10 Books that have stayed with me #BookBucketChallenge

So there is a new fad of naming the top 10 books that come to your mind when you try to list the best books you have read. The idea is to not think much and just let the first instincts come up. I was nominated by Nitin Joshi ,So here is my List

1)NCERT -

I am not going to be a pretentious prick by starting with the likes of Ulysses ( i have not even tried reading that yet). I LOVED NCERT books , not the real content or “in syllabus” section , but the extra information they gave. I devoured the short biography section in physics and chemistry books . I read and re read them .Also  loved the physics chapters not in syllabus , especially the ones on black holes and galaxies(sadly they were always out of course) . NCERT had only recently started adding these small FYI type sections just to keep the interest alive and I cannot thank the person who did this enough. I read it , more than my course.

2)Nandan and Champak:

Big fan, so much so that I actually submitted a story to Champak once, though it never got published. And to the same list add Chacha Choudhry , Nagraj and captain dhruv . :)

3)A Journey to the Center of the Earth

We used to have 1 library period every week(what a pity) when I started reading this book . I read it during that period and before going back , hid it behind some physics chemistry reference books which I knew not many people search, so that no one issues it .Took me a few months to finish this in parts.

4)Issac Asimov Foundation Series:

This is like the ultimate series for any science fiction lover. I wrote a whole blog post dedicated to asimov’s books .

5)A Brief History of Time + A Briefer History of Time+The Theory of Everything

Sorry to club them together but all three speak about the same concept . The laws of physics and universe explained in the simplest and elegant manner.If I had any say , I would make them compulsory reading in schools .GO BUY THEM even if you do not like physics. These are simply brilliant books

6)Public speaking books by Dale Carnegie:

From the Art of public Speaking to How to Win Friends and Influence People I have read them all. Trust me, they are good. These books have even been a great help

7)The Magic of Thinking Big:

Yes, I have read Self help books in the past :P .And would be lying if I say , i didn’t like them.Many of them were pathetic, but this one just stood apart from the rest. Loved it

8)Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics):

YES I have read this and I actually like this . My sister got it as a prize when we were kids, at that age you read everything you can get your hands on. I have read it at least 4-5 times. Lovely book. Someone recently told me that I was the first guy she met who likes this book.Really? Any other guy  who likes this book say Aye .

9)All Parts of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

When we first got internet at home , I came across a txt file which had perhaps the most wonderful science fiction ,with dozes of comedy and laugh, I ever read.. I started reading it and within 4 days , finished it , only to realize a few years later that I had read the entire series on a CRT monitor.This is a MUST READ GO GO GO READ

10)The Fault in our Stars:

A very recent addition to the list . Again a full blog on it

So here was the list of first 10 books that came to my mind. If I think more, perhaps I could add The Alchemist
or Angels and Demons or maybe Autobiography of a Yogi (Complete Edition with Free CD)
to the list , but then these are not the books that shaped me, the ones listed above did and many of them had a lasting impression on me. I believe the first books you pick up will always be the most impactful.

So who do I nominate?

I nominate Shashidhar Bhattaram, My ex Boss, Mentor and a very dear friend

Manan Puri: My Batchmate at ISB

All people on Mr Unreasonable page :). This is a good exercise guys. try  it , and if you want , I can eve feature you on this blog . Awaiting your lists

Quota and Reservation System in India – An Essay

Quota system and Reservation system in India seems to be an evergreen hot debate topic and everyone seems to have a point of view on it. Some consider this an abomination,some a blessing and some a necessary evil.

But before we discuss the concept of reservation, we need to step back and take a look at what exactly is the problem we are trying to solve? .

SC ST are the dalits, adivasis or Shudras who had suffered immensely under the caste based system of India. A lot can be written on it , but that won’t be necessary for this blog post as I am sure all the readers are aware of this.

Now the problem with many urban dwelling Indians is that they believe that caste based system does not exist anymore and the discrimination is more or less finished. This cannot be farther from truth.

