Monday, February 23, 2009

Beware of The Slumdogs

The massive success of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” at the Oscars has proven one point beyond doubt – India’s potential to rise like a colossus on the world scene can never be overestimated. Certain personalities of no meager eminence (I would prefer to call them shortsighted cynics) in the country have been quick to label the movie as a blatant exhibition of the muck that pervades Indian society. Superficially viewed, all these people may have a valid point, based on the flimsy logic that such a portrayal may undermine India’s progressive image in the world. Here, I am tempted to quote Shakespeare,maybe a touch incongruously – “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Indians have to look at this picture of India through the eyes of the world. One has to understand that such a portrait, even if accepted as a deplorable-but-true depiction of India’s current social fabric, will also go a long way in showcasing India’s latent energies to the world. Although it would be irrational to discount the existence of persons and personalities outside India who would unthinkingly grab this instance as an opportunity to satiate their innate contempt for India’s inexorable march on the road of progress, only the greatest fool can afford to relax in that moment of mirth. The wise men of the world are well aware of the fact that the real future of India is pent up and raring to burst from amongst these teeming millions. These are the very people who have the potential to change the face of India and the world, forever. India is currently growing at the rate of seven percent every year. Yet, its average literacy rate is 60 % compared to a similar country like China which has a literacy rate of above 90 %. India’s per capita income is just above the 1000 dollar mark while the average Chinese earns at thrice the rate of an average Indian. Still, India’s economy is already showing signs of forging ahead of most developing countries in the world. Now, given the state of proliferation of education and basic facilities in India, that is not just amazing but unbelievable. One can imagine just how many bright and enterprising minds still remain out of reach of basic facilities and education It doesn’t require a great mathematician to calculate just how much India would progress once its literacy rate matches that of, say, China. What would happen to the competition when facilities and resources that only a small minority of privileged and emancipated enjoys are spread out to the remotest areas of the country? Not for nothing is India considered by the wise as the sleeping giant of world economy. Slowly but surely, the giant seems to be rising from its long slumber. The world would do well to see through the picture than at it. “Slumdog Millionaire” epitomizes the energy, the confidence and the verve of the common Indian who dwells in those dingy back-alleys, shanties and far-flung hamlets to prove something to the world - that impossible is not a word that is found in India. This is one phoenix that is raring to rise, and long before the world even realizes the magnitude of this upsurge, it will be a billion Indians who will be doing all the laughing. So, World, beware of the Slumdogs!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Reign of Black Gold

It was one of my numerous trips to an offshore rig drilling for oil in a vast watery wilderness far, far away from the humdrum of the world. The rig floor rumbled with activity as the Travelling Block moved up and down. The drillers, the roughnecks and the roustabouts strained themselves to enable steady progress of the operation. My shift was yet to start and I had come up on the heli-deck for a breath of fresh air. In spite of spending close to eighteen years doing the same job, I never cease to wonder at the sheer crudity of operations on an oil rig. Notwithstanding all the effort put in by the crew round the clock, there is no certainty that our efforts are going to bear fruit, that is, it is still impossible to prove the presence of oil inside the earth until we actually get to it. If one traces mankind’s footsteps over the past few decades, it will be observed that He has indeed made huge strides in certain fields of science such as Astronomy, Nuclear, Electronics, Computers, Telecommunication etc. Yet, Man has still to discover an efficient method of discovering the hidden pockets of oil and gas within the earth’s crust, located mostly at an average depth of 3 kilometers from the surface – a mere 5 percent of the average thickness of the crust. We still have to physically drill a hole all the way to the “prospective” reservoir to confirm our prognostications of the presence of any hydrocarbon within. Yet, Man still has to contend with only a twenty-five percent probability of striking oil at the start of drilling in spite of lofty claims of accuracy of the various techniques employed to pinpoint the ‘probable’ oil reservoir. Even after we have found a reservoir, it is still impossible to extract more than 30 percent of the total oil in the reservoir, that too after employment of all the ‘advanced’ secondary recovery techniques. In short, 75 percent of human effort and expense that goes into exploration of oil and 70 percent of the discovered oil itself goes waste. This is ample evidence of the lack of technological progress in the field of oil exploration in spite of the continuous evolution of mankind over the ages. Today, we can almost see the edge of the precipice. We are getting closer and closer to the inevitable – a world without oil. A possibility Man had never envisaged. Today, it is oil that make the world go round. Our industrial machinery, our power plants, our automobiles and ships, all need oil for their operation. In addition to that, thousands of items of daily use are made from the by-products of oil.

