Industrialise or perish …

During the construction of the KRS Dam in Mysore in 1924, the chief engineer had a peculiar habit. They used candles for lighting in those days. Every evening at 7 pm, the chief engineer would extinguish his candles, pull out another set of candles from his suitcase and light those instead.

His mystified assistant asked him why he did this every evening. And the chief engineer replied, “Upto 7 pm, I do official work, for which I use the candles supplied by the government. After 7 pm, I do my personal work, for which I use my personal candles. I will never use government candles for my personal work.”

That was Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvarayya, the first global-level engineer produced by our country. Today is his 156th birthday. This day is celebrated as Engineers Day in India.

Sir MV as he was popularly known, was an engineering genius, a statesman, scholar, former Diwan of Mysore and a man of exceptional integrity. Here in Bangalore, MV is known as the Father of modern Karnataka.

MV was born in Muddenahalli, a small village about 80 km from Bangalore. After obtaining his BA from Central College Bangalore, he did his civil engineering from the College of Science at Pune. His first job was at the Public Works Department at Bombay. From there he went on to work with the Indian Irrigation Commission. He designed complex irrigation systems in Maharashtra and Gujarat (then known as Bombay Presidency) and automatic floodgates for the Khadakvasla dam at Pune, for the first time in India. After that, Sir MV designed and implemented one mega-project after another across India.

Opting for early retirement at the age of 48, MV continued to work as a consulting engineer. At the request of the Nizam of Hyderabad, MV designed a unique system of tanks to contain the devastating annual floods in Hyderabad. The famous Tank Bund that connects the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is MV’s brainchild. Soon after, in 1908, MV was appointed as the Chief Engineer of Mysore and later the Diwan of Mysore, till 1919. The first thing that MV did after he became the Diwan was to invite all his relatives for dinner. At the end of that dinner, MV told them never to approach him for any personal favors!

During his tenure, Mysore flourished, as he implemented irrigation works, power projects, factories, public institutions and engineering colleges throughout the kingdom. His greatest achievement was the Krishnarajasagar Dam at Mysore. The dam was one the largest in the world at that time.

In 1915, he was knighted by the British, and after independence, during the tenure of Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, Sir MV received India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna in 1955.

In acknowledgement, MV wrote to Nehru, “If you feel that by giving me this title, I will praise your government, you will be disappointed.”

That was the man he was.

In turn, Nehru wrote back that the award was given to Sir MV for his services, and not to silence him!

MV had a simple and clear policy – Industrialise or Perish. That policy frequently put him at odds with Mahatma Gandhi, although he had a good personal relationship with him. In fact, MV openly opposed Gandhi’s non-co-operation movement in 1921. And he went even further. In a letter to Gandhi on the eve of the first Round Table Conference in London in 1930, Sir MV advised him to wear proper clothes! MV was an immaculate dresser himself, always seen in well-tailored suits and a characteristic Mysore peta on his head.

MV led a spartan life. He was a strict vegetarian and teetotaller. His fondness for Nanjangud bananas was well known. Unfortunately, that variety is almost extinct in Karnataka now.

MV died in Bangalore in 1962 at the age of 102 and was cremated at Muddenahalli, his birthplace. Muddenahalli is now being developed as a premier academic hub in South India.

“It is better to serve like steel, than rust and wither away like iron”. … Sir M Visvesvarayya, Sept 15, 1860 – April 14, 1962.

Cheers … Srini.

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A matter of Faith … or is it confirmation bias?

quotes-about-listening-to-music-20150208083448-54d71fa8c43bbIs faith a psychiatric disorder? Sometimes, I’m inclined to think so.

In my country, there are more places of worship than schools, more godmen than scientists, more ashrams than hospitals. In my country, stone idols drink milk, dead men are brought back to life, multi-million dollar research centers are first consecrated by a priest on an auspicious date and at auspicious hour before any scientist lays a step inside.

I ply my trade exclusively in academic research institutes. All my customers are scientists. Almost all of them have religious icons on their desks, pictures of godmen on their walls.

I’m no stranger to famous godmen myself. I’ve seen them up close, watched them perform their ‘miracles’, produce gold watches and holy ash from nowhere, drive their devotees into a religious frenzy. I’ve seen people getting ‘possessed’. I’ve seen idols drink milk. I’ve seen people drive spikes into their backs, nails into their palms, walk across flaming coals. I’ve seen a godman’s pictures generate nectar.

