Sunday, June 13, 2010

First Semester Is Over

After a brief period of hibernation, I am again back on blogger.

I completed my first semester; had to take three courses this semester; three more to go.

There is news from Kerala that monsoon has entered the south-west region of India. Rain in the last few days has been intense. One visible effect of monsoon is on our landline phone in Kerala. The voice is very feeble, as if the person at the other end is talking from a great distance.

University life here is amazing. Ours is a comparatively small and new School. What I liked the most here is the database facility available to each student. Everyone has a log-in username and password, with which s/he can access the databases through any PC inside or outside the campus (In the campus, there are plenty of computer terminals available at 7 to 8 libraries in total). Moreover, all full-time researchers have been provided with a PC and a seat in Researcher's office. JSTOR, the only online database available in JNU, is just one of the scores of journal stores subscribed by our university. So, you can imagine the real extent of the facility. I told some of my close friends, "if you have any article requirement, do let me know the title. Most of the articles in Social Sciences and Humanities are available in the databases here. If an article is available, I can download its PDF without any hassle." By the way, are you using any software for citation? Citation softwares markedly reduce the donkey work associated with citing sources manually. So, do try them. EndNote and KnightCite are some of the good ones.

Our office atmosphere is good. Campus is green; there are cafes and eateries at walking distances from any place inside the campus. Food prices are affordable and food quality is also very good.

Most of the students here stay at rented apartments or single rooms: 2 rooms plus one hall and a kitchen. While the liasee keep the master room for us, the second room has been rented out to someone living single. He's being charged one-third of the rent of the whole unit and the that much share of the electricity, water charges per month. The rooms, hall and kitchen are spacious enough and furnished for the most part - with refrigerator, TV, washing machine etc.

Conversely, I visited a couple of workers' dormitories as part of my field work. The place appears quite congested.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twists and Turns In Life This Year

This year life took various twists and turns. I started doing a new job from Jan onwards and by the last month of the year, I quit the job for pursuing higher studies abroad. I got a decent score in GRE, which I took in Oct. I have decent scores in TOEFL also. With two referee reports and a research proposal, I submitted an application to a University in Sigapore. Finally, by Dec 29, I could join the PhD programme here. I consider this a major break in life, since for the last 4 to 5 years it was passing through bumpy roads.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Relief Funds, Gulf Returnees

I wished to participate in a young scholars' programme organised by a prestigious institute in Mumbai. I created a write-up showing my interest to participate in the project. The write-up is published here. I was, however, not selected for the programme.

Why I wish to participate in YSP – June 2009

It has become a norm among governments all over the world to announce relief and stimulus packages when the respective economy fails to withstand the erosion of wealth in the stock markets. Similar packages have been announced by Central and State governments in India too, notwithstanding the fact that ‘downturn’ has been the day-to-day experience of majority of the country’s population for years on end. I do not wish to enter into the polemic ‘How inclusive was India’s economic growth in the last few years’. Instead, the question that haunts me is, are relief packages utilised at a micro level to implement long-term and sustainable livelihood strategies among the affected population? A case in point is the relief package announced by Government of Kerala for Malayalee labourers returning from the Gulf due to recession. The package worth Rs 100-crore has been allocated in the 2009-10 State budget. The relief package has a proclaimed aim of helping new business ventures by the returnees, of covering immediate relief measures, and helping the school admission for the children of these returnees. This is a good example of a typical governmental intervention at the time of crisis, which do not go much beyond the principle of ‘quantitative easing’ of economy.

I would be happy if get an opportunity to discuss and study in detail how funds are utilised in crisis situations such as the one pertaining to the return of migrant workers to the home country. The questions I wish to discuss in the forum are:- Do these funds help the returnees settle in their motherland and acquire new skills needed for the future? Or are these funds meant to simply replenish an income gap caused by the loss of job of the breadwinner in a family? How does a relief package help the returned migrant worker ensure his/her ascent along the development index? The attempt is to find a development-oriented solution to the problem of return of migrants.

April 22, 2009.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Content Writer for a BPO in India

In the first round of the selection process for the post of Content Writer in a BPO in Gurgaon, the candidates were asked to write in about 100-150 words about any one of the three topics given below:
  • Balanced diet is essential for a healthy life
  • Listening V/s Talking
  • Dogs are man's closest pets
I chose the second one and wrote an essay in 1 - 1 and a half hour. Though I was not shorlisted for the second round, I found the essay worth publishing in my blog. The essay has been reproduced here from memory.

