Thursday, April 18, 2019

A drive to the Big Banyan Tree : Dodda Alada Mara

The Big Banyan Tree, (kannada: The Dodda Aalada Mara) is a giant 400-year-old banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), located in the village of Kethohalli in the Bangalore, about 10 minutes drive if you are around Mysore Road, near Kengeri.

We decided on a detour to visit the Big Banyan Tree during a recent trip to Mysuru. According to Wikipedia 

This single plant covers 3 acres (12,000 m2) and is one of the largest of its kind. In the 2000s, the main root of the tree succumbed to natural disease, and thus the tree now looks like many different trees. The tree is the natural home of a large number of monkeys, and tourists are advised to be careful with food, water, camera bags, and anything else that can be snatched away.

The 400-year old tree is in a 3-4 acre park which is rather well maintained with a walkway surrounding the sprawling tree.

However, the extent of preservation by local authorities ends there: The town and people of of Ramohalli have encroached around most of the land surrounding the 3+ acre park, which makes one wonder if the tree will survive another 3-400 years.

There is a main road that goes across the front of the park and adjacent the park a few buildings have come up. It is hard to imagine if the tree will have any further space to grow in the years to come. It will be a shame if urban sprawl is unconstrained and the historic tree ends up just in textbooks and blogs.

Practical tips: Watch out for monkeys around the park. They are known to swoop down and grab edibles and belongings that visitors carry in.

How to get there:  The tree is located in the village of Ramohalli, about 28 kilometres (17 mi) from Bangalore, on the Bangalore – Mysore Road.  One can take local BMTC Buses from Majestic to Kengeri, and then from Kengeri to Doda Alada Mara. There are a few direct buses from K. R. Market to Dodda Alada mara which stops just beside the tree.

Check out my review on Tripadvisor

History meets urban sprawl

The 400-year old tree is in a 3-4 acre park which is rather well maintained with a walkway surrounding the sprawling tree. ....

Monday, March 25, 2019

#Bookreview : The Reckoning: A Novel by John Grisham

Here's my recent review of John Grisham's "The Reckoning: A Novel"

Having read most of Grisham’s works, and having seen him give a lively talk to a hall-full of fans, I was ready for ‘The Reckoning’

The blurb explains that it is a “story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that followed it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.”

Set in the Nineteen forties cotton-picking South, Grisham throws in an ample dose of gentleman farmer’s family, blacks-vs-whites and the war. It is a story of Pete Banning, Clanton's favorite son, and war hero who kills the pastor of the local Methodist church and surrenders with a simple statement 'I have nothing to say.' And ‘why he did it’ is the mystery that Grisham keeps readers hooked on till the very end.

The first part of the book has a brief description of Pete Banning’s exploits and experiences during the war, but Grisham seems to relish taking us through the gory details of Guerrilla warfare. Even going past this to the end of the book, I was left scratching my head over the need for such detailed narrative on the topic of war.

The characters of Pete’s son, Joel is rather well developed and much of the narrative is through Joel’s eyes. The unpredictable end, however, is a satisfactory anti-climax that explains Pete Banning’s reason for ‘why he did it;’ and how it all backfired on him and on the Banning clan.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Justice delayed … but hope lingers

A first person account of civil cases languishing in Indian judiciary and High Court

Many of us go through life without having to deal with the law or courts, and get our knowledge from tele-serials and documentaries. Until recently, even I had minimal interactions with law and legal system in India, UK and even the US for minor issues like reporting an accident or for police verification.

You might have walked by derelict buildings or properties around any Indian metropolis and noticed painted signs that state “Stay Order in XYZ court. Case/order # ABC123” and wondered about it. Or you may occasionally come across articles about the Indian judiciary swamped with cases, quoting litigants who talk about ‘years’ or ‘decades’ it took for a verdict. Such news of law or litigation however has little interest to most of us, unless we are at the receiving end; in which case an endless wait for our day in court can be excruciating. 

On the face of it, the Indian legal system seems extraordinarily sluggish, with phrases like “justice delayed is justice denied” holding true. My recent brush with the judiciary, however, gave me a ringside view of the machinery at work.  After a recent opportunity to sit on proceedings at Karnataka High Court, I came away with an admiration of a system that works, even when it is swamped by the sheer volume of cases.
Image result for karnataka high court
Image from published source

My Case

I migrated back from America a couple of years ago to be around for my parents. While reviewing the family’s records, found that my dad had bought a parcel of land over two decades ago and had been trying to register in his name unsuccessfully. He had spent substantial sums - to the tune of lakhs of rupees -  pursuing the title registration. It turned out that most of the money spent was in bribes to sundry agents and officials, hoping for positive action.

