Category: Uncategorized

Monday morning reads

A few interesting articles I came across this Monday morning:

  1. How to Use Occam’s Razor Without Getting Cut – I had only heard of the term ‘Occam’s Razor’ so far in the context of the popular blog on Digital Marketing and Analytics by Avinash Kaushik (by the way, if there is one blog on Digital Marketing and Analytics that you should follow, it is Avinash’s). This article helped me understand the true meaning behind this term. And it is a very interesting theory.
  2. What the success of rock climbing tells us about economic growth – My daughter is learning rock climbing and I must admit that this is one of the reasons I read through this article. Very interesting thoughts on what this sport tells us about our potential for future economic growth.
  3. USAID, Monsanto and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season – The terrible air pollution in Delhi is all over the news (and social media). This article tells us the sad story of how ‘Big Food’ and ‘greedy MNCs’ in collusion with politicians are contributing to this ecological and health disaster.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

The Northeast Monsoon (or Longing for the Sun)

Rainy days

People who know me well know about my indifferent attitude to rain. I believe this is in no small part due to having grown up in Mumbai. The tribulations of going to school (and later, office) in a torrential downpour, leading to spending the day in wet clothes and shoes have possibly scarred me for life! Of late, though, I have gone from a dislike of rains to indifference. What else could explain the fact that I spent 5 years in UK and Ireland and actually enjoyed it (including the notorious weather)!

The reason for this post today is to rant a bit about the weather in Bangalore over the past few months. The rainy season in Bangalore typically starts in May, with the onset of pre-monsoon rains (they are definitely more than showers). It then continues through the normal monsoon period, though being in the rain shadow zone of the Western Ghats, it does not see the torrential rains of the West Coast. However, unlike in most parts of India, the rains do not stop in late September, early October, but continues intermittently well into winter. This is the effect of the second rainy weather system in India, the Northeast Monsoon.

This feature of our annual weather patterns is not very well known in most parts of India, who typically experience the rains only from June / July to September / October. However, the Northeast monsoon is the primary monsoonal system in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, as opposed to the Southwest monsoon, which is the primary rain giver to most other parts of India. The Northeast monsoon’s impact also extends to parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

What this is all means is that it is still raining regularly in Bangalore, and might continue to do so for the next couple of months as well. This means that we would end up experiencing regular, if not particularly heavy, rains for almost 8 months of the year! I thought I had left this pattern of almost year-long rains when I moved back to India, but it seems that the weather I left behind has decided to follow me to India! In fact, I woke up this morning to scenes that reminded me a lot of Dublin, albeit with much more pleasant temperatures! And while I enjoyed this weather in UK and Ireland, I am longing for the brightness and warmth of the sun now!

As I write this, the sun has decided to peek out from between the grey clouds. But it’s a weak, watery sunshine that is almost mocking in nature! The months from November to early March is usually the best weather in India, with (typically) plenty of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case in Bangalore this year 😦

Chaos on Indian Roads

Image of Indian roads at night
Image of Indian roads at night

The Indian government has recently significantly increased the fines levied for driving offences. It’s still early to judge the effectiveness of this, but there is no doubt that it’s a step in the right direction, even if very delayed.

I have been fortunate to have lived abroad and, as much as I love my country, the one thing that almost always gets me angry and upset is the absolutely appalling attitude of drivers on Indian roads.

People say that the two things that unite our vast and diverse country are Bollywood and Cricket. I would add, to those two, our road sense, or lack of it. Even a casual observer of Indian driving would observe that the only rule of driving on Indian roads is to break all rules! Breaking a traffic signal, who doesn’t do it? Going down the wrong way on a one-way street, everyone does it. Parking at No Parking zones or blocking other traffic, sorry, what’s that? Wearing of seat belts, only when a policeman is ahead! The latest – driving a bike on a footpath and having the temerity to ask people to step aside!

