November 14, 2006



Seven nameless people become part of statistics when a car, driven by youngster under influence, ran over them late in the night in Mumbai. Such incidents are not exactly rare if one checks history of last few years. So, will the culprit be brought to justice? You guess is as good as mine - No. It is not cynicism or pessimism, but the observation from available data points. While most of the reports have pointed out recent cases, one case which probably missed the mention was one involving Puru Rajkumar. It is the only one I strongly remember where judgement was delivered by the courts. Puru's rash driving killed one and another one faced for disability for life. That image of the disabled person sitting in wheel-chair is still fresh in my mind. Puru was acquitted and he paid a sum of Rs 500 (Yes, that was exact sum I had read) as compensation to the disabled person. It would be sad, but not surprising, if all these hit-and-run cases involving powerful, rich and reckless meet the same fate.

The case of Salman Khan is the most curious of these. There was a police constable in the very land cruiser that crushed 2 people to death. The police was mysteriously absconded for a while and changed his statements couple of times and witness turned hostile. He was initially let off cheaply, but after the public furore he was booked for more serious crime. The case is still sub-judice. In the eyes of police force he is a criminal. If that is true, then how does he get an invitation to sing and dance for a function organized by Mumbai Police? Will the case against Salman pursued with equal vigour when he is being so kind with law enforcement agency?

Rich and powerful buying their way cannot be just an Indian phenomenon. But, in India it is just too obvious that you almost every time the mighty go scot-free. Such judgments test the patience of the people who put unquestionable faith in the "system" - judiciary, law enforcement agency, government. And in few cases, people run out of their infinite patience. Case in point - a Nagpur crowd lynched an anti-social element. These are early warnings. If the justice is denied to the helpless people of the society, we can safely expect a civil war in the offing. Only question about such anarchy will be when, and not if.

November 09, 2006


Solapur Chaddar in Lakme Fashion Week

Here are some pictures from the designer James Ferreira's collection presented at Lakme Fasion Week. [Images directly linked from More pictures at the end.]

It was an interesting use of Solapur chaddars.

But the local MLA is not very happy with such use of chaddars. (Marathi article in Sakal ) This is what local MLA has to say about this - "Using chaddars as fashion is a new way invented by mone mongering designers. The local textile industry is already suffering due to globalization. Such weird fashion will not help revival of the industry. This is an ugly showcase of commercialization which should be banned." Now, please don't expect me to hand you a prize for guessing the ideology of the MLA. He is a communist and I've my reservations about their understanding of economics.

Having witnessed the downfall of textile industry in Solapur over two decades, I can say a few words with authority. Solapur was famous for entire range of textiles - right from chaddars, bedsheets to the high-end suiting, shirting and saari. Some of the most famous brand in those times (they exist even now) from Bombay used to source their requirement from Solapur, print their name in nice lettering and send it all over the world.

The fundamental problem was labour unions led by the commies. The leaders of these unions were goons who thought their sole purpose in the life was to create ruckus. The underworld in Solapur was fairly active till 90s with gang wars, extortions and alll that. Underworld got involved in the unions and it was a free for all. Management of these mills was exasperated and finally the signs of closing of mills were imminent. The mills which operated in 3 shifts (ie 24x7 in today's jargon), reduced the number of shifts to 2, gave golden handshake to the workers and finally breathed their last in late 90s. The goons also got the cues and they moved to a more lucrative business - politics! In the entire fracas, mill workers were the ones who suffered the most.

Some of the bedsheet, chaddar, towel businesses is still alive, but far away from its past glory. In recent years, they have been hit big time due to power problem. They no longer are cost-competitive and have almost disappered in oblivion. I hope, the industry gets much needed attention with such events. All the best Mr Ferreira!

BTW, most of the chaddars the models are wearing should cost in the range of Rs 200-400.


CVV on Credit Cards

I sincerely belive the online security can be enhanced only by user education. It may not be a magic bullet, but prevents large number of simple cases. Here is a report on online credit card fraud. (Hat-tip: Ramand)

To make a payment online, you need 16-digit credit card number and 3-digit card verification value (CVV). CVV is printed on the back of card along with the credit card number. With this information, online transaction be done. Now, ideally, both of these numbers should be secret. But, as you must have seen, the credit card slip which you get after making a payment at stores has your credit card number printed nicely. The merchant also keeps a copy of that slip, so your credit card number is not a secret. Here is the reporter's take on CVV.