I decided to pursue the matter further, and I consulted with an attorney who practices in Karnataka’s High Court. After reviewing the land records, he was confident that we could file a writ petition against the State Government asking the local Thasildar (land records department) asking them to register the title to the land in my father’s name. His fee sounded reasonable and he was confident that the matter would be heard and processed expeditiously. That was nearly 1 ½ years ago.

My attorney filed the writ petition in October 2017 and after an initial adjournment, the case came up for hearing. At the hearing, the Government’s Attorney argued that the validity of the original grant was in question, and it needed to be reviewed by the government authority. The judge passed an order stating that the revenue department was to be given 6 months to investigate the records.

The attorney said he was disappointed with the judgement response, especially since we had all the relevant documents on hand. He felt it was just a delaying tactic adopted by the Government’s attorney, and suggested that we file a writ Appeal at the same High Court. 

I was dreading further prolonging of litigation. However, I felt that having come this far there was little point in just dropping the issue and walking away, especially since my attorney indicated that the fee for preparing the writ appeal would be ‘negligible’. There had been too much time and effort that my dad had invested in pursuing the land. 

The paperwork for writ appeal was filed in Oct 2017 and the case wasn’t picked up for a few months. In March 2018 my lawyer’s assistant called and said the court had asked for translation of documents, which were originally in Kannada. He recommended an official translator for the job and I paid the fee for translations.

After that, we waited several months when the case was picked up for an initial hearing. The judges found the documents in order and said the matter could be admitted for final hearing. That was in June of 2018. 

The High Court website – Transparency at work

In the months and weeks after the original filing, I familiarized myself with the High Court’s website and began visiting it periodically. As a technocrat, I was impressed by the usability and ease with which citizen could review the records, judgments and updated case status. I was able to download a copy of the judgment passed in original writ petition and read it in entirety. Likewise, the case status were updated daily and were used by lawyers and the public alike.

The website also publishes a real-time tracker of cases being heard in court halls across the High Court on a specific day. This allows the public and lawyers to look up the “Bulletin Board” on their smartphone and plan their attendance at schedule times.

My day in the court ?

In early march, I got a call from my attorney that the case had been scheduled for final hearing on 6th March. I asked him the appointment time for the hearing, and he said based on the roaster, the case was listed as Number 58, so it could come up for hearing sometime in the afternoon. 

I decided to go to the court to observe the proceedings and I reached the majestic Karnataka High Court complex around 1 pm. I found my way to that hall, which was on the second floor or the main building.  The courtroom resembled what one sees in Indian movies and TV serials – the bench where judges are seated is at one end of the hall. Facing the judges were a couple of lecterns with small mikes where the lawyers for plaintiff and defendants stood. 

The first case that afternoon was a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) about a construction of a government building on a ‘tank-bund’ next to an area of 610 acres marked as a lake by the state government. The government side was represented by a couple of lawyers from different departments. The lawyer filing PIL said that the building was an ‘illegal encroachment’ on the 720 acres marked as a lake on original survey and was done on behalf of a local MLS. They went back and forth and seemed to claim that it was legal as per law of that time. That case took the entire half hour before the court broke up for lunch at 1.30 pm.  

After lunch break, the lawyers and the audience assembled for the proceedings to continue. Before the next matter could be heard, a lady approached the bench and began ranting that she wanted ‘some’ help from the court. As she continued to rant that she wanted some ‘justice,’ the Chief Justice (CJ) asked if she was being represented by a lawyer. She said that her lawyer had fallen ill himself and was unable  to help her and she did no have any case filed in the court. The judges wanted her out of the room and called the bailiffs. Before that could happen, the lady decided to walk out herself. 

After this unscheduled interlude, a few other cases came up for hearing.  Two factories in Bomannahalli, represented by their attorneys began dueling it out. One was claiming that the other factory was creating a lot of sound and noise that had affected its foundation and windows. Both lawyers made their argument for about 45 minutes, after which the CJ orally dictated his verdict to his clerk in verbose legal language. 

Hearing in the matter of a few other cases continued till about 4.45 pm, when the court adjourned for the day.  I was a bit disappointed that my case had not been picked up for hearing. I, nevertheless came away impressed with the professionalism and decorum of the court.

The judicial officers, lawyers and judges diligently wade through innumerable cases every day: Cases where litigants like me have a lot of emotions, time and resources invested, hoping and praying for a positive verdict. However, as I could see that day in court, dozens of cases are listed for hearing every day. But given the time constraint, only a small fraction of them can be heard by judges, and orders passed. The rest of them, like my case get adjourned and continue to pile up with the scores more that are filed by litigants every day. 