The problem is very much here . There still are a huge number of people in this country who are denied a dignified life and basic human rights just because they belong to a particular caste .

“Discriminatory and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of over 165 million people in India has been justified on the basis of caste,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Many of these people are denied any Jobs, denied access to common resources such as water , treated as untouchables and basically denied of any opportunity to get out of the rut.It is not their lack of want but the system that keeps them there.

When people say ” They do not get jobs because they are not skilled” , it pains me to see how people look at only one side of the coin. They do not have any decent jobs because in the places they live , they cannot get one, unless the government forces it .There is an extreme bias in the minds of people who are responsible for giving them jobs.You may want to see the Satyamev Jayate episode on Caste based discrimination.

There was a recent report on how people who are treated as Untouchables are forced to Clean Human Waste , because that is the only Job they are considered suitable for.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 2.53.55 am

Even when we speak about crime against women, let us be aware that a dalit woman is more likely to face abuse . Let me quote from a UN Study

Human rights of Dalits and women in general are normally violated by dominant castes and powerful communities to practice and exhibit patriarchy and caste based discrimination. Dalit women are oppressed by the broader Indian society, men from their own community and also their own husbands and male members in the family. Thus, Dalit women face multiple disadvantages and vulnerabilities. Their issues are clearly different from that of other Indian women.

But human rights of Dalit women are violated in peculiar and extreme forms. Stripping, naked parading, caste abuses, pulling out nails and hair, sexual slavery & bondage are few forms peculiar to Dalit women.

 

Woman abuse is an issue of power , when men feel threatened or are raised to feel superior to woman and want to show it(Apologies for oversimplification ) . Being a Dalit and a Woman surely compounds the problem.Why do you think that is?

People speak of “free markets” and “equal opportunity for all”  as arguments for speaking against reservation, while conveniently forgetting that these are the people who are NOT getting equal opportunities . Free markets do not work in case of externalities and this is an externality.

Let us all be aware that Untouchability cannot be wished away.

School Of Untouchables

A school of untouchables near Bangalore, by Lady Ottoline Morrell.

So now coming back to the question of Reservations

Whenever there is a section of society that is so much discriminated against , the best way to end that discrimination is by mixing them up with the general population and bringing them into mainstream. There will be uproars as people do not like change and the deep rooted biases act up , but that is what we as a society have to fight.

Only when we see people from that community all around us , understand them, see that they are not different, can we be able to remove this discrimination.

We need this section of society to be in all areas of community , from doctors to engineers to entrepreneurs  to CEOs to Artists to teachers . This is the only way to end this discrimination and give equal opportunity to all.

Basically we need to level the playing field for people who were not allowed to even compete.

And all this while , we need to be conscious that Bias exists. Just because caste based discrimination is illegal, does not imply that it does not happen.

So now we have established that there is a section of society that has been and still is unfairly treated and that biases still exist.We also established that the best way to end those biases would be to get these people in all areas of society , rather than confining them to jobs they are traditionally made to do based on their caste.

How do we do this?

This is where the government comes in. Let us understand a simple fact that whenever X is given to Person 1, that X cannot be given to person Y. Resources are limited . The government needs to come up with schemes and measures to help this section of society rise , this will be done at expense of something. This is not optional , we as a society cannot accept that a large part of us are denied basic human rights.

These schemes involve resources . Resources for education , resources for loans , resources for gainful employment and resources for spreading awareness .When the government reserves seats to SC ST , look at it as allocation of resources . Another way could be to halve the number of government colleges and spend that money on other endeavours . You do not have reservations then, but then the number of seats is still the same.

Reservation was one of the ways (Not the only way)to achieve this goal of getting SC ST OBCs into mainstream.

So In Reservation Good?

Yes and No.

Yes: The intention for reservation is good , necessary and correct.

No: Because it has not been implemented properly.

The basic problem with reservation has been it’s misuse(or may I say heavy abuse). Reservation was never intended to help the Rich SC kid get an Easy entry to educational institute . It was meant to give a shortcut to millions of SC ST and  OBCs out of the rut , taking their families along,  and making the society more accepting of them .

