Monday, December 24, 2012

School Reunion

(Had to make an effort this time to access the Net. A School reunion after 33 years just had to be written while the memories are still fresh. Still left-handed and still in Chennai)

When Gautam Banerjee (do not be mislead - the school was in Neyveli not Calcutta) called me up for a reunion of my batch at Jawahar Higher Secondary School Neyveli, I jumped at the chance. Not only because I'd get to meet quite a few of my batch-mates after a third of a century but also to reassure myself that it was not I alone who had changed for the worse. True I had shot up six inches in height since school but I had put on about the same around the waist and losing some weight on top of the head - leaving the head as shiny as a reflector - could by no means be considered a compensation. In this expectation I was sorely disappointed. Gautam, as befitted the chief organizer, satisfied me most thoroughly. Sivakumar, a co-organizer, did his best too and the other organizer Babu tried his best but could only manage to look less of a skeleton than he did at school.

The other lot of guys were really horrid. None of them - bar Venkatesh - seemed to have acquired a dignified paunch. The girls too showed no compassion - most looked positively glamorous. I must single out my ire for P.Suresh, T.C.Ravi, B.S.Murali and M.S.Lakshmi - all of whom looked as though all that they needed to get back to studying class X was the school uniform. I had to console myself with the thought that they could not get in to see an "A" movie without showing age-proof and try to hide my waistline behind my plaster-cast inadequately.

That, however, was the only disappointment. The ride to Neyveli with Venkatesh and T.C. Ravi was fun. P.Suresh, who was with us initially along with his son, was rattled by too many skeletons tumbling out of his school closet with his son listening in eagerly and chose to run to safer havens. We arrived in great spirits at Neyveli to a warm welcome by Gautam, Siva and Babu. None of our teachers could make it but S.Nalini - who looked as hefty as at school only more so - made up for it by bossing us around. Luckily for us she did not try to make us kneel down or stand on the bench - creaky knees do not permit such exercises.

Thirty-three years of living cannot readily be compressed into ninety seconds of narration but managed it. From the chap who somehow became a Canadian dentist to the chap who became a planned redundancy (yours truly) we had them all in the 40-50 batch-mates present there - doctors, engineers, realtors, entrepreneurs, executives and home-makers. Having been a quiet, mousy chap with my nose perpetually buried in a book while at school, I was amazed that quite a few of them knew me though a lot of them probably thought I had gate-crashed the party and merely remained quiet because they were feeling too good to cause a ruckus. (NO! It was not my sneaky way of having my current pic on my FB profile that allowed some to pretend to remember me. Just because most of those who did not know me were non-FB users you cannot cast such wild allegations!)

Tea-time was when we started the serious business of catching up. Within no time we were flinging insults at each other like in school - insults that would have got us bashed up, in court for slander or in jail for leaking official secrets depending on the insulted person's nature and status. Here they only evoked belly laughs and the laughing was almost continuous till we had to part. As Suchitra - the Narain version - put it, adult life meant that we only infrequently opened our mouths wide - for the doctor to peer at our tonsils - so this much  full-throated laughter was actually causing the jaws to ache.

Around seven we left to park ourselves at the various rooms arranged by the organizers and reassembled at eight for dinner. Venkatesh, TC Ravi, Anand and I had a sneak preview of the school on the way and had a small chat with the current principal who first tried to shoo us off as intruders but stayed to chat and even permitted us to look around. The school is now bifurcated in two - with one half catering to the state board students and the other to CBSE students. The CBSE school that we studied in is now the state board school.

At dinner, food seemed to be the last thing on people's minds while everyone was chatting and laughing - and photographing, of course. There were a few changes in conversational styles, however. At school it had almost all been Tamil for informal conversation - now one could hear Telugu, Kannada and Hindi as well. I did not quite catch Debasis and Gautam chat in Bengali but that, too, may have happened.

The party at Gautam's house was after dinner. The conversation was in full flow as ever helped on liberally by the lubrication copiously provided by Gautam and company duly augmented by Sundar. The girls left an hour or so earlier (School reunion! Can't be calling them ladies!). We hit our room by about 2 AM but our conversation was on till 4 AM.

Next day began at 7.30 AM and we hit the meeting hall by about 9 AM. Back to fun and games with B.S.Murali crafting a game that set us reminiscing crazy escapades from our school days (Murali! I am still wondering what to do with 8 match-sticks and no match-box). We, then, went for the official view of the school, photography and running around peeking at all the classrooms and labs bemoaning the changes and excited about what had stayed the same. Kumaraguru even found some corrected test-papers and S.K.Radha proved that she still had an eye for marks!

