The Road to Gandolfo, Webforms, Hearing Loss info & Mum’s Birthday.

The Road to Gandolfo

I think I had read this book almost 10-12 years back and somehow ended up reading it up again. Apparently, he had put this fiction, story, book under some other pen name earlier. It is possible that I might have read it under that name and hence forgotten all about it. This book/story is full of innuendo, irony, sarcasm and basically the thrill of life. There are two main characters in the book, the first is General Mackenzie who has spent almost 3 to 4 decades being a spy/a counterintelligence expert in the Queen’s service. And while he outclasses them all even at the ripe age of 50, he is thrown out under the pretext of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

The other main character is Sam Devereaux. This gentleman is an army lawyer and is basically counting the days when he completes his tour of duty as a military lawyer and start his corporate civil law with somebody he knows. It is much to his dismay that while under a week is left for his tour of duty to be left over he is summoned to try and extradite General MacKenzie who has been put on house arrest. Apparently, in China there was a sculpture of a great Chinese gentleman in the nude. For reasons unknown or rather not being shared herein, he basically breaks part of the sculpture. This of course, enrages the Chinese and they call it a diplomatic accident and try to put the General into house arrest. Unfortunately for both the General and his captors, he decides to escape/go for it. While he does succeed entering the American embassy, he finds himself to be person non-grata and is thrown back outside where the Chinese recapture him.

This is where the Embassy & the Govt. decide it would be better if somehow the General could be removed from China permanently so he doesn’t cause any further diplomatic accidents. In order to do that Sam’s services are bought.

Now in order to understand the General, Sam learns that he has 4 ex-wives. He promptly goes and meet them to understand why the general behaved as he did. He apparently also peed on the American flag. To his surprise, all the four ex-wives are still very much in with the general. During the course of interviewing the ladies he is seduced by them and also gives names to their chests in order to differentiate between each one of them. Later he is seduced by the eldest of the four wives and they spend the evening together.

Next day Sam meets and is promptly manhandled by the general and the diplomatic papers are seen by the general. After meeting the general and the Chinese counterpart, they quickly agree to extradite him as they do not know how to keep the general control. During his stay of house arrest, the General reads one of the ‘communist rags’ as he puts it and gets the idea to kidnap the pope and that forms the basis of the story.

Castel Gandolfo seems to be a real place which is in Italy and is apparently is the papal residence where s/he goes to reside every winter. The book is written in 1976 hence in the book, the General decides to form a corporation for which he would raise funds in order to make the kidnapping. The amount in 1976 was 40 million dollars and it was a big sum, to be with times, let’s think of say 40 billion dollars so gets the scale of things.

Now while a part of me wants to tell the rest of the story, the story isn’t really mine to tell. Read The Road to Gandolfo for the rest. While I can’t guarantee you much, I can say you might find yourself constantly amused by the antics of both the General, Sam and the General’s ex-wives. There are also a few minute characters that you will meet on the way, hope you discover them and enjoy it immensely as I have.

One thing I have to say, while I was reading it, I very much got vibes of ‘Not a penny more, not a penny less’ by Jeffrey Archer. As shared before, lots of twists and turns, enjoy the ride πŸ™‚

Webforms

Webforms are nothing but a form you fill on the web or www. Webforms are and were a thing from early 90s to today. I was supposed to register for https://www.swavlambancard.gov.in/ almost a month back but procrastinated till few couple of days back and with good reason. I was hoping one of my good friends would help me but they had their own thing. So finally, I tried to fill the form few days back. It took me almost 30 odd attempts to finally fill the form and was given an enrollment number. Why it took me 30 odd attempts and with what should tell you the reason –

  1. I felt like I was filling the form from 1990’s rather than today because –
  2. The form doesn’t know either its state or saves data during a session – This lesson has been learned a long time back by almost all service providers except Govt. of India. Both the browsers on a mobile as well as desktop can save data during session. If you don’t know what I mean by that go to about:preferences#privacy in Firefox and look at Manage Data. There you will find most sites do put some data along with cookies arguably to help make your web experience better. Chrome or Chromium has the same thing perhaps shared under a different name but its the same thing. But that is not all.
  3. None of the fields have any verification. The form is of 3 pages. The verification at the end of the document doesn’t tell you what is wrong and what needs to be corrected. Really think on this, I am on a 24″ LED monitor and I’m filling the form and I had to do it at least 20-30 times before it was accepted. And guess what, I have no clue even about why it was selected. The same data, the same everything and after the nth time it accepted. Now if I am facing such a problem when I have some idea how technology works somewhat how are people who are trying to fill this form on 6″ mobiles supposed to do? And many of them not at all clued in technology as I am.

I could go on outlining many of the issues that I faced but they are all similar in many ways the problems faced while filling the ‘NEW’ Income Tax forms. Of course the New Income Tax portal is a whole ball-game in itself as it gives new errors every time instead of solving them. Most C.A.’s have turned to third-party xml tools that enable you to upload xml compliant data to the ‘New’ Income tax portal but this is for businesses and those who can afford it. Again, even that is in a sort of messy state but that is a whole another tale altogether.

One of the reasons to my mind why the forms are designed the way they are so that people go to specific cybercafes or get individual people to fill and upload it and make more money. I was told to go to a specific cybercafe and meet a certain individual and he asked for INR 500/- to do the work. While I don’t have financial problems, I was more worried about my data going into the wrong hands. But I can see a very steady way to make money without doing much hard work.

