Saturday, April 18, 2015

My email's a mess!

How to manage your email inbox

"My email's a mess!", my wife told me yesterday. "And I can't find a single thing in there! Where's that email from my brother that had the pictures of his cute little baby son?". I looked at her email on her phone and there were about 2,563 unread emails and 5 times more already-read emails all cluttering her inbox. She had also missed some important emails from her mom and her bank in all the clutter and had no idea how to find anything again.

This is a common story with almost everyone these days. We're all deluged with email. 100s of new emails clog up our already overflowing inbox every single day. My wife's way of going through her email is to skim through the inbox till she sees something interesting, read that, then skim some more. And she's done. I pointed out to her that this isn't a sustainable way to manage email. It's quite obvious what this skimming method is going to do - it's going to result in a very disorganized, overflowing, messy inbox of read, half-read, unread emails, making it very easy to miss an email. And forget about finding it again.

Here's what I've found useful. I use Gmail - and now have switched to using Google's new email manager called Inbox which does a lot of the managing for me - but I'll describe what I do for plain old GMail and this should work even if you use other email services like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail or Outlook.

My primary philosophy with my inbox is that I treat it like I treat the physical mailbox for my apartment. When I pick up my postal mail from my mailbox every evening, I don't pick one envelope out of five to open while leaving the rest back in the mailbox. That would clog up my mailbox very quickly and the mailman won't be able to deliver any more mail after a few days. So it is with your email inbox. Once emails arrive there, I go through them only once and decide what I'm going to do with them. All emails usually fall into the following categories:
  • If it's a bill, I usually just pay it right there and then. If I'm on my laptop, I open up a separate browser tab for my bank (or wherever the bill needs to be paid) and pay the bill there. If I'm on my phone, I pay the bill using the bank app or whichever other app allows me to pay the bill online. Then, I archive the email. Archiving in Gmail is a simple button right above the email. All it does is move the email to the Archive label. If you're using Hotmail or Yahoo Mail, you can do the same by creating an 'Archive' folder and then hitting 'Move' on the email and then move it to the 'Archive' folder.
  • If it's mail from my family or friends, I read it. Then I either reply to it, forward it or take some action related to it in some way. Right after, I archive it.
  • If it's spam (that is, basically an email that's junk or trying to sell me something), I make sure to mark it as 'spam' - again, a button in Gmail - so that in future, Gmail gets smarter about filtering similar emails out. Marking it as 'spam' automatically moves it out of the Inbox and into Gmail's spam folder.
  • The tricky thing - and this how users end up with cluttered inboxes - is what to do with emails that you want to read later or need to keep in the inbox because they require some action that you can only take later. With these emails, really ask yourself if this isn't something you'd rather just get done right away and archive the email away. If it absolutely can't be done right now, then you need a system for it to pop back into your inbox again later at a specific time or place so that you can take action on it then. Google's new Inbox service which I'll cover in a later post makes this super simple to do. But when Inbox wasn't around, my method was to either create a calendar event with the email which is easy to do in Gmail - it's an option in the 'More' menu above the email - or move it to a folder called 'Later'. The calendar event is a better option because I can schedule it to remind me at a specific later time.
The benefits of always maintaining an inbox full of fresh email are many. Email becomes as pleasurable as checking the mail in your physical mailbox. I always respond to people on time and never miss anyone's emails. I always pay all my bills on time. I'm never stressed about what I'm missing in the mountain of email sitting in my inbox - everything's taken care of. I only ever have to read an email once and never again - frees up a ton of time. I could go on. My wife is convinced and is going to try this too. We shall see if she can stick with it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why is the Rupee declining?

The newspapers these days have been awash with news about the collapse of the Indian Rupee. From ₹44 to a USD, it has fallen to ₹60 today. And it is expected to keep falling; there's already talk about ₹70. Questions and confusion abound as to the reasons for its continuing fall.