When I ask these people why they do what they do, the answer is the same – Faith.

Faith is their raison d’etre.

They will not give up their faith. In the face of overwhelming evidence against their godman, they will still cling on to him. Show them a video that clearly shows their godman producing holy ash from a tube hidden in his sleeve, they will denounce the video as a fake. Show them another video of their godman gambolling around with a woman, they will claim it is just his way of testing your faith. Explain to them that the “nectar” pouring out of the godman’s picture is merely the product of a simple chemical reaction and show them how it can be done, they will yell at you and call you an agent of the Devil.

The phenomenon has been extensively studied by psychologists. There’s a scientific term for it. It’s called persistence of belief. Or confirmation bias.

People will interpret data based on their own individual beliefs. If they are presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs, they will either disregard it outright or twist their interpretation of that evidence to fit in with their beliefs. That is why fake godmen consistently get away with all kinds of crap. They have a deep understanding of how confirmation bias works. Most of all, they know that confirmation bias is contagious. In particular, parents can and do, pass on their confirmation bias to their children.

I lost my only child solely because of confirmation bias. Haven’t seen her in fifteen years. She has been made to believe that I am the embodiment of evil, because I stood against her mother’s godman. And mind you, the godman she worships died in 1918. Such is the power and contagion of confirmation bias that more than a hundred years after his death, his cult still continues to grow.

Harsh experience has taught me to keep my evidence and my scientific arguments to myself. There is just no point in trying to explain to people that blind belief in a godman does not constitute religion, and that talking against an obviously fraudulent godman is not blasphemy.

I have tried to explain this to my ‘rationalist’ friends. You know, those well-meaning but hopelessly misguided souls who rant against godmen, religion, spirituality, superstitions and the like. They firmly believe their ranting will result in a fundamental change in our society and bring forth a new generation of enlightened humans who believe only in science. No matter what, they will not let go of that belief.

In other words, these “rationalists” suffer from confirmation bias.

I am fiercely proud of my country, the depth of her culture, the greatness of her philosophy, the vastness of her scriptures, her achievements in science, her ancient sagacity, her capacity to assimilate alien cultures and enrich them while doing so.

However, nowhere in her scriptures does she say that we should not use our common sense. Krishna in the Gita talks at length about ‘muda bhakti’, i.e. foolish, mindless devotion. You may read the Gita if you wish to. And whether you accept Krishna’s divinity is your choice. But there is no denying that the wisdom Krishna imparts in the Gita is practical and down-to-earth. If you take the trouble, you will discover that much of the knowledge in our ancient scriptures, like the Upanishads for example, is practical in nature. Contrary to what you may think, skepticism was encouraged in ancient India, debate preferred over discourse, and evidence considered a pre-requisite to belief.

Thanks once again to confirmation basis, we have been made to believe instead that our culture is based on ritualism and our scriptures are ‘mumbo-jumbo’ – this being the term favored by ‘rationalists’ and ‘free-thinkers’ (who are neither rational, nor free nor thinkers).

So. How do we deal with confirmation bias? We don’t. Because we can’t. Devotee or cultist or rationalist or free-thinker. Doesn’t matter. There is no real cure for confirmation bias.

Just as you cannot convince a devotee that he is wrong in his beliefs, you cannot convince a ‘rationalist’ that he is wrong as well. In both cases, they will disregard any evidence you present. It may seem incongruous, but frequently ‘rationalists’ base their arguments on flawed evidence. And just like their superstitious counterparts, they will not accept any evidence that their evidence is flawed. Ironic, isn’t it?

Therefore, don’t bother. Just steer clear of both sides. Keep your evidence to yourself, smile and go about your life. If you are not too burdened with scruples, you can use confirmation bias to your advantage, in your business and in your social life.

There is a very good reason why first impressions always count. That reason is interview-first-impression-300x300confirmation bias. If you want to win over a client or a lover, then be very very careful about the first impression they form of you. If they form a favorable first impression of you, then confirmation bias will usually compel them to hold on to that image over the course of the relationship, even if you bungle things later on. And vice versa. If someone forms a bad first impression of you, there is little you can do to correct it later on.

Do your homework then, before that first meeting.

And don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias yourself. Learn to look at both sides of the coin. Realise that even scientific evidence can be and usually is, heavily biased. Understand that even renowned award-winning scientists have frequently been shown to be wrong – but rarely accept that fact.

