Kargil Vijay Diwas 2012: 13 Years Later


Pic: courtesy indiatimes.com

Two years ago, I created this commemorative photo blog on Kargil Vijay Diwas, featuring the brave officers who won the war for India. This year, I decided to share links to recent stories (and some from the archives) about Kargil’s heroes. Rediff interview with Yogendra Singh Yadav – hero of Tiger Hill.

  • 437 total awards from Kargil War (162 posthumous) – Full list of awardees
    • 4 Param Vir Chakras
    • 10 Maha Vir Chakras
    • 5 Uttam Yudh Seva Medals
    • 70 Vir Chakras
    • 15 Yudh Seva Medals
    • 1 Bar to Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 83 Sena Medals (Gallantry)
    • 1 Sarvottam Yuddh Seva Medal
    • 106 Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 16 Sena Medal (Distinguished)
    • 126 Mention-in-Despatches
  • Colonel (then Major) Prasad Mijar on fighting the battle of Tiger Hill and returning victorious
  • Captain Saurabh Kalia’s parents continue to persevere. What do ex-Presidents Narayanan, Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil have in common? All have sent a standard reply  — Your letter has been received and would be forwarded for necessary action and have taken no subsequent action — to Captain Kalia’s parents, on their campaign to highlight the Pakistani Army’s brutalities committed on the prisoners of war.
  • On Dr. Rajesh Anand treating the soldiers’ injuries in the treacherous peaks of Mushkow and Tololing.
  • From the Indian Army website : Kargil War Heroes (officers only)
  • From the Wayback machine – 533 Indian casualties
  • And let’s definitely NOT forget the corrupt politicians and military leaders from Adarsh scam who almost got away with cheating the Kargil heroes
  • And the Defense Ministry is making ‘comfortable progress’ in the war memorial for Kargil

Update (Aug 15, 2012): Added link to interview with Hero of Tiger Hill (Yogendra Singh Yadav).


Second batch of friends arrived a few months ago


Bringing 15 boxes of friends home – the post that started it all off. This post recounts the voyage of our second batch of friends, henceforth dubbed as Part 2 of the series.

Pic: courtesy Amazon.com

In Dec 2011, my brother-in-law brought the second batch of books — to Chennai. So far so good. Since his parents were going to returning to US with him, I had a time window of two weeks to collect the books. Sathish, an ex-colleague and friend, (who has a home in Chennai) picked up the books. Two months later, he brought them to Bangalore. I finally picked them up in Mar 2012. A grand total of 9 boxes but they are all hardbound so quite heavy. I present the list below along with my commentary. As I accumulated these books over the years, I’ve been pretty religious about annotating when (and sometimes ‘where’) I bought the book.

  • Tintin in the new world
    • Bought at the Stanford Bookstore on Jul 27, 1998 (this would have to a week after moving to the SF Bay Area from Chicago – heady times!)
  • Ambassador’s Journal: John Kenneth Gailbraith
    • The paperback cover on Amazon is NOT the one I own. Mine has a green cover and it’s a hardbound. I’m currently reading this humorous and insightful account and transcribing my favorite bits – JK Galbraith has his very own Galbraith category on my blog.
  • Primal Leadership
    • Bought in Dec 2005. Seems interesting enough but still remains unread. Found a bookmark from The Lenox Hill Bookstore, NY though it doesn’t prove that this book was purchased there. For the longest time, I was incapable of walking out of a bookstore without  purchasing at least one book.
  • Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (by Verne Harnish)
    • 12 pages of testimonials, ghost writer
  • Hard facts, dangerous half-truths & total nonsense (by Stanford U Professors Robert Sutton & Jeffrey Pfeffer)
    • Professor Sutton was visiting Yahoo campus (2004/5) for a talk on “The Ambidextrous Organization” — this was a freebie book from the event. It’s a promising read.
  • The complete works of O. Henry
    • Bought in April ’95 (during my Chicago years) – this is arguably my first/only bibliophile book and warrants a separate post for one other reason – suspense!
  • All things bright and beautiful (by James Herriot)
    • Bought second-hand (undated).
  • The new industrial state (by John Kenneth Galbraith)
    • Bought in Mar 2000.
  • Bhagavad Gita (in Hindi)
    • Bought in Dec 2004 from the Birla Temple, Hyderabad. Went to Sunnyvale, CA – then a few years in a San Jose attic, a year in a Cupertino garage, a few months in Chennai and finally to our Bangalore apartment. Yes – a well-travelled hardbound indeed.

