Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Women in sky-blue: An engineer's experience

Reading Indrani's salute to a fearless Gurkha and seeing TV bytes of India's military hero Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw brings back this flood of memories from a soldier who donned the Air Force uniform for a short six years. [Every soldier's life shows unusual colours whose shades are very different from moments in civilians' lives. While a Field Marshal's service displays several highs in 256 colours or higher, permit me to place much shorter service tenures at the lower end of the spectrum.]
Nabhah Sprusham Deeptam - Touch the sky with glory: The motto of the Indian Air Force evokes a great sense of pride, patriotism and humble veneration of all things airborne, be it a soaring bird, a trail blazing jet or a rocket reaching out to the heavens. The blue uniform may be familiar to some, but few can ever understand or appreciate the spirit contained therein. When the early 1990's saw the entry of women into the non-medical, frontline arms of Indian Defence: the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, it marked a milestone in progressive Indian thinking. There has been a continual waning of interest and regard, over the years, among the general public, perhaps due to decreasing awareness about the fighting arms of the country's defense, Kargil and umpteen regular skirmishes notwithstanding. As in many other walks of life, there is a dismal gender inequality in terms of sheer numbers. Whether it was a question of the right form of address, or being considered mantelpiece objects, to more serious issues like fitness for fighter aircraft duties, it has been a continuous organizational groping in uncharted waters. Without any attempt at feminist gimmicks, I present here a few experiences of an early engineer-entrant in that scenario, having seen six years of active Air Force life.
I miss my uniform!
When I joined a CSIR lab after completing my tenure of six year's short service commission, there was the daily question of what "main" and accessories to wear, and how to wear your crowning glory, as many office-goers may experience. What bliss, when one had just to don the blue uniform, or an overall, and the cap over neatly put-up hair!
Yes, Sir or Yes, Madam?
Then there was the question of being addressed, which is not trivial when one is in uniform. Sensible work-minded personnel continued in their stride, addressing the new
entrants "Sir". A jobless few preferred to debate the gender-specific forms "Sir" and "Madam". I wonder now whether a decade and half has been sufficient for the Force to make up its mind.
Round Pegs and Square Holes
We were 'L' (Electronics) engineers and 'M' (Mechanical) engineers (the former far outnumbered the latter); our duties at any unit (generic name for any Squadron / Wing / Station / Depot) were clearly defined. The personnel with 'L' background may find themselves say in the battery charging room, or the signals section, or the Radar section etc, and their 'M' counterparts may take charge of the transport section, the Armoury and the like. One of the places for the 'L' people is the Photo Section, somewhat similar to a part of the Graphic Arts section here. A bright peer came up with the (unsolicited, Bollywood Johnny-style) suggestion: "Put the girls in the Photo section; expose bhi ho jayegi, develop bhi ho jayegi".
GI Joe's influence?
At the CSIR lab, a few weeks after I commenced work there, I came to know about the perception a few had on hearing that a person with military background was likely to join the lab. It appears that a gun-toting female was expected, perhaps in battle
fatigues? Would that I could get back into those blues! (Wishful thinking: would they fit?).
Of civilian luxuries...
What a luxury to find Ladies Rooms - tiled and well-lit ones at that - in today's work-spaces! It took my second place of posting, five years and an evidently growing waistline before it was brought home to the then Commanding Officer that this species of officers were humans too; 'major works' (military parlance for Estate and Building activity) services were sanctioned thereafter. One humbly hopes these luxuries are ready on date.
.... and civilities
When the organization insisted on adding extras to our names, as in Flying Officer (Mrs / Ms / Miss) X, when male peers would be just Flying Officer Y, up went the 'fairer' arms in protest. The fiasco ended with the choice left to the typist! I had mixed feelings, however, during an out-station duty in Bangalore. On arriving at the HAL guest house, I found excellent accommodation arranged - to be shared along with three male colleagues - it appears that "Flying Officer R Swarnalatha", carried in the written request for accommodation, was not clear enough in its gender.
A Flight Lieutenant signing off...
Not for the entire world would I exchange those precious years, and memories, and experiences. JFK may have said: "Ask not what the country...", I can say that I have done my wee-bit, in uniform, for the nation.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

We live once. Why do we leave so many tell-tale signs? - Part III: Net Debris

Just read a news item that the World will run out of Internet addresses by 2010. What does that mean? There are 4.3 billion addresses now. (700 million still available for allocation). A whole new Internet protocol IPv6 will offer 340 trillion-trillion-trillion new addresses (to get an idea of the number: this figure outnumbers the 'grains of sands on the world's beaches').
A good percent of this must contribute to (what I call) Net debris - Expired domains (till they get a new avatar), web pages with poor usability, decades-old e-mail archives, and God forbid - older posts of this blog, over time, :).
To illustrate
- www.koneruhumpy.com may have once been a protal for our very own International Grandmaster.
- I remember looking up information relating to Indian Government's VAT in vatguru.com.
- look at www.aditya-mukherjee.com
Such sites seem to have moved on, resold, recycled, and reused, so I should be happy, right?
For further reading:
Web addresses to become diverse

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My grandmother

"A thousand eyes are needed to behold your cosmic dance, O Nataraja..." This song is symbolic of the ironies in my grandmother's sightless life.
She had lost vision in both the eyes when she married at the age of 12. She mothered seven children, three of whom survived. She was a great cook - the rest of the family needed to ensure that the kitchen goods be left in their designated positions. She sang so well, and I always needed to be tucked into bed by her. The lyrics of "Iyyane un natanam Anandam paarkave...aayiram kangal vendume' resonate in my ears, complete with the exact places where she'd draw breath. (I am still looking for the complete lyrics, though I can comfortably tuck my son in with the right tune and remembered words)
In her younger days, she'd walk to relatives houses through the streets of Coimbatore's town area (wonder why she never used the customary cane). When older, she took care of the grandchildren, and the cooking, and herself.