Hearing Loss info.

Now because I had been both to Kamla Nehru Hospital as well as Sasoon and especially the deaf department, I saw many kids with half-formed ears. I had asked the doctors and they had shared this is due to malnutrition. We do know that women during pregnancies need more calories, more everything as they are eating for two bodies, not one. And this is large-scale, apparently more than 5 percent of population have children like this. And this number was of 2014, what is it today nobody knows. I also came to know that at least for some people like me, due to Covid they became deaf. I had asked the doctors if they knew of people who had become deaf due to Covid. They basically replied in the negative as they don’t have the resources to monitor the same. The Govt. has an idea of health ID but just like Aadhar has to many serious sinister implications. Somebody had shared with me a long time back that in India systems work inspite of Govt. machinery rather than because of it. Meaning that the Government itself ties itself into several knots and then people have to be creative to try and figure a way out to help people. I found another issue while dealing with them.

Apparently, even though I have 60% hearing loss I would be given a certificate of 40% hearing loss and they call it Temporary Progressive Loss. I saw almost all the people who had come, many of them having far severe defencies than me getting the same/similar certificate. All of them got Temporary Progressive. Some of the cases were real puzzling. For e.g. I met another Agarwal who had a severe accident few months ago and there is some kind of paralysis & bone issue. The doctors have given up but even that gentleman was given Temporary Progressive. From what little I could understand, the idea is that over period if there is possibility of things becoming better then it should be given. Another gentleman suffered a case of dwarfism. Even he was given the same certificate. Think there have been orders from above so that people even having difficulties are not helped. Another point if you look in a macro sense, it presents a somewhat rosy picture. If someone were to debunk the Govt. data either from India or abroad then from GOI perspective they have an ‘agenda’ even though the people who are suffering are our brothers and sisters 😦 And all of this is because I can read, write, articulate. Perhaps many of them may not even have a voice or a platform.

Even to get this temporary progressive disability certificate there is more than 4 months of running from one place to the other, 4 months of culmination of work. This I can share and tell from my experience, who knows how much else others might have suffered for the same. In my case a review will happen after 5 years, in most other cases they have given only 1 year. Of course, this does justify people’s jobs and perhaps partly it may be due to that. Such are times where I really miss that I am unable to hear otherwise could have fleshed out lot more other people’s sufferings.

And just so people know/understand this is happening in the heart of the city whose population easily exceeds 6 million plus and is supposed to be a progressive city. I do appreciate and understand the difficulties that the doctors are placed under.

Mum’s Birthday & Social Engineering.

While I don’t want to get into details, in the last couple of weeks mum’s birthday was there and that had totally escaped me. I have been trying to disassociate myself from her and at times it’s hard and then you don’t remember and somebody makes you remember. So, on one hand guilty, and the other do not know what to do. If she were alive I would have bought a piece of cake or something. Didn’t feel like it, hence donated some money to the local aged home. This way at least I hope they have some semblance of peace. All of them are of her similar age group.

The other thing that I began to observe in the earnest, fake identities have become the norm. Many people took elon musk’s potrait using their own names in the handles, but even then Elon “Free Speech” Musk banned them. So much for free speech. Then I saw quite a few handles that have cute women as their profile picture but they are good at social engineering. This has started only a couple of weeks back and have seen quite a few handles leaving Twitter and joining Mastodon. Also, have been hearing that many admins of Mastodon pods are unable to get on top of this. Also, lot of people complaining as it isn’t user-friendly UI as twitter is. Do they not realize that Twitter has its own IP and any competing network can’t copy or infringe on their product. Otherwise, they will be sued like how Ford was & potentially win. I am not really gonna talk much about it as the blog post has become quite long and that needs its own post to do any sort of justice to it. Till later people πŸ™‚

Mum and Books

The last day

The first lesson I would like everybody to know and have is to buy two machines, especially a machine to check low blood pressure. I had actually ordered one from Amazon but they never delivered. I hope to sue them in consumer court in due course of time. The other one is a blood sugar machine which I ordered and did get, but the former is more important than the latter, and the reason why will be known soon.

Mum had stopped eating solids and was entirely on liquids for the last month of her life. I did try enticing her however I could with aromatic food but failed. Add to that we had weird weather this entire year. June is supposed to be when the weather turns and we have gentle showers, but this whole June it felt like we were in an oven. She asked for liquids whenever and although I hated that she was not eating solids, at least she was having liquids (juices and whatnot) and that’s how I pacified myself. I had been repeatedly told by family and extended family to get a full-time nurse but she objected time and again for the same and I had to side with her.

