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Spanish !

I got introduced to Spanish in a very funny way. I was on a job break at that time, and I used to play some online games which were popular at that point of time. Through one of the games, I got a few regular acquaintances who were also playing the same game. Then, we became friends and started interacting over social networks. And some of those friends were from the Latin America.

The most frequently used expression by them at that point of time was ‘Donde eres’, and I was not at all tired in repeatedly answering them ‘Vivo India!’, and then to get the exclamation from them in reply ‘Ah !’.

After a few years, I got interested in exploring about Spanish language, and found that it is the second most spoken language in the entire world, next to the first Chinese Mandarin. I was surprised that English is not the first one or two. Or may be it is catching up, but then, as far as Spanish is concerned, it’s spoken in all countries of South America except Brazil (which speaks Portuguese), Mexico, United States of America, the Caribbean nations, Spain and some portions of North Africa.

There’s so much of trade happening between the Spanish speaking world and China. Latin population is getting much influential in United States of America.

Well, folks, isn’t that a good enough motivation to learn a language?

I could have chosen to learn Chinese Mandarin to start with, and even now I can, but Spanish felt sweet and lively to me than Chinese. May be some day, I will learn Chinese Mandarin too! But that’s later.

Hasta La Vista !


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#IRCTC woes of #India #Railways

Every grand stuff has a not-so-grand thing.

In case of Indian Railways, it’s the IRCTC’s online web-site for reservations & catering.

As a traveller and a techie, I am just amazed by the sheer negligence of the IRCTC authorities of how a simple thing of handling user traffic in their website has been ignored careless – leading to loss of revenue and discomfort of the passengers.

Recently, there was a talk in Twitter that Indian Railways passenger information is a great #BigData opportunity. The people who started the discussion were awe-ing about the new dynamic fare system introduced in some of the trains. Big Deal? Well, if I am not able to login to IRCTC web-site, what’s the point in even discussing about the features at the web-site?  Even during non-tatkal hours, I get communication failure many times.

It’s a simple matter of introducing cloud to the infrastructure. There was a time when server redundancy & traffic optimization was required.  Extra servers had to be installed, so that they can all share the traffic between them. This required buying additional servers, provisioning them, and writing the software logic to balance the user traffic.

With the advent of cloud computing, server redundancy has been moved to the cloud service provider. All IRCTC needs to do is to sign a service level agreement with the cloud service provider that the service need to handle whatever be the volume of traffic at any hour – the cloud infrastructure would do that by dynamically handling the requests with the servers at THEIR end – instead of IRCTC needing to invest in the physical servers. This way, capital investment is avoided – especially makes sense where in today’s scenario the server features getting outdated in 6 months because of bulkier hard disks, more powerful memory and processing power occupying lesser space.

Instead of investing in cloud service, IRCTC has recently launched a light-weight application, which will be launched during tatkal hours. Well, it’s a stop-gap quick-fix arrangement, but, it will also fail due to the ever-increasing demand of incoming user traffic. Also, who is going to handle the non-tatkal hours traffic which is also significant after 7:00 PM IST ?

I also saw a funny thing – one cannot register an ID between 7:00 AM and 11:00 AM. Why is this?

To summarize, I think the technical knowledge of IRCTC technical staff who are handling the web-site is outdated, and probably 10 years old. I don’t know if IRCTC has outsourced the technical part to a software service provider, but if this is the case, the service provider is doing a pathetic job, and need to replace their architects and engineers who are working on the IRCTC part – to upgrade to new software solutions which can handle the real time situations.

I told my friend – if I have to ever curse someone, I would say that their life be dragging for ever like an IRCTC user session! Hopefully, IRCTC will fix their web-site, and get out of the situation of being a laughing stock and a subject of online jokes in Facebook & other social networking sites.


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India passport issuance renewal – a few thoughts

The passport application & renewal in India has become relatively hassle-free and straight-forward, thanks to the new online tracking system. I applied on 20th and got my passport on hand on 31st.  The process is transparent – and stage-by-stage, the progress is updated in the web-site at http://passport.gov.in . No stage takes more than a day or two. Police verification stage proceeds smoothly and fast if you go to the police station and give your details with the photocopies of I.D. proofs and the documents that they ask for.