So, how does the story end?

Later that evening, I logged back into the High Court website saw an updated status : my case was adjourned for another “2 weeks.”  That was on the 6th of March 2019; and it has now been nearly 6 weeks after that and I continue to login to the HC website with a hope and prayer, to see if my case is being scheduled for a hearing.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Q&A - Should Indian IT companies encourage working from home? What can be the challenges and how can they be overcome?

This was an interesting question that came to me from an online forum. Work From Home policies continue to evolve around the globe. Organizations and managers around the globe continue to look at adoption of work-from-home policies in other industry segments.

Like their global peers, Indian IT companies have been updating their business and work policies in the past couple of decades. Policies on Work-from-home continue to evolve though they are not the norm.

Managers understand that may need to accommodate the need of employees to work from home sometimes. While some Indian IT companies allow some employees to work from home, such policies are unlikely to become the norm. This is because, most companies have invested in office space and infrastructure and want employees to come in and work with their colleagues. The challenges of encouraging work from home en masse are obvious :

Primary challenges

Level of employees - Much of the Indian IT continues to be bottom-heavy. Junior employees and those fresh out of college need to be mentored hands-on and letting them work from home is neither practical nor efficient. And if most of such junior employees are going to work from office, can you expect their managers to be working from home?
Culture - Perhaps the greatest barrier to letting employees work from home is the reluctance from young employees. Many Indians, especially youngsters take pride in the companies they work for. Many want to get-ready and head to work and be able to tell their neighbors, aunts and uncles that they work for XYZ multinational at a “tech park.” This way they can justify buying a new bike or leasing a car !
  • The above two are not easy challenges to overcome, and might take time as younger employees mature with the industry
Other Challenges (that may be overcome)

Measuring productivity - IT Managers have been trained to MBWA and are comfortable managing employees they can walk up to. Some of them are used to “seeing” employees being productive (or taking frequent coffee breaks) and can engage with employees
  • Managers in some organizations and groups that allow work-from-home overcome their MBWA practice by adopting technologies like web/video conferencing and other tools.
Effort in identifying and delegating tasks that can be performed independently. Some tasks may not be easy to break up and may require frequent interactions with groups
  • Creatively break up tasks that can be delegated and performed remotely by skilled employees

Wider adoption of WFH in the Indian IT will depend on individual managers and their teams, and comes down to Ronald Regan’s famous adage - trust but verify

Sunday, January 27, 2019

NRI Career question: Is it tough to get a job in India after returning back from abroad with international work experience?

This was a recent question that came to me from an online forum. My response follows

Yes, I won’t sugarcoat it. It is certainly tough if you are job-hunting after returning from abroad with “international work experience.” I say this from my experience after returning back to India (link to another post).

Here’s why it may be “tough” to get a job after returning back, and what you could do

  • Sheer population in urban-India with lot more educated and experienced workers looking for better opportunities, and intense competition for high-end (high paying) positions.
  • You might over-value your “International work experience,” but recruiters don’t. A lot of Indians, especially in Info-tech sectors have such international experience and you will find it hard to stand out just on that account.
  • If you have spent an extended period abroad, you may not have a network of peers in the local market who can make introductions or give referrals to openings
  • Ageism - In the west, many professionals continue to be ‘hands on’ even as they gain experience in a field. This is true for hi-tech workers too. However, in India, hi-tech workers get ‘promoted’ to management positions early in their career and those skills are as valued in experienced professionals. If you happen to be a 40-something IT programmer, you will certainly find it hard to find an IT-programming job in India.
  • Lot of ‘returning NRIs’ move back as they are unable to accept changes back in India. Employers may be hesitant to hire such NRIs if they are not likely to stick around.

So, what do you do?

  • Focus your job search at organizations where you think your specific skills and experience are going to be in demand 
  • Revive your network. Use social-media tools like LinkedIn to re-connect with old friends and peers and seek their help in getting you referrals and opportunities
  • Don’t downplay your “international experience” but show how this, along with your current skills can help prospective employers 
  • If you plan a long-term tenure in India, you should demonstrate such commitment to prospective employers.

You may also check out an earlier blog of mine - Is LinkedIn a useful platform for Job hunting ?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What’s it like to give up your Indian citizenship and accept American citizenship?

[This was a question that came to me via an online forum.]

For many of us who have lived overseas for extended periods of time, a western passport is a practical tool to have. Traveling back to India every so often is made easy by having an OCI.

