Showing posts with label Bangalore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bangalore. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

India’s obsession with crimes committed by software engineers

 

A long overdue and awesome article has come up on Bloomberg. About the media craze behind ‘techie’ crimes in India. Specially, in Bangalore. It also hints to the kind of resentment the locals have towards ‘techie’ outsiders

 

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Prachi Das was murdered on a Monday. The killer, a friend of her husband’s named Basudev Jena, showed up at her apartment in Bangalore on March 2, 2015, in hopes she would help him with his debts. Jena hadn’t meant to hurt Das, he later told the police, but he lost his temper when she refused to lend him money. He tried to tear away her necklace, and when Das screamed he cut her throat. The landlady stopped him in the hallway as he tried to flee, his shirt stained with blood.

In India, print newspapers thrive as if it were 1995. They’re numerous and energetic, and they rush to the scene of a good story. Das’s murder was a sensation, and each publication did what it could to distinguish its coverage. The Indian Express dwelt on the meaning of a carton of ice cream found melting near her body, and the Times of India floated an alternate theory of the crime, speculating that Das had screamed because she saw a rat, leading Jena to panic. But all the papers agreed on the overriding importance of a single, seemingly inconsequential detail: Both Jena and Das’s husband were software engineers. Or, as the profession is known in India, they were techies.

“TECHIE’S WIFE MURDERED” read the headlines in both the Hindu and the Bangalore Mirror. “TECHIE STABS FRIEND’S WIFE TO DEATH” ran in the Deccan Herald. To read the Indian newspapers regularly is to believe the software engineer is the country’s most cursed figure. Almost every edition carries a gruesome story involving a techie accused of homicide, rape, burglary, blackmail, assault, injury, suicide, or another crime. When techies are the victims, it’s just as newsworthy. The Times of India, the country’s largest English-language paper, has carried “TECHIE DIES IN FREAK ACCIDENT” and “MAN HELD FOR PUSHING TECHIE FROM TRAIN”; in the Hindu, readers found “TEACHER CHOPS OFF FINGERS OF TECHIE HUSBAND” and “TECHIE DIED AFTER BEING FORCE-FED CYANIDE.” A long-standing journalistic adage says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In India, if it codes, it explodes.

The epicenter of techie tragedy is Bangalore, a city in the southern state of Karnataka that bills itself as India’s Silicon Valley. Bangalore has more startups than any other city in the country and is home to Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle, in addition to big domestic information technology companies such as Infosys and Wipro. More than 10 percent of Bangalore’s 10.5 million residents work in tech, giving journalists plenty of unfortunate events to sensationalize: “ASSAULT OVER BANANA SPLIT: 3 TECHIES HELD”; “DEPRESSED BANGALORE TECHIE INJURES 24 IN SWORD ATTACK SPREE.”

The resentment implicit in techie headlines occasionally spills over into actual violence

When I visited the city in September, the Bangaloreans I met fondly recounted their favorite techie stories from the local press. One involved a couple whose nanny secretly rented out their baby to street beggars. Another featured a software engineer who pretended to be an astrologer to trick his wife into confessing infidelity, then bludgeoned her to death with a religious idol and, for good measure, called in bomb threats to the airport pretending to be the husband of an ex-girlfriend with whom he hoped to get back together.

Reddit users recently observed that the “Indian techie” has become like the “Florida man” meme in America: an archetype of incompetent criminality and hapless violence. But in India, the techie is also celebrated as a symbol of the country’s ascendancy in the global economy. “In a society where there are no heroes, techies are the only heroes,” said Mohandas Pai, a venture capitalist, in his corner office on the top floor of a building near Bangalore’s central park. “A techie is a person you look up to with great respect,” he said, adding that the media’s sordid stories “are just sensationalizing.”

Even if that’s true, the coverage resonates with readers. The resentment implicit in techie headlines occasionally spills over into actual violence. On Sept. 12, riots broke out across Bangalore after a court ordered Karnataka to share water with a neighboring state. Thirsty mobs targeted the well-kept Oracle office, which had to be evacuated, as well as eight Infosys employee buses, whose passengers were forced to walk home under a hail of stones.

Technology was supposed to deliver India from poverty, but in Bangalore it’s also deepened the division between rich and poor, young and old, modern and traditional. As the city has grown richer, it’s also become unruly and unfamiliar. If the tech worker is the star of the Indian economy, then the techie is his shadow—spoiled, untrustworthy, adulterous, depressed, and sometimes just plain senseless. (“TECHIE WITH EARPHONES RUN OVER BY TRAIN.”) In one occupational boogeyman, Bangaloreans can see their future and their fears.

Hundred Feet Road runs through Indiranagar, a once-quiet neighborhood that’s now the center of the Bangalore tech scene. It feels as if someone diverted a highway through a shopping mall. Shops and restaurants crowd the sidewalks like spectators at a parade, and rooftop pubs crank their music to drown the clamor from the street. People complain that Bangalore’s traffic is the worst in India, and the eight lanes of Hundred Feet Road often come to a standstill as drivers, trying to get somewhere as quickly as possible, make it impossible for anyone to get anywhere at all. Only the cows, headed nowhere, enjoy the right of way.

