To be at ‘IT’ incessantly

I am being brutally honest in this post about my struggles to get back to a piece of work after a break from it due to other engagements. I end up spending hours or sometimes days gathering myself to get back myself on track with the work. Many times there are some clogs, unrelated to the job, but they really clog the mind from working on the task at hand. These clogs could be as mundane as gathering all bills or invoices together or a bike maintenance appointment I wanted to finish before getting back to the task or cleaning up the  worktable or simply make a painting or clean the cupboard or unpack and wash clothes from a trip or finishing up a long pending salon appointment. It  could be any one of these or combination of these. If I am unconscious of that clog, I take days at times to unclog my mind.

The unclogging process usually doesn’t happen by itself all the time. If I take the time on my return trip back  ( literally or metaphorically ) to my old job, to reflect on what is coming next, then things happen smooth like a flowing river. If I end up being sick or zapped after the assignment, I forget or run little bandwidth to reflect and I come all constipated mentally to the previous job. Then I seek seek inspiration. This is a conscious or a deliberate process. Where I question why I am doing what I am doing, what is the “purpose” of it, and try put a face to it. A face like this one below. I tell myself if I do my job right there is a possibility that this face can be affected positively. And the choice of not working on cutting edge technology firm or a engineering firm was to see that face smile.

Kids across are adorable. She was just going about her business of playing and being curious around us yesterday while we were going about our work. This village was recovering from #earthquake and many houses had moved into tin recovery shelters. The #sc

A child from a earthquake affected village. She knows none of the troubles of all that. You want those eyes to remain happy! Dont you?

Been a while…

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I have begun a Masters education again in Public Policy from a “reputed” Law School in India last July. Its been a long time since I wrote. Its been a busy year at the new school trying to understand the language and discourses of social science- patriarchy, feminism, injustice, the lefts , the rights, the left to center, the right of centre, marxist, capitalist, yada yada yada…along with falling ill etc.

As much these social science ways of looking at things fascinated me, I think by the end of it all I would still prefer to remain an engineer. Pick up a problem and solve it.

All this time I have been trying to get myself to READ, READ and READ as much as possible and make sense of things, to be able to read in between lines, understand the social dynamics behind a particular issue at hand. I must admit that, its been helpful to engage with these things. But its frustrating to argue, debt and discuss on caste, class, gender, inequity, ulterior motive behind every move of a government  or the world as such. Only exception among the social sciences that seems to be concrete although erroneous many times is Economics. Fascination for this subject has not worn off. As much as it is good to know what is the backdrop of any given condition or issue, it will be useful to also work towards addressing these issues.

 

 

Cages that are heavily coloured and some that are non-existent

Since the Salman Khan’s bail and Jayalalithaa’s aquittal from the judiciary in the past month has made one only  question if the judiciary is indeed impartial or the powerful can anyway get off with doing anything.  After the Salman Khan’s bail for which the judge went an extra length, I felt disgusted. His fans doing dhara for his bail and things like that, makes one wonder are people so blind folded to the crimes committed by their ‘stars’.

Anyway witnessing this extreme from the judiciary reading this book ‘Colours of the Cage’ by Arun Ferreira reveals the realities of prison for a poor or a man with little access to legal aid.

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I have been reading the news on his case since early 2010s. This book is an account of all that he went through his incarceration. A four and half years of prison for voicing against the injustice done to the marginalised. What is remarkable about this book is the unsentimental account of it. I am sure the author must have gone through a lot of agony both physically and mentally through his time in the prison, but he chooses to dwell a lot less on them than on an objective description of the happenings in the prisons he was put in.

His narration of appalling living conditions of prisons, the politics within the prison and how things move in the judiciary with respect to all the cases he is charged in throws light on ‘how things work’ with Indian police and the judiciary system. But, his accounts on other prisoners like Kithulal  makes one feel helpless and sad for these people. Kithulal a farm labor ‘ who was convicted for the murder of a small boy who died by accidental consuming pesticide Kithulal used for his crop’. As Kithulal could not afford proper defence, he had spent more than 15 years in prison.

As much as I believe ‘ equality’ is not the nature’s way of things, but I also think it is imperative that we try to ensure at least the most basic of necessities for life anywhere is available to all. In the case of prisons , access to legal aid will be also part of the necessities list.

