Journeys

This would be a long blog post as I would be sharing a lot of journeys, so have your favorite beverage in your hand and prepare for an evening of musing.

Before starting the blog post, I have been surprised as the last week and the week before, lot of people have been liking my Debconf 2016 blog post on diaspora which is almost two years old. Almost all the names mean nothing to me but was left unsure as to reason of the spike. Were they debconf newcomers who saw my blog post and their experience was similar to mine or something, don’t know.

About a month and half back, I started reading Gandhiji’s ‘My Experiments with Truth‘ . To be truthful, a good friend had gifted this book back in 2015 but I had been afraid to touch it. I have had read a few autobiographies and my experience had been less than stellar when reading the autobiographies. Some exceptions are there, but those are and will remain exceptions. Now, just as everybody else even I had held high regard for Gandhiji and was afraid that reading the autobiography it would lower him in my eyes. As it is he is lovingly regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation‘ and given the honorific title of ‘Mahatma’ (Great Soul) so there was quite a bit of resistance within me to read the book as its generally felt to be impossible to be like him or even emulate him in any way.

So, with some hesitancy, I started reading his autobiography about a month and half back. It is a shortish book, topping out at 470 odd pages and I have read around 350 pages or so. While I am/was reading it I could identify with lot of what was written and in so many ways it also represents a lot of faults which are still prevalent in Indian society today as well.

The book is heavy with layered meanings. I do feel in parts there have been brushes of RSS . I dunno maybe that’s the paranoia in me, but would probably benefit from an oldish version (perhaps the 1993 version) if I can find it somewhere which probably may be somewhat more accurate. I don’t dare to review it unless I have read and re-read it at least 3-4 times or more. I can however share what I have experienced so far. He shares quite a bit of religion and shares his experience and understanding of reading the various commentaries both on Gita and the various different religious books like the ‘Koran’, ‘The Bible’ and so on and so forth. When I was reading it, I felt almost like an unlettered person. I know that at sometime in the near future I would have to start read and listen to various commentaries of Hinduism as well as other religions to have at least some base understanding.

The book makes him feel more human as he had the same struggles that we all do, with temptations of flesh, food, medicine, public speaking. The only difference between him and me that he was able to articulate probably in a far better way than people even today.

Many passages in the book are still highly or even more prevalent in today’s ‘life’ . It really is a pity it isn’t an essential book to be read by teenagers and young adults. At the very least they would start with their own inquiries at a young age.

The other part which was interesting to me is his description of life in Indian Railways. He traveled a lot by Indian Railways, in both third and first class. I have had the pleasure of traveling in first, second and general (third class), military cabin, guard cabin, luggage cabin as well as the cabin for people with disabilities and once by mistake even in a ladies cabin. The only one I haven’t tried is the loco pilot’s cabin and it’s more out of fear than anything else. While I know the layout of the cabin more or less and am somewhat familiar the job they have to do, I still fear as I know the enormous responsibilities the loco pilots have, each train carrying anywhere between 2300 to 2800 passengers or more depending on the locomotive/s, rake, terrain, platform length and number of passengers.

The experiences which Gandhiji shared about his travels then and my own limited traveling experience seem to indicate that change has hardly been in Indian Railways as far as the traveling experience goes.

A few days back my mum narrated one of her journeys on the Indian Railways when she was a kid, about five decades or so back. Her experience was similar to what even one can experience even today and probably decades from now till things don’t improve which I don’t think will happen at least in the short-term, medium to long-term who knows.

Anyways, my grandfather (my mother’s father, now no more 😦 ) had a bunch of kids. In those days, having 5-6 kids was considered normal. My mother, her elder sister (who is not with us anymore, god rest her soul.) and my grandpa took a train from Delhi/Meerut to Pune. As that time there was no direct train to Pune, the idea was to travel from Delhi to Bombay (today’s Mumbai). Take a break in Bombay (Mumbai) and then take a train to Pune. The journey was supposed to take only couple of days or a bit more. My grandma had made Puris and masala bhaji (basically boiled Potatoes mixed with Onions fried a bit) .

Puri bhaji image taken from https://www.spiceupthecurry.com/hi/poori-bhaji-recipe-hindi/

You can try making it with a recipe shared by Sanjeev Kapoor, a celebrity chef from India. This is not the only way to make it, Indian cooking is all about improvisation and experimentation but that’s a story for another day.

