Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tata makes cars that cost under $2500

A New Set of Wheels - Sepia Mutiny

I happened to read this interesting article on Sepia Mutiny. Cars are becoming cheaper and cheaper. This article on Thatskannada gives some interesting information about JRD Tata, and how he wanted everybody to be able to own cars (please look at the end of the article).

However, coming back to this piece, one line caught my attention:

"Forbes quotes consultants at Roland Berger as estimating that it would
cost as much as $4,000 on top of Tata’s $2,500 price to engineer the
car to meet U.S. safety and emission regulations, transport, pay
tariffs, market it, pay lawyers and other warranties"

What *is* this! If it is for the US, cars need to be engineered to meet U.S safety and emission regulations! I have absolutely no problem with that, but should we not think about safety and cleaner technology ourselves? Just travel for half an hour in any of Bangalore's roads, and you will not want to travel anywhere, ever again. For the millions of hapless commuters, vehicle emission has become regular breakfast and snack.

And it is not totally the Government's fault. Suppose they pass more stringent emission-regulation laws, the public will somehow get around the "problem" by bribing the authorities and getting an emission certificate. Auto drivers and BMTC drivers will go on strike. Some buses will be burnt and the law will be repealed. There, that's the end of all reformation.

I am wondering if we can do anything other than complain...

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Global warming - India Today's article by Raj Chengappa

Yesterday, I happened to read an alarming article, 'Apocalypse Now' by Raj Chengappa, in India Today. There were 'sister-articles' about what is wrong with the monsoons and melting glaciers. As I read the article, I started feeling queasy in my stomach. If we do not take control of the pollution-situation right now, we are literally going to be in a soup (of very salty water, dead aquatic animals and industrial waste), what with the sea level rising because of global warming. How is this for starters - there was a picture of the Gateway of India, half submerged in the sea. Or these statistics, I quote - "379 parts per million is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the highest in 6,50,000 years, and 2035 is the year when the Himalayan glaciers may totally disappear, causing catastrophic disruptions". We will be paying the price for decades, if not centuries of harm that we have inflicted on Mother Earth.

Raj Chengappa quotes Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a professor of glaciology, who saw that the snout of the gangOtri glacier that feeds Ganga had developed huge fractures and crevices along a 10-km stretch, which indicated large-scale ice-melts. The professor also saw that the temperature was an average five degrees Celsius higher than last year's. According to the professor, this kind of deterioration is unprecedented. He (Prof. Hasnain) says: "If the rate continues, we could see much of the Gangotri glacier and others in the Himalayas vanish in the next couple of decades."

Heavens! Where would we be if the Gangotri glacier disappeared? The fertile plain fed by Ganga would be only a memory, while North India would become a desert! Our monsoons have already become erratic, and no one would be surprised in the least, if the above scenario were to be seen soon. If this article is not a terrifying wake-up call, I do not know what is.

As it is, I rant enough and I do not want to write about the other horrifying statistics given in the article. Chengappa gives some simple suggestions on how we can help reduce global warming, in our own small way. Here goes: (My comments are preceded by 'P:')

1. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact flourescent lamps.
2. Use solar devices to heat water for bathing. P: I think this is very popular already. I would like to add solar cookers and solar inverters to the list. Visit the india-solar mailing list on yahoo groups.
3. Construct green (=environmentally friendly) buildings. P: Some suggestions: Use hollow bricks so it does not get too hot or too cold in the house. Result- you save on cooling and heating. Have skylight(s), so you don't have to turn on electric lights till late in the evening. Position windows so that you get maximum light out of them. Use eco-friendly paints. Grow plants in and around the house.
4. Turn off computers when not in use. Apparently they consume as much energy as three 60-W bulbs (P: I did not know this!!). So, avoid the standby mode.
5. Switch off the lights when not in use.
6. Conserve water. Use sprinklers or drip-irrigation devices for watering lawns or growing crops. P: I have read that this works for home gardens too. Can't wait to try it out.
7. Check your tyre-pressure often to save fuel.
8. Buy energy-efficient appliances.
9. Prepare for disaster: Dengue and Diarrhoea cases are expected to rise. Ensure that your local hospitals are well equipped to handle the imminent crisis so that recovery is quick and there is minimum loss of life. P: Folks, if this does not scare you, you're not human.
10. Buy fuel-efficient cars. For every litre of petrol consumed, about four kg of carbon dioxide gets injected into the atmosphere. P: Reva tops my list of favorite cars.
11. Walk, do not drive. If you must drive, combine a lot of chores. P: You will benefit from the exercise, and will help the environment too.
12. Reduce air-travel.
13. Good quality shower heads ensure the flow of water is low but efficient, thereby conserving energy.
14. Consume less. P: The most difficult thing in this consumer-driven age.
15. Don't waste water.
16. Recycle
17. Switch to wind power. P: Dunno how this can be implemented.
18. Shun plastic bags. P: If you do have plastic covers, reuse them as many times as you can. In the US, almost all shops have this system of returning carry-covers back to the store itself. Something like that can be started here also.
19. Use public transport. Push the government to improve public transport facilities. P: Using the public transport - another hard thing to do. Pushing the government - much harder. What do we do?
20. Save paper.
21. Rationalize price of electricity. ...haul up politicians for indulging in populism and educate villagers on the virtues of paid power. P: Virtually impossible
22. Plant trees: Make it a point to plant and take care of as many trees as you can.
23. Switch to bio-fuels.
24. Demand clean technology. ...get the government to persist on developed countries to sell clean technology to India cheap... P: Again, very hard to do.
25. Let others know. P: I am doing my part by writing this post :)

