Taking Stock – 2012


Graduate life (this year’s highlight) as I saw one late noon sitting in the lecture hall- is that green tree line in the frame, against a vast blue sky

This month as every year I do the mental thumbing through of the twelve ’30 day sets’ which I always feel have zipped past. The same “wait! wtf!” and “hold on… I don’t even remember” ensues. This too has become ritualistic. And after a little more wallowing in the waters coloured with events, memories and experiences, I trace what was good, what was worth and what shouldn’t ever be lived again (like that time when I felt pushed over the edge – human relationships they call it). These worthies are then listed (at times quite literally on paper) and carried on over to the next ‘365 day set’. New Year isn’t quite a special event, just a convenient moment logistically and time wise to pause and take stock.

So, here is what went right this year:

  1. Rides: A good number of motorcycle rides over long distances. This year was a great experience  in travelling the numerous highways and  living-the-history-geography-textbooks project that I undertook this year. It just meant that all the historical places that I have read in my high school textbooks, I will visit all of them and put a colour picture besides the names that I read in black and white NCERT textbooks. A high point – standing by Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur with a crescent moon in a dark night sky. That was a sight to behold. Loved it! Second, breaking bread at the Gurudwara Sachkhand Sahib  in Nanded. I was that typical unwashed, hungry, travel worn pilgrim who reached the doorstep of this great sikh temple. And I was fed. I was sheltered. It was a stirring moment.
  2. Wilderness: A major trek this year was ascending Kumara Parvatha in the Western Ghats of India. This because of the unsettling quiet night in a tent camped on a ridge overlooking the other ranges. Cold, dark and foggy. And we read Kerouac and slept with thoughts of Muir, Jack London and Indian explorers like Salim Ali. This one trip did much to make me research colonial forestry in India and the tension between development and wilderness.
  3. Graduate Degree: I did what I thought I would never quite do – get back to university. July this year, I joined a Master of Arts program in Development. Graduate life and that decision is stuff for another post. This blog and its straight serious content is a part of some efforts during the first term at the university. Earlier, I held this one from Kerouac close:  Colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets is each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.
  4. Reading: Aritotle and his Nichomachean Ethics remains my favorite accomplishment this year. A sure stuff to impress people by mouthing the high tension ideas from this. And his Eudaimonia (a Greek word often translated as well-being or happiness)! Other than this I furthered my understanding in Indology with Romila Thapar (Ya. I know… how much other historians abuse her for the “Aryan” theory) , Subaltern Studies collective (Ranajit Guha, Arjun Appadurai and others), history (Gandhian works, Ramachandra Guha), Indian Economic History and Rawls, Sen, Hume and J.S. Mills. A high moment: Reading out Whitman’s Leaves of Grass loud on a road late in the evening. Another one: Reading Sadat Hasan Manto’s collection of short stories. Profound!
  5. Language & Culture: I started learning Persian from a beautiful Iranian lady – Shahin and exploring Central Asian culture with her.
  6. Running and Cycling: November, I begin running 5 kilometers daily. 2012 is a milestone in helping me get back to all the sports and activities that I had put behind me along with high school. How much I loved running all those years and cycling out exploring the neighbourhood. I am back to all of it this year. And the latest edition to the fleet is a new Hercules bike. I run, ride, read and explore this year!

My current read is Persig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In chapter 1 he writes:

We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.

This year’s resolution: stay away from such shallowness, monotony and feeling sorry for whatever!

Happy New Year folks!