There's been a lot of finger-pointing and blame apportioned over responsibility for this debacle. While the reason for the current sudden decline is the US economy's resurgence from recession creating demand for dollar assets, we need to take a long-term view here keeping the long-term trend of our currency in mind. The Rupee has been steadily depreciating since Independence. And for obvious reasons.

As this valuation chart on Wikipedia shows, from Rs.4 to a US Dollar in 1950, it had declined to Rs.18 to a Dollar in the 1980s. Then there was a massive forced depreciation due to the Balance of Payments crisis in 1991, and the Rupee fell to about 35 or so. Another decade, and it had fallen to Rs.44 in the 2000s. It is not surprising that it should fall again now to ₹60. And one can easily predict that it will fall further to the 70s, 80s and onward until the basic issue underlying a currency's value is resolved.

The fact of the matter is that India has continually run trade deficits since Independence. A trade deficit (or Current Account Deficit) is when our country buys more from abroad than it sells abroad. Why does this result in a trade deficit, you ask? It's quite simple.

Just as goods are priced in Indian Rupees in India, they're priced in foreign currencies abroad. So when you buy something from abroad and import it into India, you need to pay the foreign sellers in their own currency. For example, when India buys petrol from Saudi Arabia, it pays Saudi Arabia in US dollars. When Indian jewellers buy gold from abroad, they need to pay in US dollars. In order to pay in US dollars, India needs US dollars from somewhere. These are some of the ways the country acquires US dollars:

  • By selling goods priced in US dollars in the world market. This is called exporting goods.
  • It can borrow money from foreigners and pay them interest on their loan. This is done by issuing bonds and providing attractive interest rates.
  • When Indian expats send their money home, they exchange this for Indian Rupees. They do this either through a foreign exchange dealer or through a government bank. This entity acquires US dollars or whichever currency was sold in exchange for rupees.
  • When the Indian economy is growing healthily, foreign investors invest in India anticipating good returns. They bring in dollars, exchange them for rupees in order to invest within the country.
If India doesn't acquire sufficient US dollars through one of the means above, there ends up being a shortage of US dollars. This essentially means that there is unsatisfied demand for the US dollar. There are more buyers for the US dollar who are willing to pay more rupees for the currency. Since people are willing to pay more for the US dollar, you need more rupees to buy one US dollar.  Consequently, the US dollar rises in value and the rupee falls.

Given this understanding, it is quite easy to see how India can reverse the decline of the Rupee. There are two ways, both of which can be adopted:

  • Buy less abroad. This would mean cutting down on imports. Petrol import can only be avoided by developing indigenous energy sources, be it nuclear power, solar energy, switching to electric cars and so on. Imported goods will need to lose their attractiveness and that can only happen if locally manufactured goods are of equally good quality and brand caché.
  • Sell more abroad. For this to happen, India needs to manufacture goods that the rest of the world wants to buy. We need to develop local manufacturing capability for high-quality and high-margin goods that people abroad will pay for using their US dollars. As of now, there is nothing of real value that India exports other than basic foodgrains and raw materials which are low-margin goods. And IT skills, of course. We need to learn from our East Asian neighbours and start building a top-quality manufacturing industry. This will not only reverse the Rupee slide but will also provide jobs to all the unemployed people in the country.
The way out is fairly clear-cut. It is really up to people in India and our government to see the picture in its black-and-white simplicity and act accordingly.

Implications of a depreciating currency are bad all around. When a currency declines, it fuels inflation because all the things we need from abroad like petrol become more expensive in Rupee terms. Petrol is the underlying price basis for all goods within the economy and when it goes up in price, everything goes up in price. In contrast, when a currency rises in value, things we buy abroad become cheaper and this helps keep prices low. What cannot be manufactured within the country can be bought abroad cheaply thus improving quality as well as supply of all goods.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Typing Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit on an Android phone or tablet

A year ago, I described how you can type Hindi, Marathi or any other Devanagari language on your iPhone or iPad without needing to install any additional apps on it. At the time, some of you had asked me how to do the same thing on your Android phones.

