Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

The Irrelevant SMS Polls

All News channels have hit upon the new source of revenue: SMS Polls. Everyday there is a poll on one of the top stories of the day on each channel. In fact on many a channels, there is a show, that actually goes around what is the response of the people. But other than being sources of revenue for these channels, do these polls hold any significance?

Some of the questions asked by the polls such that people can vote in just one way. Look at this question: Should Rahul Gandhi assume a greater responsibility in Congress? Now be it a supporter, or a detractor of Rahul Gandhi, he would vote in the affirmative. If Rahul Gandhi isn’t going to take more responsibility in the Congress, why the hell is he there for?

Yet other questions are completely open to interpretation. Consider this question asked on one of the News channels: Will Rahul Gandhi’s presence make a difference to Congress in UP? Well it all depends on what does one mean by difference. If they mean that Congress gets a few more seats, then the answer would be yes. If it means Congress becomes a major force in the UP Vidhan Sabha, No. (That’s too much for Rahul Gandhi to achieve, even though the media would like to attribute god like powers to him.)

I have been a critic of “Don’t Know/Can’t Say” (DKCS) option in polls. If you don’t have an opinion, why vote? However, there are times when it is the best resort. Some of the questions raised are such that only experts can have the answer. At such times one can use the DKCS option. If a large number of people vote in this fashion, it is equivalent to making the statement to the poll holder that the general public doesn’t understand the complexity of the issue. According to me all answers to the polls on nuclear deal between India and US should have been DK/CS.

And how does one ensure that the votes form a good sample set? There has always been this controversy on SMS polls, as one person is allowed more than one vote. So a person who feels strongly about the issue (or has his mobile bills paid by his company) may vote multiple times, while others may not. How then, can that poll hold any significance?

All in all, these polls are revenue generation tools for news companies. I don’t think even the news channels take their polls seriously.

Monday, April 24, 2006 

Happy Birthday, God!

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Sachin Tendulkar may want his birthday to be a quiet affair, so the least fans like us can do is wish him a very Happy Birthday. The last season may not have been the best for him, nor his health, but we fans definitely believe that the God of Indian Cricket will soon be back to his peak form, demolishing bowling attacks like only he can.

So heres wishing the little master a very very Happy Birthday! May the next year bring in lots of good luck and form for him!!!

Saturday, April 15, 2006 

On Atheism

Atheism seems to be ubiquitous. From Amartya Sen and Ananth Pai, to most of the bloggers I communicate with, everyone claims to be an atheist. This post isn’t intended to comment on the validity of atheism as a philosophy. It is just an attempt by a devout, religious person like me (I hope I am not burnt at stake for this) to understand the reason(s) behind atheism’s growing popularity.

Being an atheist is modern/cool.
Atheism implies rejection of God and religion and with it the baggage of tradition that comes along with religion. So an atheist sets his own rules. He can go around shouting I’m a rebel like Aamir Khan in RDB. It hardly matters if he has a reason for rejecting a particular tradition. It is cool to bash tradition anyway.

Being an atheist is convenient.
In a world torn apart by religious fundamentalism, it is very convenient (especially for bloggers) to be an atheist. This allows the blogger to criticise fundamentalism in any particular religion, without having defend the religion indicated by his surname. It also allows him to choose the traditions and festivals convenient to him. “I will burst crackers on Diwali because I enjoy them. Why should one waste time on Lakshmi Poojan? I don’t believe in God anyways.”

Being an atheist is intellectual
That one is an atheist automatically implies that one has the capability to think for himself, as one must not have rejected a widely held belief like God just for the heck of it. Being an intellectual, (and hence atheist) is especially important to all writers. Who will buy their books if the public doesn’t believe that the author is giving them some independent thought?

Being an atheist is secular
In fact, the dictionary meaning of secular doesn’t leave much difference between atheism and secularism. Considering the Indian definition, which means equal respect for all religions, atheist show equal amount of contempt for all, and hence fit the secular bill.

Being an atheist is rational and scientific
The concept of God implies something all-powerful and supernatural. Both these concepts are beyond scientific rationale. Hence God and religion automatically become unscientific and irrational. Acceptance of God requires the humility to accept that there are things beyond human comprehension. Rationalists and scientists are trying to comprehend all the mysteries of the world. Hence a rejection of God is but natural to them.

It would be easy for anyone to dismiss atheism as pop-culture, but atheism has survived for centuries, and I have no doubt it will last as long the concept of God does. After all, there are so many advantages of being an atheist.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

I dream of the IIMs

The IIMs had always been a dream for me. My first attempt at the CAT (the entrance exam for the IIMs) was in 2003. Had prepared a lot for it and had a good exam. But the moment I came out of the examination halls, I heard that my effort had been a wasted one, for the CAT papers had been leaked, and the CAT would be reconducted.

The CAT was reconducted in Feb 2004. But somehow, I just couldn’t motivate myself for the same level of preparation. I don’t know whether it was the frustration of the wasted effort, or just my usual complacent attitude, but I wasn’t motivated enough to take the retest. Even with the half-hearted approach, I managed to secure 98.82 percentile. I would have managed to get a few GD/PI calls from some of the IIMs, had it not been for a technicality called sectional cut-offs. My percentile in one of the sections was too low. A case of so-near-yet-so-far!

