traffic and to avoid accidents.
v) No. of trees (List enclosed) & location. Details regarding the cutting of trees in Besant Nagar. As per the orders of Commissioner based on the remarks received from Zonal Ofticer-X, 5 Nos. of trees were earmarked for relocation in Besant Avenue and two odian trees were pruned meant for transplantation on 12.10.2006.
Public Information Officer & Chief Engineer (General)
Sunil Kumar, IPS
Joint Commissioner of Police
Traffic, Greater Chennai, Vepery, Chennai – 7
The Commissioner, Corporation of Chennai. Chennai -3
C.No,347/JCT/Camp/06 Dated 03,08,06
At several places in-Chennai City there are trees, which lie on the road. This straight away cuts upt 03 mts of !he road at many places, thus reducing the space for the movement of vehicles, The trees itself have been found to be a cause of accidents, including fatal ones many a time.
2. With a view to provide safe travel as well as to increase the road space in the already congested roads, it is requested that trees which lie in the middle of !he road (list enclosed) may kindly be transplanted/ removed at the earliest to ensure free flow of traffic. It is therefore requested that early action may kindly be taken in this regard.
Yours fai!hfully,
Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic, Greater Chennai

SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Road Near Post Office 2
2) Road Near H3 Police Station 1
3) Tondiarpet High Road Near M.R.Nagar Market 3 
4) Tondiarpet High Road Near 2 K.S.Kalyanamandapam 1
SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Vepery Hiqh Road Near Jain Temple 1
2) Jermiah Road in front of Girinetra Schoo1 1
3) Perambur High Road in front of Railway Station 1
4) Perambur High Road in front of Door NO.8/1B, Saraswati Square 1
5) Perambur High Road in front of NO.100/79 Bharathi Bus Stand 1
No. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Tailors Road Door NO.14 1
2) NM Road in front of Omsakthi Travels 2
3) NM Road in front of D.No.31/138 2
4) NM Road infront of D. NO.132 1
5) NM Road in front of D.No.51, Perivar Plaza 2
6) NM Road in front of D.No.106/64 2
7) NM Road in front of D.No.126 & 128 Spencer 2
Food world
8 NM Road in front of 84 Trinitv Gas 2
9 1st Avenue D.No.30 & 30A 2
10) 1st Avenue D.No.K-24 1
11 1st Avenue D.No.33 & 34 2
12) 1st Avenue near Chintamani 1
13 1st Avenue D.No.D1/3 Chandra Medicals 2
14) 1st Avenue Valli Dental Clinic 3
15 3rd Avenue Near GRD 1
16) 2nd Avenue Near TNSC Bank 1
17 6th Avenue near Anna Naqar Police Station 1
18 100 Feet Road ODD18th Main Road 1
19 100 Feet Road ODD.19th Main Road 1
20 VinaVaqaDUramtowards Games VilaDe D.No.54 3
21 Games Viliage – ODDUTI Bank 1
22) Near Andal Alagar Kalyanamandapam 2
SL No. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1 Dr. Swamy Sivananda Salai 5
2 Bells Road 4
3 Walajah Road 8
4 Whites Road 9
5 Cathedral Road 17
6 Royapettah High Road 2
SLNo. Name of the Road, No. of Trees
1 Ethiraj Salai 6
2 Pantheon Round about 2
3 Haddows Road 3
4 Nunaambakkam High Road 7
5 Kodambakkam, High Road 1
6 Matralii1Ca.Duram Road 2
7 Valluvarkottam High Road 3
SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Venkatanarayana Road near Burkitt Road In. 4
2 Burkitt Road X Dandapani St., In. 1
3) Burkitt Road infront of Andhra Bala Bhavan 1
4 Burkitt Road In front of Hotel Sudha 1
5) Venkatanarayana Road In. in front of Lion Hospital 1
6 North Usman Road in frontof Saradha School 1
7 North Usman Road in front of Sundar St., 1
8 Thiagaraja Road in front of Bala Bhavan 1
9 Anna Salai Anna Rotary Nandanam 18
10 TTK Salai Music Acadamy to Park Sheraton 35
11 GN Chetty Road. Anna Rotary to Vanavil 4
12 Chamiers Road 8
SI.No. . Name of the Road No. of Trees
1 Sardar Patel Road from Rai Bhavan to Halda 29
2 Anna Salai from Soic to Little Mount 5
3 From Little mount to YMCA 15
4 Velachery Main Road 22
Right. Did you take a good look? Once the saws have done their job, T.Nagar is going to look naked. 35 trees off TTK Road?
Look, I’m all for free flow of traffic. Who isn’t? But I have a few questions on the need to cut all these trees.
[1] Do all these trees jut into the roads?
[2] Do they have to be removed completely? I mean a little bit of pruning (as they do so well in Denver) won’t be enough to solve the problem?
[3] Ours is a hot city and driving (riding bikes) through many of the roads mentioned above is a pleasant experience simply because of the canopy offered by the avenue trees.  Should we lose this?
[4] Most importantly, how about those who walk?  Are the rights of vehicle drivers more  important than the rights of those who walk? The Corporation wants to make driving easier, more comfortable. How about the comfort of those who prefer to walk? Is walking a sin in this city?
[5] Scores of people do small businesses under the trees. All of us buy stuff from them. Do they have rights?
[6] The point about trees causing fatal accidents. Trees do not cause accidents. People’s carelessness causes accidents. People are hit by vehicles, there are head-ons where there are no trees. And there will be accidents even after all these trees are gone. What will the Traffic Commissioner do then? Stop vehicles from plying?
[7] Transplant: Where are all the transplanted trees? What is the percentage of their survival? Does anyone know?
[8] How will the cutting of 35 trees on TTK Road improve traffic there? You mean, the trees are gone and hey presto, the traffic flows smoothly? Or is it for building a flyover?
[9] And this question: The number of vehicles keeps increasing. Very soon even tree-less roads will be choked. What then? Is this a permanent solution?
[10] And this dark question: Who gains from the cutting of trees? I have a reason for asking this question.  A friend took a photograph of Sri Ram Colony near the Saidapet Court last week. You can see the how trees have been chopped off there. How come this area has not been mentioned in the RTI note? Are there any laws governing the felling of trees in theis city?
The CSG is preparing a petition in answer to this RTI. They have been consulting with experts on this matter. In the meantime, Exnora is organising a meet on “Global Warming”. Here are the details.
Dear friends, EXNORA is organising a meeting to find out measures for combating Global Warming. This is a mammoth meeting where children from different schools are participating; it is learnt that buses will be arranged for transport of children  This meeting is scheduled to be held at The Nehru Stadium on 20 July from 3-00 p.m. to 6-00 p.m..This is likely to be chaired by Shri Stalin. You can get more details of this meeting from Shri Ranganayakalu Cell 92834 13467 or #99410 07064 or you can speak to shri Nirmal #98400  34900.
please consider making some placards for this meeting and obtain signatures of children as we discussed the other day.
Sincerely M. SUNDARARAMAN Tel#24461660
So the minister is going to address a meeting on Global Warming! Pinch the baby and rock the cradle! Cut the trees and attend (help organise?) a mammoth meeting on Global Warming! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

