Go Green – do your green miles …

This post has been 3 years in making, I have had draft saved but never got around to finishing it. I personally do not see the point of new year resolutions,if something is important why wait for some appointed day to  make a change. Anyhow this year around new year I resolved to follow thru and stop driving my car and use shared transportation to work at-least 72 days in 2015.

The most important trigger was fog delayed Chennai flights, I am proud Chennai-wasi who has lived in this city for more than 50% of my life so far and past 10 years.  I do not ever recollect Fog delaying anything in Chennai and there has been a steady deterioration of air quality  and in my opinion the biggest contributor is particle dust from motor vehicle emission. It is also personal – it tough to watch Aparna to go thru another bout of wheezing episode where she is helpless for couple of days.  While we read about it in newspaper articles like these -” Delhi is more polluted than Beijing  and Pollution Leave Delhi:  respiratory ailments “, it is clear our in actions are leading to future catastrophic state

I had a some point 3 years back figured that I need to be willing to undergo little bit of discomfort and do my part to Chennai traffic congestion. I had KT operated shuttle that conveniently stops in front of my apartment, so why not use this service for 2 days a week. There are some minor irritants  – my morning commute about 15 minutes stretches from 20 minutes to 45 minutes  and  50% of the time, I end-up using public bus in the evening as I end-up working beyond 6pm. Usually I stop using this service during peak summer and rainy season for obvious discomfort and sometimes not diligent about getting back to this routine.

There are lots of solutions to this problem – Congestion fee model in Singapore, more public transportation – that is why it is gut wrenching to watch politicians unnecessarily slow Chennai Metro this all points to one basic solutions – reduce the number of vehicles on road.

Stop driving my car and use shared transportation to work at-least 72 days in 2015 

I wanted to do 2 days a week but given I travel quite a bit, I figured a slightly more conservative model of 6 days a month would be aggressive but doable. I calculated about Rs.1000 saving per month and already contributed Rs.12000 to tree sapling project initiated at work. I defined this as shared transportation as ride in my colleagues bike or car will count but if I hire an Auto or Cab than that day will be disqualified! So here is my scorecard for 2015 – 3 days in Jan, 6 days in Feb, 6 days in March and 5 days in April (since I am on two week break made decision to front-load April!). So I am slightly off my target but very confident I will meet this year goal (wanted to make some progress before public gloating).

I was using my Whats App group message I left to track my usage but my Nexus 4 crashed and lost data, so I ended-up with slightly conservative numbers in Feb & Mar. Now I plan to leave a comment in this blog at the end of each month to track days

Go Green – do your green miles …

I started-off there years back by calculating KM (aka miles) I did not drive my car (which included taking public transportation on weeknends etc)  and track that as green mile ! But it became a hard to track metric so instead switched number of days in a year which more easily measurable

My Call to Action  –  We all need to be willing to give-up something, I have found something that works for me and have set a Goal, can all of you think of doing something – It could be cycling, walking, sharing a ride that will make this place a better place to live for all of us and our children.

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Another chance to advance participatory democracy in India …

It took me a whole day before the enormity of Delhi verdict hit on me, It is a big step towards the kind of India I want to see in my life time.

I have always had the following premise #1 people from every walk of life should join and make India a participate democracy for change to happen  #2 we need to start eliminating low level corruption and create transparency #3 we will need to reform judiciary and guilty will be punished in a timely manner and #4  Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs  – given % of folks living in poverty or barely meeting basic needs, they would have to first experience economic change before they fight corruption.

While I still think all 4 of pretty valid, at least in Delhi people have started realizing they best way to ensure economic advancement is to take-on corruption. There where probably lots of factors that resulted in historic sweep but this was by all measures good example of what a participate democracy should be plus people banking on APP to eliminate low level corruption.

