Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ruma Roka - The Sound of Music

   Oftentimes we come across people who claim that their life would've been so much better if they just got that one thing. In this mindless pursuit of "that one thing", rarely do they appreciate what they actually have! As Oscar Wilde articulately puts it, "Most people are other people." And this approach of doing everything just like other people do is exactly what the 500 Government Aided Deaf Schools across the country follow when it comes to schooling the deaf - using an oralist approach for people whose world is devoid of sound. It seems ridiculous, doesn't it? I mean how can one even think of teaching a deaf person using something that he has never felt and can never feel?! But that's the crude reality of it - the video (at 01:30) demonstrates the vulgarity of the approach. And as Ruma Roka puts it, that's really one of the reasons why the deaf eventually came to be treated as 'Deaf and Dumb', both literally and metaphorically.

   But wait! Who is Ruma Roka and why do I mention her?  She is the one who has made it her life to prove otherwise - the woman who founded the Noida Deaf Society with the motto, DEAF BUT NOT DUMB. In the Franklin Templeton Investments partnered TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012, she talks about the need for accepting this diversity in a land where 66.733 million people are deaf (Source: Situation Review and Update on Deafness, Hearing Loss and Intervention Programmes by WHO, December 2007). The deaf learn through visuals in a much better way. This is what the Noida Deaf Society set out to accomplish - creating training modules for the deaf to empower them to step onto the vistas of the professional world. And they've come a long way in their journey. From a batch of 5 students, they now train more than 300 students each year.

   It's quite humbling when you actually put yourself in a deaf man's shoe for a minute. In this world of constant discussions, conversations, speeches, how alienating would it be to devoid of sound? We pride ourselves on our unity in diversity, but people actually shy away from you when you're not as they are, when you don't fit into their mental model; basically when you're different. But thats hardly how Roma takes it; in fact she says its this cut-off from noise due to which the deaf perform their tasks with much more sincerity. This selfless dedication to the cause has driven this woman to empower an unheard and unspoken-of generation. For the hundreds of deaf people that now lead a life of value and dignity thanks to her efforts, Roma is the sound of music.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Shades of grey

Tell me now what would you do , what would you say when there is no ..
Black or white, but only shades of grey.

Who would be right, who would be wrong, who would decide ...
On the face of a fray?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Fear & Failure

   Fear is irrational because of two reasons- firstly, it does not serve any PURPOSE to be fearful of something; fear, by its insidious nature, weakens the capability of the person to deal with the thing which he is afraid of. Secondly, fear is borne out of things whose consequence is UNKNOWN at best - as Socrates points out that it is irrational to fear death because we really don't know what follows, I co-relate it with a fear that is ingrained into the impressible minds of the Indian society - the fear of FAILURE.

          "If you FAIL the test, you will not get a good job!"
          "If your venture FAILS, your well built career will go down the drain."

   Such sentences have been thrown at us since childhood. However, the stark stupidity behind each of these claims is that NOBODY knows what WOULD HAVE happened, had the person failed. Perhaps the person would have discovered something INVALUABLE that success could never teach him. Perhaps not. The point being that YOU DON'T KNOW! So how can anyone, so brazenly, pronounce that you are doomed if you were to fail?

   It is apt to end this small write-up on our renewed understanding about fear & failure by the following quote:
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison 

Friday, 15 February 2013

You Are What You Eat

   Voila! Now I know why the aunty next door reminds me of a samosa! Or why Goans wear a lithe body like their own squids & prawns; or why Koli women are rotund like the  pomfret fish (mermaids, eh?); or why the Venkat Ramakrishnans from Kerala have heads resembling coconuts; or why, living in Mumbai, I’m sometimes unable to distinguish the man from the vada pav!

   Needless to say that I’m going overboard with the phrase and neither Brillat-Savarin nor Feuerbach meant their quotations to be taken literally. They were stating that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind and health. As Gautam Buddha states, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought,” the essence of You Are What You Eat is essentially the same. We are. It's every bit as true as it is hard to see. Just as our homes are made from lumber without looking like trees, our bodies are made from the nutrients we extract from foods. The nutritional content of what we eat determines the composition of our cell membranes, bone marrow, blood, and hormones. Consider that the average adult loses roughly 300 billion cells to old age every day and must replace them. Our bodies are literally manufactured out of the food we consume.

   This idea is not just one of those things picked up from the Western world; it is ingrained into our Indian culture as well- there is a Gujarati saying (my editor will be proud of me for this one!) which goes as, “Ann juda ena mann juda” It means that different kitchens breed different kinds of thinking. It’s an interesting thing to think about and ultimately goes on to show how intricately food becomes a part of who we are.
        Although a question still remains unanswered...