Hunger

Since the past couple of days, for some specific purpose I am having only two meals a day. First one post noon and the next one at 6:00 pm. As I eat only two times I eat really really well ( read it as gluttonize). Still I stay hungry for most parts of the day except between 12:00 in noon to 8:00 pm. My mind seems to not be able to overlook food, as I wake up hungry at 6:00 am and I sleep hungry at 12:00 am. Only a few times   have I been in a place when I did not have food to eat and I was hungry.

The plight of most of our (subsistence) farmers and their families  is of hunger, lack of proper nutrition to children and stunted growth. What must it be to stay hungry when you are a producer of food? Isn’t it cruel? One may wonder if I am being overtly sentimental about it. It would be good to go hungry and limit your meals for couple of days and observe it for yourself.  You will realise how it could fee. Many of us reading this post eat much before we get hungry and have forgotten how it is to feel ‘hungry’. In the state I come from, Tamil Nadu, people greet by asking Saptingala? ( have you eaten). Saptingala is a replacement for all the “good mornings”, “how are you”,  “how is the weather”, “how are things” and the “whatsups” .   This must have been the practice when there was not enough food for all. And to be well was as simple as  to have a filled stomach.

I was glad when the National Food Security Bill was tabled in 2013. But the new government at the centre is only trying to cut down the expenditure and make it minimalistic in nature.  The Shanta Kumar committee which was mandated to look at Food Corporation of India and recommend changes. The committee did that, but majority of its recommendations rather suggest to curtail the National Food Security Act. Two of its recommendations were : to reduce the percentage of population covered under it form 67% to 40% and to increase the cost of grains to half the price of the minimum support price provided by the government to the farmers from the present Rs 2/kg and Rs 3/kg for rice and wheat respectively.

It looks like the way of the BJP government to change laws instead of re-hauling the ineffective and inefficient institutions that are supposed to deliver law. Something similar has also done to the Environmental law, by the High Level Committee set up to look at the environmental law. In their haste to review the law in a limited period of 2 months, the committee goes about recommending changes to law rather than looking at the institution which has to provide the certificates and what lacks with them.  Ramaswamy Iyer looks at this  in his piece in The Hindu.

One hoped for development and wellbeing with this new government. the hope still is present. Hope this government does what it wants to do for industries without sabotaging the interest of the weaker lot: the farmers, the tribals who survive on the forest and others. Also hope it is not foolish enough to invoke  damage to the environment and forests that make the earth liveable.

All this rampant industrialisation without any consideration for the environment or cutting down the expenditure in food security  will give the government garner better economic development, higher growth rate etc. But what is the point to development when along with it, the only thing that it garners is increases is conflict, unrest and wider economic divide.

Thoughts and Questions as I read Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’

Its a delight to have someone write a historical economics book looking at economies over a long period of time across a large number of countries. This expanse aids in portraying and reasoning the economic conditions more near reality of the times. With this its trying to see what will the economic future be like.  I am happy to be reading this book. Its an effort of 15 years of rigorous research on 20 countries over 3 centuries.

I am not done reading the book, but I am impatient and tempted to say that, this book may be able to see what lies as the economic future of the world. I say this because the author seems to take into consideration and be empathetic about the conditions of the times when the previous economic theories were formulated. Secondly, he is taking into account all the historical events and their connections to the economics of the times.

As a lay person ( not trained as an economist ) reading journal papers, news papers and looking  the trends of things around I had this observarion about the way economies have been in recent times : Economies oscillated between the keynesian (socialist)  and hayek’s  ( free market ) economics . This oscillation between the extremes and all permutations and combinations of parts of these two models will be a part of the cycle the world goes through and it will continue to go through.  As there is no permanent fix to any economic condition or social conditions like poverty and penury. New theories will evolve, will fix the social problems until these theories are well understood and misused by few for their own personal benefit. Economics as field so seems to be one which will keep evolving, getting more complex as time goes by and so will the problems.

Violation of women in Indian society

A year old writing of mine, which has been left as a draft for a long time. I seem to come back to the thought of violation now and then. I come back to it because its deeply upsetting. Secondly there seems to be no way(s) of handling this violation in immediate ways. If it is long time, then there is no clear set of steps to follow to uproot it. 

A subject that I have been very emotional about for a long time. Something I have always wanted to talk and write about. I never did it all this while because I did not want to be another activist shouting ” You rape, We Chop”. Having personally been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, as a teenager and as a traveler, I know where that rage comes from. My blood boils reading about a 7 yr old, 60 yr old or 15 yr old being raped.