There’s more good news for the rest of our book friends in my sister’s garage. Another ex-colleague and friend (Ajay) is on a business trip to the Bay Area and has agreed to bring back a ‘significant number’ of books. How significant? I won’t answer that lest it jinxes things. Stay tuned… part 3 in this series is not too far away.

Bringing 15 boxes of friends home


Pic: courtesy tetonlibraryproject.wordpress.com

It’s not what you think. I’m referring to 15 boxes of our book collection that we stashed away in my cousin’s attic in San Jose four years ago. When we returned to India after 16 years in US (this post gets into the “But why?” question) many of our friends in US and India thought we were nuts. When they heard we’d be accompanied only with six suitcases, a Power Mac G4 and a MacBook, they shook their heads.

We left behind a formidable wake.. a wake of garages with assortments of things stuffed into boxes and spillover suitcases (this post talks about it). A procession of kind friends and cousins transported our remaining suitcases to Bangalore between 2008 and 2009. All that remained were 15 boxes of books.

In the first few years after our move, every time I heard of a friend or acquaintance moving from Silicon Valley, the following conversation snippet would repeat (in Click… Whirr fashion) in the Kuruganti household:

Me: “Hey, so and so is moving to Bangalore. Shall we move our books along with their big move?”

She: “And where are we going to keep them?”

Me: “Err… umm… hmm…” (trailing decrescendo of unintelligible sounds)

My books and I had handled the prolonged separation quite stoically, especially since my reading had plummeted in the same time period. However, it was clear that I did want my books back in our Bangalore apartment (sans the urgency). Finally last year a slow-boat-to-China idea struck me – why not move the books in batches of 10 or 15? Ferried by kind legions of friends, cousins, sisters, and.. (yeah) more friends.

The first proof that this whacky idea could work came in last August when my dear sister brought the first batch of books – a whopping 21 at that! The excitement of getting a new pair of running shoes was overshadowed by the landmark event of our book library being re-seeded in Bangalore. It was a bonus to learn that there were at least 10 unread books. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you… the first 21 of my long-long friends.. many of whom were picked up from public library yearend sales and used book sales.


Boiling the social enterprise ocean


[Editor’s Note: A few months ago, I started a new blog (Techsangam.com) focusing on social enterprises in India. This post was published on TechSangam a few days ago and am reposting it here to introduce you to my new blog. I intend to still blog in this space though the frequency is a bit non-deterministic at this point.]

Two months into my new gig, my view into the world of social enterprises is getting a little crisper. While it’s still a vast ocean, my method to navigate the waters has become more deterministic. There’s no danger of boiling the ocean anytime soon but  initial trends of focus have emerged and I’d like to describe them in this post.

The Great Migration: There are anywhere between 300 to 400 million Indians who will be migrating from villages to cities in 25-40 years. And let’s not forget that there are already 100 million Indians today who are in a partial state of migration – partial because they work 90% of the year in urban India as cooks, drivers, construction workers, etc. to support their impoverished families in rural India, whom they visit a few times a year. In spite of contributing to India’s economic growth in a non-trivial way (excess of $500 million of remittances by Bihari and Oriya migrants alone in 2006-07), migrants are sadly the missing link in India’s Development. Notwithstanding innovative rurbanization initiatives from states like Gujarat (see Rurbanization in Gujarat – early signs of success), much of the globalization trends point to increased urbanization world-wide, not just in India, whether current city-dwellers like it or not.

A fresh look at the migration narrative takes a closer look at this trend. While nearly everyone still keeps repeating “70% of India lives in its villages“, few have bothered to look at the latest numbers. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Gujarat (states with the highest urbanization percentages) are already at 46%, 45%, and 43% respectively.

Rural Development: Even after accounting for the most aggressive migration forecasts, a very sizable percentage of India will continue living in its villages. The largest economically disadvantaged group is the impoverished small-scale Indian farmer. Improving the livelihood metrics of this group is the only sure way of bucking the migration trend. A key learning from this Duke University poverty alleviation study is that income diversification is the top correlating variable for households escaping poverty. The leading reasons for households descending into poverty are related to critical health expenses and high-interest private debt.