If you do an internet search for the ill-effects of alcohol, for example, you will be presented with tons of research papers that conclusively prove that booze is bad for you. Do a search for the health benefits of alcohol, and behold, you will be presented with an equal amount of evidence that proves that booze is actually good for you.

You will have to use your own judgement. Personally, I think a little faith may not be bad for you. Too much of it, on the other hand, is not a good idea. How much is too much, is for you to figure out.

As for me and my estranged daughter who believes I am the embodiment of evil, well, I am sure that one day she will come looking for me.

I have faith.

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Do not feed stray dogs … and other life lessons.

Want to make the world a better place, do you? Think you’re God’s gift to the planet, don’t you? You feed the stray dogs in your neighborhood, and go around with a halo on your head, no?

If you really want to do some good to the world at large, then consider the following:

If you want good neighbours … then be one yourself.  Be good to your neighbours. It costs absolutely nothing. And it may save your life one day.

Treat human beings with respect.
Waiter, maid, driver, sweeper, and anyone else who isn’t as wealthy or as qualified or as grand and as famous as you are – they all deserve respect. These are the people who clean up your shit. Treat them with respect.

Do not waste yourself on unworthy causes.
I was an enthusiastic supporter of various eco-groups in Bangalore. Until one day, I was bitten by a stray dog, right inside the restaurant of India’s “premier” institute, the Indian Institute of Science. I ran from pillar to post, begging my animal activist friends for help. Without exception, they all told me to get lost. Something similar happened with a bird- watchers group that I was an active member of. They plagiarised my work, took my money and my time, used my goodwill to get what they wanted – and then told me to get lost.

I blame only myself. I should have known better.

Don’t waste your noble intentions and your hard-earned money on dubious organisations.

There are innumerable little deeds you can do as an individual that will make this world a better place. Do them on your own. You don’t need any activist’s “expertise”. You just need your common sense.

Concerned about the environment? Simple. Walk more, drive less. Do not litter. Segregate your garbage. Plant a sapling in your street. Grow your own greens. Use your electronic gadgets for at least three years, before you upgrade. Especially your mobile phone, your PC, laptop or tablet.

Worried about animal cruelty? Simple. Be nice to animals. It sounds absurdly simple, but there really is nothing more to it. Just be nice to animals.

If you have too much money to spare, do not waste it on organisations that fight for rabid stray dogs. Instead, donate it to the victims of dog-bites. India has the world’s highest number of deaths due to rabies. Those victims need your help – as I did.

Do not judge others.
No one is accountable to you. Unless you happen to be a real judge. And a real judge listens to both sides of the story. You’re not a real judge. You don’t know both sides of the story. So shut up. And even if you do know both sides, or think you do, shut up. Another person’s life is none of your business.

Do not offer unsolicited advice.
No one needs profound advice from you. Only a loser goes around disbursing free advice (present blogpost excepted!). A winner lets his success speak for itself.

Do not scoff at someone who is going through bad times.
Ten years ago, I proposed marriage to an attractive woman in my neighborhood. She bluntly turned me down. Made it very clear that my divorcee status, my looks, my job and my tiny apartment were not good enough for her. Ten years later, she is a wreck. Stuck in the same dead-end job, still drawing exactly the same income, deep in debt, her beauty marred by a chronic ailment and an unexpected surgery, a social recluse.
When I visited her recently to enquire about her health, she wept copiously and bitterly. And all I could feel was a deep sorrow for her.

Illness, misery, poverty, divorce and bad luck can happen to anyone, at any time. If you cannot or will not help out a fellow human in his bad days, then at least do not mock him. Misfortune can, and will, happen to you one day. On that day, you will find yourself alone.

Do not flaunt your wealth and your fancy gadgets and your car and your career and your condo and your expensive vacation.

First of all, no one cares. Second of all, flaunting yourself is a good way to attract the wrong people – the kind of people who make scary telephone calls in the dead of night.

Take care of your parents.
Some years ago, I met a transgender (or a hijra, if you will), during a train journey. She told me that their community takes care of their elders, much more than ‘normal’ people do. Before we parted ways, she made a telling remark. She said that a man who does not take care of his parents is unfit to be even be a hijra.

That remark will remain with me life-long. I have nothing but scorn for a son who will not perform a son’s duty – no matter how wealthy he is or which ‘developed’ country he has emigrated to.

Be a man. Take care of your parents.