On Android devices, you turn on the Devanagari keyboard by going to Settings > Language & Input > Keyboard & Input Methods.

On the Android keyboard entry, tap the settings button on the right. This opens Android keyboard settings. On this screen, tap Input languages. And then tick the entry labeled Hindi.

Once you're done with this, you've enabled the Devanagari keyboard. Typing using this keyboard is the same on both iPhones or iPad and Android. The earlier article describes how to use this keyboard to type.

If you run into any issues with using the keyboard on Android, comment below.

हिन्दी – अपने Android (अण्ड्रॉइड) फोन पर हिन्दी, मराठी, संस्कृत, नेपाली, सिंधी या अन्य किसी देवनागरी भाषा कैसे लिखें? यह पृष्ठ आपको सही तरीक़ा समझाएगा।

मराठी – आपल्या अण्‍ड्रॉइड फोन वर मराठी, संस्कृत, हिन्दी देवनागरीत कसे लिहावे हे समजवण्यास ही माहिती दिली गेली आहे. काही प्रश्न असल्यास, खालती टिप्पणी करून विचारावे.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Typing Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit on the iPhone or iPad

This is a quick guide to configuring your iPad or iPhone so that you can type in languages that use the Devanagari script – languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Nepali, Sindhi etc.
There is a similar guide for Android users here.
Note that we don't need to download any fonts or apps or anything, as your iPhone or iPad (or any other iOS device) comes with this functionality built-in. We just need to turn it on and learn how to use it. That's what this guide aims to explain.

For starters, you need to enable the Devnagari keyboard on your device. To do this, follow these steps:
  1. Launch the Settings app on your device by tapping the Settings icon.
  2. Tap General, scroll down and then tap Keyboard.


  4. On the Keyboard page, tap International Keyboards.

  5. Tap Add New Keyboard….

  6. Scroll down and select Hindi.

  7. That's it. Your iPad or iPhone is now ready for Hindi text input.

Here's how you use the keyboard you just configured:

  1. Whenever the keyboard pops up so you can enter something – for instance, as seen here when we start the Notepad app to create a new note – there is a globe icon that shows up on the left of the space bar.

  2. Tapping the globe icon lets you cycle through all your configured international keyboards. When the Hindi keyboard comes up, you can see the layout shown below. This is the common and universally supported INSCRIPT layout for Hindi input. If you don't know this layout, don't be scared. It's super-intuitive and easy to use as I explain below.

How are the keys laid out on the INSCRIPT keyboard?

If you're familiar with the Devanagari consonants and vowels and their order as we learn in school (अ,आ,इ,ई… and क,ख,ग,घ…) you will find it very easy to navigate this keyboard. For starters, these are the Devanagari vowels in order:
The vowels are laid out on the keyboard on the top and middle row on the left. For touch-typists, the areas on the top and middle rows "owned" by the left-hand – ie. the A-G and the Q-T sections on the QWERTY keyboard – are the basic vowels. To type the standalone vowel signs, you use the Shift key. Otherwise, the vowel signs are the combining ones.

Here's the combining vowels when the shift key isn't pressed:

And the standalone vowels when the shift key is pressed:


To give QWERTY positions of the vowels in their order:
  • अ is the D key. Lowercase-D translates to the Reph character which cuts the previous consonant's अ sound and prepares it for a combined consonant (demonstrated further below).
  • आ is the E key. Lowercase-E translates to the combining आ sound (demonstrated further below).
  • इ is the F key.
  • ई is the R key.
  • उ is the G key.
  • ऊ is the T key.
  • ए is the S key.
  • ऐ is the W key.
  • ओ is the A key.
  • औ is the Q key.
The consonants similarly flair out in Devanagari order from the middle-right-key (the K key on QWERTY). For the aspiration versions of the consonants, you tap the Shift key.

