Amit Paranjape’s Blog

The growing epidemic of illegal banners and hoardings in our cities

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on July 6, 2014

We often don’t realize this (or consider it to be a minor irritant), but ‘Illegal Signage Pollution’ is a BIG problem in our cities and towns! It is not just an issue of aesthetics (which is important), but also a representation of disregard for law, lack of enforcement and sycophancy culture. This attitude and culture reflects in other walks of life as well. Hence it is important to focus on the ‘visible’ aspects of it. Often, even the legal political banners & hoardings are ‘surrogate’ ads (of course, sometimes they are direct and blatant). Thanks to improvement in flex-printing, these banners can be produced quickly and efficiently…which adds to the problem.

We need some ways to control this. Cities look much better when they are free of these banners during election code of conduct. We need some form of such code (for banners) all year-round. The local authorities need to take up action against the illegal banners/flexes as a top priority. Citizens need to file complaints and regularly follow up with the authorities regarding this, and keep up the pressure. (Especially since, civic authorities could at times be reluctant to act against the banners of their political bosses!).

Even commercial legal ad hoardings in our cities are out of control. Wonder how so many get ‘permissions’! Cities need to limit these as well. Cities like Paris are ultimate ideal role models (hardly any banners/ads), but even the ‘ad/marketing’ capital: U.S. has less public ads in cities! We in India have a long way to get there, but we should start taking small steps in this direction.

‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 140 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, Marathi, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 20, 2014

The 140th edition of  the month long ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series), which was originally started by the great M.G. (Justice) Ranade in 1875, starts this Monday April 21 at Tilak Smarak Mandir Pune. I had written an article about this great tradition few years back, and I am reproducing a version of that below. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series (click on the images at the end of this article). Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! Do note, many of the lectures are in Marathi (a few are in English).

This year’s schedule covers a series of topics including healthcare, law, economics, science, history, government, culture and many more. The inaugural lecture on Apr 21 will be delivered by Dr. H.V. Sardesai. He will be speaking on the topic of ‘Changes in medical science over the past half a century’. Dr. Sardesai has been active in the medical field for over six decades and is considered among the most senior and respected doctors in Pune.

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In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audiences.

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Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2014 Schedule

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2014 Schedule

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2014 Schedule

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2014 Schedule

‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 139 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 20, 2013

The 139th edition of  the month long ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series), that was originally started by the great M.G. (Justice) Ranade in 1875, starts this Sunday April 21 at Tilak Smarak Mandir, Pune. I had written an article about this great tradition couple of years back, and I am reproducing a version of that below. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series (click on the images at the end of this article). Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! The schedule for this year has a good focus on local Pune civic issues.

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In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audiences.

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Serious Questions On The Pune Metro

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on January 22, 2013

Now that the Central Government has given the green signal to the Metro in Pune, there is an urgent need to get some clarifications from the authorities. Metro-Rail is a good long term option for Pune – if designed and implemented well…Also, like any long ranging and super expensive project – it needs some detailed impact assessment and discussions. Thus far though, there are way too many open questions. It is definitely not an ideal scenario when so many basic questions lie unanswered. The residents of Pune cannot be in the dark on these open questions.
Many groups and transportation/civic experts from Pune (Pedestrians First, Parisar, NSCC,…) have raised these serious questions for a long time regarding the present proposed plan for the Metro. They summarized it again recently in a letter to the PMC, with a copy to the State and Central Government Authorities. The letter has been reproduced here – please click this link (scroll down the page, after clicking the link) at the Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti Website. The letter specifically highlights the questions pertaining to the first proposed corridor (Vanaz-Ramwadi), but some of the general questions are applicable for other proposed corridors as well.
I think as a first step, every Pune Resident needs to be aware of these issues. Secondly, they need to pressurize their elected officials and other authorities to get answers to these and other related questions!

Note, the time to raise the questions is NOW! Not when the construction starts and we have JCBs rolling down the roads.

Improved Bus System is Pune’s best (and only?) Public Transit option for the Short/Medium term

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on January 18, 2013

Pune is adding close to 1,000 vehicles every single day. That is nearly 400,000 vehicles per year on the already cramped Pune roads. And this number is increasing every single day. At the current rate of the growth of the city, I won’t be surprised if Pune starts adding 1,500 or 2,000 vehicles per day, before 2018. These are scary numbers, from the point of view of the city traffic.
The only way for the city traffic to sustain itself in the medium term, is by encouraging more commuters to use public transit and reduce the reliance on private vehicles. Today, only 10-20% of Pune’s population relies on public transport. This needs to change. But in order the facilitate this change, the public transit system needs to improve..as soon as possible. The 2-wheeler rider has to have a credible alternative.
Planners talk about the BRTS, Metro, Mono-Rail – but these are long term measures. In the best case scenario, the first corridor of the Metro is at least 5-7 years away. What is needed urgently is an effective short/med term plan. Something that can be executed in under 12 months and put into implementation mode. Ideally, we should consider and act on both the short/med and long term plans simultaneously. One reason for the short term crisis is due to poor long term planning 10/20/30 years back. We cannot repeat that mistake.
I believe that the right short and medium term (next 5-10 years) solution for efficient public transportation in Pune is an improved regular bus transit system. We need many more routes, with higher frequencies, and well maintained buses. We need mini-buses to enable good routes to crowded areas in the city center.  High frequency mini-buses are also needed because the relatively short distances that people cover can, otherwise, be done by private vehicles. The bus service needs to operate with well-designed point-to-point, circular and hub-and-spoke routes. We also need long range buses that have less stops for the longer routes (e.g. Deccan to Hinjavdi).
Pune has a circular geography (like London, Delhi … and unlike Mumbai, New York City). Hence I think high capacity mass transit corridors (like 1-2 Metro Lines or 2-3 BRTS corridors) will not help majority of the population. They are needed..yes…but not at all adequate. Given Pune’s geography, a ring road will definitely help. Circular ring-road bus routes can connect with local routes.
Note, if we really wanted to serve such a circular geography with the Metro, we may end up needing 7-8 Lines (like in London or Berlin) and we know that this is clearly infeasible in the next 15-20 years.
Also, worth noting that many of the bus transit related improvements can be done for a fraction of the cost of the Metro Line and BRTS Corridors, and can be done fairly  quickly, unlike the Metro. Even BRTS has taken more than 5 years and we are far from any decent implementation.
Take the example of the Hinjavdi IT Hub. 5 years from now, we may have 300,000 people working and commuting from there. And yet, there is no Metro route even in the planning stage for that area! What Hinjavdi needs right away is a series of comfortable (AC) buses operating there, from 10-15 different locations in the city. Today, barely 10% of Hinjavdi commuters use public transit. That number needs to rise up to over 50%. Public transit buses can be so much better than the company buses, if run effectively.
I am not against the Metro/BRTS – they are are also necessary, from the point of view of the long term transportation needs of  the city. Do note, the existing BRTS needs to be fixed for all its problems before implementing any expanded version (my thoughts here)  Even in the long term, when we have the Metro/BRTS/etc, given the circular geography and cross connectivity requirements, an efficient bus system will continue to be a critical need.
Essentially to summarize, what I am saying is that we need two active plans and projects to address the public transit needs. And a higher priority needs to be given to the short-medium term needs…and should be addressed on an urgent basis. Remember, to the 1,000 vehicles being added every day, we don’t have the luxury of not doing anything for the short term.
As I commented today on twitter – if we don’t address the next 5-10 years issues…we will all be in the dumps! Then we might as well forget the long term planning of a ‘vibrant metropolis’.
Lastly I will add some point about traffic management. The bus service improvements have to go hand in hand with a significant improvement in our management of traffic flows, traffic law enforcement and parking zones. This is a big topic in itself and I will discuss it in a separate blog post.

 

Some Great Pu La Deshpande Speeches

Posted in Marathi, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on January 16, 2013

Pu La had once said that the three most loved personalities in Maharashtra are Shivaji Maharaj, Lokmanya Tilak and Balgandharva. I will add Pu La to that list.

Many of his great classics are available in audio/video formats, and two generations of Marathi Speakers got introduced to him and fell in love with him because of the audio/video media. My first introduction to Pu La was listening to ‘Mhais’, when I was 7-8 years old…many years before I got to the ‘Vyakti Ani Valli’ book.

Recently, I came across a recording set of some of his speeches from 1970s and 80s. Till date, these are the best Pu La recordings I have listened to! The reason why I say this is that, these speeches give a great insight into Pu La as a person. Glimpses of his thoughts are available throughout his famous works, but his speeches convey his ideas, his beliefs, his passion, in a much sharper and clearer fashion.

His respect and intense love of music and arts, his views on blind faith and religion, his love for all languages (not just Marathi), his genuine appreciation of new talent, his irreverent views on politics, his mentoring, his flexibility in moving on with new times and technologies, his views on philanthropy…it is a long list.

I will highly recommend all Pu La fans to listen to these speeches. Some of them are available in a CD Collection (‘Bahu Rupi Pu La Deshpande’)..available in book stores and online. This set includes 7-8 speeches: Brihan Maharashtra Mandal New Jersey 1987 Keynote, Felicitating the Cast & Crew of the Play ‘Vastraharan’ on the occasion of their 175th performance, His talk at the publication of the translation of some of his works in Kannada, and some others.

I was also able find one of his speeches on YouTube (see link above). It is an amazing speech that he delivered at the 74th birthday of renowned music teacher Prof B.R. Deodhar. (Note, Prof Deodhar studied under Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, and his disciples included Kumar Gandharva).

Let me leave you with one of Pu La’s great quotes:

“आयुष्यात मला भावलेलं एक गुज सांगतो. उपजिविकेसाठी आवश्यक असणाऱ्या विषयाचं शिक्षण जरुर घ्या. पोटापाण्याचा उद्योग जिद्दीनं करा, पण एवढ्यावरच थांबू नका. साहित्य, चित्र, संगीत, नाट्य, शिल्प, खेळ ह्यांतल्या एखाद्या तरी कलेशी मैत्री जमवा. पोटापाण्याचा उद्योग तुम्हाला जगवील, पण कलेशी जमलेली मैत्री तुम्ही का जगायचं हे सांगून जाईल. – पु. ल. ”

2013 Wish List For Pune

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 31, 2012

Wish you all a happy new year!

I was posting some thoughts on twitter about my new year wish list items for Pune for 2013. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, nor is it listed in any particular order of priority. I have just copied my ‘tweets’ (with some edits) and converted them into a short blog post here. May add some more points later.

- BRTS expansion is put on hold. (No expansion before the current 5 year old implementation (Satara, Hadapsar Roads) mess is fixed!)

- Turnaround in PMPML Operations, purchase of 500 new buses…Better Buses, Better Routes/Frequencies.

– Traffic Police get some serious resources (man-power, equipment) augmentation. Better enforcement!

– Final approval of a realistic and practical Metro Plan – Plan for an Underground Metro in city area.

- Implementation of mini-buses on congested city routes. Circular routes: Laxmi Rd, Deccan, MG Rd,.. areas with 3-5 min freq

- After addressing critical concerns, work starts on key fly-overs and road projects (too much debate in 2012! :( …)

- The new airport site (Chakan, Rajgurunagar, wherever..) is finally fixed and work begins!

- A sustained effort to make the city pedestrians friendly! – crossings, footpaths, etc.

- Clarity in water allocation for city (16 TMC), implementation of water-meters, urgent fix for distribution losses.

- Garbage Segregation is made mandatory (and implemented with strict fine).

– Would like Pune to be the first city to BAN ALL ILLEGAL, POLITICAL FLEX BANNERS!

– Focus on clearing up encroachments across the city – specific focus on the city hills and open spaces!

 

Wanted! A City Chief Executive

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 19, 2012

[I wrote this article for ‘The Broad Mind - Views from the Takshashila community’. Reproducing it here on my blog. Here is the link to the original article: http://broadmind.nationalinterest.in/2012/12/18/wanted-a-city-chief-executive/ ]

 

The Central and State Governments have a clear, well defined Chief Executive function. However, the picture gets a little unclear when we get down to our cities and towns.

Large cities have a Municipal Commissioner (part of the State Government), elected Corporators and a Mayor. The execution power rests with the Commissioner, who is not a direct people’s representative. The Mayor is (in most cases) a figure head, appointed from the among the Corporators. Corporators have limited power/budgets. The elected body can yield some influence via the Standing Committee, but doesn’t really have too much powers in direct execution. Long term planning activity is also led by the Commissioner.

In the bigger cities and metro areas – the structure can be even more complicated with additional state agencies such as metropolitan authorities, etc. (e.g. MMRDA in Mumbai).

I am not a constitution or law expert, but wondering if it makes sense to alter/simplify this structure – and have a single elected, accountable chief executive for the city? This model is fairly common in many democracies around the world. Look at how Michael Bloomberg is the clear Chief Executive of New York City.

A city chief executive will depend on the State (and Central) Governments for some funds and other help – but will have complete planning and execution control over the city affairs. This chief will also be directly accountable towards the city electorate.

I wonder why India went with the current dual structure of Commissioner/Mayor? I am sure there were good reasons for that…but is it time we revisited this again?

Is It Time For Pune To Pull The Plug On BRTS?

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 16, 2012

Six years and crores of rupees later, the ‘famed’ BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) Project in Pune has achieved nothing … well to be more precise – it has definitely made things a lot worse for all types of traffic.

I think Pune was the first city in India to start the BRTS Project – and what a pathetic role model it has created for others, that are interested in replicating this! Note – I am not against the BRTS concept…the key is proper planning & execution and ongoing implementation. And it here, where things seem to have gone horribly wrong.

This weekend, I was driving to Hadapsar (thankfully, I don’t drive there often) and again witnessed the utter chaos and anarchy surrounding the BRTS. There are no clear lane markings for where the dedicated BRTS lanes start/end. The lanes are not properly marked and barricaded at many spots. I could see absolutely no enforcement on who can and cannot go through the BRTS lanes. As a result – total traffic anarchy persists – many 2/4 wheelers were merrily going through the BRTS – some by intent, and some by the misfortune of not figuring out where the lane started. But there was no one to prosecute them.

Many buses were not using the BRTS lanes. And then there were those poor pedestrians – stuck in the middle, near those BRTS Bus-Stops! They had no proper way to get to and fro, from these bus stops (which are also pretty poorly designed). If you thought the anarchy couldn’t get worse, it does – at the signals! Again, no vehicles seem to have a clear idea of when/where/how to turn. And this scenario gets even more scary at night – with no proper reflectors, signs, etc. I can go on and on about this horrible scene, but I think most Punekars get the picture and have experienced it first hand.

How did we land up in this total mess? I am not an expert, but even a layman can attribute the current state of affairs to bad planning, terrible execution and atrocious ongoing implementation.

The scary thing is that now, PMC wants to expand this bad mistake to other routes. Soon Solapur Road and Satara Road will share their pain and misery with Alandi Road and Nagar Road. And there are plans for the PCMC areas as well.

It (and has been since much before 2007), is amply clear that Pune’s Bus Transport – PMPML is in a poor state. The buses are in a bad state of maintenance. Passenger comfort seems to be least of the concerns. There are frequent breakdowns. The number of routes and buses are grossly inadequate.

Pune is one of the fastest growing metros in the country and has one of the highest number of 2/4 wheelers per person. (higher than Mumbai as well). The need for good public transportation is extremely crucial. What is needed for Pune Public Transportation is: more buses, better bus maintenance, better passenger comfort, better routes, better frequencies, better bus stops and supporting infrastructure. Those many crores that have been poured into the BRTS could have achieved some progress, towards pursuing these simple and basic PMPML needs. Another area where substantial investment is needed is manpower and other resources for Pune Traffic Police.

Given what we have seen over the past 5 years – I think it is time for Punekars to demand some real tough decisions and actions. This mess has to be fixed. First, the expansion of BRTS needs to stop. Second – if in a realistic time frame (say 6 months), the current BRTS implementation is not fixed – then, the entire current BRTS implementation should also be scrapped. Let those badly planned lanes be opened up for the general traffic (including buses). Let us invest whatever budget that is earmarked for BRTS into improving PMPML!

 

Elevated Riverside Metro in Pune?

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on June 10, 2012

‎”Not Elevated or Underground … but how about an Elevated Riverside Metro?”

A simple question has been in my mind regarding the proposed Pune Metro, for many months now … Along with elevated vs. underground – has anyone considered/evaluated/debated a ‘riverside’ metro route? I am curious.

Here are some random thoughts. I am not an expert and haven’t evaluated cost, environmental and other impacts. May be the simple answer could be ‘Riverside Elevated Metro Is Not Feasible’!

I am talking about an elevated route along the Mutha and Mula river side. This would not obstruct the river flow (like the current riverside road), since the column width is not that big. Think of columns near the edge of the river (beyond the current riverside road).

The rivers in Pune run through very busy areas and can provide a perfect natural pathway for the metro route. The stations can be constructed near the existing bridges – already busy traffic points and very convenient for passengers.

Environmental concerns may be there, anytime we talk about doing anything near the river bed, but I think if this route is elevated (not like the riverside road), then it will be just like any other bridge…and will have minimal impact on the river bed, flow, etc. Do note – we already have over 20 bridges in Pune.

The Mutha river can support a great route from Kothrud to Kalyaninagar via Pune Station.

The Mula river can support an even better route via busy PCMC areas and eventually to Aundh, Baner and Hinjewadi.

The area round the new bridge behind COEP (near the Sangam) could be potentially used for a terminus where both lines come together.

More importantly, the cost will be lower than underground and yet we will not have to deal with the construction and logistics nightmare (for years) on our busy and narrow roads, as well as more longer term impacts associated with an elevated metro.

Thoughts?

Germany sets new solar power record

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on May 27, 2012

Germany is the world leader in Solar Power.

Solar Farm in Germany (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Came across this interesting article from Reuters about Germany’s Solar Power Record: “Germany sets new solar power record, institute says”

This Friday and Saturday, when sunlight was quite good, Germany generated 22 GW (1 GW or Giga Watt = 1,000 Mega Watt) of solar power for a few hours in the afternoon! That is nearly 50% of its power requirements (note requirements on weekends are less, since factories and offices are closed). Still this is quite a milestone!  For comparison, the biggest power consuming state in India, Maharashtra consumes about 15 GW of power.

Came across quite a few interesting data points from the article:

- Germany generates about 4% of its total electricity needs annually via solar power.

- Total renewable energy generation is 20% of its total needs.

- Total installed capacity of Solar Power in Germany is nearly half of the installed capacity in the whole world.

- Germany added 7.5 GW of installed power generation capacity in 2012 and 1.8 GW more in the first quarter for a total of 26 GW capacity.

- Germany has a total installed solar power capacity of 24 GW

- From the article: “Utilities and consumer groups have complained the FIT for solar power adds about 2 cents per kilowatt/hour on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world with consumers paying about 23 cents per kw/h.”

- But the solar power costs might come down as photo-voltaics become cheaper each year.

Do read the full article here and also visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany for more details.

Some quick implications for India

India has lot more hours and months of sun as compared to Germany. Cost of photo-voltaics is coming down, making solar power more competitive. Solar power seems a lot more attractive renewable energy option, as compared to wind. Gujarat has taken the lead in installing solar power. Maharashtra, Karnataka and other states are also setting up solar fields, but the progress is slow.

India needs more policy focus and better execution to make solar power a successful reality.

Currently, China is the world’s major exporter of photo-voltaic cells. India needs to expand production of photo-voltaics. Similarly, other new related areas such as concentrated photo-voltaics (CPV) should also explored.

It is worth noting that Solar Power (or for that matter, any renewable energy source) is not a panacea for energy requirements… at least definitely not in the coming decade. Even in Germany today, Solar Power contributes single digit percentages annually of the total energy requirements. Thus, India will still need to expand its electricity production from conventional and nuclear power sources. Still, in an energy starved India, 10% renewable solar power in a decade, with no dependence on foreign fuel, would be a great step.

Incentives for Preserving and ‘Recreating’ Heritage Architecture In New Buildings

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on May 16, 2012

It is really sad to see the crazy expansion of concrete, steel and glass in Pune, with completely haphazard architecture standards. It is the same state in all major cities in India. In many cases, there is an attempt to emulate foreign architecture concepts that don’t blend in here very well. This extends to those ridiculous sounding names in English (and French, Italian, Spanish)!

I think it is the responsibility of local civic authorities (as is done in many cities, in the developed world), to enforce some kind of consistency standards in architecture of buildings, landscapes and ideally, even the names!

Just as there are green building requirements and certification standards, civic authorities need to enforce such standards for basic architecture. There have been many discussions on this topic, but doubt if any Indian city has done any progress in this area. I am going to take this requirement one step further. Not only should basic architecture standards be enforced, but heritage architecture should be provided with incentives (I am not asking for enforcement here… but some positive reinforcement).

For example, if a building (or more specifically, a private bungalow) tries to use the old Pune ‘Wada’ type architecture, or the early 20th century ‘Stone’ construction, they should be offered some benefits. We have to encourage new development that respects, preserves and recreates our heritage.

Similar small token incentives should be given to using local and Indian names. Instead of the often horrible (supposedly ‘aspirational’) sounding western names that we see everywhere today, we should encourage the use of local/regional names. Pune was the city of gardens (‘Baugs’) during the Peshwe Era. We had great gardens such as Hirabaug, Sarasbaug, Tulshibaug, and many others. Today, it would be great to see some apartment complexes named as ‘XYZ-Baug’.

In addition to local authorities (like PMC) providing incentives; NGOs and other organizations who are working in the area of heritage preservation (e.g. Janwani in Pune) should also institute prizes and awards for buildings that go out of their way to preserve and replicate the heritage.