Then July 1st came around and part of extended family also came, and they impressed both on me and her to get a nurse so finally, I was able to get her nurse. I was also being pulled in various directions (outside my stuff, mumma’s stuff) and doing whatever she needed in terms of supplies. On July 4th, think she had low blood pressure but without a machine, one cannot know. At least that’s what I know. If somebody knows anything better, please share, who knows it may save lives. I don’t have a blood pressure monitor even to date 😦

There used to be 5-6 doctors in our locality before the Pandemic, but because of the Pandemic and whatever other reasons, almost all doctors had given up attending house calls. And the house where I live is a 100-year-old house so it has narrow passageways and we have no lift. So taking her in and out is a challenge and an ordeal, and something that is not easily done. I had to do some more works so I asked the nurse to stay a bit over 8 p.m. I came and the nurse left for the day. That day I had been distracted for a number of reasons which I don’t remember what was but at that point in time, doing those works seemed important. I called out to her but she didn’t respond. I remember the night before she had been agitated while sleeping, I slept nearby and kept an eye on her. I had called her a few times to ask whether she needed something but she didn’t respond. (this is about the earlier night). That evening, it was raining quite a bit, I called her a few times but she didn’t speak. I kissed her on the cheek and realized she is cold. Mumma usually becomes very agitated if she feels cold and shouts at me. I realized she is cold and her body a bit stiff. I was supposed to eat but just couldn’t. I dunno what I suspected, I just hired a rickshaw and went around till 9 p.m. and it was a fruitless search for a doctor. I returned home, and again called her but there was no response.

Because she was not responding, I became fearful, had a shat, and then dialed the hospital. Asking for the ambulance, it took about an hr. but finally, the ambulance came in. It was now 11 o clock or 2300 hrs. when the ambulance arrived in. It took another half an hr. getting few kids who had come from some movie or something to get them to help mum get down through the passage to the ambulance. We finally reached the hospital at 2330. The people on casualty that day were known to me, and they also knew my hearing problem, so it was much easier to communicate. Half an hour later, they proclaimed her dead.

Fortunately or not, I had just bought the newer mobile phone just a few days back. And right now, In India, WhatsApp is one of the most used apps. So I was able to chat with everybody and tell them what was happening or rather what has happened. Of all, mamaji (mother’s brother) shared that most members of the family would not be able to come except a cousin sister who lives in Mumbai. I was instructed to get the body refrigerated for a few hrs. It is only then I came to know various ways in which the body is refrigerated and how cruel it would have been towards Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s family, but that is politics. I had to go to quite a few places and was back home around 3 a.m. I was supposed to sleep, but sleep was out of the question. I whiled away a few hrs. playing, seeing movies, something or the other to keep myself distracted as literally, I had no idea what to do. Morning came, took a bath, went outside, had some snacks, came home and somewhere then slept. One of my Mausi’s (mother’s sister) was insisting to get the body burnt in the morning itself but I wanted at least one relative to be there on the last journey. Cousin sister and her husband came to Pune around 4 p.m. I somehow woke, ringing, the vibration I do not know what. I took a short bath, rushed to the place where we had kept the body, got the body and from there where we had asked permission to get the body burned. More than anything else, I felt so sad that except for cousin sister, and me, nobody was with her on the last journey. Even that day, it was raining hard, so people avoided going out. Brother-in-law tried to give me some money, but I brushed it off. I just wanted their company, money is and was never the criteria. So, in the evening we had a meal, my cousin sister, brother-in-law, their two daughters and me. The next day we took the bones and ash to Alandi and did what was needed.

I have tried to resurrect the day so many times in my head trying to figure out what I could have done better and am inconclusive. Having a blood pressure monitor for sure would have prevented the tragedy or at least post-phoned for it for a few more days, weeks, years, dunno. I am not medically inclined.

The Books

I have to confess, the time they said she is no more, I was hoping that the doctors would say, we have a pill, would you like to take it, it would reunite you with mum. Maybe it wa crazy or whatever, but if such a situation had been, I would have easily gone for it. If I were to go, some people might miss me, but nobody would miss me terribly, and at least I would be with her. There was nothing to look forward to. What saved me from going mad was Michael Crichton’s Timeline. It is a fascinating and seductive book. I had actually read it years ago but had forgotten. So many days and nights I was able to sleep hoping that quantum teleportation can be achieved. Anybody in my space would be easily enticed. What joy would it be if I were to meet mum once again. I can tell my other dumb child what to do so she lives for few more years. I could talk to her, just be with her for some time. It is a powerful and seductive idea. I can see so many cults and whatnot that can be formed around it, there may already be, who knows.

Another good book that helped me to date has been Through The, Rings Of Fire (Hardcover, J. D. Benedict Thyagarajan). It is an autobiography of Venkat Chalasany (story of an orphan boy who became a successful builder in Pune and the setbacks he had.) While the author has very strong views and I sometimes feel very naive views about things, I was taken a ride of my own city as it was in 1970s and 1980s. I could very well imagine all the different places and people as if they were happening right now. While I have finished the main story, there is still a bit left to read and I read 5-10 minutes every day as it’s like a sweet morsel, it’s like somebody sharing a tale passed without me having to make an effort. And no lies, the author has been pretty upfront where he has exaggerated or told lies or simply made-up stuff.

I was thinking of adding something about movies and some more info or impressions about android but it seems that would have to wait, I do hope, it does work for somebody, even if a single life can be saved from what I shared above, my job is done.

Reviewing Agent 6

The city I come from, Pune has been experiencing somewhat of a heat-wave. So I have been cutting off lot of work and getting lot of back-dated reading done. One of the first books I read was Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6 . Fortunately , I read only the third book and not the first two which from the synopsis seem to be more gruesome than the one which I read, so guess there is something to be thankful for.