Across from an Adidas shop, Chiranjiv Singh, the former development commissioner of Karnataka state, lives in a small but verdant plot—a sliver of the wilderness he found when he moved there 40 years ago. The land was a coconut grove then, and a few tall trees still lend his home their shade. The birds and monkeys have stopped visiting, though, and Singh, a soft-spoken Sikh with a long and coarse beard, expects he will leave soon, too: “I don’t know how long we can continue here because of all this noise.”

Bangalore gridlock: Natives bitterly complain about the role of techies in crippling the city’s infrastructure.

Photograph: Kuni Takahashi/The New York Times via Redux

Bangalore used to be known as the Garden City. It was a medium-size, middle-class metropolis in one of the few areas of India that didn’t broil in summertime. Colonial bungalows nestled among flower beds, old trees, and pristine lakes. “I have discussed the subject of Bangalore with persons in other parts of India and have found that 90 out of a hundred dream of settling down in Bangalore, after retirement,” the novelist R.K. Narayan wrote in 1977. Another nickname for the city was the Pensioner’s Paradise.

Bangalore’s makeover began in the 1980s. Previously a center of textiles, aerospace, and electronics, the city became an outsourcing hub as undersea fiber-optic cables made it possible for U.S. and European corporations to offshore IT work. Texas Instruments opened a software-design center there in 1985; Infosys, an omnibus software and services provider, went public in 1993; and three years later a local coder invented Hotmail. By the turn of the century, Bangalore had established a reputation for coding quality software at low cost, and corporations hired the city’s engineers en masse to guard their systems against the Y2K bug. Bangalore inspired Thomas Friedman’s 2005 best-seller on globalization, The World Is Flat.

From 1981 to 2001, Bangalore doubled its population, to 5.7 million. The invaders had a name. “We had a new occupational category emerge: the IT engineer,” said Balaji Parthasarathy, a professor at the International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore. IT engineers brought a lot of benefits. Real income grew much faster in Bangalore than in other parts of India, and the city became the country’s main link to the economies of the West. “We have more connections with Silicon Valley than with Delhi,” said Pai. “Bangalore is India’s only global city.”

But the IT engineers lived differently from the pensioners and other longtime residents. They spoke English, not the native Kannada, and lived in gated condominium towers with pools and fitness clubs rather than in traditional bungalows. They worked in amenity-rich office parks, shopped in designer malls, ate at Western chain restaurants, and socialized in posh microbreweries. And their strange habits were chronicled by the booming local press.

The word “techie” first appeared in newspaper headlines in the 1990s simply because it was shorter than “software engineer.” Readers loved the stories, and editors soon went out of their way to assign them. “The news value of anything to do with a techie seems to be more,” said B. Pradeep Nair, the news editor of the Hindu, in his office, as that day’s edition was being put to bed. Media consultant Imran Qureshi recalled a story he covered 15 years ago about a married couple in Chennai who were producing child pornography. That in itself wasn’t scandalous enough to make the story a sensation. “It became a headline story because the man happened to be an IT professional,” Qureshi said.

Today, Indian journalists apply the word “techie” to anyone remotely connected to the IT industry. Some headlines imply that techies are more important than other people, such as “TECHIE AMONG THREE BURNT ALIVE IN GARUDA BUS MISHAP.” Other stories tell of incidents so minor they seem to exist only so the journalist can use the word. The Herald recently reported on a techie who had stepped on a “brittle footpath slab” and suffered “swelling in his leg.”

The close scrutiny makes the techie seem alien, like a strange specimen in a cage. “When we use ‘techie,’ it is a bit of a local-vs.-outsider thing,” said Ravi Joshi, editor of the Bangalore Mirror, in his newsroom. “It is basically the profession that does not belong here.”

One afternoon in Bangalore, my Uber driver, Chethan J., invited me to join him in the front seat of the car. (Many Indians use a single name, or mononym, sometimes with an initial.) We were in the center lane of one of the city’s busiest roads, which meant, of course, that we weren’t moving. Chethan is 22, with thick black hair and a mustache grown long at the tips. Thinking to myself, When in Bangalore, do as Thomas Friedman does, I asked him for a driver’s-eye view of tech workers. Chethan’s mood darkened. “They are coming and destroying our culture,” he said. Industry boosters are fond of saying that each tech job creates anywhere from 3 to 10 support jobs in the city, but Chethan had no affection for the engineers he ferried around all day. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and joined Uber only when he couldn’t find a better-paying job. “The locals are servants,” he said. “All of Bangalore is going bad.”

The tech boom that was supposed to profit the city has made daily life harder. Bangalore’s population has doubled again since 2000, buckling the local infrastructure. There are more than 6 million vehicles, and the average driving speed in the city center is below 6 miles per hour, meaning it would be faster for everyone to jog slowly than to drive. During the initial IT boom, the portion of Bangalore’s population living in slums doubled. Blackouts became daily occurrences, and road-widening projects destroyed parks and trees without decongesting the streets. Money flooded in, but the lakes dried up—of the 900 the city once counted, fewer than 200 are still considered “live,” and most of those are filled with sewage. In October, thousands protested in the streets over plans to build a multibillion-dollar elevated bypass connecting the Bangalore airport to the city center. Demonstrators argued the project would benefit the jet-setting elite but do little to help poorer residents who spend hours every day in gridlock.