In the early 80's Sankara Netralaya set up its laser equipment for eye disorders, and she agreed to consult specialists there. She did sit for a couple of sessions, and we mustered hope, hitherto as remote as the light she said she could make out. As fate would have it, the equipment faced some hiccups, and by the time it was ready again, she was undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer. Perhaps she submitted to this particular affliction so that her husband, known for being partial to tobacco, was spared...
She succumbed on June 27, 1987, but continues to light up the path for the rest of the family.
Salutations to all elders, who give absolute meaning in letter and spirit, to that word!
Thank you, Raji. Your birthday remembrance of your M-I-L inspired me to complete this long-planned entry.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Aung San Suu Kyi, Happy Birthday!

Looking as young as 36, Suu Kyi spent her 63rd birthday on June 19, in the confines of her house - nothing new for the Nobel Laureate spending her 13th year in isolation from the entire world.

Pic courtesy: Dassk Photo Gallery
Here are the most sincere wishes sent her way - A long and healthy life, continued hope and support, and most of all, a fervent prayer for the junta to shed their bullheaded behaviour.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Responsible Advertising - An oxymoron?

Just watched an ad for 'zip-lock' kind of popular - easy-to-use, versatile, multi-purpose - bags. The couch potato is urged to use nice and neat bags for storing food items in the fridge, then warming in the oven, and so on. All well, nice and tidy. I waited, wishfully thinking, for the ad to conclude with a message about the bag's reuse and ultimate disposal. At least a statutory warning? Kept waiting!
Does 'responsible advertising' continue to be an oxymoron?
Isn't it time those well-heeled ad professionals fulfil a more ethical role, in the larger sense, to society? It appears that Extended producer responsibilty (EPR) is taking its own sweet time to move from conceptual stage to the top of corporate portfolios, election manifestos, and ad-gurus' CVs.
The polluter has to pay!
There are a few efforts at improving the ethics in advertising. See, for example, Responsible advertising and Children, and Socially responsible advertising

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Solar Cookers - Let's welcome them home!

Been meaning to explore using a solar cooker for a while now, after reading about them in Solar Cookers International, which is doing phenomenal work popularizing the technology in the developing world, through several aid agencies. The Hindu devoted editorial space to them today - see 'Cooking with the sun'
How many of us are ready to start using solar cookers, in India, which enjoys a rather blessed amount of sunshine for most of the year? A few weeks ago, a friend and I had decided that we should do a solar cooker search - we found not one dealer in the city of Coimbatore, then.
I found a list of solar cooker manufacturers here, but that seems to be rather dated and sketchy, and is at best a guideline. Here's a ready list of nation-wide solar cooker suppliers.
(I later looked for city -wise suppliers, and have compiled a list ofover 200 suppliers in South India. I'll be glad to share the whole spreadsheet with readers - is it possible to post or link a spreadsheet?)
For those interested to know further:
How do solar cookers work
Presentation on solar cooking
A look at the Indian scene on solar cookers

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Oorj Swaraj: how very sane, how very possible

During the freedom struggle a century ago, Tilak's slogan “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” inspired millions of Indians. I felt somewhat the same way on reading Justice VR Krishna Iyer's vision of Oorj Swaraj.
Who will not be inspired by these words "Energy sovereignty, or oorj swaraj, for India is no idle dream but a realisable target."
As a nation have we become blind? Can't we read the writing on the wall? In plain and simple language Justice Krishna Iyer says "The neglect of India's energy resources and the failure to adopt a scientific approach to maximise their use are unforgivable, and the simultaneous pursuit of exotic treaties is unfortunate". Unfortunate, yes, and unless we get rid of this handicap of zero vision, we will end up with "tragic feudal-colonial energy illiteracy".

We have rich alternative energy potential, we should think a hundred times before running after fancy treaties and getting into the supplier-dictates-all trap.
So how about a 21st century slogan - "Oorj Swaraj is my nation's target, and I shall work at achieving it"

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"The Story of Stuff"

Anti-consumerism and non-consumerism are subjects close to the heart, so it was heartening to come across The Story of Stuff. The presenter Annie Leonard has painstakingly put together a 20-minute video on the material(istic) economy, in other words - mindless consumerism.
That's the first frank admission I've ever heard from an American that
- they are the worst consumers
- they create disproportionate trash
- they get cheaper electronics and other stuff only after indiscriminate, behind the scenes, unaccounted use of natural resources and the sweat of the brow of the third world

Her message, simply put, reads - 'Linear system in a finite world is unsustainable'. You don't need to be a Math wizard to understand that.

I'd like to think that more people are now aware of the environmental costs of our consumption pattern. I'm glad I could record this (on this page) close on the heels of Human Footprint Calculator.
Annie Leonard directs the viewer to a list of 10 'what-can-I-do' suggestions. We can start on one of them right away: "Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less"

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