Much as the ruling Congress government would have us believe that the MNREGA scheme is a rousing success, the reality is far from that. There’s even growing evidence that far from improving the economic condition of India’s villagers, the scheme is contributing to inflation. This is not to say that all government schemes are missing the mark. The Ministry of Labour & Employment’s RSBY (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana) program, rolled out in April 2008, provides a free health insurance card (including hospitalization costs upto Rs. 30,000) for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. 23 million families are already benefiting from this program and the best part is that it has created a demand for healthcare services in areas traditionally considered unprofitable. This demand is creating an environment for a slew of private hospitals to compete with public hospitals in providing healthcare services to BPL families.

You can read the rest of this post here on TechSangam.

Freedom from Inertia


Pic: courtesy shirtoid.com

As a sovereign republic, India turned 63 today. Today also marks our second anniversary in India – after 16 years in America. To mark this occasion, I tweeted the following:

2 years in India. The second year whizzed by even faster than the first. Me thinks we’ll stop counting now.

My biwi, who’s not active on Twitter, had the following Facebook status update:

2nd R2I Anniversary…content? yes; complaints? several; regrets? a few; no. of good days 2X no. of bad days; thought of R2A? twice; ready to R2A? nope. Best part of the experience, to R2I or not to R2I is no longer the question:)

Is it a coincidence that I left India on India’s Independence Day in 1992? And a double-coincidence that we returned on Independence Day 2008? Probably. But sometimes I feel like “manufacturing” theories… 🙂

In the past two days, I’ve been hearing local radio disc jockeys asking their listeners “On India’s Independence Day, what would you like freedom from?” I wondered what my answer was 2 years ago. It was definitely not “freedom from America”. As I wrote in an earlier post, we were leading a pretty decent life in the SF Bay Area but for an angst — which would surface every now and then. Inertia, as the wise have noted, is a powerful thing. We celebrate today “breaking the shackles of the status quo!”

Kargil Day – The Least We Can Do is Remember


Today is the 11th anniversary of the day India won the Kargil war against Pakistan. One of my fauji friends (and classmate from Xaviers Bokaro) forwarded an email with pictures of the brave officers who won this war for India, albeit with a lot of casualties. His email started with the statement – the least we can do is remember. Next related project: find the names of all the soldiers (not just the officers) who died in the Kargil war.



The least we can do is remember

Capt.Vikram Batra – Param Vir Chakra(Posthumous)

Grenedier. Yogendra Singh (Param Vir Chakra)

RFN. Sanjay Kumar (Param Vir Chakra)

Major Padmapani Acharya of the 2nd Battalion, The RAJPUTANA RIFLES (Maha Vir Chakra (Posthumous)

Lieutenant Balwan Singh, Maha Vir Chakra Of the 18th Battalion of GRENADIERS Regiment

Major M Saravanan, VirChakra, 1 Bihar

Lieutenant Kanad Bhattacharya, Sena Medal (Posthumous)(22 YEARS)

Captain Saju Cherian, Sena Medal 307 Medium Regiment

Captain R Jerry Prem Raj, Vir Chakra (Posthumous), 158 Medium Regiment

Major Sonam Wangchuk, Maha Vir Chakra Of the LADAKH Scouts

Lieutenant Keishing Clifford Nangrum, Maha Vir Chakra (Posthumous) Of the 12th Battalion of JAMMU AND KASHMIR

Hum do humare do…bina exhaust ke


2-day old Blue Reva fresh after car-puja – in kissing distance of older sibling (SX4)

Title translation (for non-Hindi readers): Hum do humare do is an old 1970’s era government initiated family planning slogan to promote  family of four (hum do = we two, humare do = our two). Bina exhaust ke = without exhaust.

So… two months shy of our 2nd year anniversary of returning to India, we purchased our 2nd car – a blue REVAi. If you’ve not been tracking electric car trends, RECC (REVA Electric Car Company) has been selling REVAi electrics in India since 2001 and in UK since 2003. For possibly a few more years, RECC remains the only company in India selling electric cars. The wikipedia entry for RECC accurately describes REVAi as an urban electric micro-car seating two adults and two kids. Did I say accurate? I meant ‘nearly accurate’ because it should read two adults and two kids (under the age of 10).