This is/was a staple diet for most North Indians traveling in trains and you can even find the same today as well. She had made it enough for 2 days with some to spare as she didn’t want my mum or her sister taking any outside food (food hygiene, health concerns etc.) My mum and sister didn’t have much to do and they loved my grandma’s cooking what was made for 2 days didn’t even last a day. What my mother, her sister and grandpa didn’t know it was one of those ill-fated journeys. Because of some accident which happened down the line, the train was stopped in Bhopal for indefinite time. This was the dead in night and there was nothing to eat there. Unfortunately for them, the accident or whatever happened down the line meant that all food made for travelers was either purchased by travelers before my mother’s train or was being diverted to help those injured . The end-result being that till they reached Mumbai which took another one and a half day which means around 4 days instead of two days were spent traveling. My grandpa also tried to get something for the children to eat but still was unable to find any food for them.

Unfortunately when they reached Bombay (today’s Mumbai) it was also dead at night so grandpa knew that he wouldn’t be able to get anything to eat as all shops were shut at night, those were very different times.

Fortunately for them, one of my grandfather’s cousins had got a trunk-call a nomenclature from a time in history when calling long-distance was pretty expensive for some other thing at his office from Delhi by one of our relatives on some unrelated matter. Land-lines were incredibly rare and it was just a sheer coincidence that he came to know that my grandpa would be coming to Bombay (Mumbai) and if possible receive him. My grandpa’s cousin made inquiries and came to know the accident and knew that the train would arrive late although he had no foreknowledge how late it would be. Even then he got meals for the extended family on both days as he knew that they probably would not be getting meals.

On the second night, my grandpa was surprised and relived to see his cousin and both my mum and her sister who had gone without food finished whatever food was bought within 10 minutes.

The toilets on Indian Railways in Gandhiji’s traveling days (the book was written in 1918 while he resided in Pune’s Yerwada Jail [yup, my city] ) and the accounts he shared were of 1908 and even before that, the days my mother traveled and even today are same, they stink irrespective of whichever class you travel. After reading the book, read and came to know that Yerwada had lot of political prisoners

The only changes which have happened is in terms of ICT but that too only when you know specific tools and sites. There is the IRCTC train enquiry site and the map train tracker . For food you have sites like RailRestro but all of these amenities are for the well-heeled or those who can pay for the amenities and know how to use the services. I say this for the reason below.

India is going to have elections come next year, to win in those elections round the corner the Government started the largest online recruitment drive for exams of loco pilot, junior loco pilot and other sundry posts. For around 90k jobs, something like 0.28 billion applied. Out of which around 0.17 billion were selected to apply for ‘online’ exam with 80-85% percent of the selected student given centers in excess of 1000 kms. At the last moment some special trains were made for people who wanted to go for the exams.

Sadly, due to the nature of conservatism in India, majority of the women who were selected choose to not travel that far as travel was time-consuming, expensive (about INR 5k or a bit more) excluding any lodging, just for traveling and a bit for eating. Most train journeys are and would be in excess of 24 hours or more as the tracks are more or less the same (some small improvement has been for e.g. from wooden tracks, it’s now concrete tracks) while the traffic has quadrupled from before and they can’t just build new lines without encroaching on people’s land or wildlife sanctuaries (both are happening but that’s a different story altogether.)

The exams are being held in batches and will continue for another 2-3 days. Most of the boys/gentleman are from rural areas for whom getting INR 5k/- is a huge sum. There are already reports of collusion, cheating etc. After the exams are over, the students fear that some people might go to court of law saying cheating happened, the court might make the whole exam null and void, cheating students of the hard-earned money and the suffering the long journeys they had to take. The date of the exams were shared just a few days and clashed with some other government exams so many will miss those exams, while some wouldn’t have time to prepare for the other exams.

It’s difficult to imagine the helplessness and stress the students might be feeling.

I just hope that somehow people’s hopes are fulfilled.

Ending the blog post on a hopeful and yet romantic ballad

12/08/18 – Update – CAG: Failure to invest in infra behind delay in train services

broadband issues and Reliance Jio

Sorry for being away for so long. In some ways the next year may well be a watershed moment for Indian broadband but with lot of downsides as well as upsides. This would be a bit of biggie so have your favorite drink and have your legs up.