I agree with the author on most of the twenty-five points. The only thing that seems impossible to do is persuading the government to do anything. They are more interested in increasing reservation quota and fighting with the opposition. It is totally in *our* hands to make our situation better. It is more we-have-to-do-it, than we-can-do-it.
In addition to the above 25, if you have any more suggestions, please share it with me, and also the readers of India Today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Kalidasa is regarded as kavikulaguru (=the preceptor of the clan of kavi-s). Almost as famous as Kalidasa in the literary circles, is Mallinatha, who has written commentaries regarded very highly by scholars, upon Kalidasa's works.

There is this little-known story (which is, in all probabilities, a legend, ದಂತಕಥೆ) about Mallinatha that I would like to share. I concluded that it was little known, because I could not find references to that story on the internet. I had read it long back, in a Kannada book for children.

Mallinatha was a pampered youth from a rich family. He was made to learn under capable teachers, but he was too lazy to be competent at learning, and abandoned his studies soon. He grew into a handsome youth and since he was from a rich family also, he was in high demand as a son-in-law. He was finally married to a very learned woman.

Mallinatha's wife noticed soon that her husband was too un-knowledgeable for her liking. When one day, Mallinatha praised the beauty of a flower lying on the road-side, she remarked "Of what use is its beauty? Since it does not possess fragrance, it cannot be used for worship". These words stung Mallinatha, and he resolved to restart his learning.

He enrolled himself in a gurukula, and began his studies. For a married youth who had passed his life thitherto in nothing but luxury, life in a gurukula was really hard, but he did not mind that. His guru had instructed his wife, the gurupatni, that mallinatha had to get neem oil instead of ghee, with his meals. Mallinatha was so engrossed with his studies, that he did not notice that he was being served neem oil daily. Because of his assiduous efforts, he made progress in his studies by leaps and bounds.

One day, while he was having his meals with his guru, he noticed that there was something wrong with his food. He said to the gurupatni "Mother, the food is bitter today!". The guru who was sitting next to him, smiled and patted his back, and said "Your education is complete today. You may go home now". He then explained to the puzzled Mallinatha that all during his stay at the gurukula, he was being served neem oil and that he had not noticed it at all, till then.

Mallinatha went back home to the joy of his wife and parents, and wrote the famous commentaries on Kalidasa's works.
The story does not end here. The next part of the story is from Dr.R.Ganesh's "kavitegondu kathe".
Seeing that her husband was now a very learned man, Mallinatha's wife asked him to write a poem about her. After much coercion, mallinAtha wrote a poem, likening her to shoorpanakhaa (रामवैरिभगिनीव राजसे !)
Mallinatha's wife was irritated by this description of her, and was waiting to get back at her husband. Now, in his commentaries, Mallinatha had the habit of writing "ityarthaH" (=this is the meaning), "iti bhAvaH"(=this is the import). He used to be so engrossed with his work, that he used to use these words even during normal conversation. When, one day, Mallinatha asked her what was for lunch, she replied
इत्यर्थ-क्वथितं चैवेतिभाव-तेमनं तथा
सज्जीकृतेद्य भुक्त्यर्थं तुष्यतां भवदाशयः ।
"There is boiled ityartha, majjigehuLi called iti bhAva. Have this lunch and be satisfied!"
Mallinatha was justified in being proud of his wife!

Monday, April 09, 2007


Tiruvannamalai had been on our must-visit-soon list for a long time. We had planned several one, two and three-day trips, but none of the plans came into action. This weekend, however, we did not plan a lot, and just left for Tiruvannamalai early in the morning. It is just over two hundred kilometers from Bangalore, a good three and a half hours' journey. The road is good. For some distance it is very good, but as one nears T., it worsens. However, it is much, much better than the roads of Karnataka.

Tiruvannamalai (tiru-aruNa-malai = shrI aruNAchala) houses the shrine of Lord aruNAchalEshvara and apItakuchAmbA . Siva is said to have appeared here as a mountain of fire, to test Brahma and Vishnu. Therefore, the tattva here in this lingam is that of fire. Part of the temple (a thousand-pillar-hall and the kalyANi) has been built by our own Krishnadeva Raya.

