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The Indian elections hungama

a person showing s(he) showing s(he)

Before I start, I would like to point out #855549 . This is a normal/wishlist bug I have filed against apt, the command-line package manager. I sincerely believe having a history command to know what packages were installed, which were upgraded, which were purged should be easily accessible, easily understood and if the output looks pretty, so much the better. Of particular interest to me is having a list of new packages I have installed in last couple of years after jessie became the stable release. It probably would make for some interesting reading. I dunno how much efforts would be to code something like that, but if it works, it would be the greatest. Apt would have finally arrived. Not that it’s a bad tool, it’s just that it would then make for a heck of a useful tool.

Coming back to the topic on hand, Now for the last couple of weeks we don’t have water or rather pressure of water. Water crisis has been hitting Pune every year since 2014 with no end in sight. This has been reported in newspapers addendum but it seems it has been felling on deaf ears. The end result of it is that I have to bring buckets of water from around 50 odd metres.

It’s not a big thing, it’s not like some women in some villages in Rajasthan who have to walk in between 200 metres to 5 odd kilometres to get potable water or Darfur, Western Sudan where women are often kidnapped and sold as sexual slaves when they get to fetch water. The situation in Darfur has been shown quite vividly in Darfur is Dying . It is possible that I may have mentioned about Darfur before. While unfortunately the game is in flash as a web resource, the most disturbing part is that the game is extremely depressing, there is a no-win scenario.

So knowing and seeing both those scenarios, I can’t complain about 50 metres. BUT….but… when you extrapolate the same data over some more or less 3.3-3.4 million citizens, 3.1 million during 2011 census with a conservative 2.3-2.4 percent population growth rate according to scroll.in.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Pune Municipal Corporation elections were held today. Fortunately or unfortunately, this time all the political parties bought majorly unknown faces in these elections. For e.g. I belong to ward 14 which is spread over quite a bit of area and has around 10k of registered voters.

Now the unfortunate part of having new faces in elections, you don’t know anything about them. Apart from the affidavits filed, the only thing I come to know is whether there are criminal cases filed against them and what they have shown as their wealth.

While I am and should be thankful to ADR which actually is the force behind having the collated data made public. There is a lot of untold story about political push-back by all the major national and regional political parties even when this bit of news were to be made public. It took major part of a decade for such information to come into public domain.

But for my purpose of getting clean air and water supply 24×7 to each household seems a very distant dream. I tried to connect with the corporators about a week before the contest and almost all of the lower party functionaries hid behind their political parties manifestos stating they would do the best without any viable plan.

For those not knowing, India has been blessed with 6 odd national parties and about 36 odd regional parties and every election some 20-25 new parties try their luck every time.

The problem is we, the public, don’t trust them or their manifestos. First of all the political parties themselves engage in mud-slinging as to who’s copying whom with the manifesto.Even if a political party wins the elections, there is no *real* pressure for them to follow their own manifesto. This has been going for many a year. OF course, we the citizens are to also blame as most citizens for one reason or other chose to remain aloof of the process. I scanned/leafed through all the manifestos and all of them have the vague-wording ‘ we will make Pune tanker-free’ without any implementation details. While I was unable to meet the soon-to-be-Corporators, I did manage to meet a few of the assistants but all the meetings were entirely fruitless.

Diagram of Rain Water Harvesting

I asked why can’t the city follow the Chennai model. Chennai, not so long ago was at the same place where Pune is, especially in relation to water. What happened next, in 2001 has been beautifully chronicled in Hindustan Times . What has not been shared in that story is that the idea was actually fielded by one of Chennai Mayor’s assistants, an IAS Officer, I have forgotten her name, Thankfully, her advise/idea was taken to heart by the political establishment and they drove RWH.

Saying why we can’t do something similar in Pune, I heard all kinds of excuses. The worst and most used being ‘Marathas can never unite’ which I think is pure bullshit. For people unfamiliar to the term, Marathas was a warrior clan in Shivaji’s army. Shivaji, the king of Marathas were/are an expert tactician and master of guerilla warfare. It is due to the valor of Marathas, that we still have the Maratha Light Infantry a proud member of the Indian army.

Why I said bullshit was the composition of people living in Maharashtra has changed over the decades. While at one time both the Brahmins and the Marathas had considerable political and population numbers, that has changed drastically. Maharashtra and more pointedly, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur have become immigrant centres. Why just a decade back, Shiv Sena, an ultra right-wing political party used to play the Maratha card at each and every election and heckle people coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this has been documented as the 2008 immigrants attacks and 9 years later we see Shiv Sena trying to field its candidates in Uttar Pradesh. So, obviously they cannot use the same tactics which they could at one point of time.

One more reason I call it bullshit, is it’s a very lame excuse. When the Prime Minister of the country calls for demonetization which affects 1.25 billion people, people die, people stand in queues and is largely peaceful, I do not see people resisting if they bring a good scheme. I almost forgot, as an added sweetener, the Chennai municipality said that if you do RWH and show photos and certificates of the job, you won’t have to pay as much property tax as otherwise you would, that also boosted people’s participation.

And that is not the only solution, one more solution has been outlined in ‘Aaj Bhi Khade hain talaab’ written by just-deceased Gandhian environmental activist Anupam Mishra. His Book can be downloaded for free at India Water Portal . Unfortunately, the said book doesn’t have a good English translation till date. Interestingly, all of his content is licensed under public domain (CC-0) so people can continue to enjoy and learn from his life-work.

Another lesson or understanding could be taken from Israel, the father of the modern micro-drip irrigation for crops. One of the things on my bucket lists is to visit Israel and if possible learn how they went from a water-deficient country to a water-surplus one.

India labor

Which brings me to my second conundrum, most of the people believe that it’s the Government’s job to provide jobs to its people. India has been experiencing jobless growth for around a decade now, since the 2008 meltdown. While India was lucky to escape that, most of its trading partners weren’t hence it slowed down International trade which slowed down creation of new enterprises etc. Laws such as the Bankruptcy law and the upcoming Goods and Services Tax . As everybody else, am a bit excited and a bit apprehensive about how the actual implementation will take place.

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Even International businesses has been found wanting. The latest example has been Uber and Ola. There have been protests against the two cab/taxi aggregators operating in India. For the millions of jobless students coming out of schools and Universities, there aren’t simply enough jobs for them, nor are most (okay 50%) of them qualified for the jobs, these 50 percent are also untrainable, so what to do ?

In reality, this is what keeps me awake at night. India is sitting on this ticking bomb-shell. It is really, a miracle that the youths have not rebelled yet.

While all the conditions, proposals and counter-proposals have been shared before, I wanted/needed to highlight it. While the issue seems to be local, I would assert that they are all glocal in nature. The questions we are facing, I’m sure both developing and to some extent even developed countries have probably been affected by it. I look forward to know what I can learn from them.

Update – 23/02/17 – I had wanted to share about Debian’s Voting system a bit, but that got derailed. Hence in order not to do, I’ll just point towards 2015 platforms where 3 people vied for DPL post. I *think* I shared about DPL voting process earlier but if not, would do in detail in some future blog post.

Density and accessibility

Around 2 decades back and a bit more I was introduced to computers. The top-line was 386DX which was mainly used as fat servers and some lucky institutions had the 386SX where IF we were lucky we could be able to play some games on it. I was pretty bad at Prince of Persia or most of the games of the era as most of the games depended on lightning reflexes which I didn’t possess. Then 1997 happened and I was introduced to GNU/Linux but my love of/for games still continued even though I was bad at most of them. The only saving grace was turn-based RPG’s (role-playing games) which didn’t have permadeath, so you could plan your next move. Sometimes a wrong decision would lead to getting a place from where it was impossible to move further. As the decision was taken far far break which lead to the tangent, the only recourse was to replay the game which eventually lead to giving most of those kind of games.

Then in/around 2000 Maxis came out with Sims. This was the time where I bought my first Pentium. I had never played a game which had you building stuff, designing stuff, no violence and the whole idea used to be about balancing priorities of trying to get new stuff, go to work, maintain relationships and still make sure you are eating, sleeping, have a good time. While I might have spent probably something close to 500 odd hours in the game or even more so, I spent the least amount of time in building the house. It used to be 4×4 when starting (you don’t have much of in-game money and other stuff you wanted to buy as well) to 8×8 or at the very grand 12×12. It was only the first time I spent time trying to figure out where the bathroom should be, where the kitchen should, where the bedroom should be and after that I could do that blind-folded. The idea behind my house-design used to be simplicity, efficient (for my character). I used to see other people’s grand creations of their houses and couldn’t understand why they made such big houses.

Now few days back, I saw few episodes of a game called ‘Stranded Deep’ . The story, plot is simple. You, the player are going in a chartered plane and suddenly lightning strikes ( game trope as today’s aircrafts are much better able to deal with lightning strikes) and our hero or heroine washes up on a beach with raft with the barest of possessions. Now the whole game is based upon him/her trying to survive, once you get the hang of the basic mechanics and you know what is to be done, you can do it. The only thing the game doesn’t have is farming but as the game has unlimited procedural world, you just paddle or with boat motor go island hopping and take all that what you need.

What was interesting to me was seeing a gamer putting so much time and passion in making a house.

When I was looking at that video, I realized that maybe because I live in a dense environment, even the designs we make either of houses or anything else is more to try to get more and more people rather than making sure that people are happy which leads to my next sharing.

Couple of days back, I read Virali Modi’s account of how she was molested three times when trying to use Indian Railways. She made a petition on change.org

While I do condemn the molestation as it’s an affront against individual rights, freedom, liberty, free movement, dignity.

Few of the root causes as pointed out by her, for instance the inability or non-preference to give differently-abled people the right to board first as well as awaiting to see that everybody’s boarded properly before starting the train are the most minimum steps that Indian Railways could take without spending even a paise. The same could be told/shared about sensitizing people, although I have an idea of why does Indian Railway not employ women porters or women attendants for precisely this job.

I accompanied a blind gentleman friend few times on Indian Railways and let me tell you, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences. The bogies which is given to them is similar or even less than what you see in unreserved compartments. The toilets were/are smelly, the gap between the station and the train was/is considerable for everybody from blind people, differently-abled people, elderly people as well. This is one of the causes of accidents which happen almost every day on Indian Railways. I also learnt that especially for blind people they are ‘looking’ for a sort of low-frequency whistle/noise which tells them the disabled coupe/bogie/coach will come at a specific spot in the Station. In a platform which could have anything between 1500-2000 people navigating it wouldn’t be easy. I don’t know about other places but Indian Railway Stations need to learn a lot to make it a space for differently abled to navigate by themselves.

Pune Station operates (originating or passing through) around 200 odd trains, with exceptions of all the specials and weekly trains that ply through, adding those would probably another 5-10 trains to the mix. Each train carries anywhere between 750-1000 odd people so roughly anywhere between 15-20 million pass through Pune Railway Station daily. Even if we take conservative estimates of around 5% of the public commuting from Pune, it would mean around 750,000 people travelling daily. Pune Railway Station has 6 stations and if I spread them equally it would come to around 100,000 people on one platform in 24 hours. Divide that equally by 24 hours and it comes to 4,160 people per hour.

Now you take those figures and you see the Pune platforms are under severe pressure. I have normalized many figures. For instance, just like airports, even in railways, there are specific timings where more trains come and go. From morning 0500 hrs to late night 2300 hrs. there would be lot many trains, whereas the graveyard shifts would have windows where maintenance of tracks and personnel takes place.

I dunno if people can comprehend 4000 odd people on the platform. Add to that you usually arrive at least an hour or two before a train departs even if you are a healthy person as Indian Railways has a habit of changing platforms of trains at the last minute.

So if you a differently abled person with some luggage for a long-distance train, the problems just multiply.

See drag accidents because of gap between railway bogies and platforms.