I do have a lot of concerns in the forms and the physical logistics of the passport seva kendra. This is true for the passport seva kendra in Lalbagh, Bangalore, and passport office in Kormangala, wherever specified.

1) Annexure F asks for the applicant name followed by S/O information, using blanks. Nowhere it says in the application or the associated instructions that the applicant’s full name (First name followed by middle name followed by last name) should be entered in the applicant name. Most of us tend to enter just our first name, especially since the S/O is asked immediately after the first name. If we enter just the first name, it is not accepted by the officials.

2) Lalbagh PSV, Bangalore: The place where they issue the tokens and the enquiry area is pretty crowded. Officials don’t realise the fact that every applicant is carrying sensitive documents with them like I.D. proofs and the queue system does not work. Everyone tries to push and fall on each other. If anyone’s document is lost, it is a big problem for them.  On the other hand, there is plenty of space inside the seva kendra allocated for the first stage of application processing called the ‘A’ section in the right side of the office, which is not used at all. This space should be around 5000 sq.ft. Why not use this space for receiving the applicants in a well-managed fashion, in a queue or a token system, so that people don’t fall over each other?

3) The no. of people attending to the tokens in the ‘B’ and ‘C’ sections are just 4 people each on a typical day, wherease ‘A’ section has 20 people. This leads to ‘B’ and ‘C’ section applicants waiting for a long time to be served. On the day I went for the interview, 100 applicants were sitting for around 7 hours waiting to be served in ‘B’ and ‘C’ sections.  The tokens were being issued even after 4:30 PM, which lead to heavy crowd.  It was sad to see the Assistant Regional Passport Officer herself doing the ‘B’ and ‘C’ verifications on the day I went. Her role should be to monitor whether things are moving smoothly in the office and to take actions where required.  Token issuance should be stopped once the ‘B’ and ‘C’ section no. of applications become unmanageable. No. of officers processing the ‘B’ and ‘C’ section should be increased.

4) There is a wonderful token issuing software algorithm to manage the applicants category like women, children, senior citizens, tatkal and normal quota, but at the end of the day, we all feel the crunch as the algorithm’s speed does not match with the no. of officers serving the ‘B’ and ‘C’ section. Talk about smart machines managed by not-so-smart people!

5) In the Kormangala passport office, applicants are forced to stand outside without cover in the queue though some limited no. of shaded seats are available, but they are not sufficient.  The token issuance windows look like a foreign embassy where applicants are asked to stand outside their office for visa stamping ! (Everyone know the Chennai scene near Gemini flyover!). If India itself treats their citizens like this, how will other countries respect India’s citizens ?

5) Securities manning the exit gate at Lalbagh PSV are openly asking to write their name and mobile number in a form that solicits Tata AIG insurance. This clearly falls in the borderline of illegal marketing. I don’t know who pays the securities – the Ministry of External Affairs (or) Tata AIG. Action has to be taken on this front.

If space and the monitoring and servicing of crowd is done properly in passport seva kendra, things will move a lot faster and smoother. Will the Ministry of External Affairs look into these points and take action?

 


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And so he starts thinking…

It was a hot day in mid March. I was travelling in a train from Bangalore to Chennai.

I was in a non-AC reserved compartment. I take books with me to kill time, but books also fail me at times, as it gets too boring to sit at a place for long.  Though I stare out and let my thoughts wander – and it usually lets the time fly away – I sometimes still feel bored.

I have always thought about the no. of people travelling in the Bangalore-Chennai sector, especially between Vaniyambadi and Chennai. It’s a whole lot. In spite of 7 trains a day, even the reserved compartments are full of standing people who  have not reserved their seats.  I see people cursing those who travel unreserved in reserved compartments, and the ticket inspector. But what they miss out is – how many people can the ticket inspector drive away from the reserved compartments, and for how many days?  It’s simply not possible. Also, the problem is not of irresponsibility, but of demand. It takes half the time and money to travel in train than in the buses, and hence people just hop-in into the reserved compartments and travel.