"Banks say the CVV number is needed to ensure the customer actually possesses the card while making the purchase. But in reality anyone can quickly note the digits on a card and make it his own."
So, how do you keep CVV secret? Simple. Memorize and then Erase. Yes, the credit card owner is supposed to erase that information. When you are presenting the card physically, anyway, they don't ask for CVV number. They ask for your signature, which should match with the one at the back of the card. (In some parts of world, they don't really care about matching-the-signature thingie.)

The banks do insist that the first thing you should do after receiving the card is to sign at the back with non-erasable ink. But, they don't really talk about importance of CVV number and need to erase it. I can speculate why. The CVV number is unique with card. If you erase and forget, it cannot be re-generated. I guess, you need to get a new card (and pay for it!). For people, it is just like password for net-banking which they ask for re-generation when they lose the piece of paper on which it was written.

Here is a suggestion by Head of CS Department, IIT Bombay on that.
“The second factor identification should ask for information which is known only to the consumer”
In most of the cases I've seen, this is date of birth. That is not such a sensitive information that people can't part with it when confronted with Social Engineering. Net net, not many people are aware of it and bank gives a damn to it.

The article also blames the bank for not having proper checks at their end.
"To make it worse, no one at his bank found this unusual."
Well, in an ideal scenario the bank would like to have entire process automated with zero manual intervention. They already maintain database about all your transactions. Bank would prefer if you receive your statement by e-mail and pay the bill from using net-banking facility. Bank would like send you SMS/e-mail reminders about the due date of payment, rather than have somebody from call center talk to you about in. In all probability, nobody checks your credit card transactions and statement.

Some re-action based solution can be implemented such as a mechanism to send SMS/E-mail if expenses are above certain amount may prove useful, but surely not prevent it completely. Proactive filtering like blocking card if expenses above certain threshold may end up annoying people.

Again, to pick a line from my earlier post on online security, isn't technology supposed to make life simpler?

November 08, 2006


The Departed and more movies....

Bunch of movies I watched in recent weeks. Here is a quick update on those.

I had tough time putting aside thoughts about Scorsese's "The Departed". One rarely sees such a spectacular gathering of A-grade artists. The superlative acting, snappy dialogues, fast pace and crisp editing made the movie extremely enjoyable. The quote about marriage by FBI boss is one of the most funny and memorable. Read it here at the end of page. I must say that it was hard to get some nuances like reference to Christianity and tacit rules of Irish & Italian mafia. If Matt Damon continues to deliver such performances till he reaches Jack Nicholson's age, one can just guess the top. I was mighty impressed when I watched him first in "Good Will Hunting". People are already labelling this movie as a Oscar heavyweight. Irrespective of the number of statuettes Scorsese and gang collects for this movie, it will always find a place in movies.

This is second high-impact movie of the year for me. The earlier one was Spielberg's "Munich". It released in US last year, but it released in India with a lag of more than 6 months. (It vanished from theatres immediately.) Not many in US liked it (evident from its IMDB rating and other reviews) as the movie's stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict didn't go down well with them. It raised questions about the subjective nature of 'right' and 'wrong' in the society, many would like to just skip or ignore.

"Snakes on a Plane" was a pretty good entertainer. Made me wonder when will we get such concept movies.

Coming back to Rashtrabhasha. Going by the number of reviews in blogsphere on "Don", I must say it matches the popularity of "Rang De Basanti", "Lage Raho Munnabhai", "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna". Watching this movie in my hometown on single-screen movie hall was different experience. It was sad to see all those vivacious hand-painted posters making a way for those dead vinyl-printed billboards. I digress. For sheer entertainment value, "Don" is not a bad movie. But a plot which was path-breaking in 70s doesn't necessarily mean it is relevant today in its original form. Fixing few things makes matter worse and all you get is a botched up story.

Lots of people said, the new "Don" is all about style. What the movie actually had was an gaudy and extravagant display of wealth. Farhan Akhtar should watch the "Matrix" (even MI) Trilogy to get a sense of style. As many reviews pointed out that Farhan Akhtar seems to get inspiration from "Con Air", "Face Off" and assorted John Woo movies, I wish he had seen "The Bourne Identity" for the car chase scene which was embarrassingly primitive in Don. All in all, Farhan's 3 movies can be labelled as challenger ("Dil Chahta Hain"), complacent ("Lakshya") and clueless ("Don").

I am just too afraid to experiment with "Umarao Jaan", courtesy Ms Rai. Aishwarya Rai can learn a thing or two from actors like Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio who rose quickly to from the trough of "Titanic" to the greats like "Eternal Sunshine..." and "The Departed". After almost 10 years in film industry, Rai is still stuck in the primary school learning ABCs of acting.