Would like to hear the readers thoughts on this topic. Has something like this been done effectively in any Indian city? Note, I agree that ‘incentives’ are a small step, amongst many others to preserve our rich (but poorly maintained and fast dwindling) heritage.

‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 138 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, Marathi, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 20, 2012

The 138th edition of ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series) starts this Saturday April 21 and will go on for a month at Tilak Smarak Mandir, Pune. I had written an article of this great tradition last year and I am reproducing a version of that here. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series, at the end of this article. Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! This year’s speakers include Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale, Dr. Abhay Bang, Union Agri Minister Sharad Pawar, Journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, National Award Winning Singer Anand Bhate and many others. I attended nearly half of the around 30 lectures last year and they were all great.

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In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audiences.

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Pune Water Supply (Crisis!) – Past, Present and Future

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 4, 2012

I have been writing about the Pune Water Supply issue on and off on twitter, but haven’t gotten down to writing a detailed blog post. I have realized that I am repeating myself in many discussions – hence here is a brief compilation of basic introductory facts and some questions & points to ponder. This is a very complex issue and I am not an expert in this area. I have just compiled various data from different information sources, and added a few thoughts and points to ponder.

Brief History of Pune Water Supply


The City of Pune grew around the Mutha River and for many centuries, the river was the primary source of water. In the 18th century Pune started witnessing rapid growth as the de facto capital of the Maratha Empire during the Peshwas. The first major water supply system was built by Nanasaheb Peshwa in the 1750s (The contractor for this project was Sardar Tulshibagwale). This consisted of a water storage lake at Katraj and a system of aqueducts to bring the water to Shaniwar Wada and neighbouring area tanks (‘Hauds’). This system was quite robust and remnants of it are still visible today. This system came to rescue of Punekars in the aftermath of the Panshet Flood where the two main dams were destroyed. I had written an extensive blog post about the Panshet Flood Disaster last year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that incident:  
12 July 1961 – Panshet: A day that changed Pune

Towards the end of the 18 century, other Peshwas and their Sardars such as Nana Phadnavis, Raste added more aqueducts and storage tanks in the city. The British took control of Pune in 1817 and started expanding towards the east side, building the Pune Cantonment. The first water storage facility built here was a small bund near the present Bund Garden. In 1867, the Khadakwasla Dam was built. Visvesvarayya is credited for designing and building an advanced type of sluice gate here in the early 1900s.


Post independence, a much bigger dam was planned at Panshet. Construction started in 1955 and was almost complete by 1961. While filling up the dam, some cracks were observed and a last minute effort to save the dam failed. This resulted in a massive flood in Pune. The Khadakwasla and Panshet dams were both destroyed and some urgent alternative arrangements were needed for the next few years, until these dams were repaired. These included, using the old Peshwa era Katraj aqueduct, using the water from the Mulshi Dam (via the Mula river – a small bund was constructed near Aundh on Mula to store the water and it was pumped from there.).


As the Pune city and neigbouring agriculture requirements were growing, two new dams were built – Varasgaon was completed in 1994 and Temghar was completed in 2000. Pavana dam, that supplies to PCMC area was completed in the 1990s.

Present Water Storage – Pune and neighborhood dams

In this section, I will discuss the water storage capacities of the dams that supply to the Pune Metro region, and other neighborhood dams that have (or can) supply water to this area in future.


But before that, some basic conversions between commonly used terms:

1 TMC = 1 Thousand Million Cubic Feet =  about 28.317 million cubic meters

1 Cubic Meter = 1000 Liters, 1 Cubic Meter = 35.31 Cubic Feet.

Note – TMC is an old British system measurement. The Maharashtra Water Resources Department uses ‘1 Million Cubic Meters’ as their unit of measure.

Dam  Storage in Million Cubic Meters, (TMC)

Khadakwasla       56  (2)
Panshet              302 (10.7)
Varasgaon          363 (12.8)
Temghar            105 (3.7)

Mulshi                 523 (18.5)
Pavana                241 (8.5)
Bhama-Askhed   217 (7.7)

[For a more detailed information about all dams in Pune district and Maharashtra, go to: www.mahawrd.org (source for above data) ... This website publishes daily/weekly/monthly reports about dam capacity, current storage, comparative statistics for last year, etc. ].

The water from Khadakwasla dam is brought to the primary Parvati Pumping Station via the Mutha Canal and Pipelines. From here, it is distributed to various parts of the city through various intermediate storage tanks.

Future

Last few years, every April, we are finding ourselves in a ‘water crisis’ mode. A sight of tankers is an ominous indication. I remember Pune in the 1980s and 1990s – where water shortage/crisis was literally unheard of. What has changed? I am not an expert in this area, and a detailed discussion of this issue is not in the scope of this introductory blog post. But here are a few points to ponder:

- Pune has witnessed a very high growth rate over the past two decades and the population of the metro area has nearly tripled since 1990. Water requirements have also grown in this proportion (if not a bit higher).

- Current demand for the city (not including PCMC) is around 14-15 TMC. Pune requirements are supplied by the 4 dams: Panshet, Varasgaon, Temghar and Khadakwasla. Khadakwasla is really a staging and distribution point for the two big dams upstream. (PCMC needs around 6-7 TMC and is supplied by the Pavana dam.)

- For the past decade, the storage capacity across the 4 Pune dams has remained nearly the same.. around 29 TMC. Evaporation losses are roughly 1-1.5 TMC. Also note that silting (mud flowing in each year from the water run-off) over the years reduces the dam storage capacities. Regular de-silting is very important.

- Note that these 4 dams are not exclusively dedicated for Pune (like the dams for Mumbai). They also supply to the agriculture belt south-east of Pune. So while it appears that the storage is twice of what Pune needs, that’s not really the case. I am not going to get into the debate of allocation issues, etc. here. But suffice to say that a better and more transparent allocation policy and process between the state and local governments will help.

- At the current / projected growth rate, Pune’s requirements may approach 25 TMC and even more, in a decade. Then what!? Well, that’s the billion dollar question! What are the options / alternatives available?

- It is estimated that currently, 20-30% of water that is supplied to Pune is wasted via leakages, etc. Distribution needs to improve to cut down on the losses, and keep them at the minimum.

- Allocation between Pune requirements (Drinking) vs. Agriculture will again have to be revisited.

- Bhama-Askhed may be able to provide some additional supply to the city, but it may also be needed for the fast growing Chakan-Talegaon area.

- Some water from Mulshi could be potentially diverted to Pune? But that will mean reduction in electricity generation (this dam is owned by Tata Power and the water is used to generate hydro-power). An even more tougher option would be bring in water from dams further out via pumping (e.g. Bhatghar, etc.)..no idea about the feasibility of this option. 

- Other water conservation methods – rain-water-harvesting, etc are also needed..but these alone will not be adequate. Tapping ground water through bore-wells is already on the rise, and this can be a good source. However, excessive reliance on bore-wells is not a good idea – the water table will keep shrinking and will fall  deeper and deeper each year. Look at what has happened in Bangalore.

- Explore feasibility of building one (or more) dams further upstream of Panshet and Varasgaon. Again this will take a long time, even if feasible.

Note each alternative will involve many compromises – unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. 

 

Pune Local Elections 2012 – Representative Case Study For Urban India

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on February 21, 2012

I wrote this article for ‘INI Broad Mind’. I am reproducing it here on my blog. For more information on INI Broad Mind and the Takshashila Foundation, please click here.

I was a voter and an interested citizen observer on the sidelines of the recently concluded Pune Municipal Corporation Elections.  I think they may provide some representative case-studies on issues/learnings for local election issues in many other pockets of urban India.

The Pune local elections are now over and in a sense, it is back to the ‘same-old same-old’. Looks like NCP-Congress combine is all set to retain power. The election voting percentage was a lackluster 51% (close to the voting percentage of the 2007 election). But a few things were different. And it is quite possible that over the medium and long term, these might have big impacts on Pune electoral politics and governance going forward. Maybe I am just hopeful…but then ‘hope’ is an eternal thing!

In this article, I will take a look at the build up to the Pune elections, the results, the aftermath and possible lessons learnt by various participants and stakeholders.

The Build-Up

Pune has witnessed an impressive growth over the past decade. From just being a small city known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra and a center of education, the city has witnessed a transformation into a large metropolis. The city is plagued with many of the same issues that are typical in most big cities – traffic, roads, public transportation, garbage, water, education, health, etc.

This election was considered important on quite a few counts. Strategic issues around Pune such as approval of the Development Plan (already pending for many years), public transportation (Metro), etc. were at the forefront. Another important issue was the rise of the independent citizen parties. Since the Janlokpal agitations of the last year, there was expectancy that the city will show much more enthusiasm in voting and in supporting clean candidates. On the political front, the NCP-Congress alliance had announced that were contesting separately. BJP-Sena still had their coalition; the ‘Kalmadi’ factor was a definite negative for the Congress; MNS was a dark horse. NCP was making a clear push to gain unilateral power (just like the neighboring PCMC) and Ajit Pawar had made it his top priority.

The citizen independent parties consisting of PNS (Pune Nagari Sanghatana) and PJA (Pune Janaheet Aghadi) had fielded over 15 candidates. While the task was uphill for them, there was hope that they may be able to make small inroads into the Corporation with a few wins. Many citizens were positive about this new alternative front that provided them with clean, well educated and non-aligned options.

The Result

The results, though not a total surprise did have some interesting twists:

- NCP emerged as the single largest party.
– Congress didn’t do as well as expected. Kalmadi factor affected them negatively.
– BJP-SS performance wasn’t spectacular either.
– MNS surprised many by their strong showing, becoming the 2nd biggest party.
– 3 NCP Mayors and ex-Mayors lost.
– No candidate from the citizen independent parties won.
– A few candidates with criminal histories did win in their strongholds.

After Action Review

NCP did partially achieve what it set out for, but will still have to partner with Congress. The few key losses of NCP like that of outgoing Mayor are a sign of anti-incumbency. Congress suffered and outside their strength seats, polled low voting percentages. MNS surprised many with their strong showing – clearly the voter who was looking for choices against the incumbents didn’t migrate to the main opposition; but instead decided to try the 3rd untested option. Raj Thackrey’s personal draw definitely helped the MNS in their campaign. The independent citizen parties fared poorly than most expected. They didn’t win a single seat. They did manage a good showing (in terms of votes polled) in a few contests, but those were clearly not enough. This was a big disappointment for the citizens who were hoping for some change. The fact that even this time, there were candidates with criminal records (fielded by the major parties) who managed to win, further highlights the ‘status quo’ from previous elections.

Frankly, for me the biggest disappointment was the voting percentage: 51% – fairly close to what it was for the last election. I for one had expected that with the overall frustration/anger against corruption, the state of the city, and the incumbents’ performance – citizens would come out in larger numbers and exercise their voting rights. This didn’t happen. This for sure hurt the independent candidates more than the established parties. I can think of many reasons for the poor showing at the voting booth, though not sure which ones are more prominent than the others.

Maybe people are still not ‘upset’ enough to push aggressively for a change. There is a difference between ‘irritability’ and ‘outright anger’ (that drives revolutions). The quality of life for most people in urban India has increased (traffic problems not withstanding) with the 7-8% growth rate. As a result, they maybe get ‘irritated’ with traffic, garbage – but not ‘angered’ enough! Same might be true with corruption. Everyone agrees it is bad – but is it bad enough to incite ‘anger’ and drive change? Apparently not?

The middle-class voter apathy was apparent. If you had observed a typical candidate campaign ‘Sabha’ at a housing society – you would have noticed that the average age of participants was 50+ and often 60+. Where was the middle class youth? How many even knew the candidates who were contesting? I wonder. On the other hand, if you visit a slum or a ‘Vastee’ – the youth there has always been actively involved in supporting their local candidate. These local candidates ‘took care’ of their Vastee. For example, consider this – a middle class person is irritated by illegal encroachments near his house – but often these encroachments support good lively-hood for the youth in the slums – and they back the corporators who may have facilitated these illegal ‘Tapris’ (Shacks). I think (don’t have enough data as yet to back this up..) that when we have an aggregate voting percentage of 50%, the voting percentage in slums is much higher than 50%, and that in the middle class housing societies is much lower. Guess who will have the higher priority? In a sense the electoral process is working fine – just as it is supposed to!

The Future

NCP-Congress is all set to retain power. Don’t expect major policy and working changes; and as a result this is a disappointment. Issues such as the pathetic state of public transportation and garbage management will continue to be around, with no immediate solutions in sight. During election, it was easy to pitch the ‘Metro’ as a panacea, but the reality is way out in the future (and that is, after there is an agreement on the design and execution plan).

The NCP has announced its intentions of taking their victory in Pune further by staking claim for the Pune LokSabha seat for the next elections.  The rise of MNS is an interesting development, and we will have to see what role they play over the next few years. They are clearly going to be an important player in the next Maharashtra and National elections.

The independent parties need to introspect and come up with their long term strategies for future elections. Organizing citizen parties just a few months before the elections is not adequate. These parties need to be around for a while. They need to build better organization and politicking skills. They have a much tougher task in reaching out to the voters – since they don’t have the brand and money power of the established parties. Hope these parties consisting of smart and well-intentioned folks learn quickly and implement the necessary changes to take on the tough challenge.

A few quick thoughts on the voting process, while the desire to vote should be intrinsic, technology and process changes should definitely be considered to help. Some kind of remote voting options and/or voting at any booth should be considered.

For anyone and everyone who is interested in improving India’s democracy by increasing voting turnouts – much more discussions and analyses are still needed.

 

Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs – What can be learned from NASA

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on October 11, 2011

I recently wrote an article on The Broad Mind blog: “Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs” . This article discusses various steps that ISRO could learn from NASA in terms of its outreach programs. To access the article, click on the above link or click here: http://broadmind.nationalinterest.in/2011/09/improving-isro%E2%80%99s-outreach-programs/

 

The Broad Mind blog covers opinions from the Takshashila community. For details about the Takshashila Foundation, click here: http://takshashila.org.in/about/

 

10 Ways In Which Restaurants Need to Improve!

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants by Amit Paranjape on July 16, 2011

How often do you experience this?  You walk into a fancy restaurant for the first time. It is located at a premier address. You notice the distinct grandeur – the lighting, the water-fountains, the expensive art, the music, the fine wine bottles nicely showcased on the wall rack…. You are greeted and taken to your table, and given a menu. You are enjoying the nice ambience, when suddenly you realize that the menu card is torn, soiled and worse(!) – has some food stains on it!
Numerous fancy restaurants have sprung up in Pune and indeed in all major Indian cities, over the past few years. These restaurants spend a lot of money on real-estate and decor, but often times pay scant attention to minor details. Of course, food quality and taste is of paramount importance. But the supporting setting really separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. These supporting items become all the more important when the customer is paying many times over for the same dish, as compared to an ordinary restaurant.
In this article, I am trying to highlight some of these basic things that go a long way in improving customer satisfaction.


1. Menu cards: It’s amazing to note how a restaurant will spend millions on decor and yet completely ignore what is possibly their key interface point with their guest! I don’t care if guests ‘spoil’ the menu cards….print new ones!

2. Service Presentation: These are the basics! Greet the customer, lead them to the table. Offer choice of sitting, make sure they are comfortable, etc. Sounds very simple, right? Many top places don’t do a good job at this.
And I think its a good idea for the Head Chef to once in a while step out of the kitchen and meet some guests. This is the best way to receive feedback, first hand.

3. Service: Communication is key. The lead steward needs to be crisp and clear in welcoming the guests. Neither too aggressive and over-bearing, nor too shy. Being indifferent is even worse. For the lead steward, as well as rest of the serving staff – please make sure that their English is up to mark (especially, if they insist in speaking in English). I have no issues communicating with them in Marathi/Hindi – but some ‘fancy’ places insist that their waiters use English! And please learn the correct pronunciations – the ‘j’ in ‘Fajita’ is pronounced ‘h’!  I think overall, staff training is critical. Top restaurants spend months on staff training even before the opening. Hence they rate much better on the service. Training is not just limited to basics like serving style and ordering communications…but also into the more subtle aspects of customer psychology.

4. Service – Issues Management: Pune Restaurants are quite bad when it comes to ‘Issues Management’. By ‘Issues Management’ I refer to way in which a customer complaint/issue is handled. If a customer doesn’t like a dish/its preparation – don’t spend time arguing and justifying it! First offer to redo it and/or substitute it with something else. After all attempts, if the customer is still not satisfied, provide some discount on the bill. Often times, this is a small price to pay, but good restaurants are not very keen to do this.

5. Seating comfort: I absolutely hate it when real fancy and expensive restaurants offer horrible seating. Sometimes, its in the name of ‘aesthetics’ and sometimes, it just negligence. For those restaurants who think of creating an uncomfortable ‘rural feel’ in their restaurants – just stop and think – did you do away with air-conditioning? Or purified water? Then why create these horrible bench or floor seats??

6. Ambience level: It is very important to get the right ambience level. Not too bright and overbearing, and not too plain. In fact, a little subtle is better. Many restaurants in Pune go overboard with a ‘jazzy look’. Also see my comment on music. Lighting needs to be at the right levels. Most places either err on one side (too bright, or too dim). In general I would prefer bright over dim – I want to see what I am eating :)

7. Feedback Process: Getting the right feedback is often times one of the most important ways to drive continuous improvement and course corrections. Yet many restaurants simply boil it down to one feedback form given with the bill! It is important for the manager to regularly (and discretely) check with the customers. However, don’t overdo it. If the customer complains, offer to change it, but don’t explain things (Here we make it this way..etc…).

8. Loyalty: Many restaurants do a bad job of maintaining customer loyality. Some do it quite well. If I visit a place regularly, its a good thing to be greeted by your name. Even better if they know your favorite order. Rewarding loyalty is very important. And its not as simple as giving away free dishes/dinners. Its much more – like getting me a reservation, when its all booked. Or getting me an off-the-menu item.

9. Right staffing levels: This is another common problem. In most cases staffing levels are not adjusted to account for the surge traffic. I understand this means extra investment..but this is key for top restaurants.

10. Music: Most Pune restaurants have the music turned on too loud. Music should be soft and preferably instrumental.

11. Let me add a 11th point, before I end this blogpost. The all important  ‘Hygiene’ – Pay attention to small things such as – Stains, Dirt in corners, Plates, Cutlery, glasses. Uniforms of the waiting staff. Common areas, etc.

NOTE – Here I am specifically referring to med to high-priced restaurants. Don’t expect compliance on all these 11 points, at lower priced restaurants – still these are good yardsticks for them to evaluate themselves.

 

12 July 1961 – Panshet: A day that changed Pune

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on July 10, 2011

12 July 1961 – this fateful day will remain forever etched in Pune’s history. A day that changed the history and geography of this great city. Call it a bad coincidence – but two events that happened almost exactly 200 years apart have played a critical role in Pune’s history – to the extent that they have been added to the local Marathi lexicon.  The first one was the 3rd Battle of Panipat in 1761 and the second one: the Panshet flood. “पानिपत झालं” (Panipat zala) and “पानशेत झालं” (Panshet zala) are commonly used terms today to refer to a big disaster.

Half a century ago, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. Read this technical article for a good engineering summary of what went wrong at Panshet: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/IIT-MADRAS/Hydraulics/pdfs/Unit41/41_2.pdf

A valiant last-ditch effort by the Army Jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.

Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. Many residents fled to higher grounds, some all the way to the Parvati Hill. Apparently, All India Radio did not broadcast any warnings, and was playing a regular scheduled music program when the floods struck. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. Roughly speaking Panshet water reservoir stores enough water for all of Pune’s city needs today (today’s needs are probably 5-10 times more than the 1960s requirements). Imagine all that water being drained out in just a few hours! To give you an idea of the level of the water, just visualize the first floor of Abasaheb Garware College (MES) on Karve Road, nearly completely submerged! Some people and rescue workers were trying navigate Deccan Gymkhana, FC/JM Road areas in small boats.

The water levels finally started falling by late night. The floods completely cutoff the electric and water supply. July 12th was a dark, rainy night in Pune – with rumors still doing the rounds. Some of them pointed to more floods on the way… (even though the dams had been drained empty by then..). When the flood-waters receded, they left behind a trail of destruction and a muddy mess. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were setup to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door – so that, the water source could be be made available.

I have found a series of good articles about the Panshet flood disaster, including many firsthand accounts. Some of these links are listed below. I will continue to add more links here. If you come across any good articles, do let me know. Also if you have personal memories from your own experiences, or from your friends & families, please share them here in the comments section.

http://chandrashekhara.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/%E0%A4%AA%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%A8%E0%A4%B6%E0%A5%87%E0%A4%A4-1961/

http://blog.khapre.org/2008/07/blog-post_4677.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panshet_Dam

http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/IIT-MADRAS/Hydraulics/pdfs/Unit41/41_2.pdf

http://www.sakaaltimes.com/sakaaltimesbeta/20100711/5533988237134629489.htm

http://www.esakal.com/esakal/20100712/5620114474477528349.htm

http://www.sakaaltimes.com/SakaalTimesBeta/20100711/4801146537723084952.htm

http://www.esakal.com/esakal/20110711/5513754521977459281.htm

http://www.esakal.com/esakal/20110712/4755075539072260072.htm

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_scenario-in-deccan-gymkhana-when-flash-floods-inundated-in-pune_1565034

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtNITRk_TzA

 Indian Express Headline: July 12, 1961 http://twitpic.com/5owvo0

पानशेत प्रलय आणी मी – मधुकर हेबळे  (‘Panshet Pralay Ani Mi’ – Madhukar Heble)

STS135: Final Space Shuttle Mission – End of an Era

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on July 8, 2011

Space Shuttle Lift-off (image credit: wikipedia)

Just watched the launch of STS135; the lift-off of shuttle Atlantis on the last space shuttle mission. Two weeks from now, Atlantis will touch down one last time and bring an end to 30 years of Space Shuttle Flights. An end of an era. 

