Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Will Gandhi work in the Israeli-Palestine conflict?

Now, Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's granson, is travelling to Palestine to try and help the locals with aspects of non-violence. It may have worked in India but will it in Palestine? He thinks so.

"I am going to tell the people about the value of non-violence. I am going to tell them that 55 years of violence has achieved nothing but more agony and heartaches and that it is time for them to try new ways of dealing with the issue," Arun Gandhi told BBC News Online.

"It is the safest and sanest alternative. Violence has not achieved anything. The Palestinians do not have the capacity and the ability to match the weapons of mass destruction that are available to Israel. So it is virtually suicide for them," he adds.

The first "official" rock album release in Iran!

Guess what? Iran just got its first ever official rock album. It's a compilation of Queeen's hits like Bohemian Rhapsody and I Want To Break Free. The relase includes footnotes in Persian about the songs. Does this have to do anything with Freddie Mercury's Iranian lineage (he is a Parsi who studied in India)? Or what about Mercury's iconic gay status? Hope there's more that's coming the way of the rock-starved Iranian youth...

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Bush draws the ire of the Iraqi football team

Unexpected but true. The Iraqi football team at Athens has criticised heavily George Bush's move to use the team in his political advertisements. Bush's campaign adverts show pictures of the Afghan and Iraqi flags with the words: "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations - and two fewer terrorist regimes".

The team hasn't taken this too well. "Iraq as a team does not want Mr Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," said Salih Sadir, an Iraqi midfielder. "He can find another way to advertise himself," he added. Others labelled Bush as a "war criminal" and have said that if they were not playing football at Athens, they would be fighting the American forces in Iraq. However, they did express their relief that they were no longer under Uday Hussein, who was known for torturing players if they failed to do well.

The US administration has defended its actions. "The ad simply talks about President Bush's optimism and how democracy has triumphed over terror. Twenty-five million people in Iraq are free as a result of the actions of the coalition," said a spokesperson.

Friday, August 20, 2004

MBAs for doctors now...

Being a qualified doctor does not necessarily mean being an effective manager. This is the message that the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare is seeking to put across now. Taking note of the managerial deficiency of medical professionals, the ministry proposes to soon launch an interdisciplinary MBA programme dedicated to those working in the healthcare industry.

To be coordinated by the Jaipur-based Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), the course is expected to be taught at various institutions, including at an IIM for management skills, at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai for the social perspective and at the IIHMR in Jaipur for the healthcare aspect. A student would spend a few months at each of these institutions picking up the respective skills.

Other places that could be roped in are the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Primarily directed at professionals involved in public health programmes, IIHMR Director SD Gupta said that the degree would afford those enrolled the “necessary expertise to plan, implement and coordinate public healthcare initiatives as well as managing healthcare”.

Gupta, who has just returned after meeting senior officials in the ministry in Delhi in this respect, informed that the government was willing to fund the entire programme that is expected to cost around Rs 6 crore. “There is a huge need for professionals with managerial skills. Doctors have technical skills not managerial,” he said. “Even the job market is big. Each of the students from our last eight batches is employed,” Gupta added. IIHMR currently runs a two-year diploma in healthcare management.

Though in its infancy, the programme could start in the 2005-06 academic session. Gupta said that the idea was “very much needed”. “If we manage to identify the institutions and if the policy makers continue to support us as in the present set up, it will soon take shape,” he added. The first batch of students are not expected to be fresh ones but those who are currently employed in the public health sector.

Rameshwar Sharma, a known public health expert, said that that this move was a “basic necessity”. “Managerial techniques have been employed by certain private parties in respect to hospitals but it has not picked up in the public health sector,” he said. Terming that it was long due, he informed that the WHO Assembly had passed a resolution in 1977 to establish training institutes of management in healthcare. “It is because of the managerial techniques used that small pox was eradicated from India and the world,” Sharma added.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Hope for India's "lost Jews"

Will these guys from Manipur be declared as one of the lost tribes of Israel? BBC finds out in this report from Imphal. I also spoke to the Israeli ambassador to India about this issue recently. Avisham, an agency that engages in aliyah, says they are Jews. There are nearly 700 such "Jews" in Israel who are waiting to be be declared pedigree by the concerned Rabbinical authorities. Many of them follow Christianity and are converting to Judaism on their own in Israel...

