This is Manish from Udaipur

This is about life and life in Udaipur. About me and about me in Udaipur.

Gamzatov’s Daghestan

How can this not resonate with me? Rasul Gamzatov in his book, My Daghestan writes about his village, Tsada.

Tsada! Seventy warm hearths. Blue smoke rising from seventy chimneys into the clear mountain sky. White saklias standing-on black soil. Flat green fields facing the aul and the white cottages. Beyond the village rise the mountains. Grey cliffs overhang our aul like so many children who have gathered on a flat roof to get a view of the wedding in the courtyard.

When I arrived at Tsada, I recollected a letter Father wrote home on his first visit to Moscow. It was always hard to say when Father was joking and when he was in earnest. Moscow was a surprise to Father.

"It looks as though here in Moscow people do not light fires on their hearths to do their cooking, since I do not see any women kneading kiziak on the walls of their dwellings, or smoke rising above the roofs, like Abutalib’s shaggy fur hat. Neither do I see the stone rollers we use to tamp down the earth on our roofs. I do not see people here drying hay on their roofs. But if they do not dry hay, what do they give their cows for fodder? I haven’t seen a single woman making her way with a faggot or a load of grass. I have not heard the strains of the surna or the sounds of the tambourine. One might think people did not get married here or celebrate weddings. No matter how long I have walked the streets of this strange city, I have not seen a single sheep. Now the question is: what do Moscow people slaughter when a guest crosses the threshold? How, if not with a slaughtered sheep, do they greet the arrival of a valued friend? No, I do not envy this way of life. I want to be back home at Tsada where I can eat khinkali to my heart’s content, after telling my wife to use plenty of garlic…."

Father found many other faults with Moscow when he compared it with his native aul. He was, of course, joking when he expressed surprise at seeing no kiziak drying on Moscow walls, but he was not joking when he said he preferred his little aul to the great city. He loved his Tsada and would not exchange it for all the capitals on our planet.

My beloved Tsada! I have returned to you from that vast world Father found so many "faults" with. I have travelled all over that world and seen much to marvel at. My sight has been" dazzled by an abundance of beauty, unable to settle on any one object. My glance has passed on from one splendid temple to another, one fair face to another, but I have known that, no matter how lovely what I now see is, I shall see something lovelier tomorrow…. The world, don’t you see, is boundless.

I crave forgiveness of the pagodas of India, the pyramids of Egypt, and the basilicas of Italy; I also crave that forgiveness of the motorways of America, the boulevards of Paris, the parks of Britain, and the mountains of Switzerland, as well as of the women of Poland, Japan and Rome. I have admired you all, but my heartbeat has remained steady; if my pulse has become a little faster it has not done so sufficiently for a feeling of dryness in my mouth or for a sense of momentary dizziness.

So why is it that the sight of seventy saklias hugging the foot of the rocks can make my heart throb so that my ribs ache, my eyes grow misty, and my head dizzy as though I were ill or drunk?

Can it be that a little village in Daghestan is fairer than Venice, Cairo or Calcutta? Is the Avar woman I see treading a footpath with a load of faggots more comely than a tall fair-haired Scandinavian woman?

Tsada! I wander in your fields and the cool morning dew bathes my tired feet. I lave my face, not even in mountain rivulets but in the waters of springs. They say that if you are thirsty, drink from a spring that wells up from the earth. It is also said-and Father said the same-that only in two cases should a man fall to this knees-to drink from a spring and to pluck a flower. Tsada, you are my spring. I fall to my knees and drink deep draughts of you.

I see a stone, and seem to make out a shadowy figure on it-myself as I was thirty years ago. I am sitting on the stone, watching a flock of sheep. There is a shaggy fur hat on my head, a long staff in my hands, and dust on my feet.

I see a path and see the same shadowy figure on it-myself as I was thirty years ago. I am making my way to a neighbouring aul, probably on an errand for Father.

At every step I meet myself, my childhood years, with their spring seasons, their rains, flowers, and the falling leaves of autumn.

I strip and stand under a sparkling waterfall. As it falls from a rock, the stream breaks into eight cascades to gather together again and again until it crashes on to my shoulders, arms and head. Compared with my cool waterfall, the shower-bath at the Palais Royal Hotel in Paris is a plastic toy.

Among the boulders a pool has been formed by a side-trickle from a mountain rivulet, and warms up during the day. The bluish bath-tub at the Metropole Hotel in London is merely a hand-basin compared with my mountain bathing-place.

Indeed, I am fond of strolling about big cities, but after five or six long walks, a city becomes familiar, and all desire to continue with my walks is dulled.

But here I was walking along the little streets of my aul for the thousandth time but there was no sense of satiation, no loss of desire to tread them.


My Son’s Education

Mark Twain once warned against letting school interfere with education. Wise as it is to be able to differentiate between schooling and education, it is dispiritingly too easy for a school to do that.