Here are the consonants in the Devanagari syllabary, usually read row-wise from left-to-right:
Technical Note for Linguist Nerds. Others Can Ignore:
The Wikipedia page has the technically super-correct arrangement so that it's easy to know how to pronounce these consonants, but the order above is the one we learn and memorise in school where the semi-vowels and others are lumped into one row after the labial sounds.
If you examine the layout, you can work out the pattern in which the consonants are laid out corresponding to their order in the syllabary. Here's the layout without the Shift key pressed:

And when the shift key is pressed:

Typing Some Sample Words

So for instance, to type आप, this is the sequence you'd follow:

To type हिन्दी, again you type it out exactly like you say it:
First, tap the ह.

Then goes the ि   to make it हि:

Followed by the न, we have हिन:

Now, we want to cut the न and turn it into न् to prepare it for joining with the following consonant and turning it into न्द. We do this by pressing the  ्  combining character (called a 'reph'). By the by, as you see below, the in-built Hindi dictionary is already suggesting an auto-correct for हिन – it's wondering if we're trying to say बिन :).

Tap द to join the waiting न् to form the compound consonant (or what we call संयुक्ताक्षर or जोडाक्षर) न्द.

We have हिन्द. We just add the long-ee  ी to get हिन्दी.

Et voilà!

Here's me typing out a sentence:

Now once you know the basic idea behind how the keyboard is laid out, play around. It just takes a bit of practice to get comfortable and gradually ramp up your speed on typing Hindi, or Marathi or Sanskrit or Sindhi on your device. There are some idiosyncrasies and exceptions in the layout of course — the nasals, the semi-vowels row and uncommon signs are strewn about – as you'll find out when you start playing with the keyboard but again, those are also easily learned and become second nature.

Also, just like the English keyboard, keeping some keys pressed provides multiple additional options for that key. For instance, to type the ऱ्य character in Marathi words like बऱ्याच or कैऱ्या, get ऱ which shows up as an option when you keep र pressed and then tap the reph character as described above to turn it into the Marathi र, ready to be joined to its य. Play around and explore the keyboard and you'll find other such characters that you can type.

Another cool trick: Apple has already added our new Rupee symbol (₹) to these devices. To type it, press the numerals key, then keep the $ (dollar sign) pressed, and the new Rupee symbol will show up as one of the options! Cool, huh!?

By the way, once you learn this keyboard, you can type on Macs, Windows or any other system that support Devanagari input because this INSCRIPT layout is the one that's supported by all systems by default as it's definitive – ie. the character is exactly what you type in and isn't something that needs to be guessed by an intelligent IME software component.

Happy typing! And I look forward to seeing more Devanagari tweets, iMessages, photo captions…

If you have any questions or need more clarification, fire away using the Comments section below.

हिन्दी – iPad या iPhone पर हिन्दी, मराठी, संस्कृत, नेपाली, सिंधी या अन्य किसी देवनागरी भाषा कैसे लिखें? यह पृष्ठ आपको सही तरीक़ा समझाएगा।
मराठी – iPad किंवा iPhone वर मराठी, संस्कृत, हिन्दीत, देवनागरीत कसे लिहावे हे समजण्यास वरील माहिती नीट वाचावी.

India and its neighbours

I'm glad articles like this one (Pakistan Tribune, April 1, 2012) are being written in the Pak press. I do believe as I've mentioned earlier that if we were to develop economic ties, borders would become soft like in Europe and these disputes a thing of the past. Not just between India Pakistan but far beyond. Goods and people being transported freely from Teheran to Bangkok on freeways and railways. Everyone prospering as a result of the peace and economic buzz.