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“Theorization vs Doing… which is your cup of tea?” , I ask myself

I have taken a 12 week policy course to understand policy and the craft of policy making and analysis in a structured manner. A secondary purpose of this course was also to understand if I can really engage with theory as I engage with practice.

Engaging with practice or doing things on work along with relevant reading and research comes more naturally to me than  first reading, understanding and then doing. I have been lucky at work with colleagues whose strengths lie with the later approach. Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. But one thing that I no more question is the relevance of theory to practice.

But what kind of theory is useful is something I always dwell upon. The process of engaging with theory is fascinating. Theories paint a neat and beautiful picture most of the times. They make you hopeful and optimistic about solving a problem. And the process of theorization most of the times assume many things and concentrate on few parameters or factors that affect the problem and try solving the problem with these factors in mind alone.

One of the books that lays down beautifully the approach to policy analysis is  Eugene Bardach ‘s A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving. 

It helps understand how to look at a problem and solve it methodically step by step. But every step I read, in my mind I have examples of following some of the steps ( myself or someone else) and failing at achieving expected outcomes. And in real world most of these structured approaches do not guarantee achievement of aspired outcome. And my questions in most classes are the sort that do not get answered satisfactorily. This  leads to a conclusion that, in spite of all these beautiful methods, every situation is unique and every outcome of a situation is as uncertain and unpredictable when prepared for or  unprepared for. Especially in the policy making/ analyis exercise. This is more so in the Indian context.

But to my relief reading the papers from 1959 and 1979 respectively  ; The Science of “muddling through” and Still muddling, Not yet done ;  by Charles E Lindblom seem to answer my angst. Lindblom’s incremental approach to  theorizing  policy and decision making more real.

The concept mostly used in policy analysis is a Rational- Comprehensive approach, What  Bardach suggests can be comfortably placed under this approach.

Characteristics of  Rational- Comprehensive approach are [1]:

  1. Clarification of values or objectives distinct from and usually prerequisite to empirical analysis of alternative policies.
  2. Policy-formulation is therefore approached through means-end analysis: First the ends are isolated, then the means to achieve them are sought.
  3. The test of a “good” policy is that it can be shown to be the most appropriate means to desired ends.
  4.  Analysis is comprehensive; every important relevant factor is taken into account.
  5. Theory is often heavily relied upon. 

Whereas what actually happens is intertwined evaluation and analysis. This can be better understood using the Successive Limited Comparisons approach as suggested in Lindblom’s paper.

Characteristics of Successive Limited Comparisons approach are [1]:

  1. Selection of value goals and empirical analysis of the needed action are not distinct from one an- other but are closely intertwined.
  2. Since means and ends are not distinct, means-end analysis is often inappropriate or limited.
  3. The test of a “good” policy is typically that vari- ous analysts find themselves directly agreeing on a policy (without their agreeing that it is the most appropriate means to an agreed objective).
  4. A succession of comparisons greatly reduces or eliminates reliance on theory. 
  5. Analysis is drastically limited:
      • Important possible outcomes are neglected.
      • Important alternative potential policies are neglected.
      • Important affected values are neglected

If theorization draws from reality like what Lindblom does it looks like my cup of tea, atleast for now! If not I will stick to doing rather than theorizing.

Signing off, as I muddle through my dilemma of “to theorize or not to”… 🙂


1. The Science of “Muddling Through” , Charles E. Lindblom, Public Administration Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1959), pp. 79-88,Published by: Wiley

 

A just society – Who is responsible for its existence and functioning?

I am passionate about certain ideas, one of them is – ‘a just society where there is enough space and tolerance for all ( human beings and others ) in the world to coexist’. These ideas have been the reasons for making many important decisions in my life.  My career shifts , the areas I work in and design of work – non work life all are based on these ideas.

On a dinner table conversation yesterday  I find myself in between a argument where the ‘ideas’ and my beliefs that I am passionate about are questioned. And the person questioning has good reasons why he thinks its not something an individual can strive for or even responsible for. And I have my life and the journey until now precisely based on the belief that – an individual can work on these ideas and facilitate the journey of the society towards becoming more just.

This being the context, I here try to articulate what is the idea of a just society and who is responsible for its functioning as a just society.And answer who is responsible for it – is it the system ( loosely made up of governments and the state) or the individuals.

