Can Intel power a Digital India?

When I was working on Wall Street back in 2007, there were talks of getting a specialized hardware processor designed for high frequency trading applications so that we could outdo our competitors by microseconds. It was the perfect example of achieving a specific goal by an intelligent marriage of hardware and software. With increasing population moving online, India is witnessing an outbreak in Internet penetration. Internet Users in India will cross 300 million mark by December 2014 according to ‘Internet in India 2014’ report jointly published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International and is expected to cross 500 million users before end of 2016. No surprise then, that the popular BJP government is taking more interest in Digital India than its predecessors. We all know that Internet services are the future and so does Narendra Modi. I smile everytime I receive an email from different Ministeries or the PMO wishing me Happy Independence Day or Happy Diwali.

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But execution of e-governance is not an easy thing especially when you are talking about a population of more than 1 Billion. This is where the role of hardware and companies like Intel comes into play. Imagine a lightning fast website of IRCTC or SBI. Imagine you never having to step out to stand in long queues for Aadhar cards. On the lines of above example of Wall Street, India can benefit a lot from specialized hardware for processing higher traffic in a country like India. With so much untapped potential in healthcare data, energy related innovation, agriculture reforms, the time is ripe for a Digital India. To make a meaningful growth, the only option is to penetrate rural India with innovative solutions at low cost. I believe these sectors in villages can especially gain from such innovation:

  1. Agriculture – As global warming is severely affecting the climate, there is a dire need for protecting farms from adverse and untimely weather changes. Recent rains in March as seen a lot of crops being destroyed and farmers pushed to suicides. Digitized farms with temperature control and mechanized irrigation can not only solve weather problem but also save critical resources like water. In this field, a big level collaboration between corporations and Indian government is the only feasible solution. Can Intel rise up to this challenge?
  2. Financing – Farmers are forever running in debt to local lenders facing unfair interest rates and repayment conditions. Micro loans can ease this burden and with a push towards financial education and awareness, people in villages can be helped to start their dream businesses without worrying about unfair loans.
  3. Healthcare – How do you keep a nation of 1 Billion people healthy? By connecting medical services and personnel between rural and urban India, by mining the healthcare data (only possible by digitizing), new insights can be developed and used to combat diseases like swine flu which are still claiming unacceptable number of lives.
  4. Energy saving – While villages struggle with power supply, there is ton of solar and wind energy that is still under utilized. With its Claremont processor, Intel already showed promise in the field of solar powered computers. What country better than India for testing and using it?
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  5. Record keeping – A system like Aadhar if implemented intelligently can solve many problems – even corruption and black money. Giving access to energy efficient low cost computers in rural areas, government can try to make the biggest database of citizens that any country has ever created.

In all these areas, an offline education and training program backed by digital access can help connect the humongous web of villages and people that India is. With optical fibre layout to every panchayat, Intel’s digital literacy plan can actually solve multitude of problems. It is a worthy cause and effort – one that can change the lives of millions. Giants like Intel can not only help in hardware innovation but spreading awareness through online and offline services. We are at the cusp of a change and Intel’s involvement can provide the right support for a rising India, a #DigitalIndia.

  

Power of memorylessness

For past one week, I am plagued by the unreliable internet at my home. I have been trying to download 5.18GB update of OSX Yosemite and since the update comes directly through the App store, it is like a game of roulette when you bet on a specific number – there is only one possibility of you hitting the number and if the ball settles anywhere else, you are doomed. In this case, the update can stop abruptly at any point before hitting the 5.18GB mark and all you can do is wiggle away in pain.

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I have started calling it my screen of death. I tried to time the day guessing when is the internet appearing to be most reliable and downloading only then. I have tried pausing when speed slows down in the evening. However, the whole sequence remains as unpredictable as life. In total, I must have downloaded more than 12GB in different tries but a full successful download still eludes me.

As I was staring at this screen once again today, something hit me. I would start off happy and for the first 2GB, I wouldn’t even bother checking the progress of the download much because even if it failed, I would tell myself that I had not downloaded that much and can start over. Twice it happened that I had downloaded close to 4GB when it failed and it made me miserable because I was invested in it too much. Same thing happens when anything that you are invested heavily in life falls apart. The more invested you are (financially or emotionally), the heavier is the toll. But why should it be?