One of the Pakistanis (usmanx) commented on this news article that India had mistreated all its neighbours since Independence, and so it was good for Pakistan to remain hostile to keep India in check. Here's his post:

How are India’s relations with Sri Lanka who despise her for her interference. How about Nepal who have no-visa policy but 400 sq. km have been encroached by her more powerful southern neighbor. How about Bangladesh, although liberated by India (really bengali freedom-fighters) terminated its friendship treaty with India and constantly feels over-powered. How about China – who taught the Indians a lesson for the provocative forward policy (indians belived themselves to be the inheritors of its northern boundary imagined by her former masters (the british). How about Maldives where India sponsored a coup. Imagine the regional countries condition if Pakistan was not there to counter India’s hegemony.
I would like to respond to usmanx's post, specifically his references to India's other neighbours, as his appears to be a common view among his countrymen:

China: China wasn't even on the scene in the Ladakh border area until they occupied and annexed Tibet in the 50s. The British
may have been pushing into the north and the border India inherited a newer border. But you could make that case for KP as well, not to mention Balochistan. KP is a vestige of the British foray into Afghanistan. It is the main reason Afghanistan did not recognize Pak for the longest time. And is still a dispute from their perspective. Will Pakistanis support Pakistan giving up this area as well? Baluchistan was a free country until very recently. And Pakistan just inherited a new British acquisition. By his argument, it should be let go as well; it's not like they haven't been struggling for independence for decades.

Nepal: I've never heard of any encroachment or border dispute here. There is visa-free movement and lots of Nepalis live and work in India without any problems.

Bhutan: they too much appreciate that India is there to protect them from Chinese takeover if the need arises. Never has any Indian army encroached into their land. They maintain their distinct culture and independent monarchy as they prefer.

Burma: The US and India are cooperating to drive the military junta to implement democratic reforms and change is already evident.

Bangladesh: as political parties change in BD, the relations have ups and downs depending on their issues of the day.

Sri Lanka: FYI India intervened in SL on the side of the govt to stop the terrorism. This is why Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE. Hardly would SL be wary of us. AFAIK, we enjoy good relations as proven by the UN vote just last week.

Meanwhile, Pakistan isn't exactly the favorite among its neighbors either. Afghans hate you for having used and abused their country since 1979 and unleashing the Taliban on them. Iran is wary and dislikes Pakistan for its treatment of Shias. Chinese look at it as a good means of making money and getting linked to the Gulf but in private, snicker about the fanaticism and the fantasies Pakistanis live in (read all about it if one can google). And I don't even need to mention India that has suffered constant terrorist attacks and aggression from Pakistan.

Ultimately, I believe all countries will always have some issues with their neighbors. China has issues, Japan does, the US does. It's human nature. Singling out India as the bad guy is more indicative of Pakistanis' distorted view than any reflection of reality.

The fact of the matter is that today India has no interest in these ridiculous squabbles with Pakistan. Our primary interest is in prosperity and security for our people. We have always been open to a cooperative relationship with Pakistan. It is really for Pakistan to work out its issues, stop living in a made-up world and make up its mind vis-a-vis India.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Newbie Husband's Guide to Dealing with Women

As a man who's been married for a year now, I've gleaned some insights into dealing with women that I thought I should share. You may have read these before and you may be arriving at them on your own. But if your'e a complete noob who's having trouble, I'm hoping this will go at least some small way towards helping you along. If you disagree or have something to add, feel free to comment. In particular, I do realize that my exposure has only been to a small fraction of womankind and so if I'm over-generalizing, I'd like to know. If you have reinforcing impressions after your experiences with women, I'd like to know as well.

1. In conversations, women speak with their heart not their mind.

When a man engages in conversation, there's a linear flow usually stemming from logic. Women don't talk like that. They weigh and judge what you say not just from the content, but how you say it, your body language when you say it, your tone, your look, everything. I would say, the content may not even matter if the rest is right.

When I quarreled with my wife in the early days, I would be saying the nicest things, in some cases admitting her point or trying to get us both to agree we were wrong and move forward, but since we'd be in the middle of a fight, my tone would be all wrong or I would be speaking loudly rather than softly. And this to her would mean I was fighting back.