Monday, August 16, 2004

What's there to be proud of if you are an Iranian?

Comments by an anguished Iranian from The Iranian

Exactly why should anyone be proud of the fact that Iran has produced people like Hafez and Avicena? On the contrary, it is deplorable that a country that has produced prominent figures is now ruled by a group of ruthless, uneducated clerics. We Iranians are a nation fixated with the past. We had Hafez thousands of years ago, what do we have now? Certainly not respect.

A recent survey revealed that regardless of the type of government, 40% of Iranians want the future government in Iran to be a religious one. When the West is making technological breakthroughs, our people are still hooked on the actions of fictitious religious figures like Mohamamad, Ali and Hossein who lived two centuries ago.

Let's not let our emotions dictate our judgments. Being Iranian these days is nothing to be proud. May be if we hit rock bottom will we wake up one day and try to fix our country and its image.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Iranian judo player boycotts Israeli athlete

Well... didn't we see this coming? Despite the lofty "ideals" of "universal brotherhood", "fair play" and "sportsmanship beyond politics and religion", the Athens Olympics has already fallen prey to the divisions that have always been there.

On the first day, Iranian world champion Arash Miresmaili decided not play his Israeli opponent in the first round, supposedly to express solidarity with the Palestinians. When will we ever learn? Instead, this move is going to discredit Iran and the athlete. Ideally, Miresmaili would have fought fairly and defeated the Israeli and then dedicated his victory to the Palestinians. But then... Jacques Rogue must be cringing!

NASSCOM and KPMG study on Jaipur

Despite possessing “attractive” infrastructure availability for ITES-BPO firms, Jaipur is “unattractive” when it comes to local industry support groups and the knowledge base generated. This is what the recent National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) and KPMG study has to say about Jaipur. It acknowledges the efforts made by various stakeholders in the IT sector but adds that “these were not balanced and lacked follow-through action”.

The report, that studied 13 cities, was carried out as an “anticipatory management” step to fill in the information gaps as ITES firms begin expanding to second-rung cities, chiefly to contain the high levels of attrition in the existing major BPO centres. It is being circulated to member firms and is available for purchase.

In the human resources section, the report prescribes an “attitudinal change to gain greater acceptance of the ITES-BPO culture”. Parents of prospective employees, it adds, have to be comfortable with their children, especially their daughters, working on night shifts.

It also notes that the average salary for this sector ranges between Rs 6,500 to Rs 7,500 per month, which is about 30 per cent lower than Gurgaon. Further, low attrition rates hovering below 10 per cent add to the low cost of managing resources. Also, most of the work in Jaipur is at the lower-end comprising medical transcription, outbound collections and some inbound support.

Interestingly, it also notes that English may not be the “preferred language” as only about three theatres out of nearly 25 screen English films and only one English newspaper is printed locally. However, it adds that Jaipur produces 450 MBAs, 100 CAs and 5,500 engineering graduates each year. Case studies of GECIS and Supportscape, a local call centre, are also featured, including their comments on working out of Jaipur.

Under infrastructure, it points out Jaipur’s “favourable” situation with ITES-BPO firm being charged low rates at Rs 3.6 - Rs 3.8 per unit. Developed property for tech firms is also available at rent for about Rs 45 per sq ft per month. The report mentions better roads, low housing costs, the ADB-supported infrastructure development programme, the premier hotels and clubs in the city and good schools in the city.

In the tech side, it points out that Jaipur has optical fibre cables and satellite connectivity of over 163 mbps but most of it remains underused. It also sounds a note of caution that promoters are “actively considering” alternative locations for their new bases because of the restraints that this city faces.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fudging up historical names in the Walled City

It is a historic case of abuse. Thanks to the apathy of both the government, and more importantly the people, original names of some streets in the Walled City have been bastardised over time to make more “convenient” names. Even official signboards have helped corrupt the names of the streets, say senior citizens from this part of the city

A victim of this blasphemy has been Sangakon Ka Rasta, located near Mahaveer Park. A JMC sign put up three years ago records it as Sango Ka Rasta but it was once named after the eminent Sangakon family. A Jain temple, built by the family, still exists on the same street. “The new name holds no relevance for someone like me,” said Gyan Chand Khinduka, a senior citizen.