Unless painstakingly attempted otherwise, the prevalent (or, say, traditional)  methods lead to built up of inappropriately high academic load pretty quickly. The primary indicator is, for obvious reasons, is the weight of the school bag. We have seen that to be always to be a little higher than 5kg even after carefully arranging the content according to teachers’ instructions and the time-table. (Given that a child of this age would normally weigh 20-25kg, this is 20% of a kid’s body weight—equivalent to an adult carrying about 15-20kg.) While certainly unhealthy and in contravention to relevant regulations (mandating the limit at about 3kg), this harks of an age and world of decades back.

This impression is bolstered by the amount of homework that is given. This surely takes the fun out of studies—the capacity to have joy in learning is one contribution that the school and the teachers can make for which the child (and us, of course) would be ever grateful.

I am truly amazed at the archaic insistence on written work and rote learning that is being put in by the teachers, even today. Children are asked to write (twice, in the textbook and the notebook) inane questions and answers. Not just redundant, this is nonsensical—unimaginative, uncreative and devoid of any learning value. I happened to be helping (or was it nagging and disciplining—oh, I hate that) my son with his English homework, the masculine of goose is gander and feminine of horse is mare! I had to google up to find out these antiquated words.

I admire the science textbook that he has, though. I certainly wish that was how science was taught when I was his age. As beautiful and relevant the exposition of scientific method (stress on observation, for example) that it has, saddening is the pedagogy where it is made into mockery by stupid questions and answers to be written into note-books and eventually remembered for tests/ exams. (Take for example, being asked to write about ‘prediction’ rather than making predictions and learning from the same.)

I wish and hope for the sake of my son that his teachers realize that  the world with its fields and trees and men and women and objects and stars, is a far bigger and richer textbook or a teacher or a school. I hope that with this sense of humility, the teachers and schools exercise the enormous power they have on a child and influence they have on his future.

Platform Vision

At Advaiya, we have enormous opportunities to observe,  analyze and influence how businesses use technology. These experiences, coupled with our unifying thought approach, have lead to crystallization of many ‘patterns’ allowing us to view enterprise information technology in a uniquely harmonious manner. Platform Vision attempts to surface some such insights.

The Platform Vision is also a framework enabling a very practical way to classify, assess and plan technology and knowledge assets. As such, this facilitates a seamless enterprise architecture approach for business value. The trick here has been to build a perspective which is not based on typical application silos (horizontal or vertical or any of their specific combination) but on specific business benefits that any piece of bundle of technology has potential to bring.

Thus, we identified over-arching technology patterns and their various component patterns. We set out to develop required approaches which can result in unifying the component patterns, unlocking the business value. We analyze the relationships—the dependencies and synergies—between these patterns to bring about one unified view of IT, regardless of umpteen applications, vendors or departments.

The value in this is enormous. The framework can be applied with ease, progressively or directly, at any level, that is, for a specific implementation, applications, their bundle or entire enterprise. The inherent knowledge base allows assessment from the point of view of value to business. It helps in identifying cost-effective steps forward towards a definable technology future.

Elections 2008

Ok, so we had this opportunity again to elect a new state government. These elections had the usual uncertainty, drama and fierceness of competitive fight and now when results are out, not many surprises. Anti-incumbency is always a powerful factor and can only be countered by strong sentiment or a prominent track record, both of which were not apparent. One surprise, of course, is defeat of C P Joshi by a single vote. A single vote!

I wonder at times if the polling process captures the intent of majority in a reliable manner. I think its not the case. One of the fundamental flaws is the aggregation mechanism which destroys a lot of information at the constituency level as ‘seats’ are totalled instead of ‘votes’. Now the constituencies are defined geographically and so a geographically dispersed opinion would have much lesser influence than a concentrated one, even if the opinion is supported by a significantly larger number of people. And, then, one can count an umpteen number of issues related to vote capture mechanism — what if the choices in front of the voter don’t include the choice that the voter wants to make, what about people who could not or did not vote, and many possible errors in counting and aggregating, and so on.

A defeat by one vote is still a defeat. Even if we assume that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) worked flawlessly and were used in correct manner everywhere, can the result be considered representative of public opinion? But, also, is there any way to ascertain if the EVMs worked flawlessly. As a practitioner in information technology, I have learnt not to trust technology. One has to have control mechanisms and audit trails. And we have none here. There is no way to differentiate between button presses by eligible voters and random electronic noise. But then that, per-se, doesn’t worry me. I think that till there is no way for anybody but the voters to influence the behaviour of the machine, we still have representative democracy. But, it is a plausible scenario that, atleast in some ways, the EVMs can be unduly influenced. And the purpose of elections is defeated if any of the candidates has any, howsoever small but significant, advantage over others. Having the machine print out every vote as the voter presses the button, ensuring a paper trail is a possible solution. And, this might have been helpful to the hapless Joshi!

Terrorism and Us

Well, an Udaipuri could have, with some justification, felt safe and detached all this while. But then, the recent Mumbai terror acts have been unprecedented in their impact on people around. These brutal and senseless acts of November 26 had all of us shocked, grieved and enraged.