Agent 6 copyright - Tom Rob Smith & Publishers

While I was reading about the book, I had thought that MGB is a fictious organization thought of by the author. But a quick look in wikipedia told that it is what KGB was later based upon.

I found the book to be both an easy read as well as a layered book. I was lucky to get a big print version of the book so I was able to share the experience with my mother as well. The book is somewhat hefty as it tops out around 600 pages although it’s told to be 480 pages on amazon.

As I had shared previously I had read Russka and how had been disappointed to see how the Russian public were disappointed time and again for democracy. I do understand that the book (Russka) itself is/was written by a western author and could have tapped into some unconscious biases but seemed to be accurate as to whatever I could find from public resources, that story though I may return to in a future date but this time would be for Agent 6 .

I found the book pretty immersive and at the same time lead me thinking on so many threads the author touches but then moves on. I was left wondering and many times just had to sleep, think deep thoughts as there was quite to chew on.

I am not going to spoil any surprises except to say there are quite a few twists and the ending is also what I didn’t expect.

At the end, if you appreciate politics, history, bit of adventure and have a bit of patience, the book is bound to reward you. It is not meant to be a page-turner but if you are one who enjoys savoring your drink you are going to enjoy it thoroughly.

An outing

I am part of a writer’s meetup but haven’t been able to go to one of the meetups in the recent months/days due to schedule on my end. So this is my attempt for ‘short story’ entry with two probable endings.

The story is dedicated to the CRPF Jawans who just died in the Sukma Encounter .

What's your story

The Outing

It was just like any other day. I, along with the Principal, a teacher, a driver and a cleaner/attendant was taking approximately 55 students of Nandurbar Tribal Girls High School, Nandurbar to Bharwani Girls High School to inter-mingle with the students there. The idea was to exchange life-stories, play with each other and generally have a good time.

As the last few days I had been furiously working cajoling and getting permission slips from fathers and mothers for the trip, I was dead tired as hadn’t had enough sleep the last few days. Also as it is summer and no electricity meant you somehow just survived it.

The distance between the two places is approximately 200 kms. .On a good motorable road the distance could be covered in two, two and half hours. For those new to such places, both places are inaccessible and it’s not just like they are, they are 7,000 + villages which lack proper roads since independence. Anyways, while officially the route should take around 4 ~ 5 hours, it’s more like 6 odd hours. These places do not have good communication facilities and the only way to figure out things is to have and share landmarks with each other. I had shared the landmarks, told him from where we needed to divert from the main road in order to be at Bharwani. I had also instructed him to wake me up when we reach the diversion and slumbered on to dreamland.

Come 14:00 hrs. and I’m awakened by a rude jolt and find myself in an unfamiliar forest road. The girls, the principal, the driver and his attendant just had lunch and hence were full of merry. The driver and attendant were singing some of the local songs, many of which had double-entendres or double-meaning lines. The girls were pink but as many of them also knew the local songs, some of them had also joined. Not wanting to sound alarmist although the back of my neck was telling me we were in the wrong place, I had my lunch and gently enquired with the driver as to why he hadn’t woken me up at the diversion and from where he diverted. Asking him gently and persistently came to know that he had turned at some wrong place. As this was the hinterland with possibility of wild animals, naxalities and all kinds of anti-social elements, I knew we could easily land ourselves in full-blown crisis mode. I asked the driver to park in a shaded place and asked all the men to come down and shared that we have somehow landed in some wrong place. I asked the driver and attendant as to our reserves of petrol and was told that at least there we were good, we had enough to drive for 4-5 hours but no more. As there are no petrol pumps in such places, you had to have reserve fuel when taking a journey such as this. The driver or the attendant, one of the two told me that they had read a sign just sometime ago of a ‘dak bungalow’ or a government rest house sometime ago but they hadn’t seen one till yet. I asked all the people present as to what they think we should do, some wanted to go back, some wanted to go further to the dak bungalow and some wanted to stay there itself, all the three options were not to my liking. In such places, the sun goes down very quickly and I knew that the sun will go down at around 17:00 hrs. hence we needed to be at a place where we could rest as well as defend if need be and a bus seemed to be a very vulnerable place.

I knew we would quickly reach stalemate and this was something that I could not be part of. Hence, in the interest of taking a decision, I quietly shared that we should also involve the girls in the decision and let them have an equal say. While the others protested, I quickly explained the predicament and they realized that it’s the girls who are the most vulnerable. I asked the girls to dismount the bus, freshen themselves up and come to a nearby large shaded tree in a round group . Fifteen-twenty minutes later, they all came and sat themselves in a group. Meanwhile, they had grown curious as they had seen our interchange and were curious as to what was it all about. I quickly and quietly told them about our situation and shared the situation about our petrol, spare tires (we had only one), food and water (water we had some but we hadn’t planned for food) and shared the three options with downsides to each action –

1. Going back – We were two hours or more from the main road, getting back meant we would miss the daylight and it’s possible to miss the main road and end somewhere worse of. Also two hours of driving back meant that much lesser petrol. Hitting the highway/main road the chance could be slim and it was also no guarantee that we would be safer than where we were.

2. Going forward to the ‘Dak bungalow’ – Going forward meant that we would be going further into this unknown forest and the ‘Dak Bungalow’ sign was only seen by the driver or the attendant and we had no clue whether it was there or not or even if it was there, whether there would be correct people around (meaning government officials or/and the government caretaker/s).