I must have watched dozens of shuttle launches live on TV, but regret not having had the opportunity of watching one in-person, in Florida. All of them were great to watch (especially the ones I saw on NASA TV). The complexity of the machine, the mission control center interactions, the sheer magnitude of engine power, the grandeur of lift-off… fascinating!

Overall, the shuttle program has been quite successful, apart from the two tragedies of Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. Most of the other missions went through without any major issues – to the point that these missions were felt as really ‘routine’.

Like was the case with the Apollo Program nearly 40 years back, budget cuts have played their part in ending the shuttle program. The debate between cost-benefits of manned space flights will continue. Travelling to Mars is a possible long-term goal, but definitely not in the near future. In the medium term, some alternatives have been proposed, which aim to address some of the limitations of the space shuttle. Still, no firm plan exists today.

Leaves me wondering when the United States / NASA will return back to manned spaceflights. For now, the International Space Station will be served by Russian spacecrafts. Feels a bit odd that half a century since John Glenn’s historic flight – the United States doesn’t have a firm manned spaceflight roadmap. At least they should have planned for a few more shuttle launches, until the medium strategy was ready and set for deployment!

 –Note added July 22, 2011 — STS-135 completed its mission yesterday and the space shuttle landed for the last time. Here’s a great video tribute to the space shuttle program, compiled by Nature that showcases all the missions over the past 30 years: http://youtu.be/II7QBLt36xo

‘Bal Gandharva’ – A Nice Tribute To The Legend

Posted in History, Pune, TV, Entertainment & Movies, Uncategorized by Amit Paranjape on May 9, 2011

The ‘Bal Gandharva’ movie opened this week. I was eagerly waiting for its release, and managed to catch this afternoon’s show. I normally don’t blog about cinema; unless I am really impressed (or extremely disappointed) with a specific movie. ‘Bal Gandharva’ clearly falls in the former category…hence this brief blog post.

This movie provides a great snapshot into the life of the legendary Marathi Theater artist and singer Narayan Shripad Rajhans (popularly known as ‘Bal Gandharva’).

[Do read this great speech by Pu La Deshpande (from 1988) describing the greatness of Bal Gandharva. I will quote a few of lines:  “महाराष्ट्राने तीन व्यक्तींवर जिवापाड प्रेम केलेलं आहे. ही महाराष्ट्राची सांस्कृतिक दैवतं आहेत असं म्हटलं तरी चालेल. पहिले म्हणजे छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज, दुसरे लोकमान्य बाळ गंगाधर टिळक आणि तिसरे बालगंधर्व.”

Roughly translates as: “Maharashtra has given undying love to three great individuals. These three can be referred to as the cultural/historical gods of Maharashtra. First one is Shivaji Maharaj, second Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and third Bal Gandharva.”]

Coming back to the movie, Subodh Bhave in the lead role of Bal Gandharva is terrific. The screen-play, the sets, the direction are all excellent. At times, the movie has a slight documentary like feel and the viewer is transported to Maharashtra in the early part of the 20th century – an era that represented the golden age of Marathi Theater. The movie is thoroughly entertaining and engrossing. Music is an integral part of the movie and Anand Bhate has does an amazing job of singing the original Bal Gandharva classics.

‘Bal Gandharva’ presents many of the key events and periods in the life of Bal Gandharva, in a balanced manner, often leaving the interpretation to the viewer. His early years with the Kirloskar Natak Company…His amazing potrayal of female roles… Setting up his own Gandharva Natak Mandali… Struggles with his personal family life… His constant desire to leave no stone unturned to create a grand production for the audience, at any cost… His utter mismanagement of finances and resulting huge debts… The waning years of his career when theater audiences started defecting to the new medium of cinema… and through all this, his total perseverance and steadfast devotion to his primary love – Theater.

From a historical perspective, this movie shows many important characters and events. Lokmanya Tilak listening to a young Narayan (aged 10) and referring him as ‘Bal Gandharva’ for the first time, Anant Kanhere shooting Collector Jackson at a theater in Nashik, Ram Ganesh Gadkari at his death bed, Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, Maharaja of Baroda, a young V Shantaram convincing Bal Gandharva to switch to this new medium called ‘Cinema’,…and many more. I personally like historical movies and Bal Gandharva scores really well in this area as well.

Do watch ‘Bal Gandharva’ if you are a fan of theater, history or music. The movie has English sub-titles.

I will close with this line (by Ga Di Madgulkar?): “”असा बालगंधर्व आता न होणे!”

‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ – Spring Lecture Series: A great 137 year old tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 24, 2011

 

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2011

Vasant Vyakhyanmala 2011

In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

This year’s series started on Friday April 22, with an inaugural lecture by Vijay Kelkar. (Note – Vijay Kelkar was awarded the Padma Vibhushan earlier this year by the President of India). Kelkar talked about India’s Growth Story. Ajit Ranade presented a very interesting topic on Saturday on Democracy and Electoral Reforms. The 2011 Vasant Vyakhyanmala will run through May 15. Here is a link to the full schedule from Harshad Oak’s bloghttp://www.harshadoak.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Program-Guide-pg2-3.jpg .  This year Vasant Vyakhyanmala has a presence on facebook  and twitter. Do follow the links and updates on these social media websites, if you cannot attend the lectures.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it. As I said earlier the first two lectures were excellent. The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audiences.

Pune Warriors India

Posted in Cricket, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 15, 2011

The Pune Warriors India are off to a great start, leading the points table after the first week. It’s early days in the IPL-4 season yet, but the Pune team has looked quite dominant. Geoff Marsh and co have put together a good balanced team.

Here is a list of the players:

Yuvraj Singh (Captain), Graeme Smith, Jesse Ryder, Robin Uthappa, Ashish Nehra, Angelo Mathews, Wayne Parnell, Alfonso Thomas, Jerome Taylor, Nathan McCullum, Murali Kartik, Monish Mishra, Mithun Manhas, Shrikant Wagh, Rahul Sharma, Callum Ferguson, Tim Paine, Mitchell Marsh, Harshad Khadiwale, Manish Pande, Shrikant Mundhe, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Kamran Khan, Ganesh Gaikwad, Harpreet Singh, Eklavya Dvivedi, Imtiaz Ahmed, Dheeraj Jadhav, Sachin Rana.

Coach: Geoff Marsh, Assistant Coaches: Dermot Reeve, Pravin Amre

Official website of the Pune Warriors: http://punewarriorsindia.com

Official twitter account: http://twitter.com/punewarriorsipl

Twitter list tracking various Pune Warriors Players, Blogs, Fan Clubs, etc.  https://twitter.com/home#/list/aparanjape/pune-warriors-ipl

Ticketing partner – Kyazoonga.Com: http://www.kyazoonga.com/Cricket/Pune_Warriors_India/56/2

Home stadium: IPL-4 season will be played at D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. Starting next year, the Warriors will move to their new Pune home (Gahunje, near Talegaon): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pune_International_Cricket_Centre … Here’s a link I found that shows a simulated view of the proposed design: http://www.hopkins.co.uk/projects/_3,135/

My old blog post about the Sahara Pune Warriors: http://aparanjape.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/welcoming-punes-ipl-team-sahara-pune-warriors/

‘Indonesia Indah’ – Beautiful Indonesia

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on March 8, 2011

Indonesia is the biggest country in South East Asia – with over 17,000 islands, stretching from 100 km south of Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, to near Darwin Australia. It has over three time zones, thirtythree provinces and hundreds of languages and dialects. It is also the fourth most populous country in the world.

‘Indonesia Indah’ – roughly translates to ‘Beautiful Indonesia’. I recently got a chance to visit this interesting country – a country rich in history, culture and nature. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the highlights from my trip. (Please do read this nice blog post by my friend: http://arsh-else.blogspot.com/2010/10/guest-blog-about-indonesia-by.html for an interesting perspective.)

I would highly recommend visiting Indonesia. (Unfortunately, at present there are no direct flights from India to Jakarta – Hope that they do commence direct flights soon! For now, connections through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok are quite convenient). Tourists from many countries may be eligible for visa on arrival. Combining Jakarta, Bandung and Bali in your itinerary would require a week (at minimum). Given our time constraints, we decided to leave Bali out for our next trip.

800px-Arjuna_Wijaya_chariot_statue_in_Jakarta Arjuna Wijaya chariot statue (image credit: wikipedia)

Jakarta

Jakarta is the capital (as well as the commercial capital) of Indonesia. It is a large, vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis with over 14 million people. Like many large developing world cities, it exhibits quite a few contrasts – from first world like road infrastructure, downtown area, malls – to shanty towns and slums. Situated by the sea, 6 degrees south of the equator, it has tropical weather all year around. However, the humidity is definitely a shade lower than what we typically experience in Mumbai.

392px-Jakarta_Pictures-4 Jakarta Pictures (image credit: Wikipedia)

  

Friendly and courteous people

The Indonesian people are friendly, courteous and patient. One example of this is evident in the crazy traffic jams – hardly heard any honking! English is not that well understood by the common man; so communication can be a bit of a challenge. Given the breadth and diversity of the country, many different cultures and languages exist. Jakarta itself is quite cosmopolitan. On the topic of language – the Bahasa Indonesian spoken by the majority of the population has many words with Sanskrit origin. It is an interesting blend of East-West, given that the script is Roman.

Remnants of Dutch Era

Indonesia was a Dutch colony for over 3 centuries. But in comparison with cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi – you don’t see as many colonial structures/infuence in Jakarta. Maybe the Dutch didn’t invest as much in infrastructure as the British. There are a few old buildings around the old port area and railway station – but nothing grand like the Fort Area or the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. One prominent Dutch era remnant is the canal network in Jakarta. Though not very well maintained, they remind you of the typical Amsterdam canals. If there is any prominent western influence today, it is that of the American Culture – malls, fast-food, popular entertainment, etc.

Ramayan & Mahabharat

It was interesting to observe how Ramayan and Mahabharat occupy an important place in Indonesian culture. Jakarta’s central business district, features a prominent 50 feet long statue of Krishna and Arjun in a 13 horse chariot.  Wooden puppets depicting scenes from these epics are quite popular. 

800px-Wayang_Pandawa Mahabharat – Pandawas (image credit: Wikipedia)

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng (literally means ‘Fried Rice’) is one of the most popular dishes in Indonesia. It is a spicy fried rice preparation with various additions such as Chicken, Seafood, Shrimp, Beef, Eggs, Vegetables, etc. It is available everywhere – from street-food corners to good restaurants.

764px-Nasi_Goreng_SosisNasi Goreng (image credit: Wikipedia)

Traffic

Traffic in Jakarta is crazy; but definitely better disciplined than in India. The city has over 2.5 Million Cars and over 7 Million Two-Wheelers. You will often get stuck in kilometers long traffic jams. Petrol is quite cheap (until recently, Indonesia was a net-exporter of petroleum) and public transportation is not very good. This adds to the traffic load.

The highway infrastructure though is quite world class. Jakarta has quite a few expressways inside the city. The ride on the Jakarta – Bandung Expressway was also quite good.

One interesting thing I saw was the concept of ‘tipping’ while yielding in traffic. In these crazy traffic jams, it is often impossible to make a turn in busy traffic. However an ingenious solution (doubt if it will work in India!) is often used to address this problem. A group of volunteers act as traffic cops, stop the oncoming traffic and let you pass. You simply tip this volunteer group! It is a commonly accepted practice…the oncoming vehicles doesn’t seem to protest!

Toyotas (and Daihatsus) are by far the most popular. The Toyota Innova (known as ‘Kijang’) and Toyota Avanza are the top models. These 3 passenger row vehicles are ideally suited for the large Indonesian families.

The ‘Bajaj’

The iconic Bajaj Auto-Rickshaw made an entry in the Indonesian market in the 1970s. Though their popularity has gone down a bit since the 1990s, they are still omnipresent in Jakarta. Like in many Indian cities, they are popular commuting options. Interestingly, they are not called Rickshaws or Autos, but ‘Bajajs’! (Bajaj pronounced ‘Baa-j—aah’). One strange quirk though – the backseat appears to be at a substantial slant angle, compared to what we see here in India.

[On a related note - I reminded my friends that two popular things in Indonesia have a Pune connection! One being the 'Bajaj' and other even popular one being the extremely popular game of Badminton. Badminton (originally known as 'Poona') originated out of the British Army Cantonment in Pune in the 19th century]

800px-Jakarta_bajaj

Bajaj (image credit: Wikipedia)

Malls

We visited a few malls in Jakarta. Some of them were quite large and impressive – comparable with some of the good malls in U.S.  Indonesia is definitely an attractive shopping destination; especially for apparel. Do make sure you visit the many traditional ‘Batik’ showrooms.

Bandung

Bandung is the 3rd largest city in Indonesia and also the educational and textile capital. It is located around 160 km from Jakarta, at a height of over 800 meters. The weather is quite pleasant. Bandung is also a must-visit shopping destination for apparel. Many factory outlet stores have great merchandize selections and huge discounts.

Tangkuban Perahu

Located close to Bandung, ‘Tangkuban Perahu’ is a dormant volcano. It is a popular tourist destination. Tourists can do a short hike to one of the craters (Kawah Domas). This crater has a few active hot springs.

800px-Tangkuban_Parahu Tangkuban Perahu Crater (image credit: Wikipedia)

Taman Mini Indonesia

Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (translated as “Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park”) is an excellent tourist destination in Jakarta. This theme park provides a showcase of all the major provinces of Indonesia. It is a bit similar in concept to Epcot Center (Orlando, Florida). One interesting attraction is a lake with a series of well manicured islands – that are miniature replicas of the major Indonesian islands – Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, etc.)

Even though we didn’t visit Bali on this trip, we got a brief glimpse of the temples, architecture and culture at the park.

800px-Indonesia_in_miniature,_Taman_Mini_Indonesia_Indah Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (image credit: Wikipedia)

Biodiversity

Indonesia is the 2nd most bio-diverse country in the world (1st is Brazil). Given its vast expanse and tropical climate, a wide variety of plant and animal species thrive here. Dense forests, rice fields, cash crops plantations (palm, rubber, coffee, tea, etc.) fill up the landscape.  Many different kinds of fruits grow here. Do recommend trying the pineapples here (they were great!), as well as fresh coconut water (available everwhere!).

 

Helpful Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasi_goreng
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Indonesia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandung
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangkuban_Perahu
http://www.indonesia-tourism.com/west-java/tangkuban-perahu.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taman_Mini_Indonesia_Indah
http://www.tamanmini.com/home
 

Commemorating 250 years of the Battle of Panipat

Posted in History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on January 13, 2011

3rd Battle Of Panipat (image credit: wikipedia)

January 14, 1761 – the fateful day that forever will live in the infamy of Pune, Maharashtra and India history. This was the day that coined a new word in the Marathi lexicon: ‘Panipat’ (literally means ‘a disaster’ in Marathi).

This was the day when Sadashivrao Bhau’s armies were defeated in a bloody battle against Ahmedshah Abdalli on the plains of Panipat, 100km north of Delhi, in one of the biggest battles witnessed in India in the 18th century. The causalities and destruction on both sides were very high; even the victor couldn’t consolidate his position significantly.

This was the day where a culmination of many strategic and tactical mistakes finally caught up with the Marathas. This was the day when the Maratha Empire took a big step down from its absolute peak. This was the day from whose shock Nanasaheb Peshwe never recovered – and eventually died later in the same year.

[The fact that the Maratha Empire was able to rise back to a respectable level again owes a lot to the great Madhavrao Peshwe, who inherited a shocked and weakened post-Panipat empire at a young age of 16. In a short span of 12 years, before he fell to tuberculosis, he brought about a huge turnaround. British historian Grant Duff summarizes this quite well: "...the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince"] 

Maratha Empire in 1760 (image credit: wikipedia)

This was the day where many great instances of individual bravery and heroism were witnessed. This was the day that quite possibly changed the course of Indian history. The British who had just won their first major victory in India at Plassey in 1757 got an opening.

Today, we solemnly commemorate the 250th anniversary of 3rd battle of Panipat. This is the time to remember the heroism; and also to learn from the mistakes. Today we remember Sadashivrao Bhau, Vishwasrao, Dattaji Shinde, Ibrahim Gardi and countless other brave soldiers who fell in that fateful battle, 250 years ago. All over Maharashtra and India, many functions have been organized to remember this day, including some at Panipat.

Numerous books and research works have been published on this topic. To get an overview, I would recommend the reader start with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Panipat_(1761)

——Update on Feb 7, 2011—–

Vishwas Patil has written one of the most popular books about the Battle of Panipat. Originally written in Marathi nearly 20 years back, it has had many new editions/reprints and has been translated into other languages as well. Here is a nice indepth interview of Vishwas Patil (4 parts):

——-Update on Jan 13, 2013——

One of the best books to read on this topic is ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Dr. Uday Kulkarni. Highly recommended. You can check out the book’s facebook page here:  http://www.facebook.com/SOLSTICE.AT.PANIPAT?fref=ts

Good review of ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Manimughda S Sharma: ‘Panipat 3 resurrected’ http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/parthian-shot/entry/panipat-3-resurrected


‘Lokmanya Tilak – A Biography’ by A.K. Bhagwat and G.P. Pradhan

Posted in History by Amit Paranjape on November 19, 2010
Lokmanya Tilak

Lokmanya Tilak

Just completed reading a good book ‘Lokmanya Tilak – A Biography’ by A.K. Bhagwat and G.P. Pradhan. This book was written in 1956, to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of Tilak. The book’s foreword is written by Dr. S Radhakrishnan. This biography presents an in-depth, detailed discussion of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s life. It provides the reader with a very good insight into the life of the great man.

The book starts with Tilak’s early life and formative years in Pune, and delves into a discussion around how his ideals and thought process were getting crystallized in College. The book covers at great length his friendship and differences of opinions with Agarkar. The first few chapters of this book provide mini-biographies of Agarkar and Justice Ranade. This is followed by a description of formation of Deccan Education Society, Fergusson College and establishment of Kesari and Maratha newspapers.

The subsequent chapters get into Tilak’s political life as he became the key figure in the Indian freedom struggle for the next three decades. Tilak’s prominent role in the early days of the Indian National Congress is very well described. The difference of opinion between the moderates and nationalists, that led to the ‘split’ at the Surat session is well highlighted and discussed.

That Tilak was an excellent lawyer is well known; but it was still great reading through the details of his legal arguments, especially the famous 1908 trial in Bombay High Court. His life at Mandalay and his struggle with diabetes are also discussed. Was interesting to note how he studied German, French and Pali, while in prison…his desire for knowledge was strong as ever in his late 50s.

This book also enables the reader to get a better picture of the surroundings in Pune and in other parts of India in that period. These surroundings, along with the global situation in the late 19th century/early 20th century had an important influence on Tilak. It was quite interesting to read how Tilak closely followed the various global geo-political developments in Europe, Russia, America, China and Japan.

The book offers good insights into the thought process of Lokmanya Tilak and his personality. His conviction, his forthrightness, his courage, his intellect and his other qualities are presented with plenty of examples.   The book is very well researched with detailed references and sources provided for various points. Many extracts from Tilak’s own writings in Kesari are also presented. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Indian History.

NOTE – Another excellent source of information about Lokmanya Tilak is the Tilak Museum at Kesari Wada in Pune.

Harsha Bhogle’s Talk at IIM Ahmedabad

Posted in Cricket, Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on October 16, 2010

One of the best talks I have heard recently – Harsha Bhogle’s presentation at his alma mater Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (delivered in 2005). I came across a video link of this talk on this blog.

Harsha discusses why attitude matters more than talent. He narrates many interesting examples from his personal life as well as from other famous personalities. Do watch this 40 minute video (divided in two parts). The talk is simple, clear, practical and devoid of any management buzz words.

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Ganpati Festival 2010 – Visarjan Procession

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on September 23, 2010

Yesterday evening, I went to the Ganpati Visarjan Procession in Pune. This was after a long gap of over 20 years. As expected, quite a few things have changed; and yet some things remain the same. In this brief post, I will list some of my observations and briefly discuss the Ganpati festival history in Pune. The Ganpati Visarjan Procession is Pune’s biggest festival for over 100 years.

 

Dagdushet_Halwai_Ganpati_2005

Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati (image credits: Wikipedia)

 How it began

Historically, the Ganpati festival that starts on Ganesh Chaturthi and ends on Anant Chaturdashi, had been a private celebration. ‘Puja’ was done at the home. Ganpati festival was celebrated with a lot of pomp by Peshwes in Shaniwar Wada. They accorded it much prominence during their reign. This prominence was lost post 1817, after the defeat of the Maratha Empire by the British.  

Lokmanya Tilak saw an opportunity to use the Ganpati Festival for social and political change in British ruled India, and took the initiative to popularize public festivities in Pune. Few other notable people were also involved, along with Lokmanya Tilak to get the public Ganpati Festival (Ganeshotsav) started. These include Nanasaheb Khasgiwale, Shri Ghotawdekar and Shri Bhau Rangari. (these three are credited with starting the first three Ganpati Mandals(groups) in Pune). Bhau Rangari Mandal is the oldest Ganpati Mandal today, celebrating the Ganpati Festival since 1892. Today, this Ganpati Mandal Procession precedes that of the two most famous Pune Ganpati Mandals – Dagdusheth Halwai and Mandai.