In the praakaaram of the temple, there are other small temples of shiva, like kAlahastIshvara, jambukEshvara, etc. I was thrilled to see a small shrine of kAlahastIshvara. The story of tiNNanar is one of little biyadiya's favorite bed-time stories. I took him to that shrine and showed kaNNappa to him. I do not know how much he understood, but as I said, I was thrilled.

I have one problem with the temples of Tamil Nadu. They are all beautifully built with stone, but have been un-beautified by paints of various glaring colours. Look at Tiruttani or Kalahasti or any other temple, they are all painted blue and green and red and what not. In my opinion, the temples would look much better and 'cooler' if they were not painted. However, to each, his own...

The hill Arunachala is really beautiful. It is revered as Lord Shiva himself. On the hill, a saint called 'arunagirinaatha' (I am not sure of the name, and I could not find any reference on the web) is still supposed to be performing tapas, much like babaji in the Himalayas (remember Rajnikant's movie baba?). Parikrama or circumambulation of the hill is supposed to be equivalent to circumambulating Shiva himself. We just went around Arunachala by car.

Almost as famous as the Arunachaleshvara temple is the aashrama of shrI Ramana Maharshi.It is a beautiful aashrama. My husband was saying that one should go there for the silence. Coming to think of it, it was not really that silent. People were talking, the peacocks and peahens were shouting at each other (peacocks are called kEkI in Sanskrit, because of their characteristic sound) and there were vehicles passing on the adjacent road. But the place is so calm that one can hear oneself thinking. I guess that is what one would expect out of a place like Ramanashramam.

Ramanashramam has two attractions - one is Shri Ramana himself and the other is the peacocks. There are many peacocks here. A couple of peacocks even spread their feathers and it was a treat to the eyes, especially for a first-timer like me. Little biyadiya followed a peacock everywhere it went, and finally gave it up.

This was an unforgettable trip. True, we could not find good hotels there, and it was sweltering (hey, the tattva here is fire, after all), but aruNAchala is one place I will want to visit again and again (hopefully for regular parikramas...)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time Travel

Okay, this happens to me whenever I am reading about/working with non-causal systems. I start thinking a lot about time-travel. Wouldn't it be great if we could travel back in time and set right many of our wrongs? Or if we could travel to the future and see how our great-grand children would look? Practicalities aside, it is an amazing concept.

Time-travel has been a pet subject for sci-fi movie makers, for a long time, and it does not seem to get old at all! There used to be this series telecast on the Sci-fi channel. A man is tossed from one body to another body and another, all in different times, so that he can set right the wrongs done by other people, and finally return to his own body to the present. He has only one friend throughout this exercise - Al (I think), who appears to him as a hologram. It was an enjoyable series. Fi, yes, but Sci? I should think very little Science was involved :)

And there are those gadgets that have invited a lot of speculation but have always eluded serious research for practical reasons - the time machines. H.G. Well's book 'Time Machine' was even made into a movie starring Guy Pearce. I still have to read the book. A more famous movie and a personal favorite involving time machines, is the 'Back to the Future' trilogy. Who can not love the bungling 'Doc' and the spirited young Michael? And there is another good movie called 'Frequency', where a man communicates with his father from the past and saves his parents from fatal accidents. Even the famous 'Star Trek' has a few episodes on time travel. Coming to Indian cinema, we have 'Aditya 369' which is a pretty good movie too.

There is this theory about how time-machines may work. I had read it someplace, years ago. The events happening on the earth can be seen from the Sun eight minutes later, because the light from the earth takes eight minutes to reach the Sun. So, if you can travel faster than the speed of light (Ah, there is that limit again!), you can 'view' the events that happened eight minutes ago, first hand. There is no way of checking it because we still have not found a way to travel faster than light. And interfering with the past still cannot be explained.

Traveling to the future only gets trickier. There is absolutely no explanation that even remotely makes sense, of how one can travel into the future. Some argue that there are millions of futures etched out for you, and you just pick one each nanosecond of your life. Keep choosing futures one after another and - well, you can travel to the future! However, this argument is not even worth considering. There are just too many unknowns in the equation.

Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne suggests that wormholes, which are allowed by the laws of Theoretical Physics, can be used for traveling in time. Something that comes from an eminent physicist like him cannot be disregarded. But we have to continue being in the present, and see what direction research takes.

As far as I know, the concept of time-machines and time-travel is quite recent. I have not come across that in Indian or Western mythologies that I have read. From all practical observations, our conclusion is that Time flows only in one direction. That is what our ancients also seem to have thought.

That is the sensible thing to think, too. As a subhAShita goes -
गतशोकं न कुर्वीत भविष्यं नैव चिन्तयेत्
वर्तमानेषु कार्येषु प्रवर्तन्ति विचक्षणाः ।