3. Doing nothing – This also had the downside that we don’t know where we are, we might be in the middle of some wild animals route or worse humans

So laying down the three options, I asked the girls what they thought we should do. If they had any ideas, this was the time to share them. There were few suggestions but all of them half-formed and didn’t lead to any satisfactory solution. I saw 2-3 of the most shy girls talking animatedly with each other. I went to them and gently enquired what was the matter? It came to be known that 2 of the girls had also seen the sign-board for the ‘dak bungalow’ and quickly it was decided to move ahead towards the ‘dak bungalow’.

Now as we knew that we had only a single spare tire, it was also decided that each of the men take turns , get down and sort of walk a bit ahead of the bus. We couldn’t afford a break-down and also enforced a strict code for water usage. I also asked the girls to chat and blow off steam as having more pressure, nervousness would simply add to the situation rather than remedying it. The driver and attendant cottoned to the idea and again started some of the those songs targeting some of the girls which evoked some embarrassed laughter from the targeted girls as well as the other girls as well. We proceeded with the plan to try to reach this elusive ‘dak bungalow’ and our speed which was slow had become slower still. The idea was simple, the man who would walk would walk for around 100 metres, if everything was ok, he would whistle or shout and the bus would come in. The next 100 metres were done by the next person and in such way we were making sure that neither of the people were too tired or nervous and we were able to inch forward a bit as well. If there were any hurdles or any other issue he would shout in a particular manner, it was the job of the person who went ahead to warn us against any such eventuality. We just had couple of iron bars (which are/were used in case of a breakdown) and couple of hammers (all of which were part of bus repair kit) to defend ourselves and that is what we did.

Slowly, we inched forward and were able to make the ‘dak bungalow’ in a distance just as soon as the sun was setting. We were again at a cross-roads here, we didn’t know if the ‘dak bungalow’ had decent people and if we could trust them. The bus was still about 100-150 metres out and the wind flowing at cross so the only hope was that they hadn’t heard the bus and one of us should go and enquire if we could get food, drink, place to sleep or just use of the grounds and directions to get back tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, all of us (the men i.e.) had started getting splitting headaches as we were all under pressure and realized that we were in hands of fate. The job of being the interlocutor was quickly given to me. I asked the driver and the girls to get down and push the bus manually further away to a largish mango grove which we had passed sometime earlier. I got down, changed myself from shirt and pants, freshened myself a bit and changed to the only spare clothes I had, a dhoti, kurta and gamcha or gamucha as it’s known in various places. I also asked them to be patient as I had no idea of who would be there and it is possible that I may be away for quite sometime.

gamcha being used as a headscarf

After the transformation, I put up some dirt in my hair and on the dhoti and specks of dirt on the kurta. I was already tired with all the pressure so I didn’t need to act that part, my eyes had already become red with all sorts of foreboding. Asking them to be vigilant and silent and ensuring that all the men patrolled silently around the girls, I slowly made my way to the ‘dak bungalow’ . I slowly ventured towards the ‘dak bungalow’, went to the gate and shouted to ask if somebody was there. Not hearing an answer, I slowly unlocked the gate and went inside still, ask in a slightly louder voice if a chowkidar or somebody else was there. After a while, a voice came out asking who is there, I said I was a poor villager who had somehow forgotten the route and had no idea as to where I was. I wanted to have some water and some place where I could lie for few hours and tomorrow morning I would try to figure out where I had to go.

A little while later, a door opened and I saw a person, somewhat around my age coming with a tumbler filled with water and a bit of onion and bread. Thanking the gentleman earnestly, I proceeded to have a small bath with the tumbler of water, eating the onion and bread, thanking profusely for both the water as well as the onion and the bread. Through the conversation, I enquired whether they were any ‘sahabs’ or government people who were around. The chowkidar/caretaker replied there were indeed two-three people from the government who were staying but were presently had gone to a ‘daura’/ tour and would either come tonight or come tomorrow morning. He indicated towards his quarters which I could share with him or showed the car-shed either of which I could use to lay down.

The car-shed was built a little to the side of the main building and the chowkidar/caretaker’s quarters were not easily seen by it which worked for him as well as for me both ways. I Asked for a bit more bread, few onions and a bit of water in case I felt hungry at night, he asked me to wait and came with a bit of local bread, few onions, a plastic water bottle to spend the night with. I again thanked him profusely, told him my name and asked him to call him when the ‘bara sahab’ or government officer comes in. I would like to offer my thanks to the ‘bara sahab’ as well as offer my services for the night in lieu of being allowed to sleep in the verandah which would be more comfortable.

After an hour or so, as the night came in, I slipped from the car-shed, went back to the mango grove, shared the bread and the onions, the bread and the water bottle I had with me. I asked them to have only one onion in among 60 odd people at a time and try to savor the onions and the bread with them throughout the night as that might be the only food we may get at this point of time.

I also proceeded to tell them that the ‘dak bungalow’ is occupied and the ‘bara sahab’ (big man) might come tonight. Depending on whether he/they are likable or not, would try to share the troubles we are in or just somehow spend the night and try to go back tomorrow morning to the main road asking the caretaker for instructions.

