India at Davos: Advertising the unavailable

They advertised India’s $35 dollar computer in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2012. The photo on The HIndu op-ed page came as an  ‘eye-opener’ for me, in the sense that I didn’t realise our India-brand building specialists were capable of advertising abroad something that is not available off the shelf in India.  Anyway,  I don’t suppose anyone in Davos took up the computer maker on their  bargain offer (of $35) .

The advertising agency involved in the  ‘India Ingenious’  campaign may well be  justified if they say  they are in the business of marketing,  not a product, but  a perception.  The product in reference – Aakash tablet computer –  going by its  status reports,  is still  very much a work in progress.

The photo credit: Ravinder Kaur,  associate professor,  Modern South Asian Studies,  Copenhagen University,  who took the photo to go with her article : Dazzling images do not a shining nation make.  Notable among the points made  by the author  is that India,  in mounting the  image campaign through billboards,  and promos .  on city  buses,  cafes,  streets and, even half-empty parking lots,  of  Davos,  has  had to compete  with players such as  Mexico,  Thailand and  Azerbaijan,  for attracting foreign investment.  China, they say,  was conspicuous through its visual absence.

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Bhopal gas: A lethal trade secret

The Times of India,  December 1984

Twenty-five years after the Bhopal gas leak,  I still wonder if we are any wiser on an antidote to Methyl isocyanate.  Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for MIC antidote.  Presumably,  it still remains a  trade secret of Union Carbide  (now owned by Dow Chemical) – a secret that killed thousands in Bhopal and left thousands of others physically impaired.

Doctors in Bhopal on that December night in 1984,  clueless and left to their own devices, administered drugs for cyanide poisoning, as victims who inhaled the gas poured in at Hamidia Hospital  only to die  by the hundreds. I recall,  reporting in The Times of India, ‘ all nine cremation grounds in town were kept busy round the clock’.  And all that Union Carbide could be persuaded to say,  in the face of such calamitous gas leak,  was that methyl isocyanate ‘had nothing to do with cyanide and  that the two substances had entirely different effects on tissues and human health’.  They weren’t being very helpful, were they ?

Postmortem indicated that the deaths were due to respiratory failure following pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs).  It was found that the lungs of gas victims contained 250 cc of fluid and weighed 900  grams against the normal lungs weight of 400 to 500 grams.

Sourced from my article : The night Bhopal Turned a Gas Chamber.

TED-India Mysore meet

‘Nice, but not excellent ; and TED is in the business of excellence ‘ –  this is how  a  participant  summed up the recent TED-India Mysore meet. The participant,  describing herself as a TED virgin,  blogged the five-day meet.

Excerpts : Easy applause was abundant and standing ovations proffered to individuals who,  in all reality, were small fry in the scale of the battle which India faces.

Some  people whose ideas are most radical and influential in the developmental world – whether through NGOs,  the law,  journalism and activism – were conspicuous by their absence.

Shashi Tharoor,  in his talk, used a ” pedestrian cliché about India’s pluralist democracy, which was true but missed some extremely important political points and was as smooth as Tony Blair in 1997″.

A qawwali  would have been far more illustrative of India’s holistic musical culture than the Sindhi-African dance troupe whose entertainment value was,  at best, dubious.

I wondered, a fair few times,  how many people noticed the women sweeping the lawns with back-breaking brooms, or how many people smiled and spoke to the women waiting to clean the loos in the Infosys campus, where no one is allowed to drink, have sex or walk on the lawn (Did anyone actually read those House Rules).

The  excerpts,  selective,  and, arguably,  taken out of context,  put  TED meet in a negative light. This wasn’t the  blogger’s over-all  impression –  “there was so much positive about TED India that fills my last five blog entries that it was important for me to reflect on what could have been different.”

I plead guilty to highlighting  her negatives.   As a Mysore resident with a sense of entitlement ,  I have my own grievance. TED-India meet was held on the Infosys campus,  Mysore .  It could as well have been held at Melbourne or Manhattan,  so far as Mysore residents were concerned. Here was a unique global event  hosted in our town,  and we weren’t allowed to be a part of it. That most Mysore residents hadn’t even heard of TED   was reason enough to initiate them to such unique  happening .

Shouldn’t Mysore residents benefit from the proceedings ?  Head of the district administration saw merit in this,  and took up our plea with the event managers.  As an upshot ,  I had a call from  Sameer (who said he  took care of  webstreaming  TED talks ) .  And I suggested to him that the TED proceedings at Infosys campus could be  relayed through closed-circuit network on  a screen set up  at a public place  (Institute of Engineers hall)  for the benefit of  interested local residents.