It was also supposed to end, but sadly due to political corruption and vote bank politics , it did not. But when we say that , we need to remember that it was also thought that the caste based discrimination too would end. If our politicians have failed, so have we.

Another issue is that the reservation in higher educational institutes, without proper support for primary education seems like a cop-out. The government’s job was to bring about a change in mindset of people ,create and employ strict laws to stomp out any discrimination , but that is a really hard thing to do. It requires patience  and courage to risk annoying your vote bank which not many politicians are willing to do.

Plus it may not be the best way anymore , there can be a serious discussion on relevance of reservation in this time. Agreed that discrimination is still alive, but is reservation still a good way to end it?

Why the heck am I writing This?

To be fair, I am not too sure either. I have been on the other side, blaming the SC ST /OBC for taking such disproportionate number of seats to all the coveted institute ,  for getting seats in IITs while knowing much less than me(I did not make it to IIT –Failed to clear Mains ..Missed by a whisker) . Yes I too have been real angry at the system .I too called the system unfair to me and claimed that SC ST have it too easy.

But In retrospect , I believe I have been ill-informed . My anger was directed at the wrong place and I see too many people like me , who ignore the very basic fact that this system is still relevant because we still have discrimination . The anger also needs to be directed towards the society as a whole , not just the government and certainly not against the SC ST/OBC community as a whole.

Yes reservation system is inherently unfair , but our society itself is based on unfairness at this point , where some people are superior to others and some inferior based solely on their birth and not merit.

As I said there needs to be a serious discussion on relevance of reservation for solving this issue. What can be the better way? In an education hungry society like ours , Is compromising on student intake for some of the most premium colleges worth it?

Also till reservation is there , how can we make sure that it is not abused? What laws need to be brought into place to prevent non deserving people taking it? I personally know cases of millionaires taking advantage of the reserved seat for their son, which is preposterous. Can I do not something about it? How do we make sure that the Creamy Layer(annual income >6 Lakhs) does not take advantage of this system?

How can we strengthen the basic education system so that all kids can get an equal shot at a good education .

And finally , how to end it? It will end when the cast based system actually becomes irrelevant . We need to ask the question that if Reservation is becoming and impediment to that? Instead of removing , is it now strengthening the divide, making it more vivid? If yes, we might need other ways to fight it.

For this we need more voices , voices from the SC ST OBC community as well to speak out, do you think reservation is still required?

And why are we seeing an increasing number of people demanding to be put as OBCs? Why are we doing this? Should this not be banned? For people who face economic hardships, we need a system based purely on financial well-being rather than caste based.

And yes , a hard-line. Any politician who takes a stand on getting a hard-line date to  end this system will potentially kill his or her political career , but I am sure there are some politicians who might risk it. By hard-line , I do not mean just some arbitrary date which can be later extended, but a dead line that cannot be changed or is too difficult to change , e.g.: Only if 99% of  both houses of parliament decide to extend it .

Finally , Reservation is not a revenge on General Class as some people make it out to be. It is a system which had to be brought in to end an unfair system , and is potentially itself becoming part of the problem rather than a solution. If we want to end it , at least we as a society need to end the discrimination . Let’s do our part as well. Shall We?

 

AskMe app review

Recently was asked to review the APP Askme (AskMe.com) which claims to be the baap of all Apps.

So what exactly is AskMe?

Askme basically has 3 sections

Directory:

This is supposed be a directory of everything. Eg, you search for mobilephones and it shows you mobile phone shops nearby you(It has access to your GPS location)

Ads:

People can post ads related to your search term which you can see. Eg , someone can post an ad about selling a used mobile phone. ASKME app reviewEven you can post your ad if you wish.

Deals

A place where you can find deals related to your search history , eg: a mobile shop owner giving away free mobile cover with a nokia lumia 630

The App overall is a combination of justdial +craigslist+groupon . From a concept point of view , I love it . It is simple, clean interface and has the potential for becoming a one stop app for everything you need.