In addition to these three, the first five Ganpati Mandals in the Procession are also allotted a special (“Manache”) status and are called as “Manache Ganpati”. These are: Kasba Ganpati, Tambdi Jogeshwari,  Guruji Talim, Tulshibag and Kesri Wada.

 

Ganpati Visarjan – Some things that have changed…

 

Lighting and displays – Technology and lighting have come a long way in the past two-three decades. Hence it was not surprising to notice major changes in the decorating lighting and displays on the procession trucks. I am sure the decoration budgets have also increased substantially.

All the Ganpati processions were illuminated with very bright flood lights – like the ones you would see in studios and sporting arenas. Also noticed lasers being used for special effects by one Ganpati Mandal.  Each Ganpati Procession Truck convoy had a truck with a big power generator to power all the lighting. Gone are the days of the Gas-Lamps, which were a common sight in the 1970s.

Live coverage on TV – Many local channels now carry a live broadcast of the procession, with cameras at various points along the route. This is very convenient for those who want to see the procession festivities without getting near the crowds… having said that, technology still has a long way to go to create that real excitement and experience.

Multiple routes – Over the past few years, with the increase in the number of Ganpati Mandals and the crowds, multiple procession routes are used.  Some of them still converge near Lakdi Pul for the Visarjan.

Better organization – In spite of the big increase in  crowds and Ganpati Mandals, I thought the procession (especially the crowd management) was better than that from the 1980s. Food stalls and other support services (first-aid, police helpdesks, etc.) were located at regular intervals along the route.

GulalProbably the biggest change I noticed from two decades back to present was the marked reduction (virtual absence in many Mandals…) of  ‘Gulal’. This pink-red colored powder was the signature of any Ganpati Procession for years, but concerns about pollution and toxicity have put a welcome curb on its use.

Music – Bollywood and other pop music continues to be prominent during the procession. (I expected to hear the latest Bollywood hit, but was still a bit surprised when one Mandal was playing ‘Waka Waka’!). Still, I got the impression that ‘Dhol-Tasha’ (traditional Indian drums) are regaining some importance back. Many Mandals had pure traditional music and Dhol-Tasha drums. This is another welcome change. We have enough venues where pop music is played… keeping it out of Ganpati Procession will be a great trend!

Sumitra Elephant - Sumitra Hatti (Elephant) from Peshwe Park was a star feature of Ganpati Visarjan for many years, leading the first ‘Manacha’ Kasba Ganpati Procession. Unfortunately the elephant died a few years back and since then this tradition was broken. A few Ganpati Mandals have created the elephant’s replicas as part of the procession displays.

 

And some things remain the same…

The sea of humanity – The Ganpati Visarjan Procession has always represented a huge gathering of people. That hasn’t changed one bit. In fact, as the population and the number of Mandals have increased, the crowd has gone up if anything.

Crowd excitement – The crowd excitement, enthusiasm and participation is still amazing. This is what makes the Ganpati Visarjan Procession a great event! Many regulars are lined up along the routes, occupying strategic spots by the road side or in the houses/offices along the way.  They stay there for hours..all the way through early morning. ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ is heard everywhere.

Multi-cultural event - The Ganpati Festival continues to be a big multi-cultural event with people from various parts of India (and the world) participating in the festivities.

The  Dhol drumbeats – The signature Dhol-Tasha drum beats are omnipresent. They gives that unique feel and atmosphere to the Ganpati festival in general and the Visarjan Procession is particular!

Performances by local schools – Local schools still prominently feature in the processions.

Switzerland: A Heaven On Earth

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on August 21, 2010

We recently visited the beautiful country of Switzerland. Enough adjectives have already been used to describe this heaven on earth. Instead of adding to that list, I will just provide a simple comparison – Here’s a place that combines the Best of the Best – German Engineering, French Finecrafts, English/American Banking & Finance and on top of all this, spectacular nature!  During our one week trip, we visited Interlaken, Lucerne, Zurich and Davos. Many people had recommended that trains are the best way to see Switzerland. I concur. However, driving around is also great fun. We settled for a hybrid approach. Decided to the travel by train on the Zurich-Interlaken-Lucerne sectors, and rented a car for the remainder.    

 

   

 
 

Switzerland

In this two part article, I will describe my observations from the trip.  

Interlaken  

Interlaken is situated at the foothills of the majestic Jungfrau Mountain (more on this later). We took a train from Zurich airport to Interlaken (with a changeover at Berne, the Swiss Capital). Interlaken is a small town with one main street (Höheweg) and 2 stations Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost (East). Most tourist hotels are located on this main street and are within walking distance from the stations. The Höheweg at times resembles an airport terminal with many tourists dragging their large suitcases. The street has many good souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. We stayed at a nice, small family run hotel: Hotel Splendid. It was originally built in 1908 and served as military hospital during World War II (during WW II, Interlaken was an important center for the Swiss Army). A building across the street from our hotel was one of the oldest buildings in Interlaken(over 500 years old).   

   

     

 
 

  

Interlaken reminded me of two distinct places in US – Yosemite Park and Madison, Wisconsin. Interlaken is surrounded by many tall cliffs and is situated in between two spectacular lakes: Lake Brienz and Lake Thun (hence the name ‘Inter’ Laken…). When we reached Interlaken, we saw literally dozens of para-gliders gliding down from these cliffs and landing in a park in the town center (something to try for sure … maybe on the next trip! ). The Jungfrau peak and surrounding Alpine mountain ranges are visible from the town on a clear day.   

I had been warned that Interlaken might be a bit ‘too touristy’ but was pleasantly surprised. Maybe this was a good season to be there, and it was not very crowded. Noticed a lot fewer Indian tourists (I guess peak season is May/June) than many earlier visitors had reported…but couldn’t help notice a few prominent Indian restaurants. Amongst the non-EU tourists, I think that Indians represent the second largest group, after the Americans. I am sure the Swiss Tourism Industry is thankful to Bollywood :)  

Majority of people in Switzerland speak German (the locals will point out that its ‘Swiss-German’…). Though given the tourist influx, English is reasonably well understood, compared to other European countries. The people we met were quite helpful and friendly.   

One big realization (and probably the only negative one…) that hits you on your first day in Switzerland is that this place is ‘really’ expensive! I have a simple, unscientific cost of living indicator that I use across countries. It simply entails comparing the prices across popular restaurant chains (McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger Kings, etc.). Prices in Germany, Netherlands tend to be about 1.5 times of US, while those in Switzerland are two times as expensive (A basic Starbucks Coffee costs more than $4).  

Jungfrau  

On our second day in Interlaken, we headed for the Jungfrau excursion.   

  
 
 

  

Jungfrau is the tallest peak in Switzerland and amongst the tallest in the Alps. An amazing piece of engineering over 100 years ago – the Jungfraubahn (Railway), opened up this great mountain range to Alpine tourism. The Jungfrau Railway uses a cogwheel track for better traction on these steep gradients (max gradient is 25%).   

To reach Jungfrau Hoch station (at around 11,000 feet), you need to change trains at 2 intermediate stops. There are two alternate routes, both with breathtaking scenery (strongly recommend trying both routes – one for going up, and the other one for coming down). You start at Interlaken Ost at around 1900 feet and ascend up over 9000 feet in 2.5 hours. The changes in the landscape are quite interesting as you gain altitude. From trees and green meadows, you start seeing snow at higher altitudes, and eventually are surrounded by glaciers. The last stretch from Kleine Sheidegg to Jungfrau Hoch passes through many tunnels, but with nice viewing galleries (windows) cutout through the tunnels at certain spots. The view of the glaciers is great…unfortunately we were there on a foggy day, with limited visibility. Jungfrau Hoch has been developed as a big tourist destination with multiple attractions and restaurants. A lift takes you few hundred feet up from the station, to a great open-air viewing gallery.     

  

On our way up, we took the Interlaken Ost – Grindelwald – Kleine Sheidegg route. On the return, we took the Kleine Sheidegg – Lauterbrunnen – Interlaken Ost route. Train changes are required at Grindelwald, Kleine Sheidegg and Lauterbrunnen. The onward connections are synchronized (within 5-10 minutes), but I would recommend skipping a connection and spending 30 min – 1 hour at each of these picturesque stations on the way.  Lauterbrunnen is also the starting point for a cable car ride up to Mt. Shilthorn (also referred to as the James Bond Mountain).  

 

  

On our 3rd day in Interlaken, we boarded the train to Lucerne – The Golden Pass Panoramic Express. In the second blog post on Switzerland, I will write more about this wonderful train journey, and our stay in Lucerne, Davos and Zurich.  

[Note: Thanks to my wife for taking all these wonderful photographs...many more coming up in the 2nd blog post]  

 

 

 

Pune to become the 4th largest city in India by 2030? – Will our infrastructure be ready for it??

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on July 14, 2010

(post updated: Jan 21, 2013: There was some disconnect across two data sources – the summary web report and the pdf reports. I was going by the web summary,which had Pune projections at 11 million. While the pdf report was 10 million. Now looks like both of them are in synch, and state the Pune projection as 10 million. Updating the post as well as the title. Per the 10 million projection, Pune will be tied at #5 spot with Bangalore….)

A recent McKinsey Report on India’s Urbanization examines the trends around the growth in urban population centers. It presents a comparison across the 2008 population numbers with the 2030 forecasts.

Here are some interesting findings in the report:

- By 2030, the number of Indian Cities with a population of 1 Million or more will grow from 42 to 68

- By 2030, 5 states will have more than 50% population living in urban areas.

- From 1971-2008 India’s urban population grew nearly 230 million. The next 250 million in urban India will be added in half the time.

For more insights and data points, do take a look at: India’s urbanization: a closer look (report, interactive graphic and audio commentary).

 

The interesting observation in this report, from a Pune perspective is that it will be one of the fastest growing cities over the next 2 decades, nearly doubling its population to 10 million. In the process, it will likely overtake Hyderabad and tie up with Bangalore to take up the #5 spot (behind Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai).

While the population of Pune doubles, the rest of the urban infrastructure load factors (land, water, power, vehicles, etc.) will grow at a much faster rate. (4 times,5 times…even 10 times). This raises a long list of serious questions about infrastructure planning.

In this blog post, I have attempted to highlight a few questions/discussion items that come to mind. I will try to expand on some of these topics in further detail in future blog posts.

 

Residential/Business Land 

What will be the new residential/industrial areas of Pune in 2030? Where will the growth happen?

Like Mumbai, would heavy/manufacturing industry shift out of the city?

How would the existing land redevelopment happen?

What would the city’s economy look like? Services vs. Manufacturing Split?

Let’s take one example of the city’s borders… will Pirangut be a part of 2030 Pune City?

Will the Mumbai-Pune Expressway essentially become one big urban highway?

 

Water

Pune’s water supply comes from the Panshet-Varasgaon-Temghar-Khadakwasla Dams. For a long time Pune has been blessed with a surplus water supply, but the first signs of trouble are already evident (as we have been seeing in the month of July in recent years…). According to a rough estimate the present storage capacity of these dams is more than 2 times that of Pune’s requirement (that is assuming all water is used only for Pune City). 

Pune’s water needs in 2030 will be much more than 2 times the present requirement. Where is the remaining water going to come from?

Some might come from Pavana dam? Maybe?

Will any water from Mulshi Dam (presently used for power generation and downstream Kokan requirements) be diverted for Pune?

Any other dams nearby that can supply water to Pune?

Note – any extra water for Pune is going to come at an expense to crop irrigation. This will be a very tough issue to resolve.

What water management projects (e.g. rain water harvesting, sewage recycling) will be implemented?

 

Power

Maharashtra is already reeling under power deficit. The power requirements will grow non-linearly (much more than 2 times).

I feel (maybe I am completely wrong!) that the power situation might be relatively less difficult to tackle than the other infrastructure issues? More power plants need to be built!

What types of power plants? (Nuclear/Gas-based/Thermal)

Will alternative energy play any meaningful role by 2030 to meet Pune’s needs?

  

Surface Transportation

A lot of discussion/debate is already in progress around the Pune Metro and other mass transit systems. I will not add to that here in this blog post. But suffice to say, that this will be a very critical issue. By 2030, will Pune have:

An underground (at least in some densely populated parts) metro?

Truly dedicated pedestrian and bicycle zones?

A good ring road to divert highway traffic out of the city?

High-Speed (greater than 200 kmph) train links to Mumbai and other cities?

 

Airport

A city of 11 M in 2030 needs a good 2 runway international airport.

If the current Chakan site is not feasible, what are the alternatives?

Will the proposed New Mumbai airport near Panvel be able to meet some of Pune’s air transportation requirements?

Are multiple smaller regional airports one possible solution?

 

Green Spaces

What kind of quality of life will the Punekars have in 2030?

How does the city scale up while maintaining its green spaces? 

What kind of FSIs would we be looking at?

What pollution/smog levels will Pune face in 2030?

Christopher Benninger On Pune, The Peshwe Era And Lessons In Urban Planning

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on July 11, 2010

—-added July 25, 2010 —

Here is a link and excerpt to Christopher Benninger’s latest article in the series “Death And Life Of A Great Indian City” in July 25 2010 edition of Pune Mirror .

Benninger discusses how Pune evolved after the end of the Peshwe era in 1818. How the city witnessed a big decline over the next few decades. How the British reshaped the city with the creation of new areas such as the Pune Cantonment.

“With the demise of Peshwa rule and the coming of the British, Pune changed dramatically, in terms of its urban plan and in mindset. However, the spirit of the people lives on, surging towards the future”

—-original post dated July 11, 2010 —

The famous, award-winning architect and urban planner Christopher Benninger has written a nice piece ‘The Great City Builders’ about urban planning lessons from the Peshwa Era in Pune, in today’s Pune Mirror.

Excerpt: “Pune reached its greatest heights of civility during the Peshwa period, with urban management being a clear, transparent system rather than the haphazard mix of politics and need for power it has become today”

He discusses the various developments from that period – New ‘Peths’, Aqua-Ducts, Roads, Mixed-Use Neighborhoods, ‘Wadas’, etc. He also highlights how the emphasis was less on iconic, grand monuments as compared to the other famous capital cities. Here is one more excerpt:

“The image of every city revolves around some iconic, manmade structures and grand boulevards; not so in Peshwa Pune! While Pune was the capital of an empire, it worked for the empowerment and facilitation of a new nation, not for its subjugation and plunder! “

To read the full article, click here:  ‘The Great City Builders’

Also take a look at a couple of previous articles by Christopher Benninger on Pune, in Pune Mirror

Bringing in the new Pune

Excerpt: “The time has come to rediscover and reinvent Pune, lest modern Maharashtra and all of us who live here, crumble before the forces that dehumanise life. We need to resurrect the city of our dreams”

 

Pune: City of my dreams

 

Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal – A Great Institution Of Maharashtra & India History

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Pune by Amit Paranjape on July 7, 2010

     

Bharat Itihaas Sanshodhak Mandal

  

Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal (Devnagari: भारत इतिहास संशोधक मंडळ ), Pune is one of the great institutions of Maharashtra and Indian History. It was founded this day, 100 years ago by the great historian Rajwade.    

As the institute celebrates 100 years, it is important to note the historical information treasures that it maintains. These include historical documents (some dating back over 700 years), coins (some as old as 200 B.C.) , artifacts, maps, paintings, rare books and early Marathi newspapers. Some of the institution collection is open for public viewing, while the rest is made available to research scholars. The Mandal (institution) organizes special exhibitions from time to time, where a lot of the collection is on display. This collection has helped many history scholars and researchers over the past 100 years in their research. The Mandal also organizes many training workshops around old launguages/scripts (e.g. the old Modi ‘मोडी’ script).    

Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal is located in Sadashiv Peth Pune (next to Bharat Natya Mandir). It houses:    

Rajwade and Potdar Halls.    

Painting Gallery – Collection of over 1500 paintings (130 on display), including a good collection from the Peshwa Era.    

Khare Museum – Collection of various artifacts across different dynasties: Furniture, Weapons, Canon Balls, etc.    

Library & Archives – These contain a collection of over 800.000 documents in Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada, Persian and other languages.    

The Mandal has multiple plans in place to expand and better preserve its great collection and is looking for support. For more information, you can contact the Mandal directly at their Pune Office: 1321 Sadashiv Peth, Pune 411 030. Phone: 020-2447 2581    

References:    

1. Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal Centenary Year Brochure    

2. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharat_Itihas_Sanshodhak_Mandal    

 

‘What do you do for living?’ – A psychiatrist’s personal viewpoint

Posted in Healthcare & Medicine by Amit Paranjape on May 17, 2010

Healthcare & Medicine are topics of interest for me, and I occasionally blog about these topics. Recently, my friend Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, who is a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist here in Pune, started a new blog: http://docbhooshan.wordpress.com/  His first article is quite interesting: “What do you do for living?”.  I am reproducing it here on my blog. You can also visit Dr. Bhooshan’s blog for his other upcoming articles.

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What do you do for living?

by Dr. Bhooshan Shukla

It has become my favorite past time to watch peoples’ reactions to my answer to the question – “what do you do?” I am a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and most people react to this fact in an interesting way -

1.“ you mean kids go crazy and require a psychiatrist? That must happen in western countries with drugs and broken families and all that stuff! Do you actually finds work in India?”

2.“ we read about student suicides all the time. If parents behaved properly and nicely with their kids, professionals like you would not be needed at all”

3.“ oh, so you are the doctor looking after genetically deformed, retarded kids!”

There are many other reactions but these three are most representative. It just goes on to show that we as a society are still quite naive about concept of mental health and illness.

Adult psychiatry has just started emerging from the closet in India and depression/ anxiety/ phobias have become “okay” illnesses. Still more severe mental health issues like schizophrenia and addictions are struggling for the attention and acceptance they deserve. It is a long way, but at least we have started.

Child psychiatry is a funny thing. We see adverts selling foods and games that claim to make your child smarter, faster, etc. There are parenting discussions in media involving famous personalities, gurus, teachers,etc. So we are aware of importance of a good, healthy childhood and are willing to put our money where our child is….but are we really aware about mental health issues in childhood?

Some people ask me what kind of kids are my patients? Now that is a question that I can answer. More than 90% of my child patients are brought by their parents for just one of two complaints – poor academic performance and discipline/behavior problems.

There are hundreds of reasons why school performance or behavior deteriorates, but most important thing is that unless one of these parameters takes a hit, there is no acknowledgement of a problem that needs professional help.

Children are like the ozone layer around the earth or tigers in our jungles. Their happiness is a sensitive indicator of society’s attitude towards life ! Following is an easy to understand classification of why things go wrong with children -

1.Problems related to brain development and physical health – like attention and concentration problems, reading and writing difficulties ( dyslexia made famous by “Taare Zameen Par”), speech and language difficulties, etc.
2.Problems perceived due to misunderstanding of normal development – certain things appear in development of a child like bedwetting, restlessness, fear of staying alone or dark places, food fads, defiance, etc. If parents are unaware of this “ normal phase” they may try to find solution to a problem that is going to go away anyway.
3.Problems in relationships – Children’s relations with family members, schools, or even friends may sometime become strained and reflect in behavior or academics or emerge as discipline issues.
4.Problems with social expectations transmitted to child by parents and school system.
5.Problematic emotions like anger, sadness, fear, excess competitiveness, etc.

All of the above issues can be assessed and helped by mental health professionals with the help of family and if necessary, schools.

One more commonly asked question is how to identify a child needing help -
there are some clear indicators –
disturbance in usual sleep, eating, interaction pattern lasting for more than one to two weeks.
Sudden and severe change in emotions like – sadness, anger, fear.
Unpredictable and rapidly changing mood.
Return of habits of younger age like- clinging to parents, excessive fear, babytalk.
Sudden change or unstable pattern of friendships.

If you suspect anything, do check -

http://www.youthinmind.co.uk/sdqonline/Parent/StartParent.php

Most importantly – most problems can be solved with the help of family counseling, child counseling and some help from school ! Medications ( from any ‘-pathy’) are very rarely needed.

Dr. Bhooshan Shukla
MD, DNB, MRCPsych

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

www.childpsychiatrypune.com

America’s Top Prescription Drugs

Posted in Healthcare & Medicine by Amit Paranjape on May 12, 2010

 

Wondering what the top prescription drugs are in America/Globally? Cholesterol lowering drugs? Antibiotics? Blood Pressure Medications? Anti-Depressants? Pain-Killers?

The Forbes Magazine recently published an interesting article America’s Most Popular Drugs that lists the top 15 most prescribed drugs in America. While many from my expected list showed up,  I thought that there were a few surprises (inclusions and omissions). For example, was surprised to not find a single anti-depressant in the top 15 list. Maybe because there are many different anti-depressants out there. I am sure that as a category, they will show up quite a high.

The top drug in the list is the pain-killer Vicodin.  Cholesterol reducing drugs, blood pressure medications show up in a large number in the top 15 list. So do a few of common antibiotics.

In a sense, this list gives an indirect overview of the types of common ailments, as well as the state of the health of the population. I wonder what such a list would look like in India/other countries. I think, in India more antibiotics might show up in the top drugs list.

Research Institutions in Pune

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 5, 2010

Pune is well-known in India and internationally for being a hub of education and research. It has a wide range of academic & research institutions spanning various domains in science, technology, medicine, agriculture, arts, humanities, law, finance, etc. This blog article is an attempt to list out these various institutions. If you find any missing, please add a comment.

 
University of Pune (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
 
 

Science & Technology

University of Pune  www.unipune.ac.in

One of the top universities in the country, established in 1948.

College Of Engineering Pune (COEP) www.coep.org.in

One of the top engineering colleges in the country. Also, the second oldest engg college in India (Established: 1853).

