How E-Governance can make a #DigitalIndia, a better India.

Information Technology is a powerful tool. It’s a tool that we continue to use for great advantages in our personal lives, but a tool that is yet to be used extensively in our ‘public’ lives. In spite of its wide reach in our lives, we have not yet fully ingrained its use into our public and government affairs. The opportunity for it, particularly in a country like India is immense. There are many ways in which E-Governance can lead to a better digital India.

E Governance is the application Information Technology in Government Services. The most common form of this application is the linkage between government bodies and citizens, followed by the communications between the different government employees/agencies. Directly, the first form is the one that touches are lives in the most obvious manner. The communication between the government employees and agencies serves as an underlying aspect, the skeleton upon which the body stands.

If you think about it, E-Governance is something that most of us are already familiar with. It is common place to use the internet to file taxes and pay bills. We don’t spend time standing in the queue to pay for our electricity or other utility bills. We can pay it from the comforts of our homes, at any time we want. For those who don’t have access to internet at home (or do not know how to pay online), they utilize the 24 hour bill centers that are scattered throughout the city. I have paid my bill at 11 in the night, because I couldn’t find go and pay it in the office on account of work and some personal commitments at home.

The challenge over here is that much of these facilities and developments can be easily and quickly utilized by the urban citizens. More than half of our country’s population lives in the rural regions. Most of them do not have access to internet at their homes, or lack the knowledge to use it. This however does not mean that we E-governance cannot impact their lives. They too can go digital through something as simple as a cell phone. This doesn’t need to be a smartphone, but just an old fashioned cell phone that can send and receive text messages.

One of the pillars on which our country stands is agriculture. Farmers can now be helped via E-governance. One of the aspects which affects their crops and our lives is the health of the soil. Samples of their soil are taken sent to the government laboratories for soil health checks. Tests can determine which nutrients are needed to improve the soil health, and the same can be quickly communicated to the farmers via sms. Using only their registered number when the soil sample is taken, the information can be quickly sent and acted upon instead of waiting for days for the reports to be sorted and sent.

Not just soil health reports, but aspects like the right fertilizer and its quantity make a significant impact. With timely information, and use of fertilizer, the crop health is improved. In fact, why just limit ourselves to fertilizers? Other details like how much rainfall is expected, what is the day’s selling price of seeds/produce can be shared in relevant season, allowing them to make more educated decisions.
One important manner in which going digital helps us, is healthcare. From time to time, we all need to visit a doctor or hospital on account of some illness or accident. It is imperative that the correct information is available to the medical professionals to treat us properly. However we are not always in the right frame of mind, or awareness to share the same. If our medical information, like what we’re allergic to, the diseases we’ve previously suffered from, and medical background are easily available, then doctors can take more informed decisions. This will only be directly helping to people who have some specific medical history or allergies. However if you look at the large population we have, this can be thousands or millions of people who can be saved with the right information. A central identification details like Aadhar UID, voter ID, or PAN Card can be used to identify us.

This is why I believe that going digital and as a result E-Governance can help us all form a better India. This post was inspired by Intel, and its vision for a Digital India.

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A mouthful of paan

Have you ever had a Paan? Typically it is made from the Betel leaf with all sorts of pastes and mouth fresheners slathered in. While it is common to have Betel nuts & tobacco in the stuffing (making it carcinogenic), one gets safer and tastier versions too. In fact it is not uncommon in this part of the world, to have the occasional paan to finish off the meal. In fact, paan has kept up with the modern times to incorporate chocolate, dry fruits, and other ingredients which were not available to us years ago.

A picture of paan by Charles Haynes @ Wikimedia

I am all about enjoying this occasional paan, but one of worst things associated with betel based paans is that after enough chewing one only has to spit it all out. Areca nuts and lime lead to a distinct red saliva. While many people are civil enough to spit in gutters, bins, & such, there are so many more people who just spit it out on the road.

 

Paan spit captured by Anna Frodesiak

It‘s common to see such red stains in the country, where people who are paan addicts spit out the quid remnants. The other day when I was waiting to cross the road and minding my own business, a bus sped by. A man stuck his face out the window and spat out the paan he was chewing, a large ball of red, disgusting, quid laden spit that hit me smack on the face.