I will leave the story here as there are two conclusions here. Because it is dedicated to a sad chain of events which happened recently, I am loath to put either of the endings here.

I ask people to share their views and hopefully we will have an ending soon, look forward to your comments, views.

The Anti-Pollito squad – arrest and confession

Disclaimer – This is an attempt at humor and hence entirely fictional in nature. While some incidents depicted are true, the context and the story woven around them are by yours truly. None of the Mascots of Debian were hurt during the blog post ;). I also disavow any responsibility for any hurt (real or imagined) to any past, current and future mascots. The attempt should not be looked upon as demeaning people who are accused of false crimes, tortured and confessions eked out of them as this happens quite a lot (In India for sure, but guess it’s the same world over in various degrees). The idea is loosely inspired by Chocolate:Deep Dark Secrets. (2005)

On a more positive note, let’s start –

Being a Sunday morning woke up late to find incessant knocking on the door, incidentally mum was not at home. Opening the door, found two official looking gentleman. They asked my name, asked my credentials, tortured and arrested me for “Group conspiracy of Malicious Mischief in second and third degrees” .

The torture was done by means of making me forcefully watch endless reruns of ‘Norbit‘ . While I do love Eddie Murphy, this was one of his movies he could have done without :(. I guess for many people watching it once was torture enough. I *think* they were nominated for razzie awards dunno if they won it or not, but this is beside the point.

Unlike the 20 years it takes for a typical case to reach to its conclusion even in the smallest court in India, due to the torture, I was made to confess (due to endless torture) and was given summary judgement. The judgement was/is as follows –

a. Do 100 hours of Community service in Debian in 2017. This could be done via blog posts, raising tickets in the Debian BTS or in whichever way I could be helpful to Debian.

b. Write a confessional with some photographic evidence sharing/detailing some of the other members who were part of the conspiracy in view of the reduced sentence.

So now, have been forced to write this confession –

As you all know, I won a bursary this year for debconf16. What is not known by most people is that I also got an innocuous looking e-mail titled ‘ Pollito for DPL ‘. While I can’t name all the names as investigation is still ongoing about how far-reaching the conspiracy is . The email was purportedly written by members of ‘cabal within cabal’ which are in Debian. I looked at the email header to see if this was genuine and I could trace the origin but was left none the wiser, as obviously these people are far more technically advanced than to fall in simple tricks like this –

Anyways, secretly happy that I have been invited to be part of these elites, I did the visa thing, packed my bags and came to Debconf16.

At this point in juncture, I had no idea whether it was real or I had imagined the whole thing. Then to my surprise saw this –

evidence of conspiracy to have Pollito as DPL, Wifi Password

Just like the Illuminati the conspiracy was for all to see those who knew about it. Most people were thinking of it as a joke, but those like me who had got e-mails knew better. I knew that the thing is real, now I only needed to bide my time and knew that the opportunity would present itself.

And few days later, sure enough, there was a trip planned for ‘Table Mountain, Cape Town’ . Few people planned to hike to the mountain, while few chose to take the cable car till up the mountain.

First glance of the cable car with table mountain as background

Quite a few people came along with us and bought tickets for the to and fro to the mountain and back.

Ticket for CPT Table mountain car cable

Incidentally, I was thinking if the South African Govt. were getting the tax or not. If you look at the ticket, there is just a bar-code. In India as well as the U.S. there is TIN – Tax Identification Number –

TIN displayed on an invoice from channeltimes.com

Few links to share what it is all about . While these should be on all invoices, need to specially check when taking high-value items. In India as shared in the article the awareness, knowledge leaves a bit to be desired. While I’m drifting from the incident, it would be nice if somebody from SA could share how things work there.

Moving on, we boarded the cable car. It was quite spacious cable car with I guess around 30-40 people or some more who were able to see everything along with the controller.

from inside the table mountain cable car 360 degrees

It was a pleasant cacophony of almost two dozen or more nationalities on this 360 degrees moving chamber. I was a little worried though as it essentially is a bucket and there is always a possibility that a severe wind could damage it. Later somebody did share that some frightful incidents had occurred not too long ago on the cable car.

It took about 20-25 odd minutes to get to the top of table mountain and we were presented with views such as below –

View from Table Mountain cable car looking down

The picture I am sharing is actually when we were going down as all the pictures of going up via the cable car were over-exposed. Also, it was pretty crowded on the way up then on the way down so handling the mobile camera was not so comfortable.

Once we reached up, the wind was blowing at incredible speeds. Even with my jacket and everything I was feeling cold. Most of the group around 10-12 people looked around if we could find a place to have some refreshments and get some of the energy in the body. So we all ventured to a place and placed our orders –

the bleh... Irish coffee at top of Table Mountain

I was introduced to Irish Coffee few years back and have had some incredible Irish Coffees in Pune and elsewhere. I do hope to be able to make Irish Coffee at home if and when I have my own house. This is hotter than brandy and is perfect if you are suffering from cold etc if done right, really needs some skills. This is the only drink which I wanted in SA which I never got right 😦 . As South Africa was freezing for me, this would have been the perfect antidote but the one there as well as elsewhere were all …bleh.

