Author: Rishi

About Rishi

Rishi lives in California.

Kashi

..also known as Benaras, Banaras and Varanasi. The city looks welcoming though it has a capillary capacity to do so. The roads are narrower than they look and the transportation is haphazard – not to mention the jumbled up nature of the modes available. May be it is more of a trend of getting used to the setup that sets in once you are here.

Going to the ghats was a surprising event since all I could see was a train of rickshaws (leg-pulled) carrying a lot of foreigners on them. I looked at the people around in amazement who were unaffected by foreign presence, while I was more than pleasantly surprised. The experiences in other Indian cities (Delhi, Lucknow and Bangalore)  have been very bad – people harass, bother and bug any foreign looking person unnecessarily, but Banaras is a class apart. You may belong to any creed and no one bothers you. In fact, foreigners are treated at par with the locals and given the same rates and bargain offers. So all you visitors to the Taj Mahal, do come to Benaras! :)

The DasAshwamedh ghat is a fabulous site at night. Especially the Aarti there is a treat for both tourists and pilgrims alike. Though it was my first time witnessing an Aarti on a Ganga (Ganges) ghat, I did not feel the novelty – possibly because of my familiarity with the steps performed. The procession following it was quite a sight and a must watch for folks coming here.

Even though my left molar is breaking up due to an irresponsible scaling done by a dentist (do not visit Dr. Sathya’s clinic in Kormangala, Bangalore), I did not stay back from relishing what this city has on offer. Samosas, kachodis, gol-guppe, aloo chat and much more – I tried out everything so far I have come across. All I’ve to do is making sure that my Diclofenac dosage is alive, thanks to my father’s prescription.

The best part about Varanasi are the distances. Any office, bank, institution, apartment – any thing at all, you just spend a ten rupee note and get there. From the farthest corner to the other end, the city is really a sub-urban center with everything close by. Some common-sense for other cities: please keep all your financial institutions in one place, and that’s what Benaras has done. Come to Sigra (a place in Varanasi), and find everything nearby.

I did not arrive into Varanasi for tourism, the purpose could not be any more distant, but as co-incidence would have it, all I have been doing this year around is going to pilgrimage points (earlier in the year to Rameshwaram, though for a solar eclipse viewing). I feel relaxed now for my original goal of coming to Varanasi is nearing fulfillment.

Buying property/house in Varanasi? A word of caution. Please do not engage in any dealing with local brokers. There is a famous broker on the internet: Lalwani properties. These guys are extremely unprofessional, waste a lot of your time and will finally get you to a property that is undervalued and you will have to give out black cash to fill up the gaps. All that money goes black. Do not use Lalwani properties. Also, there’s another dealer: Varanasi propzone – please do not use them either. They are again unprofessional and will take all your time. Do not use Varanasi Propzone either if you want to save time. I don’t know about their service, but can assure you of their unprofessionalism about starting up on the wrong note. The best way is to find out reputed builders and then buy houses and properties directly from them.

Rajasthan CM Gehlot: The Biggest Dimwit?

This was reported on NewsX with Gehlot blurting out live on camera.

News: Jodhpur blood transfusion scam – children transfused with HIV+ blood

NewsReporter: Mr. Gehlot, what’s the Govt. doing..
CM Gehlot: We’ve sent an inquiry and authorities will be following up.
NewsReporter: How much time before we can see the reports..
CM Gehlot: We just won the Panchayati elections, we’re celebrating that “arre abhi to uski khushi manaiye aap log, Congress ne kitna bhadiya..
…err, cut it…

Seems like this bugger has more to celebrate than the newly HIV positive children.

URL Shorteners

Was looking at all the URL shorteners out there in the world when I found out that there’s even a Firefox plugin that can let you do it with any service available. Here’s the list of services, and clicking around you can install the plugin somehow too I guess.

One very interesting service is this one: smfu.in. Looks nice, though it does the f***ing same thing.

