Orwellian Days

Orwellian Days

To the Editor:

These are Orwellian days when war is peace and a xxx per cent national unemployment is a rising economy. Yet despite this deranged logic, there is more to be concerned about on the national scene, and that is the casual acceptance by the populace of almost every conceivable immoral or unethical practice on the part of the Administration. Whether it be the I.T.T. scandal, the Watergate bugging, the wheat deal or the bombing of civilians, it all seems to be accepted with a shrug. All this is ample evidence that we have died spiritually, and we are ready for totalitarianism. I remember once a high administration official was fired for accepting an overcoat as a gift.

Gordon Fels

Richmond, Oct. 16, 1972

Arbeit Macht Frei – Work sets you free

Arbeit Macht Frei – Work sets you free

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On the gate of Dachau, a model concentration camp. The SS were Hitler’s instrument of terror in the creation of the new order. It was only logical that they should run the camps. Their first prisoners were the dissidents of the Nazi state, political and religious as well as racial. The SS schooled themselves in brutality, systematically reducing their victims to total subservience. Depriving them of individuality, no names, numbers.

 – The World At War – Episode 20:  Genocide

We are also close to become a society in which we will not have a name but only a number might become our identity. There were even suggestions by the mahanubhav who spearheaded this project that we should get this number tattoed on hands lest we forget it. Why not barcode or QR code, so that is easily machine-readable too?

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Also, we are making detention camps for people who are not able to prove that they are indeed Indian citizens, a classic case of creating and identifying the other. Ironically, the  detention camps are being built by those who will be detained there, just as in the concentration camps. Too many parallels. History repeats itself. 

Equity Over Excellence

There is an interesting piece in The Atlantic by Sergey Ivanov on the education system in Finland. Though the article is written from a viewpoint of an American, there are a lot of take home points for everyone and particularly for India. In this post I am trying to make sense of this article from an Indian standpoint. Through out the post if you just insert India for America (which I have done at places), it at once catches. For the problems Indians are facing are also the problems of the Americans, as we have more or less tried to follow their model of education. The basic theme that underlies the article
is this:

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because 
 it values equality more than excellence.

To many in the Indian context who believe that excellence must be given priority over equity this might be surprising. Surprising because it undermines a basic premise in their logic: that to excel in science and technology the only way is to promote excellence. In India there have been two distinct approaches to education, there is a clear stratification of the students based on standardized tests, and it is these tests which filter out students. But as the Finnish experience shows us that this need not be the case.

The newly found fame for Finland’s educational system comes after excellence of their students in the PISA scores since 2000. This seems paradoxical when we learn more about the educational system. The tried and trusted formulae of instructionism and rote-learning, which many people swear by, have almost no place there. The Finnish educational system seems like an educational philosophers utopian materialized in the real world.

To understand why it is working, the way it is, Indians will have to give away their long cherished beliefs about educational system. This would make the government more accountable towards education of the people. This is not just cosmetic school reform, but a revamping of the complete educational philosophy with which we are running the show.

One of the most intriguing (at least for me) things to notice is:

“Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in
Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American (Indian?) to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

(emphasis added)

Now, this is interesting. What can we say about India? In fact over the years there has been general trend that we are seeing, that the number of private schools is increasing. And then there are branded schools which are spreading their networks across the country. Not to tell that they charge really hefty fees, and are meant for the elite. And so is the case with the colleges, each professional degree has a price tag, only people who can afford it, get those degrees. The haves not, the non-elites, who are mostly from the deprived classes, remain with almost no education. The government keeps on talking about reaching out to people, and by allowing the private schools colleges to exist, it is actually preventing people from joining in. Another aspect about this is that since there are alternatives to the government schools, the government schools themselves have no pressure to perform. And as any intelligent parents will tell you, it is better to put your child in a private school than a government one. Most of the parents who are in a financial position to put their children in private schools, do so.

How many parents do you know who have enrolled their children in government schools, even when they can afford private schools?

There was yet another interesting piece If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person in which the author makes a case that it is parents who are driving the change of declining government schools. If the educated parents make a sustained effort of challenging and helping government schools to improve, they will surely improve. The parents adopt the path of least effort, and send their children to private schools, which are supposed to be better. This automatically creates a class divide without asking.

Even among the private schools there is an hierarchy. There are international schools, convent schools etc. So the social stratification that exists, is just reflected in the school system. Seen from this perspective, one can understand why are the government schools neglected. They are neglected because the people who are influential and who are amongst the rich and powerful are never affected by the dismal state of the government schools. They have an alternate avenue for their children where these schools never come into picture.

There is another thing that is striking in the Indian system, that is of the coaching classes. I do not know if they are present in Finland or even anywhere in the world. But in India, the coaching classes have a complete parallel system of cracking the educational system. The amount money that the coaching classes do attract must be comparable to the amount Government of India spends on education. This is another avenue where the class divide comes in. Only people with enough finances can afford to send their children to the best coaching classes. But the more fundamental question to ask is:

Why do coaching classes exist in the first place?

The answer to this question is not easy and it related closely to the way in which Indians look at education and its practices. The coaching classes exist because there is a demand for them. And what do coaching classes achieve. Most of the coaching classes are aimed at helping students crack some standardized test or the other. But why do you need standardized tests? Some of the rhetorical questions that one might ask against this question are:

From his (Sasi’s) point of view, Americans (Indians) are consistently obsessed
with certain questions:

+ How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test
them constantly?
+ How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad
teachers or merit pay for good teachers?
+ How do you foster competition and engage the private sector?
+ How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s (India’s) school reformers are trying to do. For example the introduction of CCE or Continuous and Comprehensive Examination introduced as part of NCF 2005 is one such reform. Similarly we have incentives in forms of awards for best teachers, and of course the best students get rewards like getting admission to the best colleges. Their parents are proud, schools are proud, and their coaching classes are also proud. This can be seen by the number of advertisements the coaching classes put up. But all the exams like IIT-JEE, AIEEE, Medical Exams, Olympiads, etc. are standardized tests. These are the parameters of excellence in the country. Similar tests are also found in the US, like GRE, TOEFL, SAT etc. One would assume the standardized tests in Finland would be of very great quality, but in reality they don’t exist there.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

The very idea of standardized tests emerged in the shadow of the Second World War. The mass recruitment of troops required a mass approach, which resulted in production of tests. In his book The Tyranny of Testing physicist Banesh Hoffman, criticises the standardized tests that were prevalent in the US, and takes to task the leading makers of these tests on the fundamental premise of their objectivity. Similarly one can, question the fundamentals of the standardized tests in the country.

Can any standardized test be really objective?

Personally, I do not think so. None of the standardized tests, take into account multiple factors that a student has skills in. These tests make the process of filtering students easier for the administrators. But do they help students at all (except for getting admission to a desired institute)? Do they really test the understanding of the subject matter? Do they take into account various social factors that is part of the mileu of the students? As Banesh Hoffman says the only thing objective about these tests is that once, the students fills in the answer sheet, the grading is objective. But why is that the teachers who are actually teaching the students cannot test them? Why do we need standardized tests to test the students?

And here comes in the idea of academic flexibility in the schools. In India even most university department do not have academic flexibility. There is a central committee which decides, what is to be taught and a committee sets a test with which we grade the students. This creates a definite goal in form of “completing the syllabus” for the teachers. This is a malice which pervades the educational system of India from primary schools to university departments. The teachers are in a race to reach the finish line of the syllabus, because if they do not, the students might face questions which they were not taught.

Though the teacher is the representative of the entire educational system in the classroom, they are nothing more than, to use a term by Krishna Kumar, “meek dictators” in the classroom. The real dictators are adminitrators and decision makers sitting at the top of the educational system. This perhaps is a colonial mentality which has been deeply embodied in the Indian psyche. But in Finland what happens:

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

People say that then the teachers cannot be trusted that they will grade their students correctly. So how will they be held accountable?

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told
an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

This is where the responsibility of the Government comes in. Goverment slowly is trying to distance itself from its role in providing education to all its citizens. But if teachers are themselves left unsatisfied both monetarily and ideologically??, what results one can
expect. In this way the Government is indirectly encouraging the private schools and coaching classes, and thus making the class divide even more striking.

And while Americans (Indians) love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American (Indian) idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Compare this with the Indian attitude. Competition seems to be the key to everything and especially education. Where does collaboration of
cooperation enter in Indian educational scenario?

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America (India), parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

And in India there are coaching classes which prepare students to get into better coaching classes. With both private schools and the coaching class industry around the education and related services have been commercialised to furthest extent possible. This just works in the favour of the already existing class divide. Parents do choose best for their children, and thus do perpetuate the divide as they have no other choices.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

This is the state of the educational system in India now. And with the over emphasis on the excellence part which addresses a small set of mostly elite students, the goal should be creating equal opportunities for equity. The idea of equity in the academic circles is unfortunately equated with that of sub-standard or below average. There are people who will tell you, that “Look, there are bright students, and they need special coaching.” The government has to spend the money of bright students, so as to make the country excel in education. This is done at the expense of the average students. One may ask the question, how in the first place do you know a student is bright? The answer comes from scores of the standardized tests, which are the root cause of many problems that the educational system in India is facing now. If one is serious about changing the educational scenario in the country this has to be addressed. Though there are champions of the standardized tests, in India as in the US of Amerika, they are the ones whose existence is based on such tests. Without these tests their existence becomes meaningless. It will certainly increase the workload of lot many people a lot many times. But the problems of magnitude of changing educational system in India is no mean problem and will require solutions of these magnitudes.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to
learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location.