Saturday, 29 December 2012

December at iAccelerator, IIMA

   “Who is Anu Vaidyanathan?” I asked. “You don’t know who she is!!?” exclaimed Senthil, co-founder of FRILP (one of the start-ups at iAccelerator, the incubation program at IIMA). Then he told me who the lady was and of her diverse accomplishments: both in physical- an Indian triathlete who is the first and only Asian to compete in Ultraman (placed 6th)- and academic endeavors - has a PhD in a record setting time of 26 months. And this is how December kick started at iAccelerator- Anu Vaidyanathan conducted a session on Intellectual Property. The session was well appreciated by the start-ups as they had not given much thought to IP. It revealed quite astonishing facts; for instance, Microsoft made $30 million on the Windows phone; whereas they made $150 million on Android Licenses- by intelligently manoeuvring IP . Her concluding words to the quite apprehensive founders were, “Don’t get overwhelmed- It’s YOUR spin on the idea which will make the delta difference which is enough in the IP space.”

Anu Vaidyanathan- founder of Pat N Marks

   The very next day there was a workshop on User Experience Design (UX) by Benjamin Mailian. It was quite an interactive workshop where Ben was prodding the participants and making them see their product in a whole new light. The cliché, “PUT YOURSELF IN THE USERS' SHOES!” was actually felt and the start-ups acknowledged the importance of ‘User Perspective’ at the end of it.
UX workshop made the start-ups revisit their design decisions. For team Nukkad, it was quite an eye-opener because they realized that what once seemed very obvious to them was not quite apparent to the end-users. The photography-centred startup, FOCALOID, realized that their most important feature of uploading pictures could not be easily spotted on the home screen. Thus some of the start-ups, with the help of Sandeep Nandi- Visual Designer from NID who is associated with iAccelerator, started re-working on their designs.

                               Ben with the boys!

   The month went on with some start-ups burning the midnight oil in office- for instance; the FRILP team would work in shifts, on days staying up till dawn. Since the entire team is from Chennai, they were quite excited about superstar Rajnikant’s birthday which was on 12.12.12! A couple of days prior to it, one of the team members came up with the thought of making a website to wish the superstar and the entire FRILP room resonated with the idea (I know because I was staying with a couple of FRILP team members). They were so pepped up about it, that they walked into the office at 12:15 am on 11.12.12 and in a matter of 5 hours they completed designing the site, coding it and even deploying it! The enthusiasm was in the air the next morning and I was amazed when I saw their work:

Kudos to the FRILP team!

   The week after that saw the likes of Rohit Nair and Aakrut, who had come to meet the budding entrepreneurs and also seek out a possibility of investment. Rohit was an exuberant personality- he gelled well with almost everyone that he met and added some value to their product. He had a one-on-one conversation with all the start-ups regarding their product and later also shared his entrepreneurial journey with them (He was the founder of QuizWorks and and currently he’s the COO at Contests2Win). It was quite a brilliant session for all the start-ups; in fact it so turned out that members of team
Nukkad and Rohit were batch-mates. On this realization, he took them for lunch and they spoke about the undergraduate days at University Visvesvariya College of Engineering.
   The start-ups were still a bit unsure of their User Interface and that’s where Mr. Jonah and Ms. Subalekha came in. These were two young UX consultants who had started their new company a couple of years back, called
Paper Equator. I was quite curious by this name and asked them what it meant. Subalekha replied saying, “When someone gets an idea, he normally jots it down on paper. We ensure that the idea is transformed from the paper and reaches everywhere (Equator).” Quite a creative name, indeed!Jonah and Subalekha held 1.5 hr sessions with all the start-ups and the best part about it was that the session would address a specific problem that they face and eventually solve it within the time-frame. This session - known as UX Flare – was quite productive for all the start-ups as it left them with something tangible which they could implement.
   As the demo day draws nearer, the intensity of work at
iAccelerator keeps increasing. Christmas or a public holiday for the Gujarat elections is as good as any working Monday. Time/Day no longer seems to be an entity at iAccelerator. And you have to hand it to these guys for the attitude; for it is this very attitude that gives life to everything that we see around us. As the famous quote hangs at one of the doors at INSEAD,

“The whole world would’ve been an idea, if not for implementation."

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Philosophy of Immanuel Kant

"I say that man, and in general every rational being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will."
                                                                        - Immanuel Kant.