This post also deserves a Raghuism (quote from Raghu – the quote being nearly in the same context):

Women are like good domains – the nice ones have already been taken, and to find the nice ones left, you have to go to a foreign location.

Quite a thought.

Top mutual funds? (..and Exit Strategies)

There are no top performing mutual funds. All you do is, head over to http://moneycontrol.com, look at the best mutual funds with 3-10 year consistent performance, pick any two (or three) and start investing.

So what would ensure that your funds remain profitable? The exit strategy. Once you have loyally invested  2-3 funds, you establish a timeline, generally one year, to review performance. You execute your plans according to this timeline. These are generally my bullet-points:

  1. if a fund gives a loss of more than 25%, I take the loss and switch
  2. if a fund stays stable at a profit of at least 20% for the last 5 years, I switch to the top performing fund at that time and book my 20% profit
  3. if a fund gives me excess profit of 30%,  I book profit and stay put at this fund

The yearly review is because I do not want to spend too much time on investments, but may be you could do it in a semi-annual or quarterly cycle (anything less means you are obsessed with money). Your timelines also change. Here is a general directive I would follow for timelines when my review cycle is 1 year:

  1. less than 30 years of age: 8 years
  2. more than 30, less than 60 years: 5 years
  3. more than 60: 3 years

If discipline is maintained, your money should keep you happy (and don’t expect to buy a Rolls Royce at age 75 – those retirement benefit ads are generally misleading about the billionaire funda).

How to become a politician? (India)

The why. You want to change the system and do some real work you can take pleasure in than just whining about it. Get that road straightened, or better, a new one carved! But then, you have your principles and you don’t want to break them – and politics is about doing away with all the principles. Bull shit, it is about breaking principles, so what? Like they said in “Page Three”, “To change the system, you have to be in the system“. So break those bloody principles you have and do stuff to get to the top. Don’t lose sight of your aims and of what you were and when you get there, re-establish the real you.

The good. Contrary to belief, you really don’t have to be a son of a tycoon to become a politician – though it would certainly help a lot. Money is the goer in Indian politics today, but not the only one.

Let’s look at the timelines first. You start today with one of the few options we explore here, and you would probably take another 10 years to reach at the top – if everything falls right in place. Even if you are partly successful, it will take you to a position where you can do a considerably lot more than just whine.

The first option is to enroll into the civil services. This works best, since the chances of entering the political arena are a million times more than any of the other ways in. The plan is simple:

  1. Get ready for the civil services entrance exams conducted by UPSC.
  2. The hardest part is clearing the Mains, but well, you’re preparing for something larger in your mind – the Indian Polity, so this is nothing.
  3. Be in service for another 8-10 years, make your contacts and get your voluntary retirement when a party promises you a ticket.
  4. Even if your party, whoever it is, gets you to organize an election – you still can change a lot. It’s not about getting elected, the power to do anything at all on those levels can help you move stuff faster.
  5. With clear objectives, you can even do a lot of stuff if you are just a manager/organizer/adviser in a State/National party committee – since the only thing that matters is getting stuff done.

Obviously, I am imagining that you want to be a politician to be a change catalyst – and not a money minter. I hope you are never successful in case you are planning all of this for the latter. :|

The second way in is to apply to a local political party. The best time, when they need most help, is during an election (any election). You can showcase your public speaking skills, your education, your background, your negotiation skills – anything at all. Chances of your getting in at organizational levels are very high. They even pay a salary to individuals. Now, it is mentionable, that at every level of these options – there will be a tough job for you to get through by playing some “real games” in life. Did you hear, “you can never please everyone”? Get it out of your head. Time to change age-old adages and get them wrong is what your attitude should be.

The third option, and the real way that was devised to get into the system is… In most circumstances, you are already late for this. This was through being elected at the university level as a president for a youth wing of a particular party. This doesn’t apply to a lot of states where University politics has been banned or is extremely controlled. You don’t have to be the president per se, but this is the best arena you can sharpen your skills to get to the top.