When one of the friends, A, talk about making an ethical choice on goods ( food, clothes , furniture etc) bought for needs/ wants of our life is made, another ,B , retorts – there are systems in place to take of all those matters and “I do not want to live in an eternal paranoia , which may not even be true”.

My response to B with context building goes as below:

What industrial revolution of the 1800s has hastened the process of change on this planet that is unprecedented. It is made possible to produce and manufacture goods of scales at phenomenal speed. This has given rise to a crisis situation that none of us on this planet have any knowledge about and there is no history of this situation to learn from. The crisis situation has manifested in many forms, to state a few – deforestation and high  utilisation rates of natural resources and exploitation of vulnerable communities.

How is a system (government + bureaucratic institutions) responsible to this kind of crisis situations? Assuming that we live in a country where the systems are perfectly functional, what should they do? The systems should make policies and decisions that benefit majority of the stakeholders and hurts the least. The other responsibility of the system is to be the watchdog and regulator so that there is very little exploitation of the weaker stakeholders by the stronger one.

But the conditions in which today’s crisis happen are happening in a dynamic web with too many factors influencing it. The pace of change of systems is far lacking to the pace of change of things in todays world. Therefore the responsibility to build a just society also falls on the individuals who make the society itself.

Its individuals that participate and raise objections to the system that help it change to meet the needs of the times. It is individuals who perceive the loopholes and point fingers and take steps to change the loop holes that make the systems better.

The entire argument here is too simplistic because of the assumptions made. If we look at a situation realistically, all of us will agree on one thing that the systems of governance and regulation are not at efficient.  In such situations participation and owning up to situations and reacting on an individual level becomes an imperative. Finishing on a very rhetorical note:

Little drops of water
Make the mighty ocean

Photography – Breaking the mould

The past two days have been a delight for the artist within. I have spent a whole day walking through Tate Britain‘s collection of art works from 1500s until present day and another day with looking at works of modern art from across Europe and the americas in Tate Modern. The experience in both places have been wonderful. These galleries hold huge collections of arts of the periods and the regions they are dedicated to.  You love art or not, everyone loves beautiful sights. One must to go to these museums just to experience that sight of those beauty from centuries. And the best part about these museums is the guided tour around the place provided by the volunteers. That helps one understand the context, the reasons and the times when these museums were initiated and the times the art works were made.

The walks and time spent in the galleries of these museums is not enough for me. There were many comparisons, thoughts , observations going on within. A thought and a marvel that recurred as I walked from one gallery to another was about photography, its advent and its contribution to fine arts.

Photography is classified as one of the fine arts along with drawing, painting, sculpting etc. But the entire scene of fine arts have gone through a revolution with the invention of cameras. Life of photography and the techniques- to capture light and capture images from chemical mediums to digital mediums is another fascinating journey. But its undeniable what this field of arts have done to the others. Its contribution to others is enormous. If you look at the collections in Tate Britain and Tate Modern there is stark change in the style of paintings and expressions. There seems to be a sudden shift in how an artist expressed himself. And to me that sudden shift in expression was made possible by photography.

Wivenhoe Park by COntable

Before photographic techniques were found, artists mostly painted scenes, portraits and situations to document stories.  If you look at the collection of 1500s in Tate Britain, every painting has a story to tell. Every detail of a painting had a reason – what dress a person is wearing, the number of rings they wore in their hands portrayed etc, all of it was trying to say something of those times. Many art works commissioned were to tell those stories in one single frame. The art works of Turner, Constable and others of those times are so important in that respect. They helped us see what it would be like in their times.

The field of waterloo by Turner

With the carrival of photography, the responsibility of documentation to a great extent was lifted off from the artist.  This provided the kind of freedom that artists in the past did not have. The sublime art of Turner’s times now gave way to the abstract art of the modern times. In a way, my journey as an artist have been like that of classical art to that of modern art. I did not have a camera of my own until I was 19 years old. I had basic training in classical painting and drawing techniques- water colors, oil on canvas etc. I used tomake landscapes with oil on canvas and portraits of faces with pencil or charcoal on paper. After the point when I had a camera of my own, I started to experiment with color, papers and different medias simply expressing what I felt on those papers. The need to document and capture moments of importance is now taken care of by my camera.  Photography bestowed me with that mental freedom.