I caught up with "Ek Hasina Thi" and "Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi" on disk. "Ek Hasina Thi" was a complete surprise. How come such a good movie disappeared without a whimper? Or was I dozing off? I gave "Hazaaron..." a miss last year when I saw Indian Express drumming it up big time with full page ads. I hate such in-your-face ads. Though the movie was appearently lauded by critics (obviously, not-so-successful at box office), I thought it was just good. The movie was supposed to be set in late 60s, but I could hardly sense anything of that period.

And finally, movies in maayboli Marathi. After reading Gaurav's rave review about "Sarivar Sari", I bought the disk. (Luckily, I did not had to trot bunch of stores.) Though, the number of Marathi movies release every year barely reaches double-digits, couple of them can definitely be called meaningful cinema. This was one of such films. When you are working on shoe-string budgets, you have no choice but to fall back on the basic things like story, direction and acting. Note to self - Keep track of Marathi releases.

November 07, 2006


Tragedy and Statistics

The more I read about a few cases occupying large amount of media space, the more I believe in the following quote - "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

The Mattoo case is now closed with the court awarding capital punishment to the guilty. The outcry on acquittal of the accused in Jessica Lall case has resulted in to re-opening the case. Now the nation is debating about how ethical it is for the top lawyer like Ram Jethmalani to defend the accused. There is huge list of celebrities and politicians asking clemency for Afazal Guru, whom the court found guilty in Parliament Attack case.

I am little disturbed by the decibel levels of these cases in media.

The media has already pronounced Manu Sharma guilty, which I believe he is, and would accept nothing less than gallows for him. Should it be left to news channels to decide the fate of Manu Sharma through SMS voting just like they do for the dance competitions? Well, what is the duty of courts, then? This clearly shows the shallowness of the media. Everybody believes that the court acquitted Manu Sharma as the law and justice machinery was subverted at every step - right from tampering with evidence, shoddy investigation to witness turning hostile. Why is there such a dearth of focus on these aspects of the case? How about going after the law enforcement agency which got away with murder? Why not concentrate on disease rather than a patient?

Afzal Guru's defenders include who's who like the ever-vociferous Arundhati Roy, Gulam Nabi Azad, and other politicians. Arundhati finds a taker for her verbose article which is nothing more than a mud-slinging exercise on the judiciary. Her diatribe sounds more like a revenge for the earlier punishment for contempt of court. In her infinite wisdom, Roy declares, so do other defenders of Afzal, that he didn't receive "a fair trial" which clearly is a poor excuse as the same court has gave "not-guilty" verdict for other accused in the case. Farooq Abdullah goes a step further and says nation will go up in flames.

I don't have any problems as such with issues being debated. But, then are these the only issues where questions of life and justice rise?

In the days of media not losing a single opportunity of being self-righteous about human life, the gruesome killing of 35 hindus in Doda hardly gets any attention.
"Media reports indicated that militants had surrounded the two hamlets around 11 p.m. The men in the village were ordered to assemble at the home of Gopi Chand, a revenue official as well as the village headman. The militants then lined up the victims and fired on them with assault rifles from point-blank range. The militants continued to fire until their ammunition was exhausted."
Why do I always find NHRC standing up against police for meting out ill-treatment to criminals? Why not in this case? Of course, nothing new here. It has been happening for years. This event (not "news"as it's not "new") is just another part of the statistics to be collected over the years. This is not just terrorism. It is systematic ethnic cleansing. Need to be talked in the same breath as pogrom of Gujarat and '84 riots, the victims of which are yet to receive justice.

Take the example of Mumbai suburban local trains. In last four years, some 10,000 people died on the railway tracks.

Or Maharashtra's highways which has claimed more than than 10,000 lives last year. Just Maharashtra.

And more than 5,000 dowry deaths per year.

What about all those girls who are killed even before they are born?

And more than 1000 kids dying of Japanese encephalitis, for which vaccine is available in the market? Mulayam's negligence was criminal in nature.

And Naxal movement hitting one-third of the country, killing hundreds every year. People have taken the arms to defend right to life when toothless Govt couldn't do anything.

1000 farmers committing suicide in Vidarbha in last 18 months, which continued unabated proving PM's help utterly inadequate.

Sadly, all these are just statistics. To be quoted in erudite studies and TV talk shows. All they generate is sympathy and not outrage. May be we need pictures, however gory, of those blood-stained bodies to make us realize that it is blood, and not water, running in our veins. To unravel the truth behind all these numbers and put a face on it requires painstaking efforts which the media is not ready undertake.

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