“They’re always before the system. It makes them behave like a beast, almost”

Frustration was palpable all over Bangalore. A kindly older man named Vijay Thiruvady, who leads tours of the botanical gardens and Cubbon Park, the city’s largest remaining green spaces, rued the failure of the IT industry and government to coordinate the growth. “The tech boom has completely changed the city. They’ve ruined it,” he said, as we sat in yet another traffic jam. “I’m going to use a strong term,” he warned, before cursing another motorist as “a stupid fellow.” Then he resumed grousing about techies.

“With the coming of the techies, you can see the traffic, you can see the road rage, you can see the problems with infrastructure, you can see trees being cut everywhere,” said Narayanan Krishnaswami, a reporter with the Times of India. “For a lot of people, that is a repudiation of what the city used to be. And they trace it back to the cause of the prosperity, which is the tech sector.”

One of the main appeals of the newspapers’ techie coverage is schadenfreude. “When a techie falls, everyone is secretly happy,” said Joshi, the Mirror editor. Techies arriving from across India are assumed to be more interested in the Western lifestyles of the modern workplace than the local culture of their new city. They tend to live away from their parents, drink alcohol, spend money freely, travel abroad, keep strange hours (because they work on the schedules of U.S. and European clients), and choose “love marriages” over traditional arranged ones.

Someone who suspects tech workers of immorality would find plenty of grist in the newspapers, where techies are frequently killing their spouses and having affairs. Such stories sometimes implicate the victim in his fate. An article might note, for example, that the parents of a woman whose techie husband killed her had disapproved of the marriage, or that a techie killed himself after a “trivial” argument with his wife.

Taken together, the stories can read like morality plays. They assuage a reader’s envy by suggesting that a tech worker’s material wealth conceals a deeper poverty. “If a techie can commit suicide or kill his own wife,” said Sahana Udupa, a social anthropologist who previously worked as a journalist in Bangalore, “it says something about the stress, something about the depression, something about their loose morals.”

I thought it unlikely that tech workers were genuinely troublesome, so I visited the Bangalore police headquarters to ask for an official perspective. Bureaucracies in India like to unfurl themselves before visitors, and the police commissioner on the first floor referred me to an additional police commissioner down the hall, who referred me to a deputy police commissioner on the fifth floor, who was so thrilled by my visit that he paused our interview midway to take my photo with his phone. His name was M.G. Nagendra Kumar, and a few years earlier he had studied crimes involving software engineers. He concluded that the techie “lacked the general thinking of other common people,” he told me. “His mind works like a computer machine.”

Kumar said the techie’s long hours in front of a PC could make him dangerously impatient: “He wants life to go at internet speed.” At a busy intersection, a techie wouldn’t wait for the signal. “Only techies are the deceased in road accident cases,” Kumar said. And at home, a techie might grow angry and violent with a wife or family member who didn’t follow commands automatically like his computer. At this point, a police inspector named Kanakalakshmi (also a mononym), who’d been sitting quietly beside me in Kumar’s office, spoke up. “They’re always before the system,” she said. “It makes them behave like a beast, almost.”

India’s largest IT companies, including Wipro, draw young workers whose ways are often at odds with local tradition.

Photographer: Altaf Qadri/AP

Kanakalakshmi produced two spreadsheets. The first listed 139 cases since 2010 in which a software engineer had been accused of a crime; the second listed 297 cases, excluding petty thefts, in which a software engineer had filed a complaint. Neither sum really suggested a crime wave in a city with more than 1 million tech workers, and it was hard to make sense of the statistics. The translation from Kannada to English had rendered many case descriptions unintelligible, and the spreadsheets seemed to exclude certain cases I’d read about in the papers while listing others twice.

It was nevertheless interesting that the most common complaint by far was a spouse alleging mental and physical harassment (in some cases, the police use the word “torture”), often in connection to a dowry dispute. The clash between the traditional expectations of Indian culture and the demands of modern professional lives doesn’t only shape the relationship between techies and the rest of the city, it also plays out in tech workers’ private lives. “Social liberalization hasn’t kept pace with economic liberalization,” said Asha Rai, a senior editor at the Times of India. “The values they imbibe at the workplace and when they travel are in conflict when they come home.”

I wasn’t attacked by sword, pushed from a train, force-fed cyanide, tortured, or otherwise harmed by any of the techies I met in Bangalore. I was introduced to coders, startup founders, investors, and engineers, including a group that was building a moon lander for Google’s Lunar X Prize competition. A robotics specialist from IBM named Aswin Subramanian gave me a tour of Whitefield, a tech district, in his race car and then invited me to his home, where he played Yanni songs on a keyboard. (OK, perhaps there was some torture.)

Techies in Bangalore extol a strain of utopianism similar to that found in Silicon Valley. “Eventually everything will be solved by tech,” said Mukund Jha, the co-founder of Dunzo, a concierge app that lets users hire a runner to carry out almost any task for a few dozen rupees—less than a dollar. At the moment, a Dunzo runner was fetching him a coffee from Starbucks; he’d also used the service to repair the cracked screen of his iPhone and install pigeon nets on his balcony at home. Customers have used Dunzo to retrieve lost phone chargers, deliver birthday cakes, purchase toilet paper, and check whether a shop is open. “Once you get started, you get hooked to it,” Jha said. “On a good day, you can get anything you want within 10 minutes.”

Dunzo is incredibly useful in a city where completing simple tasks grows harder by the day. But the app also indicates how technology further cocoons the privileged from the rest of the city. Dunzo’s founders say they hope their app will trickle down to the masses, but they’ve targeted early builds at the elite. “We haven’t seen a single request which is non-English,” Jha said.