 

Real world test

So I decided to check how it fairs for real world scenarios. I let the APP use my GPS and auto detect my location . Then I searched for dentists and here are the results

  1. The App simply took my city as my location and did not bother to pick up my locality . Which I think is a big miss. Why should I search my locality when I have my GPS on
  2. The results were relevant ie: dentists and dental hospitals
  3. If I use the default location as set by the APP, it gave me results for dentists at teh other end of the city. I live in a place where you find a dentist at almost every KM stretch, still the app suggested me a dentist 30 Km away . Useless result
  4. The top two dentists were marker as premium, which basically means advertisements . Nevertheless not such a big issue if other results were relevant(which were not)
  5. I tried entering the locality , but that locality had only 2 listed dentists, i expected that it would at least list dentists in that locality and nearby locality since the results were so less

Then I searched for a very high queryshare  term

Mobile Phones

  1. My entire first page of result set was filled with premium Ads. I understand that you need ads, but not the full first page. That is insane . I had to scroll down , which reloads the page(it is a dynamic load) .
  2. Again, nearest mobile shops were too far away, when there is one right next to my lane
  3. Some deals were incomprehensible , I saw a “deal” where a pic of a mobile phone along with its name and name of the shop were written. Where was the deal? It did not even mention the price. I see no point in such a deal.

 

Conclusion

It is a powerful idea to combine all these context specific services , but the App at the moment seriously lacks in data quality . It is not Baap of all Apps yet, but it can be

 

Suggestions:

If you are one of the Product Manager working on this and want some user feedback , this section is for you :)

  1. What is this whole idea about not detecting my locality ? You cannot succeed until you suggest me ads and things near me. It is like the number 1 feature a user expects . (My Location: Hyderabad, GPS signal strength: Full)
  2. You need users first and then get ads. Do you see whatsapp giving ads? Hold on , do not go overboard with ads so early. First get the people hooked.
  3. Data quality: At least the deals section needs to be very clear

 

So end: Is not Baap of all Apps, but can be.

You can try the App here 

Dan Brown’s Inferno: The The Book Book is is Repetitive Repetitive : Book Review

Finally finished the seemingly huge book Inferno by Dan Brown, and can I say, I am a tad disappointed.

I have only read one book by Dan brown before Angels and Demons
and thoroughly enjoyed it ,hence had very high hopes from Inferno.

Inferno is the same old stuff, A professor of symbols , a villain , some sci fi and globe trotting . All the symbols are based on a single work of Dante.

I am less disappointed with the plot than the narrative. Every thing starts with Robert Langdon finding a clue in Dante’s work , going to a particular fancy location(many times wrong) and telling himself how he has been here before and marveling at how he marveled the architecture with minute details and how this time would be different . It seems so repetitive that I felt the author had a fixed template to just fill in.

The action packed scenes just break when you try to fit in too much details about the surroundings.

Is it a bad book?

Not really , I did finish it ( I leave a lot of books midway if I do not like) . It has all the elements of a good weekend read, the pace is gripping but I had higher hopes from Dan Brown. I felt a lot of stuff could have been easily removed without affecting the impact or quality of narrative . Overall, I am sure this one should be getting made into a film .

 

Working Mothers should be ashamed of themselves?

Surprisingly, this actually was a topic of a recent Facebook discussion I was part of.

People who follow me on Facebook know that I generally get involved in long debates on Facebook (Swear will cut down on that :P), but of all debates, this one stands out.

So let me set the context: A woman “blogger” who left her career to take care of her kids posted the following video of apparently a day care owner ( which later turned out to be the mother herself)  mistreating a child, and made a statement that all women who leave their kids in day care  should be ashamed of themselves and I pity such women.

and this was the start of a long drawn debate where I debated mainly on 2 points

1. There are enough support systems in place, just because you chose to sacrifice your career does not mean that others should .No point taking working mothers on a guilt trip

2. This reinforces the stereotype that raising the kid is only a women’s job primarily .

Nevertheless this debate brings forward some interesting points to ponder

Do working mothers really have a negative impact on child’s upbringing? :

Now the statement that is often quoted by supporters of this idea is  that having a working mother negatively impacts the upbringing of a child as supposedly the child feels unloved etc etc etc, while the detractors say that this is an age old myth and on the contrary , it helps in overall growth of the child. So how do we solve this? Which belief system do we go with?