The width of the entrance to the bogie is probably between 30-40 inches but the design is such that 5-10 inches are taken on each side. I remembered the last year, our current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi had launched Accessible Campaign with great fanfare and we didn’t hear anything much after that.

Unfortunately, the site itself has latency and accessibility issues, besides not giving any real advice even if a person wants to know what building norms should one follow if one wants to make an area accessible. This was easily seen by last year’s audit in Delhi as well as other places. A couple of web-searches later, I landed up at a Canadian site to have some idea about the width of the wheelchair itself as well as additional room to manoeuvre.

Unfortunately, the best or the most modern coaches/bogies that Indian Railways has to offer are the LHB Bogies/Coaches.

Now while the Coaches/Bogies by themselves are a big improvement from the ICF Coaches which we still have and use, if you read the advice and directions shared on the Canadian site, the coaches are far from satisfactory for people who are wheel-chair bound. According to Government’s own census records, 0.6% of the population have movement issues. Getting all the differently-abled people together, it comes between 2, 2.5% of the population which is quite a bit. If 2-3 people out of every 100 people are differently-abled then we need to figure out something for them.While I don’t have any ideas as to how we could improve the surroundings, it is clear that we need the change.

While I was thinking,dreaming,understanding some of the nuances inadvertently, my attention/memories shifted to my ‘toilet’ experiences at both Mumbai and the Doha Airport. As had shared then, had been pleasantly surprised to see that both in Mumbai Airport as well as the Doha Airport, the toilets were pretty wide, a part of me was happy and a part of me was seeing the added space as wastefulness. With the understanding of needs of differently-abled people it started to make whole lot of sense. I don’t remember if I had shared then or not. Although am left wondering where they go for loo in the aircraft. The regular toilets are a tight fit for obese people, I am guessing aircrafts have toilets for differently-abled people as well.

Looking back at last year’s conference, we had 2-3 differently-abled people. I am just guessing that it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for them. For instance, where we were staying, at UCT it had stairs, no lifts so by default they probably were on ground-floor. Then where we were staying and where most of the talks were about a few hundred metres away and the shortest distance were by stairs, the round-about way was by road but had vehicles around so probably not safe that way as well. I am guessing they had to be dependant on other people to figure out things. There were so many places where there were stairs and no ramps and even if there were ramps they were probably a bit more than the 1:12 which is the advice given.

I have heard that this year’s venue is also a bit challenging in terms of accessibility for differently-abled people. I am clueless as to did differently-able find debconf16 in terms of accessibility or not ? A related query to that one, if a Debconf’s final report mentions issues with accessibility, do the venues make any changes so that at some future date, differently-abled people would have a better time. I know of Indian institutions reluctance to change, to do expenditure, dunno how western countries do it. Any ideas, comments are welcome.

Sex, death and nature

Yin-Yang-Balance

Yin-Yang-Balance

There is/was a somewhat controversial book by Osho which I read long back ‘Sambhog se Samadhi Ki Aur‘ or the English version ‘From Sex to Superconsciousness

While I can’t say I understand or understood it all, read it about a decade back, the main point shared in the book was that if you are able to achieve bliss/orgasm during sex, you might be able to have a glimpse of super-consciousness.

I had to share the above context as I had gone to a meetup couple of weeks back had gone to a meetup where a friend, Dr. Swati Shome is attempting to write an educational book for teenagers to talk about sex. I did help her a bit in the past I tried to share some of the concerns I had as my generation didn’t have any guidance from parents or teachers. Most of us were left to our own devices which is similar to today’s children as well with the exception that they have the web. You look at both the books, both written in Pune (my home-town) and both talking about the same subject but from so different a view-point. If you see the comments on the meetup page, it really pains to see people’s concerns. I don’t know if there is any solution to the widespread ignorance, myth-making etc. and hence felt a bit sad 😦 . Sharing a small clip I had seen few months back.

Just to give a bit of context, the law as has been shared as passed in 2015 has happened after the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape. A part of it is also that the Indian society still frowns upon live-in relationships so in part it may also be a push-back from the conservatives. After all the BJP, a right of the center party has been in power for 2.5 years now so it’s possible that they were part of it. As I don’t have enough knowledge of what the actual case was, who were the litigants and the defendants, the lawyers and the judge involved, I cannot further speculate. If somebody has more info. or link please pass it on. It would be interesting to know if it was a single bench ruling or 3-5 judge bench.

The yin-yan symbol I had shared becomes a bit more apt as in quite a few cultures, including Indian and Japanese, the two are seen as parts of the same coin. One life-giving, the other life-taking or not even taking but converting into something else.

Death

Death

That came few days later when I was reading an article about sleep. The purpose of sleep, is to forget . It was slightly strange and yet interesting article. What disturbed me though, was the bit about the mouse being killed and his brain being sliced. I tried to find many a justification for it, but none I could have peace with. And the crux of that is because the being, the creature’s wilful consent hasn’t been taken. In nature’s eyes humans and mice are one and the same. We don’t get any special passes due to the fact that we are human. A natural disaster doesn’t care whether you are small or big, fat or strong, mouse or wo/man, coward or brave. It’s sheer luck and after disaster preparedness that people and animals get saved or not.

I thought quite a bit that instead of animals being used for scientific experiments, why don’t we use actual humans. While I’m sure PETA supporters probably may have spear-headed this idea for a long time, but it doesn’t mean I can’t come to this realization by myself. After all, it’s not about pandering to a group but rather what I think is right.

Passing the baton to humans does have its own knotty problems though. For any such kind of endeavour, people’s participation and wilful consent would be needed.

While humans can and do give wilful consent, it is difficult problem as you don’t know the situation in which that consent has been taken. We all know about Organ trafficking . Many people especially from lower economic background may be enticed and cheated with the whole economics for science. In most Indian middle and higher-middle classes religion plays a part even though with ‘death’ the body is cremated and is supposed to scatter among the Pancha Mahaboota, the five elements.

I, for one have no hang-ups if some scientist were to slice my brain to find something, provided I’m dead πŸ™‚ or for that matter any part of the body. If more people thought like that, probably we wouldn’t have to specially grow and then kill lab mice and guinea-pigs to test out theories. Possibly medical innovations would probably be a lot faster than now. Ironically, most medical innovations have happened during wars and continues to do so till date.

Comments, ideas, suggestions and criticisms all are welcome.

Flights of fancy – how to figure trends for Airline tickets.

Google Flights Fees tracking

Google Flights Fees tracking between PNQ and YUL and back, economy fares.

Couple of weeks ago, either on some mailing list, on IRC or somewhere else, somebody mentioned that people always put higher amount of airline expenditure for self when asking for sponsorship.

Now last year, between sending the application and getting the approval for sponsorship, there was 3 months of difference between the two. Now if you put up an application for sponsorship like I did last year, I had added 10% to the cost of flight tickets of the cheapest prevailing prices at that point in time on skyscanner or any of the meta-search-engines were showing me at that point in time.

I was sceptical whether the amount that I had put for the to and fro tickets would be enough or not. Strangely, I was lucky enough to get my ticket around the new estimated price. I would have to mention though that there were only 2 tickets left at the new price and if I had waited just a few hours more, those tickets would have gone too and all other tickets were around 25% more than before. The only reasons I could fathom are –

a. Luck, pure and simple.

b. Going at the end of the tourism season – This was evident as I was able to book my extended stay at any hostel just 2 days before my stay at UCT (University of Cape Town) was over. Was corroborated by hostel staff, shop-owners as well as whatever info. I found on the web before and during my stay in SA.

c. South Africa being more lenient than probably Canada is giving and processing visas.

While looking at the third point, thought I better check world tourism rankings and saw the Wikipedia page for it. Interestingly, South Africa seems to have a slight edge over Canada when it comes to statistics and hence strengthens my assumptions that probably more people apply for SA than Canada as they know the possibility of more people making through visa processing. It would stand to be logical that more people would apply for a tourist or similar short-term resident visas if they know they have a good chance going through.

While researching on the topic I also came across/ hunted to find the hardest places to get a Visa for and was surprised to find India being lasted therein.Coincidentally, that site also has a UK domain.It does burst the bubble in ‘Incredible India’ a little bit.

As a newbie who had no clue I knew I was probably a victim of Information Asymmetry where the airlines have much more information about travel trends, ongoing trends at Airports, Politics and Economics of Countries, Price of Crude Oil, Profit, Competition and probably many more factors that I haven’t taken into account which decide fares.

While researching on the topic, one of the interesting finds I had while trying to figure the above is that Airlines didn’t pass on fuel savings to their customers. Now I don’t know whether this was the same around the world or was this only in UK. I am shocked that British (and by definition EU, as UK was part of EU at that time) travellers or consumer groups didn’t file a suit in the court of law as reading the above smells of anticompetitive behaviour. The most shocking statement was this –

“Average fares to Spain rose by 10 per cent over the same period.” – Telegraph, UK.

In order to lessen this information asymmetry a bit, I used google flights and its data of the past 2 months to see how the fares have been changing to have some insight of where the fares might end up. I know google is hated by one and all, but in this instance I couldn’t find any comparable site which does this kind of thing.

As can be seen in the graph, the tickets had started relatively cheap from around INR 65k ish to around 80k ish at this point in time. That is a jump of around 30% in the last couple of months. All of these flights have a layover somewhere in Europe and taking a second flight from there to Canada.

The one which didn’t show much of action is the direct plan between BOM – YUL and back but then this seems to be a premium service . Taking a direct flight from BOM – YUL is north of INR 90k/- which doesn’t make much sense unless one is fond of spending 13+ hours in flight. Definitely not my cup of tea.

With layovers it makes the experience a bit more bearable.

While the real action is probably 3 or bit more months away, its interesting to see how things are panning out at least on airline price tickets and the dynamics involved therein.

Even with all the above attempts at finding the answer, I’m no closer to figuring out to estimate airline ticket prices when window is largish 3 months in making. Any ideas anybody?

If the previous jump is any indication, then 10-15% escalation bit might not hack this time around. Any strategies that people could advise while trying to put a ball-park figure.

The $100 used laptop and getting riled up.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-T500 - Source - Wikimedia commons

Lenovo-ThinkPad-T500 – Source – Wikimedia commons

I was reading a thread on phoronix where a student was sharing that it is or can be expensive to get even a used laptop and he shared his predicament and was hammered a bit for it to some going to the extent of questioning his life-choices.

While I’m not a student it still triggered something in me. I am not dirt poor but neither am I insanely rich. The same questions he has, similar questions I have had. While in his case he is probably in his early to late 20’s, I am pushing 40. Most of the money I make goes in for everyday purchases, veggies, house-rent, electricity, landline, broadband and cell phone bills. What little is left is most of the time kept for a rainy day as there is no Government pension.

From what I have heard and read on the web, in the west specifically in the States, if I buy a used laptop, I usually get a 6 months – 1 year warranty . Here, while you could get a used laptop for around INR 10k there is no warranty/guarantee, so I never get into that. It’s ‘buyer’s beware’ all the time.

For people who like/want FOSS or specifically something like Free DOS (like me), I had to wait for almost 6 years to get a model I was happy with, with the specs. I was ok with.

Was really lucky enough to get a Thinkpad T440 with 8 GB of RAM for around INR 80k/- with Free DOS.

The specs –

T440 Core I 5 (4300) / Dos (NEW MODEL)

20B7A1SD00

Intel Core i5 – 4300M (2.5 GHz / 3 MB / 5 GT/s) / Intel QM87 Chipset / Integrated 802.11 n WIFI LAN + Bluetooth 4.0 / 8GB DDR III Memory (2 DIMM SLOT) / 500 GB SATA HDD @ 7200 RPM / 14.0 HDy / FPR / Dos / 2 USB , VGA Port , RJ 45 Port /GB LAN /Track Point with 5 button Glass Touch Pad /Stereo Speakers with Dolby Enhanced Audio / 6 Cell Battery /Approx 2.14KG/

While it is/was actually pretty expensive but then wanted something which can take a beating, deal with all the heat, noise and dust (specifically where I live, right in the middle of the city).

