Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gulty gal, Guilty Girl

Disclaimer: Now that one knows how people react to a single guy's pronouncements about women, in fact the barest mention of the word "gal", one feels compelled to issue a disclaimer. Here it is - No Telugu speaking living being was harmed during the making of this blog post. Neither does this blogger have a hidden agenda nor it is the flavor of the season to poke fun on such people. However, being a single guy, one felt a need to drive away all the misconceptions that have been propogated and hence this post. We do hope that this post has some rhyme and if so, all kudos go to Art and Paul. So there. Stop seeing any hidden meanings behind the post. Oh wait, there was at least one and that was DEFINITELY not what you thought it was.

Once there was a Gulty gaal,
She used words like “whee” and all.
Ask, she did, about other gult chamiyas,
Answer, we did, without any guilt and bias.

Then it started, the pulling of limbs,
Scared away the occasional crumbs.
Our admirers came from near and far,
Thought “Oh dear, so near and yet so far”.

Our likeness was hunted for,
A single one was accounted for.
When pointed, it was, to every boy and gal,
Laughed at, it was, from here to hell.

Our celluloid taste tossed and sullied,
Like ellipsoidal shreds and then buried.
Our acknowledged industriousness,
was then mistaken for bull & nonsense.

Our music, our dance and fine language,
(Windy one time, windy two time)
was treated just like some smelly garbage.
(Windy one time, windy two time).

Soon start we did, to talk in rhyme,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Set out we did, walking erect and tall
Try we did, to explain to one and all

Hear Hear, all ye hear,
Chamiya log from far and near.
Punjy, Bong, Tam, Mal and Gult,
But no single gal is yet exempt.

Call me up sometime,
Let’s meet up all the time,
Let’s look at the moon, and at the sun
Till that you’ve done, you’ll miss all the fun.

Lest you assume, we are not mad
Lest you decide, the chamiya’s not bad.
In the cloud, she surely sounds silly,
But ask the crowd, she really is funny.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Chennai Right to Information Initiative

(This post is on behalf of a couple of pals who are behind the initiative described below. As we read the text below, we wish we could do more than just passing this message along. Way to go guys!)

Do you get tired of people complaining about how inefficient, unaccountable and corrupt our public authorities are, but do nothing about it?

Do you want to play your part in effecting a transparent and accountable government without having it disturb your daily life?

Can you spend two hours a week volunteering from home / work / beach / coffee-shop?

Yes? The initiative proposed here might interest you.

What is this?
This is a citizens’ initiative whose objective is to spread awareness among fellow citizens about effecting a transparent and accountable government.

Can you tell me more about this?
This initiative will
• Aim to encourage participatory democracy.
• Use legal and constitutional methods to achieve its objective.
Not be an NGO or a political organization.
• Strive to be a people’s movement.
• Be built on the effort of volunteers who will spend less than three hours a week on projects pertaining to this initiative.
Not require solicitation of funds/donations from volunteers.

Interested? Read on…

The cornerstone of the initiative is the Right to Information Act, 2005.

What is the right to information?
The right to information has been recognized around the world as an important instrument for checking corruption and misuse of power.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) came into effect on Oct. 12, 2005. It is a significant milestone in the history of the right to information movement in India.

(a) Information means any material in any form. This includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material in any electronic form and information relating to any private body that can be accessed by a public authority under any other existing legislation.

(b) The bill defines public authority as any authority or body established or constituted
i. By or under the constitution.
ii. By any law made by central/state legislature.
iii. Including any other body owned, controlled or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the government.

(c) Freedom of information means the right to obtain information from any public authority by means of
i. Extracts and notes.
ii. Certified copies of any records of such public authority.
iii. Diskettes, floppies or any other electronic mode or through print-outs when such information is stored in a computer or any other device.
iv. Certified samples of materials.

A powerful legislation like the RTI Act has to be implemented with conviction to achieve transparency and accountability. By themselves, laws can only create a climate for transparency and provide help to determine responsibility. Progressive laws such as these, however, must be backed by a citizens’ movement.

Why do we need a citizens’ movement?
Right to Information laws have earlier been passed by nine state governments in the country, namely Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir. (The RTI-Act supersedes these laws.)

The principal objective of these enactments is to facilitate an accountable and transparent government. Information available on the Internet indicates that implementation of these laws have been far from effective. In Delhi, authorities in the administration have been found to be unaware of the existence of the Delhi Government’s Act.