Although tech has offered millions of young Indians a ladder out of poverty, there’s also concern that it will soon eliminate jobs instead of creating them. At IBM, Subramanian was designing robots for use in automation. (He recently left the company.) Dunzo is working to build artificial intelligence that would eventually replace much of its operations staff. Wipro and Infosys, the IT companies that most symbolize Bangalore’s tech industry, replaced 8,200 human jobs last summer with software. Tej Pochiraju, the managing director of Jaaga Startup, which bills itself as India’s first co-working space, said the divide between engineers and laymen would only accelerate. “As things get more and more automated, technology and techies will become more godlike,” he said.

In a New Year’s letter to his employees, Infosys Chief Executive Officer Vishal Sikka wrote of “the tidal wave of automation and technology-fueled transformation that is almost upon us”—a choice of words that sounded more apocalyptic than utopian. A few weeks later a techie was murdered by a security guard on Infosys’s campus in Pune, about 500 miles northwest of Bangalore. The Hindustan Times warned about “a growing list of IT workers kidnapped, molested, raped, or killed on campus.” Although unrelated, Sikka’s letter and the crime coverage shared a certain anxiety: Tech could guarantee neither job security nor personal safety. The techie, the hero of the Indian economy, would never be as safe as he seemed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bengaluru Is Worse Off Than Even China’s 13th Largest City

 

 

At the dawn of the millennium, when the IT revolution was scripting the dreams and aspirations of Bengalureans, the city was getting ready to enter the big league. Bengalureans were promised a city that would mirror some of China’s burgeoning metros, particularly, the glitzy Shanghai.

The reality, however, highlights the disparity between what was promised and what was delivered: When it comes to dependence on public transport and commuting, Bengaluru pales in comparison even with Xi’an, the 13th largest city in China. This is the finding of a research project by T.V. Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, who co-ordinated with researchers in Chang’an University in Xi’an as well as from University of Melbourne, Australia.

Long commute

Xi’an and Bengaluru have much in common. Both are among the fastest-growing metros in their countries. Both started as research and development hubs and witnessed massive urbanisation. The car population is similar: Xi’an has one million cars while Bengaluru has 1.4 million light motor vehicles and a further 3 million two-wheelers. Travel within the Central Business District is painful, with average speeds lower than 15 kmph.

However, the similarities end there. Xi’an has a better developed public transport system while planning has ensured that it is a compact city. In contrast, Bengalureans continue to depend on personal vehicles while haphazard planning has put the average commute to work at 7.09 km, nearly twice that of Xi’an (3.8 km).

More importantly, in Xi’an, the top one-fifth of commuters (primarily, those who travel by car and long distances) contribute to 78 per cent of the emissions while in Bengaluru the top 20 per cent contribute 56 per cent. What this implies is that a majority of commuters rely on metro and buses at Xi’an while in Bengaluru, they depend on cars and two-wheelers.

“This is a bad sign, and will not improve until we make our public transport more attractive for commuting,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

Bengaluru buses far more polluting

Travelling by bus in Bengaluru contributes more than four times the carbon dioxide emissions than in Xi’an.

Though the Chinese city has 3,000 buses more than Bengaluru, the adoption of eco-friendly fuel (CNG, electric) as well as traffic decongestion methods have seen their emissions drop. The result is that an average trip in a bus in Xi’an results in emission of 0.087 kg of CO2 while it is nearly 0.3 kg in Bengaluru.

“In Xi’an, dedicated bus lanes see discipline and punctuality. Here, the bus system is unreliable in its timings while roads are so bad that emissions increase. Moreover, buses here run on profit. It becomes easier to travel in groups in autos and cabs rather than take a bus,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

While major investment had been made in the bus system there, BMTC’s grand plans of procuring CNG, electric buses or even use of bio-diesel fuels had hit financial roadblocks.

Science needed in planning

Research on commuting and transport systems in Bengaluru is aplenty. But is anyone listening?

T.V. Ramachandra, Associate Faculty at the Centre for infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) in IISc., says his Chinese collaborators will use the findings of the study for decision-making while the findings will remain unheard in Bengaluru.

“They have managed to get science into decisions about running a city. Here, our politicians don’t want science at all,” he said.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Unforgettable Onam….

 

…In which we travel via Banaswadi and on Kochuvelly during the Water wars.

Happy Onam. It is easy to wish somebody in two words, but no true Malayalee can explain what Onam really means to us. For many of us, we stay away from our native, only so that we can come back to celebrate Onam. Which is usually easy, travelling is becoming easier and affordable every day. But this year, we had to overcome a different kind of adversity. The violent self-destruction of a state during its water wars.

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I will not explain what these water wars are, enough has been said of the matter by the media. We were supposed  to travel from Bangalore to Kerala on Monday, the 12th of September ,2016. The day started pretty well off in Bangalore city, with all its cheer and lovely climate. But shortly after noon, violent erupted when self-appointed 'protectors' of the state started putting public and private property on fire. A very ironical way to agitate against shortage of water. But that is what happened.

By evening, all public and private vehicles were being blocked from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu at their borders. And TN numbered vehicles were being targetted and burned in Bangalore. Our scheduled bus journey in the evening is cancelled by the operator. And we are stuck in the city. Section 144, and shorter version of  a curfew, is imposed very late in the day, after all the damage is already done.