And hello. The Bombay High Court recently ruled that a daughter, even if she is married, is also legally and morally responsible for her parents’ upkeep.

Woman empowerment is not just about demanding legal rights (that you already have), it also about accepting equal responsibility.

Want to be really empowered as a woman? Then take care of your parents.

Keep your religious beliefs to yourself – especially when you visit someone’s home.
If you know anything about history, you will know that most, if not all, human conflicts are directly caused by religious differences. There is a reason why we study history – to learn from it.

Blind unreasoning faith in a self-styled godman does not make you ‘spiritual’. It makes you an intolerant, vicious cultist. I should know. I was married to one such.

Do not use words like heathen, pagan, infidel or any other derogatory term, on fellow human beings whose religious opinion is not the same as yours.

Have faith instead, in the innate goodness of human beings – all human beings.

Be nice to your fellow humans, be nice to your fellow creatures that share this planet with you. Be nice to your planet. Those are the only lessons that matter.

And don’t feed stray dogs.

Do check out this vintage qawali by Aziz Nazan. It will put your life into the right perspective.

Cheers … Srini.

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Of birds and friends, of idlis and vadas, and all things nice.

painted stork

Painted stork at Kokkrebellur

Given my spartan lifestyle, my chronically single status and my aversion to most human beings, my social options are somewhat limited. The only two outdoor activities I really enjoy are birding and nature photography. While I am happy to enjoy these activities in the scintillating company of my own self, my hobbies do bring me in touch with some really likable people, sometimes from outside India.

One such really likable person is Dr Ilana, my new friend from Israel. An avid birder and nature-lover like myself, Ilana had come down to Bangalore along with her husband, Dr Haim, for a medical conference.

She took a day off to join me and my friend, Vishnupriya Hathwar, for a field trip down Mysore road. We set off at the crack of dawn, to avoid the ghastly traffic that Bangalore has become notorious for.

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Moode idli, uddina vada, sambar. One serving will not do!

First stop. Hearty Kannadiga breakfast at Kamath Lokaruchi, my favorite eating house on this route. This place has maintained its standard since the past decade, and deserves all the positive reviews it gets. Cordial service, authentic Kannadiga food, good standards of cleanliness and hygiene (about which I am paranoid).

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Ilana and Vishnu: Is that a bee-eater?

Lantana at Tailur

Next halt: Tailur tank, near Maddur. On the way to Kokkrebellur, this place is a hot favorite with birders and photographers. We have a special tree at this place, which is home to several species of birds – notably the blue-tailed bee-eater, which is endemic to this location. Also seen in this tree will be spotted owlets, coppersmith barbets, green barbets, black-headed ibises, the occasional red-necked falcon, and several others.

small sks-06764You will also find an ancient artifact at this tank. Carved from a piece of granite, this ancient sculpture portrays seven goddesses, and dates back to the Ganga dynasty, circa 9th century CE. What a shame it is just lying there unattended.

Indian grey hornbill, Kokkrebellur

We proceed to another favorite destination, Kokkrebellur. Named after the painted storks that occupy every tree in this little village during winter, Kokkrebellur is virtually a place of pilgrimage for birders like myself. Since we went there off-season, there weren’t many painted storks around. But that gave us the chance to see several other species, notably, the golden-fronted leafbird and to my joy, several mating pairs of Indian grey hornbills. The hornbills alone were worth the journey.

After a substantial lunch at a food court off the highway, we proceed thence to Ranganathittu. Although this little bird sanctuary is fairly well maintained, I am not overly fond of this place. It is usually too crowded and they rip off foreign visitors. We did sight some interesting species, that I have described in an earlier post.

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Picture by GOPAL BHASKARAN.

The one place we were really desperate to visit was Ramadevarabetta. Until the recent past, this rocky hill was a delightful place to visit if one wanted to see rare raptors. Gross neglect and criminal encroachment has nearly destroyed this place. The government woke up a little too late and fenced off what’s left of Ramadevarabetta. This rocky place is the abode of the critically endangered Long-billed vulture.

We arrived at dusk, well past 6pm, to find that the gates were closed, and the watchman wouldn’t oblige. Thanks to Ilana’s spotting scope though, we were able to sight three long-billed vultures, to our great delight.

That to us, was a spectacular end to a great birding day. I had fun, I met a wonderful couple and made two new friends, and I learnt a great deal about Israel. And made up my mind to visit this remarkable country before I die.