Few other random thought  to ponder

  • When is last time leader of political party apologized for a mistake ?
  • Just because to pay for ad in every newspaper a lie (or stretching of facts) will not become a truth
  • Indians cynical about people aspiring to change ?
  • These are experiments and why do we expect these to be perfect ?
  • We are not going to find a straight road to Improved India
  • why do we demand purity and perfection in those who try to change – Martin Luther King, Mahatma were not perfect
  • Elite complaining about subsidy, while happy clinging on to their own entitlements and privileges

When I hearing sneering upper middle class elite claim poor voted for freebies, it infuriates me when these same class of people who further corruption (because they do not want to be in-convinced)  and disrespectful of laws (traffic laws, tax laws) and do no accept they use money to their advantage. They are not empathetic to crushing Impact of sustained (decade long) high-inflation has on under privileged and conveniently ignore power and water is highly regulated even in most advanced economy, here we have crony capitalism and half implemented reforms that bestow powers on private companies guess what they will think of profits and not welfare of people. While AAP folks made tall claims, it matter of fact power companies are causing damage and this is something that resonated with lots of folks. While those have bought 1 cr apartments in Chennai can afford to have water entirely delivered on trucks, how can poor people not have access to clean water and we still expect them to get out of less hygienic environment ? It is not that aspire to live in these conditions – it is a brutal fact that they cannot escape it.

There are lots of challenges for this Government

  • First and foremost the cynics are going pick on petty things and no matter what they accomplish the focus will be on what they did not accomplish(like last time they sneered when Arvind accepted a spacious accommodation, spartan lifestyle not equal to monks lifestyle).
  • Modi is very vindictive person, he is going to take this loss personal and do everything to stop AAP. Given Delhi is not even a state this is going to be huge but AAP can get creative and go after what they can control.
  • There is whole bunch of first legislators (though they have learnt from 49 day adventure), they are going to be making mistakes and media will gleefully highlight them.
  • People with honest intentions change along the way, so can these folks stay the course for 5 years ?

Here are my hope for some of the easy things this AAP government will do

  • Use Information Technology to bring Transparency in policy making and implementation, this is a must for Participatory democracy
  • why not emulate passport Seva Kendra model and modernize (simplify) government services – this will make services available to people and eliminate very low level corruption
  • they can demonstrate they can govern and not show-off trapping of power, they all signed “No Lal-Batti ” pledge . Time to uphold the pledge set a precedent become leaders whom common people can strive to emulate.

Improvements and changes are never linear but there is sense and hope this time we have taken one big step forward, it is upon everyone of us to do our part which ever part of India we live-in

Pop’s Philosophy

Greg Popovich of NBA Team San Antionio Spurs would no doubt be in the hall of fame when he retires for his legendary and successful tenure in small market, But I am generally impressed by Pop the human being and how he handles his player. I was not surprised to read this article – Spurs’ fortitude fueled title run.

Here are some extracts from that interview that I can relate to …

World is filled with folks who treat everything as “Zero-sum game”,  sure you to emerge winner and that provides great satisfaction but there is something more important as Pop explains -“In today’s world, if you don’t win the whole thing, whether it’s football or basketball, or this and that, people have a tendency to paint you as a loser or act like you just robbed the cookie jar,” Popovich said. “Well that’s baloney. I’m just as proud of them in the loss as I was this year in the win. I thought when they came back in Game 7 [in 2013], that was an unbelievable effort after that devastating loss in Game 6.”

No mater how much I am disappointed with things in Life, I have learnt early in life to “Count your blessing“, so as I read this sentence and realized that Pop is  able to talk to in this manner to elite atheletes like is great – “We spend a decent amount of time talking about what else you could be doing in your life, how fortunate we are basically just by the accident of birth,” Popovich said. “Think about it. It all starts with the accident of birth. Because you were born to these parents or this area geographically, or this situation, you deserve more than somebody else? Put that notion away. That’s the most false notion one can imagine.”

I went from being surprised that Spurs where competing finally and where on verge of championship in 2013 and then actually watched them loose game 6 live and was devastated because I thought Tim Duncan might never get another shot at title 5 and then to see them come back strong and win in 2014 which made one of their best.