In the Indian scenario this seems to have been forgotten. And one of the main reasons for this is the presence of private schools and coaching classes where parents can shop for education.

Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

This particular quote is exactly opposite of what the Indian
educational system does by promoting academic excellence over equity.
And this also relates to the qualities that Indians cherish. If good
education is equated with chances of making good money, then we know
where we are wrong. With private schools and coaching classes the
education of a student becomes a balance sheet, which will be brought
to green from red by the money that student will make after
completing education.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with
the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student
guidance.

In case of India we have seen implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. But does it extend to the other domains?

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the
first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike,
say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

And with so much emphasis on coming on top of the class in India, we are getting what we are sowing. Surveys will tell you that students,
including even those from the best private schools in the country do fail in simple evaluation. But is this unexpected? If the entire
focus of the educational system is to pass standardized tests, why should we expect our students to be better in something else?

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. (India) seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

Though India is yet to undergo Occupy BSE protests, it is not long before this happens.

Some people may point out that Finland is a developed nation. It is much more homogeneous as compared to India. Here it might become more complicated than in the US, but the central argument should hold through.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans (Indians) reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

The social conditions in India do not match those in Finland. We have many factors like, caste and religion, which do strongly affect our educational policies in practice, if not in theory. So is this comparison valid? But comparing Finland with an country whose demographics are similar, namely Norway, we find different results. Which shows it is the educational policy which determines the outcome, and not the demographics.

Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

And time and again it is said that India does not have enough money to spend on its enormous population. Looking at the amount of GDP that is spent on education India ranks spends 3.1% of GDP on education (2006), while the US spends 5.5% (2007) and Finland 5.9% (2007). A more updated list shows this hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. A look at the graph below from the World Bank Data on these matters makes the picture clear. Though Norway spends more than Finland on education, the results are poor. So if we assume that this is the control then it clearly shows it is not the amount of money you spend or your socio-economic status of the people that matter. What matters most is the way in which you have planned for education and its spending.

gdp-educationPeople tell you that most problems in Indian education system will go away if we have enough teachers! But why are not there enough teachers one may ask? Isn’t it funny that in a country which has second largest population in the world, we do not have enough government teachers? It is surely not a problem of human resources, but of will, both political and social. We do not want to spend more on education, and yet we expect the things to be better. And somehow government is willing to spend on private partners for education, a sort of outsourcing if you want. And with more and more Public Private Partnerships for education, government is just abdicating its responsibility, in the field of education as in other fields.

Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Problem in India is manifold.

“Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American (Indian) way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

(emphasis added)

The problem facing education in America (India) isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America (India) needs to be more competitive abroad.

Most of us think that utopian ideas are not practicable. The talk about equity in education is essentially seen with that attitude. But the Finland example has just shown us that this is possible. Though it is definitely not to say that we blindly follow that model. But it seems that utopian things are possible, just that we will have to give up on long cherished notions of what we consider excellence as.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

Cost of environment

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday blamed Congress leader and union minister Jairam Ramesh as being “singularly responsible for shaving off 2.5% of the GDP” by not giving environmental clearance to projects during his stint as the environment minister, escalating the war of words between the two.

via ET

Mr. Sinha should understand that economy is not everything. If at all protecting environment costs so much of GDP indirectly, even then it is okay. Perhaps we should provide 2.5% of GDP to protect our environment, and that would ensure it will remain for posterity.  The rampant rape of environment in form of various “developmental” projects and its toll on the flora and fauna is something that needs to be stopped. For example consider the illegal and legal mining in Goa and its impact on the fragile ecosystem there. Ramesh had a choice, and he exercised it. How many ministers do that? If the environment ministry will itself not worry about the environment then who will? Sinha in criticizing Ramesh seems to have forgotten this basic fact. Otherwise what is the reason for the Environment ministry to exist? For there are certain things that cannot be equalized in terms of money, and our flora and fauna is one of them. Mr. Sinha should understand that extinction is forever, no amount of money can bring back lost species or lost ecosystems. But people who are corrupted by lure of money at any cost (to environment and other people) will not understand this. Even if they do, their priorities are set by the bottom line, which is money.

NYT Newspeak

Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.

Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum. And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?

via NYTimes

This is complete newspeak on part of NYT. Mark the last words in the first quote “their political beliefs”. The case of Snowden is not about military secrets, but about his political beliefs. The belief that those in power should not abuse it, the belief that those who have abused the power should be brought to light. It is in fact for these very beliefs they are targeting him.

And why should not he fear arrest and prosecution? As they have done with Manning, they will do with him and Assange. This would be just to set an example, so that no one else does it. Actually Putin and Obama are no different. If at all someone from any other country, lets say Cuba, would come to the US, having leaked Cuban secrets, won’t the US consider giving them asylum. And does giving that person the asylum, has to do anything with how Obama himself is running the show. If spying on your own people, breaching their privacy to the fullest is okay then jailing and persecuting the critics is no different.

 

Déjà vu of déjà vu

I was introduced to the term déjà vu from The Matrix. This is how the scene unfolds:

matrix-deja-vu-black-cat

[Neo sees a black cat walk by them, and then a similar black cat walk by them just like the first one]
Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu.
[Everyone freezes right in their tracks]
Trinity: What did you just say?
Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.
Trinity: What did you see?
Cypher: What happened?
Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.
Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?
Neo: It might have been. I’m not sure.
Morpheus: Switch! Apoc!
Neo: What is it?
Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

matrix-deja-vu-neo

Now let us leave The Matrix for now and enter the real world. I mean our world, and I am not Morpheus. We had a lot of issues with the quandrangular cat recently at my working place. Now don’t ask what a quandrangular cat is? If you don’t know already, you don’t need to know. Remember, in the first approximation the cow is a spherical object.

Leela-1

Circa, a few months back we had a sorry looking undomesticated cat, who was domesticated, nursed back to health, and attained zen (if you don’t believe me see the picture above (Picture Credits: Rafikh)). This was only possible by the warmth of many people’s affections and efforts. But unfortunately the cat overstayed, unwelcomed by some, on GoI property (without paying any taxes!) which wrecked havoc and created a red alert. To further complicate the matters, we could not for sure determine if the cat was a he or a she! The presence of cat in the campus was as good as an extinction event, extinction of one’s peace of mind and good vibes. that is. This called for extreme measures to show cat (and the ailurophiles ) their respective places. The entire drama was just short of executing the cat (and the ailurophiles ) in public. The cat was sent into exile, and if the reports coming in believed to be true, even there it is creating extinction events!

Now. Yesterday, déjà vu ! I see a similar cat in the same place approaching me similarly, well not almost as same as Neo’s black cat but quite similar. And I almost said as Neo does, (but I am neither Neo) “déjà vu!” First thing I thought was the déjà vu  in The Matrix. But then this is a déjà vu of déjà vu, and cats are involved in both of them. What is it with cats and déjà vu? Déjà vu  recursive, nothing more groovier than that! Four cats in all. The newer cat, which caused the current déjà vu , was smaller and in sorrier state and also approached me on the same table as earlier one. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the newer cat for comparison. Will this create another leela (pun intended), which would be another déjà vu for both ailurophiles and ailurophobes? Actually if semantics of earlier sentence are seen, then we come to conclusion that leela  and déjà vu are same 😛

Trouble with a kitten

Now it remains to be seen what has changed in The Matrix.

PS: This new cat seems to have set the ball rolling, it is already making people uncomfortable, causing extinction events!

On Privacy…

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

via The Eternal Value of Privacy.

I will not allow them to chill me

“We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy. The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you’ve got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I’m doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.”

via Kim Dotcom | guardian

Elites And Us

The longer this worldwide disparity and inequality is perpetuated, the more the masses will revolt and the faster we will internally replicate the Israeli model of domestic control – drones overhead, all dissent criminalized, SWAT teams busting through doors, deadly force as an acceptable form of subjugation, food used as a weapon, and constant surveillance.

via Elites Will Make Gazans of Us All | Common Dreams.

Hope that this Orwellian dystopia does not happen.

Explosives or Not

We have earlier seen some quotes from the book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. There are two companion volumes to this book The Golem Unleashed: What You Should Know about Technology and Dr. Golem: How to think about Medicine. These series of books by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch provide us with examples from these fields which most of the times are ‘uncontested’. For example in the first volume they discuss about the famous 1920 experimental confirmation of Einstein’s predictions in general relativity by Eddington. This experiment is told as a matter-of-fact anecdote in physics, where petty borders of nationalism could not stop physics and physicists. But in the book, as they show inspite of scanty or almost no positive evidence, Eddington “Concluded” that the predictions were true. This they term “experimenters’ regress”.

The experimenter’s regress occurs when scientists cannot decide what the outcome of an experiment should be and therefore cannot use the outcome as a criterion of whether the experiment worked or not.