Clearly, mere legislation does not help in the achievement of the objective. Experience has taught us that the effort of individuals and organizations, under the aegis of these laws (the aforementioned state laws), have achieved samples of success in making an accountable and transparent government possible. In Delhi, absent road cleaners turned up for duty when their attendance registers were sought. Incomplete work was completed and quality of work improved when copies of work contracts were sought by the public.

An MLA was forced to release money for a task demanded by the people, when they obtained details of expenditure from her MLA Development Fund. People could get their work done in many other departments without paying bribes. Ration cards were issued, faulty water bills were corrected, pensions were restored as soon as the people demanded to know the status of their applications and the names of the officials who were responsible.

Almost 200 people got their grievances resolved within a matter of days of filing applications under the RTI Act, claims Parivartan (http://www.parivartan.com/home.asp), a Delhi based people’s movement that worked using the Delhi Government’s Right to Information Law. Organizations like the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangthan (MKSS) of Rajasthan, Mahadhikar in Maharashtra and PROOF in Bangalore have also been successful in their efforts to use the RTI-Act.

Thus, the right to information law can be made effective through active involvement of citizens. The movement proposed here will aim at getting the citizens of Chennai involved in enabling transparency and accountability of the government that they interact with in their daily lives. The RTI-Act, as mentioned earlier, will be the cornerstone of this initiative.

How will this citizen’s movement achieve its objective?
Citizens’ movements are typically built around a strong volunteer base. This initiative will strive to create awareness among educated citizens. At this early stage, college students and young working professionals are expected to be the target audience for this awareness campaign. We expect to build a core volunteer base from this section. The volunteers will be requested to spend about three hours a week on projects related to this initiative. The volunteers will not be expected to donate money/solicit donations. They will form groups of 2-4 members and work on small projects. This initiative will strive to build a network of citizens with administrative, legal, political, educational, media and social development backgrounds. This ensemble of like-minded people is expected to provide support to the movement.

The plan:
• The core volunteer base will have a basic understanding of the RTI-Act, the provisions and implementation, the State and the Central Information Commissions, appellate authorities and the procedure for requesting information.
• Legal, media, campaign and awareness and documentation cells will be formed within the volunteer base and will interact with the citizen network described above.
• Public grievances will be received through individual contacts, emails, mail and telephone.
• A group of 2-4 volunteers will be formed to interface with individuals/groups with the grievance.
• The group will understand the nature of the problem and determine what information can be obtained from the relevant public authority to help address the grievance within the scope of the RTI-Act.
• The group will recommend the course of action to the individual/group with the grievance to obtain the information.
• The group will not pursue the grievance with the public authority. The individual/group with the grievance is expected to do this.
• The group will coordinate with the cells mentioned above, to bring the grievance to the attention of the network of citizens with media, administration, education and political background. This network will help bring the grievance to the attention of the public, the media and the administration. Legal action if required can be initiated through the legal representatives in the network.
• The group will support the appeal of the aggrieved party by being available for consultation when required.
• The group will support the appeal by striving in all possible legal and constitutional ways to make resources available to address the grievance.
• The group will continuously learn and add to their basic understanding of the RTI-Act and its provisions.
• The group will document the grievance and the course of action employed to help build a knowledge base for future efforts.

Where can I find more information about this?
A one-hour meeting has been organized at 5 PM on Sunday, March 26 at

Altius IAS Study Circle
27, Eldams Road, Alwarpet
Chennai 600018

The meeting will be to bring together people interested in this initiative. The idea outlined above will be explained and discussed. Please drop in to the meeting to know more and contribute your opinion. If you know anyone who might be interested in this initiative, please forward this email. At this early stage, we are depending on word of mouth for spreading information about this initiative. If you are interested and would like to attend the meeting, send in an email to chennairti@gmail.com (or) guru.subbaraman@gmail.com before Sunday so that we can be prepared for your participation.

For more information, contact
Email: chennairti@gmail.com
Groups: chennairti-subscribe@yahoogroups.com,



(Downloadable PDF version here)

Monday, March 20, 2006

V for Virtuoso

Combine the dystopian elements from futuristic works such as 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 and throw in a masked vigilante in the guise of a seemingly misunderstood 16th century anarchist and what do you get? Not a movie, but a graphic novel in several parts. Now take this icon in the fringes of British pop culture and place it in the hands of a pair of brilliant recluses cum filmmakers and then what do you get? A sci-fi fantasy that is as relevant in the current day as a multi-purpose remote is to the new age wired household.

