Amit Paranjape’s Blog

2010 Wish List For Pune Traffic

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 29, 2009

Pune Traffic (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

It is that time of the year…the time for making resolutions and wish lists. While I am not making any for myself, I sure have a wish list for Pune Traffic. Call me a pessimist, but would be thrilled to see even a small number of these fulfilled 🙂

1. Complete Ongoing Projects: How about seeing the completion of long held projects? One example is Baner Road, which it seems is running as a ‘5-year plan’ 🙂 Also, a general observation – many traffic infrastructure projects are never ‘fully’ completed. Many are luckier than Baner Road, but still have that last 5% work pending forever!

2. More One-ways:  One-ways work….Period. Laxmi Road, M.G. Road are great examples of this for decades. The much anticipated JM Road/FC Road one-way system finally happened in 2009. Yes, there will always be opposing voices…but look at the overall city context. A person living on FC Road might have be inconvenienced (e.g. having to drive 100 m more to get to his house…) and could voice displeasure against the one-way. But 100 people travelling from Kothrud to Pune Station are getting huge benefits! More one-way projects should be considered in 2010. The top one on my personal wish list is Prabhat Road/Bhandarkar Road one-way system.

3. Fix Stuff That Worked Before: Is this too much to expect? At the very least, infrastructure (especially signals) that worked before should work after any new project! Two glaring examples are the signals at Baner Phata/ITI Road in Aundh and Senapati Bapat Road/Ganeshkhind Road intersections. These signals worked perfectly fine until 3 years back. Now when the traffic has grown over 3 times in the past 3 years, these signals are dead…silent witnesses to the chaos around them!

4. Road Markings: Hope it’s not too much to ask for road markings/lanes/crossings/etc. to be clearly marked. Yes, I know – Pune drivers (especially those on two wheelers) don’t believe in them and many other things; yet these markings do make a modest difference 🙂

5. Pedestrians: How about some attention to the poor pedestrians? Good (well placed and well painted) Zebra Crossings are a good start. Traffic Lights at crossings, even better! And keeping Footpaths clear of anything other than Pedestrians, well…maybe I am asking for too much again 🙂

6. Helmets/Seat-Belts/Airbags: Let 2010 be the year where the brave 2-wheeler riders of Pune, finally see the ‘light’ and start ‘voluntarily’ adopting helmets! Failing which, hope they understand – they might end up seeing a light from a ‘heavenly’ place 🙂 And seatbelts being used in cars.

And yes, I know airbags are not yet mandatory in Indian Cars. But a sincere request to many who can afford to pay a little more when buying a car. Buy one with airbags! And how about not using mobile phones while driving?

7. Work Begins In Earnest On Highway Projects: The good news of 2009 was the approval of Pune-Solapur Road and Pune Satara Road 6-Laning Projects, along with the allotment of the construction contracts. Hope the work starts in earnest towards the planned 2011 completion. And it would be great if some more progress gets done on finalization of the Easterly Bypass and the Outer Ring Road for Pune.

8. Cycles – Pune was the bicycle capital of the world for many years. Now this great eco-friendly invention is dying here L Efforts to resurrect it are sporadic. For starters, would be great to see the Cycle Tracks (that, believe it or not, do exist at some places!) are translated into an actual reality.

9. Better utilization of the BRTS Lanes – I am not going to comment on whether BRTS is a good idea or not. Entire blogs could be dedicated for that 🙂 However, now that those BRTS Lanes are a reality, how about implementing and utilizing them more effectively? I understand the need for dedicated lanes during rush hours (when the busses ply with high frequency). But, how about considering some changes during non-peak hours? Hope some sensible middle-ground is achieved in 2010!

10. And last but not the least – Would be great to see all the existing traffic rules being enforced in 2010!

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Why I Love Test Cricket

Posted in Cricket by Amit Paranjape on December 21, 2009

In this era of instant gratification and short attention spans, it’s no wonder that the quicker forms of the cricket game: T20 and ODIs are gaining more popularity over Test Cricket. In fact, T20 seems to be doing to ODIs, what ODIs did to Test Cricket a couple of decades back.

At the outset let me be clear that I love all forms of the game. Cricket is such a wonderful sport that each format has its unique flavors. Each version places its own unique sets of demands and challenges on the players. It’s like having to make a choice between great fast-food snacks vs. a gastronomic filling multi-course meal. You want both!