It was safer to stay back home that day. The next day, there was still no decision if vehicle movement has been restored at the border. So we wait. It was the first day of Onam, when back home in Kerala, Malayalees would throng the markets for purchases. Last minute groceries to clothes, to shopping for Onam discounts. We were supposed to be there, but instead, were stuck 500 kilometers away.

That evening, I began to check travel sites. All private buses had stopped operations, there was no need to take such a huge risk and endanger the lifes of the crew and travellers as well. But it seemed, the trains were still on track. Pun intended. None of the trains bound to Kerala had been stopped. Instead, the railways had arranged for special extra trains to carry people stuck in the city back home. It was probably the only positive action taken by somebody in power that day. But these special trains were unreserved, and  undoubtedly crowded. So I decided not to opt for them.
 
So I checked the IRCTC site, and found that the last train to leave from Bangalore to Kerala was at 9pm. A non-daily , all AC reserved train called the Kochuvelly garibh-rath. It was scheduled to start from a station on the north side of the city (Yeshwantpur), which was faar away from where we were staying. And it had only one other stop in the city, at a small station called Banaswadi. Although I had heard of the name of the place many times before, I had never known it had its own railway station. That place was still far away, but still commutable. There were no direct buses from our location. We had to rely either on radio-cabs, or take three different buses to get there. BMTC public transport buses were still plying, but not to all places. All the major taxi operators had closed their offices, but some cab drivers , who were willing to take the risk, were still driving around.

And so the first miracle. The train was still accepting reservations, and there were berths available ! Unbelievable. I booked confirmed berths for our travel. Now all we needed was to get to the station on time. So we started attempting to book cabs on Ola. We tried other radio cabs as well,but they were not available.

Due to the curfew like situation in the city, lights had been turned off everywhere to prevent people from grouping together. Street-lights were off.  And the shops were still shut down, so no lighting from there either. It was an eery feeling walking through the city in pitch darkness. I have only seen a fully lit metro-city in Bangalore during nights. All the traffic lights had defaulted to yellow, so it was a free-for-anyone on the junctions. The lesser number of vehicles helped, but those vehicles were driving all over the place.

And then the second miracle. We had been trying to get a cab to Banaswadi. Finally, after more than an hour of pushing buttons on the app, a cab responded. There was a shared cab available to travel to Banaswadi.

Things were back on track now. It took some time to find the Ola-cab, then a one hour journey to the destination. This is the first time that Ola actually sent a cab when we really really needed one.

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The Banaswadi station was shorter than the length of a train compartment. It was a small locality with secluded roads, and nicely tucked away. And it was crowded. The crowd was overflowing through the front steps into the yard. And I could hear a lot of Malayalam and Tamil being spoken. Clearly they were all from neighbouring states and were waiting to travel home. We had arrived an hour prior to the scheduled departure time of our train. So we waited, and watched, as trains chugged in and out and ferried off stranded passengers. More passengers arrived via autos and cabs, a family was dropped off by 5 youngsters on their bikes.

Our Kochuvelly express was the last train to Kerala that night. And we could see the whole train was booked and boarded by anxious Malayalees who were travelling home for their state's biggest festival.

Now after celebrating Onam, we still have not decided how we are going to get back. Its now TN's turn to agitate. A day-long bandh has been called in the state, and buses and trains will be stopped at the Karnataka-TN border.

I hope the journey back is less adventurous.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Rain and strike..on a beautiful day

 

I had a wonderful day today. A bandh had shutdown the state of Karnataka today. All shops ,companies and public transport was shutdown. But the roads were free. And it was slighty drizzling all through the day.It was the perfect day for a drive in Bangalore city itself. Clean, traffic free roads all through the city. I travelled all the way to Whitefield, and went up to Electronic city, just because the roads were open. It was a beutiful experience cruising lazily across the city.

This may sound strange. I wish everyday was a bandh at Bangalore. And everyday was as beutiful as today.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bangalore flooding

 

I was going to write about the incessant rains in Bangalore on the weekend, but looks like the rains beat me to it. After 15 hours of continous rain, Bangalore is now officially flooding.

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The city is back to being the city of lakes, as two of the biggest lakes have started overflowing. But those living near the areas are trying to cash fish that the floodwaters have brought out. They even got the boats out for rescue.

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Another city under flood attack is Gurugaon. And the media is still calling the city that name, and not by its ‘new’ name Gurugram.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Living in India is getting more expensive

 

Well, prices of things are always going up, but now the Indian citizen is getting crushed under a new set of taxes. After introducing the 0.5% Swachh Bharat Cess in November, the Union Finance Minister announced in this year’s Budget that the government would levy a Krishi Kalyan Cess to finance activities related to agriculture and build a fund for the welfare of the farmers. Indirect taxes and charges such as these are an important part of the government’s income from taxation. Of the Rs14.4 lakh crore ($213 billion) of taxes collected by the Indian government in the last financial year, 44.4% came from indirect taxes.

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Meanwhile, prices of petrol and diesel were hiked on June 1. Petrol will become costly by Rs2.58 per litre and diesel by Rs2.26 a litre. This means transport costs will rise, affecting the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk and other food products, among others. To add to household woes, the cost of an LPG cylinder—used for cooking across the country—was also increased by Rs21.