One of the points we discussed in the ‘Exploring your Deeper Consciousness’ workshop at Auroville recently was to be conscious of every moment and treat it as a separate entity without carrying the burden of past memories – simply be attentive to what is going on at that point of time. Imagine if you could start fresh every time with same energy, without correlating past failures or future anxieties. Imagine if ‘right now’ is the only thing you ever care about. Imagine the freedom. No past, no future, only the present state. How free your mind would be from unwarranted burden of memories and regrets? It would have more space for accommodating the beauty of ‘right now’. It is also called ‘Mindfulness’. Deep down in my heart, I know that is the only way to live but practice takes time :)

For now, I am prepared to start the download all over again even if it fails at 5.15GB (or to go for better Internet vendor!).

  

Seeing Mother’s room and Aurobindo Ashram: Pondicherry visit

21 Feb 2015. I was in Auroville for a workshop and had kept one day to roam around Pondicherry. Around midnight, my Dad messaged me that it was Mother’s birthday and one of the few days in the whole year when her quarters are open for the public. I thought it was a significant coincidence and I must avail this opportunity. To my chagrin, there were no bikes available to rent because it was a darshan day. Since 7 am, I had been trying to call bike lenders but no one had anything. Around 9 am, a scooty became available due to a last minute cancelation. Stroke of luck!

Pondicherry Ashram
Pondicherry Ashram

When I reached the Ashram at noon, a long queue filled the street. Token for half an hour slots were being handed out to people when they could come for visiting Mother’s rooms. I had to return to Auroville before dark and it seemed impossible to get a token for myself on time. So, I went away for lunch. While eating, I felt a tug to go back to the Ashram and give it another try. When I reached back, the queue had doubled. I spotted the girl with whom I had chatted before leaving for lunch, she seemed ahead in the queue. I am usually a shy person who would never do a thing like this but I saw no other option. I went to her and asked politely if I could join her and her father in the queue. I expected her to give me a look. I expected the person behind to complain. Surprisingly, neither happened. She very happily let me in. I still cannot believe how sweet she was. I chatted with her and her dad for few minutes until we got our token for 5:30-6pm. I thanked Lakshmi and went to see Sri Aurobindo’s samadhi. I wasn’t familiar with his or Mother’s work until then. So, all I can say is that I was meant to visit and pay my respect there. I liked what I saw – the peaceful ambience, the lovely flowers, the quietude and the stillness.

Lakshmi and her Dad
Lakshmi and her Dad
Pondicherry beach
Pondicherry beach

I spent sometime roaming around the beach and parks. As scheduled, I returned at 5:30 and got to see the rooms and some of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s personal effects. I would not claim to have felt any extraordinary vibes or visions but I do feel that it was no coincidence my being there. Since then, I have come to find out more about Sri Aurobindo and my interest is piqued. Some of the people I respect have great appreciation for his philosophy, perhaps it is time for me to explore him in greater detail. Whether it was a calling or my imagination does not matter, Pondicherry visit (and overall my exploration of Auroville on which I will write separately) was a revelation to me in more than one sense. That day started another journey.

My Pondicherry shopping
My Pondicherry shopping
  

Another open letter to Arvind Kejriwal

Dear Mr. Kejriwal,

If AAP can win, so can I. That is how I felt when people of Delhi gave a decisive victory to your party on 10th Feb. Something about the world seemed right and trustworthy. The wavering lamp of hope got its fresh supply of fat and the flame rekindled. Whenever asked a question (even a tough one), you never said ‘No comments’ or ‘I will not answer this’. When humbled by a landslide victory, you actually cautioned your party members against arrogance. That gave me further faith that my support was not misplaced. When you said it was scary, believe me you are not alone. Every supporter of your’s knows that the path ahead is full of hurdles. It is because you chose to follow the difficult path instead of a stable bureaucratic job. You wanted to get into this mud and slime. We helped you jump into it and did our part of throwing a rope for you. The battle ahead is your’s to win or lose. And whatever you do will determine if people like me would ever put trust in a voice from amongst us. We were defeated and uninterested mob who had gotten used to ‘sab chalta hai’. When you came on board, we felt for the first time that it is ok to believe that ‘sab kuch actually nahi chalta hai’. You will be wrestling a hungry and grumpy opposition in this mud but trust me, we will cheer for you every time you get dirty to clean the filth. We will wait to high five you and those muddy hands will feel much cleaner than the hands that are used to taking bribes.