Still, I think the younger generation is increasingly being pulled away from the mothership – Test Cricket. Hence I am going to ‘bat’ for this classic version in this blog. Cricket purists have used various attributes to compare Test Cricket: ‘Fine Wine’, ‘Classical Music’, etc. While I agree with most of these comparisons, I will use more direct factors to highlight why I love Test Cricket so much. Note – many of these factors discussed below are applicable to varying degrees to the other versions of the game as well.

1. Mental Game

Test Cricket is as much played in the mind, as it is played on the field. From subtle field placement changes, to more direct bowling changes…from resisting the temptation of going after a wide ball to playing a few attacking shots to send a message. And body language also plays a big role as well. Each team is trying to guess what the other team is thinking about and planning. Verbal chatter is also an important part of these mind games, though it is being increasingly ‘policed’ by the authorities.

These subtle mind games are very interesting. And when two traditional rivals are playing like India-Pakistan or England-Australia, these mind games reach a new level. The crowd joins in as well. One of my favorite books on cricket is Sunil Gavaskar’s ‘Sunny Days’. Chronicling his early career through 1976 (when all International Cricket was pretty much Test Cricket), this book provides great insights into the mind games and planning & strategy associated with classic Test Matches.

2. Planning And Strategy

Test Cricket is a lot about Planning and Strategy. Literally like chess moves, decisions are thought through and made many steps in advance. Strategies are created by the team think tank at the beginning of each series/match/day and then revised as things progress. Often individual strategies are made to tackle individual bowlers and batsmen. These strategies and their implementations are like following chess grandmasters or battlefield generals in action!

Probably the most infamous of this pre-series strategy planning process dates back to the 1932 England tour of Australia – the famed ‘Bodyline Tour’. England Captain Douglas Jardine came up with his this new ‘strategy’ to curb the Australian run-machine, the great Donald Bradman.

3. Batting Defense

To a casual follower of the game, a dull defensive batting display is often very boring. On the other hand, if you understand the pitch conditions, the match situation and other factors – this defensive battle can also get very engrossing. Good defense is as skillful as playing a good attacking game. And remember, for a batsman, one mistake and you are out!

Rahul Dravid epitomizes this batting defense display and has numerous amazing innings to his credit. It’s unfortunate that these innings don’t get the mass appeal of a Sehwag or a Tendulkar innings. 

4. Battle Of Attrition

Whether in bowling or in batting, as well as in fielding, Test Cricket is often a game of attrition. Its all about who has more staying power – mentally and physically. Who has the ability to maintain their quality and standards of performance after many hours in the game? It’s all about who blinks first, and commits that initial mistake. It could be lazy shot…could be bad over…or a dropped catch.

5. Physical Staying Power

Ultimately, cricket like any physical sport, requires good athletes. However, the athletic attributes of a Test Player are often more akin to a Marathon Runner, as opposed to a 100 Meter sprinter. Dean Jones battling extreme dehydration and cramps in the oppressive Chennai Heat and Humidity in the 1987 Historic Tie Test, and going on to score a Double-Hundred is just amazing. He was rushed to the hospital from the cricket game and came back!

6. The ‘Old’ Ball Dynamics

In the shorter versions of the game, the variations in the ball don’t make a big difference. Comparatively, this adds a whole new twist to a Test Match innings. Once the ball is 10-15 overs old, it stops swinging and spinners can utilize it better. But post 40-50 overs, the ‘reverse swing’ comes into picture.  And post 80 overs, the new ball is an option, which brings in another strategic decision element.

7. The Pitch Factor

The cricket pitch (along with the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, wind, etc.) is probably the most important external variable in the game. And it is dynamic! In the shorter version – the changes are not drastic. But in a 5 day game, often times the pitch characteristics are drastically different from day 1 to day 5. This adds a very interesting new twist to the game. Winning the toss is very important. As the Pitch evolves, different batting and bowling skills become important and relevant. Just think of the variability that Test Pitches bring to the table – whether they are the bouncy wickets of Australia or South Africa, the batsman and spinners friendly wickets in the Indian Sub-Continent, or the Greenish wickets in England or New Zealand. There are so many games where winning the toss and deciding the right upfront use of the pitch (for bowling or batting) have been the primary deciding factor on who comes out at the top.

8.  Bowler Advantages

The shorter versions of the games are increasingly becoming more and more batsman friendly. The poor bowlers are primarily reduced to containing the batsman. The rules are also going against them. However in a Test Match, the bowlers can dominate – especially when you have bowler friendly pitches. The sight of a Dennis Lillee/Jeff Thompson bowling with 9 Slips in the 1970s(click link for the image), is probably gone for ever now!