Ugghh! I spent fifteen minutes washing and cleaning my face.

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Envy

How does one process the feeling of envy? Within itself, envy is very simple. Typically envy is the emotion one feels when somebody has something that they desire. There have been times that I have been envious of people, and typically those are times that make more sense. Sense in the manner that I can work the means out about. Things like people having a better phone, a car, a lovely set of jeans, a lovely spacious home, and such are easy.

I mean all things come for a price. If one is envious of people having things, one works out the price and the effort that goes into obtaining them. If you can, you make a transaction. If you can’t, you work a little extra for ‘x’ amount of days and then make the transaction. Those in want of instant gratification can utilize a loan, or credit and work it off later. The point I am trying to make is that if you’re envious for something you usually know what you’re going to have to do.

Of course there are things that one can’t work out the price of. When I am envious of someone being in the company of someone else, when the sense of longing for someone mutates into a feeling of envy on their being with someone else, how does one know what the ‘x’ is? How does one know what to do? How does one process that?

When strangers came together for a grieving family

Compassion is an important emotion. Compassion for our fellow humans is at times what brings us together. People identify with the pain and sorrow of others and go out of their way to be there for them. While friends and family do these the most, it is the compassion of strangers that touches us the most. These are people who we don’t know, and who could mind their own life, but make a choice to do something for us.

One of my most memorable incidents is something that happened on Reddit last year. Nathan Steffel made a Photoshop Request at the Pics subreddit, regarding his daughter. Nathan’s daughter Sophia had passed away at the age of six weeks, suffering from complications in her liver. Since she had been in the hospital her entire life, the only pictures her family had had of hers were with her medical tubes. Nathan simply requested if someone could give his family a picture of Sophia, by digitally removing (or Photoshopping as it is known) the tubes from the picture.

The picture shared by Nathan Steffel

 

It is one of those rare moments where people felt his pain, and sent him photoshopped pictures and drawings of Sophia without the medical tubes and other equipment. Here are some of them (click on them to take you to the source):

 

by Reddit user /u/funkybrewster

 

by Reddit user /u/ChangingYang

 

by Reddit user /u/jloooong
by Reddit user /u/izzyzzi
by Reddit user /u/Markaes4

It was later revealed on Buzzfeed that he and his wife knew of their daughter’s condition from an ultrasound, but didn’t know the extent of it. Sophia was on the waiting list for a new liver but passed away due to complications. The pictures of Sophia show how many lives she has touched, and how some of these people cared enough for her family. This is why it is one my most memorable acts of compassion, when strangers who haven’t even met this person, or know him, pulled out all stops to give his family some peace.

 

Written for #1000speak, where bloggers all over the world wrote together about compassion and what it means to them.

1000voicesspeak

Catching a few winks

When I am coming back from work, tired from the day’s work, or when I wake up all groggy from having slept late previous night; the best thing is catching some winks. Years ago when I had started working in shifts, it would be common for me to fall asleep in the company bus. My commute takes around an hour, enough time to doze off.

It is an entirely different matter, that I would fall asleep within few minutes. Sleeping in buses has always felt so comfortable. So comfortable that I would sleep long post my stop and wake up in a further part of the city. One particular night I woke up at almost the last stop of the route, and had to walk for half an hour before I could get an auto to reach home.

I get these winks more often now, and I am not one to complain it 😀

A mini post, because I am just too tired right now.

Kindling in new times

As much as I love to read, I love buying books in advance more. If I read about a book online (Flavorwire and Buzzfeed), or receive a recommendation from a friend, I end up buying the book for a later read. It reached a point that I had used up all my shelves, racks and cupboard space for books. There were thinly veiled threats from the mother to do something nasty to the overflowing books.

Even after giving away some of my books, I still had many books left. Having read ebooks before, the transition seemed to be the natural conclusion. For a brief amount of time I did use my laptop for it, but long runs made it hard on the eye. It seemed that I would either have to cut down on the books future-me would purchase. A post by The Sister and another by a dear friend, made me smack my head real hard. A Kindle E-reader was the solution to all my woes.