The writing credits for this movie which seems to be a loose adaptation of a 80s comic series is shared by the Wachowski brothers. Though Larry and Andy are said to have started working on this screenplay even before the Matrix trilogy, it seems to have been a work in progress, constantly updated as times went by. So while the plot line shares several key elements with the graphic novel and ergo the various pieces of futuristic literature referenced therein, other plot elements are suitably tweaked in such a manner one comes out feeling like one has just watched a newsreel.

This line of thought that governments know more than they are willing to divulge is not new. It has been propagated with great effect by personalities such as Michael Moore. But the Wachowskis screenplay is far subtler. However, what I loved most about this movie was the fact that it has not been "dumbed down" to suit the lowest common denominator.

Just like the Matrix trilogy, much of the movie is about the deep lines vocalized with great relish by the lead characters, especially Hugo Weaving. Poet laureates, bards and venerated novelists are quoted at will. Word list virtuosos would particularly enjoy the vivacious verbosity that accompanies the sudden appearance of the vigilante. But on the other hand, the subsequent verbalization of verbiage that is uncharacteristic of any vernacular could vex you into vacating that seat.

Hugo Weaving could have easily been substituted with a blue screen, his character staying masked through out, for reasons that become apparent as the movie progresses. But his fluid movements behind that masked demeanor, oozing confidence and moving with panache in the action sequences which remind one of a certain Agent Smith, could never have been done by anyone else. Just when one expected that Keanu Reeves would be the Wachowskis muse forever, Weaving pokes holes in this theory, playing the perfect "uppity" vigilante, wry humor sparkling throughout. Knives glint as they trace ellipsoidal paths in mid air, V's skills with a peice of metal more reminiscent of Zarate than Zorro.

As for the female lead, she is a babe. Natalie Portman seems to go through great pain, submitting herself to having her head shorn on camera, another chapter in the unfortunate series of atrocious hair-dos that started with Padme's Amidala's cheese danish. She is perhaps the Jodie Foster of our times, on her way from being a child actor towards the status of leading lady specializing in off beat roles - all this while in the process of getting a Harvard degree. And did I mention that she is a babe?

A list of talented, but largely unknown British actors completes the cast. Watch out for John Hurt who fits the part of High Chancellor and if you are old enough (or a trivia junkie), his portrayal would easily bring back memories of the Big Brother Apple ad from Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. But lest you make a mistake, the reference here is not to the ad, but to George Orwell’s book that spawned the ad.

Just like the Matrix, this movie is bound to spawn discussion at the water cooler. Maybe that is was the intention. While the Wachowskis were constrained by a need to stay true to the original comic book, they have penned a hard hitting critique on the current political and social climate in the US and UK. The movie does seem to incorporate a lot of deep metaphorical references (or maybe that is just me thinking). Some holes are apparent too. Ebert’s comment on the impossibility of V’s peripheral vision under that mask is probably the most trivial and fittingly, when careful attention is paid thorough out the movie, a suitable explanation can be derived.

While some reviewers have tended to characterize the idea behind such movies as leftist and symptomatic of bloggers in general, I don't agree. To me, this movie mirrors currently prevailing political and social climate. The various references to the totalitarian regime and ideology of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party along with the idea of an all-seeing and all-hearing Big Brother are probably a characteristic of the comic book as well, but the references such as the one to a bible-quoting, finger-waving, pill-chomping conservative talk show host, a take off on a number of current day TV and radio personalities including a certain former co-host of ESPN's Sunday NFL countdown are very current.

Lines such as Fear has became the ultimate tool of this government and the reference to home made explosives devices crafted out of common fertilizers may be recent and very relevant in the post 9/11 world. But even with the first week’s reign at the top of the charts, it might not just be long term box office material, especially in a society as hypocritical as in the current day USA.

(This review has been cross posted on Desicritics.org. Do visit me there too....)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Warning: Extra long post ahead, even by my standards...

My travails with T-mobile started probably the day I got my phone. The phone arrived and a quick call to T-Mobile ensued to take care of activation etc. Deluded I was to think that I could get a custom number, that I requested and surprisingly was given one. But the area code allocated to me did not match that of Athens (Ohio) where I was then and the T-Mobile customer service person tried to convince me that the code was the right one. I hung up and then called back, to get a different agent who accepted my argument and finally gave me a "740" number. Little did I know that my troubles were just at their infancy.