The fourth way in is by going to the village of your dreams (or where you can associate yourself the closest). You attend the Panchayats, become a helping hand in every possible way and get to become one of the Panchs. Then you work your way up to the top. It would take a lot more time this way, but this is by far the easiest ways in for the urban-educated masses if they can understand and relate to rural problems. If you can’t take life without a packet of weekend, you have to practice and live with it.

The bad. These are a few of the ways to get there – all that sure looks easy but ain’t so. Not to disappoint you, but power comes after great risks but with greater benefits and even greater responsibility. Won’t talk about the benefits & responsibility, but now follow the risks and the tough part.

Civil services are not for onboarding politicians. The idea of it being a launchpad is since it’s the closest you can be with a real politician. Since you get close to them, you can tell them how you want to be one of them. There are threats though. 90 of 100 politicians today don’t want newcomers. Nepotism is what reigns there. So you have to be at the right place, with the right people and to complete it, at the right time with the right words. You risk getting far-posted and at worse, getting deported or even worse – getting stripped & jailed for things you never did.

Getting to work at a local office of a political party is no fun. You deal with people who themselves have been there for ages and have dreamt of becoming the CM-then-PM. To compete with such political nerds, who have nothing but fetishes of power, it’s a completely different game. Threat to life is the worse that it can get. Don’t try it if you are not a local yourself or cannot act like one. That is the best pretext to get you thrown out if they find out.

Studying in a University infested with a political system is the worst thing a student wants to do in India. But who said you were a student? You wanted to be a politician – and being a student who gets a degree at the end is just a side-effect. Since such Universities are numbered, your chances of getting into the University get lower since you again have to be a local to get all the advantages. To get to the top, you’d have to do things that you never believed in.

Of course, the surest way is always the longest – though with lesser risks (depending upon how aggressive the environment is). Getting into the Panchayati system (which is completely different from the state-union), makes sure you can do your stuff, strike a chord with the local polity and get to work on real-life projects that will alter the way people lead their life. The only thing it doesn’t do is – do it fast. So being in the realm of your final objectives all the time is going to be very critical. In most cases, this will be the most rewarding experience since you will see change happening as you go – and unlike the other options above, you’d get to do stuff right from the beginning.

New York, I love you – 2.5/5

Based on separate events in NYC, this movie is actually a string of short-films woven together. Out of some 10+ short films, I liked around 5 of them & thus my rating of 50% to the movie. For the most part, it doesn’t matter if it was NYC – because the same events could have taken place in LA, SFO or for that matter, even Delhi or Mumbai.

Unfortunately, Mira Nair’s directive stunt here was innately naive and I couldn’t be more disappointed. Natalie Portman was nice with the story direction, though it wasn’t as great in Ms. Nair’s part of the story. Shekhar Kapur was as usual at his best (though the screenplay was a little out of place).  Story transitioning was a little weird and it didn’t have to be NYC for two stories to be together anyway.

Pizza Incident

Ok, this doesn’t have anything to do with Pizzas, but with a party I threw out in Pizza Hut a long while ago. Since I have changed a lot of bosses now, I am sure nobody remembers who this ex-boss really is (unless you come picking on me). Here it goes:

Me: Has been 25 minutes already, if they don’t come back with the order in another 5 minutes, we’ll get it free.
Ex-manager: I’m looking at that guy in white shirt, he’s the most useless guy not doing anything at all while these folks serve..
Me: Well, he’s the manager.
[laughter]
[choke] [choke]
[laughter]

Not to be politically correct, but this was really all in good humor. ;)

The Secret – Rhonda Byrne – 1/5

It should be expected that “The Secret” will talk about mystical beliefs – something will happen on it’s own kind of thing. All you have to do is, believe that it will happen. The advice was a bit costly though (GBP 12).