The reason I used the word lucky is that now there is no model in the T-series range which has FreeDOS on it. Of course, I hopefully will use it for another 4-5 years at the very least depending on how much it cooperates with me, I have heard that Thinkpads function for a long period of time even in dusty environments so banking on that. πŸ™‚

What probably pissed me is the condensing note in the comment, how does he know what pressures an another individual might be in. It’s almost like saying “You are refugee because you made a wrong life choice” or something to that effect which again is stupid.

I actually feel/felt embarrassed to bring this up as I truly am lucky to be safe, secure, have food on the table, am able to sleep on a bed at night, have a workstation AND a laptop, have somewhat of a sound mind πŸ™‚ and a body which is able to move around without any hassles. Add to that, incredibly as it may sound, was also able to see another country for a few days

In relation to people being persecuted and having to run off to save their own lives or even people living on the streets, I am actually living in luxury. While I can’t go through life feeling guilty for all the good things that have happened with me, I do feel disgusted when I see some people put blinding statements like that.

One of the biggest reasons that GNU/Linux and Debian in particular gelled with me was that it’s incredibly flexible and generous. Nobody tells me which packages I should or shouldn’t have. I do right things, good, I do something wrong, an opportunity to learn and hopefully learn from my mistakes. In either case, one of the most forgiving kind of system to learn and hack on.

While speaking of mistakes, could somebody look at #849684 . It almost feels like a tennis match going between the maintainers concerned. While I don’t have the technical skills to ascertain who’s right and who is not, it would be nice if some cooler heads can make sense and see if a way could be found out. Can somebody help ?

Different strokes

Delhi Metro - courtesy wikipedia.org

Statutory warning – It’s a long read.

I start by sharing I regret, I did not hold onto the Budget and Economics 101 blog post for one more day. I had been holding/thinking on to it for almost couple of weeks before posting, if I had just waited a day more, I would have been able to share an Indian Express story . While I thought that the work for the budget starts around 3 months before the budget, I came to learn from that article that it takes 6 months. As can be seen in the article, it is somewhat of a wasted opportunity, part of it probably due to the Government (irrespective of any political party, dynasty etc.) mismanagement.

What has not been stated in the article is what I had shared earlier, reading between the lines, it seems that the Government isn’t able to trust what it hears from its advisers and man on the street. Unlike Chanakya and many wise people before him who are credited with advising about good governance, that a good king is one who goes out in disguise, learns how his/er subjects are surviving, seeing what ills them and taking or even not taking corrective steps after seeing the problem from various angles. Of course it’s easier said then done, though lot of Indian kings did try and ran successful provinces. There were also some who were more interested in gambling, women and threw/frittered away their kingdoms.

The 6-month things while not being said in the Express article is probably more about checking and re-checking figures and sources to make sure they are able to read whatever pattern the various Big Businesses, Industry, Social Welfare schemes and people are saying I guess. And unless mass digitalization as well as overhaul of procedures, Right to Information (RTI) happens, don’t see any improvement in the way the information is collected, interpreted and shared with the public at large.

It would also require people who are able to figure out how things work sharing the inferences (right or wrong) through various media so there is discussion about figures and policy-making. Such researchers and their findings are sadly missing in Indian public discourses and only found in glossy coffee table books :(.

One of the most basic question for instance is, How much of any policy should be based on facts and figures and how much giving fillip to products and services needed in short to medium term ?

Also how much morality should play a part in Public Policy ?

Surprisingly, or probably not, most Indian budgets are populist by nature with some scientific basis but most of the times there is no dialog about how the FM came to some conclusion or Policy-making. I am guessing a huge part of that has also to do with basic illiteracy as well as Economic and Financial Illiteracy.

Just to share a well-known world-over example, one of the policies where the Government of India has been somewhat lethargic is wired broadband penetration. As have shared umpteen times, while superficially broadband penetration is happening, most of the penetration is the unreliable and more expensive mobile broadband penetration.

While this may come as a shock to many of the users of technology, BSNL, a Government company who provides broadband for almost 70-80% of the ADSL wired broadband subscribers gives 50:1 contention ratio to its customers.

One can now understand the pathetic speeds along with very old copper wiring (20 odd years) on which the network is running. The idea/idiom of running network using duct-tape seems pretty apt in here 😦

Now, the Government couple of years ago introduced FFTH Fiber-to-the-home but because the charges are so high, it’s not going anywhere. The Government could say 10% discount in your Income Tax rates if you get FFTH. This would force people to get FFTH and would also force BSNL to clean up its act. It has been documented that a percentage increase in broadband equals a similar percentage rise in GDP.

Having higher speeds of broadband would mean better quality of streaming video as well as all sorts of remote teaching and sharing of ideas which will give a lot of fillip to all sorts of IT peripherals in short, medium and long-term as well. Not to mention, all the software that will be invented/coded to take benefit of all that speed.

Although, realistically speaking I am cynical that the Government would bring something like this 😦

Moving on –

Behind a truck - Courtesy TheEconomist.com

Another interesting story which I had shared was a bit about World History

Now the Economist sort of confirmed how things are in Pakistan. What is and was interesting that the article is made by a politically left-leaning magazine which is for globalization, business among other things .

So, there seem to be only three options, either I and the magazine are correct or we both are reading it wrong.

The third and last option is that the United States realize that Pakistan can no longer be trusted as Pakistan is siding more and more with Chinese and Russians, hence the article. Atlhough it seems a somewhat far-fetched idea as I don’t see the magazine getting any brownie points with President Trump. Unless, ‘The Economist’ becomes more hawkish, more right-wingish due to the new establishment.

I can’t claim to have any major political understanding or expertise but it does seem that Pakistan is losing friends. Even UAE have been cautiously building bridges with us. Now how this will play out in the medium to long-term depends much on the personal equations of the two heads of state, happenings in geopolitics around the world and the two countries, decisions they take, it is a welcome opportunity as far they (the Saudis) have funds they want to invest and India can use those investments to make new infrastructure.

Now, I need a bit of help of Java and VCS (Version control system) experts . There is a small game project called Mars-Sim. I asked probably a few more questions than I should have and the result was that I was made a member of the game team even though I had shared with them that I’m a non-coder.

I think such a game is important as it’s foss. Both the game itself is foss as well as its build-tools with a basic wiki. Such a game would be useful not only to Debian but all free software distributions.

Journeying into the game

Unfortunately, the game as it is currently, doesn’t work with openjdk8 but private conversations with the devs. have shared they will work on getting it to work on OpenJDK 9 which though is sometime away.

Now as it is a game, I knew it would have multiple multimedia assets. It took me quite sometime to figure out where most of the multimedia assets are.

I was shocked to find that there aren’t any tool/s in Debian as well a GNU/Linux to know about types of content is there inside a directory and its sub-directories.

I framed it in a query and found a script as an answer . I renamed the script to file-extension-information.sh (for lack of imagination of better name).

After that, I downloaded a snapshot of the head of the project from https://sourceforge.net/p/mars-sim/code/HEAD/tree/ where it shows a link to download the snapshot.

https://sourceforge.net/code-snapshots/svn/m/ma/mars-sim/code/mars-sim-code-3847-trunk.zip

unzipped it and then ran the script on it –

[$] bash file-extension-information.sh mars-sim-code-3846-trunk
theme: 1770
dtd: 31915
py: 10815
project: 5627
JPG: 762476
fxml: 59490
vm: 876
dat: 15841044
java: 13052271
store: 1343
gitignore: 8
jpg: 3473416
md: 5156
lua: 57
gz: 1447
desktop: 281
wav: 83278
1: 2340
css: 323739
frag: 471
svg: 8948591
launch: 9404
index: 11520
iml: 27186
png: 3268773
json: 1217
ttf: 2861016
vert: 712
ogg: 12394801
prefs: 11541
properties: 186731
gradle: 611
classpath: 8538
pro: 687
groovy: 2711
form: 5780
txt: 50274
xml: 794365
js: 1465072
dll: 2268672
html: 1676452
gif: 38399
sum: 23040
(none): 1124
jsx: 32070

It gave me some idea of what sort of file were under the repository. I do wish the script defaulted to showing file-sizes in KB if not MB to better assess how the directory is made up but not a big loss .

The above listing told me that at the very least theme, JPG, dat, wav, png, ogg and lastly gif files.

For lack of better tools and to get an overview of where those multimedia assets used ncdu –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [~/games/mars-sim-code-3846-trunk] - [10210]
└─[$] ncdu mars-sim/

--- /home/shirish/games/mars-sim-code-3846-trunk/mars-sim --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
46.2 MiB [##########] /mars-sim-ui
15.2 MiB [### ] /mars-sim-mapdata
8.3 MiB [# ] /mars-sim-core
2.1 MiB [ ] /mars-sim-service
500.0 KiB [ ] /mars-sim-main
188.0 KiB [ ] /mars-sim-android
72.0 KiB [ ] /mars-sim-network
16.0 KiB [ ] pom.xml
12.0 KiB [ ] /.settings
4.0 KiB [ ] mars-sim.store
4.0 KiB [ ] mars-sim.iml
4.0 KiB [ ] .project

I found that all the media is distributed randomly and posted a ticket about it. As I’m not even a java newbie, could somebody look at mokun’s comment and help out please ?

On the same project, there has been talk of migrating to github.com

Now whatever little I know of git, it makes a copy of the whole repository under .git/ folder/directory so having multimedia assets under git is a bad, bad idea, as each multimedia binary format file would be unique and no possibility of diff. between two binary files even though they may be the same file with some addition or subtraction from earlier version.

I did file a question but am unhappy with the answers given. Can anybody give some definitive answers if they have been able to do how I am proposing , if yes, how did they go about it ?

And lastly –

Immigrants of the United States in 2000 by country of birth

America was founded by immigrants. Everybody knows the story about American Indians, the originals of the land were over-powered by the European settlers. So any claim, then and now that immigration did not help United States is just a lie.

This came due to a conversation on #debconf by andrewsh –

[18:37:06] I’d be more than happy myself to apply for an US tourist not transit visa when I really need it, as a transit visa isn’t really useful, is just as costly as a tourist visa, and nearly as difficult to get as a tourist visa
[18:37:40] I’m not entirely sure I wish to transit through the US in its Trumplandia incarnation either
[18:38:07] likely to be more difficult and unfun

FWIW I am in complete agreement with Andrew’s assessment of how it might be with foreigners. It has been on my mind and thoughts for quite some time although andrewsh put it eloquently.

But as always I’m getting ahead of myself.

The conversation is because debconf this year would be in Canada. For many a cheap flight, one of the likely layovers/stopover can be the United States.

I actually would have gone one step further, even if it was cheap transit visa, it would equally be unfun as it would discriminate.

About couple of years back, a friend of mine while explaining what “visa” is, put it rather succinctly –

the visa officer looks at only 3 things –

a. Your financial position – something which tells that you can take care of your financial needs if things go south –

b. You are not looking to settle there unlawfully

c. You are not a criminal.

While costs do matter, what is disturbing more is the form of extremism being displayed therein. While Indians from the South Asian continent in US have been largely successful, love to be in peace (one-off incidents do and will happen anywhere) if I had to take a transit or tourist visa in this atmosphere, it would leave a bad taste in the mouth.

When one of my best friends is a Muslim, 20% of the population in India is made of Muslims and 99% of the time both of us co-exist in peace I simply can’t take any alternative ideology. Even in Freakonomics 2.0 the authors when they shared that it’s less than 0.1 percent of Muslims who are engaged in terrorist activities, if they were even 1 percent than all the world’s armed forces couldn’t fight them and couldn’t keep anyone safe. Which simply means that 99.99% of even all Muslims are good.