Another prey is Govind Rajion Ka Rasta, near Chandpole Gate, which is today known as Govind Raoji Ka Rasta. For most it does not make a difference but to veterans of this street, like Hariballabh Koolwal, it robs them of their identity. “I was born here and all my life I have known it as Govind Rajion Ka Rasta,” says Koolwal. “It is not just my memories, it is our collective past that is being defaced,” he added.

Koolwal informed that the street was originally named after Govind Rajion clan from the Khandelwal Vaishya community, who had been hired by the royal family to handle its affairs. “Members from this community handled most of the royal family’s tasks and street were named after them in honour,” he said. “And since I belong to the same community I am attached to it,” he added.

The list does not end here. Uniara Raoji Ka Rasta, named in honour of a thakur from the Uniara district near Tonk, is now known as Uniaron Ka Rasta. “Today everyone wants a short cut. They are not bothered about these long names,” said Puranmal Sindhi, a fruit seller.

Senior citizens say that most of these streets had signboards with their original names but they were damaged over time. “When the boards were replaced, they did not even bother to ask people like us the correct name,” lamented Hariballabh Koolwal, who claimed that there are no government signboards on his street. “In another few years there will be no one alive to give the right information. The young are least bothered about it,” he added.

Israel's 'Iranian' defence chief

Did you know that Israel's current defence chief Shaul Mofaz is Iranian by birth? He was born in Iran in 1948 and moved Israel in 1957. It would be interesting to keep a tab on his comments as the war of words (over nuclear weapons) between the two countries heats up.

Here is an extract from BBC:

A few months ago a man born in Tehran was a guest on Israel Radio's Persian service.

The guest had spent his early childhood in Iran before coming to Israel and joining the army. And he is now Israel's defence minister.

What if Iran attacks, Shaul Mofaz was asked. The minister answered: "We will know how to defend ourselves."

Being an Arab football team in Israel

Despite Israel's cosmopolitan social composition, this BBC report claims that many in Israel did not take too well to the success of Sakhnin as it prepares to play in the UEFA Cup - the farthest that an Arab team has gone in Israeli history. Excerpts:

The Jewish state watched in surprise in May as Sakhnin won the Israeli cup.

Sharon Mashdi has kept a close eye on Israel's reaction. He monitors racism in Israeli football for the New Israel Fund.

The Arab team's victory, he says, went down particularly badly with fans of Betar Jerusalem, a team known for its ties to Israel's right wing.

"After the cup final the Betar Jerusalem fans put an ad on the Internet about the death of Israeli football," he says.

"I think it's like what's happened in Israeli society - some percentage of the Jews don't like Arabs at all and don't want them here in this country."

Such is the political climate right now that few in Israel want to go all that far in backing the Arab team.

Sakhnin does not have its own stadium. And it has found it tough to get sponsors.

"This is the biggest problem of Sakhnin," says Goren of Haaretz.

"Jewish companies don't sponsor Sakhnin. No-one from the Jewish business community said: 'Let's take Sakhnin and make it a symbol for peace, for living together'.

"Sakhnin has succeeded in a professional way, but in a social way it's been a failure."


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The race isn't over for this amputee

If Johnnie Walker were to look for an apt brand ambassador for its inspiring “Keep Walking” ad campaign, then they need look no further than Ramesh Bhai Thakur in Jaipur. Despite an amputated left leg, Thakur has constantly pushed the realm of what a physically challenged person like him could achieve.

With several races and marathons already under his belt, he, using a Jaipur Foot, has just returned from a successful 32-kilometre trek up to Amarnath at a height of around 13,000 feet. But he did not tire there either. Now, Thakur is all set to enter the 2005 Limca Book of India Records (LBIR) as the fastest runner on a single artificial leg. He completes a 100-metre dash in little less than 19 seconds. An average human takes about 12 seconds to do that.

It was in 1982 that he fractured his leg in a train accident in Bharuch, where he was then based. The leg would not heal and the doctor insisted that it had to be amputated. “I was heartbroken and dejected,” said Thakur, who was in his late teens then. He moved to Jaipur to have a prosthetic limb fitted onto him. Luckily, he was employed by the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) when he managed to put a kaput sterilising machine back in order. Thakur had done a course from the Industrial Training Institute.