This Indian attitude: On use of safety gear in Indian Industry (Part 1)

While I still struggle with framing the argument for this economics paper that I had to turn in a last week, here goes the abstract. Folks reading could give me a thought or two to help, or just go poke holes to reveal its flaws. Schematics by @praveenasridhar

The question- why does India exhibit such gross levels of Personal Protective Equipment adoption and use has bothered us for over three months during which we have tried to explore the landscape of use of safety gear (termed Personal Protective Equipment or PPE here) in various sectors of the industry. We explore why is it difficult for Indian industries in FMCG, Oil & Petrochem, Building & Construction etc, to enforce and value safety measures and consequently PPE in their processes. We do this by approaching this issue in 3 ways:

  1. Study of regulatory framework of OHS in India

    Ministry and various departments at central and state level responsible for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India

    Ministry and various departments at central and state level responsible for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India

  2. Discussion with senior executives from an industry leader in safety audits.
  3. A small informal survey of labourers at a construction site

The paper begins with outlining the regulatory and legal landscape of occupational health and safety (OHS) in India. It includes the various legislations that are in force. In this landscape we locate the building and construction industry which form the paper’s specific focus. The discussion on PPE in this paper is specific to its use in building and construction industry, although the arguments are applicable to other industries as well. It is widely held that three issues affect the use of PPE in India – (i) cost (of providing PPE to workers) (ii) design (iii) attitude towards safety and health. These are discussed briefly. Following this, the implications of inadequate use of PPE and poor OHS standards is pursued by using an implications framework. We conclude by stating that Indian industry has strong reasons to adhere to OHS practices not only in cases where there is a direct threat to man and property but in a wider sense. Towards this PPE use is paramount. We suggest that it is in a company’s own interest (even if they do not see direct monetary benefits in ensuring PPE use) if its worker’s enjoy good health at work, are prevented from health hazards at work (which they may or may not realize will happen) and feels the environment to be safe for himself. The company on the other hand benefits from a healthy and efficient workforce. Additionally, it is seen as an ethical and caring employer which is a strong incentive in today’s labour market in India. With high attrition rates and labour shortages this measure can greatly help companies in ensuring that adequate labour supply. On the customer side, the company gains a reputation of being a company with values and this is likely to boost its image with its prospective clients.


Legislations and Regulations that exist in OHS in India

Various legislations in different sectors in India. Building and Other Construction Workers Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services act, 1996 is highlighted as it relates to the building and construction industry sector that the paper focuses.

Various legislations in different sectors in India. Building and Other Construction Workers Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services act, 1996 is highlighted as it relates to the building and construction industry sector that the paper focuses.

In our quest to find institutional elements that define such behaviour we subject the actual behaviour of these companies to the theoretical framework that economists like Douglass North and Garry Becker offer which basically relates culture and economics in a manner that it helps explain such departures like our study where in spite of the fact that there isn’t really a significant incentive for companies to not provide PPE to their employees. At the same time the benefits of greater employee care and safety concern seems to escape their understanding.  We have tried to study this departure and tried to arrive at its root cause.

Interestingly, when we compare the trend of use of PPE in industries across the world we find that their adoption is not an aspect of country’s development standards, but likely of relatively abstract aspects like prevailing culture in that geography.

Flight Plan: Lessons from Insects , Cafe Scientifique Bangalore, Talk-2

Cafe Scientifique Bangalore is a new venture by a group of researchers in the city. This evening, I attended the second talk since its beginning. It aims to be a hub bridging science and public perception in its own small way of facilitating public lectures and discussions by scientists/researchers from a wide range of disciplines.

Sanjay Sane presenting on Insect Behaviour at #csblr, NCBS, Bangalore

Sanjay Sane presenting on Insect Behaviour at #csblr, NCBS, Bangalore

Sanjay Sane, a researcher at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore presented his work on studying insect behaviour and their flight in particular. I was fascinated by the extent to which this simple question of how do insects fly has been explored by his team and other scientists worldwide. Cafe Scientifique as a venture sure appears to be serving a purpose to a generalist like me who is pursuing an arts program and has lost touch with whatever little biology that was done in undergraduate degree. I was particularly happy to see a 12/13 year old kid putting up a question to Sanjay.

I tweeted some of the questions & ideas that he talked about. Here is a storify collection of them.

Storify page for tweets from #csblr

Storify page for tweets from #csblr