This resonates strongly with me for number of reasons. One of my uncles in early to late 80’s had an opportunity for work to visit Russia for official work. He went there and there were Secret Police after him all the time. While he didn’t know it, I later read it, that it was SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) when all and any foreigners came visiting the country, and not just foreigners, they had spies for their own citizens. Russka a book I read several years ago explained the paranoia beautifully.

While U.S. in those days was a more welcoming place for him.

I am thankful as well as find it strange that Canada and States have such different visa procedures. While Canada would simply look at the above things, probably discreetly inquire about you if you have been a bad boy/girl in any way and then make a decision which is fine. For United States, even for a transit visa I probably would have to go to Interview where my world view would probably be in conflict with the current American world view.

Interestingly, while I was looking at conversations on the web and one thing that is missing there is that nobody has talked about intelligence community. What Mr. Trump is saying in not so many words is that our intelligence even with all the e-mails we monitor and everything we do, we still can’t catch you. It almost seems like giving a back-handed compliment to the extremists saying you do a better job than our intelligence community.

This doesn’t mean that States doesn’t have interesting things to give to the world, Star Trek conventions, Grand Canyon (which probably would require me more than a month or more to explore even a little part), NASA, Intel, AMD, SpaceX, CES (when it’s held) and LPC (Linux Plumber’s conference where whose who come to think of roadmap for GNU/Linux). What I wouldn’t give to be a fly in the wall when LPC, CES happens in the States.

What I actually found very interesting is that in the current Canadian Government, if what I read and heard is true, then Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada made 50 of his cabinet female. Just like in the article, studies even in Indian parliament have shown that when women are in power, questions about social justice, equality, common good get asked and policies made. If I do get the opportunity to be part of debconf, I would like to see, hear, watch, learn how the women cabinet is doing things. I am assuming that reporting and analysis standards of whatever decisions are more transparent and more people are engaged in the political process to know what their elected representatives are doing.

Mountain biking in British Columbia, Canada - source wikipedia.org

One another interesting point I came to know is that Canada is home to bicycling paths. While I stopped bicycling years ago 😦 as it has been becoming more and more dangerous to bicycle here in Pune as there is no demarcation for cyclists, I am sure lot of Canadians must be using this opportunity fully.

Lastly, on the debconf preparation stage, things have started becoming a bit more urgent and hectic. From a monthly IRC meet, it has now become a weekly meet. Both the wiki and the website are slowly taking up shape. http://deb.li/dc17kbp is a nice way to know/see progress of the activities happening .

One important decision that would be taken today is where people would stay during debconf. There are options between on-site and two places around the venue, one 1.9 km around, the other 5 km. mark. Each has its own good and bad points. It would be interesting to see which place gets selected and why.

Debian contributions and World History

Beware, this would be slightly longish.

Debian Contributions

In the last couple of weeks, was lucky to put up a patch against debian-policy which had been bothering me for a long-long time.

The problem statement is simple, man-pages historically were made by software engineers for software-engineers. The idea, probably then was you give the user some idea of what the software does and the rest the software engineer would garner from reading the source-code. But over period of time, the audience has changed. While there are still software engineers who use GNU/Linux for the technical excellence, the man-pages have not kept up with this new audience who perhaps are either not technically so sound that or they do not want to take the trouble to reading the source-code to understand how things flow. An ‘example’ or ‘examples’ in a man-page gives us (the lesser mortals) some insight as how the command works, how the logic flows.

A good example of a man-page is the ufw man-page –

EXAMPLES
Deny all access to port 53:

ufw deny 53

Allow all access to tcp port 80:

ufw allow 80/tcp

Allow all access from RFC1918 networks to this host:

ufw allow from 10.0.0.0/8
ufw allow from 172.16.0.0/12
ufw allow from 192.168.0.0/16

Deny access to udp port 514 from host 1.2.3.4:

ufw deny proto udp from 1.2.3.4 to any port 514

Allow access to udp 1.2.3.4 port 5469 from 1.2.3.5 port 5469:

ufw allow proto udp from 1.2.3.5 port 5469 to 1.2.3.4 port 5469

Now if we had man-pages like the above which give examples, then the user at least can try to accomplish whatever s/he is trying to do. I truly believe not having examples in a man-page kills 50% of your audience and people who could potentially use your tool.

Personal wishlist – The only thing (and this might be my failure) is we need a good way to search through a man-page. The only way I know is using ‘/’ and try to give a pattern. Lots of times it fails because I, the user doesn’t know the exact keyword which the documenter was using. What would be nice, great if we do have some sort of parser where I tell it, ‘$this is what I’m looking for’ and the parser tries the pattern + all its synonyms and whatever seems to be most relevant passage from the content, in this case – a manpage it tells me. It would make my life a lot easier while at the same time force people to document more and more.

I dunno if there has been any research or study of the relationship between good documentation and popularity of a program. I know there are lots of different tiny bits which make or break a program, one of which would definitely be documentation and in that a man-page IF it’s a command-line tool.

A query on Quora gives some indication https://www.quora.com/How-comprehensible-do-you-find-Unix-Linux-Man-pages although the low response rate tells its own story.

there have been projects like man2html and man2pdf and others which try to make the content more accessible to people who are not used to the man-page interface but till you don’t have ‘Examples’ the other things can work only so far. Also if anybody talks about X project which claims to solve this problem they will have to fight manpages who have been around like forever.

As can be seen in the patch, did some rookie mistakes as can be seen. I also filed a lintian bug at the same time. Hope the patch does get merged at some point in debian-policy and then a check introduced in lintian in some future release. I do agree with anarcat’s assertion that it should be at the level of the manpage missing level.

I am no coder but finding 14,000 binary packages without a manpage left me both shocked and surprised.

I came to know about manpage-alert from the devscripts package to know which all binary packages that have been installed but not have man-pages.

I hope to contribute a manpage or two if I across a package I’m somewhat comfortable with. I have made a beginning of sorts by running manpage alert and putting the output in a .txt file which I would grep through manually and see if something interesting jumps at me.

The learning garnered from putting the patch to the debian package resulted in another patch but this time for an upstream project altogether. As can be seen all are just baby-steps that even a non-coder can take.

Another couple of bugs I filed which were fixed were of a sim called ‘unknown-horizons’ . A 2D realtime strategy simulation. I had filed three bugs, two of which were fixed in 2 days, the 3rd I hope is also fixed soonish.

Lastly, I spent most of the week-end poring over packages who have left files in /etc/bash_completion.d/ . I spent almost 4-5 odd hours as each package in question as well as entries found in /etc/bash-completion.d/$filename I had to find which package it belonged to first –

[$] dpkg -S /etc/bash_completion.d/git-prompt

git: /etc/bash_completion.d/git-prompt

I know that dpkg-query also does the same –


[$] dpkg-query -S /etc/bash_completion.d/git-prompt

git: /etc/bash_completion.d/git-prompt

But I am used to plain dpkg although do know that dpkg-query can do lot more intimate searching in various ways than dpkg can.

Once the package name was established, first simulate the purge –

[$] sudo aptitude -s purge git

[sudo] password for shirish:
The following packages will be REMOVED:
git{p}
0 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 1 to remove and 14 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B of archives. After unpacking 29.5 MB will be freed.
The following packages have unmet dependencies:
libgit-wrapper-perl : Depends: git but it is not going to be installed
git-extras : Depends: git (>= 1.7.0) but it is not going to be installed
bup : Depends: git but it is not going to be installed
git-remote-gcrypt : Depends: git but it is not going to be installed
git-svn : Depends: git (> 1:2.11.0) but it is not going to be installed
Depends: git ( 1:2.11.0) but it is not going to be installed
Depends: git (= 1:1.8.1) but it is not going to be installed
git-core : Depends: git (> 1:1.7.0.2) but it is not going to be installed
The following actions will resolve these dependencies:

Remove the following packages:
1) bup [0.29-2 (now, testing, unstable)]
2) fdroidserver [0.7.0-1 (now, testing, unstable)]
3) git-annex [6.20161012-1 (now, testing)]
4) git-core [1:2.11.0-2 (now, testing, unstable)]
5) git-extras [4.2.0-1 (now, testing, unstable)]
6) git-remote-gcrypt [1.0.1-1 (now, testing, unstable)]
7) git-repair [1.20151215-1 (now, unstable)]
8) git-svn [1:2.11.0-2 (now, testing, unstable)]
9) gitk [1:2.11.0-2 (now, testing, unstable)]
10) libgit-wrapper-perl [0.047-1 (now, testing, unstable)]
11) python3-git [2.1.0-1 (now, testing, unstable)]
12) svn2git [2.4.0-1 (now, testing, unstable)]

Leave the following dependencies unresolved:
13) devscripts recommends libgit-wrapper-perl
14) dh-make-perl recommends git
15) fdroidserver recommends git
16) git-annex recommends git-remote-gcrypt (>= 0.20130908-6)
17) gplaycli recommends fdroidserver
18) python-rope recommends git-core

Accept this solution? [Y/n/q/?] q
Abandoning all efforts to resolve these dependencies.
Abort.

Then I made a note of all the packages being affected, saw purging all of them wouldn’t call others (the Package dependency Hell), made the purge and then reinstalled anew.

The reason I did this is that many a times during upgrade, either during update/upgrade sometimes the correct action doesn’t happen. To take the git’s example itself, there were two files git-extras and git-prompt which were in /etc/bash_completion.d/ both of which were showing their source as git. Purging git and installing git afresh removed git-extras file and git-prompt is the only one remaining.

While blogging about the package, did try to grep through changelog.Debian.gz and changelog.gz in git –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [/usr/share/doc/git] - [10046]
└─[$] zless changelog.gz

and similarly –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [/usr/share/doc/git] - [10046]
└─[$] zless changelog.Debian.gz

But failed to find any mention of the now gone git-extras. Doing this with all the packages took considerable time as didn’t want to deal with any potential fallout later on. For instance, ufw (uncomplicated firewall) also had an entry in /etc/bash_completion.d/, hence before purging ufw, took backup of all the rules I have made, did a successful simulation

[$] sudo aptitude -s purge ufw gufw


The following packages will be REMOVED:
gufw{p} ufw{p}
0 packages upgraded, 0 newly installed, 2 to remove and 14 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B of archives. After unpacking 4,224 kB will be freed.

Note: Using 'Simulate' mode.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?] y
Would download/install/remove packages.

purged the packages, reinstalled it and then re-added all the rules. Doing it all for various sundry packages, had to do it manually as there is no one size fits all solution.

A sensitive one was grub which still has an entry in /etc/bash_completion.d/grub. Doing it wrong could have resulted in a non-bootable situation. There are workarounds for that, but it would have taken quite a bit of time, energy, notes and bit of recall factor what I did the last time something like that happened. Doing it manually, being present meant I could do it rightly the first time.

So, was it worth it – It would be if the package maintainers do the needful and the remaining entries are moved out of /etc/bash_completion.d/ to /usr/share/bash-completions and some to my favourite /usr/share/zsh/vendor-completions/ – for instance –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [/usr/share/zsh/vendor-completions] - [10064]
└─[$] ll -h _youtube-dl

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3.2K 2016-12-01 08:48 _youtube-dl

But trying to get all or even major packages to use zsh-completions would be hard work and would take oodles of time and this concerns upstream stuff, also very much outside what I was sharing.

World History

Before, during and even after South-African experience, I was left wondering why India and South Africa, two countries who had similar histories at least the last couple of hundred years or more, the final result of Independence was so different for both the countries. It took me quite sometime to articulate that in a form of question , while the answers were interesting, from what little I know of India itself, if I were an Englishman I would never leave ‘Hindustan’. What the people answering failed to take into account was that in that era it was ‘Hindustan’ or un-divided India.

