Half-Lion: How Narasimha Rao transformed India (2016)

I am trying to understand the present situation better for a selfish reason. I am trying to decide what direction my career should take in the next few decades up to retirement. For this selfish reason, I am trying to understand the direction India will likely take in the next few decades.

The present moment has its roots in the liberalization of 1991. Books by Gurcharan Das spoke of India’s growth despite the state. The dismantling of the License Permit Raj was the state moving out of the people’s way. Das’ book spoke about what happened as a result of the dismantling process. One of the first books I read about liberalization itself was Jairam Ramesh’s book, To the Brink and Back.

Cover of the book

I heard the podcast episode with Vinay Sitapati on The Seen and the Unseen in June 2022 and later that month decided to pick up the book on Audible.

My reading had slowed down considerably since February 2022 and listening to this book was another effort to break the readlock.

In writing this book, Sitapati was given access to Prime Minister Rao’s private archives. He makes deductions based on his notes and balances them with accounts of people who were with Rao in those crucial years. These give an insight indirectly into Rao’s actions and his thinking. The title of the book is a direct translation of NarasimhaHalf Lion.

On the subject of economic reforms, there was a charge that Rao undertook liberalization as a result of pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sitapati argues convincingly to state that Rao used the IMF and Nehru-Gandhi’s legacy to push reforms. Rao makes these arguments at the Congress session held in Tirupati in 1992. Sitapati argues that Rao learns from Deng Xiaoping to reform while seeming to maintain historical continuity.

On the subject of Rao’s inaction during the Delhi Riots of 1984 and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Sitapati argues that 1984 is Rao’s vilest hour while he is more innocent than guilty for his inaction in 1992. He asks why Kalyan Singh, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is not vilified for 1992 as Chief Minister Modi is vilified for 2002 and not Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

There are two parts of the book that were of interest to me. One, was his contributions to Indian foreign policy. Second, was his contribution to the Indian nuclear programme.

He is known for his Look East policy looking at South-East Asia. He is also known for opening channels of communication with the USA and Israel. In the background of the fall of the Soviet Union, he is credited with making sure that Indian defense products got continued maintenance support from Russia and the newly created Eastern European countries.

Rao is also known for laying the foundation for the nuclear tests India conducted in 1998.

I was disappointed to see only one chapter dedicated to Rao’s foreign policy and the nuclear programme but hope this is the first in a series of new well-researched political biographies. Sitapati has written another book about the BJP before Modi. I would probably listen to Sitapati’s podcast episode on The Seen and the Unseen before deciding if I might buy the book.

Skein – Media consumption

After a long time, I found myself browsing Binny VA’s website. After that, I went to his Twitter handle.

Rabit holes follow:

Binny VA’s tweet appreciates a shout-out!
Binny VA’s shoutout led me to a lovely Zettelkasten twitter-thread.
MostlyNotWorkin’s Twitter thread led me to another Twitter thread by Roam’s Connor White-Sullivan.
CSW’s tweet thread led me to this Twitter thread by Priya on how social media consumption is linear.

Priya references a blog post by Aaron Z Lewis article on how the way we consume media is changing. I was following Visakan on Twitter. Aaron’s article clarified what Visakan was actually doing. The other examples that Aaron provides in the blog post need more digging from my side. But, it shows new ways in which the impact of Twitter threads was going beyond Twitter.

  1. Venkatesh Rao – Ribbonfarm – blogchain
  2. Ben Hunt – Epsilon Theory – Discovery Map
  3. Are.na – non-linear threading product.

Grokking my world – Services and Networks

Raghuram Rajan, India’s former central bank governor, wrote a piece in February 2022 that said India would do economically better to follow a services-led path than a manufacturing-led one. He argues in the second of a two-part essay that India being a democracy will have a more challenging task of improving infrastructure and providing cheap labor. (my notes)

Saurabh Mukherjea, Chief Investment Officer at Marcellus Investments, wrote and spoke in a Marcellus Webinar that India was undergoing a period of rapid networking in transportation and telecommunications. He argued that this would particularly help in the growth of the services sector which contributes about 50% to the Indian GDP against manufacturing which contributes 25%. (Working Column)

Noah Smith, a former opinion writer at Bloomberg writes in his newsletter, Noahopinion, that new manufacturing jobs would also be increasingly automated. This means that manufacturing jobs would also increasingly be like the tech sector jobs of today. He felt that growth in the services sector needs more development of local services jobs. This needs to be further improved by new labour movements to improve pay and working conditions in the same way that it did so in manufacturing. (Working Column)

Balaji S, in a recent podcast episode with Tim Ferriss, says that the next century would be between the global Indian network and centralized China towards the very end of the episode. So, Network:Services :: Centralized:Manufacturing?

Notes: Raghuram Rajan’s essays

Raghuram Rajan and Rohit Lamba wrote a couple of pieces for the Times of India. He shared these pieces on LinkedIn.

  1. The End of Free Lunch Economics
  2. An Alternate Vision for India’s Growth

He also spoke about the idea behind these articles with Karan Thapar for The Wire.