Varalaksmi Akka’s new home

Varalakshmi Akka's home
Varalakshmi Akka’s home

I was looking forward to this day, for past few weeks, every time I thought about it enormity of what Akka has accomplished kept hitting me. For this day close second to when we had our Pondy house gruhapravesam – in terms of sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Let me start with brief history, both our families have roots in the same small street in Thoravi village. But probably our fates were decided long before we were born, my father – encouraged and supported by my grandfather completed M.Sc. in Statistics, first person from the extended clan to get college education. Akka’s father started getting involved in family agriculture and was married-off in early age. Both families during our grandfather generation probably had similar land holding few acres (less 10) and where upper middle class in a village of few hundred. Akka’s father berthed few children out of which 4 daughters and 1 son survived and had mortgaged and had his land locked-up with Co-op bank, which meant the family ended-up in near poverty. This meant children started in village school but had to be sent to work to help the family. When Akka was in her early teens she came to our house to be resident domestic help and she was with us until we arranged her marriage. My mother tried to make sure she could read and learnt tailoring and other skills while she stayed with us.

For my parents sense of fulfillment at getting Akka married changed into despair when they learnt she was being abused by gambling and alcoholic husband. Akka started performing housemaid job and slowly buy household articles that will eventually all get pledged by her husband. After lots of threats from my parents, the abuses slowed to make it tolerable, In due course they had two sons and Akka was constantly struggling to provide food to her family. When I worked in Chennai in late 90, I seriously considered getting a divorce for Akka, as I felt she could take care of her children if she did not have to deal with her husband. But Naivety got a reality check when I realized a women living in poverty and single in Chennai is not going any better, I stopped worrying about what I can do and let her fate take her to her density.

Today Akka has provided education to her sons – Rajesh Finished B.Sc. from Loyola and has been employed in Insurance BPO for more than 5 years now, Kamesh struggled to finish his Diploma and works as mechanic in Automobile show room. Some ten years back Akka borrowed money to buy a piece of land near Porur, it was big gamble. It was done in secret and we had land document at our home for a long time. Finally few years back they figured out a way to medicated and get her husband out of alcoholism, which means things have been better.

Over the years she has got few well wishers (apart from our family) who have helped her pay for sons education and support her efforts to build a two storey home at cost of close to 20 Lakhs. I was myself not sure if Akka would be able complete the house and wisdom of constructing two storey (her reasoning, two sons are marriageable age, need have two one bed room floors!). I was wondering If twist of fate I and Akka had exchanged our spot if I would striven so hard, I am not sure I would accomplished so much.

Akka & Amma
All these years akka has depended on Amma’s advice and wisdom, she does not do anything without talking to Amma and though we never talked about it – this would rank at the same level when Amma saw me and Bhuvanesh do our apartment house warming. Amma went to Akka’s place last morning and was there until today evening.
Akka & Amma (in Akka's house)

She has done so much for our family, I am not sure if we will every repay her but it is gratifying to see her taste some success and hold her head-up and feel proud.

Finally Akka is someone who is genuinely filled with love and does her work with lots of care. She is unbelievably generous recently I witnessed her give Rs 500 to someone – that was her way saying I am there for you. Akka has probably worked so hard I am not sure how healthy she is going to be in her old-age but I am sure about one thing she is not going to depend on any body till her last breath.

Natural disaster damage & Climate change – Correlation does not imply causation

Before I read this article why disasters cost more, I would emphatically told you climate change is causing more powerful disasters but after reading this I was nodding my head and was wondering what made me change my mind so quickly …

First a short story, I have a vivid picture of flood in Chennai in 1984 (did not recollect exact year, so used this page to guess), I did one KM walk with one of my elders cousins to watch Adyar river crest in the below area of the map. For those who are familiar with this area this a pillayar temple  right before Kasi Theater, Basically my recollection is water touched the temple but did not flood it (kind of black line)! I saw boats used to rescue folks on roads I would normally ride my bicycle and this left an deep impression in my young mind. Another reason why I remembered this well was at that time one my classmates Sundar lived in that area but I did not know where, so I left anxious thinking about him and until School reopened did not know their house flooded ground floor and even some water in first floor and he lost even some school stuff!