While it was a simple solution, I tried to wait for some time to check if I realllllly wanted to buy one. The want to buy one persisted, but I would find some excuse or another to not end up with one. I even passed through 2 sales on Amazon without a purchase. When the year end was near, and the final sale was on, I couldn’t let the opportunity sleep. 2014 ended with the purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite and a beautiful brown cover

mykindle
My Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle with cover closed
Kindle with the cover closed

The cover flips open to also become a stand so that I don’t have to hold the kindle when I am reading. The strap goes on the reverse, and gives the option to slide my hand in it and hold should I want to.

Propped up
Propped up

This is going to be so much fun.

Mushroom and Paneer, with a dash of Jeera

I love cooking. If I didn’t have to do the dishes, I would end up cooking every other night. But, my tiredness from when I return from work, and said dislike for doing the dishes lends an air of purpose to my cooking sessions. These are the times when I don’t limit myself to something as simple as pasta or rice. Some of my favorite ingredients to use are mushrooms, tofu, and paneer (Indian cottage cheese). This is about one such time when I ended up with a surprise rendition of paneer.

When I used to share an apartment with the roommate, our joint grocery sessions would always involve generous stocking of the refrigerator with these. A particularly tiring day and a fully stocked refrigerator made me want to try out a spicy paneer and mushroom dish to accompany boiled brown rice. While the rice itself was very plain and easy to make, I went all ahead with the paneer. I took out spices from the racks that I hadn’t used in a while, cut up mushrooms into really thin slices, and used the stems to make stock instead of just throwing them away. The fact that fresh paneer was brought from the dairy instead of the frozen cubes made me warm. It’s not that I don’t like the frozen paneer we so easily get in the supermarkets, they just don’t stand on the same level as soft, fresh paneer straight from the dairy.

Slightly less than hour later, I was at the dining table staring at the dinner spread. A plate of cut vegetables with lemon juice sprinkled upon it, a small pot of starchy steaming hot brown rice, and a pan of the best damn paneer and mushroom gravy that I could have made. I picked the lid off the pan and just stared at it. I confess that it looked beautiful. A thick, brown, liquid broth in which swam tiny pieces of onions and tomatoes, as chunks of soft paneer gently floated to the top, joined by thin slices of button mushrooms. Thin wafts of steam were coming off the surface as a handful of cumin seeds (jeera) stood in abandon.

The cumin seeds were a nice touch. Their presence added more substance to a picture that would have otherwise felt incomplete. I remember to not have planned on using them, but it felt a very happy accident to have them. Something felt different about them though. Not just that I wouldn’t normally use them, they didn’t seem to look like normal cumin seeds. They were missing the multiple ridges that run across their length.

I then realized that I actually did not have cumin in the house, having finished my stock in the previous week. A brought a spoon full of it up to examine, only to realize that they were little beetles. The pests had infested a particular old batch of spice that I hadn’t used for quite some time. My feeling of joy at having made such a wonderful dish, was soon turned to disgust. I had almost ended up having bug broth for dinner. With Gusto.

With a feeling of relief that I had observed it before eating, I threw away the star item of my dinner. I made do with mixing a large spoonful of Chinese sauce with the rice, and a lesson to pay more attention to how I store and handle my spices.

Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

What would you do when the family who you cannot be with anymore, comes back to you? What will you do when their ghosts join you in the garden for a conversation? Will you flee them, or will you think that you need medical attention? The ghosts of Thomas Eapen’s family came to him, and he sat down to have a chat. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob has an interesting premise to say the least.

sleepwalkersguidetodancing

When Amina’s mother tells her of her father’s conversations with his dead mother, she flies home to Albuquerque to check on him. Life at home is not easy. It’s difficult to convince Thomas, a brain surgeon, that his hallucinations are enough cause to not put the lives of patients in his hands. Her mother Kamala however has better things on her mind, like the long pending marriage of her daughter. However when Thomas begins to become consumed with visions of their dead son Akhil in their garden, even Kamala is forced to make decisions.

Life has not always been easy for the Eapens. When Thomas brought Kamala and Akhil to America for a better future, his polarized his mother and brother. A family visit to India for a vacation leaves sour taste as the differences between them only seem to grow larger with the amount of time spent away from each other. A violent outburst leads to early departure for the Eapens, but comes back to haunt Thomas when a fire razes down the house with the family in it. His last memory of the family is the fight that made him leave mid-vacation.