The Golem Unleashed pp. 106

In The Golem Unleashed they present us with many examples of this from field of technology. One of the examples is from the Challenger accident which Feynman made famous by courtroom drama. In this case they call the “experimenter’s regress” as “technologist’s regress”.

Recently I read (all further quotes from the same link)an episode in India which would fit in very with these episodes. This is regarding baggage  scanning machines installed at Indian airports. They were brought at 2 crore rupees per unit in 2010. But in August 2011 they failed the tests on tasks they were supposed to do.

The scanners are called in-line baggage inspection systems as they scan bags that go into the cargo hold of the aircraft after passengers check in and hand over their luggage to the airline. They use x-ray imaging and “automatic intelligence” to verify the contents of bags and determine whether they include explosives.

Now one would think that this would be as easy as it gets. Either the scanner detects whether the explosives are present in the baggage or they do not. But it is not as simple as it seems so. Now when the tests were done, the testers found the machines failed.

During the tests, security sources said that a technological specification committee of officials from the IB, RAW, SPG, NSG, BCAS and the civil aviation ministry passed bags containing 500 gm of six kinds of explosives, including PETN and ammonium nitrate, as well as IEDs through these systems. The scanners did not flag any of these bags as suspicious, the sources said.

So after this “failure” the companies which supplied these machines were asked to improve upon the machines or to share the software to recalibrate them. But the companies and interestingly Airport Authortiy of India AAI said that the testing methods were at fault. Now the explosives were passed and the machines did not detect them, then how can companies say that the testing methods were not working?

The machines work on the so called 70:30 principle.

“Though it works on a 70:30 principle, if there is an explosive in the 70 per cent, it will throw up the image of each and every bag that has dangerous substances. We would like to emphasise that the systems supplied and installed by our company at Indian airports are of state-of-the-art technology and are fully compliant with current standards.”

The 70:30 principle refers to the “automatic intelligence” used by Smiths Detection machines to clear 70 per cent of the baggage and reject the rest, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). “The machines reject 30 per cent of the baggage, the images of which are then sent to the screener. These systems have automatic intelligence capability and have been tested against a wide range of substances considered dangerous for aircraft. The details and specifications are never disclosed, or else terrorists would understand the software,”

But if anyway machines are doing the job, why not do it 100%? And the funny thing is that they are not sharing the software, which is the main agenda of the proprietary software companies. This is a case where people realize that they are just Users of the software under question. This argument that  “or else terrorists would understand the software” does not hold. They don’t need to if the machine is going to reject a whole lot of bags And in anyway if there are bus/holes in the software, a thousand eyes repair them much faster than a few. And this is The companies further say that

“The technology or physics is that x-ray based system can’t detect explosives, it is only approximate detection of dangerous substances,”

Why is the AAI siding (they are rather defending the companies) with the companies is something worth pondering.

AAI people say “The problem could be due to the sheer ignorance of officers who lacked the skills to test for explosives,”

Still with no unanimity in the testing results, the case truly presents us with a “technologist’s regress.”

Free Press and Democracy

A free press is an essential part of a democratic system. In a society like ours, with its stark inequalities, only a media free of government and corporate pressures can ensure that the voiceless are heard. What we are seeing currently is not just blatant collusion between the media and big business but also a deliberate obliteration of much of what happens to the millions who live on the margins.

via Economic and Political Weekly

This is what Media Lens has to say about the BBC which is supposed to be in public interest and impartial.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

But isn’t this true of the media in India also? Or elsewhere in the world for that matter. Tehelka reports that many of the barons of power also control the local media in newly formed state of Chattisgad. And what is the use of controlling media when they are not used for gains. When the so called free media becomes a part of the political parties we cannot be sure of what they report.

If the Congress has Naveen Jindal, the BJP has Ajay Sancheti. If the Congress has the Lokmat, the BJP has the Hari Bhoomi. Barring coal, in which both the Centre and the states had their hands in the till, in the case of other mineral resources, the real corruption lies in the states.

It is not that people do not use media for their own gain, media is used for spreading ideology, there are many mouthpiece outlets for political parties and others which propagate the ideas. But what is worst is that the masquerade that many media houses put on themselves claiming to be honest and working in public interest, and people at large believe them, being obliviousto the fact that these very media houses are the ones who are power brokers and very much in the filth as corporates and politicians. A recent example of this was the Radia tapes.

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

via|G. Sampath – DNA

It was not until the non-main-stream media began to show up too much, there was some coverage given. But the very fact that the accused are in complete denial of what happened is what is disturbing. We usually held names like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi well but these tapes just show how much they are in the filth of what they pretend to expose. From then on, I have given up on NDTV as a reliable source, which earlier I thought it was. But then what do you trust?

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi’s conversations with Radia are a part of “normal journalistic duties” or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let ‘We, The People’ decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

via|G. Sampath – DNA

The media blackout of particular events is what I find disturbing. What it shows the kind of camaraderie that exists between different media houses and their corporate and political cronies. That basically means that the news, sorry the Breaking News that you see is like a managed play, with directors and writers deciding what people see, hear and think. In Marathi novel (Ithink it was Swami (स्वामी) by Ranjit Desai) I had read a sentence which fits these situations well, it reads:

मी मारल्या सारखे करतो, तु रडल्या सारखे कर.

( I will feign to hit, you feign to cry.)

This creates an illusion about real problems. Most of the News channels that are beamed in India follow this line. Put all the focus on some non-issues, or twist them from certain angles so that why all this happens remains oblivious to the viewers. If our media was after all serious about the issues that they present, they would have seen to it that things are done.

Many a times what I have also found reading reports on various different news services is that they are same. I mean many a times they are word to word same, as if the reports have been written at one place and distributed. I do not have links right now, but will update this post when I do. This again creates a picture that what news we see is heavily filtered, and sometimes flavours are added to create sensationalism. And the icing is that we all think this is genuine, with “Free Press in A Democracy”. Orwell had a foresight about this as well:

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

The only reason I see that India is feudal and corrupt is that the so called Free Press was never able to take up the challenge to the nexus, and ultimately now has become a part of it.

In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

Though there are dissidents here and there, this now has become global phenomena, with the Indian media people just following the suit. And if this is the case, what difference does it make whether you are living in a democracy or a totalitarian state?

And Orwell wraps it up thus:

A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

 

Gadkari Newspeak

“It’s not important how much money has been earned. It’s important how it has been put to use, whether it has been put to good use or not.”

via Indian Express.

Nitin Gadkari , the incumbent BJP president, is in news for all wrong reasons these days. Apart from the allegations that his business interests have shadyness by IAC activist Arvind Kejriwal, he is also making blunders in quoting and is also facing some rebellion from within his own party. But the quote above comes in his (or his acts?) defence from the RSS camp. And it is amusing too, as at times RSS distances itself from the BJP, saying that it is their internal matter, but at other times also gives self-proclaimed clean-chits to BJP members. It is interesting to note how the very concept and meaning of corruption is being twisted by RSS cheif Mohan Bhagwat in the quote above The act itself is set aside as to whether it is good or bad, while the motive with which the result of the act (the black money) will be utilised determines the morality of the act. Now that being the case how do we decide whether the money is “put to good use or not”? This is an entirely subjective view. Something that is good for a person or a community may be bad for others. For example if someone makes a lot of money and invests it in something else to make more money, then for that person the use is definitely good use, but for others it is not. And there is nothing like free money, corruption happens only when money meant for something else goes to the corrupt person. With this cigol even murders may be justified. Trying to justify the act of corruption by making statements like this one, is making classic Orwellian Newspeak. This just makes the point that the BJP is just another Congress, which comes with a remote control too.

Kafka and Orwell

Two of my favourite authors. Both of them were from almost same era, early part of 20th century. Both of them wrote about bureaucracy, corruption, control, power, and helplessness of individuals in the greater scheme of things. Reading them a dark feeling covers your soul, and all chances of redemption appear bleak. We are, it seems, doomed for life, and only non-existence in to oblivion or death can relieve us of these torments, as it does to many characters of this duo.

The things that are happening now around us, the FUDs and stereotyping of “The Enemy” reminds one much of the situation in Nineteen Eight Four. Maybe the policy makers grew up reading Nineteen Eight Four and found enough material to be implemented in the real world. Or as it happens in The Castle, one can easily identify with the main protagonist whose life is made into an unending sequence of visits to the offices in The Castle. As it happens during visits to most of the government offices.

Freedom of Expression in India

This is a meta blog, as it is a blog about this blog.

About 10 years back the GoI decided that there were a lot of dissident voices from the North-East on Yahoo! Groups which were harmful to the health of the nation. The result was that there was a blanket ban on Yahoo! groups. Then people who were using Yahoo! Groups other than what GoI thought was harmful, suffered too. It was a classic case of complete misunderstanding about the nature of how the internet works. Of course then as now people had means to go over the blockade. That was 10 years back, net penetration was not that much, so we could forgive the bureaucracy over such things. Claiming disease called ignorance.

10 years have passed, one would have expected that the babus and their political masters would have learned (something) about how this new technology works and how it is fundamentally different than other mass media. If not the old babus, the somewhat younger generation which replaced them. (Oh, but I heard babus never retire they are kept on the job as part of this or that committee.) In a sense of deja vu, this time also the trouble was in the North-East. After the violence there, and its strange aftermath in Bombay (Middle-West) thousands of kilometers away and also in Bangalore (Down-South). Then began the blame games and it was discovered that the social networking sites were the culprit. So what is the quick fix solution? Ban all of them.