PariNagar

Next I was living and also running my own software consultancy in this very same area in 1996, when the next big cyclone stuck. With 1984 disaster vivid in my memory, I was following flooding news and one of the anecdotes I remembered from 1984 was they opened flood gates of Chembarambakkam lake without warning folks in low area and that is why lots of folks where caught unaware. By 1990s a huge flood wall was built along Adyar river ostensibly to prevent flooding but I instinctively knew 1984 kind of flood would mean the place I stayed would flood and everything we have would be destroyed by water. So when heard they were about to open the lake floodgates again without hesitation, I rented a mini-van moved all our belongs – Fridge/TV(we were a bunch of bachelors ) to slightly higher ground where we rented our office. All my neighbors where puzzled and maybe some even thought I was crazy (I generally come across as a bit reckless person but I am very pragmatic and cover my risks)! Guess what – River Adyar flooded again the same night and the place I rented was 7-8 foot deep in water, I was so relived.  Incidentally my friend Sundar also still lived in that area, he had moved his two wheeler out of the area and since they live in first floor not much damage. When we compared notes we felt 1984 flooding was worse than 1996.

Why this story ? It my belief that life experiences shape who we are – when I was wondering why I changed my mind so quickly it suddenly dawned on me that I have experienced life events that helped me, let me elaborate.  Probably 1984 caused a few causality but property damage was not huge, not many of those homes had Refrigerator, TV or two wheeler. Relatively in 1996 the damage would have been higher and if similar level flooding happens today the damage will be even higher, so the story resonated with me.

BTW I am firm believer in the science behind climate change and it is irrefutably caused by humans.

Ability to read diverse set of news and form opinion is important skill and being a news junkie, I have a pretty broad view on happenings around me and generally around the world.

PS It usually takes me ages (multiple days & sessions)  to compose and post a blog, an attempt to share a quick thought (it took me about 45 minutes in 3 sittings to finish this one)

Thrill of bicycle ride

IMG_20140303_071608IMG_20140303_072558

Finally the week of 3/3/2014 ended-up being the time when one of my long cherished thoughts finally happened – “Anand & Aparna rode their bicycle to school on 3/3/2014” !!

Basically my childhood recollection is all filled with me cycling around Chennai. I remember learning to cycle first time  while visiting village  during summer vacation and I over ran and disturbed paddy organized after harvest  and got away without any trouble. But had to return home next day.  So for next few weekends I would religiously trek half a km  to rent “hour cycle” and enjoyed cycling in the neighborhood, I slowly transitioned from smaller cycle to normal sized cycle. When I was in 5th Standard I got my first BSA SLR and  was soon permitted to go to school on Cycle. I was  also tasked with taking my younger brother to school on pillion, that used to not go that well!  I started cycling around in about 10 Km radius from our house  and graduated to doing quite a bit of house chores after school or weekend – transport gas cylinders, Rice bags, ration purchase, vegetables from MGR Nagar market.  When my friends from school meet even today one of the stories that get narrated is how I conned everyone to cycle all they way from KK Nagar to what today is Padi flyover to play a cricket match with another team there! Cycling gave me independence and because I used to cycle so much I ended-up not being comfortable riding in crowded  city bus.  I would not have survived my college days in  Trichy or Coimbatore without a cycle, for me cycling is what made me who I am period.