What was interesting though, was the coffee caller besides it. It looked like a simple circuit mounted on a PCB board with lights, vibrations and RFID and it worked exactly like that. I am guessing as and when the order is ready, there is an interrupt signal sent via radio waves which causes the buzzer to light and vibrate. Here’s the back panel if somebody wants to take inspiration and try it as a fun project –

backpanel of the buzz caller

Once we were somewhat strengthened by the snacks, chai, coffee etc. we made our move to seeing the mountain. The only way to describe it is that it’s similar to Raigad Fort but the plateau seemed to be bigger. The wikipedia page of Table Mountain attempts to share but I guess it’s more clearly envisioned by one of the pictures shared therein.

table mountain panaromic image

I have to say while Table Mountain is beautiful and haunting as it has scenes like these –

Some of the oldest rocks known to wo/man.

There is something there which pulls you, which reminds you of a long lost past. I could have simply sat there for hours together but as was part of the group had to keep with them. Not that I minded.

The moment I was watching this, I was transported to some memories of the Himalayas about 20 odd years or so. In that previous life, I had the opportunity to be with some of the most beautiful women and also been in the most happening places, the Himalayas. I had shared years before some of my experiences I had in the Himalayas. I discontinued it as I didn’t have a decent camera at that point in time. While I don’t wanna digress, I would challenge anybody to experience the Himalayas and then compare. It is just something inexplicable. The beauty and the rawness that Himalayas shows makes you feel insignificant and yet part of the whole cosmos. What Paulo Cohello expressed in The Valkyries is something that could be felt in the Himalayas. Leh, Ladakh, Himachal , Garwhal, Kumaon. The list will go on forever as there are so many places, each more beautiful than the other. Most places are also extremely backpacker-friendly so if you ask around you can get some awesome deals if you want to spend more than a few days in one place.

Moving on, while making small talk @olasd or Nicolas Dandrimont , the headmaster of our trip made small talk to each of us and eked out from all of us that we wanted to have Pollito as our DPL (Debian Project Leader) for 2017. Few pictures being shared below as supporting evidence as well –

The Pollito as DPL cabal in action

members of the Pollito as DPL

where am I or more precisely how far am I from India.

While I do not know who further up than Nicolas was on the coup which would take place. The idea was this –

If the current DPL steps down, we would take all and any necessary actions to make Pollito our DPL.

Pollito going to SA - photo taken by Jonathan Carter This has been taken from Pollito’s adventure

Being a responsible journalist, I also enquired about Pollito’s true history as it would not have been complete without one. This is the e-mail I got from Gunnar Wolf, a friend and DD from Mexico πŸ™‚

Turns out, Valessio has just spent a week staying at my house πŸ™‚ And
in any case, if somebody in Debian knows about Pollito’s
childhood… That is me.

Pollito came to our lives when we went to Congreso Internacional de
Software Libre (CISOL) in Zacatecas city. I was strolling around the
very beautiful city with my wife Regina and our friend Alejandro
Miranda, and at a shop at either RamΓ³n LΓ³pez Velarde or Vicente
Guerrero, we found a flock of pollitos.

http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=17/22.77111/-102.57145

Even if this was comparable to a slave market, we bought one from
them, and adopted it as our own.

Back then, we were a young couple… Well, we were not that young
anymore. I mean, we didn’t have children. Anyway, we took Pollito with
us on several road trips, such as the only time I have crossed an
international border driving: We went to Encuentro Centroamericano de
Software Libre at Guatemala city in 2012 (again with Alejandro), and
you can see several Pollito pics at:

http://gwolf.org/album/road-trip-ecsl-2012-guatemala-0

Pollito likes travelling. Of course, when we were to Nicaragua for
DebConf, Pollito tagged along. It was his first flight as a passenger
(we never asked about his previous life in slavery; remember, Pollito
trust no one).

Pollito felt much welcome with the DebConf crowd. Of course, as
Pollito is a free spirit, we never even thought about forcing him to
come back with us. Pollito went to Switzerland, and we agreed to meet
again every year or two. It’s always nice to have a chat with him.

Hugs!

So with that backdrop I would urge fellow Debianities to take up the slogans –

LONG LIVE THE DPL !

LONG LIVE POLLITO !

LONG LIVE POLLITO THE DPL !

The first step to make Pollito the DPL is to ensure he has a @debian.org (pollito@debian.org)

We also need him to be made a DD because only then can he become a DPL.

In solidarity and in peace πŸ™‚

Doha and the Supreme Court of DFSG Free

Hi,

I am in two minds of what to write about Doha. My job has been vastly simplified by a friend when he shared with me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdrAd-44LW0 . That video is more relevant and more closer to the truth than whatever I can share. As can be seen it is funny but more sad the way Qatarians are trying to figure out how things will be and as can be seen it seems to heading towards a ‘real estate bubble’ . They would have to let go of the Sharia if they are thinking of wealthy westerners coming to stay put. I am just sad to know that many of my country-men are stuck there and although I hope the best for them, I dread it may turn out the way it has turned out for many people of Indians, and especially from Kerala in Saudi Arabia. I would touch about the Kerala situation probably in another blog post as this time is exclusively for legal aspects which were discussed in Debconf.

A bit of backgrounder here, one part of my family is lawyers which means I have somewhat notion of law as practiced in our land. As probably everybody knows, India was ruled by the British for around 150 odd years. One of the things that they gave while leaving was/is the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and is practiced with the common law concept. The concept means precedence of any judgement goes quite some way in framing rulings and law of the land as time goes on besides the lobbying and the politics which happens in any democracy.