Back for lunch and the bitter-sweet moments of parting. One needs to compliment those spouses and children who came for the meet. The children, of course, must have come to gather some concrete evidence to prove that their parent was ever a student and did not spring full-blown from the ground. They must have also had much fun seeing this bunch of fifty-year olds acting like juveniles. The spouses are probably more to be lauded for their patience.

A last hurrah was celebrated at Suchitra Naidu's behest at Cuddalore and Venkatesh, Ravi and I wended our way back to Chennai with loads of memories. For all those batch-mates who did not come - you do not know what you missed and photographs are no substitute.

Disclaimer: Photo copied from Sundar's FB post

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Straighten up or die

They know I made a promise to attempt every contest this year and seem bent on defeating me. They know I have a fractured bone in my right hand. They also know I am away from my trusty desktop and reduced to sneaking desultory pathetic looks at a networked world passing me by from an itinerant cousin's laptop. So they bring in a contest at the last moment and, to make things doubly sure, they ensure that it is about hair again knowing full well that I diligently search for signs of it on my scalp with a magnifying glass in vain. Sneaky I call it! Can I let their nefarious designs succeed?

The world is always on the lookout for complicated solutions. As far as I know most people's hair needs to acquire a certain stature before it gets a good look at the world and decides to curl up in a fetal position. The simplest solution, therefore, is to cut your hair very close to your scalp. (About 1 mm should do) Presto - straight hair. (No! This is not my own sneaky way of getting everyone to look like me! You just cannot because I am unique!)

Human beings are irrational and, therefore, I do not expect them to adopt the commonsense solution outlined above. Thankfully there is another workable option. If you do not have Havells switches at home all you have to do is tell your busybody son to wait till the hair straightens before he knocks off the electric appliance while you are doing the St.Vitus' dance with your husband and maid to the tune of "Shock Lagaa". (If you do not have straight hair, you might as well be dead. What is a little thing like the risk of electrocution?) If you are unlucky enough to have installed Havells and are unwilling to change to a more useful brand, you will be reduced to ringing doorbells till you find one that will do the trick for you. Meanwhile, your habit of ringing the doorbell and saying, "Shit! You too have Havells!" is unlikely to endear you to your neighbors.

As an aside, I am actually surprised by this straight hair business. In my youth, the most frightful face a woman exhibited (Other than her normal one, I dare not say for fear of  losing all my readers) was with her hair in curlers. Now it seems to be all straight hair!

Now comes the killer option. If the above does not work run an excursion train to come and take a look at me. Frightful sights are supposed to make your hair stand on end. If you also want me to sing (Scary movies always depend on banshee screams to enhance the effect) that will cost you extra. Results not guaranteed - after all your hair may well be used to worse sights in the mirror. (When I say 'your' I do not actually mean you, you know - it is someone else among all the others who come here)

Now, if none of these work and you still have hair left after trying all these out, you could even try Sunsilk!

If you liked this you may like to check out the index of other posts of this genre or read a selection of similar posts.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Out of town again

The tech-challenged blogger inevitably has to go into hibernation once he is out of sight of his trusty desk-top. Lap-tops, notebooks, tabs and smart phones might as well be Tolkien's rings of power insofar as his ability to use them is concerned. I shall be off for my month of Carnatic music in Chennai and, thus, will neither be blogging (Was that gust a combined sigh of relief from my readers?) nor, sad to say, be reading all my favorite bloggers till January.

I did think that a fractured right hand would prevent me from further posts till mid-January. I had under-estimated my addiction to blogging as well as my own obsession with writing 150 posts by this calendar year. Yes! This is my 150th post.

In the long gone days of my youth my father - after searching me with a microscope for any signs of academic excellence in vain - sent me off to learn type-writing so that I could, at least, eke out a living as a typist. That is why I am still able to type posts even with only my left hand in operation. ("Sigh! What a pity!" is the universal cry, I know!).

Rejoice now for a month of deliverance is at hand. For those of you who are addicted to my writing and consider the day wasted if you do not run your eyes over my blog, I leave behind the indexes of my various genres of my writing. For the majority (All, you say? I refuse to believe that!) to whom one piece is a fatal overdose, give thanks that December will be a season of festivity for you.