There’s more to the secret though. There are testimonials and advices from a think tank that always believed in it any way. Things like the placebo effect are taken to the advantage of the topic. So what happens when things don’t come true even though you believed in them? The answer is, you had some “doubt” or “negativity” about it. Even though the book talks about the “negativity” being a thousand times less effective than the positivity, still the idea would stick in that the whole thing goes bust if you are out of faith. Heh.

This is a new cult coming up that is linking Quantum Physics to God and energy within you. I don’t think people should read this trash since every sensible human being already knows that “looking forward”, “being positive” and “believing in yourself” are the things to be successful. People who just lost something need a reminder, but please read it here instead of unnecessarily feeding on the garbage that is devoid of any new ideas and just keeps the parrots alive.

“Why are you even giving it a 1/5?” asks my wife. “To make myself feel good that I did not completely waste GBP 12 and the 1 day spent reading”. After all, that was one of the messages: “feel good”.

Dhanushkodi: Annular Eclipse

Moon's shadow on EarthWas my first time at an annular eclipse (with 100% contact – have been in partial contact once in 2005). Just to be clear, an annular eclipse, contrary to a total eclipse, does not induce darkness due to the increased distance of the moon from the earth. To understand further, you might want to see this image (preview on the right).

Pavan (an active volunteer of BAS) was accompanying me and Raghu on this trip. We drove to Dhanushkodi via Madurai and Rameshwaram (the oncoming two/three wheelers on your side of the lane deserves a separate post). We almost got killed by an oncoming Ambulance. A day’s stop in Madurai on Jan 14 and Jan 15th saw us in Dhanushkodi (DKD). DKD is right across Pamban bridge, some 10 Kms from Rameswaram. It’s a small island, surrounded by the ocean on two sides and extends to the last point of India that just touches Sri Lanka.

Annular Eclipse Phases - (click to view larger: in a new window/tab)

Contrary to expectations, DKD was free of an enormous crowd. The Tamil Nadu Science Society was organizing an event there (and quite a few folks from Assam – the Guwahati Planetarium, Gujarat, Bengal etc. were to be seen). Photos were being clicked as the “Media” approached us and we shyed away. Though we were carrying a telescope, due to lack of a filter we could not set it up and missed  the oppurtunity to use it. Pavan got a filter for his camera right on time (though I carved out something with an X-ray sheet, but the mylar sheet filter was definitely a better bet).

First contact of the eclipse was at 11:15 AM – as we put on our eclipse viewers, the sight was stunning.  The intensity of the sunlight decreased by as much as 75% (approximately) and the temperature certainly decreased by at least a couple of degrees (if not more). The sea wasn’t very rough, but the tide certainly had increased a lot more than what it was in the morning.

At about 1:20pm, we saw the ring – a beautiful sight as I kept gazing at it. There’s still a lot of light around you, just that it is white and not the usual yellow light and the intensity is nothing like a sun in a clear sky. The sky was spotless during the maximum eclipse around the sun, but it felt like there’s a cloud covering. Something very unusual, but a characteristic property of an annular eclipse on the ground. To understand how the eclipse traces the path on the ground, see this image.

We came back to Rameshwaram, stayed on till night and hopped back home the next day.

Interestingly, Raghu pointed out that I ended up following the popular superstitous Hindu activity of:

  1. not eating anything during the eclipse (though I drank some water and ate peanuts – which he discounts as: “even monkeys eat them“),
  2. taking a bath post-eclipse (we found a room at Rameswaram only in the evening, so I took a bath ASAP),
  3. visiting a temple post-eclipse (we went to hog – but couldn’t find anything since Rameswaram halts between 5pm and 6.30pm – so we had to go into the temple to make the most of our time)
  4. eating only after a bath (we were forced to take another 22 baths in the Kunds in the Rameshwaram temple – and then we hogged Dosas).

Heh, I broke (1) though, while Raghu/Pavan somehow broke (1) and (2). So glad I am.