National Chemical Laboratory http://www.ncl-india.org/

The top research organization in India that is focused on Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) http://www.araiindia.com/

A collaborative effort between the Government and Industry, focused on testing and validation of various automotive related technologies.

Bhaskaracharya Pratishthana (Bhaskaracharya Institute of Mathematics) http://www.bprim.org/

Educational and Research Institute in Mathematics

Inter University Center For Astronomy & Astro-Physics (IUCAA) http://www.iucaa.ernet.in/Home.html

Focused on academics research in astronomy and astro-physics.

National Center For Radio Astro-Physics ((NCRA – TIFR) http://ncra.tifr.res.in/

A division of TIFR, focused on research in Astro-physics. (Also involved with the GMRT (Giant Meter Wave Radio Telescope) Project near Naranygaon.

Central Institute Of Road Transport (CIRT) http://www.cirtindia.com

Research on roads and transportation.

Indian Mathematical Society http://www.indianmathsociety.org.in/

Indian Mathematical Society (IMS) is the oldest and the largest Mathematical Society of the Countrywith more than 1600 Life Members. The objects of the Society is the promotion of Mathematical Study and Research. Its central activity is to inspire and encourage researchers, educationists, students and all the mathematics loving persons .

Tata Research Development & Design Center (TRDDC) http://www.tcs-trddc.com

Part of the Tata Group – focused on research in various engineering and computer science related areas.

Computational Research Laboratories (CRL)  http://www.crlindia.com/

CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons Ltd. The company is into the R&D and business of High Performance Computing (HPC) services and solutions.

Center For Development In Advanced Computing (CDAC) http://www.cdac.in/

Focused on advanced computing related research. Renowned for developing India’s first supercomputer ‘Param’.

Systems Research Institute (SRI) http://www.sripune.org/

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research IISER http://www.iiserpune.ac.in/

Research and post-graduate academics in Sciences

Indian Meteorological Department http://www.imd.gov.in/

Weather forecasting and analysis

Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology IITM http://www.tropmet.res.in/

Weather forecasting and analysis

Central Water & Power Research CWPRS http://cwprs.gov.in/

Agharkar Research Institute http://www.aripune.org/

Bio-sciences, agriculture research

BAIF Development Research Foundation http://www.baif.org.in/aspx_pages/index.asp

Research in rural sustainable development – agriculture, animal sciences and bio-energy.

Vasantdada Sugar Institute http://www.vsisugar.com

Sugarcane and sugar research and process development

Agriculture College http://mpkv.mah.nic.in/PUNECOL.HTM

One of the first Agricultural Research Institutions, established over 100 years ago. Research in various types of crops, cultivation, seeds, etc.

National Center For Research In Grapes http://nrcgrapes.nic.in/

Institute of Bio-Informatics & Bio-Technology (IBB) http://www.unipune.ac.in/snc/institute_of_bioinformatics_and_biotechnology/default.htm

Research in advanced bio-informatics and bio-technology.

BJ Medical College http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._J._Medical_College,_Pune   Academics & Research in the field of Medicine.

Academics and research in medicine.

National Institute of Virology (NIV) http://www.niv.co.in/

Research in virology. WHO Collaborating Center for arboviruses reference and hemorrhagic fever reference and research. National Monitoring Center for Influenza, Japanese encephalitis, Rota , Measles and Hepatitis.

National AIDS Research Center http://www.nari-icmr.res.in/

Various aspects of research on HIV and AIDS through infra-structural development, capacity building & research programs.

National Center for Cell Science http://www.nccs.res.in/

National Center For Research In Onion & Garlic http://nrcog.mah.nic.in/

 

Arts, Humanities, Management & Law

University of Pune www.unipune.ac.in 

Deccan College http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deccan_College_(Pune)  

Film & Television Institute Of India (FTII) www.ftiindia.com

National Film Archives http://nfaipune.nic.in/

ILS Law College www.ilslaw.edu  One of the top Law Colleges in India

Gokhale Institute http://www.gipe.ernet.in/

Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute http://www.bori.ac.in/

Bharat Itihaas Sanshodhak Mandal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharat_Itihas_Sanshodhak_Mandal

Max Mueller Bhuvan http://www.goethe.de/ins/in/poo/enindex.htm

National Institute of Banking Management http://www.nibmindia.org/

Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA) http://www.yashada.org/

National Insurance Academy http://www.niapune.com/

International center of excellence in insurance training, education and research

 

Defense Related

DRDO (ARDE, ERDL, HEMR, others) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_Research_and_Development_Organisation

Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) http://afmc.nic.in

National Defense Academy (NDA) http://www.nda.nic.in/

Defense Institute Of Armament Technology (Previously: Institute of Armament Technology )http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_Institute_of_Advanced_Technology

College of Military Engineering (CME) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_of_Military_Engineering,_Pune,_India

High Definition Television (HDTV) Overview / HDTV in India

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on March 20, 2010

HD vs. Standard Resolution Comparison (image credit: Wikipedia)

   

(NOTE – To see a better impact of the comparison above, please go to the higher resolution image:    

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/HD_vs_SD_resolutions.png)      

Modern day High Definition Television (HDTV) began in Japan in the 1980s and in US/Europe in 1990s, but didn’t really get traction there and globally until the beginning of decade. As recently as 2002, there were only 3-4 ‘HD’ channels available in U.S. and even those had fairly limited HD Programming. I was one of the early adopters of HD (HD Ready TV and Set-Top Box Service Provider) in US in 2003. American Football (NFL) was one of the first sports to start airing some games in High Definition. Fast forward to present, and dozens (if not 100s) of HD channels are now available in the US. The old analog over-air broadcast technology has been long out of favor, compared to digital broadcasts through cable and satellite providers.             

HDTV has to be seen to be believed! Quantitatively it has over 5 times the resolution of normal TV. Qualitatively, its amazing! Today in India, HDTV coverage is still in a very nascent stage and in this blog post, I will make an attempt to provide an overview of the core technology, HD Ready TVs & Production/Distribution Equipment (hardware), and last, but not the least TV Programming (content).             

Transitioning from regular TV to HDTV is almost like the quantum jump felt by people in India when we transitioned from Black & White to Color Television in the 1980s! Myopics can understand this analogy the best: Remember when you get a new pair of glasses that corrects the power of you vision by 1-2  – how things look exceedingly crisp and clear for the first few days! You suddenly realize the vision sharpness you were missing. Well… watching HDTV for the first time is that kind of experience. Suddenly you realize that green patch on the ground that you are seeing on the TV  has distinct blades of grass..with dew drops. That huge stadium filled with blurry crowds are distinct faces…. That color complexion on a face is actually a freckle…that there is actually some small text written on that bottle in the kitchen.. that you couldn’t read before… I can go on and on with the examples..but I think you get the point!             

Unlike great progress made in areas like mobile phones, etc… India has been lagging the developed world in High Def TV. But there are some good signs of hope on the horizon.             

What is HDTV?             

HDTV stands for ‘High Definition TV’. TV resolution is usually measured in ‘lines’ (only recently did the notion of ‘pixel’ arrive…). Over the past 8 decades, TV images have been ‘created’ by scanning an electron beam onto a phosphorus-like material coated screen, to create lines at a fast rate to create a ‘picture’. These traditional TVs are also referred to as ‘CRTs’ (Cathode Ray Tube). Note that the human eye has an ‘inertia’ for image processing and if an image projected on the screen (principle used in motion picture) or scanned lines on a TV screen, change with a frequency of greater than 0.1 sec, then we ‘see’ a  ‘moving’ image. Traditional TV standards consist of pictures between 400-600 lines (Different Color Systems globally are a bit different: PAL that is used in India and in many EU countries uses 540 lines. NTSC used in North America uses 480 lines, etc.). Also note that in the 1930s, given the limitation of analog bandwidth and technology, a decision was made (that has stuck over all these years!) to go for a picture aspect ratio of 4:3. This was much ‘squarer’ than the 35 mm film aspect ratio in those days.             

HDTV changed the aspect ratio back to a more wide-angle movie like format to 16:9. The HDTV format has 1080 interspersed lines. (I will get into the 1080i vs 1080p discussion a bit later). With double the lines and greater ‘aspect ratio’ – the resolution of HDTV becomes much better than that of the conventional 480i(NTSC)/540i(PAL) 4:3 TV. In fact newer advances in HD (1080p, etc.) are realizing the dream of having motion picture level image quality on a TV Screen.             

What is 480i/540i/720p/1080i/1080p?             

Before I discuss the technology details, let me just say that its a sad sight to see all these HD Ready LCD TVs in Indian Stores/Homes with no HD Content! Think of Color TV Sets (actually this did happen in parts of India in the 1980s..) with Black & White Programming?!  I also get the same feeling seeing the fancy 6 cylinder BMWs/Audis/Mercs being driven on Indian Roads at 20kmph..but then thats a topic of a separate blog post :)             

As discussed earlier, in the old CRT TV set technology (540i for PAL, 480i for NTSC), lines were scanned by the electron beam. To reduce the bandwith requirement, a decision (again..many decades back) was made to scan the lines in an ‘interlaced’ fashion – in one pass only alternate lines are scanned 1-3-5…-537-539 and in the other pass 2-4-6…-538-540. This happens so fast that the viewer sees the full picture. But the resolution of this picture is approximately 1/2 of what it would have been if all the 540 lines were scanned simultaneously.  The HD standard of 1080i lines implies that the twice the number of lines are scanned in an interlaced manner. A new scanning approach that evolved with HDTV was that of ‘Progressive Scanning’. Here, all the lines are scanned in the same pass. Thus roughly speaking, a 540p scanned image is analogous to a 1080i image. (In actual practice, 720p image looks quite close to a 1080i image – and hence true HD is defined as 720p/1080i or higher).             

The first HDTVs were CRTs with a 1080i format (progressive scanning is quite tough in a CRT approach…but much easier in a flat screen where pixels are being used instead of an electron beam). Early LCD and Plasma TVs (until a few years back) didn’t have the necessary pixel count (manufacturing complexities, etc.) to to have 1080 lines vertically. Hence they settled on the 720p HD standard. However in the past few years, 1080p TVs have become common.             

HD TV Sets             

HD or non-HD TV Set? A few years back, this was a choice. Today (even in India) – there’s no choice! Almost all LCD/LED/Plasma/Projection/DLP TVs are HD Ready. Major companies have stopped making non-HD TVs (except in the sub 24inch CRT space…eventually these too would go away). In this section, I will provide a quick overview of the different HD TV Sets.             

CRT: The oldest technology format was used for HD in the 1990s and early 2000s. With a rear projection approach, the first big screen HD (and non-HD) TVs became a reality. However these are now virtually extinct.             

Plasma: Plasma TVs were the first big screen flat TVs to become popular 10 years back. Back then LCDs were not available in big sizes and also refreshed slowly. Plasmas had issues of burn-ins (static image getting burned in permanently onto the screen) and were very heavy (even though they were flat). While Plasma TVs have addressed these issues, they are getting replaced by LCDs.             

LCD: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TVs are today the most popular format for HDTVs. They have been able to address their earlier limitations of screen sizes and fast refresh rates, and contrast ratios. Now 1080p is quite common resolution available (1920X1080 pixels).             

LED: LED TVs represent the new exciting developments on top of LCD TVs – offering even brighter displays and contrast rations. With LED TVs – I doubt if there’s any rom left for Plasma TVs.             

DLP: The DLP technology and projection TV technology was developed by Texas Instruments earlier last decade. However, the rear projection screens are not flat and have lost out to LCDs/Plasmas. However DLP is still an excellent technology for HD Projection on big movie screens. In fact all digital motion pictures are being shown in some of the new Digital Theaters around the world using DLP Technology (No Film!).             

               

HD DVD Players             

Just to complete the picture, almost all the modern DVD players are ‘progressive scan’. This means that they deliver an output of 480p or 540p – much better than the 480i/540i standard broadcasts.
What is HD Content? Why is it not available             

Like any new technology, the primary constraints now are economic. Just as when the switch happened from Black & White to Color, the TV Cameras, the Processing, Transmission and Receivers and TV Sets had to change..the same applies for HDTV.             

Creating HD Content needs different higher resolution cameras and transmission equipment. Luckily for us in India, just as non-HD TVs increasingly getting rare, same applies to the Cameras and Studio Equipment as well.             

A big standards battle was being waged for many years in the HD DVD segment. Toshiba led HD-DVD and Sony led Blu-Ray standards went to head to head. This race brought the memories of the VHS vs. BetaMax standards race for the Video-Tape in the 1980s. Eventually Sony Blu-Ray won and is now the established standard for High Def DVDs.             

As I had mentioned earlier, 35mm Motion Picture resolution is close to (in fact a bit higher) than HD as well..so in that sense, every movie is HD Ready  Content. It just needs to be converted into a DVD Format.             

HDTV in India             

As explained earlier, just having a HD TV Set doesn’t buy you anything (well..maybe a little better picture clarity than non-HD TVs..but no where near the 5-10x improvement).  Like any new technology, many satellite TV players were ‘planning’ HD Content in India for the past few years. As an HD enthusiast, I was following this with keen excitement. However it turns out that none of the big players – DishTV, TataSky, Airtel, etc. actually launched HD Content. SunTV became the first one to debut it recently.             

From the point of satellite / cable providers there are two implications. 1.  They need to get HD Content (Chicken-And-Egg problem in India..HDTV not available, hence no good HD Content..). A good workaround option is to go with good international HD Channels that are already available: DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD, etc. 2.  They need to upgrade their processing equipment, satellite feeds and set-top boxes to support HDTV.             

Sun DTH (Direct-To-Home Satellite Provider) provides DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD and a few other Indian HD Channels (Note – the Indian HD Channels still don’t have a lot of good HD Content..but atleast the vehicle is now there). The big catalyst for HDTV in India, in my view happened earlier this week when SunDTH announced that IPL Games will be available in HD!  I believe with the popularity of Cricket in India – this can be the watershed event for HDTV in India. I think there’s no looking back. The big players of satellite TV will now have to scramble and get their plans in order..and fast!             

I think with the latest TV equipment (cameras,etc.) being  used for coverage of IPL –  they were anyways producing the content in HD. The HD feeds were available for international markets (US/EU/ec.) through local tie-ups. They just had to (I guess..) partner with a local player willing to have the set-top boxes to stream this content to India.             

As a big fan of HDTV, I would definitely thank the IPL and SunDTH for being the pioneers in finally getting HDTV to India!             

               

Useful Links             

   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-definition_television           

http://www.howstuffworks.com/hdtv.htm          

HD broadcast is now available in India through Sun DTH: http://SunDirect.in/HD          

Pune – A Global Leader In Green/Alternative Energy R&D – List Of Key Players

Posted in Pune, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 16, 2010

Solar Thermal (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

  

Call it by whatever name: Green Energy /Sustainable Solutions /Cleantech /Alternative Energy /etc. The quest for environment friendly, cheap and renewable energy is probably the most important technology problems of the 21st century.
 

Wind Turbine (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

  

  Various options are being under development for a few decades but still all of these put together constitute a small percentage (in most countries – single digit) of total energy consumption. These options include: Wind, Bio-Fuels, Solar Photo-Voltaics, Solar-Thermal, Geo-Thermal, Tidal Power, etc. The only renewable energy form that has been used effectively(in non-trivial amounts) is hydel power.        

In this brief blog, I am attempting to capture a list of interesting companies and R&D organizations in Pune that are involved in these fields. Would appreciate any inputs (and details) on companies/organizations that you are aware of, and that are not listed in here. Please add them as comments, and I will consolidate them into this blog post.        

Praj Industries www.praj.net        

Praj is a global leader in  bio-ethanol, bio-diesel, etc. Their R&D work is focused on improving the chemical processes for synthesizing these fuels. Here is a brief write-up by PuneTech’s Navin Kabra about a visit to the Praj R&D Center: Praj Matrix – world class bio/chem/engineering research facility in Pune        

Thermax www.thermaxindia.com         

Thermax has been an important Indian (as well as global) player in Thermal Engineering for many decades. Their focus includes Solar Thermal, Geo-Thermal, Waste-Heat Recycling and related areas.        

Suzlon Energy www.suzlon.com        

Suzlon Energy is amongst the top wind power companies in the world. Headquartered and founded here in Pune, it has a global presence in Europe, North America, Australia and in many other countries.        

National Chemical Laboratory www.ncl-india.org        

National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) is the premier research institution in India (and one of the top ones globally), involved in R&D in chemistry and chemical engineering. Their work includes research on bio-fuels, associated enzymes, etc.        

 BAIF www.baif.org.in        

BAIF, based in Urali Kanchan near Pune has been at the forefront of sustainable rural development for many decades. Here is a list of their research areas: http://www.baif.org.in/aspx_pages/progress_at_a_glance.pdf    

Pune, a global automotive leader – List of major players

Posted in Cars, Pune, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 14, 2010

Pune is the leading center for the automotive sector in India; as well as one of the top automotive centers globally. In the past year alone, 3 massive new plants from General Motors, Volkswagen and Mahindra & Mahindra were inagurated here. The Chakan-Talegaon Belt is becoming one of the most dense automotive clusters in the world. In this brief blog, I am compiling a list of major automotive companies in Pune and some brief information about them. Please add your feedback (additions/details, etc.) and I will update the blog post.                 

            

Tata Nano (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Tata Motors                  

Tata Motors www.tatamotors.com  is the biggest automotive manufacturer in Pune, and the biggest one in India. The huge Pune campus consists of their corporate HQ, R&D Center and Manufacturing facility for their cars and trucks. 

Land-Rover

Land-Rover has recently started assembling some models near the Tata Motors Pimpri-Chinchwad facility.                 

Bajaj Auto                  

Bajaj Auto was one of the early automotive players in Pune. They have big base in Akurdi, Pune (R&D, Corporate and Manufacturing). A large new plant has been recently opened at Chakan.    www.bajajauto.com              

Force Motors (Formerly Bajaj Tempo)                  

Manufacturers of 3 Wheelers, Tractors, LCVs and Large Trucks. www.forcemotors.com                  

Mahindra Two-Wheelers (Formerly Kinectic Motors)                  

Manufacturers of Scooters, Mopeds and Bikes. www.mahindra2wheelers.com  Kinetic Motors has been an important player in the Mopeds and Gearless 2 Wheeler space in India. Their famous models include the ‘Luna’ and ‘Kinetic Honda’.                  

Mercedes-Benz                   

Mercedez-Benz entered the Indian Market in the 1990s, initially with a partnership with the Tatas. Later on, they setup an independent venture, Mercedez-Benz India. The Pune facility manufacturers and assembles a range of their well known luxury cars. www.mercedes-benz.co.in                  

General Motors                   

General Motors entered the Indian market in the past decade. The Talegaon Plant is a massive facility that recently started production. Cars manufactured here include the new Chevy Beat. www.gm.co.in                  

JCB                  

JCB manufacturers construction, earth moving and other industrial equipment. Their Talegaon plant and design center opened in 2006. http://www.jcb.com/india/homepage.aspx                  

Volkswagen                  

Volkswagen opened a massive new plant in Chakan Pune a few months back. Read more about this plant here:     This facility is presently geared towards manufacturing high-volume cars like the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia.   www.volkswagen.co.in                

Mahindra & Mahindra                  

M&M inaguarated a huge plant this past week at Chakan. Spread over 700 acres and built with an investment of nearly Rs 5,000 Crores (1 Billion Dollars), this plant will manufacture various models of SUVs and Commercial Vehicles.  Mahindra is also planning to manufacture new models from Sssanyong Motors.    www.mahindra.com              

Cummins Engines                  

Cummins, the world leader in Diesel Engines opened its Pune facility in the 1960s, in a joint venture with the Kirloskar Group. Later on, they decided to go solo. The Pune facility manufacturers a wide range of Diesel Engines and Generators, and also has a big design center. www.cumminsindia.com                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines, part of the Kirloskar Group were one of the earliest auto-players in Pune. Presently they manufacture a wide range of Oil Engines for various applications. www.kirloskar.com                 

Premier Motors         

Makers of that famous Indian car of ‘The Premier Padmini’. Current models manufactured include Diesel Pickup Trucks and Vans. www.premier.co.in        

Fiat     

The new upcoming Fiat Ranjangaon Plant will manufactures the various models like Punto and Linea. www.fiat-india.com    

Bridgestone 

Bridgestone is setting up a big new plant in Chakan Pune with a total investment of around Rs 2,600 Cr. http://www.bridgestone.co.in 

Hyundai Construction Equipments    

Hyundai Construction Equipments is located on Talegaon-Chakan  Belt              

Research Institutes, Suppliers & Infrastructure Players                  

ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India)  www.araiindia.com   

ARAI is a the premier research and certification institution for the automotive industry in India. It has a beautiful campus on top of a hill in central Pune (near ‘Vetal Tekdi’).   

In addition to the Auto OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), Pune has a wide range of  Tier-1 Tier-2 and infrastructure suppliers. Prominent Industry Players include:                  

Bharat Forge                  

Bharat Forge is one of the top forging companies in the world. They manufacture a wide range of forged auto components. Their Pune facility includes their HQ, Design Center and Manufacturing Facility. www.bharatforge.com                  

Sandvik                   

Sandvik is a world leader in cutting tools. Their Pune facility has been around for nearly 50 years. www.sandvik.com                  

PARI Robotics & Automation                  

PARI is one of the leading industrial automation companies and have setup factory automation systems at many global manufacturing facilities. www.parirobotics.com                 

Software & Information Technology       

Software and IT are increasingly playing an important role cars and automotive manufacturing. Many leading global CAD/CAM/CAE Software Leaders are based in Pune. These include: Siemens (formerly UGS), PTC, Ansys. Important IT Outsourcing Players in this space in Pune include Geometric and KPIT Cummins.       