Till we meet again in January (Ah! That is not necessarily a binding promise let me hasten to add!), I bid Au Revoir.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Direct Cash Transfers (Concluded)

(I am not often drawn into writing about matters of government policy or, indeed, into lapsing into the esoterica of my working days. Having worked for a long while in the area of fertilizer subsidies and having been considered something of an expert on those policies, I am somewhat obsessed about this area – even unto typing this with my left hand!)
What I find difficult to understand is this insistence on directly transferring cash. You need all beneficiaries to have a specific bank account; you need a monitoring system for ensuring that they do use the subsidy for the intended purposes and you need a mechanism for penalizing such defaults and for reversing such penalties.
How would the monitoring mechanism work? Does the dealer maintain a physical record of transactions which is periodically audited? Or do these records get entered into a database by some authority and defaults identified by filters set in the system? Or does the dealer directly enter into such a database? Or would you give the beneficiaries a card that can be swiped at the dealer’s place to obviate deliberate and accidental errors by the dealer in capturing data related to transactions by the beneficiaries?
The best way that I can see is to issue smart cards to the beneficiaries instead. The dealer sells at market prices and, upon swiping the card, the subsidy amount is deducted from the bill payable by the customer. The total subsidy payable is then credited to the dealer periodically. Much the way credit card payments function.
Since subsidy is paid only upon purchase, the entire rigmarole of monitoring for defaults and all that is avoided. Banking transactions are significantly reduced since transferring cash to only the dealers instead of all beneficiaries should cut down on the transactions significantly. Data capture is more authentic and fine-tuning the system easier.
Further, in the specific case of fertilizer subsidies, one can even see a portion of farm credit being passed on through giving additional credit through the smart cards. Defaults on credits given through smart cards can be reduced because loan defaults could be tagged to inactivating the card and, thus, interest rates can be reduced because default risk would be significantly lower. Lastly, drought relief and the like could be passed on either by way of reducing/waiving payback of credit or by extending additional credit to the target group.
The issues related to usage of smart cards could be infrastructure and education in the use. Neither of these can be considered as insurmountable and, if GOI has the will, it could provide the choice to the beneficiaries of opting between cash transfer and smart cards where possible for a beginning.
If it is only the instant attraction of handing over cash – the political dividend – that drives the policy, nothing further can be said!

Go here for the other part

Direct Cash Transfers

(I am not often drawn into writing about matters of government policy or, indeed, into lapsing into the esoterica of my working days. Having worked for a long while in the area of fertilizer subsidies and having been considered something of an expert on those policies, I am somewhat obsessed about this area – even unto typing this with my left hand!)
The GOI sees direct cash transfer of subsidies as means to avoid leakages of subsidy en route to the beneficiary. In the current system – with specific reference to the PDS, LPG, Kerosene and fertilizers – the material is subsidized at the manufacturer level and material is sold at subsidized prices to the customer. This, in effect, means that the people in the distribution chain can sell the material at a premium to those who are not intended as beneficiaries of the subsidies and reduce/deny supplies to the intended beneficiaries.
When the subsidy amount is directly transferred to the beneficiaries and the material is to be sold at market prices to all comers, there is little point in diverting supplies to non-beneficiaries – unless there is a significant difference between the MRPs at these outlets vis-à-vis the market prices. Thus it would appear that there is validity in the GOI claim that subsidy leakages would be significantly reduced.
The system also seeks to ensure that the subsidy does not get diverted to other uses. To ensure that, the GOI seeks to monitor whether a beneficiary has indeed purchased the intended material and, if not, to deny the subsidy to him going forth. This measure would have been deemed necessary in order to avoid, say, usage of LPG subsidy for the purchase of intoxicants etc.
The problems in the system would be related to (a) Identification of beneficiaries and possible corruption at the stage of adding your name to the beneficiaries list (b) Identification of defaulters – those who fail to use the subsidy as intended – removal of their names, re-addition and attendant possibility of misuse of the powers by concerned officials (c) Addition of unintended people as beneficiaries (d) Errors and rectification in the cash transfers and attendant issues of corruption. (e) Treatment of itinerant work-force.
Two strong future possibilities exist, however, and it cannot be denied that the GOI could well be considering them. The first relates to reducing the number of beneficiaries. At the moment quite a few goods are sold at subsidized prices regardless of the income of the recipient. Going forth, it may be sought to restrict subsidy to only people below a cut-off income level. This move may, in itself, not be objectionable. After all, it is difficult to argue that a family which goes on an annual foreign jaunt, say, would be significantly impoverished by paying an additional Rs.10000 per annum for LPG. The prescription of the cut-off will, however, need debating if and when the GOI does come out with it.
The second is a more serious possibility. Hitherto, the subsidized price of the goods has been fixed – varied only by Government diktat – and, thus, any increases in the market price increased the subsidy bill. Now, it is likely that the quantum of subsidy shall be fixed – and varied only by Government diktat – and thus any increase in market price will be to the cost of the customer. Unless the Government links the subsidy amount to an appropriate inflationary index or is swift to increase the amount by diktat, there is a definite possibility of increased burden on the consumer.
Overall the system does have its advantages. It may be best for opponents to address themselves to procedures that redress the perceived flaws – behind closed doors at least – while maintaining their rhetorical opposition.

Go here for the other part