Free software would not have been there without the GPL – The General Public License. And the license is as much a legal document as it’s something that the developers can work without becoming deranged, as it is one of the more simpler licenses to work with.

My own understanding of the legal, ethical and moral issues around me were framed by two-three different TV shows, books (fiction and non-fiction alike) apart from what little news I heard in family. One was ‘M*A*S*H* (with Alan Alda and his frailness, anarchism, humanism, civil rights), the ‘Practise’ and ‘Boston Legal’ which does lay bare the many grey areas that lawyers have to deal with (‘The Practice’ also influenced a lot of civil rights understanding and First amendment, but as it is a TV show, how much of it is actually practiced for lawyers and how much moral dilemma they are can only be guessed at.) . In books it is artists like John Grisham, Michael Connelly as well as Perry Mason – Agatha Christie. In non-fiction look at the treasures under bombayhighcourt e-books corner and series of Hamlyn Lectures. I would have to warn that all of the above are major time-sinks but rewarding in their own way. Also haven’t read all of them as time and interests are constrained but do know they are good for understanding bit of our history. I do crave for a meetup kind of scenario when non-lawyers can read and discuss about facets of law .

All that understanding was vastly amplified by Groklaw.net which made non-lawyers at the very least be able to decipher and understand what is going on in the free software world. After PJ (Pamela Jones) closed it in 2013 due to total surveillance by the Free World (i.e. the United States of America, NSA) we have been thirsty. We do get occasionally somewhat mildly interesting articles in lwn.net or arstechnica.net but nowhere the sheer brilliance of groklaw.

So, it was a sheer stroke of luck that I met Mr. Bradley M. Kuhn who works with Karen Sandler on Software Conservancy. While I wanted to be there for his presentation, it was just one of those days which doesn’t go as planned. However, as we met socially and over e-mail there were two basic questions which I asked him which also imbibes why we need to fight for software freedom in the court of law. Below is a re-wording of what he shared .

Q1. why do people think that GPL still needs to be challenged in the court of law while there are gpl-violations which has been more or less successfully defended in the court of law ?

Bradley Kuhn – the GPL violations is basically a violation of one or more clauses of the GPL license and not the GPL license as a whole and my effort during my lifetime would be to make/have such precedents that the GPL is held as a valid license in the court of law.

Q2. Let’s say IF GPL is held to be valid in the court of law, would FSF benefit monetarily, at least to my mind it might be so, as more people and comapnies could be convinced to use strong copyleft licenses such as GPLv3 or AGPLv3 .

Bradley Kuhn – It may or may not. It is possible that even after winning, that people and especially companies may go for weak copyleft licenses if it suits them. The only benefit would probably would be to those people who are already using GPLv3 as the law could be used to protect them as well. Although we would want and welcome companies who would use strong copyleft license such as the GPL, the future is ‘in future’ and hence uncertain. Both possibilities co-exist.

While Bradley didn’t say it, I would add further here it probably would mean also moving from being a more offensive mode (which GPL-violations is based upon where a violation occurs and somebody either from the victim’s side or a by-stander notices the violation, brings it to the notice of the victim and the GPL-volations team.) to perhaps it being defended by the DMCA people themselves, once GPL is held as a valid license in the eyes of law. Although should you use the DMCA or not is a matter of choice, personal belief system as well as your legal recourses.

I have to share that the FSF and the GPL-violations team are probably very discerning when they take up the fight as most of the work done by them is pro-bono (i.e. they don’t make a single penny/paisa from the work done therein.) and hence in view of scarce resources, it makes sense to go only for the biggest violators in the hopes that you can either make them agree to compensate and agree to the terms of license of any software/hardware combination or sue them and take a bigger share of the reward/compensation awarded by the Court to help the defendant and maybe some of the proceeds donated by the defendant and people like you and me to make sure that Conservancy and the GPL-violations team is still around to help the next time something similar happens.

Bradley Kuhn presenting at #Debconf 16
Bradley Kuhn presenting at #Debconf 16

Now, as far as his presentation is concerned, whose video can be seen at http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2016/debconf16/The_Supreme_Court_of_DFSGFree.webm , I thought it was tame. While he talked about ‘gaming the system’ in some sense, he was sharing that the system debian-legal works (most-of-the-time). The list actually works because many far more brilliant people than me take time to understand the intricacies of various licenses and how they should be interpreted through the excellently written Debian Free Software Guidelines and whether the license under discussion contravenes the DFSG or is part of it. I do agree with his point though that the ftp-master/s and the team may not be the right person to judge the license in adherence to the DFSG, or her/is not giving a reason for rejecting a package to not entering into the package archive.

I actually asked the same question on debian-legal and while I had guessed, it seems there is enough review of the licenses per-se as answer from Paul Wise shows. Charles Pessley also shared an idea he has documented which probably didn’t get much traction as involves more ‘work’ on DD’s without any benefit to show for it. All in all I hope it sheds some light on why there is need to be more aware of law in software freedom. Two Organizations which work on software freedom from legal standpoint are SFLC  (Delhi) headed by the charming Mr. Eben Moglen  and ALF (Bangalore). I do hope more people, especially developers take a bit more interest in some of the resources mentioned above.