Listening V/s Talking
Perhaps the dichotomy between these two characteristics of a human being has never been as evident in history as it is today. Human kind as a race has increasingly become self-assertive and persuasive in its approach to the world such that its members are more favorably inclined to talk than to listen. I should refrain from making a sweeping statement here, upholding the true spirit o our topic of discussion itself. However, I am sure it won't be completely out of context if I try to associate these two human activities with two different philosophies.
Listening negates the importance of one's 'self' and gives importance to the events and people around. Knowledge acquisition and to a greater extent, emotional satisfaction are the main objectives of listening, which is initiated by external sensory stimuli. One listens to people talking, to the chirping of birds and to all pleasant sound in nature. What more, many a poet has acknowledged that the most original of his/her works happened in lonliness and silence. One listens to silence too!
While listening is characterized by introspection aided by external stimuli, talking expound the philosophy of sharing. From the western school of 'Rhetori' to the eastern method of 'Tarkka Shastra' (the science of arguing), talking has prime importance in all human endeavors for knowledge. Talking clarifies doubts, helps to share knowledge and in most cases reassures everyone who is audience to it. Though listening and talking have equal importance in human life, due to the overemphasis given to the latter, human life faces a disequilibrium. Are we ready to unlearn what we have acquired from talk shows and empty election debates? Let's listen to our inner self for an answer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Doha negotiations in the wake of food crisis

5th May 2008

Once again food has proved to be capable of generating valuable insights in everyone around the world. Only that, this time it's the lack of it that has provided us with valuable thoughts. For a discerning mind, it's also time for a few key lessons in economics. Addressing the Global Agro Industries Forum in New Delhi in April, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said: “... for the first time, there is a direct linkage between oil prices and food prices. Food markets have got interlinked to oil markets, making food policy-making extremely complex as well as uncertain.” We may very well add to it, cost of fertilizer as well as transportation, which adds to the complexity of the problem.

While global bigwigs did several statement somersaults in the last fortnight, the world saw 21st century economic understanding of some developed nations stoop down to the level of outright bargaining and blame-game. US and other rice-importing countries urged the rice-exporting nations not to put curbs on food grains exports. Equally amateurish were Bush's as well as US State Secretary's now controversial “improvement in the diets of people in India and China” statement. That proponents of free trade are not aiming at the welfare of all stakeholders involved was also evident from a motion introduced by a Conservative MP from Shipley, north England, in Britain's House of Commons last week. MP Philip Davies wanted to address the grievances of Indian restaurant industry in his constituency as well as in Bradford. But his motion ended up saying, “(this House) condemns the EU for imposing tariffs of up to 65 euros per ton on basmati rice from Thailand, Egypt, Uruguay and the US; believes in the principle of free trade; and therefore calls on the government to regain trade policy from the EU and abolish these tariffs for the benefit of these restaurants, takeaways and the customers they serve.” (italics mine) Does free trade mean unrestricted availability of goods and grains even when they are scarce and dearer in the global market?

Ethanol was once the champion among environment friendly automobile fuel and was considered the sustainable fuel source of the future, which is capable of substituting petrol to a large extent. On the wake of food crises, the question has now changed to “how feasible is the idea of shifting to ethanol based fuel if it risks the food security of millions.” Brazil from the BRIC block is one of the countries that have profited heavily from the fuel changeover to ethanol. World's largest producer of sugar cane, Brazil now runs most of its cars with ethanol, produced from sugar cane. But in a matter of months the world became sceptical about the new invention. UN agricultural scientists, who had supported the biofuel programme until last year, changed stance in a matter of months. Jean Ziegler, United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, called the changeover to ethanol a 'crime against humanity'. Olivier de Schutter, a law professor and human rights campaigner from France, joins the debate pointing fingers at the interests of certain lobbies involved in the changeover to biofuels. In an interview to Le Monde in April, Shutter says: “The ambitious goals for biofuel production set by the United States and the European Union are irresponsible.” Billions of dollars have already been poured into the biofuel project in countries like the US, Brazil, Canada and in Europe. In such a situation, can anyone expect the biofuel projects be scrapped in these countries until and unless the amount invested in them is recaptured with profit? No. On the other hand, there will be attempts to apportion the policy flip-flops the developed countries face domestically with the developing countries in international forums. This is where we need to be cautious.