Pre-partition map of India

Pre-partition map of India

This map can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Indian_Empire_1909_Imperial_Gazetteer_of_India.jpg and is part of quite a few Indian articles. I would urge people to look at the map in-depth. Except for the Central India Agency and Central India Provinces, most of the other regions were quite comfortable weather-wise.

Hence I can’t help but feel the assertion that Britishers didn’t like India (as to live here) slightly revolting. See the excerpt/take on Dale Kennedy ‘s The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. xv + 264 pp. . A look at the list of hill stations of divided India is enough to tell that there were lot of places which either were founded by the Britishers or they chose to live there. And this is not all, there are supposed to lot of beautiful places even in Pakistan, especially in North East Frontier, Swat for instance. While today it’s infamous for Taliban and Islamic Terrorism, there was a time it was known for its beauty.

The second most difficult mountain in the world - K2, Pakistan

The second most difficult mountain in the world – K2, Pakistan

Trivia – After Everest, K2 is the smaller one although whatever I have read of people’s accounts, most people who ascended all 14 8,000 metre peaks say K2 is technically more tougher than Everest and after Everest has the highest casualty rate.

Also places like the disputed North half of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit–Baltistan, Extreme northern Punjab of Pakistan , Northern half of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province and Northern Balochistan all of these places would have been more than conducive to the Britishers as it is near to the British climate (snow and pleasant weather all year round). It really is a pity that Pakistan chose to become a terrorist state where it could have become one of the more toured places of Asia. I really feel nauseous and sad at the multiple chances that Pakistan frittered away, it could have been something else.

The Great Indian Digital Tamasha

Indian Railways

This is an extension to last month’s article/sharing where I had shared the changes that had transpired in the last 2-3 months. Now am in a position to share the kind of issues a user can go through in case he is looking for support from IRCTC to help him/her go cashless. If you a new user to use IRCTC services you wouldn’t go through this trouble.

For those who might have TL;DR issues it’s about how hard it can become to get digital credentials fixed in IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) –

a. 2 months back Indian Prime Minister gave a call incentivizing people to use digital means to do any commercial activities. One of the big organizations which took/takes part is IRCTC which handles the responsibility for e-ticketing millions of Rail tickets for common people. In India, a massive percentage moves by train as it’s cheaper than going by Air.

A typical fare from say Pune – Delhi (capital of India) by second class sleeper would be INR 645/- for a distance of roughly 1600 odd kms and these are monopoly rates, there are no private trains and I’m not suggesting anything of that sort, just making sure that people know.

An economy class ticket by Air for the same distance would be anywhere between INR 2500-3500/- for a 2 hour flight between different airlines. Last I checked there are around 8 mainstream airlines including flag-carrier Air India.

About 30% of the population live on less than a dollar and a half a day which would come around INR 100/-.

There was a comment some six months back on getting more people out of the poverty line. But as there are lots of manipulations in numbers for who and what denotes above poor and below poor in India and lot of it has to do with politics it’s not something which would be easily fixable.

There are lots to be said in that arena but this article is not an appropriate blog-post for that.

All in all, it’s only 3-5% of the population at the most who can travel via Air if situation demands and around 1-2% who might be frequent, business or leisure travellers.

Now while I can thankfully afford an Air Ticket if the situation so demands, my mother gets motion sickness so while together we can only travel by train.

b. With the above background, I had registered with IRCTC few years ago with another number (dual-SIM) I had purchased and was thinking that I would be using this long-term (seems to my first big mistake, hindsight 50:50) . This was somewhere in 2006/2007.

c. Few months later I found that the other service provider wasn’t giving good service or was not upto mark. I was using IDEA (the main mobile operator) throughout those times.

d. As I didn’t need the service that much, didn’t think to inform them that I want to change to another service provider at that point in time (possibly the biggest mistake, hindsight 50:50)

e. In July 2016 itself IRCTC cut service fees,

f. This was shared as a NEW news item/policy decision at November-end 2016 .

g. While I have done all that has been asked by irctc-care haven’t still got the issues resolved 😦 IRCTC’s e-mail id – care@irctc.co.in

Now in detail –

This is my first e-mail sent to IRCTC in June 2016 –

Dear Customer care,

I had applied and got username and password sometime back . The
number I had used to register with IRCTC was xxxxxxxxxx (BSNL mobile number not used anymore) . My mobile was lost and along with that the number was also lost. I had filed a complaint with the police and stopped that number as well. Now I have an another mobile number but have forgotten both the password and the security answer that I had given when I had registered . I do have all the conversations I had both with the ticketadmn@irctc.co.in as well as care@irctc.co.in if needed to prove my identity.

The new number I want to tie it with is xxxxxxxxxx (IDEA number in-use for last 10 years)

I see two options :-

a. Tie the other number with my e-mail address

b. Take out the e-mail address from the database so that I can fill in
as a new applicant.

Looking forward to hear from you.

There was lot of back and forth with various individuals on IRCTC and after a lot of back and forth, this is the final e-mail I got from them somewhere in August 2016, he writes –

Dear Customer,

We request you to send mobile bill of your mobile number if it is post paid or if it is prepaid then contact to your service provider and they will give you valid proof of your mobile number or they will give you in written on company head letter so that we may update your mobile number to update so that you may reset your password through mobile OTP.
and Kindly inform you that you can update your profile by yourself also.

1.login on IRCTC website
2.after login successfully move courser on “my profile” tab.
3.then click on “update profile”
4.re-enter your password then you can update your profile
5.click on user-profile then email id.
6. click on update.

Still you face any problem related to update profile please revert to us with the screen shots of error message which you will get at the time of update profile .

Thanks & Regards

Parivesh Patel
Executive, Customer Care
care@irctc.co.in
http://www.irctc.co.in
[#3730034]

IRCTC’s response seemed responsible, valid and thought it would be a cake-walk as private providers are supposed to be much more efficient than public ones. The experience proved how wrong was I trust them with doing the right thing –

1. First I tried the twitter handle to see how IDEA uses their twitter handle.

2. The idea customer care twitter handle was mild in its response.

3. After sometime I realized that the only way out of this quagmire would perhaps be to go to a brick-mortar shop and get it resolved face-to-face. I went twice or thrice but each time something or the other would happen.

On the fourth and final time, I was able to get to the big ‘Official’ shop only to be told they can’t do anything about this and I would have to the appellate body to get the reply.

The e-mail address which they shared (and I found it later) was wrong. I sent a somewhat longish e-mail sharing all the details and got bounce-backs. The correct e-mail address for the IDEA Maharashtra appellate body is – appellette.mh@idea.aditybirla.com

I searched online and after a bit of hit and miss finally got the relevant address. Then finally on 30th December, 2016 wrote a short email to the service provider as follows –

Dear Sir,
I have been using prepaid mobile connection –

number – xxxxxxx

taken from IDEA for last 10 odd years.

I want to register myself with IRCTC for online railway booking using
my IDEA mobile number.

Earlier, I was having a BSNL connection which I discontinued 4 years back,

For re-registering myself with IRCTC, I have to fulfill their latest
requirements as shown in the email below .

It is requested that I please be issued a letter confirming my
credentials with your esteemed firm.

I contacted your local office at corner of Law College Road and
Bhandarkar Road, Pune (reference number – Q1 – 84786060793) who
refused to provide me any letter and have advised me to contact on the
above e-mail address, hence this request is being forwarded to you.

Please do the needful at your earliest.

Few days later I got this short e-mail from them –

Dear Customer,

Greetings for the day!

This is with reference to your email regarding services.

Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused to you and delay in response.

We regret to inform you that we are unable to provide demographic details from our end as provision for same is not available with us.

Should you need any further assistance, please call our Customer Service help line number 9822012345 or email us at customercare@idea.adityabirla.com by mentioning ten digit Idea mobile number in subject line.

Thanks & Regards,

Javed Khan

Customer Service Team

IDEA Cellular Limited- Maharashtra & Goa Circle.

Now I was at almost my wit’s end. Few days before, I had re-affirmed my e-mail address to IDEA . I went to the IDEA care site, registered with my credentials. While the https connection to the page is weak, but let’s not dwell on that atm.

I logged into the site, I went through all the drop-down menus and came across My Account > Raise a request link which I clicked on . This came to a page where I could raise requests for various things. One of the options given there was Bill Delivery. As I wasn’t a postpaid user but a prepaid user didn’t know if that would work or not I still clicked on it. It said it would take 4 days for that to happen. I absently filed it away as I was somewhat sure that nothing would happen from my previous experience with IDEA. But this time the IDEA support staff came through and shared a toll-free SMS number and message format that I could use to generate call details from the last 6 months.

The toll-free number from IDEA is 12345 and the message format is EBILL MON (short-form for month so if it’s January would be jan, so on and so forth).

After gathering all the required credentials, sent my last mail to IRCTC about a week, 10 days back –

Dear Mr. Parivesh Patel,

I was out-of-town and couldn’t do the needful so sorry for the delay.
Now that I’m back in town, I have been able to put together my prepaid
bills of last 6 months which should make it easy to establish my
identity.

As had shared before, I don’t remember my old password and the old
mobile number (BSNL number) is no longer accessible so can’t go
through that route.

Please let me know the next steps in correcting the existing IRCTC
account (which I haven’t operated ever) so I can start using it to
book my tickets.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Haven’t heard anything them from them, apart from a generated token number, each time you send a reply happens. This time it was #4763548

The whole sequence of events throws a lot of troubling questions –

a. Could IRCTC done a better job of articulating their need to me instead of the run-around I was given ?

b. Shouldn’t there be a time limit to accounts from which no transactions have been done ? I hadn’t done a single transaction since registering. When cell service providers including BSNL takes number out after a year of not using a number, why is that account active for so long ?

c. As that account didn’t have OTP at registration, dunno if it’s being used for illegal activities or something.

Update – This doesn’t seem to be a unique thing at all. Just sampling some of the tweets by people at @IRCTC_LTD https://twitter.com/praveen4al/status/775614978258718721 https://twitter.com/vis_nov25/status/786062572390932480 https://twitter.com/ShubhamDevadiya/status/794241443950948352 https://twitter.com/rajeshhindustan/status/798028633759584256 https://twitter.com/ameetsangita/status/810081624343908352 https://twitter.com/grkisback/status/813733835213078528 https://twitter.com/gbalaji_/status/804230235625394177 https://twitter.com/chandhu_nr/status/800675627384721409 , all of this just goes to show how un-unique the situation really is.

India Tourism, E-Visa and Hong Kong

A Safe and Happy New Year to all.

While Debconf India is still a pipe-dream as of now, did see that India has been gradually doing it easier for tourists and casual business visitors to come visit India. This I take as very positive development for India itself.

The 1st condition is itself good for anybody visiting India –

Eligibility

International Travellers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation , sight-seeing , casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit.

https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html

That this facility is being given to 130 odd countries is better still –

Albania, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Island, Chile, China, China- SAR Hong-Kong, China- SAR Macau, Colombia, Comoros, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’lvoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Montserrat, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Island, Tuvalu, UAE, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Vanuatu, Vatican City-Holy See, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

This should make it somewhat easier for any Indian organizer as well as any participants from any of the member countries shared. There is possibility that this list would even get longer, provided we are able to scale our airports and all and any necessary infrastructure that would be needed for International Visitors to have a good experience.

What has been particularly interesting is to know which ports of call are being used by International Visitors as well as overall growth rate –

The Percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India during November, 2016 among the top 15 source countries was highest from USA (15.53%) followed by UK (11.21%), Bangladesh (10.72%), Canada (4.66%), Russian Fed (4.53%), Australia (4.04%), Malaysia (3.65%), Germany (3.53%), China (3.14%), France (2.88%), Sri Lanka (2.49%), Japan (2.49%), Singapore (2.16%), Nepal (1.46%) and Thailand (1.37%).