“To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”  Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Memoir

Cheers … Srini.

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We didn’t get a medal. So what? So effing what?

Yeah. We didn’t win a medal. So what? So effing what?

All of a sudden, self-appointed custodians of our country’s pride come crawling out of the woodwork, with their usual rants about how a country of 1.3 billion people can’t win a single ‘Olumpic’ medal, in spite of 70 years of independence, how our athletes lack the ‘winning attitude’, or the ‘killer instinct’, whatever the eff that means. And rant about the money spent on our ‘Olumpic’ team, and the ‘investment’ made on them, etc, etc.

As if our country’s athletes are items in a kirana store that we need a profitable return on investment.

Most of these self-appointed custodians of India’s pride and prestige are pot-bellied couch potatoes themselves. Or worse, they are cut-rate gossip columnists and peddlers of printed sleaze.

Not one of them would have stepped into a sports arena in their lives. Ask them to run a hundred meters, and they will collapse after fifty. Tell them to climb a single flight of stairs and they will get a heart attack. See if they can touch their toes without getting a hernia. Most of these rotund jackasses do not even live in India.

These are the fat-laden buffoons who rave and rant about India’s medal tally. It is true that India has won not more than 26 medals in its entire Olympic history, of which 11 are for hockey alone. The last time we won a gold in hockey was in 1980, by the way.

So? Does that mean that (a) India is a not a global force in sports and (b) we must therefore stop sending our athletes to the Olympics, or what?

This is what Ms Shobha and her ilk say we should do. Well, Shobha and her ilk have no idea about what the spirit of the Olympics really is.

That’s because, without exception, they are self-centered, pathetically narrow minded little morons.

Is the Olympics not about winning? Of course it is. Do you think athletes across the world work their backsides off for four years, with the intention of losing? Of course they want to win. That is the intention of the Olympics.

But that is not the spirit of the event.

What then is the spirit of the Olympics, you ask? Do I really need to tell you? It’s there in the motto.

Citius. Altius. Fortius. Faster, higher, stronger.

Simply put, “Be the best that you can be”.

Officially put, “to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges”.

To even stand on the same platform as the world’s best athletes is honor enough. Anyone who can make it to the Olympics is already a winner, already a world-class athlete.

And hello, rotund jackass. India is a world leader in several sports, cricket being just one of them. How about tennis? Chess? Do you know how many world champions in billiards we have produced? Heard of Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi? How about badminton? Wrestling? Boxing?

So stop whining about our Olympic medal tally. We can do better, I give you that. And certainly, sports administration in our country needs a serious kick in the pants. We do not need you, rotund jackass, to tell us that.

But why crucify our athletes, o rotund jackass?  Most of them have overcome poverty, discrimination and severe social hurdles to become world-class athletes who represent our country. And remember, they have all succeeded in qualifying for the Olympic finals, not because of our sports administration but in spite of it.

What the eff have you done with the silver spoon you were born with, and with your premier MBA degree from India’s premier institute that was heavily subsidised by tax-payers like me, you rotund jackass? You left the country, that’s what.

I feel terribly proud that an Indian girl has made it to the finals of an Olympic gymnastic event. Such an achievement is unheard of in recorded Indian history. To me, and the rest of India, she is a winner all the way. And she has the grace to apologise to the country for missing the bronze by a teeny whisker.

I do not see why we deserve an apology from her.

Dipa Karmakar. Abhinav Bhindra. Sushil Kumar. Saina Nehwal. Mary Kom. And every single member of our contingent out there in Rio. They are all Olympians, medal winners or not. They made have it there against impossible odds. Most of them know the chances of their actually winning a medal are not very bright.

Still, you know that they will give everything they have to our country. Whether they get a medal or not, is utterly immaterial. Because that is what the Olympics is all about. And that is what India is all about.

Pritish Nandy, a gentleman whom I particularly admire, once wrote, “The killer instinct is the instinct of the moron. It drives you to a posture where you cannot face failure. It is either victory or vulgar self-flagellation”.

And he also wrote, “Eff the killer instinct!”

I heartily agree.

India does not need a “killer instinct” or a “winning attitude” or a medal tally. If we win, we win gracefully.

If we lose, we lose like winners.  We don’t rave and rant. We don’t scream and shout. We don’t whine, throw tantrums and write some garbage on social media. We simply shrug our shoulders and try harder next time.

Cheers … Srini.

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