Take my example: The decision for me wasn’t hard. I naturalized as an American in 2012, after which I had to have my Indian passport cancelled and applied for an OCI. This was a very practical decision since I lived in the US and worked for a European multinational. I was expected to make frequent business trips from the US to the European HQ. As Indian Passport holder (even with a US Green Card) I was required to apply and renew a Schengen visa. A US passport allows a visa-free travel.

There are few professions like Government service, holding a Political office or military where nationalism and patriotism are kind of a “Bona fide occupational qualifications” For the rest of us in professional services or business, nationalistic sentiments take a back seat to one’s family and friends, and life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

One way of looking at Naturalization and giving up a birth-citizenship to acquire another one is similar to the “Flag of convenience - Wikipedia.”

So, how does it feel?

Does my heart flutter every time I hear Lata Mangeshkar’s “A mere watan ke logo” or Mahendra Kapoor’s “mere desh ki dharti…” Sure it does every time!

Do I feel a sense of pride standing up for “star spangled banner” or when I hear “America the Beautiful.” You Bet !

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tech Forecasts: what is the next big thing in 2019?

It is the time of the year when consultants and analysts take stock of the technology trends and prognosticate over emerging technologies. There are many variances to the forecasts and the number of trends predicted, ranging from “top 5” to “top 20” and in-between*. The predictions are around flavors of digital tools and technologies - AI/ML, big-data, SMAC, analytics, Big Data and a few BHAGS like autonomous vehicles and commercial space travel.

Having spent the past couple of decades in the vibrant global tech world, I continue to study and reflect on these forecasts. When read collectively, they are a barometer of where the business investments are headed, especially since the major trends seem to converge on a few common themes. It is also obvious that most analysts glance at the short-term rear-view to ‘predict’ what they see bubbling to the top.

Corporate Digitization playing catchup with Consumer Tech

In the past few years most of the promising emerging technologies were adopted by consumers before finding their way into the corporate world. The earlier generation of iPhones set the bar high for smartphones and consumer adoption eventually leading to BYOD in enterprises. Similarly, consumers began to experience ubiquitous access to WiFi and corporate IT began to follow suite. Machine Learning enabled Chatbots and digital assistants are re-defining consumer User Interfaces using voice and Natural Language to interact with systems.

Many of these technologies are being designed into application platforms and products, enabling corporate users. It is likely that in 2019, we will encounter “2.0” of many of the trends that have already been firming up this year. Let me illustrate with a couple of technology trends that are common in analyst reports

  • Blockchain – Even with the wild swing in the market for Bitcoins this year, tech watchers continued to keep the focus squarely on the underlying cryptographic techniques. Blockchain adoption has moved beyond pilot to production in several industry verticals. Adopting Blockchain techniques to enable trust and traceability between corporate entities will transform some segments of the industry; but it is primarily an underlying technology plumbing to enable Enterprise Architectures, and will be transparent to most users. This is because even the most innovative techniques in data and integration are primarily about enabling secure data transfer. 
  • Robotics and Automation – I spent the good part of this year strategizing and operationalizing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for a Fortune-500 company. These Intelligent Automation techniques continue to make inroads without waiting for organizations to transform their business processes. The reason for this is rather straightforward: even as we move into 2019, there are too many gaps in legacy platforms and processes, that are either too expensive to transform or replace. This is the sweet spot that where adoption of intelligent Automation will continue to make inroads.
  • Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing – Chatbots and intelligent assistants are appearing in a variety of internal and external facing corporate scenarios. However, these are just a small subset of use-cases. Most software vendors are beginning to embed AI and ML techniques into their technology platforms that include supply-chain and planning, recruitment, talent sourcing, big data and analytics, financial data processing and within ERP and CRM systems among others. Such adoption of AI and ML, while transparent to corporate business and technology teams are transforming usability of systems and productivity of users. 

So what do the technology forecasts mean to us?

The year-end is certainly the time to reflect on changes personal and professional, but technology trends and innovations do not follow any calendar; especially not the Gregorian calendar.

  • ‘Technology innovation’ is really a continuum of change that we need to be embracing 
  • Depending on the nature of your role in an organization and its business, there are some technologies that will influence you and your business more than others will. 
  • Your businesses’ appetite for change will dictate the pace of adoption in your organization
A link to a small sampling of tech forecasts - Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019 || Deloitte's 2019 Technology Industry Outlook || ZDNet What’s next for 2019? IoT trends and predictions || Inc. 31 Tech Predictions for 2019 || Looking in a rear-view - Top 10 technology trends to watch in 2018

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from my LinkedIn Blog