Having not made it to the IIMs in 2004, I joined on of the best Software firms in India. (Yeah! That’s the only option for engineering graduates, irrespective of your discipline of graduation).Simultaneously, I decided (once again) to appear for CAT in 2004. As luck would have it, CAT 2004 came too close to my IT training exam in my company. Caught between a rock and a hard place, I had to divide my attention (I had so little of it anyways) between studying for my IT training, and my CAT. The result? My performance went down in CAT 2004 by more than a percentile and a half. (One percentile corresponds to approx 1750 ranks in the CAT). So I had no hopes of making it.

But the bench period in my software company had frustrated me so much, that by March 2005, I had decided to have another crack at the CAT. So as to avoid jokes from my colleagues, I used to go around saying, “My CAT seems to be a Govt. five year plan. Will be attempted for five years, and yield no results!” Yeah! Laugh at yourself, and the world laughs with you, and not at you. But I was determined to crack the CAT this time.

Some where in June I realised, that staying away from home and looking after myself, in addition to my job, weren’t allowing me enough time to prepare for CAT. So I decided to go back home and join my family business. This allowed me free evenings for my classes, as well as my studies. (Mom’s cooking and care was an added bonus!). I contributed to the company as well, developing the website, and streamlining a few processes. It helped me learn a lot of things I was not exposed to in the IT behemoth I was working for. I was also allowed 2 weeks leave before the CAT. Had a decent CAT, though I felt that I should have performed better in Verbal section, which traditionally had been my strength.

On the second day of 2006, I was awoken by a friends call, asking me how many IIMs had called me for the next stage, i.e. GD/PI. I sat up. I didn’t know the results of CAT were out. I spent the entire day checking the IIM websites, to see which of them had called me. This time I had managed four IIM calls, from Calcutta, Indore, Lucknow and Kozhikode. (Ok, so I had missed the big two, but an IIM is an IIM, so the saying goes).

And so began a strenuous time of fine-tuning my soft-skills. There were newspapers to be read, academics to be revised, opinions to be formed, current affairs to be studied, hobbies to be pursued……… The list seemed endless. One by one, I went through my GD/PI encountering all sorts of questions and topics. (My IIM-Calcutta PI was very interesting, will post something on that soon)

Today, the results were out. The culmination of three years’ efforts had finally arrived. Dear readers, I have made it to IIM-C, which was the best institute I had a call from. And I am ecstatic! Wow!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006 

Waking up to Minority Appeasement

For most of the Indian media (especially English journalists), Indian Muslims have been holy cow. Most journalists and columnists bend over backwards to prove their “secular” credentials. Anybody who spoke about minority appeasement and reforms in Muslim personal law was a Hindu fundamentalist. Even after the Parliament attacks and Mumbai bomb blasts, no one spoke about Islamic fundamentalism in India. However, recently, some of the same columnists have changed sides, and are asking the Muslim community in India difficult questions.

The trend was started by Vir Sanghvi. In his editorials to the Hindustan times, he repeatedly asked why the moderate Indian Muslim is silent. Vir Sanghvi argued that the strongest criticism to Hindu fundamentalism came from within the Hindu community, but the silence of the Muslim communities silence over Haji Yaqoob’s prize offer was seen as tacit approval. Vir Sanghvi further went on to say that if moderate Muslims chose to remain quiet, the rest of India should speak up, so as to isolate such acts of fundamentalism.

One of the staunchest critics of the Saffron Brigade, Jug Suraiya joined in. In his article, Islam Agonistes, Jug Suraiya states lashes out at reactions of the Indian Muslims on the Danish cartoons. On the political reaction to the UP Hajj minister’s offer, Suraiya comments,
That he is walking around scot-free suggests a form of self-censorship, a
self-composed timidity of response (the Hindutva brigade would call it
appeasement) where Islam is concerned.

The latest addition to this list is Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, noted economist, whose column Swaminomics has cult following. Known rarely to write on non-economic issues (or social issues without economic nitty-gritty), Aiyar attacks the virtual silence in India over the proposed execution of Abdul Rahman (The sad silence over Abdul Rahman). He goes on to state,
But I hear no outcry from moderate Muslims, or Hindu intellectuals who normally
wave the secular flag. None of the major secular parties seems interested in
deploring the horror

What, in the past few months has changed so much, that columnists are condemning the Indian political and social reaction to Islamic fundamentalism? As Vir Sanghvi himself explains, Islamic fundamentalism in India was, until recently, seen as an insecure reaction to Hindu fundamentalism. However ever since the extremist Muslim in India has started associating himself with the cause of global Islam, there is a growing sense of insecurity amongst Indians. The recent protests, whether against prophet caricatures, or the visit of George Bush, were on issues that hardly affected the Indian Muslim. And yet Indian Muslims turned out in large numbers to join the protests.

It is a clear case of double standards on the parts of the so-called moderate Muslims, as well as the Indian politicians. But at least, some of us have learnt to call a spade a spade.