ना रहेगा बास ना बजेगी बांसुरी .

So this blog and my other blogs were not accessible through my humble Photon+ conncetion. It just refused to open these sites. I thought it was some problem with my connection. Only today I came to know the grim reality, that they had actually blocked WordPress, completely! Though other ISPs as of now have not, but it may not be long before they do that. This is akin to banning all printing presses as someone prints something objectionable to someone. And in a democracy, someone will get offended by whatever you say. But it might be just that the babus are also executing their freedom of speech, by giving orders to ISPs for blocking other people’s Freedom of Speech. Here we are in paradoxical situation.

Can Freedom of Speech of one person supersede the Freedom of Speech of other? But the constitution says that all people are equal, then how is this possible?

Orwell comes to our rescue then when says:

All are equal and some are more equal than others.

This cuts the knot for us, and we can perfectly make sense of the things that are happening around us.

Maybe someone needs to  put up a PIL in SC against such blanket bans in the future, to uphold the Right to Free Speech! And I sincerely hope that person who makes such a PIL is more equal than others.
And may be not all of you will be able to read this, as wordpress is blocked…

The PhD Octopus

Thus, we at Harvard are proud of the number of candidates whom we reject, and of
the inability of men who are not distingues in intellect to pass our tests.

This is something the American philosopher and psychologist William James wrote in the Harvard Monthly of March 1903 The Ph.D. Octopus.

Brilliancy and originality by themselves won’t save a thesis for the doctorate; it must also exhibit a heavy technical apparatus of learning; and this our candidate had neglected to bring to bear.

To our surprise we were given to understand in reply that the quality per se of the man signified nothing in this connection, and that the three magical letters were the thing seriously required. The College had always gloried in a list of faculty members who bore the doctor’s title, and to make a gap in the galaxy, and admit a common fox without a tail, would be a degradation impossible to be thought of.

"This must be a terribly distinguished crowd,-- their titles shine like the stars in the 
firmament; Ph.D.'s, S.D.'s, and Litt.D.'s bespangle the page as if they were sprinkled 
over it from a pepper caster."

“No instructor who is not a Doctor” has become a maxim in the smaller institutions which represent demand; and in each of the larger ones which represent supply, the same belief in decorated scholarship expresses itself in two antagonistic passions, one for multiplying as much as possible the annual output of doctors, the other for raising the standard of difficulty in passing, so that the Ph.D. of the special institution shall carry a higher blaze of distinction than it does elsewhere. Thus, we at Harvard are proud of the number of candidates whom we reject, and of the inability of men who are not distingues in intellect to pass our tests.

But the institutionizing on a large scale of any natural combination of need and motive always tends to run into technicality and to develop a tyrannical Machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption.

First of all, is not our growing tendency to appoint no instructors who are not also doctors an instance of pure sham? Will any one pretend for a moment that the doctor’s degree is a guarantee that its possessor will be successful as a teacher? Notoriously his moral, social, and personal characteristics may utterly disqualify him for success in the class-room; and of these characteristics his doctor’s examination is unable to take any account whatever. Certain bare human beings will always be better candidates for a given place than all the doctor-applicants on hand; and to exclude the former by a rigid rule, and in the end to have to sift the latter by private inquiry into their personal peculiarities among those who know them, just as if they were not doctors at all, is to stultify one’s own procedure.

The truth is that the Doctor-Monopoly in teaching, which is becoming so rooted an American custom, can show no serious grounds whatsoever for itself in reason. As it actually prevails and grows in vogue among us, it is due to childish motives exclusively. In reality it is but a sham, a bauble, a dodge, whereby to decorate the catalogues of schools and colleges.

We advertise our “schools” and send out our degree-requirements, knowing well that aspirants of all sorts will be attracted, and at the same time we set a standard which intends to pass no man who has not native intellectual distinction.

It forms an interesting reading considering this is what we are exactly doing and what is happening around us. For example the rule that prevents permanent appointments in colleges if the candidate is without a PhD. Or for that matter the ‘stamping’ that happens if you are from a so called privileged institute.

As the first quote that I have used from the article, summarizes the way our society recognize academic talent. If you are the selected ones from 10,000 odd people then indeed you are smart and the institute that selects you is indeed greatest. The ratio of the people applying for the courses to the ones that are actually accepted forms a good indicator of the ‘quality’ of the institute. The same institutes when choosing a faculty would apply even higher standards and even more people with decorations, on the list.

What Wikipedia is not… then what it is?

Although anyone can be an editor, there are community processes and standards that make Wikipedia neither an anarchy, democracy, nor bureaucracy.

via What Wikipedia is Not

Disclaimer: Let me make some things clear, I am not against Wikipedia, or its policies. I am (great) admirer and (very heavy) user, and (very little) contributor to the wonderful platform, which aims to provide free knowledge to everyone. In this post I am just trying to collect thoughts that I have about the Wikipedia’s social system and its relation to the society at large.

Then what is wikipedia? Is it a feudal system, which they do not mention in the list above? Although there are people who are called bureaucrats, they say it is not a bureaucracy, I think they mean it in the traditional sense of the wor(l)d (pun intended).

But for a new person, who is trying to edit the first article, there is too much of bureaucracy (read rules), involved, and it may not be a pleasant experience at all, especially for the so called technologically-challenged people. To describe in one word it is intimidating. The trouble is only there till, actually you become used to it, and become part of the system. This is more like the adaptation to smell, after a while in a stinking place, you don’t feel the stink anymore (just an analogy, I do not mean that Wikipedia stinks!). The rules become a part of your editing skills, which you do want to see in other editors. But how many people are able to get over this first major hurdle is not known to me, but I guess (which can be completely wrong) this number can be significant. This will in general reduce the number of producers and just tend to increase the number of consumers in the commercial sense of the word.

Another thing that the above quote says it is not a democracy. Again here I think, Wikipedia is not a democracy in the sense of common usage of the term. In a democracy, by definition the popular aspirations get through, and they may not be even the best for a society, as we many times see in the Indian context. But then it mostly the people who are editing the Wikipedia who decide by consensus that certain thing should be done. Is it not like majority win? So there is in fact a strong democratic element in Wikipedia.

Do we also want a society that is same as above “neither an anarchy, democracy, nor bureaucracy”? What kind of society would you like to live in?

 

Windwolf Re-Registered

The Plan

 To ride to Pune [पुणे] and get the registration of WindWolf done on the same day.
 This was something long overdue. I had to ride to Pune to get the registration of WindWolf done again. The validity of the registration was till 18th May 2008. When the date was written on the RC book [is it not a wrong nomenclature Registration Certificate Book?] five years ago, I thought this date was long in the future. Even now it is hard to believe that WindWolf has become a part of my life from last five years. It has been five years she has been with me! Now its almost impossible to think life without her…
The RC Book Cover

The Doom Day: 18/5/2008
Any way when that dreaded date became a reality, that the validity of the registration certificate for WindWolf would be over on the 18th. We missed one opportunity to ride to Pune, as the Insurance papers were missing. But thats another story….
Now the missing papers were found, and the time to the deadline was approaching, this ride was a must. So here we go. We ride for Pune on the 15th of May.
The Ride
The plan was to ride early in the morning, when the sun has yet to rise [Does it really everyday?]. Since it is summer, I did not want to face the sun when riding. So anyways the ride begins at 5:10 am. I had put on a jacket and gloves just in case, but they did prove to be useful Who says you do not need them in the summers?
Riding early in the dark gives you pleasures that you cannot get in the daylight. When you are alone for quite some distance; so to speak that there are no vehicles with their headlights on for quite some distance, the reflectors give you an awesome view. When you ride on the road with your headlights on, and there is no one else, the reflectors shine just for you. So your bike makes you feel special. You feel like as if you are The King of The Road. Just as you turn the beam of the headlight, the different reflectors just light up in the areas which were just a moment before completely dark. The path is made by you and it is made for you. You must be feeling like you are on an air strip, trying to land a plane [though I do not know what pilots feel!]. This is another thing that has to be felt, and cannot be understood only in the words, the feeling runs much deeper, much deeper than the words can dwell. Maybe this is the feeling The reflectors on the road light up till very far away, so that you get an effect of road going far, far away from you…
 