And port of call –

The Percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India during November 2016 among the top 15 ports was highest at Delhi Airport (32.71%) followed by Mumbai Airport (18.51%), Chennai Airport (6.83%), Bengaluru Airport (5.89%), Haridaspur Land check post (5.87%), Goa Airport (5.63%), Kolkata Airport (3.90%), Cochin Airport (3.29%), Hyderabad Airport (3.14%), Ahmadabad Airport (2.76%), Trivandrum Airport (1.54%), Trichy Airport (1.53%), Gede Rail (1.16%), Amritsar Airport (1.15%), and Ghojadanga land check post (0.82%) .

The Ghojadanga land check post seems to be between West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Gede Railway Station is also in West Bengal as well. So all and any overlanders could take any of those ways.Even Hardispur Land Check post comes in the Bengal-Bangladesh border only.

In the airports, Delhi Airport seems to be attracting lot more business than the Mumbai Airport. Part of the reason I *think* is the direct link of Delhi Airport to NDLS via the Delhi Airport Express Line . The same when it will happen in Mumbai should be a game-changer for city too.

Now if you are wondering why I have been suddenly talking about visas and airports in India, it came because Hong Kong is going to Withdraw Visa Free Entry Facility For Indians. Although, as rightly pointed out in the article doesn’t make sense from economic POV and seems to be somewhat politically motivated. Not that I or anybody else can do anything about that.

Seeing that, I thought it was a good opportunity to see how good/Bad our Government is and it seems to be on the right path. Although the hawks (Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist Agencies) will probably become a bit more paranoid , their work becomes tougher.

Mausaji, Samosaji

mausaji

Mausaji, Never born — Never died, Always in the heart.

Dear Friends,

I have shared a few times that I had a privileged childhood. I never had led a hand-to-mouth existence but more than that I was privileged to have made the acquaintance of ‘Jaipur wale Mausaji’ while I was very young. I have been called miserly by my cousin sisters whenever they write letters to me and I don’t answer simply because whatever I feel for them, words feel inadequate and meaningless. The same thing applies in this as well. I am sharing few bits here as there are too many memories of a golden past which will not let me go till I have shared a few of them.

First let me start by sharing the relation I had with him. By relation he was my mother’s-sister’s husband. In English, he would probably be termed as ‘Maternal Uncle’ although he was much more than that. My one of the first remembrances of him was during ‘Madhu Didi’s ‘ Shaadi (marriage). Madhu Didi is uncle’s daughter and I would have been a impish 4-5 year old at the time. This was the first time I was gonna be part of ‘The Great North Indian Wedding’ and I didn’t know what was in store for me as I had grown in Pune.

I remember finishing my semester tests and mummy taking me to Pune Station. I was just excited that I would be travelling somewhere and had no clue what would be happening. We landed in Agra, took another train and landed in Jaipur in the middle of the night at their home at Sangram Colony.

While I had known few of the cousins, I was stumped to see so many cousins jumping out of everywhere. The look on my face was one of stupefaction and surprise . The only thing which would closely resemble that would be Bilbo’s 111st Birthday party in Lord of the Rings (Part 1). In fact, by a curious quirk/twist of fate, I came to know of a Naniji or somebody like that who by relation was far elder to me, while she was either my age or below my age. As was customary, had to bow down sheepishly.

As a somewhat alone boy, to be thrown in this rambunctious bunch and be the babe in the woods, I was quickly chopped and eaten up but had no complaints. I would get into trouble onto a drop of a hat. While Mausiji would threaten me, Mausaji would almost always defend me. While Mausiji could see through me, the twinkle in Mausaji’s eyes used to tell me that while he knew what I was upto, for reasons unknown, he would always defend me.

Mausaji’s Sangram Colony’s house became my cricket ground, football ground and all and any ground to play and be. Mausaji and his brothers used to live near each other and the lane they had, had hardly any vehicles on it, so all the cousins could play all they want with me being the longest, perhaps unconsciously trying either to make for lost time or knowing/unknowing this was too good to last. Today’s Pokemon generation might not be able to get it but that’s alright.

They also had a beautiful garden where Mausiji used to grow vegetables. While playing, we sometimes used to hurt her veggies (unconsciously) or just have shower with the garden hose. Mausaji used to enjoy seeing our antics. One of the relatives even had a dog who used to join in the fun sometimes. When mummy and Mausiji expressed concern about the dog biting, Mausaji would gently brush it aside.

One of the other things in Didi’s marriage is we got a whole lot of sweets. While Mausiji tried to keep us in check with sweets, both Manish Bhaiya and Mausaji used to secrete sweets from time to time. When I was hungry and used to steal food (can’t wait till the appointed time) either Bhaiya or Mausaji would help me with the condition I would have to take the blame if and when we got caught as we invariably did.

Mausaji’s house had a basement where all the secreted sweets and food used to get in. Both me and Manish Bhaiya would be there and we would have a riot in ourselves. We would enjoy the adrenaline when we were ‘stealing’ the food. As I was pretty young, I was crazy about the Tom and Jerry cartoons that used to come on Television that time. I and Bhaiya used to act like Jerry and/or his cronies while Mausiji would invariably be the Tom with Mausaji all-knowing about it but acting as a mere bystander. I remember him egging me for many of the antics I would do and get in trouble in but as shared would also be defended by him.

The basement was also when I was becoming a teenager where Manish Bhaiya showed me ‘his collection’ and we had a heart-to-heart about birds and bees. While whatever little I had known till that time was from school-friends and my peers at school and I didn’t know what was right or wrong. Bhaiya clarified lot of things, concepts which I was either clueless or confused about. When I look back now, it is possible that Mausaji might have instructed Bhaiya to be my tutor as I used to be somewhat angry and lash out by the confusing times.

As we used to go there for part of holidays, I remember doing all sorts of antics to make sure I would get an extra day, an extra hour to be there. I never used to understand why we had to go to meet the other relatives when all the fun I could have was right there only, couldn’t Mummy know/see that I used to enjoy the most here.

Mausaji was a ‘clothier’ as we understand the term today and a gentleman to the core. He was the co-owner of Rajputana Cloth Store in Jaipur. Many VIP’s as well as regular people used to visit him for getting clothes designed and stitched under his watchful eyes. I never saw him raise his voice against any of the personnel working under him and used to be a thorough gentleman to one and all. Later, as I grew up I came to know and see that people would phone up and just ask him to do the needful. He would get the right cloth, stitch it right and people used to trust him for that. He was such an expert on cloth and type of clothes, that by mere touch he could talk/share about what sort of cloth it is.

One of his passions was driving and from the money he had saved, he had got an Ambassador Car. Every day or every other day or whenever he felt like it, he used to take either the gang or me with mummy or me with anybody else. Each ride used to be an adventure in itself, with a start – beginning and an end. I always used to watch out for the car-rides as I knew we would get sweets or something as well as he would regale us with stories about a place here and there. There was a childlike curiosity and interest in him which was infectious to one and all.

The only weakness that he had was he liked to drink wine once in a while. When I was a kid, I was never able to give him company, only few years back, for the first time I was able to share wine with him which was also a memory I treasure. Those who know him closely knew the many up and downs that he went through, but as a gentleman he never let on the hurts he had or didn’t curse his fate or anything else that we do when things go bad from our perspective.

While there is much to write about him, it will not accomplish anything that is not known about him. I’ll add with the private joke that was between him and me. When I was little, I used to call him Mausaji, Samosaji for a) I liked Samosa and b) Samosa has a bit thick skin outside and underneath it’s all gravy. In reality though, he was butter all the way.

I miss you Mausaji and wish I could turn the clock back and come with Mummy to visit both Mausiji and you. I hope your new journey takes you to even further heights than this life. Savouring the memories – mummy and I, hope we meet you again in some new Avataar πŸ™‚

Trains, Planes and the future

Swacch Bharat - Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Swacch Bharat – Indian Railways Copyright: Indian Express

Some of the content may be NSFW. viewer discretion advised.

I have had a life-long fascination with trains. One of my first memories was that of 5-7 year old, clutching my mother or grandmother’s hand seeing the steam engine lumbering down whistling and smoking at the same time. I was both afraid and strangely drawn to the iron beast and the first time I knew and then slowly understood that if we come with luggage and the steam-engine comes, it means we are going to travel.

I have travelled some, but there are lots to explore still and I do hope that I cover some more of it during my lifetime. The reason I am writing about trains is an article which caught my eye couple of days. Besides seeing the changing geography, the variety of food one can get on train and in stations is one of the primary reasons that Indians love to travel by trains. It is one place where you could have incredible conversations over cup of tea or favourite food and unlike air travel and the famed IFE (In-flight entertainment) people are actually pretty social even with all the gadgets. For those who are wondering, the author was travelling between Jamshedpur, Gujarat to Kolkatta, a train ride which has now gone on my bucket list for the delectable items the author has described πŸ˜‰

To add to the above, it is still cheaper than air travel, although that is changing a bit as Indian Railways seeks to modernize Railways and make it into world-class bullet trains.

Indian Railways has a long, rich culture and some of the most interesting nuggets you learn over time adds to the fascination of the Railways. For instance I’m sharing this letter which I read first in book and then saw in the New Delhi Railway Museum. The letter I am sharing below was written by a certain Shri Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj Railway Office in year 1909, almost 38 years before India became independent.

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.

“This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers.”

If it were not for Mr. Okhil Chandra Sen we would still be running with ‘water bottle’ (improvement) and jeans/shorts/whatever (again improvement) while the possibility of falling over would always be omnipresent in a hurry. Now we do have toilets and some of the better trains even have Bio-toilets which should make things better as well.(/NSFW)

For the plane bit, most of my flights have been domestic flying. Some of my most memorable flights is when flying from Mumbai on a clear sky overlooking the Queen’s necklace, loving it and landing in Bangalore during mist or rain or both. Delhi is also good as airports go but nothing much adventurous about it. It was only with the experience of my first international flight, I realized the same feeling again, nervousness and sense of adventure as you meet new people. Nowadays every week I do try and broaden my horizon by seeking and learning a bit about International Travel.

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

Copyright: National Geographic Magazine

In this I came across an article on National Geographic site which also evoked similar feelings. While I can’t go back to the past and even if I did (in distant past before I was born), I wouldn’t want to improve my financial situation at all (as otherwise I would hit the Grandfather Paradox or/and the Butterfly effect (essentially saying there’s no free lunch), it still makes you wonder about a time when people had lot more adventure and lot more moving parts. I do wish they had a much bigger snapshot of that plane so I could really see how people sat in the old aircraft. The low-resolution picture doesn’t do justice to the poster and the idea of that time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder for an implementation of Butterfly effect.

The Grandfather Paradox has been seen plenty of times in fantasy movies like the Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes and many others so will not go there.

For the average joe today, s/he has to navigate security,check bags, get her/imself processed through passport control, get boarding pass, get to the gate on-time, get to the aircraft via bridge or bus, get to the seat, somehow make it through the ascent and use your IFE and get snacks and meals till it’s time to touch-down and re-do the whole drill again as many times you are connecting. I really admire Gunnar Wolf for the tenacity he showed for the x number of connections he made both ways.