The last month has been sort of mini-hellish as far as broadband for me is concerned. I haven’t been getting good speeds for broadband and when I get it is intermittent. I have been using a Reliance Jio dongle but that too has been an iffy affair.

speeds of Jio and BSNL

To their credit though, both the ISP’s speeds are constant. We have come a long way from the 56 kbps on-off which was a ‘feature’ when Internet was introduced in India. At times I do get 1 Mb speeds on Reliance Jio but that is late night, never in the morning, afternoon when I’m working.

One of the interesting ‘feature’ which I observed when I started using the Reliance Jio dongle was that the jio page would load/render 10x-20x times than any other site. While Firefox inspector could probably give me and I could share the speed numbers it probably wouldn’t be possible to know if there was either some sort of hidden cache or a ‘fast lane’ to the site in question.

Due to speed issues though, my work-time inevitably gets lengthened leaving no time for blogging.

One interesting thing though, I had been trying to use youtube-dl to download streaming videos from youtube while the world cup was on and it was a total failure. About couple of years back, I had reported an issue with the HLS streams which still seems to be an issue with any big video on youtube even today, especially in case if the connection breaks and you try to continue and at the end youtube-dl patches all the different segments together.

The same/similar issues seems to lie with the DASH streaming as well. I tried using youtube-dl both with the World Cup games as well as Reliance Industries AGM meeting live presentation but with pathetic outputs and this is at friends places where they have fantastic web speeds 😦 . I later was able to download the video when the live-streaming embargo was lifted (about 4 hours later 😦 ) . The same was also true of world cup games when they were recorded for posterity. I did another small experiment, I used the browser to see the games and at those times the speeds were much better than not. Whether it were the browser cookies which were responsible or something else at work is not known.

I have to share I tried not just youtube but thanks to youtube-dl a variety of live-streaming websites but unfortunately the experience was more or less the same. I don’t remember if the CDN’s were the same but did see Akamai serving a lot of content, although don’t know how much Akamai CDN is used in India. I do know it’s been picking up in the last few years or so.

I am sharing the Reliance AGM presentation as a weblink as well as planet.debian.org usually discards youtube videos.

I would urge almost all of the people if possible to download and see the video if they can.

Many people like me would be pretty interested in the service if the pricing is right (which I guess would be enticing as it’s a winner takes all attitude.) and they have proceeds from their hydrocarbons revenue generation. While most of the infrastructure is already in place, which the younger brother has already got lot of dark fiber already sitting all around India for almost 5 years now, it just needs to be lit/powered up. As far as content generation part of the speech is concerned, this needs to be viewed in terms of what Netflix has been doing in the marketplace. The economist shared a series of articles on netflixonomics and the Special Report on Internet talked about in economist last month.

Reliance Industries through its arm Reliance Jio has deep pockets and can afford to be a loss-leader in broadband as well as partnering, developing web-series and be part of the deep surveillance state that is already there while at the same time give a compelling offer to millions of people who have been suffering bandwidth woes till date. None of the other broadband providers has either the amount of money or the kind of management bandwidth these guys have. They already are owners of a handful of channels so getting into web-series production shouldn’t be as hard as for somebody who would be getting it now. From an individual view-point the only way I can save myself from getting in this deep surveillance state is whenever they launch the services is to have a generic ONT just like generic xDSL modems. That way I could change providers without changing equipment and just change the frequencies similar to what was done in the xDSL world if it’s possible, would have to wait, watch and see if some company offers generic ONT equipment for end-user sale.

At the end, I dunno whether I should cry or be happy at the state of the affairs. Most of the telecom companies are losing revenue and quite a bit of consolidation has been happening in the Indian telecom sector last couple of years. The latest happening has been the integration of IDEA with Vodafone and as we know the less competition there is, lesser the benefits for the consumer 😦 . I have also been keeping an eye out on TRAI the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and it seems the institution has been weakened and has been ceding its authority to corporate pressures. Part of it has been the total dis-interest shown by people at large also at the working, surveys and discussions that TRAI often asks the general public. The way things are, it’s not far-fetched that the same mechanisms become common-place in TRAI as they are in FCC, US.

As have probably shared before on the blog there have been at least two if not three different plans for having a national fiber back-haul as well as common carrier status which ISP’s could use to provide competitive services but hasn’t worked till date. It was formerly known as NOFN (National Optical Fiber Network) which has since been subsumed under a new Avatar called BBNL and there was another name which I don’t remember at the moment which it was known in 2k7-2k8. The only thing I have been seeing is the project costs increased while the outcome targets while optical fiber prices have crashed globally.