The petrol was not enough and we did hit the reserve just after Vashi [वाशी]. So had to fill in at the first pump. But did fill it in at the second one as the first one was exclusively for diesel vehicles.
With the petrol filled in we rolled on the highway. I used the JNPT [Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust] exit for leaving Panvel [पनवेल], which was discovered by me and Ritesh in a hard way while going to Karnala [कर्नाळा] last year. 
Windwolf and Damitr: The incredible duo.
I prefer this way because the traffic is very less as compared to the way through Panvel. From the ‘T’ point where the right way goes towards JNPT and the left one goes towards Goa and Pune. 
Here after the Panvel exit, the patch before the crossing of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the once [in]famous dance bars come into view. Thanks to R. R. Patil, they have lost their old glory now, but their neon signs glow even now. There is still some fire left in the ashes, will they rise one day again? All along the way till Panvel there was smog in the lower parts, this maybe partly due to the brick ovens, or the factories that are in the Navi Mumbai [नवी मुबंई] area. The presence of smog gives a surreal look to the entire landscape. At one point there was a lot of free space, in which there were some sparse trees. All you could see was the trees and their tops, most of the ground was covered with smog. So the scene looked as if the trees were growing in clouds instead of land… 
Panvel from the JNPT bypass ‘T’ point early in the morning, looks as if it is sleeping cozily in the blankets of smog. Here I saw one very prominent feature of the mountain visible from Panvel, which I missed during all my last rides. This is Prabalgad [प्रबळगड]. Its peak looks impressive and is asking to be climbed…
Panvel in the morning haze, with Prabalgad in foreground, notice the clouds far away, they do look like mountains.
Prabalgad.
The weather was very fine. The cold wind kisses you on the cheeks and leaves you with a pleasant and warm feeling. The extra sheath of insulation was almost perfect for the kind of weather I was riding into. Another thing about riding in the dark, as the time goes by, the color of the sky changes gradually. The gradients of colors are amazing and cannot be described in words they have to be seen. There are things about riding which you cannot capture in words, but only can be experienced, so time and again I am referring to this feeling of being felt. [If you have not read Robert Pisrig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance maybe you should.] For each phase before the dawn, there are different shades which are dominant. And if, the sky has some clouds, the colors and clouds can play amazing tricks on you. If the road is winding you see clouds in different directions, in different shades, shapes and sizes. Also if the sun is behind the mountains, it gives rise to spectacular silhouettes of the mountain; the mountain is dark black and the sky appears in shades of orange and red. In the background of the mountain range, the distant clouds at a particular time appear themselves as mountains. At the horizon you cannot distinguish between the lines of distant mountain ranges and the array of clouds present beyond them.  They appear so similar, that it is hard to tell them apart. But as the sun rises on the sky they become more demarcated, and they just dissolve. Many of them become thinner and then ultimately melt away… 
Another thing about riding the bike that thrills me is that the silence that you get with it. When you are riding alone, you are alone. There are no other sounds, except that of the firing of the engine and the voices of yourself that you hear in the head. The riding on the bike gives you a  solitude, which is so difficult to get with the lifestyle that we have adapted. This is a aloneness in which you can engage in a dialogue with yourself. I am saying dialogue with oneself, not a monologue; because many times I ask myself questions as somebody else, and answer the questions as somebody else. Some times is it the other way round? And I tend to forget myself in all this? Anywhere where am I? [See interesting and highly readable articles about “I in Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennet’s Mind’s I]
Since it is summer, and the spring is almost finished, the trees on the sides of the road greet you with their new and tender leaves. This is a different shade of green, which has its own charms. The green leaves, against the start blue background of the sky mark the summer and spring for me. This marks completion of another cycle for them. Here is a summer time song that I liked and echoes many of my feelings…
After Khopoli [खोपोली], the real climb begins. There is an Electric Power Station, run by the Tata’s, also there is the residential colony till half part of the climb. Just near the colony there is a very sexy curve, which sets the adrenaline up by many levels. O! I just can’t describe the feeling….
Windwolf in The Ghat.
After many windings on the road we finally touch upon the familiar yellow and blue bands which declare that now you are riding the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Here two wheelers and three wheelers are not allowed, and so are tractors and pedestrians not. After riding a little on the expressway, we get down at the Lonavala exit. The sun is quite high up now as compared to the time of the day. Anyway, now the scene created is interesting. As I am riding eastwards I face the rising sun, and it feels like summer, while in both the rear view mirrors I could see dark gray clouds rising. So these two were two entirely different world. One was the future, and one was the present, that of the forthcoming monsoon’s and that of the present summer. It was feeling as if the clouds were following you in the time, I felt as if I was the harbinger of the monsoons which will hit in the coming two weeks [The IMD website claims June 10 is the time it will hit Mumbai]…
You can see some  photos from a ride last year here.
By the time I reach Deccan plateau [दख्खनचे पठार] the sun is quite high, but the wind temperature is still low. Now the local road traffic beings to emerge, but sill is quite low. Near the Bhaje [भाजे लेण्या] caves, I can see the twin forts of Visapur [विसापुर] and Lohagad [लोहगड] still immersed in clouds. They are a sight to watch and trek in the Monsoons. I have done one and a half treks of Visapur fort. Both during the monsoons. I say half because that trek had to be abandoned midway, due to “footware” problems of a six foot hobbit ;). Lohagad I have trekked thrice and not one time in the monsoons. 
At 7:30 I had crossed Kamshet [कामशेट] and by 8:00 am I was riding happily in Wakad [वाकड]. They are making a fly-over there, good less jams. I was all happy for this wonderful ride and thought that this will never come to an end. The joy of riding was with me. But ….
As soon as I departed from the highway at the Hinjewadi [हिंजवाडी] junction, the ugly, chaotic, mean, non-rational, messy, unregulated traffic of Pune was attacking me, complimented by the pathetic and distressed conditions of the roads. It took me just over 20 minutes to reach IUCAA from Hinjewadi, but this was the worst part of the ride. UGhhhhh……..
There was dust in my eyes and they became sore. People here don’t respect traffic laws, everyone makes the rules, where all are equal, but they themselves are more equal than the others. So be it. If there is a demise of Pune as a city, the chaos of the roads and one that is on the roads will be one of the biggest reasons for sure. But let go prophecies and we are back to the reality that it was a nightmarish thing after such a wonderful time I had with her.
I reached IUCAA at Sam’s place at 8:25, which means that we reached here in about 3 hrs 15 mins, have to improve on this…
This is the sort of timing I remember for the various points in the ride; they maybe off by 10-15 minutes or so [except the start and end times].
0510 Ride Begins
0545 Petrol Pump
0610 Panvel Exit
0650 Khopoli Exit
0710 Lonavala Exit
0730 Kamshet
0800 Wakad
0825 Sam@IUCAA
So far so much for the ride now for the real work that had to be done. Which will take more of my time and energy and would be also less rewarding.
The RTO
Well my last visit to the Mumbai RTO for the learners license was not a particularly cheerful one. Last time I had visited the Pune RTO it was five years back in 2003, when I got the WindWolf transferred to my name. 
Pathi had come to Samir’s at 9:30 we chatted for a few minute. We started for the Alandi Road [अाळंदी रोड] RTO office, where I had last time got the extension, at about 10ish. We met another traffic snarl at the Holkar bridge, just before the area of The Bombay Sappers. There is a ghat here, which is just one of the numerous buildings built by the one of the able and admirable lady rulers of India, Ahilyabai Holkar [अहिल्याबाई होळकर] in the late 18th century. 
Ughhh, so much I hate these jams …. People just won’t listen, there were two wheelers even on the side footpaths, trying to get an edge [of  a few seconds] over the other riders [And then where are pedestrians supposed to go?]. All this for what, reaching their respective destinations just 2 minutes before? 
I knew we had to take a left turn after the Holkar bridge. But thereafter I did not remember the way… So I did the best, when in doubt, ask! And that we did. So finally we reached the RTO office, when I saw it I remembered it.
As soon as you are near the gate there is a line of ‘agents’ greeted us, though not they were not these ones here. But they all bore one similarity to the Agents of The Matrix, they all wore dark goggles. And no ordinary goggles were these; they were the ones not to be hidden. “Never Hide” says baseline of the latest ad campaign by Ray-Ban and believe me these people were following it religiously. And they were definitely not hiding. Maybe they will make a good footage for the next ad series. The goggles they wore were the same yet different, meaning they all had golden frames with dark glasses. No other type of Ray-Ban would suffice, it doesn’t fit the requirements.
The trend of wearing starched cotton shirts [preferably white], with one or two thick gold chains hanging down the neck and sporting a Ray-Ban is a sort of status symbol in Western Maharashtra. Every Tom-Dick and Harry, who is a bit affluent will have one Ray-Ban. And those who do not have one, want one. 
Anyways so all these agents ask is what work had to be done. Then I got one, and explained what exactly I wanted. So he agreed, and the cost was settled. I specifically told him that I wanted the papers today only, and that is why I am paying him his share. So then he told me the procedure. The procedure was very simple[?] and was as follows:
[FYI: There are two RTO offices in Pune city, one at Alandi Road, and another one near Sangam bridge [संगम पुल], the distance between them is about 8-9 kms. Its not that they are representing different regions, but they are part of the same office.]
Step 1: Fill a fee of Rs. 60. [This fee was told to me as Rs. 160, which I learnt later.]
But there is a catch here, as already told we were at the Alandi Road Office, this fee was to be deposited at the Sangam Bridge Office.