What is it that makes us such poor and inconsiderate drivers? Manu Pillai in his recent article on Livemint suggests two possible reasons:

  1. The poor state of Indian roads means that we do not respect them
  2. Indians love chaos

The second is a very interesting observation and I am beginning to realise that it’s probably right. However, I disagree with him on the first point. I have seen, and I am sure that I am not the only one, people not heeding rules even on the best Indian roads. How many of us have not seen vehicles being driven down the opposite side of the road on the best of Indian highways? Or heavily overloaded trucks trundling on the fast lane? Overtaking on the left, that’s par for the course! Forget adhering to speed limits!

No, I do not believe that we will change our behaviour even if we have world class road infrastructure. There is just something in our nature that believe rules are meant to be bent, if not broken outright.

I am very positive, in general, of the future of our country and its citizens. However, the one aspect that I am afraid might take a long time to change, if ever, is our road sense. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong.

Palakkad (or Palghat) Gap

Palakkad (or to call it by it’s previous name, Palghat) is a small (by Indian standards!) town in Kerala, close to the state’s border with Tamil Nadu. This town, famous for its banana chips, also gives its name to one of the more curious features of India’s geographical landscape.

The Western Ghats is a mountain chain that runs for 1,600 kilometres in an almost unbroken line all along the west coast of India. I say, almost, because just outside Palakkad, this range suddenly disappears, to be replaced by what is called the Palakkad gap. At an average elevation of just 140 metres, this gap with a width of around 25 kilometres is really not high enough to be called a pass.

And it’s not that this is pretty much the only such gap in the Western Ghats that makes it a curiosity. It’s also the fact that the gap appears at the very place where this 1,000 mile long chain has its highest peaks. About 80 kilometres to the north of the gap is the 2,637 metre (8,652 feet) high Doddabetta peak. And roughly a similar distance to the south is Annamudi peak. At 2,695 metres (8,842 feet) above sea level, this is the highest peak in India outside of the mighty Himalaya range in the north.

For a very long time, this gap was almost the only way in and out of the state of Kerala by land for the majority of the country. People in the extreme south of the state could travel to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu around the beginning (or end) of the ghats. While people towards the north could travel onwards to Mangalore and Mumbai along the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Arabian Sea.

The opening up of the Konkan railway in the 1990s has opened up another rail link to the state, but the Palakkad gap continues to be the main channel for the majority of road and rail traffic to enter and exit the state.

I have crossed this gap numerous times (by rail and road), but always in the middle of the night. However, a change in circumstances during my most recent trip to Kerala meant that I had to reschedule my train journey out of Kerala from the original night train to a day train. And this meant that I was finally able to see this curious (and magnificient) sight by the light of day.

A few pictures below. Not the best as these were taken from a moving train, but hopefully it gives a sense of the landscape.

Palakkad Gap 1
Palakkad Gap – looking north
Palakkad Gap 2
The lush landscape of Palakkad Gap

The Dreaded Weekend emails

There was an article in the WSJ recently about the impact of sending emails on weekends to employees health. Many of us in corporate jobs would know the experience – receiving emails from your bosses, senior executives outside of working hours – which compel us to stop doing whatever we were at that time (or planning to) to get to work and reply to the email.

The problem has now become even more severe because we are constantly connected. Our personal and professional communication device is now one and the same. Even if one tries to, it is very difficult to completely eliminate checking in (or being made aware of) a message or email that has arrived in your work channel. And it takes an extremely strong-willed employee to say that I am not going to pay any attention to it.

But most employees aren’t like that. And therefore, in my opinion, leaders should ensure that they are not sending any emails out outside of normal working hours. Such behaviour is observed and will soon become the norm. The article spoke about an email tool developed by an organisation that diverts messages sent after a certain time to a queue and only releases it to the recipient’s inboxes at a more suitable time. I believe this should be adopted by all organisations. This way, people who like to work outside of the usual working hours can still do so as usual, knowing that any emails sent to team members are not going to interfere with their personal lives.

I believe that this also raises questions that organisations would find themselves grappling with more and more. With the inexorable rise of ‘gig’ economy workers and remote working, organisations are going to necessarily have to work with people remotely and working different hours to the standard ‘9-to-5’. It’s going to be vitally important that organisations are prepared with processes and policies to ensure maximum productivity from their globally distributed workforce.