Weeping woman by Piccaso

I have always been able to relate to Pablo Piccaso’s or Jacksonn Pollocks work without knowing why. And lately my interaction with colors look like the way Gerhard Richter’s play with colors. In an interview Richter says ( i paraphrase it here) – colors are so beautiful to simply be with, i simply play with them until I feel satisfied. The rage and agony Piccaso must have felt painting the weeping woman, or the surging emotions that Pollock felt while slapping and dripping colors on his canvas or the delight of playing with colors that Richter felt is what I could connect with.  This to me was a contribution of photography to fine art.

One of the paintings of Gerhard Richter exhibited at Tate Modern

 

V&A museum – Art and its perception across generations

One of the Jammel Prize exhibits. An artist trying to make the arabic calligraphy modern yet not too modern.

One of the Jammel Prize exhibits. An artist trying to make the arabic calligraphy modern yet not too modern.

I visit many magnificent museums, exhibitions, places of architectural importance all the time while on work. I take zillions of photos and I edit none. I write detailed notes and I never write/ publish it.

Today I am spending my entire day at this V&A museum in London. The first thing I did while here is go through the Jameel Prize winners exhibit. And then took the introductory tour through the museum. And I am typing this post taking a break from my museum tour. I think I won’t be able to write anything coherant by the end of the day as I will have too many things to say and won’t know what to write and share. So I took this break after a brief interaction with another museum visitor at the V&A cafe.

There are many things wonderful I can say about the V&A museum. Can I say something which has already not been told by some celebrated art critic or an appreciator?I don’t think so. Neither do I have the language or the skill to do it. All I could talk about is my experience and observation on what happens around the art exhibits here.

Observation 1:

A hanging exhibit of all the band instruments used by the coal miners

A hanging exhibit of all the band instruments used by the coal miners crushed and flattened. More symbolic of what happened to the mines during the Thatcher era.

When I arrived at the museum, I was early by few minutes, there were many people waiting in front of the entrance. Right across V&A museum is the Natural history Museum and the Science museum. These also had people waiting in front of the gates. That is a nice sight. I have liked the attitude people have  for history and art in this country. I can not stop myself from comparing what it is in India. If few more of us cared for art and finer things our cities, towns and villages will be a different place.

Observation 2:

Somnathapura temple , Karnataka, India

Somnathapura temple , Karnataka, India

There were two groups of school children running around the museum. All of them were taken around by their school teachers I think. Don’t know who those adults were. But while taking the introductory tour, I came across one of the bunches, who sat in front of on of the art pieces and a teacher/ volunteer was explaining them about it for more than 15 minutes.  I have gone to museums, planetariums and science exhibitions as a child, but dont remember anyone taking me through the works like this. Recently while on a trip to one of the most beautiful Keshawa temple of Hoysala architecture in  Somnathpura ,there were children from local school brought to the place. They were introduced to the sculptures  but not as well as it could have be done.

Experience of the place:

V&A Cafe, designed in the William Morris times.

V&A Cafe, designed in the William Morris times.

My experience of the place has been good. Its a huge museum.  In the words of  this lovely lady, Edda Luise Irvine, who took us around doing the introductory tour : ” it will take me another life time to see, understand and appreciate every one of the millions of exhibit  in the museum” . Indeed! But the thing that I liked about this place is the fact that I could relate to the space. The design of the museum.  Although most of the exhibits are centuries old, there is something relatable. This could be because of the fact that the reception area and some spaces  have exhibits like – this huge glass chandelier (made of glass weighing some 1700 kilo grams with thousands of pieces of glass) hanging at the entrance and  a huge copper wire art work by Omer Arbel  in the middle of ceramic sculptures from 18th and 19th century.

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An art exhibit with light bulbs hanging off copper wire. It is called the 28.280 by Omer Arbel

Glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly. This was installed in 1999.

Glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly. This was installed in 1999.

Interestingly while having a cup of tea in the cafe, one of the fellow tourist (must be in her 60s) shares how things in the museum have changed. She had visited this place when she was a teenager. . And her quibble was – “The museum was so much better in those days”. And that is what we always do isn’t it? If I came 40 years from now, my quibble will be similar to hers, isn’t it?. The reasons for which I found this place more acceptable were the same why she did not like it.  There is this inherent resistance to change and acceptance of new things. And that to me is intriguing. Places like these bring that aspect of us out so well.

With that thought, I shall resume my tour again.