So, what then is the path to freedom from the stranglehold of petroleum for the world? Alternative sources of energy? With all the technological advancement that this world has achieved in the field of alternative power, it is difficult to imagine that we cannot build a vehicle or a plant that runs on, say, solar or wind energy. So, then, can we get rid of oil and switch over to an everlasting form of energy such as solar or wind? At the moment, the answer seems to be a definite “NO”. Changing over to an alternative form of energy will require overhauling of the entire machinery of the industrial world. The transition from oil to another energy form, if attempted in haste, will result in the collapse of entire industries first before they begin again from the scratch. The effect that such a transition will have on the world will be unimaginably cataclysmic. The transition needs to be slow enough to be smooth, perhaps over a period of forty to fifty years. Till that time, Man has no choice but to keep all developments of alternate energy within the confines of the laboratory and continue to depend on mother earth to lead us to its hidden reserves of oil. However, given the state of the technology as it is now, it looks unlikely that Man will win the race against time with ease. Man is caught in a trap of His own making. The driver has become the driven, the ruler the ruled. Today, the world is ruled by oil. Man must wrack His brains harder to continue to discover more and more oilfields before the current ones start to deplete. Easier said than done.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Burden of Greatness

Roger Federer must be cursing the day a certain youngster from Spain decided to take up playing Tennis for a living. Just that one lad has forced Federer to come round to the fact that the road to supreme authority in any field comes at a price. There will always be that one last, thorny path that has to be walked before one can lay claim to the ultimate pedestal of fame. In Federer’s case, it has been just one thorn, in the form of an indefatigable, never-say-die Spaniard called Rafael Nadal. Just when he thought that the going was all too easy in his journey to becoming the greatest Tennis player of all time, that one guy has always blocked his path with the stolidity of a stone wall. Try as he might, Federer has been unable to shake Nadal off his back, and off his mind.
Federer has always been the cynosure of all eyes in the male Tennis arena. The grace and equanimity with which he has been sailing through the toughest of moments in matches time after time had given him an aura of greatness and invincibility that has not been seen in the Tennis world since the days of one Bjorn Borg. Added to that, his eloquence and gentility in dealing with the media and the public have lifted him to the highest level of regard in the minds of his fans and critics alike. However, it is perhaps easier to attain such a level of artistry and skill than to sustain it. Federer has lately been falling victim to the burden of expectation within himself and his worshipping fans in his endeavor to keep his super-human status intact. In his attempt to prove that he is still better than anybody else, he has put immense pressure on himself to perform above his abilities. As a result, his mind and his psyche are superceding his physical skills to such an extent that he is performing at a level much below what he is actually capable of. Over the years, Nadal has emerged as the sole challenger to Federer’s claim to all-time greatness. Federer knows that the world will never recognize him as the greatest of all time if he cannot overcome this challenge. The fear of losing, especially when he plays against Nadal, is so overwhelming that his game breaks down in the face of the impregnable tenacity displayed by the gritty Spaniard. This has been in evidence again in the 2009 Australian Open. The confidence and audacity which have been the hallmark of Federer’s play upto the Finals, disappeared during his match against Nadal. Federer’s game in the Final was a mere shadow of his performances in the earlier matches. On the other hand, Nadal, in spite of being the number one player of the world, played with much more freedom, almost as if he were the underdog, while Federer still carried the burden of proving to the world that he is the best. Federer needs to admit to himself and his fans for once that he is the number 2 player in the world in every sense. He has to transfer the burden of expectation to the shoulders of Nadal and see how he copes with it. Only then can he ever hope of getting past the tireless machine from Mallorca.

Trapped in The Web

With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to socia...