My troubles with cell phone coverage are legendary among my friends. Unless I stood right next to the window in our hall or walked out of the basement apartment to the parking lot, I was never going to complete a call without dropping it at least once. When I graduated that summer, I moved from Ohio to Illinois to hunt for a job, but my scene was no better. To add to it, the Illinois weather in late fall and winter forced my staying indoors for 99% percent of the time. With no alternative, I included V's (my roomy in Illinois) home phone number with my resume and promised myself that I would break the contract and go for a new cell phone when I got my first job. Sadly that was not to happen, till much later.

That was around the time when I heard that friends who tried to call me sometimes got "all circuits are currently busy. Please try your call later" messages. It seemed to happen rather randomly and was limited to just incoming calls. And later, things got ugly when I moved to Delaware. Once the training period ended and I started applying actively for open positions, I started talking to customer service about it along with another friend from Ohio was also facing the same issue. During one particular billing cycle, I spent almost 140 day time minutes (over a period of two weeks) enquiring with T-Mobile about the status of our complaints

The funny part is that they don’t seem to have a logical system. Logically one would assume that, your case history would be available on file. But no, every time you talk, in each level, you will have to explain what is wrong. If you are lucky and the lower levels think that you are eligible to talk to the advanced tech support, you will go forward. There were times when the first person would take my case history, tell me there are no updates with a promise to get back in touch in case something comes up, and hang up. At every level, one would be asked the same dumb questions about turning the phone off and on back again and so on, in spite of one having explained just a minute earlier that it does not work. At different points of time, we got our cases into tickets that we were asked to quote. A few days after I received the first ticket, I called and found out that the ticket had been mysteriously "closed" without us being informed. We managed to get the case re-opened, but all we heard was that they were looking into the issue and would get back to us once they knew what was wrong. Nothing came out of these claims. Then, a friend who used to work on wireless communication explained what was going on with the vague messages that plagued my phone. I won't go into technical details, but it was obvious that T-Mobile's circuits in Athens were the cause.

By then I had lost all hope of getting the issue resolved. And when, in November, I moved to New Jersey, I found that my new apartment was no better. According to T-Mobile’s coverage map, I was in a “fair” area (one above the bottom-most “None” class). The-whole-keeping-my-cell-on-the-window-sill continued, but even that did not help sometimes with calls going directly to voice mail. After I got a couple of pay-checks I decided to chuck T-Mobile and went on Amazon.com to hunt for a new service provider and phone.

I waited till I got the new phone in my hand and called T-Mobile to cancel my account at the end of the cycle. More stories and fantastic offers from T-Mobile followed. The lady in customer service promised to improve my service by putting up a new tower! I almost fell down on the floor laughing. She offered 1000 minutes for the 40 dollars that I was paying. I laughed and asked her if she thought I was a fool. I told her I knew how much a tower cost. I told her not to feed me stories and arranged to have my service cut on the 18th of February, when my billing cycle ended. Incidentally I was going to be in Chicago then for a long weekend.

Within a few days of my return from Chicago, on a Friday, I found a letter from T-Mobile informing me that my account had been referred to collections. It appeared that I had missed paying my bill (due to various reasons) and 30 days had gone past. I was surprised that my account had gone to collections even before I had received a final bill. Again due to various reasons, I decided to call them and pay them first thing on Monday morning from work. On Saturday, I finally found my final bill on the mail.

When I called them, I wanted to ask them why my account had been sent to collection even without a reminder. I know I was technically at fault and felt really bad and worried about the whole thing, but on the light of what transpired later, my worries now seem to be without reason. Anyways, when I called T-Mobile, they asked me to pay my bill and insisted that they had no record of my account being referred to collections. I paid the $90 odd that was due (my final bill) and resolved to take this matter up with the “collection agency” in question.

I looked up their number and called them. And that’s when I realized T-Mobile’s game plan. The “collection agency” acknowledged that they had been asked by T-Mobile to contact me about my over due bill. But the guy I spoke to told me that they were just a “letter” agency, i.e. they just send letters and do not actually “collect”. He said that if I had called them first (instead of T-Mobile), all he would have done, would be to instruct me to call T-Mobile immediately. He told me that T-Mobile does this to all overdue accounts just to offend the customer to pay their overdue bills. And the customers usually do so immediately on the notion that because their account has been “marked” for collection, their credit history has already been maligned and any more procrastination would only damage things more.