              

Sachin Tendulkar For Bharat Ratna

Posted in Cricket, Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on February 25, 2010

 

Sachin Tendulkar (image credit: wikipedia)

I have been thinking about this for the past few months; especially after Sachin Tendulkar completed 20 years of his amazing international career in November 2009.

The Bharat Ratna is India’s highest civilian award. The past 41 awardees represent an august group. This award has had lot fewer controversies around it, as compared to the ‘Padma-‘ awards. What better candidate this year than Sachin Tendulkar! And I think he could be the youngest ever (by a wide-margin) to get this honor. In this brief blog post, I will discuss my thoughts on why Tendulkar richly deserves this award.

At The Absolute Pinnacle Of His Discipline

Recent Bharat Ratna awardees include Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. I have tremendous respect for both and have been a big fan of their music. They (along with other past awardees like Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Satyajit Ray) represent the absolute best of their discipline. Their glorious careers have spanned over many decades.

I would like to include Sachin Tendulkar in this list. He is the undisputed world leader in his field…and he has been at this level for many years. All his records and his amazing 21 year old career speak for themselves. But numbers alone don’t do justice to his skill and talent! Just as the great music maestros have enthralled their fans over all these years, so has Sachin. In fact rarely does one see a sports icon who has literally billions of fans, all over the globe. His contributions in making international cricket what it is today, are huge.

 
The Great Role-Model: Humility, Passion, Leadership and Work Ethic
 
But Sachin’s greatness goes beyond his individual success and his ability to entertain. He has been a great role-model for an entire generation of sports fans in India and around the world. In today’s world of media hype and controversies, he has managed to stay above the fray. One of the first things that strikes you when you follow his career, is his humility. Modern day professional sports and being humble, don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. But Tendulkar has been a strong exception.
 
His passion and love for the game are still as fresh as they were two decades back. Every time he is on the field, this passion radiates through to the entire team. He still has that school-boyish, infectious enthusiasm.
 
His leadership on and off the field, is often not discussed as much as his batting. Tendulkar has been the clear leader in whatever team he has been part of. Leadership doesn’t come through titles and designations. It comes from the respect of peers. It comes from a great work ethic. It comes from an ability to put the team ahead of an individual. Sachin will gladly field on the boundary line…something most ‘senior’ players don’t do. Leaders also need a new level in mental toughness. Sachin Tendulkar has played through innumerable crises, both on and off the field. And each and everytime, he has emerged stronger.
 
Few people talk about Sachin’s physical endurance. To play professional sports at this level takes exceptionally good physical fitness. To play at this level for over 20 years takes something really special. Let alone cricket, but how many professional sportsmen have played at this level of competence for such a long period? Sachin’s physical endurance as well as his consistency comes from a great work ethic. This practice and hardwork is not seen on the field. After yesterday’s record-breaking 200 at Gwalior, where he batted for nearly 4 hours – many, including the commentators were predicting that he will not return to field..at least for an hour or two. But as the South African innings began, Sachin was right there! There are countless such incidents throughout his career.
 
 
 
Far too many times, the Bharat Ratna award has been bestowed in the twilight of the winners’ careers. Here is an opportunity to change that!
 
 
Other Related Links
 
 
 
  
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NOTE ADDED May 5, 2010 –
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Sachin Tendulkar is on twitter!
Finally Sachin Tendulkar has made his appearance on twitter! It’s great to see him tweeting. His twitter id is @sachin_rt . If you are not a twitter user, but still want to see his tweets, you can directly go to his twitter page:  http://twitter.com/sachin_rt
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Disappointing State Of Shaniwar Wada

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on February 15, 2010

Shaniwar Wada (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The historic Shaniwar Wada fort is not just Pune’s pride; it is the pride of Maharashtra and India. It was the citadel of power of the great Maratha Empire of the 18th Century. At its zenith, the Maratha Empire controlled an area over half of present day India and rivaled the size of the Mughal Empire that preceded it. The Peshwe were amongst the last major powers to surrender to British in 1818. Small and modest in comparison to the Mughal Forts like the Lal Kila in Delhi, the Shaniwar Wada had its own charm, and was witness to some very important history of the Indian sub-continent in the 18th century.  

For more information on Shaniwar Wada, please click here.  

A massive fire in 1828 destroyed most of the buildings inside the fort. Only the foundations, the periphery walls, and the main entrance survived. The exact cause of this fire is not known. Post this fire, the British had no interest in rebuilding this symbol of Maratha Power. The fort deteriorated over the coming decades. Post independence, Shaniwar Wada saw some restoration work and development.  

I recently visited Shaniwar Wada after nearly 25 years. Being a big enthusiast of Pune History, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing the sites of the historic buildings, and the beautiful water fountains.  

I was extremely disappointed. The condition of the fort is disturbing. Apparently, some restoration work is going on, but that’s no excuse for the current state! And the person at the ticket window (they charge Rs 5 entrance fee; Rs 100 for foreign visitors) confirmed that this state has been there for a while.  

Nearly half of the sign-boards inside the fort, that describe various buildings and structures, are missing. Partial restoration work/construction can be seen at multiple sites, and construction material is dumped haphazardly at various places. Pieces of trash can be seen lying everywhere. Lawns are not maintained properly. The periphery outside the main walls of the fort has a small iron fence, creating a 10-20 feet buffer zone between the fort and the streets. This fence is broken at a few points. The grass here gives an impression that no one has tended to it in years! And it has become a mini-garbage dump.  

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.  

Most public gardens in Pune are maintained so much better than this historic monument. And they don’t even charge an entry fee. Question is who is responsible for maintaining this fort? Is it the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)? I understand that the ASI does a nice job in maintaining historical monuments like the Lal Kila, Ajantha, etc.  (This is what I have heard from friends who have recently visited there… I haven’t been there in a long time).  

Then what is the problem with Shaniwar Wada? Funding? Priority? What Else?  

What can be done to get the attention of the right authorities? Is a ‘Public-Private Partnership Model’ an option? What can Punekars do the restore the pride and glory of this great monument? Looking for your suggestions and inputs.

Sri Lanka Trip – 10 Interesting Memories

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on February 10, 2010

We recently made a short 3 day trip to Sri Lanka. Thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Great Nature, Nice People, Good Food and Cost-Effective! Yes…with the current exchange rates – the prevailing prices for hotels, food, transportation, etc. seemed to be a lot cheaper than in India.

Also, in the increasingly painful international visa regulations, Sri Lanka is amongst the few countries where an Indian Passport holder can get a Visa on arrival, if travelling for tourism purposes (with a stay of under 30 days). So you can literally board a plane and get there. And note, the Chennai – Colombo flight roughly takes the same time as Mumbai – Goa.
 
In this blog post, I am highlighting 10 interesting memories from this trip. Frankly, we ran short on time. My recommendation is you plan for at least a 5-6 day trip. We are also looking forward to another trip there soon!

 

 
Old Cars/Vans & Repair Shops
 
Upon landing, as you head on the road from Colombo Airport to the city, you cannot help but notice a series of old-car repair shops. Various car brands (mainly Japanese) replacement chassis are laid out in the front. You also notice that the cars and mini-vans are a lot older than what you would see in India. I guess given the depressed tourist economy during the past 2 decades of civil war, not many new vehicles were imported. Hence these repair shops seem to thrive.
 
Traffic Discipline
 
Most roads are quite tiny, even by Indian standards. Even the major roads, like the Colombo Airport to City Highway, are 2 laned undivided roads. However, the traffic discipline is definitely a notch higher than in India. And the Helmet Rule is extremely well followed! In our 3 days there, we didn’t see a single motor-cycle rider or even the pillion rider, without a helmet. Honking is also quite uncommon (though not as uncommon as in EU/US).
 
Security
 
The long civil war, the Presidential Elections (we were there a week before the elections)  are probably the reasons why we witnessed a lot of security presence in Colombo. Add to that, our hotel was near the Central Business Area that houses a lot of Government Offices. The sight of security personnel with automatic weapons, can be a little disconcerting for a first time tourist!
 
 
Nuwara Eliya – Quaint Old Hotels
 
Nuwara Eliya is a fabulous hill station and an important tea plantation region in Sri Lanka, perched up at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. A 5 hour drive from Colombo through continuously winding roads gets you there. The landscape changes quite drastically as you ascend from the sea-level, into the mountain slopes lined up with tea plantations.
 
The British clearly loved this place and setup quite a few retreats here in the 19th century.  These include the summer residence of the British governor-general. This royal residence has now been converted to a beautiful hotel, quite aptly named ‘The Grand’. Upon entering it, you literally experience the grandeur of the British Era. In this remote place, they have built an amazing place with huge halls, lobbies and regal rooms. The Hotel has done a great job in maintaining the historic residence – with the artifacts, wooden floors, fire places and decorative glass windows.  The grand ball room is quite impressive.
  
This royal residence literally transferred me to that era, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between a similar residence in Pune – the British Governer’s mansion that is now the main building of the Pune University. Unfortunately, the Pune University Building is not anywhere in the same state as the Grand Hotel – given that both were probably identical in 1947.
 
We stayed at the St. Andrews Hotel – a much smaller hotel but equally beautiful. This was built initially as a residence by a Scotsman who was clearly a Golf Fan. No prizes for guessing the origin of the hotel’s name!
 
This hotel’s main lobby also dates back to 1875 and is very well-maintained. The multi-course European Dinner served at this seemingly remote Hotel/Town was simply exquisite! This hotel also has its own garden where they grow their own herbs and vegetables.
 
Nuwara Eliya – Tea Estates
 
Nuwara Eliya has many tea estates, and we visited one of the more prominent ones – Mackwoods Tea.
 
They provide a nice tour of the tea-making process.  They also have an excellent tea tasting room, as well as a great gift shop.
 
Shopping/Prices
 
While I am not much of a shopping enthusiast myself, couldn’t help noticing the attractive prices of various items: especially apparel. Two large stores/malls that we visited (recommended) in Colombo were: House Of Fashion and Odel.
 
Promenade by the sea  in Colombo
 
The central business area in Colombo has a beautiful promenade by the sea – somewhat like Mumbai’s Marine Drive. The major hotels (Taj, Intercontinental,Hilton, etc.) and Government Offices are in close proximity. There are street food vendors that sell seafood and other local snacks (no BhelPuri/Chaat here :)  ). This place is quite popular with tourists as well as locals.
 
Friendly People
 
Based on our experiences (many tourists I spoke with concur!) – Sri Lankans are nice and friendly people. Our first experience started at the airport. The immigration officer was very friendly – not a common experience :) . Maybe we were there during the peak wedding season…wedding celebrations were everywhere. Our hotel had 3-4 wedding related events everyday. Got a chance to understand a bit about their unique wedding customs that differ by religion/ethnicity/etc. Though irrespective of these differences, the weddings were grand parties in general!
 
I asked our car’s driver about the cricket – clearly Sri Lankans are very passionate about cricket and their team. Was a bit surprised to hear that the most popular player in Sri Lanka right now is not Sangakara, Jayawardhane, Jayasuriya or Murali… Its Dilshan! Also, the most popular Indian cricketer in Sri Lanka right now is Sehwag.
 
Food
 
I am not any expert in Sri Lankan cuisine, but from what I sampled there, got an impression that there are distinct influences from South India and East Asia. I liked the Hoppers (a rice ‘Dosa’ like preparation, sometimes also made with rice and eggs) as well as String Hoppers (somewhat like thin rice noodles). The Curries were quite tasty and reminded me of the Thai/Malaysian Curries. No surprises that most major hotels have excellent selections of continental and Indian cuisines available.
 
The Historic City Of Kandy
 
We spent the least amount of time in Kandy, something we definitely need to rectify when we visit next. This historic city was the capital of Sri Lanka before the British Era began in 1815. There are many historical monuments, the star attraction being the old Palace. We heard that the botanical garden there is also extremely impressive – unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit.
 
 
Notes
 
Photo Credits: Sarika Phatak
 
Useful links about Sri Lanka:
 
 
 
 
 

 

Musings on an eBook Reader and Tablet PC Combination

Posted in Information Technology, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on January 28, 2010

I had originally blogged about this topic about 6 months back. See original post ““. Also attached below.

After Apple’s much anticipated iPad announcement today, I thought I will revisit this topic once again. I think the LCD display in the Apple iPad would still have certain limitations as compared to the epaper technology display in the Amazon Kindle. The readability and feel of the iPad screen may not be like that of a paper book. It remains to be seen how much ‘real life’ the iPad LCD screen actually feels like.

In terms of creating a ‘hybrid solution’ like the one I had described in the earlier post, the Barnes & Nobles Nook comes a little closer. In the sense that they are using the epaper technology for the display screen and a small touch sensitive multi-color LCD display for the interactive features. Though I wonder that in the midst of Apple and Amazon, does Barnes & Nobles have a chance?  It remains to be seen what approach Microsoft takes in its own Tablet PC (no details/dates as yet).

Going forward, I wonder how the epaper/LCD screen gap would get bridged? Lot of research work is going on in the epaper technology area. Future epaper displays could feature full color support and some level of touch sensitive surfaces. Till that time though, a simple hybrid may not be a bad solution?

What are your thoughts?

——————————————————————————-

Original Post, Dated: July 28, 2009

I have followed the news around Amazon’s Kindle with great interest. I think it will be a tech game-changer. It fundamentally tries to address the readability issues associated with the LCD screens in other devices. Though, I haven’t had a chance to use it as yet, I can imagine how the epaper display technology can produce images and text that is very close to printed paper. In my view, this capability alone will lead to a large scale adoption of this device in the coming years.

I also see a huge opportunity in a ‘next gen’ Tablet PC. I haven’t digged deep into reasons why the existing Windows based Tablet PCs haven’t been that successful over the past few decade. Is it the cost? Or usability? Or both?

There is a lot of discussion in the media around Apple launching a new Tablet – I am sure this will be a game changing device, given Apple’s innovation track record. My initial thought when I first read about it was – here’s comes a potential Kindle killer. But then I realized that the Kindle’s display will be a major advantage over the tradional LCD display.

A tablet’s LCD display is critical for many functions (graphics, media, interactive software and tools, etc.), and doubt if there’s a substitute.

My simple thought: Why can’t someone create a smart, usable tablet computer with an epaper display on the back side??

Such a device could provide you with both capabilities in one single device! You can read a book and then if you want to use your tablet, just flip the device around! Isn’t it as simple as adding an epaper like display onto a tablet device??

As a user, I for one would definitely queue up to buy such a device, at a premium!

Toyota Fortuner – First Impressions

Posted in Cars by Amit Paranjape on January 5, 2010

Toyota Fortuner (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

  

This morning, I was at the Toyota Dealership for my car servicing. The prospect of a boring wait lay ahead. I picked up a brochure of the new Fortuner and casually enquired about the possibility of a Test-Drive, fully knowing that the SUV may not even be available at this location. Ever since the much anticipated launch in 2009, the Fortuner is in great demand and even the waiting lists have been closed down. Toyota is sitting pretty on a big backlog.      

To my surprise, the SUV was available and the dealer representative promptly arranged for a Test Drive. Note that Pune City Traffic is pretty bad for any Test Drive! Nevertheless, I was able to drive the SUV around for 20 min, and did manage to find a brief stretch of open road. Note, in a strict sense I won’t call this blog a true Test Drive Report. As the title suggests, these are first impressions.      

The first thing that strikes you about the Fortuner is the huge ground clearance. The Toyota representative quickly highlighted that it was 220 mm. This is ideal for rough off-road/rural road driving conditions. The 17 inch wheels are also a welcome feature.  The exterior shape looks a little bit like the Lexus RX 300 SUV (though the Fortuner is smaller), and is pretty nice. Unfortunately, the similarities between the Lexus SUV end quickly! From the inside, the Fortuner looks quite simple, with little hint of any luxury. In fact, the interiors are very close to that of the top-end Innova (that costs almost half…). The cabin space, consisting of 3 rows of seats, is at best comparable with that of the Innova. The features list of the Fortuner also runs very close: 2 Airbags, Climate Control being the primary highlights.      

However, the similarities between the Innova start fading away as you start the Fortuner. The 3.0L Turbocharged Diesel Engine is bigger and significantly more powerful. It delivers 126 KW (171 PS) of Power @ 3600 RPM, with a Max Torque of 343 Nm (1400 – 3400 rpm). The 5-Speed Manual Transmission drives the full-time 4WD system. It also has special gear for driving  in extreme high gradients (often referred to as the ‘Jump’ gear in the old Land Rovers and Jongas…).      

The Fortuner definitely has enough power at hand – However, a noticeable turbo-charger delay is felt when accelerating. Having recently test driven the 2.0 Liter Diesel Skoda Laura, I felt that the Fortuner delay was longer and more pronounced.      

One area where Toyota excels the most in my opinion is the suspension and the comfort of the ride. The Fortuner doesn’t disappoint here at all. The comfort for the driver and passenger is great, and will be a big plus on the rough roads in India.      

On the downside, I still think that Toyota Diesel Engines are not as smooth and refined as that of their German Counterparts. Agreed, fuel economy is a big factor, but a Petrol Fortuner would not be a bad idea at some point in the future. The Toyota Petrol Engines are truly great.      

Maybe it was the specific SUV that I was driving (The representative mentioned that this one had been out on long Test Drives for a few weeks…), but I felt that the braking could have been a bit better. Note, the Fortuner has front disc and rear drum brakes.      

Overall I thought that Fortuner is a good vehicle; simply not a great one. At the price point of Rs 20 – 22 Lakhs, I would have expected a bit more refinements and features on the interiors. Hope Toyota considers a Petrol Engine variant (or does some serious improvements to the Diesel Engine). Also at the +20 Lakhs price range, an Automatic Transmission Option should be made available.

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Doolally – Cheers To Pune’s First Micro-Brewery

Posted in Hotels & Restaurants, Pune by Amit Paranjape on October 31, 2009
Doolally - Pune's first micro-brewery

Doolally - Pune's first micro-brewery

Over the past few years, Pune has seen the opening of an array of  fine new hotels, restaurants, casual dining options, bars and fast-food joints. These include iconic international chains like the Hard Rock Cafe. Fine dining restaurants like Stone Water Grill (which also has a fabulous lounge bar). A historic heritage hotel – Fort Jadhavgadh. There are the usual international fast food favorites in McDonalds, Subway, etc. And then there are my personal favorites in my local Deccan Gymkhana neighborhood like the Deccan Rendezvous.

But an important piece was missing…a micro-brewery. Why a micro-brewery in this list? And what is a micro-brewery…you might ask!

A micro-brewery is a place where beer is brewed the old fashioned way. The way it is supposed to be brewed. The way it’s supposed to taste – Fresh, free of synthetic additives, and flavorful. In a micro-brewery, beer is brewed onsite in small batch quantities, unlike large commercial breweries. Micro-breweries are quite popular in the U.S. and Europe. Successful pioneering micro-breweries like Gordon Biersch started in Palo Alto, California 20 years back and now have multiple locations all over the U.S. But this concept is virtually unheard of in India.

Four years back, two ex-IIM entrepreneurs Suketu and Prateek decided to change that. They are well on their way towards creating something special. Their first creation is ‘Doolally’ – Pune’s first micro-brewery (as well one of India’s pioneers in this area), which opened earlier this month. Along this long and interesting entrepreneurial journey, they were also joined by Oliver, a German ‘Brew-Meister’ (The Beer Specialist). Incidentally, Suketu is originally from Nashik (a city about 200 km north of Pune), which is also home to one of India’s premier wineries – Sula Wines. Maybe there’s something in the waters of Godavari there that creates and nurtures these entrepreneurs like Suketu and Rajiv Samant!

Weird name – ‘Doolally’, you might think… but I guess it’s very apt. Doolally is derived from the name ‘Deolali’ – a small army cantonment near Nashik that dates back to the British Raj.  It literally means ‘going insane’! British soldiers used to be stationed in Deolali (often for months) as a staging point before returning back to England. Here they didn’t have any active tasks and some used to go crazy of boredom and the summer heat. Well…coincidently, Doolally is located fairly close to the Pune Cantonment Area. From the point of view of those early 20th century British soldiers – I guess wrong cantonment and wrong century!

Doolally is located in the fabulous new Corinthian Boutique Hotel near NIBM Road, Kondhwa. They have done a great job on the decor. The lighting, the bar stools and the wood panels/floors set the perfect ambience. As you enter you see the huge stainless steel vats where the beer is made. You are greeted by the bar upfront with huge taps serving the different varieties of fresh brew. Presently they are brewing Premium Lager, Dark, Wheat, Rye and a Cider (not technically a beer (tastes more like aerated wine) – but on tap for the occasional rare non beer drinker amongst the patrons). They plan to add more varieties in future. My favorite is the Dark – which has a hint of bitter malt/chocolate like flavor. The Wheat is great as well.  But don’t take my word for it – you need to find out which one’s your favorite! You can try out the different samples before deciding on your order. Pints and Pitchers are available.

Doolally - Handcrafted Beer On Tap

Doolally - Handcrafted Beer On Tap

The food menu is a little limited and primarily consists of snacks such as wraps and sandwiches. We understand that plans are afoot to extend this menu and introduce more conventional bar snacks such as Chicken Wings, Nachos, Chips, etc. On a side note – the Greek & Mediterranean restaurant ‘Salsa’ located right besides Doolally serves an excellent multi-cuisine menu. The Greek food we had there was probably the best in Pune. The Corinthian Hotel & Club complex presents a great location on top of a small hillock. The outdoor sitting of Doolally is also nice and Pune’s perfect weather, especially at this time of the year, is an added bonus.