9. Intense Concentration

As mentioned earlier, test Cricket is a game of attrition. As a fielder, a batsman or a bowler, you have to often wait for hours for the other party to make a mistake. Conversely you could concentrate all day, and that one lapse can lead to a dropped catch, or a clean-bowled! The concentration power exhibited by the Test Stalwarts is just amazing.

10. Television Commentary

Last, but not the least – the Test Cricket TV Commentary when done by good commentators can be extremely engrossing. Even when the game is moving slowly, the discussions, the statistics, the anecdotes, and the humor – can all be quite entertaining.

The First Polo Rolls-Off The Volkswagen Pune Plant

Posted in Cars by Amit Paranjape on December 13, 2009

Pune has been at the forefront of automobile industry in India for over half a century. Thus today it quite befitting that Europe’s largest automaker, started production of its most popular small car, from arguably their most advanced manufacturing facility in the world, at Chakan Pune.        

Volkswagen Polo

  

 I was fortunate to visit the Chakan Plant on this important occasion. Got a chance to tour their impressive assembly facility, and also attend the official media briefing by the Volkswagen Management. The Press was there in big numbers, and I am sure there will be a lot of coverage about this event and the new car in the days to come.  The VW Polo, while new to India, has been one of the most popular models for Volkswagen over the years. While the original Beetle was the ‘People’s Car’ many decades back, the ‘Polo’ has been in that league for the past couple of decades in Europe. (Note – The Indian market is familiar with Polo’s sister car, the Skoda Fabia, which is also assembled at the same Plant). The Polo will be formally launched in India at the Delhi Auto Show next month, and is expected to be available to customers by middle of 2010.     

The Polo is quite compact and should fit in quite well in the small car segment in India. The design seems a little conservative compared to some of its other peers in the category such as Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20 and Fiat Punto. The interior feels quite nice and the controls and steering are very comfortable. (VW, like the other large automakers, has standardized many controls (e.g. turning indicator stick,light switches, etc.) across multiple models. Hence for someone like me who has owned other VW cars, these controls feel very familiar). Of course, the real test of a car is when driven – hence its difficult to comment a whole lot at this point of time. But given VW’s legacy, and the reviews I have read from Europe, it would be fair to say that it would be a fun car to drive! A lot also depends on which engine variants VW India finally ends up supporting for this car.         

However, yesterday’s star attraction for me was not the Polo Car, but the Plant facility. As I mentioned earlier, this facility is one of the most sophisticated Plants in the world and has been built with an investment of over 800 Million Dollars (580 Million Euros).  Spread over a land expanse of 550 acres in Chakan MIDC, the factory building itself occupies nearly 30 acres. The facility is designed to produce 110,000 cars per year, once it gets to full capacity. The plant can be reconfigured easily to produce different variants/models. The level of automation is impressive. Presently VW plans to manufacture the Skoda Fabia (production started earlier this year), the VW Polo, and a new Salon Car (to be launched in the 2nd half of 2010). This massive facility was built in a record 17 months. This Plant supports the entire manufacturing process from the press shop, through body and paint shops, to final assembly. Many local vendors have been identified for supplying various parts and sub-assemblies. Initially, the Polo manufactured at the Chakan Plant will have around 50% localization. However this is expected to get to 80% eventually.        

Notes –        

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a big VW fan, having owned their vehicles for the better part of this decade!        

Image Credit: Volkswagen Press-Kit   

Volkswagen India Website: http://www.volkswagen.co.in/in/en.html        

Wikipedia Entry of the Polo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Polo 

For a terrific collection of photos by Ritesh Madhok, of the VW Polo from this event, take a look at:  http://indianautosblog.com/2009/12/images-and-information-vw-polo-production-commences

10 Ways In Which Kokan (Konkan) Has Changed Over The Past Two Decades

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on December 6, 2009

A typical Kokan Coastline

  

 (Image Credit: Wikipedia)   

Recently, I got a couple of opportunities to travel to Kokan (I have no idea how the term ‘Konkan’ in English originated. I guess it was the British who started spelling it this way. Going by its Marathi pronunciation, it should be ‘Kokan’ and not ‘Konkan’). These were my first trips to Kokan after over 20 years! Needless to say, I noticed quite a few changes. This blog is an attempt to highlight some. Note I am focusing this on the Kokan region of Maharashtra, and not the entire Kokan region on the western coast of India.     