Step 2: Fill up a form for the re-registration, which has to have the details of the vehicle. This form should have the chassis and engine number which has to be embossed from the vehicle body. Any vehicle has the chassis and engine number imprinted on the body itself. This is sort of an unique ID that the vehicle has got. 
With the form following documents were to be attached.
  1. The original RC book.
  2. Valid insurance papers.
  3. A PUC
I had all these so no need to worry.
Step 3: The RTO will then inspect the vehicle in terms of its condition, and the original papers along with their validity. Then the RTO will decide, whether to give the extension or not. Will stamp the RC book with his due sign.
This was it and we were done. 🙂
The Steps 2 and 3 were to be performed at the Alandi Road Office. Why this to and fro business between these two offices I do not understand [and I guess no body else does]!
So be it….
So the agent said that he will manage for paying the fees at the Sangam Bridge office, and also reassured that we wont have to do anything. Okay then he said he will be sending a person at the Sangam Bridge office and said that I give him the fees first, so I did. The time was about 10:30ish. We were told that by 12 we would be done with the work there. So by 12 it will be achieved what I had come to do. He said as soon as the person comes with the paid receipt from the Sangam Bridge office he will call me, till then i have to wait.
So me and Pathi went under a cozy shade of a tree nearby and  waited. We were standing in front of a ground where there were two huge figures of “8” where the novice riders were going to give their tests for their driving licenses. Supposedly if you can drive the bike around the figure of “8” you are eligible for the license. Why this test is so or who devised this test is something lost in the mists of time or I do not know where to ask this question. Some of the more adventurous ones were actually practicing on the track.
Pathi had a lot of nostalgic memories of being here, some 10-12 years back. He narrated the incidents that took place at that time, when the people who actually had come to give the test fell on the “8” track. They say “driving is a privilege not a right.” And to get this privilege you have to give this test. Maybe this was true in the times of Nehru and pre-liberalization, but has not driving vehicles become a sort of necessity in this era. Given the pathetic and bad shape of the public transport, why won’t people choose to get their own vehicles to reach their destinations? If the authorities can provide cheap and reliable public transport why won’t people use it? Why do most of the people choose to buy their own vehicle, rather than use the public transport? I think one of the main reasons is the un-reliability of the public transport. This is true especially for the PMT buses in Pune. Mumbai has I guess the best public transport systems in India both on tracks and on road. Though I did find Delhi’s metro service very good, but the same cannot be said about the buses, autos and rickshaws there. They say Kolkata’s metro service is also good, but i haven’t been there and seeing is believing. And for Bangalore [from what I have witnessed and heard] the situation is as same [or worse] as Pune. I think both the cities are competing with each other as to how worse you can get in terms of roads and the traffic on them. 
Most of the PMT buses are in really bad shape. They do not even look good even in the outer appearance, the engines are screaming to get in better shape and I think need an overhaul and servicing urgently. Ughhhh! Compared with the BEST buses PMT don’t stand any where near. Maybe they should learn a lesson or two from them. Some times the question comes to my why should be there so much difference between the buses. Is it due to the fact that most of BEST buses are Ashok Leyland make and most of the PMT buses are TATA make? 
This is for the traffic on the road, but what about the roads themselves? In Pune the roads that I saw this time, were worse that I ever saw in the ten years. All the roads are “repaired” of potholes, but the repairing is done in “patches.” So that you have a small patch of even, repaired road and then some bad road and then the cycle repeats endlessly. This is more irritating than having a road full of potholes. The only roads which were free of potholes were those made of concrete. So is making all the roads of Pune concretized, the only concrete solution to the problem? Or can it be done by managing properly what we already have? Everybody who had to visit through the University circle maybe 2-3 years back will have vivid memories of the kind of nasty jams that were present during the construction of the now completed fly-overs. The entire University road from Shivaji Nagar was taken hostage for the construction of these fly-overs. The scheduled date was far from over, but the fly-overs were far from over at that time [if I remember it correctly the scheduled date of completion was somewhere in October-November 2005]. The amount of work hours and petrol lost in those jams was a terrible wastage of resources. Now that fly-overs are complete had everybody forgot the horror that they were subject to during those days? People who were responsible for this “delay” must be brought forward and held accountable for it. It must be people, it cannot be the concrete or the pillars that caused the delay. So who was responsible, were it the builders or the government bureaucracy or was it the “common man” who did not react to the atrocities committed? 
So much for the road and the traffic now back to the RTO’s office in Alandi Road. It was already 11:30 and we were not called by the agent. So I went and enquired about it, he said that the person who had gone to the Sangam Bridge office had not come back. So we had to wait. Now the only worrying factor was that the original papers with him. Maybe it was nothing to worry for them but for me it was for I had no copies of the RC book or the insurance papers. Even if I had the copies original are original. As the time was passing and no information about the person at Sangam Bridge office I was getting impatient. I pinned the person many times about the same, but he assured me as soon as the person from the Sangam Bridge office would some my work would be done in 15 minutes.  
The RTO’s office at Alandi Road is huge in terms of the extent, but it has no amenities whatsoever. I mean it has a few trees, placed randomly, but for what would be called as office, there are a few tin roofed sheds. This place was almost the same of what I had seen last time, five years back. So much could be done for this place, so many facilities could have made the place a better one for the people who do their jobs here, and also for those who come here to get the work done. There was no visible sign of any toilet. When I enquired about one, they told me to go to a place behind an abandoned room. But behind that room the space was entirely open. I just could not go there. Then at the other corner of the plot there was a huge arrow with some thing written on the wall in huge alphabets, 
येथे लघवी करु नये
[Please do not pee here.]
And just besides that there was an arrow which said मुतारी [Urinal] and pointed towards a shabby looking shed in the corner. Well then this was it, it was the urinal of the office. I dared to go there and use it. And not at all to my surprise, the toilet was in bad shape. There was a clogging of the wastewater and the stench was unbearable. Why this should be so? Why can’t the people of India provided with decent toilets? This is the bane of India. Anywhere you go the toilets are usually in bad shape. If you think you have got the worse one, wait till you go to the next one, and you will have to redefine the definition of worse. And what about women? What about the torture they have to go through when they use the public toilets? The bad condition of toilets is not just the characteristics of the government offices, the schools, colleges, hotels, bus and railway stops are equally bad. And most of the people feel, bad but are [like me] oblivious when it comes to do something about it. Who is responsible for this? When we are paying taxes to the government is it too much to expect clean and hygienic toilets? I don’t know when the things are going to change….
At the Mumbai airport they charge you Rs. 2 for using the toilets. And the toilets are ordinary in construct and cleanliness. Why this should be so? 
And as far as some eateries or canteens are concerned the Alandi Road offers just a few taparis [टपरी], giving you vada pavs and other things. But hygiene is a big question mark. With the space available there, a decent canteen can easily be constructed, if the authorities will.
Anyways, back to the work. So the guy who was supposed to come back from the Sangam Bridge office, did came at about 12:45. My worry was that the work should get over before the lunch. So that we can have our own lunch in peace. But destiny had other plans for us. After that the ritual of filling up the form, in which they put the chassis number by rubbing a pencil on the paper, while the paper is pressed on the numbers embossed on the body of vehicle. With all the details filled in we went to the office of the officer-in-charge, which was really a room with a shed and a few windows. The officer had an attendant who checked all the documents before passing on to the officer-in-charge. When the documents were presented the officer came and looked at the chassis number on the vehicle. And asked me
ईडिंकेटर वैगरे सुरु अाहे ना?
[Are indicators etc. working?]
When he was assured of that he just signed the documents and we were done. Only a stamp from some office was required, which would  take 5 more minutes, I was told. So happy, I was. So after 5 minutes the actual sign and stamp happened and gave the remaining money. And then I was told something I was not at all prepared for. After the checkup here we were supposed to go back to the Sangam Bridge office and take the sign of another officer there, and get the work done registered in a register. What the Efff? [Mind you, Efff is a four letter word.] I meant this was not told to me originally, nor was part of the deal, I was not supposed to go to the Sangam Bridge office!! 
Anyways, he told me that at the Sangam Bridge office, the work is minimal and will be done very easily. It was a two step process. So add these two steps to the three I have already listed. 
Step 4: Get the Officers sign on the papers.
Step 5: Get these papers to a clerk, who will do the actual re-registration in a register. The clerk will do the actual stamping on the RC book, of the extended date. 
And after this we are really done.
Our agent said that after submission of the documents the clerk will tell us, after how many days we had to come back, to collect the documents. This news was not certainly good. I had to get the documents today. So I asked him, are there any other agents, who can help me there. He gave me number of some other guy there, who sits under Tree No. 4 [झाड क्रमांक ४] at the Sangam Bridge office. Curiously when we went there I saw that the trees are labelled by the numbers and the agents actually sit under them. 
We were feeling quite hungry, so decided to have lunch first and then go for the remaining work.
पहिले पेट पुजा, फिर काम दुजा.