The wolves are waiting to pounce upon you for the smallest of your slip, face it with same grace that you did during campaigning. Do not become one of them. At the same time, never underrate or disgrace your competition. They will attack you on policies and even the day you don’t feel like wearing your muffler. It’s fine, stay focused and trust the people who have put their trust on you. They are more aware and sensible than their parent generations. They do not vote for dynasties or empty promises, they keep an eye on what you are beyond your speeches. They know that their God is bigger than someone who needs Ayodhya mandir to prove His presence. So, do not be trapped into doing wrong things that have worked previously.

The good thing is you have forced your opponents to keep the competition clean – they will have to find honest people to fight you. Or, at least, the ones with least dubious backgrounds. Either ways, it is a win win for me. We trust and respect you like a school principal who actually knows how to teach and does not endorse expensive tuitions. But do not tempt me with freebies. I want an honest governance and hope. Hope does not equal unrealistic expectations. And understand that I am not your fan. Fan is someone who has fixed allegiance irrespective of merit. I am not that. I am a believer and a cheerer but I shall always judge you on your actions. I will trust you when you deserve it and I will not be swayed by a hateful opposition but the day you turn arrogant like your predecessors, the day you bullshit me why you did not do your duties, I shall go back to ‘sab ek jaise hain’. Don’t make me go there because you are my last hope of a better India.

Elections are over and the time to be antagonistic is over. Be skeptical but not biased. Give me progress and better quality of life. I don’t need swachch bharat abhiyan on twitter, I need it to be executed at ground level. Keep women safe, please. Punish the rapists. Stop hate speeches against any religion. Act now. I know that your report card will not be 100% but I hope that you will try more honestly than your predecessors ever did.

-Nistha

P.S. And, please don’t take Shazia Ilmi (read opportunists) back.

  

Let me show you the beauty of Sikkim

Wanting to explore the unexplored India, Sikkim had been in my bucket list for a while. On 20th Dec, I finally got to see the dreamy landscape of the landlocked state. The curvy roads, dense forests and friendly faces – Sikkim is one of the best experiences I have had in India. People have preserved the nature, maintained utter cleanliness (you will find proper clean restrooms everywhere on road), honesty (no one ripping you off) and live a simple and happy life. They also have a great sense of driving and you will not find the lawless driving and parking rampant in other parts of India. This tiny state is bordered by Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

You will never be alone here: fascinating Kanchenjunga range above your head and the bountiful river Teesta below follow you constantly between the mountains. So, what are we waiting for, lets see it in the photographs.

Gangtok

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stony street in Gangtok Market
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Rumatek Monstery

On way to Lachung

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River Teesta

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All through the region, you can see the Buddhist prayer flags flying colorfully, celebrating the tranquility of their peaceful and simple people.
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Yak tail hair are considered sacred and white hair are sold for 10k a bunch!

Yumthang Valley

This valley blooms with rhododendrons of million colors in summer but is no less picturesque in winter, the mighty peaks and dazzling snow made it the experience of a lifetime.

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Kanchenjunga peaks cannot be described in words, I could gaze at them for hours

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Frozen waterfalls

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After the intense snow fight, we headed for some refreshments in the valley (read instant noodles and coffee at a very reasonable price) –

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Katau

This unmentioned place in all the tourist books, just km away from Lachung, was the highlight of my trip! The view from above the mountains is simply breathtaking and uncrowded. Do not miss!

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The semi-frozen waterfall made a loud gushing noise.
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Sun sets at 5 or 5:30pm at most places in the mountains!

Temi Tea Gardens

The only tea garden in the state but worth a visit!

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Pelling

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The holy lake near Pelling
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Mighty Buddha statue at the Buddha Park. The statue has a museum inside it with mesmerizing wall paintings from Buddha’s life.

That’s the beauty. Some cons though – roads are bad (due to frequent landslides) and tough (very curvy mountains). So your taxis will not travel beyond 20km/hr (yep, last day, we took an entire day to travel 200km). So, do not try to cover too much in a short time and enjoy wherever you are. Cars are the only means of transport – keep 1-2 extra days just for unforeseen travel lags. Closest airport is Bagdogra in West Bengal (did I tell you West Bengal is extremely dirty and has disgusting roads). Traveling from there to Gangtok took nearly 5 hours! So, be prepared for loooong travel times.

However, just looking at these pictures (just few of the hundreds I clicked) is making me fall in love with Sikkim once again. Next time, I would want to visit Bhutan too. Some day!