The above line is the essence of Kant's philosophy. He completely denounces the ideology of the orthodox philosopher which states that:
"Man is an apathetic being and is destined to pain and suffering."
Kant thinks that this is a derisible view of the mater and thinks of man as a respectable being because Reason is the premise that governs humans which is the most important thing which separates us from animals.


1)      MOTIVE:

           Kant says that when a man decides to pursue a certain course of action, it is not the end product that is of importance, but the motive behind the action. Thus a good result not borne out of a good intention is questionable. I'm a bit confused as to how exactly Kant has defined GOOD in this context. But as I come to understand it, it means that the motive should be governed by DUTY, rather than Inclination. Unlike an idiosyncratic inclination, a dutiful motive is governed by respecting the individuality of human beings and humanity in general.


            The second contrast that Kant draws pertains to the will of a human. He claims that the will of a man should be AUTONOMOUS, i.e., he should have a free will and shouldn't be bound by the whims and fancies of other humans. This provides room for development and enrichment of the individuality of the person. Thus, the individuality of people is respected and other people are not used as a MEANS, but rather viewed as AN END IN ITSELF.


            Kant divides them into two categories- Hypothetical and Categorical.Something that relies on the validity of something else, i.e., it is indirectly DEPENDENT, is a hypothetical imperative. I would like to quote Kant's definition of a categorical imperative:

"But suppose, however, there were something whose existence has in itself an absolute value... an end in itself...then in it, and in it alone, would there be ground of a possible categorical imperative." 

This was basically my understanding of the KANT philosophy. However, I must mention that its implications still elude me.

Lastly, I would like to draw your attention to one more point. You will notice that the eminent Kant uses the phrase "man is an end in itself" on a number of occasions. What does this exactly mean?
Remember that reason is our premise and I will leave you to ponder over the following line, which is my interpretation of the phrase-
When every action of man is based on consistent and logical thinking and every decision he makes adheres to the only absolute- REASON, then such a man is said to be an end in himself.

PS: I have tried to elucidate the philosophy to the best of my understanding. Any discrepancies are highly regretted.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The SONY Reader

21st February 2012

     Today I should like to write about my SONY Reader and the response I get from people.

The Reader!! What can I say!? It is such an aesthetic and svelte product that I wish I knew a few more adjectives related to beauty to truly describe how classy it looks! :)

Classy, isn't it? ;)
     However, the first reaction I get from most of the people is what makes this article an irony.
This is the first statement they utter, without understanding how it works or what actually it is:
"Dude, you would've gotten a Reliance Tab by chipping in 5 grand more.", "Why didn't you go in for the Galaxy Tab??"
And I am left speechless. Believe you me, I've got such replies 'n' number of times now and I don't even feel like justifying anymore.

I guess the saying is but true, 
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." 

     Okay, considering how highly I regard the opinions of these people, I have made an effort to be a bit more humble and polite (and definitely much more subtle :D ) through the remainder of this article. In fact, I have tried to understand their perspective and the reason they want to see a "Galaxy Tab" in my hands!

To elucidate this matter, I have coined this term:


I know everyone would be able to understand what these 3 words mean, but lets take an example to make it crystal clear:
      A couple of years ago when I wanted to buy a new phone, I had even considered the fact that the particular model had a front camera attached- thus enabling video calls. Today if I go to think about it, it was a foolish decision to even think about the front camera. Because, even if you need video calls for a meeting or an interview, you have a laptop and Skype! Also nowhere in the near future video calls were gonna become any cheaper than normal calls. So, basically the extra functionality of the front camera - though a minor factor- contributed towards my decision.

What I'm trying to convey by this example is that you can broadly classify consumers into two kinds:

  • People who are very particular about the main feature of the product (the reason they want the product) They do not compromise on the most important - the basic - functionality of the product.
  • The other kind of people want as many ADD-ONS that they can get with their money's worth. It is the 'EXTRA' features of the product that draws their attention. They do not mind compromising a bit on the basic feature, as long as they get the additional features.

Please note that I'm not criticizing either of the consumers. In my opinion, it depends on the product more than anything else. For instance in today's date one does not buy a phone ONLY for calling purposes.

     Now, let us talk about the Reader. The flagship feature which sets it apart is
E-ink technology, which makes the text appear as if you're reading from a real book! Also the device is not back-lit --- the thing which makes the tablets in the world run --- thus avoiding the glare and the strain on one's eyes, which would not have been he case with the Galaxy Tab! Ultimately my main reason for buying it was to have a good READING experience and believe you me, the Reader is the only product which comes as close to an actual book as you can imagine!

    Finally I must take this opportunity to thank the person because of which I proudly hold the Reader in my hand. Thank you Maitri Ramaiya!