The major twist for the whole story is kept in pending for the Doha rounds. Here again US is far-sighted than many of our policy makers. If we can read between the lines of US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who hinted at the changing US stance on May 4th while talking to media persons on the sidelines of Southeast Asian trade meeting on the Indonesian resort of Bali, we can make one thing out: Global food crisis is a time for overall trade regulations; is a time when self-sufficient countries restrict their global food trade so as to make domestically produced food available for its own people; is also a time to, theoretically, deregulate imports so as to allow cheaper foods from anywhere in the world to come to your country so that you can quell food scarcity. This itself is what US wants from the Doha rounds. Global food crisis is the best time for the US and other developed countries to negotiate with the developing countries to open up their market. New trade distortions could emerge from worries over access to food, which, according to Schwab, “really would hurt the Doha round, because it flies in the face of what you should really be doing, which is really eliminating as many distortions as you can so you have a free flow of food.”

Food stocks are depleting in many countries, many are unable to meet the stock targets of the year (Fortunately India will be meeting the procurement target for this year around, but fears are not totally out of place for the long term.). Everywhere in the world there is growing concern over 'tomorrow's bread'. Taking advantage of this situation, US can highlight a new set of expediencies in the May 19th (or 26th) key Geneva meeting of World Trade Organization ministers to push through its interests. While US negotiators are keen to make use of the emerged food situation across the world, has India done its homework in the changed scenario? In the panic of feeding the hungry, or ensuring food for its millions for tomorrow, developing countries are likely to put the economic interest of the farmer under the carpet. Remember, countries have least concern about others, less so when the whole world is negotiating with the same monster issue – global food crisis.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Diary Writings - Ubiquity

From the rented room in which I put up to the office where I work, I am distributed, diffused: in the staircases, verandas, along the road and over the two canals which I cross everyday on my way to office. As if this is not enough, there are other problems too, which are of equal concern to me. My spirit lingers around those who are known to me (of course, to ensure this I have to often think about them). This helped me understand that infinity might be incomprehensible but possible and that death is impossible.

Google might be the only contemporary who has found out the real possibility of this. Quite different from those third-rate paparazzi who stick their nose in anything and everything, I have noticed this formless coherence in a few cartoonists also. Google's actual genius is in showing neither any interest nor any disinterest in anything in the web world. You should be able to endure the aftermath of your own existence, your own being – that is what Google Ads are. They say: “Like a conscience, we're tattooed on you for ever. It's inevitable, ad infinitum. Till the time you exist you'll look at us for being convinced of your own existence”

Here, noises are the ones which behave in a totally indiscreet manner. Going high in volume or lowing down – I see this only as an attempt to attract attention. Owing to this property alone, contrary to what McLuhan said, noises always proclaim the sources they emanate from.

(Originally written in Malayalam. Translated to English by the author with modifications.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Monsoon in Delhi

It rained in our area today. Monsoon had hit Delhi a few days ago, on 28th June, to be precise. Personnel at the Metereological Department said that it was one day early. But there wasn't even a slight drizzle in our 'labour class area' till yesterday night. Yesterday night there were stars in the sky, vivid and bright. There was cool breeze. And as usual, I slept on the terrace, like many other tenants in the apartment. They are manual labourers who easily adapt to any living conditions. And then, today early morning it rained. I withdrew to my room at the corner of the apartment which has holes, which have width of a brick, on the walls instead of windows. The room reeks with warm vapour always.

Last week one of my friends in JNU, with whom I often spend my weekends, invited me for our routine discussion over a beer. I replied him, "Dosth (friend), I am not free this weekend. Monsoon may hit our 'labour class area' too in a day or two. If that happens, I will sleep for the whole Sunday." Rain has always been associated with good sleep. That is a typical Malayali behaviour, right?

I keep records of my daily expenses now. I have never done that in my life. Life is so cheap in our area. I got a room for just Rs.1000/- plus water charges of Rs.30/- per month in addition to electricity charges. Water is pumped to the storage tank at 5 in the morning. When the motor runs, I store one bucket full of water for bath and a bottle full of drinking water for the day. In summer, collecting water for bath in the morning is very important since the water stored in the tank on the terrace will get terribly hot during the day. It remains to be hot even in the next morning. June 8th and 9th were the hottest days in this summer. The temperature rose upto 44.9o C on one of these days. Hearing that I wake up at 5 in the morning to collect water, one of my friends in JNU quipped: "Every experience is now there with you to write a story."

Rain wreaked havoc in many Indian states this season too. Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat and Maharashtra were the most affected. Northeastern states were also flooded, as always. Mumbai Municapal Corporation had taken great precautions to take on the monsoon this season. But water logged roads and floods gave the lensmen a good catch for their daily beats in this season too. Perhaps the only people who are happy about floods are the journalists. We know that everyone loves a good drought.