I do have with me, both letters that inform me that my account has been referred for collections. And when I call, T-mobile has no record of this, while the “collection agency” claims that this is the norm with T-mobile. I understand I was at fault in the first place for being late with my payment, but was $90 big enough for T-Mobile to play around with the truth by threatening me with (two) collection notices? My co-workers tell me that I should lodge a complaint with the FCC on the basis of “unfair” and fraudulent business practices. Having heard all the bullshit over the last 20 months or so, I am quite inclined to do so. And though I dont want to bring the "R" word or "D" word here, but hey, after all the talk of desi dudes in customer service, I am wondering what would an American do in this scenario, given that not much news/information of this kind comes out in public. Hmmm...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The mayhem spreads...

Kaps had posted about the happenings at SRM yesterday. The issue seems to have spread to other colleges as well. Just a few minutes ago, I received an email from my sister who is in another college notorious for its segregatory practices between the sexes. Here is what she had to say.

.... learnt how a strike would look like....! Jokes apart, day was bad....really bad. Went to coll as usual at 7.30 had brkfast n all. We were asked to go to the library. There is a seminar hall in there where we were asked to wait. So after we got in we really dint know what was happening outside. Till 8.00 everything was ok.

At 8.30 a staff came in and asked us to leave the library. We dint know why. We came out. The next thing we knew was a huge group of student... must be about 100 odd, were screaming in front of the administrative block...that big long block na that one. Some staff came n asked the girls to go to the hostel. So we went. We dint have a clue as to what the probe was. We went to the hostel. That’s where we came to know it was some problem with aicte n crap.next thing we knew the hostel was locked from outside!!!! Safety apparently!!! It was 9.00...all the girls were in the hostel by then. I mean the entire coll girls crowd. So we were in there till about 11.30...then around that time we had to walk backside to the bus stand where there was a single bus to st.josephs. Felt like some refugee escaping from terrorists or something. They dropped us in st.josephs. From st.josephs back side we had to walk to jeppiar engg coll!!! There is no road connecting st.josephs n jeppiar engg coll. so we have to walk. Imagine... easily 1 or 2 kms in the open land! Buses were there in jeppiar engg coll...We left the place around 12.15 or so. Didn’t pass thru our entrance coz of road block n stuff. Went thru Hindustan. kelambakkam....vandalur n all!!!! N reached home only at 2.45 or so!!!!! It seems comp n stuff n all were broken inside...don’t know if it’s true n all. Coll is closed indefinitely....don’t know what's going to happen n whether if courses are recognized or not. Training cancelled too I guess. On the whole one horrible day!!!!!!!

Incidentally, my sister will be working for an IT major when she graduates in June and today was her first day of training (in-house in her college). I can imagine the hardship she had to endure on a day like this. When I told her that the incident she mentioned about "comp n stuff n all were broken inside" was actually at SRM, she said that similar things happened at her college too, but the press has not been allowed inside so far. Some students were anonymously interviewed on Sun TV outside the college gate. The students were saying things like "they are cheating us by running courses without approval" and "They will give us a B.S de­gree. What is the difference between an arts college student and us now?"

Is this a case of the mob mentality taking over and I am not talking only about the students here. Was the destruction of property at SRM's campus the handiwork of the management as the students claim? And did the management in my sister's college do the same thing?

In any case the students have to be informed (though I might have felt the same way when I was in college) that it is only some countries that follow the British system, that have separate degrees awarded for sciences and engineering. In most countries, like the US, the degree is a B.S (the equivalent of the B.Sc) regardless of whether the major is biology or bio-medical engineering. In fact most students take the some common courses (with the same syllabus that is) in the same classroom, regardless of their stream of study is. So you will see a biology student and an electrical engineering student in the same math class, if the biology student's academic advisor feels that the class will help him/her. So, IMHO, the nomenclature does not matter. However, if you had asked me the same question six years ago, I'd have felt the same level of indignation.

Another thing is that I was also under the impression that the problem is stream specific, i.e. certain new courses in these colleges are the only ones under scrutiny. But my sister's version (and the reaction of the striking students) indicates that whole institutions are under the microscope. Could someone clarify this?

In fact the best place to clarify this SHOULD be the AICTE's website. But does the AICTE have a website at all? My sister sent me a link to the AICTE web site that seems to link to a list of accredited institutions. But the list is on a word document which contains links to other lists (state-wise). And get this, the links all point to documents on someone's desktop! So these students, in spite of all the claims of all information being available freely, don't exactly have the info they need, i.e., whether their colleges have the necessary authorizations. So, now that we know the AICTE has a half-functioning website, does they have a webmaster?