Working Mother

Photo credit:Ian Riley

Well we can turn to research. Enough number of research on this area has conclusively proven that having a working mother does not harm the child’s development in any way . Not only that, some studies have even suggested that children who have been in out of home care homes(Creche) are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities .

Yes, during the initial months of a baby , a mother’s presence is very much required but the question is till when?Should that imply that until the child grows up to be 6-7 years old , the woman should sacrifice her career?

In my debate with the woman , she mentioned she is old school and wants to listen to her kids problems in school etc etc ,so I assume her point was that till the kid is about 7-8 maybe ,women should Stay at Home, or perhaps forever till the kid is married .

Am I making a case for working moms? No, I am saying it is your own choice, your choice does not make you morally superior to women who choose otherwise.

 How does this mentality affect women?

Why was I against this status? Do I hate kids :P?

Well here it is how it affects women

  1. It makes women feel guilty for working, even if they are able to take care of their children
  2. Unless required financially , it basically strengthens the age old myth that women should stay home
  3. It absolves the father of almost any role in the upbringing of the child
  4. It assumes that women who work somehow do not know what is going on in the lives of their kids.As if only a stay at home mom is a good mom.
  5. It is a vicious circle You need to have kids anyways–>You will need to sacrifice your career–> why such long and expensive education –> why higher education–> Why education at all?
  6. It also affects the daughters to not be Career Oriented.
  7. It encourages stereotypes in workplace also : Eg: How can we call companies ,which do not want to hire women as they believe that they will not stick around long term.wrong?
  8. It takes focus away from the real solutions such as :
  •       Why can’t we encourage more offices to have baby care centers .
  •       Let men also take advantage of paternity leaves
  •       Increase paternity leave duration if required
  •       Encourage more companies to introduce flexi hours
  •       Better regularisation of creches .Eg: I heard of a few creches with CCTV which are  continuous monitored  .Parents can see their kids via Live feed from anywhere.You can literally stalk your kids :P.

So what happened to my discussion?

Well for starters, believe it or not : Because I was not agreeing to the point of view of a “Woman” I was labelled as a typical Male Chauvinist by a female friend of her , a comment which she agreed to When I tried to defend saying this is perhaps misplaced feminism and I could argue that you are not able to take an opinion from a man, I was told That I was a sexist :P .

So Because I said that We should not use these arguments to discourage women from working, and because I said that working women are as good as stay at home moms and because I said that this is strengthening the stereotype that women are the only ones responsible for child care ..I was a typical Male Chauvinist .

That was not all, it was theorised that perhaps  I had a bad childhood because of a working Mom or possibly my Wife/ sister were working and I was trying to satisfy my conscience by fighting for them….

To be fair, a few people expressed their silent support by liking some of my comments and another MAN(I suppose another typical Male Chauvinist ?) came forward and reiterated the point that there is no reason for working women to be ashamed .

Nevertheless, When I raised objections ,I was asked not to comment , my comments were selectively deleted and I was finally blocked so that I could not respond to the discussion where I was being called a typical Male Chauvinist :P ..What should I say, the lady wanted to have the last word ?

Not sure, should I be sad that a woman is trying to pull other women down or be happy that men actually are coming forward to at-least debate on this and that too from the other side.

Nevertheless , if interested in a women’s perspective read this brilliant article by MARINA ADSHADE. 
Stay-at-home moms: Stop pretending you’re better. Signed, working moms
A quote from her article

 Parenting for us is not a hobby that we pick up on the weekends to amuse ourselves. Just as you do not stop being a mother during the hours your child is at school, we do not stop being mothers when we are at work. There are no part-time opportunities in parenthood.