Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Asia with a different Pakistan

Following the Pak media these days, just out of curiosity and interest, I've come across articles that express worry about being left behind as the rest of Asia powers on with high economic growth, led by the twin engines of India and China. And I felt I needed to express, in the hope that Pakistanis read this and see what is possible, how I've always been baffled at how Pakistan has squandered all the opportunities it has for becoming a prosperous country at peace with itself and its neighbors, and I've tried to see what could have been and could still be, were Pakistan a different country devoid of its twin self-destructive obsessions of Islam and hatred for India/Hindus.

As a premise: Imagine that Pakistan was not a fanatic Muslim country with a raison-d'ĂȘtre of being not-India. Imagine that each and every one of their policies was not about being anti-India - whether it was controlling Afghanistan to gain strategic depth against India, the nature of their budget-spending or obsessing over territorial issues.

From my Mumbaikar perspective, such a country would have been and could still be a paradise on earth.

1. It has vast natural resources and a relatively small population (imagine the population is not Islam-obsessed). This makes for a great combination to launch a modern educated country.

2. It is geostrategically well-situated. Imagine freeways and railways allowing people to drive or travel from Mumbai to Paris, and on to Indo-China and China. In fact, until the 60s, it used to be commonplace to travel by road between Germany and India. We used to get European tourists all the time who had traveled by road via Greece-Turkey-Iran-Pakistan. Goods being transported all over from Turkey to Shanghai. The attendant economic benefits to Pakistan would be enormous in terms of tolls, roadside malls, eateries where people would stop to shop and eat, leading to employment for Pakistanis, a construction boom, lower prices and better products due to speedy transport of goods, and tax for the Pak state, not to mention that the country would be well-integrated into the global economy. India and China are building highway and railway systems connecting the two via Indo-China. There is no reason why these should not be extended to West Asia and Europe. It is a known fact that the American freeway system built in the 50s led to massive economic growth by creating new employment opportunities and speeding up the transport of people and goods.

And of course, Pakistan would also stand to get a lot of revenue from ushering gas from West Asia to energy-thirsty countries like India.

3. Pakistan's upper reaches like the Swat and Neelam valleys could easily become Asian tourism destinations, dare I say, akin to Switzerland in Europe.

4. As a neighbor to India, Pakistan has such a gigantic and hungry market right next door for all kinds of goods that it produces from simple foodgrains to sophisticated stuff like automobiles. Again, leading to huge employment and prosperity for Pakistanis.

5. Kashmir could become a place that Pakistanis could visit just by driving over or taking a bus or train, like they used to before Partition.

6. Pakistan would be standing shoulder to shoulder with India, China, Indonesia etc as we define the Asian future and secure the interests of developing countries that we all are.

India's problems in comparison are of an astronomical scale. With about 10 times the population of Pakistan, a population that's mind-bogglingly diverse with identities based on language, state, faith, caste, tribe, sex, political ideologies, economic class to mention a few, where 40% of people are poorer than sub-Saharan Africa and female feoticide and infanticide is rife, India is still moving ahead. Slowly and steadily, inch by painful inch, we get closer to realizing the vision of our Constitution. Pakistan has got it good, in comparison. They have no excuse for languishing in a state worse than India's on the HDI scale.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that were Pakistanis to leave (or had they left) their anti-India obsession aside, as well as their state's mission to impose supremacy of Islam on all of us non-Muslims (and let's not be under any illusion that this isn't exactly what is being attempted), it could very easily (have) become a paradise on earth and a model to emulate for the rest of the developing world. The early years were a pointer that this was a possibility. So much time has been wasted for absolutely no reason, fighting a windmill and wallowing in a stupor of Islamic purity. It is really up to Pakistanis to decide if the next 50 years are going to be more of the same.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A dilemma over washing machines

So it's time for us to buy a new washing machine. And the way the market has exploded these past few years, there's plenty to choose from. For the first time ever, Indians like us have a dilemma of choice. While it doesn't quite make me hark back to a simpler time when there were just 2-3 options to choose from, it does make the prospect of buying a new one a lot more daunting. I wasn't involved in the purchase of the old one which was about 8 years ago, and so I start with scratch on researching this fascinating gadget, and thought I'd post some brief findings here in case it helps some other soul looking for similar info.

Besides the usual differentiators for electronic gadgets (like brand, warranty and support characteristics in India for both domestic and international manufacturers) and specific ones for washing machines like size and features, there are two main types to choose from: front loading and top loading, depending on where the door is.

Secondly, the machine can be an horizontal axis (or h-axis) one or a vertical axis one, depending on how the washing drum in the machine is oriented.

Typically, front-loaders are h-axis machines and top-loaders are v-axis. However, in Europe, particularly in France, top-loading h-axis machines are popular. And my research tells me that they're the best of all worlds.

As distilled from Wikipedia and Google results, front loaders are universally better than top-loaders when it comes to the actual washing. They are ultra-efficient in using water, electricity and detergent. They're also much more gentle on clothes because they use gravity to shake clothes around rather than have a harsh motor-driven agitator that stretches clothes and reduces their lifetime. And they also supposedly result in much cleaner clothes than top-loaders. In addition, because they're capable of much higher rotation speeds than v-axis machines, clothes come out much drier than top-loaders. All these advantages come from the fact that they have h-axis drums.

Front loaders do come in second however, when it comes to ergonomics and price. Because the door is usually low, one needs to kneel or bend to put clothes in or take them out. For elderly people or people with bad backs, this is a deal-killer. They're also generally more expensive than top-loaders – top-loaders start around ₹6000 and front-loaders start around ₹15,000 (check out the latest pre-discount prices at compareindia.in.com/products/washing-machines/). Top-loaders are much better for loading and unloading and for your wallet, though they are a bad deal when it comes to all the other aspects. There are innovations like the Godrej Tilt Drum Washing Machine where the h-axis drum is slightly tilted upward to make it easier to load and unload. I haven't been able to see one of these in person however anywhere in Mumbai - I've hunted for them at Vijay Sales, Croma, Sony Mony and other places all over the City.

Imagine my delight when I found out that there are machines which combine the best of all worlds, the advantages of top-loading with the benefits of an h-axis drum. They're also called top-load h-axis washing machines. Made by Miele or AEG, they're ubiquitous in places like France. Unfortunately, they haven't made it to India. Not yet, anyway.

Researching the world of washing machines, and all the amazing advances made in this technology, seemingly mundane on the surface, has been fun and quite revelatory. While we take them pretty much for granted these days, it's been interesting to delve into the nitty-gritties of how they actually work, and the minutiae of their various features and USPs. As for me, I finally decided to go with a front-loader as I'm too much an environmentalist to reconcile myself with a top-loader v-axis machine. As for the bad back issue, we're going to put the machine up on a platform so that the door is at stomach-height, making it easy to load and unload clothes. A decidedly low-tech, straightforward and Indian solution to the problem :).