1.  Kokan Railway        

For a long time, the Kokan region was lagging behind rest of Maharashtra in growth and development. I think Kokan Railway was a seminal event in the transformation of Kokan, which is now well and truly underway. After many years of planning and discussions, this impressive civil engineering project was finally completed in 1998, with the first train being flagged off on the Republic Day. I have not yet travelled on this rail route, but hope to do so soon. Some of the bridges and tunnels on the Kokan Railway look quite spectacular.  The Kokan Railway website has some very useful information www.konkanrailway.com .    

Konkan Railway Bridge

  

 (Image Credits: Wikipedia)   

2.  Roads/ Bridges       

Quite a few new roads (state highways and national highways) and bridges have been built over the past 2 decades. (Though like every other infrastructure issue in India, a lot more still lot more needs to be done!). The Rajapur – Ratnagiri – Ganpatipule coastal state highway is a great example. Many big and small creek bridges have been constructed. Distances that took hours to cover now take minutes. If you look at the Kokan geography, there are many small creeks that separate villages and towns. In the past, a trip to a neighbouring town took a long time since there was a need to circumnavigate this water body. Not anymore. Ganpatipule to Ratnagiri time is down to less than 45 min from the previous nearly 2 hours.This coastal highway provides many stunning views of the Arabian Sea and really reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California (just that the road quality has some room for improvement…).       

3.  Television and Communications        

During my last trip to Kokan in 1989, the satellite TV and Cable revolution had not yet happened. Hence TV coverage was very limited. Very few folks had those large dish antennas, required to receive INSAT transmission of Doordarshan. Now, thanks to Cable TV and Satellite Dishes – TV coverage is available in the remotest of the villages. Same is true with mobile telephones coverage.  One interesting, yet a little different example I can cite here is that of my car GPS navigation system. Was quite skeptical of using it in Ratnagiri and Kokan, but was amazed to see that it had a comprehensive database and turn by turn directions for Ratnagiri Roads and Points of Interest!       

4.  Tourism       

Though Kokan is no where near Goa in terms of tourist volume, the railway and better roads have helped substantially in improving the tourism. Many new hotels and resorts have come up. But still the quality and standard of most needs to improve. Ganpatipule has been transformed from a small coastal village and temple town, to a big tourist hub. Talking about modern tourism –  the famous Ganpati Temple at Ganpatipule has a prominent sign – www.ganpatipule.co.in This is a nice website with lot of good information.      

5. Development and maintenance of heritage structures and temples       

Most probably driven by cultural tourism, I noticed a big improvement in the upgradation of facilities and maintenance work done around heritage structures and temples. I visited a few that were over 1000 years old and were very well maintained.       

6.  Economy       

Once good infrastructure is in place, the economy is bound to improve.  This is clearly evident. Compared to the 1980s, the area looks much better off. Still, the economic activity and prosperity gap, is evident when you climb up from Kokan via Amba Ghat into the Sugarcane rich rural Western Maharashtra. Maybe Kokan would bridge that gap in the coming decade. I noticed a big increase in number of bank branches. Even the smallest towns had a prominent bank location – a clear sign of economic progress.      

7.  Urbanization       

I remember in 1979, how Ratnagiri looked like a village. That changed a bit when I next visited in 1989. However in my most recent trip – the changes have been drastic. Ratnagiri now increasingly looks like a small city, with 4 laned divided roads, large buildings, markets, factories, restaurants, hotels, etc. Chiplun has also become an industrial town.       

8.  Agriculture       

Cash crops are booming in Kokan, clearly led by Mangoes. I noticed a big increase in organized mango farming over 100s of acres of land.       

9.  Education       

Like elsewhere in rural Maharashtra, the spread of education in villages seemed quite prominent. In every small village we drove through, we saw a bunch of primary and secondary school kids en route to/from their schools. Similarly in urban and semi-urban areas, many colleges have also sprung up.       

10.  Industry       

Many new industries have come up in Kokan. Chiplun is becoming a chemical / pharma hub of Kokan.  While driving to Rajapur, we saw a massive new Tubes Plant that is coming up just 10 km south of Ratnagiri. The much debated Dabhol power plant is also now functional (though I am not sure if it is at 100% capacity). The small Mirai port near Ratnagiri is also undergoing big upgrades.

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