My only initial reluctance in going to Doolally was the distance. Yes, in the minds of many Punekars, Kondhwa/NIBM Road area is virtually a different city, tucked away in the remote South-East corner. I myself ventured there for the first time in over a decade. However, now I realize that it is not that bad. At a distance of about 14 km from Deccan Gymkhana and only 7 km from M.G. Road – it will take you anywhere between 30 min – 1 hour, depending on traffic. Aundh, Baner residents have a slightly longer drive, but I am sure it will be worth it.

Doolally also plans to have live music on certain weekends. Check with them regarding the exact dates and artists. While Doolally is a perfect place to hangout with friends, it can also be a nice place for entertaining corporate guests, and for team events. One important note – do check if there’s a ‘Dry Day’, before you head over there – else you might be disappointed.

Some closing comments – Drink responsibly and enjoy! Don’t drink and drive. Have a designated driver.

 ‘Cheers’!

General Information

Web:   http://www.doolally.in/home.html

Address: Doolally, Corinthians Boutique Hotel, NIBM Road, Kondhwa, Pune

Phone: 020-2695 2226

Map (courtesy Sadakmap.com): http://www.sadakmap.com/p/Doolally-Micro-Brewery/

Timings: 7:30pm onwards

Driving In Europe – How It’s Different From U.S.

Posted in Cars, Travel by Amit Paranjape on September 26, 2009
Autobahn

Autobahn

 There are many more differences than just seeing cars cruise-by at 250 km/hr!

On continental Europe, they drive on the same side of the road as the United States. But the similarities really taper off from there! Recently, I had my first opportunity to drive in Europe, and it was a great experience. In this blog, I will highlight the contrasts between the two systems that are separated by much more than the Atlantic Ocean.

Readers who have extensive driving experience on both sides of the pond are welcome to add their own insights. For readers who haven’t driven in Europe, this article will be (hopefully!) an interesting guide, and an invitation to checkout this experience on your next trip. Note – my experiences are based on driving in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

Unless you are lucky enough to get a ‘company car’ in Europe – renting a car might be your best (and only) option. Car renting in Europe is quite expensive. But you can always look for bargains. Like in the U.S., renting a car in a suburb or a small town is significantly cheaper than renting at an Airport or in city center (‘zentrum’ or ‘centrum’ – as they call ‘downtown’). A manual transmission car is much cheaper than an automatic. A US driving license and a credit-card is typically all you need to rent, but many rental companies will also ask for your Passport as an ID Proof.

1. Where are the Pickup Trucks and SUVs?

The first thing you might notice is the near complete absence of pickup trucks! The SUVs are also significantly fewer in number. You will find a lot of station wagons. Clearly, the ‘drive’ towards reducing demand for oil, starts with vehicle ‘size’!

2. Better Driving Discipline – Fewer crazy drivers!

At first impression, the driving discipline definitely feels like it’s a notch higher than that in the U.S. Drivers seem to be more considerate when allowing lane changes, merge-ins, etc. Similarly, the fast lane is strictly used only for passing.

 3. Smaller cars

You feel like the entire class of automobiles got shrunk down by 1 or 2 sizes. The American compact car is a standard in Europe, an American medium sized car is a large car, and so on. Some of the cars are outright tiny – and smaller in size than the recently launched ‘Tata Nano’. On a related note (and quite interestingly, I may add..) – Toyota Prius was more common on European Roads than other iconic Toyota cars.

4. Better maintained cars

In general the cars seemed better maintained than in the US. Not sure if this is driven by necessity (wintery weather conditions, etc.) or by stricter enforcement (regular certification requirements).

5. Manual Transmission & Diesel Engines

These are again novelties to most American drivers. Both are quite popular given that they deliver better efficiencies (ultimately expressed as a lower cost per km) than the automatic transmission and gasoline counterparts.

6. Sheer variety of cars

My belief of U.S. being the global leader in variety of cars got corrected. The sheer variety of cars in Europe is huge! And the number of configurations available for a given model is also extensive. E.g. – Manual/Automatic, Gasoline (Benzin) / Diesel, etc. In addition to all the major global brands you commonly see in the U.S., there are quite a few other brands as well.

7. Speed limits

Contrary to prevailing belief amongst many – they do have strict speed limits on European highways. Even in Germany – 120 kmph (roughly equal-to 75 mph) is common on most highways, but they change to 100 kmph, 80 kmph, etc. based on road/traffic conditions. Many speed limits are ‘dynamic’ – they are indicated by electronic signs and change depending on the external conditions and time of the day. The adherence to the speed limits is fairly decent. There are only certain sections of Autobahns (away from urban centers) in Germany that have no speed limits.

8. Where are the cops?

In my 4 days of extensive driving, I swear I just saw one police car on the highway! That too was at a site of an accident. And yet, the speed limits enforcement and compliance is quite high. I guess they use cameras and technology a lot more in Europe, for traffic rules enforcement. If you are caught speeding, the ticket is mailed to you – complete with your picture driving the car, as proof.

9. 18 Wheelers

The 18 Wheelers are similar to what you would see in the US. Though, you see significantly fewer on the road. I guess there could be two primary reasons: 1. Europeans consume less stuff. Less stuff = Less Volume & Weight to ship! 2. They use a lot of rail transportation.

10. ‘Seamless Borders’

Crossing from one country to the other in the Schengen Region  is as seamless as crossing state boundaries in the U.S. or in India. Typically, there are just 1 or 2 signs welcoming you to that country and some changes in speed limits. That’s pretty much it – Plus the roads signs change from one language you cannot understand to a different one that you cannot understand either :) But the graphical signs are self-explanatory.

11. Round-Abouts/Yield

When driving on city roads – a ’round-about’ circle is something that might confuse an American driver! It’s a different system of yielding – instead of a 4 way stop-sign.

12. Various kinds of ‘entities’ on the city roads

I can understand why Americans sometime dread driving in European cities!  In addition to the tiny roads – you have bicycles, pedestrians and trams to deal with! Amsterdam also has a few human powered bicycle taxis (And I thought Kolkatta was the only big city in the world to have them!).

For me personally (and others who regularly drive on Indian roads) I guess this ‘diverse traffic’ is not that bad :)

13. Bicycles lanes

Bicycles are omnipresent in Holland. They are also quite popular in other countries as well. On most city roads, bicycles have separate dedicated lanes. It’s quite interesting to see a few folks ‘bike’ from their home to a rail station – ‘fold’ their bikes (yes, some bikes literally fold in half – and can be stowed away easily..) board the train to the city, disembark and again ride to their office building!

Motorcycles are also more common, and they ‘optimize’ lane usage at traffic lights or in traffic jams by moving forward by the side of stuck 4 wheelers (the way they always do in India :)  ) . Initially I thought they were breaking the rules – but then it seemed like it was a ‘standard’ procedure.  

14. Gas Stations

The first time you pull into a Gas Station – be prepared for a sticker shock! Gasoline is currently priced around 1.40 Euros/liter. At the present exchange rate, that roughly translates to USD 7.60/Gallon. Diesel is a little cheaper at around 1.05 Euros/liter (USD 5.80/Gallon).  Add to this the price of a comparable car is approximately twice as much in the U.S. – and you will understand why driving is so expensive in Europe!

At Gas Stations in Europe you can literally fill ‘Gas’ ..LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas), that is :) . Note in Germany and the Netherlands, they refer to Gasoline as ‘Benzin’. Instead of 3 varieties of gasoline and 1 variety of diesel – at European filling stations, you will typically find 2 varieties of gasoline, 2 varieties of diesel and LPG. Initially, I was confused to note the significantly higher octane rating numbers in Europe. However, that is apparently because of slightly different standards. (For more information, checkout: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octane_rating )

Reliance on Diesel and LPG is part of the drive towards reducing cost / km. LPG is significantly cheaper than Gasoline. Diesel typically yields a much better fuel efficieny in terms of km / liter.

15. Use of GPS and other electronic gadgets

The use of GPS based navigation has increased significantly over the past few years (as it has, in the U.S.) and old fashioned ‘paper’ map based navigation is a dying art. I however had to use this ‘old’ and tried and tested art form – since my cheap rental didn’t have a GPS.

Similarly, I understand that hands-free mobiles are mandatory – hence most cars have an integrated Bluetooth mobile integration with the car’s sound system.

In general, I also observed that for a similar model – an European car would typically have many other smaller gizmos – tire pressure monitoring, range calculators, etc.

Helpful links

Description of Autobahns from Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobahns

A good site with lot of information (speed-limits, restrictions, etc.) about various Autobahns http://www.autobahnatlas-online.de/index_e.html

(Image credits: Wikipedia)

Is the paranoia around H1N1 in Pune / India justified? – A look at some factoids & information resources

Posted in Current Affairs, Healthcare & Medicine, Pune by Amit Paranjape on August 12, 2009

Honestly, I don’t have the exact answer. Only time will tell whether we, the citizens of Pune (and India) over-reacted, or should have done a lot more. All we have right now are statistics, data-points, examples from other regions of the world, and expert advisories to look at and  learn from. 

In this article, I am listing out the various relevant factoids, observations and information resources that I have stumbled upon over the past few days. I will let the readers draw their own conclusions.

What is painfully clear though is that we don’t have enough data, and we often don’t rely on credible sources of information. In absence of data and facts, the common population is always swayed by ‘headlines’ and ‘sound bites’ – Sadly, this is true even in the 21st century. Thanks to the latest technology, data can be accessed easily; yet this same technology can also help in spreading rumors a lot faster as well.

Here are some factoids and observations:

1. According to WHO and other estimates, there are nearly 1 Billion cases of normal flu (influenza) each year.  Around 3-5 Million of these are severe and 300,000 – 500,000 of these result in deaths.

Statistically speaking (based on a simple extrapolation that India’s population is apprx 1/5 of World Population) that translates to 200 M cases, 600,000 – 1 M severe cases, and 60,000 – 100,000 deaths.

For a city of Pune, that translates to 500 deaths/year or 10 deaths/week.

All these are huge numbers. And yet, until a few weeks back, we hardly even thought about ‘influenza’ as something serious! 

2. On a related topic – Pollution levels in Pune and in all major Indian cities are at very dangerous levels. Yet very few perceived the need to wear masks over all these years. Do we know the statistics of upper respiratory problems in major Indian cities?

3. According to WHO (World Health Organization), the recommended mask to protect against H1N1 infections is the one that meets the N95 standard. Yet, these constitute a miniscule amount of the ones being worn around in Pune. The others don’t really offer any significant help. For a complete list of Do’s and Don’ts regarding masks – please refer to the next section.

4. Commonsense tells us that it is better to wear masks in crowded places; but they are not very critical when walking or driving on uncrowded, open roads. Yet, what we are seeing around in Pune is quite the opposite. It is also amazing to see so many people wearing masks that are covering their mouths, but not their noses?!

5. Last year, over 200 riders lost their lives in 2-Wheeler Accidents in Pune – many of these deaths could have been prevented had the riders been wearing helmets. Yet I see so many people on Pune roads today wearing masks but not helmets!

6. According to what I have read thus far, the H1N1 strain is not significantly more virulent than the traditional influenza virus. The prescribed treatments are also very similar to normal flu.

7. Most individuals who get infected with H1N1 will get back to normal in a few days (similar to the normal flu). This is not a virus like HIV that an individual will carry with him / her for the rest of their lives!

8. Apparently, a vast percentage (by some accounts, up to 90%) of the Indian population tests +ve on the skin test for TB (Tuberculosis). Majority of these tests yield a –ve result on a follow-up (and more reliable) X-Ray test. Disease causing germs (viruses and bacteria) are present everywhere – in most of the cases, the immune system should be able to take care of them! It is only when the immune system becomes weak (in case of old age, young children, patients suffering from certain chronic ailments, etc.) do these germs present any significant danger.

 

Here are some useful information sources:

1. Flu related statistics (from Roche Laboratories – makers of Tamiflu)  http://www.flufacts.com/impact/statistics.aspx

2. Comprehensive Flue Related Information from US Dept of Health & Human Services and CDC (Center for Disease Control)  www.flu.gov  http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/

3. Comprehensive Flue Related Information from WHO (World Health Organization) http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/

4. A map based depiction of Flu cases across the globe http://www.healthmap.org/en

5. WHO – FAQ about H1N1 http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/what/en/index.html

6. WHO – Document regarding use of masks http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/swineflu/masks_community/en/index.html

7. WHO – Document regarding cleaning hands as a key preventive measure http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/swineflu/AH1N1_clean_hands/en/index.html

The Greatest Technological Achievement Of The 20th Century – The Apollo 11 Mission To Moon

Posted in Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on July 19, 2009
 ‘Its one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind’ – yes, most of us have heard this line. It is quite possibly one of the most famous quotations of the 20th century. But how many of us really understand the epic foundation, the mammoth base, the stupendous structure that enabled this ‘small step’? And I am not just talking about the physical structure of the incredible Saturn V rocket!

The Apollo Program, which reached its zenith with that memorable line from Neil Armstrong, was in my humble view – the greatest technological achievement of the 20th Century. July 20th, 1969 was not only NASA’s finest hour; it was mankind’s finest hour. If technology & technology driven progress are the cornerstones of the past century, no other success represents it better!

Setting Foot On Moon

Today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of this historic event. It’s an opportunity to pause and admire. It’s an opportunity to wonder and think back in awe. It’s an opportunity to understand. It’s an opportunity to learn. As a student of science and technology, the Apollo Program fascinates me no end, even today. In this blog, I will make an attempt to recollect the incredible facts and stories about this program. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The sheer circumstances under which these successes were achieved are mind boggling and simple factoids won’t do justice.

Readers, please note: If you are interested in getting a quick preview of some of these fascinating numbers and factoids, take a look at my post from July 16 (40th anniversary of the launch): 10 Fascinating Factoids About The Apollo Program’s Saturn V Rocket

How it all began

Its one thing to set impossible goals, and its another to actually achieve those…and achieve them, they did… With a year to spare!

It all started with that John F. Kennedy speech to the Congress in the 1961 (And followed by the famous ‘We choose to go the moon…’ speech at Rice University). Or maybe the moon race started a little before that – following the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. Post World War II, America and Soviet Union entered into a massive space race, armed with some important spoils from Nazi Germany. The German rocket program was quite extensive, and it had successfully built and deployed the V1 and V2 rockets. Much bigger plans were on the anvil, but the course of the war prevented them from being materialized. Apparently, in 1945 the Germans had devised designs for a rocket (specifically, a ballistic missile) that could reach the American shores.

The Russians captured the German rocket base at Peenemünde, but the lead scientist Wernher von Braun escaped and surrendered to the Americans, along with a small team of scientists.

Allow me a slight digression here, but I cannot help but draw an interesting parallel to the Indian mythological epic, ‘The Mahabharat’. Before the Kaurav – Pandav war, Arjun and Duryodhan approached Krishna for his support. Turns out that Duryodhan (Kauravs) got Krishna’s entire army and infrastructure; and Arjun (Pandavs) got lord Krishna himself; unarmed.

Coming back to Von Braun, the reason why I am mentioning him here is because he went onto to become the lead for the massive Saturn series rockets program.

But Saturn V and Apollo 11 didn’t happen overnight. There were many other stepping stones, which started with America’s first space launch in 1958 of the satellite Explorer I…., first manned launch in 1961  (John Sheppard was the first to make a sub-orbital flight, and John Glenn (who later on went to become a senator, and also the oldest man to travel in space in the space shuttle in 1998, at the age of 77) did the first full orbit around the earth.…and through a series of Gemini series missions. The Apollo program was conceived back in 1961 towards achieving Kennedy’s goal.

Before we take a look at the Apollo Program, let’s briefly understand the overall components of the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft.

Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft

Saturn V Rocket Components

The Saturn V was a multi-stage (3 stage) rocket with the Apollo Spacecraft payload on the top. Some of the earlier Apollo missions were based on the Saturn 1B rocket, which essentially was a smaller version of the Saturn V. The Saturn V was designed to deliver a the spacecraft payload consisting of: Command Module (Columbia), Service Module and Lunar Module (Eagle) – into the lunar orbit.

The 1st stage stood 138 ft tall and was powered by Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen. The 1st stage reached a height of nearly 45 miles, and achieved a speed of nearly 2 km/sec. The 2nd stage stood 81.7 ft tall and was powered by Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen. The 2nd stage reached a height of 110 miles, and achieved a speed of nearly 7 km/sec. The 3rd stage stood 58.7 ft tall and was powered by Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen. The 3rd stage got the Apollo Spacecraft into an earth orbit. It was also fired again (to reach 11 km/sec – the escape velocity of earth) to push the Spacecraft out of the earth orbit, into a course towards the moon.

The Command Module, ‘Columbia’ orbited was the ‘mother ship’ of the Apollo Spacecraft. Armstrong and Aldrin transferred over to the Lunar Module ‘Eagle’, while Collins stayed in the lunar orbit. The Service Module was attached to the Command Module and contained support systems and propulsion systems for the return journey to the earth. The Lunar Module, ‘Eagle’ descended towards the moon, with rocket thrusters to slowdown and control the approach.

From the tragedy of Apollo 1 to great success of Apollo 10

The Apollo Program started with a disaster. Apollo 1 capsule caught fire during a test on the launch pad and the three astronauts burned to death. Amongst them was Edward White, the first American to do a Space-Walk. This was the first loss of life suffered by the American Space Program, and was a huge blow. It resulted in a lot of rethinking and introspection by NASA.

There were some major revisions in the plan, and the program went on. The earlier Apollo missions completed a series of tests of the different components and the sub-systems. These included the earlier generation Saturn 1 and Saturn 1B rockets, the Saturn V rocket, the Command Module, the Service Module and the Lunar Module (NOTE – I will not go into details of the complete design…readers who are interested can…). The initial series of launches (Apollo 2 – Apollo 6) were unmanned missions.

Apollo 7 lifted off on Oct 11, 1967 and was a confidence building mission. The 3 man crew went into a low earth orbit and tested various systems of the lunar and the command modules.  Testing of the maneuverability of the Lunar Module in the weightlessness of space was very important.

Apollo 8 was the first flight to head to the vicinity of the moon. It was also the first manned flight of the awe-inspiring Saturn V rocket.  The crew of Apollo 8 included command module pilot Jim Lowell, who was later the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13. Apollo 8 provided the first views of the other side of the moon.

Apollo 9 carried out first lunar orbit and manned testing of the lunar module Apollo 10 carried out the lunar module descent to within 50,000 feet from the surface of the moon. The stage was now set for Apollo 11.

Apollo 11 – ‘The Eagle Has Landed’

Apollo 11 blasted off in space on July 16, 1969. After 4 days, on July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module started its descent onto the surface of the moon.


 

‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle Has Landed’. Land successfully, it did! But it was over 4 km off-course. It was running low on fuel and had only 30 sec of spare fuel left to land.

It took the Armstrong and Aldrin a few hours to check and secure all the systems, until Armstrong could set foot on the moon.

The Apollo 11 astronauts setup various instruments and the American flag on the moon. Various lunar rock samples were collected. Future Apollo missions also carried a motorized rover that could take the astronauts over a longer distance to explore the moon surface.

Eagle - Heading Back From The Moon

During liftoff, the landing stage of the Eagle (with its empty fuel tank) was left on the moon, to save weight. The ascent engine powered Eagle back into the lunar orbit and docked it back again with the command module. Armstrong and Aldrin got back into the Command Module, and then jettisoned the lunar module. The Command-Service Module (CSM) then fired its return engine to set them back on a trajectory towards earth.

On July 24th, the Command Module Capsule splashed down in the Pacific mission to mark the completion of this most historic mission.

Why was it such a great achievement?

As I write this, I look at the progress that has happened in the space program since the last Apollo nearly 40 years ago. Just this past week, NASA was struggling to launch the Space Shuttle in midst of some weather problems. Agreed that there were major budget cuts in the American Space Program post Apollo, but still the achievements of the past 4 decades leave a lot to desire, in comparison to the Gold Standards set in the 1960s. Note – I am not taking anything away from the 100 + Space Shuttle missions and International Space Station.

Can you imagine running the entire Apollo 11 flight computer on something less powerful than your cell phone’s chip? Well, ran they did! Today, the gadgets all around us are equipped with microprocessors – from a music system, to a washing machine. From a camera, to a car. But remember, Intel’s first microprocessor, the 4 bit 4004 didn’t make its debut until 1971! So just think of this – such a complex space mission was executed with electronic components that was less powerful than your microwave oven!

Think of the gargantuan Saturn V rocket that moved from concept to design to manufacture to successful prototyping and execution, in under a decade! The first American and Soviet rockets that went into space in the late 1950s were tiny (barely 50 ft, with a capacity to put a 50 kg satellite in earth orbit) and extremely unsophisticated compared to the Saturn V (standing 363 ft tall, could put payloads in excess of 100 Tons in earth orbit) that first flew in 1968.

Rockets Comparison - From V2 to Saturn V

Rockets Comparison - From V2 to Saturn V

Realize that a rocket is a very a complex system and contains hundreds of sub-systems and millions of parts. There’s propulsion, guidance, communication, telemetry, navigation – just to name a few major ones. And there are backups…backups for almost every system. And backups for backups!

Let’s take a few examples. Telemetry deals with streaming hundreds of data parameters from the spacecraft back to Mission Control in Houston, 200,000 miles away. This data had to be interpreted, analyzed (through a combination of automated and manual processes) and acted on, around the clock.