So we went to Bamboo House in Shivaji Nagar and finished lunch by 2:15 and by 2:25 we were at the Sangam Bridge office. We had called the agent at the Sangam Bridge office saying that we, were coming there and that he should help us. When we went under Tree No. 4 the person we were looking for was not there, he had gone for lunch. We were told by the others agents that this was a work which was easily doable by us, and we should go to the third floor to get it done. So we did. We went to the third floor and in the corner was office of the officer concerned. Here again there was an assistant/clerk who checked the documents before sending it to the officer-in-charge. He checked and promptly sent it in. But after 15 minutes of wait there was no response. And at 1440 hrs the officer-in-charge went for lunch. Well, we wait. Then there came peon, who cleaned the office. So I enquired with him about the process that has to be done, he explained in details. 

Officer in charge came back at about 1520 hrs, all other people were going into his cabin for getting the documents signed. After the peon prompted I also went in. The officer-in-charge was already busy signing the heap of documents that was unleashed before him. I told him what my purpose was, and that I had already given the documents in. So he said in a very assuring tone:
तुम्ही दिले अाहे ना, मग होऊन जाईल.
[You have submitted [the documents], then it will be done.]
And done it was, in next five minutes the documents came to the clerk who was sitting outside the cabin. Then he told us that we had to go to the ground floor, for actually getting the registration done. And so we descended, to the lower floors. The life here was bustling with activity, people running around seemingly randomly. The system here is something like this. Every clerk has been alloted a few ‘series’ of the registration numbers. By this it is meant that each clerk only does work for a certain number, like lets say MH-12 AG or MJE etc. So first we had to find the clerk who has our series. In the lists that were present, my series MGE did not show up anywhere. I became a bit tense, everybody thought it was MJE and general confusion followed. Everywhere, everyone was busy. Then finally I was directed to one person, who seemed to be the master in all such matters. The situation became further tense for me, when someone told that this registration was at Nigdi [निगडी] RTO’s Office. Then someone saw the RC Book and to my reassurance told that, although the passing is from Nigdi office, it had been transferred to Pune Office. 
The know-it-all guy directed me to, one person, who was in all this chaos not looking busy at all. When I presented him with the papers, he told me that this was not his series to work with and asked me to go back to the know-it-all guy. Then I clarified to him that, ‘that’ guy only had send us to him and further added the newly acquired information about the transfer from Nigdi RTO. Then he looked at the watch it was 1530 hrs and told us to come back at 1700 hrs. I asked his whether the work would be done or not, he replied it would be definitely done.
So we had to wait till 1700 hrs. But at that time, I thought about the agent we had left under, Tree No. 4. I called him and asked him whether anything could be done. He did not reply positively. So I went and met him under the Tree No. 4. He was a bit pissed off that we did not come to him first, and was totally non-cooperative. He told that once we go directly to the clerks/officers there is no deal for them left. And was visibly annoyed, he also called the agent at Alandi Road office and told that we had done this. So anyways I asked him would he be of any help now, he said no, and we left him.
Now back in the office we had no other option but to wait. So we waited in the great hall on the ground floor, where all the counters for various activities were present. There were counters for licences, fees, registration etc. Also on the boards various rules and by rules were present, along with portraits of national heroes. The posters gave in written and details how complicated it was to get the work done, it actually told how many times one had to go to and fro even between the two offices, to get even simple work done. So be it. Also the various district wise numbers of the vehicles for Maharashtra state were given. 
After watching all this we felt a little bored it was 1600 hrs already. Pathi suggested that I go and check on the progress of the work. Main worry was the fact that we did not have any proof that we had submitted the documents to them, all the papers and receipts were attached with the form, so if the form is lost or misplaced I will be left with nothing. And the sort of chaos that was present there it was very likely that it will get lost. So I went to check. The clerk did have a good memory, for he recognised me immediately, and also reminded me that he had asked me to come at 1700 hrs. He sort of warned me that, why he should not ask me to come next day for collecting the documents? With this sort of warning I receded back to our hall where we sat from last few minutes. 
Just at the entrance to RTO’s office there is a cabin of the PRO. This cabin has a seat for the PRO and a CGI [computer graphical interface] which had the links to all the services that one could avail from this office. This console was touch sensitive and was courtesy of some IT company. So we went and checked with some details, they were explicit and well done. But you had to come here to access this, why cannot they put this on the internet? It would be great help if they do. Here in the great hall I noticed another thing, there were paan [पान] and gutkha [गुटखा]  spits on all the pillars, corners and walls inside the hall. This is another major thing that annoys me, people spitting where ever they find space. The problem is acute in the stairways, where the corners are especially targeted for this purpose. People don’t feel ashamed for this and they do it with pride. When will this attitude change? It they fined Rs. 500 per spit. I think some things will change…
So it was about 1650 hrs, the time that I was given was coming nearby. So I went to him and to my relief my they had found the records for series MGE and also located entry of my vehicle in that register. And after I had gone, they did the needful and entered the renewed registration in the register. Finally it was done, or so I thought.
The clerk who showed me the entries, told me that I have to submit xerox [carbon?] copies of the insurance and the RC book. Now after all this only these copies were not going to stop me. So I just dashed to get them, when he called me back again and told me that it was not needed, as he had checked the originals….
Phewwww…..
So finally the day came to a close at 1705 hrs. And below is the result of a complete days work.
The Doom Day Now Reset to 15/5/2013

I felt like resetting a nuclear device, to five years later, when this ordeal has to be repeated again. Till then 
I ride,
The WindWolf  with pride…

Passport Blues…

The Passport Adventure
Finally the day arrived that I applied for the passport.
This was pending from a long time literally, [6 years to be precise!]. The preparation for this grand event began about two weeks before.
The first thing that we did was to look at the list of the required documents. Sorry boss, no ration cards, electricity or telephone bills or election IDs at the present address. What do I do?
Oh yes, there was one ray of hope for people like us, who are abandoned by the government in terms of our identity. The list read thus:

Proof of address (attach one of the following): 

Applicant’s ration card, certificate from Employer of reputed companies on letter head, water /telephone /electricity bill/statement of running bank account/Income Tax Assessment Order /Election Commission ID card, Gas connection Bill, Spouse’s passport copy, parent’s passport copy in case of minors.

This is from the Passport Department’s website here [italics mine]. Well I has these two, so I was happy. 
The other major thing was proof of date of birth. The website reads thus:

Proof of Date of Birth (attach one of the following): 

Birth certificate issued by a Municipal Authority or district office of the Registrar of Births & Deaths;

Date of birth certificate from the school last attended by the applicant or any other recognized educational institution; or an Affidavit sworn before a Magistrate/Notary stating date/place of birth as per the specimen in ANNEXURE ‘A’ by illiterate or semi-illiterate applicants. 

Well this I had the SSC mark sheet has date of birth.
Also I had to get these two Annexure B and I. Well I got the Annerxure B thanks to our office administration. And Annexure I thanks to a security guy in the office whose brother did the job. Took the photosof passport size [3.5 cm x 3.5 cm] also they have come okay [I guess]. As compared to other photos of mine. 🙂
Also for the ECNR stamp, I was required to show that I was at least 10th pass. So I decided to give the highest one that I have got viz. M.Sc. mark sheet; one of the two achievements of my entire life, the other one being my selection at HBC.

Well then compiled the other documents. The list of documents to be submitted read thus:

1 Proof of Address
Residence proof from the office
Statement of Bank Account
2 Date of Birth Proof
SSC Mark Sheet
3 Annexure B [Office ID Proof]
4 Anexure I [Standard Affidavit]
5 M.Sc. Marksheet for ECNR
Thus we were ready!
Then we filled out the form on the website, which gave us an ‘appointment’ for the application. The date was fixed on 9th April 2008 [Tai’s Birthday] and the time was 11:30 am. This is what the website reads:

Please visit Passport office on the appointed date and time. You should arrive at RPO about 15 minutes before the appointed time and proceed to the respective counter. On line applicants do not need to obtain a  token number for submitting their applications. You will not have to wait long in the queue. 
Well the last line brought a BIG smile to me. Such a care taken at a government office; I was impressed.
Another good news was waiting for me, we could also submit the form at Chembur so that we don’t have to go all the way to Prabha Devi to just submit the forms. The address of the above office was taken from the Mumbai Police Helpline number 1090, where the attendant was surprisingly very helpful. No irony intended here. I mean it. The guy on the other side of the phone was really helpful. I wish everybody in the Government office [at least the PROs] were like him.
I was the happiest being in the universe. 
So the fateful day arrived, we had done everything else except one minor detail of actually filling up the form, of whatever columns was left. We thought of doing this the night before, but Mishraji went to sleep when I was going to the office. So it was decided that we fill up the forms in the morning at 8:30 am, and go to the office in Chembur at about 10, as opposed to 11 suggested by Mishraji.
Had our breakfast and went on the Wind Wolf. Well the address that Mishraji and I had was in exactly opposite directions; so total confusion about where to go. 
First we went to the office behind the fine arts society building. But this was a mistake the Passport accepting office was at the other end in Chembur colony. So went there. There were very few people in line there, but why should we worry we had an appointment at 11:30 and we were early for it, for it was just 10:25 !
When we went inquiring we were directed to a lady who was checking the forms. Yess! We were finally there, my six year old dream of getting a passport or at least the first step towards it seemed to be coming true. 
I told the lady that we had an appointment even though she ws checking some forms. 
But, then, किंतू, परंतू, लेकिन …..
Well this was the end of the dream run that we have had so far…
The lady on the desk in told me in a way characteristic of a a government office person:
अाम्ही ईथे रोज फक्त ३० फॉर्म घेतो. ३० टोकन दिलेले अाहे, तर तुम्ही ऊद्या या, अाज तुमचा फॉर्म घेता येणार नाही. 
Meaning that: ”Everyday we take here only 30 forms only. For today 30 tokens have already been given, so we cannot accept your form.”