So men, whatever you do, speak calmly and lovingly with your wife. Even if you're disagreeing or fighting back or explaining to her your own point, tone, volume, body language will mean to her that you still love her, and that is when she will finally weigh the actual content of your words. The moment you lose control of these others and go into male-style fighting mode, you will have lost her engagement in the discussion.

Also, when I speak her these days, I too engage my heart a lot more than my mind. So the discussion may be completely devoid of logic or any kind of connecting logical flow, but to her, it's a loving discussion. In the appropriate circumstances, let the heart lead your voice when talking to her. Engage your mind when making your decisions obviously, but engage your heart when discussing them with her, or conveying them to her. This makes a huge difference to making her feel closer to you.

Because one engages one's heart, the discussion also has no flow or logical structure the way us men are used to. But that is completely okay. Have a meandering conversation with her, saying whatever your heart feels, or listen to what she says and she will get closer to you.

2. Women feel better when they let it all out.

As a man, when I have a problem, or there's something that's bothering me, I see no point in going on and on about it since that's not going to solve anything. Instead, I go quiet, find a place I can be by myself, focus on the problem, weigh it and try and come up with a resolution.

Women cannot keep what's bothering them bottled up. It drives them nuts. They have to let it all out. Talking about it and letting it out helps them examine each thread of what's bothering them and let go of it. The solution is not the goal when they're doing this. It's purely to let the pressure out. When women are in this state, that's the time they need your support the most. I try to just listen to my wife while she lets it out. Sometimes this venting involves blaming me, calling me or my family names, taunting me and lots of other extremely provocative things that seemed designed to make me yell at her or call her names. In the early days, this is exactly what I used to do. But these days, I've instead decided that one of us needs to be the mature one here. I've weighed how my life is with and without her and decided the positives outweigh the negatives. As a result, I decided to take the high road and calmly, with loving tone and voice and body language, explained my side of the issue. Quite a few times, this appears to have no effect on her and she goes on venting. I've learned that this is quite normal and that the effect of my words will manifest itself only she's let it all out. It has become evident that all the things I say, as long as I say them right, *do* have an effect but only over time and that the effect will manifest later (see point 4).

As times like these (particularly during their monthly time), they value your support immensely. If you are their rock, standing by while they vent and scream and work it out of their system, they will love you more than anything else. Knowing this, it's become super-easy to endure this since I don't take any of it personally.

Another point to keep in mind is that until something completely resolves itself in her mind or is worked out her system, it will keep coming up again and again in the next session. This is why it's helpful to be her rock and help her let it out. Listen carefully and really sympathize with the right words, and it will help her a lot. It will also help her get something completely out so that you don't have to be bother with it again.

When listening to your wife, you would do well to learn about the various active listening techniques. What we men might think is listening isn't really listening for women. We listen to get the gist, the meaning of what she's saying and then respond to the point made. What she wants out of our listening is something else altogether.

One of the techniques I've learnt and practiced to help the process is something called 'reflective listening'. What this involves is just reflecting what your wife is saying back to her. There are various levels of doing this. The most basic level is where you'd just repeat the words back to her as an acknowledgement. The most advanced level is where you're getting a sense of her feelings and the underlying meaning behind why she's venting, and then reflecting those back to her. Say she says something like 'your parents are heartless and cruel people'. You might say 'my parents have hurt you so much!'. Essentially, instead of the words themselves, you got the feelings behind her words and reflected those feelings back to her with empathy and in a loving tone. The reason for why she's been hurt by your parents will become evident as the session progresses. You just help the process along by reflecting back. Apparently, doing this serve two purposes: it lets the listener know that you are listening and you are getting what they're saying, and secondly, it helps correct any misconceptions in your understanding. The first time I tried this, I was skeptical. Instead of solving her problems, all I'd be doing here would be just reflecting which seemed a bit useless to me. Boy, was I in for a surprise – the technique literally worked wonders. For a point where she was yelling and screaming and ready to break down, just my reflecting not only calmed her down but the end of the conversation was where she was acknowledging some things she'd done wrong, and she was asking me for ways to make it right! It's mind-bogglingly wonderful the way it works! Keep in mind that you don't want to imitate or sound like a parrot here obviously. Be subtle, and actually try to reflect the feelings behind her words.