A technician with BMVSS now, he has earlier walked to Badrinath when he was part of a camp for fitting Jaipur Foot pieces in Rishikesh. “Then I thought why not Amarnath. If Shiva can call others, why not me,” he said. After a lot of negotiations, he managed to get a “fitness certificate” and set out for the arduous trek. “Often, I would leave my team members behind me. Some wanted to ride a horse but when they saw me, they would keep walking,” he added. Doctors at BMVSS claim that he is the first such case to have trekked up to Amarnath. “There was no pain or inconvenience,” he remarked.

Thakur has also been running regularly each morning at the SMS Stadium with a coach to train him. He has heard from the LBIR, acknowledging his extraordinary feat on the track. “Right now there is no entry in the category where my record stands at 19 seconds. Even if someone breaks it, I expect to improve on my performance and reduce the timing to 17 seconds by March in time for the 2005 edition,” Thakur said. But what is that does not let his spirits sag? “I want to show people like me that they are not inferior. I want to encourage them and support them,” he replied.

Monday, August 09, 2004

John Kerry, John Edwards and Jaipur

John Kerry, John Edwards and Jaipur – The connection might seem vague in reality but in the unpredictable world of cyber crime the three fall into place. SurfControl, an American Internet security firm, on Thursday blew the lid off two phishing scams in the US that were soliciting funds from Internet users, claiming they would be used to finance the political campaign of the Democratic Party in the forthcoming US presidential election.

One of these sites,, was found to be registered in Jaipur. Moments after the beans were spilt, these sites folded leaving cyber crime experts fumbling in the dark about their identity or the amount of money they could have amassed since they went online around the date of the Democratic Convention in Boston.

But why Jaipur of all places? In an email interview with Hindustan Times, the SurfControl vice president Susan Larson wrote that many American spammers host their operations outside the US to circumvent the law there. “Moreover, certain countries, including India and Thailand, have become popular destinations because the overhead costs are considerably lower than in the US,” she said.

Because SurfControl’s primary responsibility is to identify and classify spam, the nature of the site’s work is still in the dark. For example, it is still unclear whether the site had any physical presence in this city and how many people were involved. There are reports that Kerry-Edwards Campaign did contact the US Department of Justice. Concerned authorities in Jaipur are clueless about any such event. Considering they had a presence in Jaipur, Larson mentioned that it is “likely that few, if any, of the funds were diverted to India”.

Each site has to be registered against a name and physical address. However, many choose to base their sites outside the US to exploit loopholes in the US CAN-SPAM law and other national laws that have no international provisions. So the possibility that the spammer had some fascination for Jaipur remains open because of his choice of city. Larson stressed that international cooperation is one of the keys to establish effective anti-spam and anti-phishing legislation.


What is phishing?

Phishing attacks use 'spoofed' e-mails and fraudulent websites to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data such as credit card numbers and account usernames. By hijacking trusted brands, well-known banks, online retailers and credit card companies, phishers are able to convince up to 5% of recipients to respond to them. Once such private information is in their hands, these scamsters make purchases, withdrawals and the like on accounts of the unsuspecting users.


Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Crisis of content and lack of social relevance in Indian films: Director of South Asian Cinema Foundation

Recently, I met the director of the South Asian Cinema Foundation and we spoke at great length about flims. The man, Lalit Mohan Joshi, said that Indian films (for many read as Bollywood) lack quality content and social relevance. He urged directors to pick up subjects that have an undercurrent of realism.

But again, the game is not won just by picking up such a subject. Talking about Girlfriend (a recent Bollywood film on lesbians), it was felt that sensitivity and subtlety are equally important. Here is the piece I wrote for the paper:

A failed attempt at acting in a Shyam Benegal film did not douse Lalit Mohan Joshi’s fascination for Indian films. “The seed did not die,” recollects Joshi. Gradually, over the years, that “seed” germinated into the South Asian Cinema Foundation (SACF), an organisation dedicated to portraying a “whole picture” of Indian cinema in the UK and elsewhere.