So I was eagerly waiting for Anand to be of appropriate age, so that I could get him started on riding a cycle to school and as with most things Anand initially did not like the idea and I refused to give-up and finally something interesting happened. Every day Anand & Aparana use School organized private VAN for return to home segment alone. Since there was only handful of working days in March & April, Anand did not want to pay whole month of fee for  March & April.  I tried to explain to him that it is fair to pay the Van drivers the whole month because for services like these you cannot pick and choose which month you will use services and they make money only if Van is full. So he started proclaiming he will cycle to school if we did not pay  for the Van. We were in stalemate. Finally Navadisha made the decision to give a long break summer vacation from March 8th to June 10th 2014, so it came down to one week of school in March. So I stuck a deal with Anand that if both he and Aparna use their cycle then we will not use the Van for March. Once Anand accepted I had to coax reluctant Aparna to join in the fun. Finally they both cycled to school on 3/3/2014 and I led them on Scotty.

As an affluent parent living in India one of my concerns have been that my children are living in a protected bubble and how do I enable them to learn “life skills”. It is tough to know what is safe for your children. A twelve year old riding cycle alone  to school today is probably slightly more complicated than in 1980s but we see kids of all ages from more improvised background still independently walk in busy roads, ride bicycle  in traffic heavy roads etc. So lot of times it is our apprehensions that makes this protective bubble larger than it needs to be. It is easy to second guess others but hard to make these decisions when it is your children!   I have shared route map for their bicycle ride – here. Not sure if I would have taken this step if their school was in busy Velachery Main road. These hypothetical questions are hard to answer and I try not guess what I might do …

After the first day Anand said he will go school independently and so on the second day I ended riding another bicycle along with Aparna. Anand independently went to school and returned on 2 days and on the third day as he was about to start to school, he encountered his first flat Tyre! Now we are actively considering if he should go to school on cycle everyday. As I have written before I want to equip my kids with two things – ability to value fellow Human beings and develop life skills . With these two I believe  they will be equipped to deal with uncertainties in their chosen field and have chance at leading a happy life. 

To end this post thought I would share some comparisons –>  Anand is about 3 years behind me on cycling to school and Aparna is about year ahead of me!  My School ride was slightly more than 1 KM theirs was slightly more than 2 KM.

Golli Soda

I watched Golli Soda yesterday and at the end of the movie, when Kavitha said “it was an Avg movie what was fuss about it being good movie”, I kind of nodded my head and said “yeah” but that did not fully summarize my feeling …

Movie has a very simple message “anyone can get ahead of life if they can dream and work hard and there is an helping hand or stepping stone , that provide a small advantage that they can use to propel themselves” . This movie summarized my political leaning and philosophy in life very neatly. It also made me think and reflect so that is what I liked about the movie.

It is my firm belief that Indian movies are actually a snapshot of  current happenings pictured and  obviously colored thru maker eyes and imagination, In that sense movies like  “Golli Soda” ,  “Angadi Theru” depicts life of folks who are less fortunate and their struggles. We are surrounded by these hardworking souls and we are most part indifferent and oblivious to their plights and exploitation.

When I was about 17 years of age, I realized I was fortunate to be born in family where you had a stable household, in which I did not have to care about basic needs (sure we had our struggles but it was never about life/death kind of struggles) and this was a huge advantage, so I started out being very empathetic about need for Reservation though I was  disadvantaged. This got re-enforced when I went to do my under-grad in Trichy and my masters in Coimbatore and to see my friends from those days move their generation a notch or two higher and most of the time it was combination of reservation system in TN + some nurturing individual. But I am not sure reservation as it is implemented today makes any sense, we need political will to change this, so that disadvantaged are the ones who benefit from this.

 I came claim I am self-made man but it will be naive  to deny advantage I had  growing-up in Chennai to upper middle-class family. So I am reflexively annoyed with Ayn Rand follower Libertarians who preach Libertarian in its purest form while conveniently discounting huge edge someone gets because of their berth and lineage and claim with  government out the way markets will ensure that  with effort and smarts anyone can be successful in life. I believe it should not be government/society  role to tell me what I should believe in, what I wear or whom I enter into relationships, how many children I have, where I live etc.   I am somebody who is firmly to the left of center but also someone who thinks if we make governments do less and do things efficiently then it will be better.