The second technique is to use the 'I' word as much as possible than the 'you' word. The 'you' word invariably gets heard by the listener as an attack, even if you are being conciliatory. Express how you feel when she says this or that. This is a bit difficult but it again works wonders – it completely deflects any attacks because instead of attacking back with 'you', you're talking about how the attack is making you feel. Women react very positively to this.

3. Over-grown children

In a lot of ways, women are like over-grown children. You may have read this elsewhere and admittedly, it's a sexist thing to say. But to balance it, I'll say that in many ways, men too have their childish ways.

Women love gifts. They love surprises. They take it personally if someone doesn't wish them on their special days or doesn't give them a gift when they feel they deserve it. They judge people's goodness and worth based on gifts given and received.

Women keep score in all their relationships. They keep track of who's given them what and what they've given them. Who has invited them and what was made that day for food, how the occasion, who else was invited. Slights are never forgotten and will be paid back in equal measure at some point in future through some means.

Women need protection and caring. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. I read recently that when a man engages in a relationship with a woman, hormones kick in that build up the protective caring instinct in him and these hormones are part of what make a man a man. As a man, I love making my wife feel safe, loved and secure. It just makes me feel good.

4. When they're venting or fighting, what you tell them may appear to have no impact but it actually does and its effect manifests over time. Once they've resolved all the issues, they will retain what you said to them, good or bad. If it's bad, it will bubble up in a future venting or fight session so that it can be worked out of their system. If it's good, it will benefit you as they will give back the positivity in good times. My lesson from this has been that in fights, always say positive things. Because the negative things will not win points, but in fact cost you in the next venting session.

5. Women perceive more than men and have better memory than us

Things that have completely escaped me, of how people behave or how people are, things that I do that I didn't even realize, my wife perceives. It is said that this is because women observe much more than men. They don't only focus on a speaker's content for instance but the whole picture - how he or she is standing, behaving, their tone, volume, their actions everything. This tells them much much more about what's going on than us men who typically will only focus on the words to get the gist of what the speaker is trying to say. I've also noticed that my wife has an amazing memory. And researching it, I've found  that women in general have better memories than men. My wife remembers the minutest details of what happened 12 months ago at a particular instant in time, who said what, who was wearing what, the exact words that were said etc. She remembers exactly where she has put her particular set of earrings 12 months ago. Kinda mind-blowing! And this is why I've learned not to argue with her memory because I don't even remember what I wore yesterday or who said what, usually not even if I met a particular person or not unless I try and recall if there was something of significance that happened with the person. In discussions with her, I never argue about something that happened. I just say I wasn't aware that had happened, and if it's something she's hurt / venting about, I sympathize with her. This does wonders.

I've received some comments about this post saying that they've managed to "shut their wife's yapping" or something to that effect. I would say that you may definitely have shut her up but you've also probably started your wife down on the road to depression. This is what typically happens to women when they can't express themselves the way I've described - they lose the ability to love and that usually concludes in depression.

Marriage has become much smoother after learning these things. And I hope to learn even more going forward.