Propulsion system of the rocket engines provides the necessary thrust. The Saturn V’s 1st stage had 5 F1 Engines generating the kind of power, most probably not generated in any machine since then! I will not bore you with many numbers, but here’s a simple comparison. The main engines of Saturn V generated enough power, equivalent to about 150 Giga Watts. That is about the entire installed electric power generation capacity of India! Or about 2.5 times the power generated in Texas, USA. Or about 80 times the power generated by one of the largest hydro-electric plants in North America – The Hoover Dam. Just the fuel pumps of these engines consumed power equivalent to that needed by the City of Pune!

To get a sense of the complexity of internals of the command module and the lunar modules, I would just recommend watching that Hollywood classic – Apollo 13 (Which incidentally happens to be my most favorite movie). A typical automobile has a few thousand parts. The Apollo command, service and lunar modules had over a million.

Navigation and Guidance are extremely challenging tasks for any space mission. Extremely small errors can take the rocket on a wrong trajectory which could mean completely missing the target (The Moon) or come crashing down and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere on the return.

I will go back to the Apollo 13 mission for a minute. Sometimes failures highlight the successes of a project more than anything else. Imagine doing near real-time analysis, diagnosis, generating remote workarounds and implementing repair 200,000 miles in space! But the Apollo Program was designed to handle these scenarios. Coming back to Apollo 13, one NASA personnel put it quite nicely – ‘It (Apollo 13) was NASA’s most successful failure!’

And I haven’t discussed the manufacturing and assembly challenges at all. Building a 3000 Ton machine is no easy job. Building one that will fly at speeds of 2 km/sec is another. Note – the final stage of Saturn V, which powered the Apollo Spacecraft towards the moon, did eventually approach the earth escape velocity of 11 km /sec.

Massive fuel tanks had to be designed that could withstand extreme pressures and temperatures, and fabricated in pieces and then assembled. Just to highlight one example here, consider the scale of the fuel consumption of the Saturn V main engines. To generate the kind of power mentioned earlier, you need lot of fuel! The first stage of Saturn V consumed Kerosene (as the propellant) and Liquid Oxygen. It gobbled up around 15 Tons of Kerosene / sec! Just think of the complex high-power pumps and piping needed to feed this kind of fuel into the engines, to generate that massive power!

The Lunar Module was the most complex of the machines and was assembled in a special plant. Specialized Heat Shields that can withstand temperatures over 3000 F on reentry had to be tested and built.

Lastly, I would like to highlight the program management aspects of this effort. We routinely see major engineering projects dragging for years. Here was a project of this startling magnitude, moving from conception to execution stage in less than 10 years!

There were so many historic firsts in this project…in the areas of size, scale, complexity and ingenuity. But ultimately these facts don’t tell the whole story. I guess the ultimate greatness of Apollo 11 was how it captivated an entire generation!

Interesting Links & Resources

1. NASA homepage

2. Footage of launch of Apollo 11 with a highspeed camera

3. Footage of launch at normal speed

References

1. The official NASA website: www.nasa.gov

2. Wikipedia Pages for Apollo Program, Apollo 11, Saturn V Rocket

3. HBO Documentary ‘From Earth To The Moon’, presented by Tom Hanks. (IMDB Link)

4. Ron Howard’s ‘Apollo 13’ (IMDB Link)

5. Johnson Space Center, Houston – Space Center Houston

6. Marshall Space Flight Center – Alabama

7. Kennedy Space Center – Florida

An Indian Road Trip in the 1980s – We sure have come a long way!

Posted in Cars, Travel by Amit Paranjape on May 24, 2009

I recently made a long road trip from Pune to Goa, a distance of nearly 500 km (320 miles) in around 7 hours. The scenic route has a combination of nice 4 laned highways and beautiful winding mountain roads that descend down to the sea coast. The average highway speeds were comparable with the US average 60mph. I was driving a nice car – with ABS, multiple airbags, climate control, powerful engine, and great suspension & handling.

So what’s so great and special about this? Young readers in India, as well as the readers in the US will not understand my sheer joy in driving in these conditions with these ‘basic’ features! You folks have been taking the roads and the car features for guaranteed, for way to long. To appreciate my experience, you will have to step back to India in the early 1980s. (A rough analogy might the pre-freeways US roads in the 1950s…).

To bring you upto speed, let me sketch a typical driving trip in India, a quarter century back.  Sit back and enjoy the ride…if you can :)

Our family’s car of choice (not that there was any choice during those days…only Fiats and Ambassadors were available. The new phenomenon ‘Maruti’ was just around the corner) was the Fiat 1100, sporting a ‘powerful’ 47 HP engine with a 4 speed (non-synchromesh) gearbox. It was made by Premier Automobiles; but was rarely referred to by its official name, ‘Premier Padmini’. Visitors might still see a few of these cars upon landing at Mumbai Airport – some of these vehicles still serve as the ‘yellow & black’ taxis.

In those days, a Fiat was the standard car…the Ambassador, a big ‘luxury’ car! Note – any ‘car’ in general was not for the masses, and there was no talk about a Nano. The real ‘people’s car’ was the bicycle! Even a 2 wheeler in those days was expensive and tough to buy. (Some people might remember those times when it took 10 years to get a Bajaj Scooter..).

A road trip was an ‘event’…an adventure. Someone has said ‘It is the journey that is more important than the destination’. How true! I will not bore with you all the details; rather let me just highlight the ‘high-points’ of a typical road trip from that ‘era’. In my preferred style, I will highlight 10 points:

1. Before  you set-off, there were a series of ‘checks’ that may have rivalled a ‘pre-flight’ checklist of an aircraft. There was the car radiator that needed constant filling up. Same with the car batteries water level. And the engine oil level check. Infact, opening the front hood was an extremely common occurence.

2. Talking about car batteries – they were as reliable as the cars in those days…needless to say ‘Dhakka Start’ (people pushing the car to get it started) was common.

3. Refueling in the city was a must – there were no guarantees about any highway side fuel stops.

Once you were off, the only positive thing compared to the present, was the traffic – It was orders of magnitude lower than you would encounter today.

4. 6 people would be comfortably seated in the car: 3 in the front, and 3 in the back. Yes, this car had ‘bench’ seats in the front. The carrier on the roof of the car was packed with all kinds of stuff. (I vividly remember a Kokan trip where we had sets of those ‘old style’ Mango Crates tied down on the top..!)

5. Flat tires were extremely common…cannot remember a single long trip where we didn’t have a tire ‘puncture’. We all were quite adept at changing the spare tire (‘stepney’ as it was called in those days..). This was followed by a stop at a small town ‘tire-walla’ to get the tire fixed. Oh..in those days, tires had tubes in them. (I am assuming that the reader knows that majority of the cars today have tubeless tires…if you are not one of them, then ignore this para all together :)  )

6. Frequent mechanical breakdowns were common as well…and these too for ‘new’ and ‘well maintained’ cars. You were lucky if it was a case of a simple over-heating … in this case you simply poured more water into the radiator, let it ‘blow some steam and cool down’, and then drive on. If it was more serious, then the only option in most cases was to hitch a ride with a passing-by truck/bus to the nearest town…find a mechanic, and bring him back to the car. The saving grace was that these cars were ‘easy’ to repair and after a few hours – you could move on! Oh..and the only ‘phone’ we knew those days was that big black box like device with a round dial on top of it, that made an irritating ringing sound (when it used to work). Today’s cellphone would have looked straight out of Star Trek in those days.

7. Ofcourse the cars were luxurious…well relatively speaking :) Airconditioning was unheard off. The standard cooling solution consisted of those innovative ‘triangular split’ windows that diverted wind into the passenger cabin. And there was no music-system either. Music (if any) was (as they say in the web 2.0 world today) ‘user-generated’. The background score was typically provided by the cacophony of the engine and suspension rattling.

Did I mention that the Fiat 1100 had no power steering, no power-brakes? But driving with all those aids is for wimps… right :)

8. The lack of airconditioning created interesting problems during rainy weather. The front wind shield glass used to get fogged rightaway, with the condensate. The only option to get rid of that moisture was to have the ‘co-pilot’ constantly and skillfully wipe-off the wind shield, without distracting the driver.

9. There were no highway side McDonalds or Food Malls in those days. There were some good restaurants or more appropriately ‘food shacks’ (Tapris) along the way. Some people will vividly remember that Khopoli favorite on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway, ‘Ramakant’ – famous for their ‘Batata Vadas’.

10. If you were driving off the highway on the country roads, the experience used to be even more interesting. A car was a rare sight in rural India in those days. We felt ‘important’ :) Like a VIP motorcade driving by! Proper tar roads were often times non-existent. The car used to leave a huge storm of dust..literally throwing it into the onlookers’ eyes. I am sure those villagers must have been cursing us ‘city folks’.

After all this adventure when you finally made it to your destination, there was this immense satisfaction about a ‘big achievement’. The driver used to really earn his ‘stripes’ those days…and so did the car… Since for all its short comings and problems it was a great way to travel!

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Issues With America’s HealthCare System – A Patient’s Perspective

Posted in Current Affairs, Healthcare & Medicine by Amit Paranjape on April 14, 2009

I had the misfortune of suffering from an extended illness in America and experienced firsthand the many problems and issues with the American HealthCare system. In this brief article, I will try to list some of the major ones that I can recollect from my personal experience (See list below – points are in no particular order).

 

Please note that I still believe that the American HealthCare system is amongst the best in the world; especially when it comes to treating really tough medical conditions, and performing complicated surgical procedures and emergency medical services. It still retains some of the best doctors and other medical talent in the world.

 

My issues are more systemic and process related. In the end, one would expect a little more from world’s most advanced and expensive healthcare industry! Note these are my personal observations – whether some of these points can be generalized further needs more data points from other patients and consumers of this healthcare system.

 

1. Cost of HealthCare Insurance – The cost of healthcare has undergone a major increase over the last decade. The increasing insurance premiums have forced many private sector companies (that offer health insurance to their employees) to increasingly pass on a bigger chunk of these costs to the employee. This increase has been significantly more than the rate of inflation, and has resulted in no perceptible change in the service quality.

 

2. High costs for the un-insured, and the under-insured – This issue is extremely critical and has already been discussed ad nauseum in every media outlet, by numerous experts.

 

3. Insurance Claims Processing – Even for patients that have some of the best insurance coverage, the process of settling claims is far from perfect. Discrepancies and errors are common. In certain cases, interpretation of ‘what’s covered vs. what’s not’ is not clear. The 3-way communication across, Doctor’s Office – Insurance Company – Patient, further adds to the process complexity and mismatches. I personally had to deal with many of these claims related issues. To resolve these, often times you end up spending hours on the phone with the insurance company.

 

4. Impact of ‘medico-legal issues related complications’ on behavior? – I am not a legal expert and cannot pass explicit judgments here, but sometimes one gets a feeling that the entire medical staff’s (not just the Doctors, but also the Nurses and other support personnel) interactions with a patient are biased by a ‘medico-legal’ angle. Most answers are very generic, vague and filled with ‘disclaimers’. I understand that this is a big issue, but it is a bad trend if it affects the medical staff and patient communication. This communication channel needs to be one of those most ‘open’ ones!

 

5. Accessibility of a doctor – Most doctors work during the regular office hours and are not available on evenings and weekends. Hence seeing a doctor often times results in a forced half-day vacation during weekdays for many patients. Evenings and weekends are out of bounds and if you are in urgent need to see a doctor, in most cases an Emergency Room is your only option.

 

6. Difficulty in getting to a specialist – Often times it’s very difficult to schedule an appointment with a specialist. Many are booked out weeks into the future. And if you can’t see them right away, and are in some serious trouble, the standard answer that you might get is ‘Go to an Emergency Room!’

 

7. Difficulty in asking any simple follow-up questions to a doctor – If you have the most mundane follow-up question, it is still very difficult to directly ask your doctor. Even if you call during office hours, your call is routed to a nurse who often has no background about your particular case (except for some case-papers). Typically, the nurse is very busy and answers a simple – ‘I will get back to you’. If you call outside office hours, then your best bet is an answering service! I agree that many times it is not feasible for a busy doctor to directly talk to the patient. But some intermediate solution needs to be worked out. After all, I think that the most expensive healthcare system in the world should have at least some ‘personal touch’.

 

8. Information Technology in Healthcare – I get the impression that the Healthcare industry hasn’t leveraged IT to the fullest extent as compared to many other industry sectors. This can be seen in hospitals as well as in doctor clinics. From basic things like Electronic Medical Records (also referred to as Electronic Health Records), to a better integrated hospital management system (across billing, insurance, clinics and service providers) a lot of improvement is needed. Even today, there’s hardly any electronic data interchange of a patients reports, health records and doctor’s notes across practices and hospitals.

 

I have had to fill in volumes of paperwork every time I went to see a new doctor. Why can’t there be some automation of a patient’s insurance records and medical history? Why does a new patient have to arrive at a new doctor ’15 min early’ to fill out reams of paperwork, many times when he is not in a mental/physical condition to be dealing with this? A patient has to maintain an increasingly heavier load of files, and paper documents, and make it accessible to any new doctor that he might be seeing.

 

9. Difficulty in Scheduling Simple Procedures – Even simple diagnostic procedures (e.g. Ultra-Sound, Endscopy, etc.) can sometimes take days or even weeks to schedule. I don’t really know why this happens. Is this merely a scheduling problem or a supply scarcity of resources?

 

10. Newer patented drugs are regularly being introduced and are prescribed in many cases. Not sure if the incremental benefit that some of these provide over the existing older (and still under patent) or off patent/generic drugs can be weighed against their exorbitant costs. I am not an expert and cannot make this judgment, but do think that this is something that needs to be researched further. Again – since the US consumer is supposedly the ‘richest in the world’ he has to pay the highest (in most cases) for the patented drugs compared to other developed countries. This is another issue that has been a big point of contention, with lot of discussions in the media.

 

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What current startups & tech companies can learn from the Dotcom Era

Posted in Information Technology, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 30, 2009

Feels like an eternity since the 2000 Dotcom Era! Especially given that everyone’s now talking about the present global financial crisis.

 

We all have short memories, and the present crisis often times leads us to forget other crises from the past. And yet, I still see many tech companies and startups (especially here in India) repeat those same mistakes from 1999-2000, a decade later. There are many people who have talked about this topic, and I still feel that some points are not being adequately covered.

 

As someone who lived through this entire crazy era, I wanted to add my views on this. Here are 21 lessons that I would like to highlight. 

 

1. ‘Dreaming & Envisioning’ = Good. ‘Day Dreaming’ = Not Good.

 

2. Revenues and operating profits are extremely important! Be conservative in ways in which you invest cash.

 

3. Control costs at all levels. If your office starts resembling a kitchen pantry or a stationery supply room, then there’s something wrong!

 

4. Travel – only when you absolutely have to! There are enough technology enablers to reduce travel substantially. Leverage them to their fullest.

 

5. Do not think about ‘VC Funding’ or even ‘Angel Funding’ from day-1. On the same note, don’t focus on valuations, unless and until you are actually raising external funding!

 

6. While it’s important for a startup to be ‘passionate’ about their business, their idea – make sure that this ‘passion’ is pointed in the right direction. ‘Passion without direction’ can be more dangerous than a slow steady calculated approach.

 

7. Remember, not every crazy idea that a new startup thinks of, is genuinely novel and path-breaking. Chances are high that many of these so called ‘master-strokes’ are ideas that were rejected by more mature companies after an objective analysis.

  

8. Advertising alone is not a sufficient revenue channel for internet based business models.

 

9. You should be able to explain your idea in clear and simple terms; without using any ‘buzz words’.

 

10. Pure-play B2C Services online models seldom succeed. Often times, a strong offline component is also essential.

 

11. Software quality is very important – scalability, reliability, and end-user experience are extremely crucial metrics.

 

12. Focus on your core domain – don’t chase each and every hot new opportunity area.

 

13. Remember, technology is simply a means to an end, and not and end by itself. Focus on the problem to be solved, and not the ‘cool technology’! 

 

14. B2B models cannot rule and control the value-chain! They are merely facilitators.

 

15. B2B models offering ‘SaaS’ services should focus on the business value of that service, and not simply ‘fancy software and deployment architectures’.

 

16. Don’t overdo perks such as freebies, parties, gimmicks, etc in order to ‘motivate’ and ‘retain’ employees. Ultimately, more mundane things like the founder’s vision and personal leadership skills are more important. Cash and stock ownership are important as well!

 

17. Take the ‘experts and analysts predictions’ of new and emerging technology and market areas with a pinch of salt. Do your own research.

 

18. Do not listen to those media experts who proclaim- ‘This time, its different!’ It usually isn’t. The fundamental laws of business (like the fundamental laws of science) don’t change!

 

19. Unless you are sitting on some path-breaking algorithm or something like that, don’t be over-secretive about your idea. Remember, it’s your execution that is going to count more than your idea. Being over-secretive is counter-productive from the point of view of getting good upfront validation and feedback.

 

20. Remember, sales & delivery go hand-in-hand. Ignoring one side, while excelling at the other one doesn’t help you succeed.

 

21. First, validate your new breakthrough ideas with your existing customers - before going to the market. 

 

What is Twitter? And why should one start using it?

Posted in Current Affairs, Information Technology by Amit Paranjape on February 28, 2009

Many of my professional and social contacts are already using Twitter, and yet many more are still not fully aware of it.  I am writing this brief article to introduce this great new medium to those who are not on board. If you are already familiar with Twitter, but are not actively using it – please, get onboard….you are missing out on a lot! If you are already a regular Twitter user, that’s great! Feel free to skip this article.

 

Just 6 months back, if someone had mentioned ‘Twitter’ outside the confines of some Silicon Valley coffee shops and offices, chances are they would have received a blank stare. Further more, many ‘techies’ who understood the concept would have dismissed it as another one of those Web 2.0 websites. How much difference 6 months can make! Today people from all walks of life are entering the ‘Twitter-o-sphere’! Twitter already has more than 6 Million users.

 

Initially, these new users start off with a few tentative steps to test the water. Like any new communication medium, there is some acclimatization (learning) curve. However, in Twitter this is typically very short. Many Celebrities, Politicians, CEOs, Authors, Business Gurus have started ‘tweeting’ (sending messages via Twitter). When geeky words and phrases such as ‘Google It’ and ‘Reboot’ enter out lexicon, that’s a clear signal of mainstream adoption of the technology. ‘Tweeting’ is almost there!

 

Almost all major news organizations (TV/Print Media/Blogs) are also leveraging this new medium. President Barack Obama used Twitter quite effectively in his election campaign; and in this week’s State of The Union Address Session, it was reported that a congressman was sending live updates of the President’s speech on Twitter.

 

Twitter is as fundamental a medium as ‘Email’. You can use it the way you want it. Unlike a social networking site, or a professional networking site – it doesn’t compartmentalize the user into a specific domain. Like email, you can use twitter for catching up with friends, for personal networking, for business connections, for marketing, for following news & sports, etc.

 

Twitter user base is growing exponentially and has started rivaling some of the most popular sites on the web.  As the number of users grows, so does the reach and the types in which it used. Whether it was the Mumbai Terror Attacks or the Hudson River emergency landing of a passenger airliner, breaking news was being actively disbursed via Twitter, before any of the conventional media. One primary reason for this popularity is Twitter’s cornerstone design of limiting message length to 140 characters (something that can be sent through a SMS protocol on cell phones). This forces the user to write brief and crisp messages, and enables readers to focus on the real topic quickly.

 

So what exactly is Twitter? And how does one start using it? Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I am simply going to point the reader to a great overview article & presentation “Why you should be on Twitter – and how best to use it” that was compiled by Navin Kabra, the founder of PuneTech. After going through this presentation, I hope that you can start ‘tweeting’ soon! My twitter id is ‘aparanjape’ – look forward to connecting with you there!

  

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“The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” – Brief Book Review

Posted in Healthcare & Medicine, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 17, 2014

Recently finished reading this brilliant, fascinating, (and at times) depressing book. Highly recommended. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

#Cancer is a tough topic, across many dimensions. The author Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee presents a detailed journey of our understanding of this disease (or a collection of diseases), going back 4000 years. There is good amount of technical details about cancer, its diagnosis and treatment…but explained beautifully so that a non-medical professional can understand it quite well.

The first few chapters read like an interesting history novel. The concluding chapters delve into genetics and core understanding of what is going on internally, inside the cell, inside the DNA.

It is amazing how our understanding has changed and improved over the past few decades. But there is a long way to go. The sobering truth is that we still don’t understand many things in this area.

Cricket – 3 different formats, or 3 different games? Will ‘ODI’ format survive?

Posted in Cricket by Amit Paranjape on October 30, 2013

Seriously amazing batting by Virat Kohli today at Nagpur…. However, this ODI format is getting way too batsmen friendly. We already have T20 format which is heavily loaded against bowlers… ODI shouldn’t go that way..should at least maintain some balance. If ODIs continue this way with routine 350+ scores, we are heading to another different format of cricket (like T20).

May be we are heading to 3 different games: Cricket-1 (Tests, Traditional 1st Class), Cricket-2 (ODI), Cricket-3 (T20).

I enjoy all three formats, but would prefer some changes in ‘Cricket-2′.

The ‘Cricket-2′ format, to survive and be viable needs to be different from ‘Cricket-1′ and ‘Cricket-3′. It is already quite different from ‘Cricket-1′, but that is not the problem. The issue is that it is increasingly moving nearer towards ‘Cricket-3′. ‘Cricket-2′ cannot be two back-to-back T20 games! It needs to go back to the way it was a few years back.

May be we are headed to a scenario where ‘Cricket-2′ will just disappear amidst competition from ‘Cricket-1′ and ‘Cricket-3′. What do you think?

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