Now that we’ve established how small the REVAi is, let’s move to other specs. For this, I shall borrow liberally from this 2006 review of the REVAi in The Hindu…

The first thing that hits you when you look at the car is its size which makes you think of yourself as Gulliver, the giant when you sit inside. The steering is a wee bit too close to your chest and the A pillars close in on you.

Ok – so I wasn’t done talking about the REVA’s size. If you don’t step in gingerly to the driver’s seat, you could easily brush the lever to make it high beam. If you turn your head around suddenly (to see what your 4-year old’s doing in the back seat), the rear-view mirror would need readjusting.

The Reva’s a full metre shorter than the Maruti Suzuki Wagon R but around 100kg heavier than Maruti Suzuki 800. The body is built of hard ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) plastic and a tubular space frame holds everything together. Eight deep discharge batteries sourced from leading American golf cart battery maker, Trojan, sits in the middle of the chassis, with the controller and energy management system parked under the rear section of the car. The motor itself, a Bulgarian 13KW DC unit from Kostov, sits beneath the chassis and powers the rear wheels. The job of the energy controller is to make sure current is drawn equally from the batteries, especially during high load requirements and there are no surges and spikes.

The golf cart lineage certainly shows with the quiet humming of the motor. Our li’l one’s take on that humming sound – “it feels like we are in an airplane on the runway”. By the way, the rest of the comments in The Hindu review are slightly dated since the new batteries are supposed to extend the driving distance to the 70-90k range depending on your use of air-conditioning).

The REVA buying decision was somewhat analogous to our returning to India decision. There are a lot of reasons why one would NOT want to buy this car and only a few reasons why one should. Turned out those few reasons were crucial.

Reason #1: (Zero emissions) This is a dead-obvious reason but needed to be stated. Until public transportation becomes a viable option in Bangalore (will it ever?), we needed a 2nd car and it just couldn’t be a traditional petrol/diesel one.

Reason #2: (Automatic transmission car) Ever since our adventures with The Janus Man came to an end, we haven’t employed a full-time driver. I’ve  become scarily comfortable driving the SX4 in various types of Bangalore traffic conditions but the kids’ dropoffs and pickups from school, ferrying them to after-school activities has required a combination of part-time drivers from EZiDrive and auto-rickshaw rides. P has been on the threshold of to-hell-with-these-drivers-but-I-cant-drive-a-stick-shift-car. Getting the REVA is expected to be a watershed moment for her. First the learner’s license, then driving in Sunday traffic, then driving in Saturday traffic, then driving solo on weekends, and…voila! one day she goes solo on weekdays as well. We are not sure if she or the kids are more excited with this prospect.

Reason#3: (Minimalism) What’s the smallest car that can get us around and keep the kids protected from the air pollution? Turns out the only answer in 2010 is REVAi. Small is indeed beautiful.

The things you can learn from an auto driver…


Taxi drivers anywhere in the world are a chatty bunch. Well, guess what? Auto drivers in India are no different. Below is the exchange between my wife (P) and the auto driver (AD) after the younger one had been dropped off to school. The conversation took place in Hindi but I’ve transcribed Hindi & English for AD’s dialogues and English only for P.

AD: Is school ke liye kitna donation lagta hai? (What’s the donation to get a child into this school? School in question is NPS Koramangala)

P: This school doesn’t require any donation.

AD: Kya? Donation nahin lagta? (What? No donation?!)

P: No, thats one of the good things about this school – one of the reasons why it is in demand.

AD: Fees kitna hai? (How much is the fee?)

P: Annual fee for first year is Rs. 7o,000 but, for subsequent years, the fee actually reduces.

AD: Acchha. Maine Rahul Dravid ko teen bar dekha. Uska beti yahan jaata hain nan? (I see. I saw Rahul Dravid thrice recently. His daughter goes to this school, right?)

P: No. His son goes to this school. It’s Kumble’s daughter who also attends this school.

AD: Aakpo pata hai Dravid kahan rahta hai? (Do you know where Dravid lives?)

P: (vaguely recollecting) Indiranagar?

AD: Nahin. Indiranagar mein to uska maa baap rahta hai. Dravid to Forum ke pas bada building main rahta hai. (No. It’s Dravid’s parents who live in Indiranagar. Dravid lives in Koramangala, near Forum).

P: I see. At the Prestige Acropolis?

AD: Haan. (Yes.)