At the end, the story is just beginning for India’s tryst with fiber. We would know how the story goes only after few years fiber is with us and we know how things play out. For now, Reliance Jio seems to be the clear favorite.

The Lenovo travails

I have been running around to register my product which I bought about 3 years back. I got a little scare a while back (around a week) when my lappy was not responding. While it turned out to be power issues at my end (low voltage fluctuation which apparently the new laptops can’t handle) while through UPS the lappy performs perfectly.

The scare got me thinking it would be a good time to update my Lenovo lappy registration. I encountered the Lenovo support team on twitter and while I have to say the team has been fantastic on responding of my queries on twitter, all the features seem to fail.

I had registered to passport.lenovo.com the time I had got the lappy but hadn’t bothered to check the warranty. In the mean-time for one or the other reason, I forgot the password. I clicked on the forgot password link which generates a link unique to your mail id with a long hash. I went to the page and tried entering a long password (for extra security) and wasn’t able to . I got the following error and continue to do so .

PS: I deleted my mail id for security purposes from the dialog box.

The most interesting aspect of it is one isn’t able to use the CTRL+C, CTRL+V combo switch which we use in almost all the websites where we have to register for one of the other reason.

The more interesting aspect is that the error is confusing, what is meant by ‘New password format is incorrect’. When I shared it with the twitter team, they said they were aware of the problem and it has now been a week and still it has not been fixed.

The next option I was suggested was to register my lappy with a web link. Be sure to make sure that you give the whole form with the dealer stamp (that part I left out as the image they wanted was less than 1 MB), just sharing the invoice details with the serial number of the laptop will not do. I also came to know that POP means Proof of Purchase in this case while I was thinking this was related to somehow Post Office Protocol when I first heard it, so was glad to learn a new nomenclature 😉

Hence they rejected my application without telling me what should I do. I have used the POP generated with a long shot of the whole invoice, hopefully it will be good. I had to use GIMP and cut the image down to 70% in order to fit under the 1 MB requirement. I do hope that will work.

They also shared phone number network numbers but you need to be either a Reliance or a Tata subscriber, if you are a BSNL subscriber like me who likes to use landline phones you are out of luck 😦

My idea was simply to correct my base warranty and actually increase the duration of my base warranty so if an actual issue befalls me, I could lean on to the on-site service if need be.

As a global company, I was under the impression that the service will be unparalleled, so far except for the twitter team have been somewhat unimpressed.

FWIW’s haven’t tried the callback IVR as it uses the warranty registration when the laptop is sold to the dealer/wholesaler by the company and not to the actual user. The whole point of POP is for the user to go through the POP experience is to prove to the company that s(he) bought the lappy at a certain point in time.

Abuse of childhood

The blog post is in homage to any abuse victims and more directly to parents and children being separated by policies formed by a Government whose chief is supposed to be ‘The leader of the free world’. I sat on the blog post for almost a week even though I got it proof-read by two women, Miss S and Miss K to see if there is or was anything wrongful about the post. Both the women gave me their blessings as it’s something to be shared.

I am writing this blog post writing from my house in a safe environment, having chai (tea), listening to some of my favorite songs, far from trauma some children are going through.

I have been disturbed by the news of families and especially young children being separated from their own families because of state policy. I was pretty hesitant to write this post as we are told to only share our strengths and not our weaknesses or traumas of the past. I partly want to share so people who might be on the fence of whether separating families is a good idea or not might have something more to ponder over. The blog post is not limited to the ongoing and proposed U.S. Policy called Separations but all and any situations involving young children and abuse.

The first experience was when my cousin sister and her family came to visit me and mum. We often do not get relatives or entertain them due to water shortage issues. It’s such a common such issue all over India that nobody bats an eye over, we will probably talk about it in some other blog post if need be.

The sister who came, she has two daughters. The older one knew me and mum and knew that both of us have a penchant for pulling legs but at the same time like to spoil Didi and her. All of us are foodies so we have a grand time. The younger one though was unknown and I were unknown to her. In playfulness, we said we would keep the bigger sister with us and she was afraid. She clung to her sister like anything. Even though we tried to pacify her but she wasn’t free with us till the time she was safely tucked in with her sister in the family car along with her mum and dad.

While this is a small incident, it triggered a memory kept hidden over 35+ years back. I was perhaps 4-5 years old. I was being bought up by a separated working mum who had a typical government 9-5 job. My grandparents were (mother’s side) used to try and run the household in her absence, my grandmother doing all household chores, my grandfather helping here and there, while all outside responsibilities were his.