Monday, December 20, 2010

21st century India hitting 20th century roadblocks

The announcement that the Planning Commission envisions spending 4500 crore ($1 trillion) in the 12th Plan (the period from 2012-2017) on basic civic infrastructure – roads, airports, ports, power plants – comes as welcome news to citizens who encounter the early 20th century every time they step out of their houses and attempt to drive or fly or flip a light switch and to investors attempting to set up shop here. The RBI plans to assist by developing a strong corporate bond market for infrastructure financing. Infrastructure is key to propelling Indian growth into the double digits. What the Planning Commission is promising here is effectively a "Marshall Plan"-scale effort to reduce the infrastructure deficit while providing collateral benefits. The spending will not only boost growth and reduce inflation (as transport costs will go down) but will also result in the creation of millions of new jobs and new businesses. (Tip: Investing in global infrastructure majors – cement, steel, construction – might be worthwhile at this time as this Indian spending bonanza boosts these sectors worldwide).

The problems with Indian infrastructure are many since the country has underinvested in this area for the last 60 years. Just one 5-Year Plan is unlikely to fix everything, but it should improve things.

Here in Mumbai, while we do get 24 hour electricity unlike the rest of India, other infrastructure is severely lacking. Roads are choked with millions of new vehicles as everyone, from dhobis and maids to the fisherwomen, buys new cars, scooters and motorcycles with their new-found money. Road development and public transport is lagging far behind. The new rapid-transit metro lines are behind schedule – the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar phase is now expected to run its first train end of 2011! And the other phases are still having their precise routes decided, and haven't even started with the land acquisition and environmental clearances. In the meantime, everyone's pouring out onto the streets in their scooties and cars and going every which way whenever they find a stretch of road. Roads are cemented these days and they tend to last for many monsoons, but the old ones which are still essentially just a splattering of tar are more pothole than road and provide an experience in bone rearrangement as one gets jostled around while the vehicle stumbles over the tar splatterings.

Airports are chock-a-block too, as Laloo's promise of high-speed-rail in India hasn't materialized and so everyone's flying instead. Even the new airports being built all over are expected to run out of capacity within 5 years! Landing into Mumbai these days means an hour or so of cycling overhead waiting for landing slot – the airport is choking under the deluge. And the number of gates and capacity of the airport buildings is woefully inadequate as well. Massive improvements needed here. In order to distribute the passenger load, the railways would do well to compete better as well. High-speed-rail would be a great environmentally-friendly way of transport for the new India. Imagine covering the 1180 km from Mumbai to Delhi in under 5 hours without the hassle associated with flying! Or doing the 3600 km from Srinagar to Kanyakumari in less than a day. China is planning a pan-Asian high-speed-rail network to improve connectivity and trade and is hoping to rope India in (news item). Essentially trains would run from Mumbai to Shanghai via Thailand and Indochina. Getting on board this project would benefit India a lot. But it needs a domestic network in parallel.

Finally, the story of power in India is a sad one. We're one of the most power-deficient countries in the world. All of India, aside from metropolitan regions like Mumbai, see at least a day of blackouts and brownouts every single week. The loss in productivity and GDP is unimaginable. India is literally dying of thirst for power. There are both economic and geopolitical risks associated with foreign oil (gas pipelines going through places like Pakistan and Afghanistan can be blown up by Islamic radicals, oil prices are highly volatile). Solar, wind and nuclear power are the safe clean alternatives that reduce dependence on foreign oil and are environmentally friendly (the pollution in India these days is a common concern and one needs no advocacy for environmentalism in this country today). The plans for augmenting nuclear power in particular are very bold. Today, India is not a pariah in nuclear trade. We have pacts with the US, France, Russia and other countries and this is an extremely promising area. France has 70% of its power coming from nuclear, and consequently has the best air quality in Europe. India would do well to follow this example. The Jaitapur protests are a pointer that the concerns of the local population will need to be addressed before the country builds these plants all over willy-nilly.

India is somewhat where China was 10 years ago. It had a severe infrastructure deficit that threatened growth. It launched a massive infrastructure drive that launched the country into double-digit overdrive. While India has many more challenges when it comes to infrastructure development, due to the democratic nature of decision-making and planning in our country, it is refreshing to see infrastructure getting this kind of attention at last after decades of neglect and one hopes the Plan will be able to achieve at least part of its vision over the next five years.