Formerly a journalist with the Hindi service of the BBC, Joshi says SACF seeks to correct the “myopic western perception of Indian cinema as either Satyajit Ray or rubbish”. Neither is it something “highbrow or elitist”. “We want to use cinema as a tool to empower the people, especially the South Asians in the UK,” he adds.

Co-founded in 2000 with Derek Malcolm, The Guardian film critic, SACF brings out an annual thematic journal on Indian cinema (the latest one is on Partition films) and holds regular events aimed at sensitising the UK to films that go beyond Bollywood – a term that many think encompasses the entire range of Indian films. Just like many here in India would associate English films produced outside the US as Hollywood productions.

And one of the films, also one of his personal favourites, that Joshi has tucked into his quiver is V Shantaram’s 1937 classic “Duniya Na Mane”. The film portrays a woman who is married to man as old as her father and how she struggles to change her fate. “We screened it and people were amazed to see a woman oppose the marriage without being very loud. Such a situation (as the plot) still exists amongst several South Asians in the UK,” says Joshi.

A far cry from the “socially relevant” films of yore, he feels that there is a “crisis of content and social relevance” in Indian films now. “Not that I am denying Bollywood its importance, but look at Mohabbatein. It features a gurukul in Wiltshire with students eating Pringles chips and girls in short skirts. Whom are they trying to fool,” Joshi asks. “Instead, cross-cultural films like Bend it Like Beckham are playing a much better role than nonsensical Bollywood films,” he adds.

Tracing the crisis to the 70’s, Joshi says that the crisis still continues with “declining” social values and directors being undermined by commercial forces. “Directors must take up socially relevant subjects. If Ram Gopal Varma decides to make a such a film, money would surely pour in,” Joshi says. With all his love and frustration for Indian films, he feels that Indian films and filmmakers are headed for a brighter tomorrow where regional films would also gain more importance. “There are many Shekhar Kapurs simmering in India,” Joshi adds.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Here is a picture of a monsoon cloud cover. The venue is the campus of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, where I studied till July 2003. Gorgeous isn't it?

The balance between "linguistic heritage" and "intelligent creativity"

I had a chat with Jean-Marie Borzeix, the literary director at Editions du Seuil ( a noted French publishing house), and he some interesting points to mention about languages:

The noted Algerian writer, Kateb Yassin, was right when he said that the French language was a “war booty” that his countrymen would inherit from France once it became independent. Not surprisingly, over the years it these Francophone countries around the world that have enriched and embellished the language incessantly.

Paying tribute to them, Jean-Marie Borzeix, a linguistic expert and the literary director at Editions du Seuil, a noted publishing house in France, said that speakers from these countries play around with the language much more than the native speakers. “For them it is not an academic language. They invigorate it, invent new words and create something fresh,” he added. Borzeix was speaking on Friday at the Alliance Francaise in Jaipur on the occasion of the ongoing international Francophone festival.

Even the vibrant body of literature that they produce is now increasingly becoming de rigueur. “In some British and American universities, Francophone literature is taught more than French literature,” said Borzeix. The Francophone movement is essentially one that links culturally, now increasingly also politically and economically, the various French speaking countries worldwide. It was conceptualised during the period of decolonisation in Africa by Leopold Sedar Senghor, a noted French litterateur and the former president of Senegal.

“The language became not just a medium of exchange of words but also of ideas like democracy and human rights,” said Borzeix. “Today, France has changed its centralist policy and is encouraging it actively. It even is promoting the native languages,” he added. In a highly fluid and dynamic world of languages, attempts are being made to forge movements, similar to this, amongst the Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking and even Turkish-speaking nations.

Taking a stand against “linguistic hegemony” of American English, Borzeix said that he was all for cultural and linguistic diversity. “English is a beautiful and powerful language but it cannot be imposed as the sole one,” he added. Borzeix, who has been travelling around India, was happy to note the ongoing work of translating French works to Bengali and vice-versa. “And the Tamils are producing a three-volume book on the history of French literature,” he informed.

But asked if the hegemony of the Academie Francaise, a conservative and traditional guardian of the French language, was a right thing, Borzeix replied that a balance was required between “linguistic heritage” and “intelligent creativity”. “At times, I cannot understand the French spoken by teenagers back home, and that is dangerous,” he said.