Such acts of terrorism engage us emotionally. While Indians as with the rest of the world have been facing such attacks for quite some time now, somehow those felt distant in comparison to these where the events were brought closer and inside our homes via the relentless beaming of stark images all through the weekend. Other, more potent and bigger threats like malaria, global warming or road accidents do not invoke the same sentiment. They are far too dispersed or too complex to dominate our imagination.

Are we less safe now? Are the anti-terrorism measures making us safer? I don’t think much has changed. The security establishment remains as effective (or ineffective) as it was. Our safety sensibilities haven’t matured a bit. Our minds are not great at assessing risk and are unduly influenced by scenarios that we can relate to at an emotional level. No surprises that we are hearing insanely hawkish calls based on deeper prejudices.

Terrorism is far too complex an issue to be amenable to the currently talked about approaches. More of so called security measures are getting in vogue. Nobody seems to have invested in understanding their effectiveness, direct costs and costs in terms of harassment of innocent citizens (of a free country!). There seems to be much more acceptability to measures like pervasive scrutiny and surveillance, more powers to police, national ID, etc., which have enormous implications in terms of privacy and individual freedom. Isn’t that a terrorized state? Maybe the terrorists have succeeded in their goals.

What’s in a name (again)

It was more than three years ago, I made a post about the name — Advaiya. I guess its time to talk about it again.

I hear the question about the meaning of the word ‘Advaiya‘ often. And, almost equally often, I hear well attempted but wrong answers. For one, the concept that this word embodies is difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to articulate. Also, its easier to derive the meaning: unique, without any second – as ‘-dvaiya’ is confused with more commonly used ‘-dwitiya’.

Advaiya is about the intrinsic oneness (or non-duality) in obvious dichotomies. This ‘oneness’ is not the commonality of elements in (that is, intersection of) disparate sets, nor is it about their union. This is about realizing them to be the same, as one — one core with varied manifestations.

Does it apply to our business? To our approach? To our services? Absolutely. We consciously attempt to see beyond the divisions — different technologies, various applications, many business processes and, ultimately, the division of technology and business — to uncover the underlying oneness. Its natural then to view technology as one integrated platform, to enunciate, build and leverage an encompassing enterprise architecture, and to frame governance structures which aligns IT to business’ strategy. This, in no way, implies ignoring the differences, what we have discovered is that the quest for oneness leads to a much more symbiotic view of the different parts.

My Udaipur

Everybody loves his city. To put it to measure or to seek reasons would be futile. Would I love Udaipur less if what makes it lovable become less so. Even if some trees die, birds vanish and noise increases, it still be a city I love.

Love, alas, is root of so many sentiments. Its this love that brings me to rage when I see the hideous signboard at otherwise beautiful Rajeev Gandhi Park. It causes me grief when I witness the misguided beautification measures at otherwise pristine Badi lake. It saddens me to despair when I watch ugly cement and concrete destroying the harmony of Sajjangarh and the valley.

It is the comfort of being in the city I love which triggers so satisfying contemplations into myriad aspects of life as I drive beneath the Amul billboard. It is this love that makes me sigh with joy driving through Sukhadia Circle on a Sunday afternoon.

The three threes and a four

This sums up nicely! Our value proposition is based on the triad of technology depth, business context knowledge and methodology alignment. We have recognized the three aspects of professionalism at Advaiya – being result oriented, excellence and effective communication. Capability, integrity and courtesy are the three important virtues we value. As a business, we have organized ourselves to deliver four, mutually augmenting, broad services. Strategic consulting, content to support the strategy, training and evangelization, and pre-sales and technology delivery support.

Capability, Integrity and Courtesy

In a recent offsite (at very scenic Eklingji) we dwelled on the virtues that we value as an organization. We could articulate and enumerate the most important as Capability, Integrity and Courtesy. We realized that these form the recipe for our continued growth and survival.

Capability is the obvious winner for us. Our capabilities in technology, marketing and business domains allow us to produce deliverables that are valuable to our customers. Integrity, we surmised is essential to build trust. Our commitment to ethical behavior and honest communication generates trust among our customers, team members, vendors and partners without which growth would be impossible. Courtesy, for us, encompasses the aspects of humility and respect. It reminds us that if we have been able look far, as Newton said, we did it by standing on the shoulders of giants. We are thankful to all so many contributors to whatever accomplishments that we make. While being respectful of our environment and capabilities, we have the humility to acknowledge that we have to be constantly working hard to make sure that we are valuable to our customers.

English and C (Again)

In a post, a few months ago, I drew a few parallels between programming skills and language communication abilities.

That these two are different is very obvious. But what strikes me is apparent lack of appreciation of the fact that programming is not about syntax, its about encapsulating complex concepts in an intelligible depiction. (Thats exactly what language — as in English language — is all about.) Also, language skills are vital not just for communication but for thinking also.

Bad communicators can be good programmers — I know and respect a lot of such people — and many good communicators would be scared of programming. What’s important to realize is that these skills are complimentary: one can reinforce other.

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