AD: Kumble to Basavangudi mein rahta hai. (Kumble lives in Basavangudi)

P: (exclaiming) Wow! he comes to drop his kid from that far?

AD: (continuing) Jis building mein Kumble rehta hai, woh usi ka hai. (Kumble owns the building he lives in)

P: (now impressed) Is Dravid a Kannadiga or Tamilian?

AD: Arre! Dravid to Madhya Pradesh se hai. Bas – uske maa baap yahan aake settle ho gaye! (Dravid’s not even from this area – he’s from Madhya Pradesh – his folks came and settled down in Bangalore!)

AD: Haan! Kumble yahan ke lagte hain! Kannadiga hain. (Kumble, on the other hand, is a bonafide Kannadiga)

I am Bihar (an ode)


Bihar District Map (courtesy topnews.in)

Back in Nov 2009, we had a big reunion of St. Xaviers Bokaro alumni and their families. If you haven’t bumped into anyone from Bokaro (formally known as “Bokaro Steel City”) yet, you need to know that the mere mention of Bokaro is enough to send them into raptures and wax eloquent about this utopian steel township in a part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand. For all the Bokaro alumni, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I daresay the non-Bokaro spouses had a decent time too. A few mini-reunions later, I heard about Bihar Foundation from one of my classmate’s husband. Ajit Chouhan’s blog post Bihar Foundation – Connecting Biharis Worldwide does a good job outlining the foundation’s charter and ambitions.

For a variety of reasons, Bihar doesn’t rank high on India’s list of states (on many indicators – be it socio-economic, literacy, or governance). When I found this ode (authored by Mayank Krishna), it felt like a gust of fresh air. I present to you – I am Bihar (a proud and optimistic ode on Bihar)!

(Reproduced with permission from the author Mayank Krishna)


I am the history of India,
I gave the world its first Republic,
I nourished Buddha to enlightenment,
I gave world its best ancient university,
My son Chanakya was the father of Economics,
Mahavir came out of my womb to found Jainism,
My son Valmiki wrote Ramayan, the greatest Epic
Rishi Shushrut, the father of surgery, lived on my soil
My son Vatsayana wrote Kamasutra, the treatise of love ,
My son Ashoka – The Great was the greatest ruler of India ,
I gave birth to Aryabhatt, the great ancient mathematician ,
I gave Ashoka Chakra that adorns India’s national flag ,
My son Dinkar is the national poet of India ,
I gave the world its first Yoga University ,
I gave India its first president ,
I am the land of festivals ,
I am brotherhood ,
I am humility ,
I am the past ,
I am the future ,
I am opportunity ,
I am revolution ,
I am culture ,
I am heritage ,
I am intellect ,
I am farmer ,
I am power ,
I am literature ,
I am poetry ,
I am love ,
I am heart ,
I am soul ,
I am yoga ,
I am global ,
I am inspiration ,
I am freedom ,
I am force ,
I am destiny ,
I am Bihar ,
…Come with your dream
I will make it a reality

And I thought I knew Koramangala Roads…


What are those serpentine patterns?

On closer inspection... studded belts perhaps?

For someone who’s done a lot of running (and walking) on Koramangala roads in the past 2 years, I was surprised to discover these patterns on the stretch of road right opposite Raheja Residency. The ‘what is it’ mystery was solved quickly enough — Koramangala’s tall majestic trees shed seed shells that are similar in appearance to the imli (tamarind) – see middle picture. I hope one day a botanist will stumble upon this post and educate us all on what kind of tree this is.

For some strange reason, the most inane things pique my interest. I started to wonder how so many seed shells were impregnated on this road. I recalled that sometime last year, 7th Cross Road (first two pictures are of that road) was relaid. What may have happened is that these seed shells dropped on the road between the road-laying phase and the road-rolling phase. I felt satisfied with this theory for a few days until… I realized that this seed-shell-impregnated-onto-roads phenomenon was not localized to 7th Cross Road. Almost every Koramangala Road I walked in the next few days sported the studded belt pattern — it seemed almost that they were spiting me for my lack of observation during the past few years. The original theory was still credible but I wondered if this seed-shell-impregnation process was also happening well beyond the road laying stage – especially on hot summer days when the tar starts to turn semi-solid.

And then a week later I found several seed-shells impregnated on concrete pavements off 80-Feet Road – whoa! How to explain this??? Time to call Guy Noir I say…