Sameer  mentioned something  webstreaming  TED talks live, for free,  courtesy IndiaTimes.  All one needed was the password and Internet connection.   Sameer couldn’t have known the Mysore realities – 1) most of us here  subscribe to  ‘limited’ broadband access, which is cheaper ;  and  2)  power supply, subject to routine shutdown , was particularly erratic  in Mysore those days.

Hence, the plea for  close-circuit telecast at a public hall.  Wouldn’t it  further  the TED agenda of   ‘spreading  ideas’  ?  ‘Yeah,  but these ideas are expensive,’  quipped  Sameer.  Those coming to the TED India meet from the world over are believed to have paid $2,500 per seat ; and the Mysore meet had been sold out weeks in advance.  Sameer ,  however,  said I could listen to TED talks  free on my PC ; and  offered to e-mail me the relevant password.  I wasn’t pleading  my individual access,  but  thanked him,  nonetheless,  for the  offer.  But then  I didn’t hear  from Sameer after that call, anyway .

What the Herald didn’t print

HeraldOct.25Must thank  the Sunday Herald for the story on the coming TED-India meet in Mysore. It was on TV the previous evening. But then we had power shutdown at Devaraja Mohalla for much of last evening,  and for nearly seven hours on Sunday morning.  Unscheduled,  and extended powershut down  has been a routine in Mysore these days.   And there hasn’t been a word by way of explanation  or   ‘regret for inconvenience’ from the state  electricity  board.  Nor has the local media found it worthy of a story.

Anyway,  the Herald story on TED meet ,  though informative,  doesn’t give  us the basics, such as  the venue,  specific issues to be addressed; nor does it make a mention of the more widely known speakers  such as Kamala Hasan, Shashi  ‘Tweets’ Tharoor,  Mallika Sarabhai ,  Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev,  C.K. Prahalad,  Romulus Whitaker and Shekhar Kapur.

The venue:  Infosys campus.  Which makes the conference a fairly  exclusive affair,  to which the interested  Mysore residents would not have access, without the right connections.  The web-page giving details of the event  doesn’t say whether entry is ticketed or by invitation.

Among issues to be  addressed  are:
*  Which local innovations are destined for global impact?
* Who are the young thinkers and doers capable of shaping the future?
* Can there be economic advancement without environmental destruction?
* Can a pluralistic democracy survive in the face of rising fundamentalism?
* Can we make money and be good? Really?
* What should we learn – or fear? — from China’s investment in Africa?
* Do we have enough water for everyone?
* How do we keep our youth challenged and our aged healthy?
* How can anti-poverty solutions be brought to scale?
* Is there wisdom to be found in traditional medicine??
* Which other ancient traditions can illuminate modern life?

TED-India meet in Mysore

TEDIndiaFour-day TED-India conference to be held in Mysore (Nov.4-7) is reportedly sold out. The meet is expected to attract people from 46 countries, according to a media report. With some 40 speakers on the card, drawn from varied fields – scientist, artist, playwright, photographer, marine biologist and sports commentator – the event promises to be a mela (marketplace) for ideas.

As a resident of the host town, my concern, or rather my poser to organisers, is: Shouldn’t local residents be allowed to benefit from the proceedings ? In a global event of this nature local enthusiasts tend to get crowded out by those from elsewhere. And, understandably, the organisers face severe space constraints, however big the venue.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the they could arrange to have the conference proceedings screened through closed-circuit network in another hall – Kalamandira or some other place – for the benefit of local audience ? Or they could tie-up with the city TV channel for live-telecast of TEDIndia, as they do with Dasara concerts held at the Mysore palace grounds.

Would local residents be interested? How would TED proceedings be of local public interest ? I can’t answer this question better than TEDIndia co-host Lakshmi Pratury. She says she would like those attending the Mysore conference to take back three things:
1) No one who sits through a talk or seminar is with it all the time, a hundred percent. Even if they stay focused on what they hear, for a brief moment , they should feel it is a moment when they would rather be here than anywhere else;
2) Her expectation is that on gatherings like this one meets at least one person who becomes a friend for life; and
3) Her hope is that those who sit through the proceedings would pick up an idea or two that is not necessarily related their prime interest.

Cross-posted from Giving It A Shot

Classroom blogs

Many of us  get excited  reading  about  innovative  ideas/practices  adopted by others, elsewhere.  Some  rush to blog about it. I usually sign off such posts with a stock query,‘why can’t we?’. We have a blog –  Giving It A Shot –  dedicated to why-can’t-we  posts.

We blogged about  California Youth Energy Services  that engages students  to visit homes in their communities  to conduct energy audits and offer simple energy-saving repairs.  Ashwin picked on the idea for trying it out in Mysore.  With help from some teachers,  he has initiated a training programme for students of  Vidyavardhaka school,Kuvempunagar, in conducting household energy audit .