I have had my share of arguments and discussions with RTSO (the research wing that designs the railway compartments). I have argued with them that they should design non-AC double-decker coaches, so that common man can travel in them and the demand can be met.  They can’t keep adding coaches to the trains, as already 6 to 7 coaches of a train like Lalbagh stand outside the platform in a station like Arakkonam. Their answer is that they can’t increase the height of the coaches because they have to re-adjust the electric poles that supply power to the engine, so they are lowering the ground level of the compartment, in which case, dust will come in if the coach has open windows, and hence they can design only AC coaches! Makes sense. So, the railways are doing their bit. So, where is the problem?

I went towards a door to stand and gaze out, and there’s this person who was sitting near the door. We start talking about various things. He says he is from Ambur and works in a petrol supply company. I bring up the crowd issue, and how people just hop in the trains in whatever compartments they could find nearby. He agrees it’s a problem, but says he does that all the time as it’s convenient for him.

I ask him, ‘But you know, how can railways cater for such a huge crowd? Not just railways, we need to provide food, water, electricity, land, jobs etc to all the people. So, why give birth more and more, while there are existing children which need caring and shelter?’. He winces. Probably the background and culture he is coming from is for more and more babies, or against adoption. But he sees the point. He laments ‘Who thinks about all those?’. But then I can see a change in his attitude. I am sure I had made him think. I’m happy that I happened to stumble upon one person who happens to live where there’s dense population, and made him think too.

Many more minds to think. Adoption could be a cure to our population disease. Especially in cities and towns where it is feasible.  If we need to experience being a parent for a loved one, why not adopt ?

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The Grand Indian Railways

It was 4:30 AM, and I had just got out of Guwahati Express at Arakkonam junction. The driver of the train was waving the green lantern signal to the guard signalling that the train is ready to depart and sounded the 10 second horn. This started a series of thoughts in my mind.

I wondered if we ever thought about that driver, or the guard or the support staff on the lines, at the station, at the manned level crossings and the control rooms which enable the train to run smoothly, while we sleep like babies. In fact we don’t. This is a regular scene for us – trains coming in the station, we getting out in a hurry carrying the luggage and look forward for the next connection or meet the person who is waiting for us, or just lay off for a while before we go home. We take for granted the things that enable us.

We restlessly pace in the compartment and curse the staff when our train get delayed by 15 minutes. But do we thank the great job they do every time when the train reaches on time? Yes, they do it for a salary, but they do it with dutifulness…

These small acts of importance – like waving of a flag, or manually adjusting the track lever so that the train moves to the right track, or switching the right switch in the control room…These acts affect us – the lives of so many who travel in the trains. If they don’t do that properly, our lives are in danger, but they do it precisely every time, except for a few instances in the long history of the Indian Railways.  A network of so many trains. I recently counted the no. of trains between Katpadi and Jolarpet, and I counted 3 trains within a span of 7 minutes on the opposite track. It’s that densely used. Still with precision. Every train. Without an error.

As I crossed to the other side, there was an oncoming goods train on the other track coming at great speed. The railway protection police personnel started running on the platform along the track with white flash light on, checking to make sure that none of the passengers from the train that I just got out from, got into the track of the oncoming train…

And tears of gratitude started rolling from my eyes…


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In search of an arecanut plantation

The route: http://goo.gl/maps/1ieES

I have always been fascinated by plantations in general.  I had earlier driven from Bengaluru to Ooty and visited the hills with my brother, and always wanted to do mountain driving.  I have a car, which is luxurious, stylish, powerful as well as sensitive.

One of those days, couple of years down the line, I somehow wanted to go visit arecanut plantations.  I never planned where I am going to drive to, but I had the general idea that Karnataka has a lot of arecanut, and it would be worthwhile to drive around.  Generally, I did a google search and found that Malnad had a lot of arecanut (but at that point of time, I didn’t know the extent of arecanut in Sirsi district, otherwise I would have gone there!).  I also found that there are some pockets of arecanut in Chitradurga, Shimoga, Thirthahalli and then Agumbe, so I decided to drive around.