Travelling in airconditioned buses will be costlier from today with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) increasing its fare by 6%, thanks to union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who has imposed service tax on state-carriage AC buses. Not just tickets, daily and monthly passes will also cost more. Monthly passes of AC buses which operate within the city are likely to cost `135 more, and passes of AC buses to and from Kempegowda International Airport will cost `201.

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What a fantastic time to be living in India. And the reality of all this is that after all these taxes and charges, nothing  is going to change in the country.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bengaluru’s Going To The Dogs

 

Bangalore is in international media, due to its stray dog menace. Bengaluru made global news when a stray dog chased Ethiopian marathon runner, Mulle Wasihun at the TCS World 10k.

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The city has a really big stray dog problem. Unfortunately, there seems to be no solution to it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bangalore breaking its own Weather records

 

If there is one city on a ‘record breaking’ spree, its Bangalore. Last year,in November, the city recorded more than 256cm of rain, breaking the record of maximum rain received in that month in a 100 years.

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This month, the city is breaking its temperature records, highest since 1931.

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And this combined with the acute water shortage , is making the city more unliveable than ever before.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Not Ache Din for Workers

 

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Today, Bangalore City was paralysed because garment workers demanded a rollback on all the EPF related changes proposed by the dickhead Finance Minister Jaitley. Touch the peoples savings, and they well not rest. Its surprising how the Finance Ministry can think of such idiotic steps so that they can meet their targets.

The Govt has put their new plans on hold.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Heat

 

Man its getting hot here. You don’t have to read the papers or listen to the news to confirm that the temperature is rising across the country, and around the world too. But the papers all full of ‘record-breaking’ news, the maximum temperatures recorded so far this year have shattered all time records.

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Climate change is usually assessed over years and decades, and 2015 shattered the record set in 2014 for the hottest year seen, in data stretching back to 1850.The Nasa data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just one month earlier in January, was 1.15C above the long-term average for that month. February was the third consecutive month to break the global temperature record, which is calculated by setting the temperature for a particular month against the average temperature from that month between 1951-1980.February was 1.35C above the norm, easily surpassing the 1.14C margin from January of this year, which also set a record.

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Temperatures in Bangalore city is now higher than that of Chennai, which was always known for this hotter climate. While driving back home from work, I can feel the hot air coming in , instead of the otherwise cooler breeze. And things are going to get much more complicated, with load shedding power outages coming up soon. And the last insult to this injury is that the water table in the city is also quickly drying up. News reports say Bengaluru will become hotter this summer. And there is drinking water in stock at KRS only for 60 days.

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A study conducted by V Balasubramanian, former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, has sounded a warning bell for Bengaluru: If the current rate of groundwater utilisation continues, there will be a major crisis by 2025 when people may have to be evacuated. The state is also facing an increase in pollution of groundwater in many areas. The groundwater in about 12 of the 30 districts in Karnataka is highly polluted, a recent study by the department of mines and geology shows. "Groundwater is highly polluted with excess concentration of fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate and salinity due to both anthropogenic and geogenic factors, particularly in the districts of north Karnataka. The quality of water is deteriorating due to the mixing of sewerage through unlined open drains, leakage from cesspits and septic tanks, and contamination from industrial wastes," the report said.

 

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In the month of March, Kerala usually sees a lot of pre­monsoon activity. But this year the pre­monsoon activity has been little subdued. There is hardly any thundershower activity in the region which is evident around this time of the year. Neither the thundershower activity nor the moderate showers of pre­monsoon has showed up in god’s own country. The current temperatures of the state are at scorching high. The temperatures during the day are fairly high. Mornings and late afternoons will see a lot raised temperatures, as the winds will be flowing from the lands to the sea. These winds are hotter as they travel over the land. But then early evenings and nights will see sudden change in winds that will allow the sea breeze to move towards the land. Early evenings and nights will experience a dip in temperature but this dip in temperature can hardly be experienced as the overall humidity level will be high. But later in the night, the reversal of the sea breeze can be experienced; the temperatures will see a rise. The dissonance over the stability of temperature will be observed over the region, with constant high humid levels sticking their heads up in the state.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Non-Karnataka Vehicles Need Not Pay Lifetime Tax

 

The big news and hot topic of discussion today was not the cricket matches, or the looming elections, or the political cacophony, or Mallya’s escape. The big news is the Karnataka High court ruling in favor of owners of vehicles not regsitered in Karnataka. You see, any vehicle with a non-KA number is instant feast for the traffic police. If the vehicle is in Karnataka for more than 30 days, they have to pay lifetime tax. And vehicle taxes of Karnataka is highest in the country ! The high court on Thursday quashed the amendment (to Karnataka Motor Vehicles Taxation) by the state government to collect LTT from the vehicles registered outside the state and plying in the state for more than 30 days.

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The court also quashed the demand notices issued by the Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) to owners of several such vehicles to pay the tax. Several non-KA numberplate bearing vehicles were seized by the Transport Department for non-payment of tax and plying in Karnataka beyond 30 days. The state government had implemented the rule by notifying it in the gazette on February 28, 2014.

In the first year of implementing the rule (2014-15), the transport department collected a whopping Rs 40 crore by initiating action against over 4,000 'defaulting' vehicle owners.In the last two years after the rule came into force, RTO managed to collect Rs 100 crore through LTT and penalties.