While he is at it,  we would like to see  Ashwin  volunteer  his expertise in IT applications  for initiating his school contacts into  what they call  Edublogging

Schoolblog 002Teachers,  notably in some Kendriya Vidyalayas,  are familiar with web usage. Principal of a Trivandrum school is quoted in their website  as saying, “Blogomania has hit the portals of KV Pattom too!…I wish all the students and staff members to be part of this ‘techno’  milestone in the history of our Vidyalaya”.

But then school websites , as a teaching tool,  have limitations.  Website maintenance and updating  call for additional work by teachers. In blogs such labour is in-built. Working a blog is simpler and more straight-forward.  A blog,once set up, is sustained by input from  participant teachers and students.

As a teaching tool, a  blog can be used for keeping class-room discussions going  online,  beyond school hours. Teachers can build a blog or start a new topic for discussion by simply typing the text into a box and clicking  ‘publish’  button.

Other benefits of a class-room blog:

1)   It facilitates feedback – a teacher can react to what his sutdents write on a given  topic;  and students can respond to each other leaving  comments online.

2)  Enables teachers to initiate  discussion among students on  issues and concerns of public interest; and to assign students projects that entail Internet search.

3)  Teachers and students are likely to put a lot more thought to what they blog,  when they realise that their writings are open to scrutiny by other students,  and parents as well.

4)  A blog facilitates networking with peers in other schools,  in other parts of the country and the world.

Case for Doordarshan Farming channel

Scene-1

farmweeklyCanegrowers association in Mysore  and  neighbouring  districts  publish a  farm weekly – Raitha Dwani – to share information on farming,  notably,  cane and paddy.  The one-year-old publication plans to increase its subscriber base,  from 1,000 to 5,000 farmers  in six months. Much too modest a goal; and,  presumably, not cost effective either.

Scene-2

farmweekly 002In  neighbouring Tamilnadu  they have a website –  Chandhai.com –  that seeks to bridge buyer-seller gap  caused by  lack of information on commodity prices,  poor marketing,  exploitative middle-men  and inadequate infrastructure.  Online market such as chandhai.com connects buyers and sellers for meaningful trade.

The website provides information pertaining to commodity prices,  cropping pattern,  seeds and fertiliser availability,  agro-based business opportunities,  veterinary,  organic farming,  self employment training,  herbal medicines,  value addition in farm produce and  farm credit. But then the digital divide and illiteracy limits the reach of cyberfarming  among  farmers in  our country.  An overwhelming majority stay untouched by cyberfarming.

Scene-3

farmweekly 005A Tamil channel – Makkal TV –  runs a phone-in programme – Uzhavar Sandhai – that covers the same ground,  and,  given widespread TV viewership and extensive use of cell phone even in rural areas,  telefarming of the type adopted by  Makkal TV  has a reach among illiterate farmers.

At a recent Uzhavar Sandhai programme a  farming expert, responding  to viewers’ questions, came up such info.:

1) Fruit-growers in Cumbum (TN),  where they grow grapes on 2,000 plus acres,  should  come together to put up a  juice-making unit.  In the absence of such value-addition the farmers are constrained  to  sell their grapes  for  Rs.15 a kg .

2) A farmer seeking guidance  on  growing   lemon is advised  to visit Gudur (AP)  where they grow lemon of varied grades on a large scale.

3)  A retired army officer in Chennai has set up a unit that markets lemon concentrate in small sachets, with capacity to make  two glasses of juice.  The sachets have potential for retailing  at grocery stores,  pavement paan-bidi shops,  and platform vendors in railway stations.

4)  With ever-increasing vegetable prices,  people in cities take to roof-top kitchen gardening.  A variety of vegetables,  and spinach, can be grown on roof-top,  with no more than  two feet deep soil cover.  The expert on TV spoke of someone who has grown even  plantains on roof-top.

During an hour long programme  they can’t take very many questions  from viewers.  Besides, Makkal TV runs Uzhavar Sandhai only once a week,  Friday.  There may be a case for such interactive  programming on a daily basis;  even for a full-fledged farming channel.  We have channels dedicated to healthcare,  religious discourse and bhajans.  Why not a TV channel to address concerns of farmers –  about marketing their produce,  procurement of seeds, fertiliser, opportunities for agro-business,  horticulture,  livestock and farm equipment maintenence?

Ad. and sponsorship may be  inhibiting factors for  private channels.  Doordarshan, which apparently has no such concerns and is  not dirven only by ratings  coud think in terms of  a full-fledged channel for farmers.  A krishi channel  would get more ad. revenue for DD than the  Lok Sabha channel.