July 8, 2007

The Taj Mahal is a “new” wonder!

Filed under: Consumer caution,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 7:37 am

There wasn’t much doubt that the Taj would make it in the end. It has been a leading contender in this particular poll since early 2006. So now the Taj Mahal is one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It sits there along with Peru’s Machu Pichu, Jordan’s Petra, Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer, Mexico’s Chichen Itza (pyramid), The Great Wall of China and the Colosseum of Rome.
I have very mixed feelings about this. I don’t know what the yardsticks are for choosing a “wonder”. Is it the size? The difficulty level of building it? Is it the workmanship? Looks like this time popularity was the major consideration. Popularity and the population.
Let’s look at how the choosing was done.
The campaign to find the “new” wonders of the world was launched in 1999 by a Swiss gentleman called Bernard Weber. I guess he started this non-profit organisation, New7wonders and sent out messages asking people all over the world to nominate “wonders” for the contest to choose the 7 best. It seems 200 nominations reached the officials organising the poll. After scrutiny, the most-voted-for 21 nominations were short-listed. This list was announced in the beginning of 2006.
Do you see the problem here? A lot of people might have voted for their nominees repeatedly. The organisers admitted there was no way (at least no foolproof way) to stop this. For nearly a year and a half people have been voting for their favourites.  You could e-mail your preference through various websites or you could SMS your choice.
In a glittering ceremony today, the winners were announced. The ceremony was held in a soccer stadium in Lisbon, capital of Portugal.  Nearly 50,000 were thought to have been present to cheer the winners.
A 100 million people cast their votes, boasted the organisers. And that made the poll worldwide and gave large groups of people a say in what the new 7 wonders should be. Pretty democratic, you would say, considering the ancient wonders were chosen by a single writer.
So which structures had a fair chance of winning? Those in countries with large populations; those in countries with a large telecom penetration; with large numbers of educated people; with a globalised population… guess the rest.
Significantly, UNESCO has distanced itself completely from this selection. It is a popular poll, not a scientific one, whatever that may be.
Yes, I’m happy the Taj made the cut, however informal, unofficial this poll may be. There are now 7 new wonders, and the Taj Mahal is there. Bipasha Basu and Ben Kingsley announced the name. The Mayor of Agra went on stage and received the prize, the plaque, that says so. May be those who want to build commercial corridors around this mausoleum will think twice before embarking on a similar project. May be there will be more visitors to view the Taj in the coming months.
I have a couple of niggling thoughts, though. Will it pursuade the powers that be to do something about the surroundings of this new wonder? Will Agra get a serious face-lift now? Will it now be a clean, well-drained city of gardens and well-laid roads? Will it have better, cleaner facilities for stay?
The second one comes from my daughter: “I voted because of peer pressure Mom,” she said.  “But who are these guys who organised it? They say they are non-profit. Should we believe them?” Right. The guys now have 100 million e-mails and telephone numbers. How do we know they will not be passed on for a consideration?

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