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Road tax on passenger vehicles is the highest in Karnataka, across all price slabs. Overall, road tax is more than 10% in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Rates in northern states, which comprise a high volume market, are between 8% and 4% for cheaper cars and around 8% for mid-segment cars. But as car prices (ex-showroom) rise, road tax rates go up even in states such as Delhi and Rajasthan.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The City is Slowly destroying itself

 

But maybe I should say we are destroying the city, because the city was always here. We are new. I am talking of Bangalore of course. It known the "Silicon Valley of India", which is ironical because there is huge different between the work done here and in Silicon Valley. No innovation has ever come out of Indian IT companies , ever. The focus on every company here is cost, cost,cost. That is the whole point of outsourcing, to reduce expenditure by giving the job to cheap labour. But still , Bangalore is one of those few cities in India were new-age engineers can practise their craft. For decades the cool & breezy weather here has attracted young engineers in hoards. But it seems that we are approaching a limit , the city is packed full and is about to break at the seams.

It has been two weeks now since that last heavy downpour battered the city. Well, this happens every year, but this year was particularly bad. One might think that two weeks is enough to be on the mend. Hardly. Even now the traffic everywhere crawls at a snails pace, and there is water  logged throughout. The roads have really taken a hit, even the two ring roads which were designed to handle the bulk of the traffic,  now has gaping holes. Running out of words to describe these dangerous potholes, the media is now using the word "craters" !

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Employees of IT companies are now "working from traffic", if that's even possible. The collective opinion is that Bangalore is no longer the best place to work at any more.

And its not just the traffic and the roads. The city has had a drinking water problem for years. In summer months, water dries up, and companies and apartments order water in (often illegal) tankers. But then , during the rains, all the water received in on the roads, and not properly used. Even during peak rains, the city was experiencing power cuts due to load shedding,  upto 5 hours a day.  Garbage management is another problem. There is filth everywhere, and again often dumped illegally.

I first came to the city 10 years ago, because that's where the company that hired me wanted to me join and work from. Then I was transferred elsewhere, but then returned to Bangalore about 5 years ago ,and have been living here since. All my life I have been a stickler for public transport. I have always travelled by bus or train (Chennai trains were fun.), and started using the bus systems here from day one.  I used to look out the window and laugh at those who had to drive their own vehicles, while I enjoyed the comfort and safety of BMTC buses.

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I used to wonder why people bought cars when there was a excellent bus system. And then after 2 years of bus travel,I found the answer. I used to get on the morning bus at the same place and time for 2 years, and reached office in 1 hour before 9:30. But I noticed that everyday it took more time to cover the exact same distance. The 1 hour to travel to office soon became 2 hours, and I was pushed to become a latecomer. One fine day I got an earful for being hours late, consistently. It was then that I decided I had to get my own vehicle. Two weeks later I got myself a motorcycle. Navigating the terrible traffic was a totally different matter which took me months to master. But at least now I am on time , every time.

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People are getting their own vehicles because the public transportation system is broken. In the service industry, time is everything. There is no point in fixing a problem hours late, it was to be fixed within time. And getting their own vehicle is the sure shot way of being in control. Some have suggested that vehicle registration be regulated. The people are doing whatever they can to reduce traffic, carpooling, walking, biking..but without a reliable public transportation system in place, they cannot throw away their vehicles.

I hope things get better soon. Its too early to see this city crumble under the weight of its citizens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bellandur's toxic foam now visible on Google Maps

 

Bellandur's toxic foam is making news for all the wrong reasons, lots of news channels have covered the growth of the damage. But now , you can even see it from high above ! If you look at the area on Google maps, you can see the white foam on the canal leading from the lake.

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This is the main choking point, the canal flows next to the road to Bellandur and sees the foam flying off in the wind. It can be seen that the area is heavily occupied, there are lots of people staying all around the area.

The second catchment area is further north, under the Yemlur bridge.

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There are a lot of people staying around this area too,  and there are new luxury apartments coming up on the poisoned land.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Winters Back

 

It has been a rain socked Bangalore for the past couple of weeks. No complains there. But now it has also become increasingly cold, chilling cold. Temperature outside went below 18 degrees, and its even lower inside. Time to bring out the room heaters.

Further south, its raining elephants in Chennai. Its flooded everywhere, and they have brought out boats into the streets.

 

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It is a pity that even though India is known for its monsoons and huge torrential rains, the country still gets submerged in even the slightest downpour.

While the death toll from the rains is still climbing (60 at the moment), cricket-crazy-dumbos are complaining that a test match between India & SA had to be cancelled due to the rain.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to get Windows 7 Weather Gadget to work again

 

The weather here in Bangalore, India is acting funny again. Rain destroyed the city for the last three days, and just when the met department predicted more rain for two more weeks, it stopped raining. It is now bright and sunny (and dusty).  You have to depend on Google weather to find out the predictions for the coming days. When Windows 7 shipped, they had this cool new thing called Windows Live, and the sidebar, which had gadgets. And the weather gadget was my favourite, it would just stay there un-intruding your  work but tell you the weather outside. About two years ago, Microsoft killed the weather gadget's service, because they wanted to focus on stupid Windows 8 and 10…and this meant killing the ecosystem of 7. The weather gadget stopped workings, and simply showed the error : "Service not Available".

Here is how you can get it working again.