The world's 10 best airports Copyright: Changi International Airport

Photo – Courtesy Changi International Airport, Singapore

While leafing through the interweb today, came across an article . While you can slice and dice the report anyway you want, for me if ever I get a chance again for an International Travel, I would try to see I get a layover at these three airports in order of preference (this is on the basis that none of these airports need a transit visa for the activities shared) –

a. Changi International Airport – It is supposed to have shower amenities, has a movie theatre (+1), free tour of the city (+1) and of course as many Indians do go to Singapore as a destination in itself would have multiple vegetarian options (+2) so would be nice if I need to layover.

b. Zurich Airport (ZRH) – “For passengers with an extended layover, Zurich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne.” – From business-insider.com. While I’m not much of a bicycle and inline-skating freak, if the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne is anything to the scale of Isiko Museum which I shared in a blog post sometime before, it would be worth by itself. I haven’t tried to find the site but can imagine, for e.g. if it has a full-scale model of a submarine or train engine, either steam-engines or ones like SNCF or any of the other bullet-trains and early aircraft, it would just blow my mind. When you are talking about transport, there is so much science, business, logistics etc. that I’m sure I’ll overload with information, photos and any trinkets they have to buy.

c. Central Japan International Airport (NGO) – “It has a 1,000-foot-long sky deck where passengers can watch ships sail into Nagoya Port. There’s also a traditional Japanese bathhouse where you can have a relaxing soak while watching the sunset over the bay.” – BusinessInsider.com

Not a bad place to be if you need a layover. Just sink yourself in the bathhouse and see the bay and ships coming in. Luxury indeed.

Honourable mention –

d. Munich Airport (MUC) – “A nearby visitors park features mini golf and a display of historic aircraft.” – Business-Insider.com . Now this would have made my list but I guess one would need a Schengen visa to access the visitors park but then if you have that, then why just stay in the Airport itself, could travel through Europe itself and have a longish stop-over.

So all in all, it’s indeed a fascinating time to be alive, dreaming and just being. Till later.

Update – I had forgotten to share one more reason why I was writing this article. Although somewhat of a cynic, am hopeful that Pune metro happens. Also, if I had just waited a day, would have been able to add couple of wonderful articles that would make people wanderlust more πŸ™‚

My letter to Government of Maharashtra on Real Estate Rules and Regulation Draft rules

While I try to minimize Politics and Economics as much as I can on this blog, it sometimes surfaces. It is possible that some people may benefit or at least be aware.

A bit of background is necessary before I jump into the intricacies of the Maharashtra Real Estate Rules and Regulation Draft Rules 2016 (RERA) .

Since ever, but more prominently since 2007/8 potential homeowners from across the country have been suffering at the hands of the builder/promoter for number of years. While it would be wrong to paint all the Real Estate Developers and Builders as cheats (we as in all tenants and homeowners hope there are good ones out there) many Real Estate Builders and promoters have cheated homeowners of their hard-earned money. This has also lessened the secondary (resale) market and tenants like me have to fight over morsels as supply is tight.

There were two broad ways in which the cheating is/was done –

a. Take deposits and run away i.e. fly by night operators – Here the only option for a homeowner is to file an FIR (First Information Report) and hope the culprits are caught. 99% of the time the builder/promoter goes somewhere abroad and the potential home buyers/home-owners are left holding the can. This is usually done by small real estate promoters and builders.

b. The big boys would take all or most money of the project, may register or not register the flat in your name, either build a quarter or half-finished building and then make excuses. There are some who do not even build. The money given is used by the builder/developer either for his own needs or using that money in some high-profile project which is expensive and may have huge returns. They know that home-owners can’t do anything, at the most go to the court which will take more than a decade or two during which time the developer would have interest-free income and do whatever he wants to do.

One of the bigger stories which came up this year was when the Indian Cricket Captain, M.S. Dhoni (cricket is a religion in India, and the cricketers gods for millions of Indians) had to end his brand engagement and ambassadorship from Amrapali Housing Group. Apparently, his wife Sakshi was on the Board of directors at Amrapali Housing and had to resign

The Government knew of such issues and had been working since last few years. Under the present Government, a Model Agreement and a Model Real Estate Rules and Regulation Bill was passed on 31st March and came into force on 1st May 2016.

India, similar to the U.S. and U.K. follows a federal structure. While I have shared this before, most of the laws in India fall in either of three lists, Central List, Concurrent Lists and State Lists. Housing for instance, is a state subject so any laws concerning housing has to be made by the state legislature.

Having a statutory requirement to put the bill in 6 months from 1st of May, the Government of Maharashtra chose to put the draft rules in public domain on 12th December 2016, about 10 days ago and there were efforts to let it remain low-key so people do not object as we are still in the throes of demonetisation. By law they should have given 30 days for people to raise objections and give suggestions.

The State Government too could have easily asked an extension and as both the State and the Centre are of the same Political Party they would have easily got it.

With that, below is the e-mail I sent to suggesstionsonrera@maharashtra.gov.in

Sub – Some suggestions for RERA – biggest suggestion, need to give more time study the implications for house-owners.

Respected Sir/Madame,

I will be publishing the below mail as a public letter on my blog as well.

I am writing as a citizen, a voter, a potential home owner, currently a tenant . If houses supply is not in time, it is us, the tenants who have the most to lose as we have to fight over whatever is in the market. I do also hope to be a home buyer at some point in time so these rules would affect me also somewhere in the hazy future.

I came to know through the media that Maharashtra Govt. recently introduced draft rules for RERA Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 . I hope to impress upon you that these proposed Rules and Regulations need to be thoroughly revised and new draft rules shared with the public at large with proper announcement in all newspapers and proper time ( more than a month ) to study and give replies on the said matter.

My suggestions and complaints are as under –

a. The first complaint and suggestion is that the date between the draft regulations and suggestions being invited by members of public is and was too little 12 December 2016 – 23 December 2016 (only 11 days) for almost 90 pages of Government rules and regulations which needs multiple rounds of re-reading to understand the implications of the draft rules .

Add to that unlike the Central Building Legislation, Model Agreement which was prepared by Centre and also given wide publicity, the Maharashtra Govt. didn’t do any such publicity to bring it to the
notice of the people.

b. I ask where was the hurry to publish these draft rules now when everybody is suffering through the result of cash-crunch on top of other things. If the said draft rules were put up in January 2017, I am sure more people would have responded to the draft rules. Ir raises suspicion in the mind of everybody the timing of sharing the draft rules and the limited time given to people to respond.

E.g. – When TRAI (Telephone Regulatory Authority of India) asked for suggestion it gives more than a month, and something like housing which is an existential question for everybody, i.e. the poor, the middle and the rich, you have given pretty less time. While I could change my telephone service providers at a moment’s notice without huge loss, the same cannot be said either for a house owner (in case of builder) or a tenant as well. This is just not done.

c. The documents are at https://housing.maharashtra.gov.in/sitemap/housing/Rera_rules.htm under different sub-headings while the correct structure of the documents can be found at nared’s site
http://naredco.in/notifications.asp . At the very least, the documents should have been in proper order.

Coming to some of the salient points raised both in the media and elsewhere –

1. On page 6 of Part IV-A Ext1.pdf you have written

” Explanation.-The registration of a real estate project shall not be required,-

(i) for the purpose of any renovations or repair or redevelopment which does not involve marketing, advertisement, selling or new allotment of any apartment , plot or building as the case may be under
the real estate project; ” – RERA draft rules

What it means is that the house owner and by the same stroke the tenant would have absolutely no voice to oppose any changes made to the structure at any point of time after the building is built. This means the builder is free to build 12-14-16 even 20 stories building when the original plans were for 6-8-10. This rule gives the builder to do free for all till the building doesn’t get converted into a society, a process which does and can take years to happen.

2. A builder has to take innumerable permissions from different authorities at each and every stage till possession of a said property isn’t handed over to a home buyer and by its extension to the tenant. Now any one of these authorities could sit on the papers and there is no accountability of by when papers would be passed under a competent authority’s desk. There was a wide belief that there would be some
rules and regulations framed in this regard but the draft rules are silent on the subject matter.

3. In Draft rule 5. page 8 of Part IV-A Ext1.pdf you write –

“Withdrawal of amounts deposited in separate account.-(1) With regard to the withdrawal of amounts deposited under sub-clause (D) of clause (l) of sub-section (2) of section 4, the following provisions shall apply:-

(i) For new projects which will be registered after commencement. – ”

Deposit in the escrow account is from now onwards. So what happens to the projects which are ongoing at the moment, either at the registration stage or at building stage, thousands of potential house owners would be left to fend for themselves. There needs to be some recourse for them as well.

3b. Another suggestion is that the house-owners are duly informed when promoters/builders are taking money from the bank and should have the authority to see that proper documents and procedure was followed. It is possible that unscrupulous elements may either bypass it or give some different documents which are not in knowledge of the house-owner, thus defeating the purpose of the escrow account itself.

4. On page 44 of Pt.IV-A Ext.161 in the Model Agreement to be entered
between the Promoter and the Alottee you have mentioned –

“(i)The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee one Apartment No. ………….. of the type ………….. of carpet area admeasuring ……………….. sq. metres on ………… floor in the building __________along with (hereinafter referred to as “the Apartment”) as shown in the Floor plan thereof hereto annexed and marked Annexures C
for the consideration of Rs. ………………. including Rs. ………………. being the proportionate price of the common areas and facilities appurtenant to the premises, the nature, extent and description of the common/limited common areas and facilities which are more particularly described in the Second Schedule annexed herewith. (the price of the Apartment including the proportionate price of the limited common areas and facilities and parking spaces should be shown separately).

(ii) The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee garage bearing Nos ____ situated at _______ Basement and/or stilt and /or ____podium being
constructed in the layout for the consideration of Rs. ____________/-

(iii) The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee Car parking spaces bearing Nos ____ situated at _______ Basement and/or stilt and /or ____podium and/or open parking space, being constructed in the layout for the
consideration of Rs. ____________/-.

The total aggregate consideration amount for the apartment including garages/car parking spaces is
thus Rs.______/- ” – Draft rules.

What has been done here is the parking space has been divorced from sale of the flat . It is against natural justice, logic, common sense as well-known precedents in jurisprudence (i.e. law)

In September 2010, the bench of Justices R M Lodha and A K Patnaik had ruled in a judgement stating developers cannot sell parking spaces as independent real-estate units. The court ruled that parking areas are ‘common areas and facilities’. This was on behalf of a precedent in Mumbai High Court as well.

http://www.reinventingparking.org/2010/09/important-parking-ruling-by-indias.html

This has been reiterated again and again in courts as well as consumer
forums http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Cant-charge-flat-buyer-extra-for-parking-slot/articleshow/22475233.cms

and has been the norm in several Apartment Acts over multiple states –

http://apartmentadda.com/blog/2015/02/19/rules-pertaining-to-parking-spaces-in-apartment-complexes/

5. In case of dispute, the case will high court which is inundated by huge number of pending cases.

As recently as August 2016 there was a news item in Indian Express which talks about the spike in pending cases. Putting a case in the high court will weigh heavily on the homeowner, financially and
mentally http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/more-cases-and-increased-staff-strength-putting-pressure-on-bombay-high-court-building-2964796/

It may be better to use the services of ‘National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission'(NCDRC) where there is possibility of quicker justice and quick resolution. There is possibility of group actions taking place which will reduce duplicity of work on behalf of the petitioners.

6. There is neither any clarity, incentive or punitive action against the promoter/builder if s/he delay conveyance to the society in order to get any future developmental and FSI rights. To delay handing over conveyance, the builders delay completion of the last building in a said project. there should be both a compensatory and punitive actions taken against the builder if he is unable to prove any genuine cause for the same.

7. There needs to be the provision with regard to need for developers to make public disclosures pertaining to building approvals. This while I had shared above needs to be explicitly mentioned so house-owners know the promoter/builder are on the right path.

8. There needs to be a provision that prohibits refusal to sell property to any person on the basis of his/her religion, marital status or dietary preferences.

9. There is lot of ambiguity if criminal proceedings can be initiated against a promoter/developer if s/he fails to deliver the flat on time.

The developer should be criminally liable if he doesn’t give the flat with all the amenities, fixtures and anything which was on agreement signed by both parties and for which the payment has been given in
full at time of possession of a flat.

10. Penalties for the promoter/builder is capped at 10% in case of any wrong-doing. Apart from proving the charge, the onus of which would lie on the house-owner, capping it at 10% is similar to –

A teacher telling a naughty student, do whatever you want to do, I am only going to hit you 5 times.