Akhil is a headstrong teen who cannot come to terms with how things are. He continues to grow emotionally detached from the family, and finds comfort in his girlfriend, who sees the caring heart in him. Good times however are not long lived as an accident takes Akhil away from the family. His death becomes the start of the transformation of the family members.

The story jumps between three different times, with Amina being the constant point of view through them all, a reference through which we can see how the family members change. Amina is however not without demons of her own. A professional photographer, her claim to fame was a perfectly timed picture of a man jumping to his death. Her dealing with this brings back memories of her dealing with Akhil’s death when she had started to learn photography.

The story interweaves the three times intricately. Which is why when the story moves from Thomas and his brother Sunil’s fights in 1970’s to present day hallucinations of Thomas in the 90’s, and back to Akhil’s death because of Narcolepsy in the 80’s; it seems like a natural interweaving of story arcs. A river breaking into different branches, which along its length continue to meet and move away on their paths.

The book is an emotional telling about family. One of the key emotions in the book is that of regret. The regret of not being able to be a brother or son’s keeper, of not being able to pursue something of passion, and even the regret of not being understood. The reader goes through the same emotional turmoil as the characters in the book. A turmoil that takes seed and slowly grows till it begins to throttle them slowly.

The slow descent of Thomas into rejecting medical cure and accepting his hallucinations as a cure to his personal demons is moving. Within itself it is a moving tale of what a straight thinking person is willing to give up, but to look at how his decisions affect those of his family, and peel away the layers to their core, is nothing short of brilliant.

I will leave you with some select quotes from the book:

“We are all we have here. Do you understand? That is it. And we can all talk about old times and Campa Cola and wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back, but none of us ever want to go back. To what? To who? Our own families can’t even stand us for longer than a few days! No, we are home already, like it or not,”

“Weddings are about fantasies—you understand? Your job is to photograph the fantasy, not the reality. Never the reality. If I ever see another picture like that, you’re fired.”

“He’s fine,” Kamala said. “It’s not like that. You’re not listening.” “I am listening! You just told me he’s delusional, and I’m asking—” “I DID NOT SAY HE IS DELUSIONAL. I SAID HE WAS TALKING TO HIS MOTHER.” “Who is dead,” Amina said gently. “Obvious.” “And that’s not delusional?”

Starting to ramble

If I don’t count the 2014 review post, then it’s been more than a month since I posted here. I have had a busy time at work, with certain days involving more than 10 hours at work. Add to this an hour long commute, and I end up as an exhausted mess. I am thankful that most of these days are not back to back. A result of this is that I am now so used to the idea of coming back from work, cooking dinner, and then lying down with my laptop and spending time on Reddit or Buzzfeed. It’s more comforting than I had imagined it at a time to be. It’s also stopped to surprise me that I what do end up reading just before going to sleep, is vastly different from where I had started. It’s not that I do not have things to write about, it’s just that I feel that the posts turn out to be half-assed (like this post). I believe this has come from how comfortable I have become in just plonking my self onto a mattress and read away. Which is why when the sister asked me if I would like to ramble for this month, I said yes. I know that I have a history of taking up blog prompts and not finishing them, but try I will. I will use this prompt, which involves posting ramblings across the days of this month, to try and write all that I want to write. About the books that I read, the movies that I saw, the food that I ate, and maybe even about the dreams that I had.

30 Days 30 Letters: Apology Note

Dear Readers,

It has been obvious for quite some time now that I have not posted a new entry for the 30 Days 30 Letter prompt. Due to some reasons (that include my own lack of proper planning when it came to this prompt) and conflicts, I was not able to post letters while the original schedule ran. It so happens that now I am not able to bring myself to write more posts for this, even though said conflicts or reasons do not remain. There is a sense of disconnect, and after some deliberation I have decided to that I will not post instead of doing a half ass job of it.

The plan now is that I will write the pending letters and save them in my drafts, to be posted only when I have completed the whole bunch. This is not the first time I have failed at completing a blog prompt, and I do not want to repeat it.

I plan to resume normal posts soon.