A visit to Gadar Memorial in San Francisco

Getting Inside

After getting misdirected once to 436 Hill St, San Francisco (the old original address which does not exist anymore), I eventually reached 5 Wood St, San Francisco.
It was sunset time, I knew I was late but finally, it felt good to see (a nondescript) apartment marked “Gadar memorial”.Least I expected the doors to be locked. I drove 40 miles (65 km) not to stand in front of this locked door. There must be a way to go in, I contemplated, as I noticed an Indian woman walking upstairs towards me.
“I am here to see Gadar Party’s office”, I asked and she stammered while replying in English. “हिंदी बोलती है आप ?”, I inquired.
“जी हाँ”, she confirmed.
“मैं आशीष, south bay से आया हूँ ग़दर स्मारक देखना था । “, I said, while pointing towards the building.
“आपके पास consulate से permission है?”, she asked.
“consulate से permission?” I inquired.
“consulate से बिना permission लिए यहाँ आना मना है । “, she confirmed.
Even for bureaucratic Indian govt, taking a permission from consulate to visit a first world war era memorial (and as per my limited knowledge, only such Indian memorial in USA) felt perplexing. Of course, I was not ready to yield and drive back another 40 miles before paying the homage. We both stood there motionless with an awkward silence.
Someone had to blink, thankfully, she did.
“एक बार मैं अपने husband से बात करती हूँ । “, she said.
She unlocked the door and went inside, and after some chatter, they both came out and after some cursory conversation, he allowed me in to visit the memorial. The rest of the conversation with them was pretty friendly.

Inside

The memorial consisted of a single hall with locked showcases (filled with books in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu). There were a few posters and pictures hanging on the wall, again labeled in one (and exactly one) or the other of the aforementioned languages. I didn’t visit the memorial expecting an audio tour but not finding English or Hindi labels on the items was depressing. The whole space lacked maintenance.
After thanking the Indian couple (they seem to be appointed by consulate to maintain the place), I left half an hour later. The treatment of the memorial (which is the last symbol of this movement and Indian students who started it) by Indian govt is deplorable, especially, given the fact that this is only memorial of its kind in USA.

Departing thoughts

The treatment met out to defenders of the nation (dead or alive, uniformed or revolutionary) determines its destiny. Reminds me of this second world war story of France vs UK. “Before World War II, it was not uncommon to see placards hanging outside some restaurants in Paris which read Dogs, lackeys and soldiers not allowed. On the other hand, even pregnant women used to get up and offer seats to soldiers in London buses. When the war broke out, France capitulated in no time while Britain remained undefeated.” [source]

Thoughts on Bureaucrats, Technocrats and Politicians

Bureaucrats take the actions which are justifiable (by book or by order of their superiors), they care less about consequences (in case there are multiple possible actions, they let the politician decide the appropriate action).

Technocrats take the actions which (according to their analysis) have best (long term/short term) consequences, they care less about how harsh the action could be on certain individuals and their logical thinking usually fails to take into account the law of unintended consequences like  Cobra Effect.

Politicians take the actions which are palatable and which are usually good for their (long term/short term, well, usually for next elections) popularity.

Till now, India was run primarily by politicians + bureaucrats, it seems to be transitioning towards politicians + technocrats.
It would be interesting to see the (short term/long term) consequences of this transition.

Note: The above statements are not my original discovery, I have read statements along similar lines at various sources.

Beyond Numbers: Dealing with terrorism in India

Lets start with a small exercise.
Trying searching for List of Sept 2011 victims or for List of London Bombing victims.
In each case, more than half of results on first page lead to a list of names along with the photos and life stories of those people.
Now, trying searching for List of Hyderabad blast 2013 victims, a few results like this and this list the names of the people but where are photos and their life stories?
Try another search fo List of Mumbai attack 2008 victims, what do you get?  a partial list from Telegraph, another list of just names from two circles and mid-day.
One can try doing more such searches and the difference will be immediately obvious. As a nation, India has reduced the terror victims to numbers.
And that has lead to one of worst forms of desensitization towards terror attacks.

Few months back, women were on streets in New Delhi not because “one” women was gang-raped [such "one"s happen just too often in the country/world] but because they were able to relate to the [unfulfilled] life story of “a girl born in poor family whose father sold his land so that, she can study. And she dare break the New Delhi’s norm of women not venturing after sunset.” As humans we learn to relate to other humans based on their life stories.
Imagine this for a while, rather than reducing the deaths to numbers, what if media had instead wrote about the “engineer from a poor family background who got recently engaged” [yes, I am making this up but such a real story won't be impossible to find in say, Hyderabad blasts].

The lack of these stories acts as boon for anti-nationals like Arundhati Roy who write editiorials supporting Afzal Guru [hanged for 2001 Parliament Attack] – notice the implicit “life story” of Afzal Guru in the article.
These anti-nationals are able to create well articulated life stories of these victims to which [people claiming to be] liberal/open-minded/forward-looking relate to.
When victims are reduced to numbers, we don’t see them as humans any more, we don’t think about the difficulties their immediate family members have to bear. No wonder Narasimha Rao [ex-Prime Minister of India] once said “It seems in this country only terrorists have human rights”. As India loses the intellectual battle against terrorism, losing the battle on ground is a natural outcome.
This also hits back India in terms of diplomacy and international image since foreigners would know bad as well as [sometimes completely fictional] good life stories about the terrorists-who-were-hanged but the terror victims will be reduced to numbers and forgotten.

If Govt. of India or Indian media can start compiling life stories of these victims, it can target all the above issues simultaneously. Indians will become more sensitive towards terrorist attacks, anti-nationals will lose their clout and foreigners will know more about lives of who died.

Random Thoughts: Rape and The Indian Blame Game

After Delhi gang rape case, there has been a sudden upsurge in traditional as well as social media over rape in India.
As usual in such cases, the initial reaction is to find someone to blame.
And in this case the onus of the blame has been put on

  1. Patriarchal Indian Society – without realizing that more rapes happen in not-so-patriarchal USA [read below]
  2. Indian masculinity – “who feel threatened by women asserting their indentity” without realizing that rapes happen even with infants, senior citizens, visually challengedmentally challenged and homely women in conservative villages of Haryana to Kerala.
  3. Indian Police – as if police officials are omniscient and should be present before the crime happens
  4. Honey Singh – I am expecting a petition against Vatsyayana next

This blog post is a collection of thoughts about the same.

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Book Summary: Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani

The book presents a generalists view of post-independent India. Unlike India Unbound, this book focuses primarily on post-independent India and takes a more pragmatic approach towards understanding problems of contemporary India.  The best parts of the book is the interesting contradictions which the nation went through (love/hate relationship with English language, fear of technology and neglected urban development).

Overall, the book is divided into four set of ideas, that have arrived, that are in progress, that are still being debated and finally, that have yet to become part of public debate.

I have highlighted the best sections of the book in bold.

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Towards a broken future of Internet

Internet, which initially started as a DARPA experiment is [still] under the indirect control of USA government through ICANN despite several objections from Europe as well as IBSA. This worked when most users were from the western world with notable exception of China and few minor quirks. But in past few decades, not only the governments around the world are putting more controls but also the internet users (as well as enterprises) are fighting back against US control. In this blog post, I will describe the main threats to existence of (current form of) Internet.

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A fundamental problem with Aakash (Indian Government tablet initiative)

This blog post is not about how good/bad the product technically is or how indigenous it is, its about a fundamental problem with tablets. It amazes me to see that even a journalist like T. Friedman missed it. Anyone who had ever used a tablet(even the best ones) will tell you that current-generation tablets are for consumption and not content generation.

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