Such a drafting encourages the Promoter/builder to play mischief. The builder knows his exposure is pretty limited. Liability is limited so he will try to get with whatever he can. Having a high penalty clause will deter him.

11. There was talk and shown in the Center’s model agreement the precedent of providing names, addresses and contact details of other allot-tees or home-owners of a building that would have multiple dwelling units . This is nowhere either in the agreement or mentioned anywhere else in the four documents.

12. An addition to the above would be that the details provided should be correct and updated as per the records maintained by the Promoter/builder.

13. Today, there is no way for a potential house-owner to know if the builder had broken any norms or has any cases in court pending against him. There should be a way for the potential house-owner to find out.

14. A builder can terminate a flat purchase agreement by giving just a week’s notice on email to the buyer who defaults on an instalment. But the developer can refund the money without interest to the
purchaser at leisure, within six months.Under MOFA (the earlier rules), the developer could cancel the agreement after giving a 15 days’ notice, and the builder could resell the flat only after refunding money to the original buyer. Under the new draft rules, a builder can immediately sell the flat after terminating the agreement.

15. The new draft rules say a buyer must pay 30% of the total cost while signing the agreement and 45% when the plinth of the building is constructed. The earlier state law stipulated 20% payment when the
agreement is signed with the developer.

16. The Central model agreement and rules proposed a fee of INR Rs 1,000 for filing complaints before housing authority; the state draft has proposed to hike this fee to Rs INR Rs. 10,000/-

17. Reading the Central Model Agreement, key disclosures under Section 4 (2)and Rule 3 (2) of the Central Model Rules have been excluded to be put up on the website of the Authority. These included carpet area of flat, encumbrance certificate (this would have disclosed encumbrances in respect of the land where the real estate project is proposed to be undertaken), copy of the legal title report and sanctioned plan of the building.

Due to this house-owner would always be in dark and assume that everything is alright.

There have been multiple instances of this over years –

Some examples –

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140920/nation-current-affairs/article/builder-encroaches-%E2%80%98raja-kaluve%E2%80%99

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/surat-builder-grabs-tribal-land-using-fake-documents/

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bmtf-books-exmayor-wife-for-grabbing-ca-site/article7397062.ece

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thane/24-acre-ambernath-plot-usurped-with-fake-docus/articleshow/55654139.cms

18. The Central rule requires a builder to submit an annual report including profit and loss account, balance sheet, cash flow statement, directors’ report and auditors’ report for the preceding three financial years, among other things. However, the Maharashtra draft rules are silent on such a requirement.

While the above is what I could perceive in the limited amount I came to know. This should be enough to convince that more needs to be done from the house-owner’s side.

Update – Just saw Quint’s Op-Ed goes in more detail.

The wine and dine at debconf16

For the wine connoisseur

FOR the Wine Connoisseur

All photos courtesy KK . If any deviations, would put up labels sharing whose copyright it is.

Before I get into all of that, I was curious about Canada and taking the opportunity of debconf happening there in a few months, asked few people what they thought of digital payments, fees and expenses in their country and if plastic cash is indeed used therein.

The first to answer was Tyler McDonald (no idea if he is anyway related to the fast-food chain McDonalds which is a worldwide operation.) This is what he had to say/share –

You can use credit / debit cards almost everywhere. Restaurant waiters also usually have wireless credit / debit terminals that they will bring to your table for you to settle your bill.

How much your bank charges depends on your Canadian bank and the banking plan you are on. For instance, on my plan through the Bank Of Montreal, I get (I think) 20 free transactions a month and then after that I’m charged $0.50CDN/piece. However, if I go to a Bank Of Montreal ATM and withdraw cash, there is no service fee for that.

There is no service fee for using *credit* cards, only *debit* cards tend to have the fee.

I live in a really rural area so I can’t always get to a Bank Of Montreal machine for cash. So what I usually end up doing, is either pay by credit and then pay of the balance right away so I don’t have to pay interest, or when I do use my bank card to pay for something, I ask if I can get cash back as well.

Yes, Canada converted to plastic notes a few years ago. We’ve also eliminated the penny. For cashless transactions, you pay the exact amount billed. If you’re paying somebody in cash, it is rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. And for $1 or $2, instead of notes, we’ve moved over to coins.

I personally like the plastic notes. They’re smoother and feel more durable than the paper notes. I’ve had one go through a laundry load by accident and it came out the other side fine.

Another gentleman responded with slightly more information which probably would interest travellers from around the world, not just Indians –

Quebec has its own interbank system called Interac (https://interac.ca/en/about/our-company.html). Quebec is a very proud and independent region and for many historical reasons they want to stand on their own, which is why they support their local systems. Some vendors will support only Interac for debit card transactions (at least this was the case when I stayed there the beginning of this decade, it might have changed a bit). *Most* vendors (including supermarkets like Provigo, Metro, etc) will accept major credit and debit cards, although MasterCard isn’t accepted as widely there as Visa is. So, if you have one of both, load up your Visa card instead of your MasterCard or get a prepaid Visa card from your bank. They support chip cards everywhere so don’t worry about that. If you have a 5 digit pin on any of your cards and a vendor asks you for a 4 digit pin, it will work 90%+ of the times if you just enter the first 4 digits, but it’s usually a good idea to go change your pin to a 4 digit just to be safe.

From the Indian perspective all of the above fits pretty neat as we also have Pin and Chip cards (domestically though most ATMs still use the magnetic strip and is suspected that the POS terminals aren’t any better.) That would be a whole different story so probably left for another day.

I do like the bit about pocketing the change tip. As far as number of free transactions go, it was pretty limited in India for few years before the demonetization happening now.

Few years before, I do remember doing as many transactions on the ATM as I please but then ATM’s have seen a downward spiral in terms of technology upgradation, maintenance etc. There is no penalty to the bank if the ATM is out-of-order. If there was significant penalty then we probably would have seen banks taking more care of ATM’s. It is a slightly more complex topic hence would take a stab at it some other day.

Do hope though that the terms for ATM usage for bank customers become lenient similar to Canada otherwise it would be difficult for Indians to jump on the digital band-wagon as you cannot function without cheap, user-friendly technology.

Cash machines: Uneven spread, slowing growth - Copyright Indian Express

The image has been taken from this fascinating article which appeared in Indian Express couple of days back.

Coming back to the cheese and wine in the evening. I think we started coming back from Eagle Encounters around 16:30/17:00 hrs Cape Town time. Somehow the ride back was much more faster and we played some Bollywood party music while coming back (all cool). Suddenly remembered that I had to buy some cheese as I hadn’t bought any from India. There is quite a bit of a post where I’m trying to know/understand if spices can be smuggled (which much later I learnt I didn’t need to but that’s a different story altogether), I also had off-list conversations with people about cheese as well but wasn’t able to get any good recommendations. Then saw that KK bought Mysore Pak (apparently she took a chance not declaring it) which while not being exactly cheese fit right into things. In her own words “a South Indian ghee sweet fondly nicknamed ‘the blocks of cholesterol’ and ‘reason #3 for bypass surgery’.” – KK

So with Leonard’s help we stopped at a place where it looked like a chain of stores. Each store was selling something. Seeing that, I was immediately transported to Connaught Place, Delhi

Connaught Place, Delhi

The image comes from http://planetden.com/food/roundabout-world-connaught-place-delhi which attempts to explain Connaught Place. While the article is okish, it lacks soul and not written like a Delhite would write or anybody who has spent a chunk having spent holidays at CP. Another day, another story, sorry.

What I found interesting about the stores while they were next to each other, I also eyed an alcohol shop as well as an Adult/Sex shop. I asked Leonard as to how far we were from UCT and he replied hardly 5 minutes by car and was shocked to see both alcohol and a sex shop. While an alcohol shop some distance away from a college is understandable, there are few and far around Colleges all over India, but adult shops are a rarity.

Unfortunately, none of us have any photos of the place as till that time everybody’s phone was dead or just going to be dead and nobody had thought to bring a portable power pack to juice our mobile devices.

A part of me was curious to see what the sex shop would have and look from inside, but as was with younger people didn’t think it was appropriate.

All of us except Jaminy and someone else (besides Leonard) decided to stay back, while the rest of us went inside to explore the stores. It took me sometime to make my way to the cheese corner and had no idea which was good and which wasn’t. So with no idea of brands therein, the only way to figure out was the pricing. So bought two, one a larger 500 gm cheap piece and a smaller slightly more expensive one just to make sure that the Debian cheese team would be happy.

We did have a mini-adventure as for sometime Jaminy was missing, apparently she went goofing off or went to freshen up or something and we were unable to connect with her as all our phones were dead or dying.

Eventually we came back to UCT, barely freshened up when it was decided by our group to go and give our share of goodies to the cheese and wine party. When I went up to the room to share the cheese, came to know they needed a volunteer for cutting veggies etc.

Having spent years seeing ‘Yan Can Cook’

and having practised quite a bit tried to do some fancy decoration and some julian cutting but as we got dull knives and not much time, just did some plain old cutting 😦

The salads

The Salads, partly done by me.

I have to share I had a fascinating discussion about cooking in Pressure Cookers. I was under the assumption that everybody knows how to use Pressure Cookers as they are one of the simplest ways to cook food without letting go of all the nutrients. At least, I believe this to be predominant in the Asian subcontinent and even the chinese have similar vessels for cooking.

I use what is called the first generation Pressure Cooker. I have been using a 1.5 l Prestige Pressure Cooker over half a decade, almost used daily without issues.

http://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Nakshatra-Aluminium-Pressure-Cooker/dp/B00CB7U1OU

Prestige 1.5 L Pressure Cooker

1.5 Litre Pressure Cooker with gasket and everything.

There are also induction pressure cookers nowadays in the Indian market and this model

https://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Deluxe-Induction-Aluminum-Pressure/dp/B01KZVPNGE/ref=sr_1_2

Induction base cooking for basmati rice

Best cooker for doing Basmati Biryanis and things like that.

Basmati is long-grain, aromatic rice which most families used in very special occasions such as festivals, marriages, anything good and pure is associated with the rice.

I had also shared my lack of knowledge of industrial Microwave Ovens. While I do get most small Microwave Ovens like these , cooking in industrial ovens I simply have no clue.

Anyways, after that conversation I went back, freshened up a bit and sometime later found myself in the middle of this –

Collection of Wine Bottles

Random selection of wine bottles from all over the world.

Also at times found myself in middle of this –

Chocolates all around me.

CHOCOLATES

I tried quite a few chocolates but the best one I liked (don’t remember the name) was a white caramel chocolate which literally melted into my mouth. Got the whole died and went to heaven experience :). Who said gluttony is bad πŸ˜‰

Or this –

French Bread, Wine and chaos

French Bread, Wine and chaos

As can be seen the French really enjoy their bread. I do remember a story vaguely (don’t remember if it was a children’s fairy tale or something) about how the French won a war through their french bread.

Or this –

Juices for those who love their health

Juices for those who love their health

We also had juices for the teetotaller or who can’t handle drinks. Unsurprisingly perhaps, by the end of the session, almost all the different wines were finito while there was still some juices left to go around.

From the Indian perspective, it wasn’t at all exciting, there were no brawls, everybody was too civilized and everybody staggered off when they met their quota. As I was in holiday spirit, stayed up late, staggered to my room, blissed out and woke up without any headache.

Pro tip – Drink lots and lots and lots of water especially if you are drinking. It flushes out most of the toxins and also helps in not having after-morning headaches. If I’m going drinking, I usually drown myself in at least a litre or two of water, even if I had to the bathroom couple of times before going to bed.

All in all, a perfect evening. I was able to connect/talk with some of the gods whom I had wanted to for a long time and they actually listened. Don’t remember if I mumbled something or made some sense in small-talk or whatever I did. But as shared, a perfect evening πŸ™‚

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