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The fatalistic attitude

Sorry - Rose - pixbay

A week back I published a post which unintentionally hurt some people and some people had some painful memories re-surfaced. My intention was not to provoke and hence am SORRY for any unintended hurt caused.

Now last week there was another conversation which was about accepting the possibility of death whenever travelling by any mode of transport. I was told/nay accused of having a fatalistic attitude.

Now for people unknown to the word, it means somebody who believes that all events are subject to fate or inevitable necessity, or determined in advance in such a way that human beings cannot change them.

Now, while for other things I believe in free will, for travelling purposes, I chose to believe in what will be, will be and be at peace with whatever happens. The reasons are simple enough and I will share for all three modes, road, train and air.

Accidents in India - wikimedia

a. In roadways, in India 157,000 people died last year. I don’t know driving hence have to rely on drivers and most bus-drivers just know how to drive rash. Most vehicles are not maintained. Ideally either in a government or a private vehicle, the name of the driver, photocopy of his driving license detailing since when he is driving (number of years) and when was it last renewed, age of the vehicle, its PUC (Pollution Under Control Certificate), maintenance certificate of the vehicle and when it last happened should all be on board of such a vehicle. If one digs deep enough, I am sure there would be a law stating that but it’s rarely something that is put into practise.

Apart from that practises such as lane and speed discipline are something that people have heard of but never adhere to. Besides bad and drunken drivers, faulty road design also leads to a heavy price. Interestingly, last week the Honourable Supreme Court ruled that no bars or restaurants serving alcohol would be within 500 metres of State and National Highways.

In a step right out of a nightmarish movie, most states denotified state highways to urban roads. This actually would also have the consequence that the urban roads would not get either the same funds or maintenance as they were getting before they were deemed highways. You can tell how powerful the liquor lobby is by the mere fact that they were able to get the order modified within 24 hours of the first order.

163536 Bengal train accident 2010

b. Railways – While I love Indian Railways I have to be a bit fatalistic as it’s a network overburdened and I don’t see it changing during my lifetime. If we were to quadruple the existing network and also make it a semi-high speed one, say something on the range of between 200-250 km/hr .

While the Indian Government is saying it will do unprecedented doubling and electrification in 2018 it can only happen if Indian Railways ends it exclusive relationship with loss-making SAIL to get rails. There are indications it might happen. But there are other bottle-necks such as litigation on taking private land and changing land-use both of which are challenges for it. In short, I don’t see the situation happening soon.

Indigo plane shown just for illustrative purposes - wikipedia

c. Airways – My friend is and was under the impression that all is well with the Indian Airways or Indian airlines in general. But the Government’s own records show that there were close to 35 near-miss accidents in 2014-2015 which is roughly around 3 accidents per month. Interestingly, there are no figures of similar nature in 2015-2016 . The figures however do share that airways in India is going through an unprecedented growth phase. Given the infrastructure crunch that is there now and will be for the medium future, accidents and near-misses would only become more as airport expansions are a bureaucratic nightmare, hence very slow .

There is a policy though to have secondary airports all over the country. If this becomes a reality, it would de-bottleneck the metro airports as well as cities like Pune, Nagpur as well. Pune has been having between 20-25% growth rate for the last 2-3 years but as it has a low base and just recently has got some more space and timings to grow it will take time for it to be noticed nationally. And it is in such cities the possibilities of accidents is much more due to unprecedented growth rate happening as well.

Now while I have shared of the above three travelling ways, I sincerely believe and pray before each journey ‘if an accident has to happen, pray I’m not hurt, if I’m hurt, I hope it’s fatal’ I wouldn’t want to be much more of a responsibility to my mother than I already am. This is my personal belief for myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t either respect or don’t do hats off to differently-abled people who just by being alive and struggling each day are heroes and inspiration to us all.

It just means if somehow I could influence the outcome I would like to be in one outcome so others don’t go through pain much.

d. Media – The first movie which doesn’t talk but is all about fatalism is the ‘Final Destination‘ Series. While the movies have been categorized as horror, for many Indians it probably is ‘Que sera, sera’ .

There were also two South Korean disaster movies which I saw earlier in the year ‘Tunnel and Pandora‘ both beautifully made but both show a certain fatalistic attitude towards how the events happen and the acceptance of people. While both the movies show positive ends as most movies who want to do commercially well do, reality might have been more pessimistic, who knows. Pandora in particular seemed to be very much based on the Japanese Fukushima nuclear accident which happened in 2011 and in fact mirrors exactly what all I heard, saw and read in the news at that time. As India is and was too thinking of having Nuclear reactors for our power needs, that might have been the reason I gave it much more attention.

Another movie which in part shares the blame for under-investment in Indian Railways is the movie ‘Burning Train‘. It is a beautifully shot movie giving a slice of how Indians make a riot and laugh at themselves when travelling. The only trouble with the movie that it planted the seed of fear in both the railway-using public as well as the Railway Board and we had chronic under-investment for 3 and a half decades and a bit more. Now the present government while dreaming (as shared above) however much they do I don’t think we could recover from the 3 and a half decades of under-investment anytime soon. We would have to invest at double or even quadruple the rates at which money is being invested in today’s Indian Railways to just fulfil expectations of yesterday, forget today. But again ‘Que Sera Sera’ to the rescue as this again is outside my hands for though, even if we somehow get the money, getting land to railways for its projects is another big challenge. There have been claims of inadequate compensation by farmers and such cases take years to clear up.

In the end, ‘Que sera sera’ is the only way we can live with uncertainty that both the present and future brings to us. It doesn’t mean we don’t strive for our rights or strive for a better future for us and people beyond us.

I would love to know what people think and if there is a better way than this to make peace, have your sanity and still live with the uncertainty that life brings.

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Density and accessibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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