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Check out my latest posts. I post every day.

Politics / 29.01.2009

A reader’s comment has raised the issue of the dynamic of Pakistan’s creation. The question posed is about the role of Mr. Jinnah’s leadership: did Mr. Jinnah’s charisma make Pakistan possible or was the yearning of Muslims for self rule the primary driver? There have a number of other explanations for the creation of Pakistan and one can attempt to evaluate them by seeking answers to a few simple questions: (1) In which geographical areas did the demand for Pakistan emerge first? (2) Why did the demand arise when it did and not earlier? (3) Which social groups articulated the demand and lent it support? Some of the explanations appear weak when evaluated against these questions. One of them is the religious explanation that presents the creation of Pakistan as the fulfillment of a religious desire for a state in which Islam could be practiced without hindrance....

India / 27.01.2009

By Aakar Patel Manmohan Singh had his arteries bypassed on Saturday, a procedure that increasing numbers of Indians are having. Last year, medical journal Lancet reported a study of 20,000 Indian patients and found that 60 per cent of the world's heart disease patients are in India, which has 15 per cent of the world's population. This number is surprising because reports of obesity and heart disease focus on fat Americans and their food. What could account for Indians being so susceptible -- more even than burger-and-fries-eating Americans? Four things: diet, culture, stress and lack of fitness. There is no doctrinal prescription for vegetarianism in Hindu diet, and some texts explicitly sanction the eating of meat. But vegetarianism has become dogma. Indian food is assumed to be strongly vegetarian, but it is actually lacking in vegetables. Our diet is centered round wheat, in the north, and rice, in the south....

Religion / 25.01.2009

I spent a fair bit of money on the hardcover edition of Julian Barnes’ reflections on death, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, so I feel I am entitled to an extended quote. There is this section that begins with Barnes’ memory of a Frenchman (De Goësbriand) who has just celebrated twenty-five years as a priest and confides to Barnes “You don’t think I’d go through all this unless there was Heaven at the end of it, do you?” That sets Barnes off: At that time, I was half impressed by such practical thinking, half appalled at a life wasted in vain hope. But Père de Goësbriand’s calculation had a distinguished history, and I might have recognized it as a workday version of Pascal’s famous wager. The Pascalian bet sounds simple enough. If you believe, and God turns out to exist, you win. If you believe, and God turns...

Ghalib / 24.01.2009

How do we decide whom to follow? Ghalib has some advice: laazim nahiiN ke kih Khizr kii ham pairavii kareN jaanaa kih ek buzurg hameN ham-safar mile it is not necessary that we follow in the footsteps of Khizr we consider that we have a venerable-elder as a fellow-traveler Hazrat Khizr is the most revered guide to the lost in Islamic folk tradition and Ghalib is saying that we do not need to follow in the footsteps of Khizr. Why? Ghalib has faith in the individual; he wants every human being to use his or her mind first. Ghalib is not rejecting advice but he wishes the advice to be just another input into our decision-making as we proceed on our journey through life. A knowledgeable fellow traveler is fine, but a leader to be followed blindly is not recommended. What do you think of the advice of Ghalib? Well, it is clear...

Education / 20.01.2009

This is a response by a subject expert to the following question from a reader on Ask a Question: Q: Can artificial intelligence ever match the human mind in every aspect? Can a computer be “aware” like we are? This is a fascinating but difficult question. Researchers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have given many different answers to this question over the years. I will summarize some of the disagreements and encourage you to read more and develop your own views. My summary is based on Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig’s book, “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach,” which you can consult yourself for further reading. Before getting to the issue of building intelligent computers, it is worth mentioning the related work in biology and biological engineering from the last few decades. In particular, you can think of cloning technology as a different way of creating “artificial” human...

Development / 18.01.2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates? True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term. One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city. The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji,...

Development / 16.01.2009

We turn our attention closer to home and discuss if Ahmedabad is a successful city. If one looks at the pronouncements of international development agencies there is little to doubt. Ahmedabad is one of the most dynamic cities in India with 5 percent of the national population but 14 percent of its export, an average annual growth rate of 9 percent and industrial growth rate of 15 percent. Every few months there are presentations about the city and visiting delegations extol the multiplication of municipal revenues and the successful launch of municipal bonds. Rating agencies swoon and investors salivate over the prospects. And yet, within a few miles of the forums where such presentations are made one can also listen to civil rights groups showing photographs and statistics and narrating stories that can churn the stomach and make one sick with despair. One can read announcements from...

Development / 14.01.2009

Picking up on a story in the New York Times we had suggested a counterintuitive hypothesis about Singapore – that despite the fact that it is considered one of the most successful cities in the world it could have a lot of unhappy citizens whose dissatisfactions were going unregistered and failing to affect its approval ratings. A reader had asked why, if that were the case, the citizens were not protesting and making their voices heard? We had provided a speculative answer applicable to all cities but kept wondering if there was some real evidence we could bring to support our position. Such evidence is very hard to find and the frustration was mounting till we had a brainwave – when in doubt, turn to Bollywood. Bollywood captures perfectly the mood and spirit of the times and records the major changes that occur along the way. So,...

Development / 12.01.2009

So: Is Singapore a successful city or not? Depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it? If you think about it you will realize that the design (physical and otherwise) of all cities reflects the preferences of their elites and other elites decide what criteria are to be used to define success. When you alter the criteria, you can reach somewhat different conclusions. Therefore, in any situation we have to ask ourselves: Whose preferences are we looking at and whose criteria for evaluation are we considering? The preferences of ordinary citizens do not enter into the plans that shape the design and nature of cities and the feelings of ordinary citizens do not enter into the calculations regarding the evaluation of their success. You can read all the histories you want and you will reach the same conclusion. Read how Robert Moses (who said “if the ends don’t justify...