But how can this be? I tried to argue that we had an appointment, and were not supposed to stand in any line or take any tokens! But she would not budge and told us that the website appointment did not have any relevance. WTF! 
I mean, I could not believe it. How can a government website be so misleading. Even then I did not loose my cool, I kept on insisting on the word ‘appointment’, so be it she must have thought. Then she told us that if you  want to avail the appointment you will have to go to Prabha Devi head office. When I asked her about how to go there, she was staring towards me in disbelief. Huh, this guy wants to go there?
Anyway without receiving much help from her I went out and met some constables who directed me towards the Prabha Devi Passport head office, which was after Siddhi Vinayak. Well if this is how it is supposed to be, then let it be. Today I had to submit this form.
We still had about 50 minutes to reach there, I estimated that we could reach there in about 35-40 minutes, which was correct. When in the old office at 11:15 so we had a sigh of relief. But this was also short lived. We were told that passport submission happened in Bengal Chemical Bhavan, which was nearby. How much nearby he did not specify. Anyway we found it was really nearby. 
Hmm, spirits were high again, we can finally make up for the appointment at 11:30. Well here I felt more than happy when I saw a long line of people with passport forms in their hand. We laughed at them. Idiots. In this age of internet how could be there fools who were applying directly, waiting for tokens, uggghhh, I was seeing dumb people. With smart asses like us, who were net and tech savvy, we can really be ahead of the rest of the tech haves-not! Ha ha ha ha….
At the end of the line we were greeted by a security guard. Who asked us
क्या काम है?
We with our chest held high told that we have an appointment and we had to submit our forms. So far so good. Then he spoke some pearls of wisdom for us:
अॉनलईन अपॉईंटमेंट का कोई मतलब नहीं. ये लाईन में लगे हुऐ सभी लोगों का अपॉईंटमेंट है. लाईन में लग जाईए, अापका अपॉईंटमेंट भी हो जाएगा.
Ha ha ha, I did not know what to do, neither Mishraji had any idea. This was one of those moments if I had a bulldozer, I would have razed the entire building. Talking to the guard was like talking to a wall. It was not his fault, he was just doing what he was told to. Then whose fault is it? Did the people at NIC made a typo [or several] while making the website? Anyways these questions for me would be like enduring questions for time to come…
Now we ran towards the end of the line, here again a few people were added since we went past it. So we were left at end of a very long line. There we came to know that we were not alone in being fooled by the online submission’s claim of 

You will not have to wait long in the queue.
The sun was laughing down on us. All of us fools who were standing in the queue for the appointment. People around me were relating how they fell for this just like us. Also taking the government machinery for its lethargy and stubbornness. Anyway we were pacing forward at one tenth of snail’s pace. The only aim was to get inside the hall and we thought that all our troubles would get solved in a jiffy. Anyway till 12:45 we got in the hall and…
There was a total chaos in there. We were supposed to go to the 8 number counter. The queues for different counters did start differently but as they grew long, in the end all merged into a mass of people, who barely knew which line was where. One by one the people were leaving and we were progressing in the queue. 
Some of us did panic, as there were boards around saying that acceptance of forms and fees will be only till 12:30. But then someone told us that it is till 5:00 pm. Now all this standing in queue in the sun was showing up. I had not had water in the morning and was feeling really thirsty. The only cooler in the room was not working. But there was another escape root. There was a CCD counter. We ate some sandwiches and shakes which made us feel better. Meanwhile Mishraji had ventured outside and got us a water bottle which was not available at the CCD counter. [Note: Always carry a water bottle whenever you are outside in Mumbai, the thirst might just kill you!].
Till the lunch time we got really close to the chairs. Chairs the all important chairs. Never in my entire life I have craved for one, the way I was craving for it then. We were just one number away from the chairs when the Lunch Time was commenced. Not good will have to stand at least half hour more, without seating. Taking a clue from another person who was sitting merrily on the floor I decided to do the same. What a relief it was!
At last the lunch time got over and our man was back at the place where we all wanted him to be. Well he had become really charged when he had returned. He quickly send out a lot many of them and we finally did have a space to sit!
Some people from the pre-lunch session returned, whom our guy had send running for various things. One of the guys in blue shirt was really made to run and sweat. He was with his wife and mother I guess. But in the end much later he had his work done. 
Well but all this ate upon our waiting time in the queue. So when we were just a few people away the entire thing came to a standstill at least for us.
 
I was loosing all the energy to fight or otherwise. The bottle of water was a precious resort, which we both were banking upon. Just then Mishraji realized that he had not attached ‘two self attested copies of all the documents’ he had only one! In a hurry he went outside, and got the copies. Phew! That was a close one.
Well I noticed another thing, I had not brought the original bank passbook only the copies. Bad. So my short list of documentary evidences was further shortened. I hope that this does not create a problem, so I decide not to attach it.
Finally we were there, at the counter; where they take the forms to give the passport
When I presented him with the documents, he asks me
काय अॅडरेस प्रुफ लावले अाहे?
[What address proof have you attached?]
I explained to him that the office had given me a letter as a proof of residence which fitted in the categories given on the website. He said in plain words:
हे चालणार नाही.
[This is not good enough, it is not acceptable.]
When we insisted we were sent to see a साहेब at the 19 number counter. Mishraji followed the same as we both had evidences. We went to the officer concerned, who was in argument with someone over a passport which was lost.
Finally he had some time for us. He had a look at us and our evidences and asked 
तुम्ही स्टुडंट अाहे, अाणि गव्हरमेंट सरव्हंट पण?
[You are both students and government servants?]
Then I explained to him that I was doing my Ph.D., he assumed the same for Mishraji. Then he finally gave a nod for us and said our evidences are okay. So after thanking him we ran back to8 number counter, where our man was sitting doing others jobs. We told him that the officer has given the nod. Then he asks 
मग त्यांना, please accept, असे लिहायला सांगा.
[Ask him to give in written that this is acceptable.]
We went back to the officer and he duly wrote 
GS + Student and Annx B on our forms with a green ink.
So finally we were back at the 8 number counter. The queue which was  behind us was getting shorter and shorter with more and more people being disposed off. When we went back, he was not happy even after that with the documentary evidences. So he went all the way down to some other guy at counter 10, ad asked him advice about our ‘complicated case’. Well he asked what other documentary evidence did we have. I told him that I have Institute ID, PAN card and Bank pass book copy but I forgot to bring the original passbook. He looked not very happy. He asked me other non-relevant questions like 
तुम्ही काय काम करता? PhD चा विषय काय? Stipend भेटतो का? किती भेटतो? ितथे काय entrance असते का? पारपत्र कशाला हवं?
[What work do you do? What is the subject of your PhD? Do you get a stipend? How much? Is there an entrance to get into the institute? What do you need passport for?]
Then after much deliberation he finally nodded. And asked us to get the copies of the ID, PAN card and we were done. I hurried to Hall number 2, where there was a Xerox facility on a Canon copier. 
Anyway after the copying, I came back and Mishraji was no where to be found. He apparently went all the way out to get copies not knowing that there was a copier in hall number 2. Poor guy.
When I went back to the counter, the guy at the counter told me to come after everybody else’s thing got over. As ours was a ‘complicated case’. It was about 4:30 So we had to wait for 10 more minutes, when finally Mishraji appeared all sweating. And we finally got to submit the documents. We had to make two sets of all the documents ready, which we did. 
Then he asks for a proof of place of birth. Well this was not mentioned anywhere. Any way he also gave a solution for that, that we write a note which claimed that we were indeed born in the places we said we were born. And that was it. Good!
Finally after last scrutiny he affixed stamp on it and I had to sign it. And I proceeded to give the fees 1000 INR. But Mishraji had a problem, he had not attached two copies of the Annexure I or the affidavit. Well I also had not….
Then came back to the person and told him, that I also do not have two copies of the affidavit. He was surely pissed off on me and angry too, but it was all my fault. Okay he had to remove staples and give me the affidavit back. We almost ran back to hall number 2 and got the affidavits copied and ran back to hall number 1. 
Well finally we submitted the form and stood in the line to give the fees. Well at the fee counter if you were paying by 500 or 1000 denomination notes you had to write their numbers. Well we did that and the lady at the counter asked me what was my subject of MSc, when I replied physics she commented physics is hard. Well I never knew doing MSc in physics would come useful in this way. So when I paid the cash I finally thought it was over, but destiny had other plans….
And O remembered this line from Bombay [sorry Mumbai] Boys…
अभी खत्म नहीं हुअा च्युत्ये…
The lady at the cash counter told me that I had not filled the form completely!! Both me and the gentleman at the counter were taken aback. What I had not filled was that the witnesses for my testimony at the home address, in one of the copies of the form.
The guy almost invited me to fill the form in a satirical way. When I did fill it, it was finally over this time.
The guy at the counter told me only due to stamp of TIFR that he had entertained me… 
Well so far so good. 
I hope that there won’t be any further adventures left for me.
And now I am waiting for my passport to come…
P.S. My passport has finally arrived on Friday 15th May 2008 in HBCSE. Unfortunately me being in Pune will have to collect the passport on Monday. Now for the facts the passport did arrive in a record 36 days, 9 days before the scheduled date of 45 days. Thanks to all the officials who were involved. The Indian bureaucracy has large inertia, so that it takes a large time to get it going, but when it does it does get going.
Ciao
🙂