Video Interview embed

The following are my notes from the second essay:

  • It provides an alternative path to India’s Growth Path than following the Manufacturing and Infrastructure development path we have chosen now.
  • What has worked for India?
    • Clear Economic Vision
    • Roll-out of well-thought-through frameworks that harness the energy of our people.
  • The vision in the 1990s was to separate the government from the economy.
    • Allow more private entry
    • Competition
    • Innovation
    • Opening up to the world through trade and investment.
  • Government would
    • Provide regulatory frameworks
    • Infrastructure
    • Safety Nets
  • Civil Society’s role in governance was enhanced through RTI.
  • India seeks to copy China’s plan to become a manufacturing export powerhouse.
  • India is a democracy, unlike China. We will not be able to do the things China did like suppress worker wages.
  • Alternative Vision
    • Draws on India’s people, their minds, and their creativity.
    • We should continue to build out infrastructure and encourage our manufacturers to seek out new global markets.
    • We should particularly increase our presence in global services by strengthening our human capital.
  • To pursue services-led growth:
    • Recognize and remedy the damage done to children’s schooling by the pandemic.
    • Build on India’s democracy:
      • Protect data privacy
      • Limit the government’s ability to intrude on privacy.
      • Be respectful towards its minorities.
    • This makes the world want to trade with and invest in us without hesitation.
    • People everywhere will want to visit, study or work in India.

An Exit Door from a Dark Place

Ryan Holiday wrote this for his thirty fifth birthday. In the email version of this blog, he left in the photo of a sign he runs at in Austin, Texas, USA about leaving the place a little better than you found it.

Screenshot of the email which has the photo of the sign that reads: Leave this place a little better than you found it.

I believe that everything that is in the world gets destroyed. Death is the only constant. On a large scale, destruction of the cosmos. On a small scale, the death of the second that went by. In between, there are multiple complications of death that affect us at a very personal level or does not affect us directly.

Hindu myths believe that there is a rebirth that happens, Creation after Destruction. I have no input on this aspect.

How does this help me now? If everything dies, then why live? That line of thinking leaves me in a dark place.

Reading Ryan above is one inkling of what I can do while I think about this. Make this a better place than it was before. If you ask why at this juncture, you are left back at the dark place. So, this is one of those exit doors.

Fear of Reading Malayalam

It’s not strictly just reading, it could even be listening to it. I have been wondering about how to begin reading works of Malayalam literature.

Of late, I’ve had to read movie reviews of the Malayalam movies I have watched to understand the nuances and cultural contexts involved. I needed articles like Anna MM Vetticad’s on Malayalam New New Wave cinema to understand the cultural intricacies of what’s happening in Malayalam cinema today.

Trailer of the Malayalam movie Hridayam

I supposedly even misunderstood the art in a straight forward Malayalam movie like Hridayam. It took an interview with its director Vineeth Sreenivasan to understand those nuances.

If I misunderstand mass media stuff like movies, then I think understanding books would be many more times difficult. This keeps me away from reading or listening to Malayalam books.

In the beginning of the year, I had written here that 2022 would be about reading and writing. It’s been 6 months in and I don’t think that I have fared too well.

But, there are other things happening. Watching Hridayam got me back to listening to music again. Specifically, listening to the song, പുതിയൊരു ലോകം.

Read before changing WordPress

I wrote a blog post a few days back about having an urge to leave WordPress. In the early days of my blogging (circa 2007), I used to jump blogging platforms frequently.

I was exploring platforms like write.as and blot.im to write in plain text and in markdown. This got exacerbated after reading Derek Sivers blog post on the advantages of writing in plain text. Reading his source code (Ctrl + U on many browsers) was also a joy.

It took reading a blog post by Mukunth to get my breathing back to normal. Every time I feel the urge to try out a new web platform, I must read this.

The Curious Case of the Jeans Loops

A trip to the mall on the weekend is usually undertaken to enjoy, refill kitchen groceries, enjoy some delicious food, or even buy new clothes. One of the objectives of going to the mall this Saturday was to buy a pair of jeans for me. This may seem like a simple mission given that I already had a fair idea of what I wanted to buy and where I wanted to buy it from. But this turned out to be a little more complicated than anticipated.

I usually buy my jeans from Levi’s. I know the pair of jeans I buy there. The only problem I anticipated was the color of the jeans. To confirm this, I tried on a pair of jeans. They fit me well and I was quite happy with how they felt. But, when I tried on the belt that I had, the end tip of the belt did not quite reach the second loop. This meant that the end tip was left hanging between the first and the second loops. This was irritating.

This presented an unanticipated problem. Finding the solution for this involved an exercise of the little grey cells. I thoroughly enjoyed working on a solution to this problem and felt that you may enjoy this solution. Hence, this blog post.

But, before I can tell you the solution. I have to help you understand the problem. To understand the problem, you will have to understand the anatomy of a belt.

Anatomy of the Belt. Image Credit: Art of Manliness

I wear a belt with my jeans. After the belt goes around my waist, the end tip travels through the frame and prong and goes through the first loop on the other side. But since there is still more strap left, the end tip passes through a second loop before it stops. If this tip hangs after the first loop, it keeps moving around when you walk or run, and is a major source of nuisance.