I first visited Chitradurga.  I knew that if I just went there and ask the landlords that I want to see an arecanut plantation, many would have suspicious eyes (and so did they), so I had a theory.  In real, one of my friends was doing a research, so I told these guys that I wanted to collect some statistics about arecanut.  But this guy was not convinced.  He asked me, ‘Where is your friend doing the research?’.  I said, ‘In Tamilnadu’.  He said ‘Oh, we have a big research institute down here in Davengere.  Why should we give data for a Tamilnadu institute?’.  I was laughing within myself, but kept quiet.  He then conceded and sent four guys with me in my car to show me around.  Off I went with a piece of paper, asked some questions about the growth, the no. of years it takes, the yield, the type, etc.  At that point of time, I was really interested.  And the guy started explaining enthusiastically, so it went well.  After an hour or so, I decided it’s time to call it off and came back to the office.  Now the owner was still suspicious.  He might have thought that I am a land grabber, so he started asking pointed questions.  I said I will let him know later about my details, and just left abruptly.  That was fun!   Phew!

Then I started driving towards Shimoga.  In this stretch, I found a lot of small farmers with 5 to 6 acres of arecanut plantations.  Generally I was driving along the country side at around a speed of 70 kmph.  I stopped and had Chai at some towns.  It was around noon, but the weather was pleasant, and monsoon was about to start – clouds and chilly winds.  I was kind of tired, and I found this farmer doing work alone in his plantation, so I decided to stop and say hello to him.  He was an elder person – somewhere in his 70s, and was driving his tractor in the field.  The arecanut plantations were right next to the field.  I just parked my car, and went along the field.  Huge difference between the landlord of Chitradurga, and this simple farmer of Shimoga.  He welcomed me with a friendly smile (in fact he grinned, he was so happy to see someone stop by and have a look at his plantation!), and asked me where I am from.  I said I am from Bangalore, and asked him how many acres he has.  He said 7 acres, and also said he is managing all these by himself.  I was just looking around in general but didn’t ask further questions.  Then I said goodbye to him and started driving again.

When I reached the outskirts of Thirthahalli, it was pouring like hell.  I had located a homestay near Thirthahalli, which was located in the center of arecanut plantations, so I called them from Thirthahalli and said I am coming just for a visit.  He came in his van and guided my car towards his homestay.  When I reached his homestay, he and his wife greeted me warmly and showed me around his place.  The house was built with Malnad architecture.  I told him the reason why I came.  We had a general discussion about his homestay, his visitor traffic, maintenance woes, etc.  They served me hot tea with love.  By the time I left, monsoon rain was in torrents, and I had to have my wiper at full speed, but still I insisted on driving, rather than staying back, because I loved the rain!  I started driving in the general direction towards Agumbe.

When I reached the outskirts of Agumbe, I found a narrow ghat road that was full of arecanut, and so I started driving in that road.  At one point, there came an intersection which had a road to Sringeri.  I was tempted for a moment if I should drive to Sringeri, but then I reminded myself of the goal, and consoled myself that there will be another time.  After all, Sringeri is not far off, and always accessible . So, I decided to come back to the main road of Agumbe.

It was around 5:45 PM and it was getting dark.  I went to a hotel, had some refreshments and hot tea, and then I wanted to make a call, but lo, there was no signal in my mobile phone, as it was a high mountain area.  The hotel owner helped me with his mobile, which had CellOne, and the signal was good.  After a couple of calls, I decided that its dangerous to go down to Mangalore in the dark, and so stayed back in a hotel near Agumbe bus station.  The stay was okay.

In the late morning next day, I started driving down to Mangalore.  I loved the hair-pin bends, drove through Udupi, and reached Mangalore around 4:00 PM.  I went to an office which maintains the register of all the arecanut plantations in Karnataka and had a discussion with an officer.  They told me that if I go to Sirsi, I would be lost in Arecanut, so I made a mental note to visit Sirsi next time.  Stayed in Mangalore that night, started driving to Bangalore next day morning, and reached Bangalore around 4:00 PM.

Overall, it was a fun trip.  My escapades continued and I did some more arecanut digging in Mettupalayam and Salem hills in Tamilnadu.  More on this later!

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