Step 1. You have to replace the cache file for the weather gadget with an older one. Download this file.

Step 2. On your Windows 7 machine, go to [\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live\Services\Cache]. Delete/Backup the  Config.xml file present there with the one in the downloaded zip file.

Step 3. Now go to the desktop and drag the Weather gadget back into the desktop

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Thats it !

Now the default location will be New York. And changing the location from the gadget wont work. To change the location to your own, you will need these additional steps.

Step 4. Open up your task manager ( Ctrl + Shift + Esc) , and kill the sidebar.exe app.

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Step 5. On your Windows 7 machine, go to [AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar]. Delete/Backup the Settings.ini file there

Step 6. Open up the Settings.ini file in a text editor and change the code of WeatherLocationCode to the code of the place you want to see.

Step 7. You can get the code from Weather.com. Just to there and search for the place, and take the code from the generated URL.

For instance, the code for Bangalore is INXX0012.

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Step 8. Save the Settings.ini file.

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Step 9. Open task manager again. And go to File -> New Task -> and run sidebar.exe.

Voila !

 

Have fun !

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bangalore Is Getting Inundated By Creeping Toxic Foam

 

Strange, puffy, dense clouds are descending on the streets of Bangalore, India’s technology capital. While whimsical-looking, they are actually puffs of a toxic foam inundating the city.

Documentary photographer Debasish Ghosh has captured images of the clouds floating around the city and overrunning the roads. The foam comes from Bellandur, a 1.4-square-mile lake that for years has been polluted by chemical and sewage waste. Every time it rains, the lake rises and wind lifts the froth up and carries it into the city.

The toxic foam gets in the way of pedestrians and cars, creating awful traffic jams. It carries a stench so strong that it burns the nose. And if it comes into contact with your skin, you’ll get an itchy rash.

“It causes a nuisance,” Ghosh says.

Making matters worse, the froth is flammable. In May and June, the entire lake caught fire, leaving a 56-year-old man who was standing on a bridge above the lake with a ruptured cornea.

The froth has come every summer for more more than a decade now, but Ghosh says that this year is particularly bad. He’s been documenting the pollution since May, making sure to immediately clean his arms, hands, and face any time he gets too close.

Harmful Snowy FrothWhen it rains, the froth rises up and gets carried into the city by winds. (Debasish Ghosh)Harmful Snowy FrothOfficials try to “hose” down the lake, using water to keep the foam from rising. (Debasish Ghosh)

Residents in the area have filed numerous complaints to the city, according to Ghosh, but the government has done little to remedy the situation. Ghosh says since his photos were first published by the BBC, the government has paid a bit more attention, but still not enough. For now, city officials try to keep the foam down whenever it rains by pumping water into the lake. “What happens is the water [mixes with] the foam at a high speed, and it disintegrates and doesn't rise up,” says Ghosh. “That's how they are controlling it at this point in time, so it doesn't fall on people.”

Actually cleaning up Bellandur and other polluted lakes won’t be easy. Once known for being the home of nearly a thousand lakes, Bangalore has become known as the “land of a thousand sewage tanks,” instead. Today, after years of urbanization, only about 150 lakes still exist, according to the Deccan Herald. The rest are either used as garbage dumps or, when they dry up, filled in and put up for grabs.

“There’s so much pollution that it will take lots of time and lots of investment to bring this lake back to normal,” he says. “To what it was maybe two decades ago, when people say there would still be migratory birds in there.”

Harmful Snowy Froth(Debasish Ghosh)Harmful Snowy Froth(Debasish Ghosh)Harmful Snowy Froth(Debasish Ghosh)Harmful Snowy Froth(Debasish Ghosh)Harmful Snowy Froth(Debasish Ghosh)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Death by Chocolate

 

After numerous 'reviews' and 'recommendations', I tried this ice cream treat at Corner House in Indiranagar. It is seriously over-hyped. Its just vanilla ice-cream and chocolate cake, dozed with lots of chocolate sauce and nuts. And I had a feeling the most-unfriendly staff there where getting tired of serving the same thing, they just dumped the ingredients into a cup with a to-hell-with-it attitude. Everyone recommending this ice-cream has either never had real ice-cream before, or just like hot chocolate. I being an ice-cream lover, had enough after two spoons.

Sucks. 180 rupees gone Sad smile

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Burger King has arrived in Bangalore

 

Today , for some odd reason, I decided to visit the much hyped Phoenix Mall in Mahadevapura, near Whitefield, in Bangalore. We were just dropping there for a bit of shopping, and had decided to eat lunch at one of the many stalls they should have there. At lunch time, I was surprised to see the brand name of a hitherto unseen-in-India fast food chain : BurgerKing. I walked in..and I must say I was very pleased and contented with what I had there.

This was true fast food. The place was overcrowded, there was space of course, but every seat was taken. But people were quickly gobbling down food and making their way out, clearing space for the newcomers. I stood in queue for only 30 seconds, I got to place my order. I told them what I wanted, and handed over my card, and my the time they had swiped it, another staff there placed my order on the tray ! 30 secs and I was out of the queue ! The definition of fast-food.

The burgers tasted great, we tried the chicken tandoor gill and the veg whooper, the quantity served on both was substantial. But I guess the King underestimated the Bangalore appetite, there was a steady line of people walking in , and another line in front of the take away counter. They really need to open up more places in B'lore. Will go back soon.