In this, there was a task to put me in school. Mum probably talked to some of her colleagues or somebody or the other suggested St. Francis, a Catholic missionary school named after one of the many saints named Saint Francis. It is and was a school nearby. There was a young man who used to do odd-jobs around the house and was trusted by all who was a fan of ( Amitabh Bachchan) and who is/was responsible for my love for first-day first shows of his movies. A genuinely nice elderly brother kind of person with whom I have had lot of beautiful memories of childhood.

Anyways, his job was to transport me back and fro to the school which he did without fail. The trouble started for me in school, I do not know the reason till date, maybe I was a bawler or whatever, I was kept in a dark, dank toilet for a year (minus the holidays). The first time I went to the dark, foreboding place, I probably shat and vomited for which I was beaten quite a bit. I learnt that if I were sent to the dark room, I had to put my knickers somewhere top where they wouldn’t get dirty so I would not get beaten. Sometimes I was also made to clean my vomit or shit which made the whole thing more worse. I would be sent to the room regularly and sometimes beaten. The only nice remembrance I had were the last hour before school used to be over as I was taken out of the toilet, made presentable and was made to sit near the window-sill from where I could see trains running by. I dunno whether it was just the smell of free, fresh air plus seeing trains and freedom got somehow mixed and a train-lover was born.

I don’t know why I didn’t ever tell my mum or anybody else about the abuse happening with me. Most probably because the teacher may have threatened me with something or the other. Somehow the year ended and I was failed. The only thing probably mother and my grandparents saw and felt that I had grown a bit thinner.

Either due to mother’s intuition or because I had failed I was made to change schools. While I was terrified of the change because I thought there was something wrong with me and things will be worse, it was actually the opposite. While corporal punishment was still the norm, there wasn’t any abuse unlike in the school before. In the eleven years I spent in the school, there was only one time that I was given toilet duty and that too because I had done something naughty like pulling a girl’s hair or something like that, and it was one or two students next to me. Rather than clean the toilets we ended up playing with water.

I told part of my experience to mum about a year, year and half after I was in the new school half-expecting something untoward to happen as the teacher has said. The only thing I remember from that conversation was shock registering on her face. I didn’t tell her about the vomit and shit part as I was embarrassed about it. I had nightmares about it till I was in my teens when with treks and everything I understood that even darkness can be a friend, just like light is.

For the next 13 odd years till I asked her to stop checking on me, she used to come to school every few months, talk to teachers and talk with class-mates. The same happened in college till I asked her to stop checking as I used to feel embarrassed when other class-mates gossiped.

It was only years after when I began working I understood what she was doing all along. She was just making sure I was ok.

The fact that it took me 30+ years to share this story/experience with the world at large also tells that somewhere I still feel a bit scarred, on the soul.

If you are feeling any sympathy or empathy towards me, while I’m thankful for it. It would be much better served to direct it towards those who are in a precarious vulnerable situation like I was. It doesn’t matter what politics you believe in or peddle in, separating children from their parents is immoral as a being forget even a human being. Even in the animal world, we see how predators only attack those young whose fathers and mothers are not around to protect them.

As in any story/experience/tale there are lessons or takeaways that I hope most parents teach their young ones, especially Indian or Asiatic parents at large –

1. Change the rule of ‘Respect all elders and obey them no matter what’ to ‘Respect everybody including yourself’ should be taught from parents to their children. This will boost their self-confidence a bit and also be share any issues that happen with them.

2. If somebody threatens you or threatens family immediately inform us (i.e. the parents).

3. The third one is perhaps the most difficult ‘telling the truth without worrying about consequences’. In Indian families we learn about ‘secrets’ and ‘modifying truth’ from our parents and elders. That needs to somehow change.

4. Few years ago, Aamir Khan (a film actor) with people specializing in working with children talked and shared about ‘Good touch, bad touch’ as a prevention method, maybe somebody could also do something similar for such kinds of violence.

At the end I recently came across an article and also Terminal.

students, suicides, pressures and solutions.

Couple of days back, I heard of a student whose body was found hung from the ceiling in a college nearby. It felt a bit shocked as I had visited that college just sometime back. It is also possible that I may have run into him and even had a conversation with him. No names were shared and even if there were shared it’s doubtful I would remember him as during events you meet so many people, it’s difficult to parse and remember names 😦 . I do feel sort of stretched at events but that’s life I guess.