The same issue arose again and again for different pairs of jeans or chinos that I tried in different stores. The sales assistants at these stores did not seem interested in helping me solve this problem. This meant that it was up to me to solve this problem.

The solution struck me when looking at the mirror in the trial room of the Lifestyle store. To help explain the solution look at the picture below.

The Second Loop. Image courtesy: Dhanya

The major design change that was causing the end tip of the belt to hang, and unable to reach the second loop was because of a change in the position of the second loop. The second loop had moved from the left of the vertical line to the right of the vertical line.

This provided two solutions. I could either bend over the end tip to push it back into the first loop or buy a shorter belt that would end immediately after it passed through the strap. The first solution leads to wear and tear in the belt and reduces how long a belt would last. The second was a much better solution.

Comparing the belt that I was wearing to the belts available for sale at the Lifestyle store, I realized that I was wearing a size 42 belt while I should be wearing a size 36. The Lifestyle store had size 34 and size 38 belts. Size 36 belts were not available. The Size 38 belts also hung between the first and the second loop. Whereas, the Size 34 belt did not even reach the first loop of the belt.

Thus began a mall-wide search for a size 36 belt. I finally located a nice size 36 belt in the Reliance Trendz store and purchased it. The belt fits me quite well. The solution negated the need to buy a new pair of jeans.

NaPoWriMo 2022 #10

This is #10 in the prompts for NaPoWriMo.

Photo by Bhavesh Jain on Pexels.com

It's all a play of light.
It's a reflection,
When it comes back at you.
It's a shadow, 
When it's behind where you are.

A reflection let's you think about yourself.
Yourself, in terms of how you look,
Yourself, in terms of how you feel,
But, more importantly,
Reflection confirms what you feel about yourself.

A shadow tells us about ourselves,
Ourselves, in terms of what we fear,
Ourselves, in terms of what we don't expect.
But, more importantly,
Shadow tells us that fear is just a play of light. 

Replace satellites before they die

Image of Oceansat-2 from ISRO. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There was news recently that an issue with the attitude control system caused the end of life of the Megha-Tropiques mission. The satellite had completed more than ten years in orbit. This reminded me of a comment we had submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

One of the comments I had written as part of The Takshashila Institution’s comments to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests, and Climate Change addressed said:

The Department of Space must aim to put in orbit replacements for operational satellites before they reach end-of-mission life and not of end-of-design life.

pg 7, Comments to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change on Demand for Grants (DFGs) in the Union Budget for FY 2022-23

With reference to Megha-Tropiques, which had a mission life of three years, I meant that we seek to replace them before the end of three years and not the ten years it eventually served because its parts were designed to last this long.

Perhaps, replacing Megha-Tropiques was not top of mind at ISRO or CNES, the French space agency. But, consider a satellite that we plan to launch in the near future, Oceansat-3.

Oceansat-1 was launched in 1999 and had a mission life of 5 years. Oceansat-2, the replacement for Oceansat-1, was launched in September 2009, six months after 10 years of Oceansat-1’s launch anniversary. Oceansat-1 survived for 11 years.

Oceansat-2 had a mission life of 5 years. The scanning scatterometer (SCAT) on board the Oceansat-2 failed after 4.5 years. In 2016, India launched a satellite, SCATSat-1, to replace the functionality. Oceansat-2 has now been functional for 12.5 years. Oceansat-3 has been plagued with delays. The new launch date for Oceansat-3 is now August-September 2022.

The pandemic played a role in the delay. If Oceansat-2 had failed after 11 years like it’s predecessor, we would not have a Oceansat. What would that mean? The Wikipedia page says:

Oceansat satellites facilitate a range of applications including documenting chlorophyll concentration, phytoplankton blooms, atmospheric aerosols and particulate matter as well as marine weather forecast to predict cyclones.

Oceansat Wikipedia page

Forget if the others don’t make sense to you but imagine not being able to predict cyclones with accuracy. Remember the claims of being able to predict cyclones much earlier and hence being able to save more lives? What happens if that function goes kaput?

It was that functionality that was lost and was replaced by SCATSat-1 in 2016. That instrument has now been running for 5.5 years. It has crossed six months since end of it’s five year mission life. Maybe it will survive eleven years like other satellites in the series. Maybe not. Hence, replace satellites before they die.

Update on April 10 @ 2126 hrs IST: @zingaroo on Twitter had an update on SCATSat-1:

Many other things could also go wrong. This is why redundancy is good. But, there are constraints. There are budgetary and people constraints. I think that is why we must work towards replacing the satellite as close as possible to the end of mission life.

This is not the first time I am making this point. I had written an article for The Wire Science in 2019 where this was one of the issues that I had raised. In the article, I applauded ISRO because it was doing much better at replacing satellites of the CARTOSAT series compared to other remote sensing satellites just after mission life.

I thought of putting the suggestion again in the comments to the Parliamentary Committee because I thought the pandemic reinforced the lesson. In case of an unforeseen incident because of which we are not able to replace a satellite before mission life, we have some tolerance before if we launch it before end of design life. But, it we launch it close to end of design life, there is a possibility that there may be a loss of the satellite before we can launch the replacement.