As no suicide note was found, the police are investigating from all angles as to the nature of the death. While it’s too early to come to conclusions whether the student decided to take his own life or someone else decided to end his life for some reason or the other, I saw that nobody whom I talked to felt perturbed even a tiny bit probably because it has become a new normal. The major reasons apart from those shared in a blog post are that the costs of the education is too high for today’s students.

There are also perceived career biases that people have, believing that Computer Science is better than being a lawyer, even though IT layoffs have become a new normal. In the above specific case, it was reported that apparently the student who killed himself wanted to be a lawyer while the family wanted him to do CS (Computer Science) .

Also the whole reskilling and STEM culture may be harder as at least Government syllabuses are 10-15 years too late. The same goes for the teachers who would have to change a lot and sadly, it is too common for teachers to be paid a pittance, even college professors.

I know of quite a few colleges in the city in different domains where suicides have taken place, the authorities have tried putting wellness rooms where students who feel depressed could share their feelings but probably due to feelings of shame or weaknesses, the ones who are most at risk do not allow the true feelings to surface. The eastern philosophy of ‘saving face’ is killing our young ones. There is one non-profit I know, Connecting NGO 18002094353 (toll-free) and 9922001122 (mobile) that students or whoever is in depression can call. The listeners don’t give any advice as they are not mental health experts but just give a patient hearing. Sometimes sharing or describing whatever you are facing may give enough either hope or a mini-solution that you can walk towards.

I hope people would use the resources listed above.

Update – 15/06/2018 – A friend/acquaintance recently passed a link which helped her and her near and dear ones to better support her throughout her facing depression. It pretty much seems like a yo-yo but that’s how people might feel in a given situation.

I was shared an email where I had asked the concerned non-profit to see if it needed any more addition to the blog post and this is what I heard from them –

Hello Shirish,

Warm Greetings from Connecting NGO

I read the blog link sent by you and the article looks good. I dont think anything needs to be added to that. Someday if you can come to the office, we can sit and talk about articles regarding emotional distress and suicides and how they need to be written. You have done a good job and thanks for sharing the link.
We will surely try to get in touch with X college sometime this month and talk with the teaching staff and authorities there along with the students. Thanks for the lead. Hoping to see you soon.

Regards,
Vikramsinh Pawar
Senior Programme Coordinator,

I was simply being cautious and short of words as words carelessly used could be a trigger as well.

On one of the groups I am a member of, I came to know of another institute where there have been quite a few suicides. A few of us have decided to visit the institute with a trained mental health professional and see if we can be of any assistance in anyway, in some ways sharing our tales of loss in the hopes that others are able to grieve their loss or at least come to terms with.

We have also asked the non-profit so maybe they would also do an intervention on their own.

Authoritarianism and the slow death of Indian Railways

Definiton non-answer – An answer which is not actually an answer, it does everything except answer the question actually asked. Understanding this art and you understand how Indian Politics and the Indian bureaucracy works.

I was reading an article about nations and most of all my own country is getting into a well of authoritarianism and a cycle of fear and non-answers being generated by the present dispensation.

While I believe myself to be partly at fault for being self-censoring, I would try to share some of the issues which have been lying dormant in myself for quite some time.

To start with, there were couple of questions asked by my economic professor when I was studying Economics almost 20 years back.

The first question he asked was –

1. Why do people like status-quo so much ?

Some of the answers which were answered by the professor were –

a. People are happy with the way things are –

b. People do not know how the change will affect them.
The fear of how the change will affect them is unknown
and like magicians only one part/feature is known and
perceived while the other part is hidden.

It took me quite a few years of life, reading newspapers,
I understood what he meant by it.

c. Special Interests who survive and thrive due to the
way the status-quo is or as later I understood ‘Follow the
money’ .

I am going to use Indian Railways to explore the ‘Follow the money model’ way as I have loved Indian Railways since my childhood and it is also pertinent to majority of Indians who have the only means of cheap transport to go from A to B.

Indian Railways logo

A bit of history

Before we get to the present condition, a bit of historical reminiscing is important. Now the Indian Railways has been like the son which was never wanted since it’s birth. The British made lot of investment when they were ruling for their own benefit, most of which is still standing today details the kind of materials that were used. Independence and Partition were two gifts which the English gave us when they left which lead to millions of souls killed on either side. I wouldn’t go much into it as Khushwant Singh’s ‘Train to Pakistan‘ . It is probably one of the most hard books I have read as there are just too many threads to grasp and one is just unable to grasp the horror that Partition wrought to the Indian subcontinent.

The reason I am sharing about Partition because trains were the only means for lot of people to cover huge distances in those times. After Partition, when Pandit Nehruji became the P.M. the constitution he along with many leaders with Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (who is known as the Architect of the Constitution of India) wanted to have a secular, socialist India which would be self-sufficent in nature. The experiment which was also tried later by her daughter Mrs. Gandhi and later his grandson Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. All of the Prime Ministers did lot of investment in whatever they thought was best for the country except for Indian Railways. Especially from 1980’s onwards there was a dramatic shift (downwards) in creation of public infrastructure, especially the Railways even though the Governments knew we would be a young country in the coming years.

The 90’s

Before India’s Independence , India was a collection of several princely states consisting of today’s India, Pakistan, parts of Burma, Nepal so when the British came with the Rails, it was an innovation. During the period as the spread of Railways grow, three different railway systems were spawned on the gauge width, the Narrow Gauge, Standard Gauge and the (Indian) broad gauge. Wikipedia has a nice article about the different gauge networks so would leave it to them.

In the 90’s apart one of the dramatic change was from socialism to capitalism (as a policy initiative) and limited entry to foreign capital in specific sectors, one of the good intentions was the Project Uniguage for Indian Railways which was supposed to be finished by the end of the century has still not been done till date.

The other thing which was supposed to also happen is the impetus on Electrification of Indian Railways which is still far from over. There is lobbying from the diesel lobby at least in the locomotive space. As almost all the locomotive designs have been bought from various foreign vendors and then Indianized, they do not want their interests to be diluted.

Present situation

The present situation is that Indian Railways is in dire straits. While Indian Railways had an operating ratio of 94.9 percent

See the image of an Average Indian Household spend on various services –

Average Indian Household spend per month - Copyright Times of India.

– Copyright – Times of India.

As can be seen the biggest expenses are travel and eating out. In most developed economies, the share of travel expenses is not more than 4% of a typical household budget, but as can be seen for Indians the proportions are much more higher.

The Indian Railways has been the worst performer as far as on-time performance is concerned, at least since the present dispensation has taken over.

So who gains, if trains run late, the private buses and Air Services. The private bus transport have known to raise prices every year, especially whenever holidays or festivals happen. The same is the case with Airfares as well and is common occurrence and doesn’t register any shock anymore. There is a proposal to give fair compensation in cases of issues of flight delay and flight cancellation somewhat like what is available in European sectors but most operators say it will inevitably lead to higher fare prices across the board.

The airport infrastructure is also under severe strain while clocking increasing growth as people look to be at places at appointed times. The growth has been amazing while the on-time performance has been going in the opposite direction due to poor planning and mis-management. We need to have more CISF personnel and much wider airports (both land-side and air-side) to accommodate the increasing number of people traveling.

Just yesterday came across an interesting article on civil aviation which brings out all what I wanted to share and more.

Indian railways meanwhile seems to be running out of options as even though infrastructure is being increased, it’s not just fast enough with not enough talent which is going to cost us both in the short and medium-term 😦

I could share quite a lot of operational and policy issues but that might be boring for people who are not rail-fanners. I’ll just end with the simplest station that if you look at the work of at least the last couple of decades of Indian Railway Ministers, most Railway Ministers would present budgets where the emphasis was more on getting new railway services and something like 3-4% budget increase in creation of infrastructure which many a time will be lying unused without proper explanations or a non-answer.

Somewhat Good news

The only bright spot seem to the Dedicated Freight corridors which hopefully should increase Railways freight earnings and give more space for maintenance to happen on Indian Railways. The freight share of Indian Railways which used to be 90% has now shrunk to less than 18% due to number of reasons, among them opening up the freight sector from railways to roads, putting freight on passing loops and making freight a second-class citizen on railways, although roads have their own issues. A Livemint report couple of years back also shed some light on the situation.

On passenger front, only metro railways have some sort of good news but not enough. I am just hanging on hope as until we don’t value-add and move up in the value-chain on exports don’t really see India doing well.

There are a lot of challenges as well as opportunities for whichever Government comes next, have been thoroughly disappointed with the performance of the present Government in everything, including International Trade which was supposed to be unlocked by the Present PM.