Month: April 2016

Indian innovation is like ‘Sewing without cloth’

Is Appovation = Innovation = Invention?

There is so much focus nowadays on IT, Digital India, connectivity, bandwidth, 4G and apps being developed by all and sundry as a solution for every conceivable problem that I fear we are running ahead of ourselves.

India and Indians took to the digital revolution as a duck to water. The reasons are multi fold and the subject matter for another post.

It would be wrong to judge the effects of this thrust as just good or bad. It certainly has done some good and also an equal amount of bad. So the right approach would be to judge it in context. The context here being, if we, as a nation, should take our collective skill in churning out apps to solve social problems as the real solution to the problem?

Going by the euphoria I sense around me in mainstream and social media, it would appear  we already are. Then the next question would be, have these apps really solved some, any, if not all our problems? I say no.

IMHO most apps are just a personalized, shortcut direct access program to an otherwise conventional website, residing on your device.

And as usual, we Indians took the easy way out. Solution to a complex, real life traffic problem – launch an app. Garbage problem – launch an app. Women and child safety – launch an app. Police indifference – launch an app.

So, where did we miss the plot?

Agreed, a baker will bake, a tanner will tan and an Indian will cut ‘n paste code.

But should’nt we broaden our ‘innovative prowess’ a tad bit?  Look at Uber, a cab aggregator. When people had problems getting a cab ride, they wrote a program, designed a database and launched an app. Then they went around signing up cabbies and wooing commuters, in the US of A. But in India, even though the need was real and essentially the same program or ‘App’ would have succeded, they first had to link it to the reality on the ground. We had no cabs to aggregate. That was a bummer and since Uber was not an eyewash solution to placate a frustrated society, they tackled the real world problem, a herculean task, ere the launch/success of the ‘app’.

Digital India without physical India is like a sewing machine’s complex knots without the cloth. Beautiful, almost erotic in appearance, but totally useless and easily unravelled.

Never ask an Indian for directions

  1. It was around March 2000 that my younger brother visited us from the US with his 7-year-old son. My brother moved to the US from India, but my nephew was born and raised there.

We had a small fish tank at home and upon seeing it my nephew told me that he had a 16 gallon tank at home and asked me what the size of our tank was.

We all (the desi relatives) went silent while my brother and my nephew went back and forth guessing the size of our tank.

2. My friend’s 20-year-old son who was visiting from Australia asked me what the permissible blood alcohol level in India was and as most Indians, I had never bothered to acquire this information.

3. Almost all my friends, born in India, but settled in the US are so specific in terms of distance / driving time to their office or other places, their internal compass always aware and oriented, know the present temperature, wind chill factor, snow fall in inches etc.

I am sure we have all experienced this. We have also experienced how we Indians give directions.

“Go straight, turn left (while pointing right), then go more straaaaaight, at circle take middle (of 4) road, then little straight till you get an up and then a down……”

This stems from the fact that we Indians have no concept of the physical world around us.

Length, width, height, weight, thickness, angle, mass, volume, speed, pressure, direction, temperature, color, material, voltage, current etc are all ignored in our conversation, movies, TV serials, MSM, SM.

And this alienation, this lack of familiarity, this dissociation is preventing us from either understanding or acknowledging or conquering them and hence we see all these problems festering around us.

What you measure, you manage!

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Jugaad – A curse on Indians

There are several definitions of Jugaad. The flattering ones have somehow managed to give a positive spin to this accursed stigmatic cancer that has killed all forms of innovation and quality in Indians.

It is very easy for academicians or westerners, not subject to the ills of Jugaad to glamorize it. But for those of us suffering it on a daily basis, this photo speaks a thousand words.

The true essence of Jugaad

I shot this photo while on a trip to Nandi Hills, a popular hillock near Bengaluru. These type of structures are commonly found in front of temples. 

But look at the photo and the clueless morons standing under it. #1 Exposed rebars in the heavy concrete canopy. #2 A casuarina pole propped up to replace a broken concrete pillar. #3 The short pole precariously propped up on 2 blocks of stone (Zoom in on 3 and you can see the chamfered base of the pole).

This photo lucidly depicts the true nature of Jugaad. A quick fix, with whatever is available, with sheer contempt to safety, science, engineering, common sense or aesthetics.

And the Indians under it amplify our collective attitude of ignorance, apathy and tremendous stupidity.

3d zebra crossing. A ‘killer’ solution, literally.


An Ahmadabad based artist, Saumya Pandya Thakkar along with her mother Shakuntala Pandya has painted a 3d zebra crossing and it is being acclaimed as a breakthrough solution to India’s accident prone roads.

Why are we so stupid? This is more of a dangerous distraction than a solution. Only a country which randomly copies ideas can get so carried away and miss the entire narrative.

A zebra crossing is a suggestive marking to alert drivers to slow down and stop “IF” and “ONLY IF” there are pedestrians using it or waiting to do so. The subtlety is obvious only to a society which has not only invented but also respects, understands and uses these signs.

Stop and yield combo sign
The 3d zebra crossing is visually misleading and dangerous to drivers as it gives the impression that there is an obstacle on the road and one HAS to stop and then let the brain and the eye reanalyze the image, conclude that it was a false alarm and then proceed.

Not all drivers have the same perception or visual analytical ability or reactions.
What if a distracted driver sees this at the last moment and confusedly slams  on the brakes? Or worse, what if a motorist ignores one of our notorious speed breakers thinking it is a 3d painting? 

As with everything else in our lives, we have been able to buy the best ready made solutions without having to strain a single grey cell and hence don’t appreciate the decades of trials and errors, research and iterations these solutions undergo. We feel that the first crazy thought that comes to our mind is a winner. We Indians need to realize that the reason we cannot find others using these ideas is not because they are unique, but because they have been debated, tried and discarded.

Why do we Indians make heroes out of ordinary citizens doing ordinary things? It could be because of our lack of real heroes in any field. And this street art by this mother daughter duo is not even original. They have copied the idea from the Chinese city of Changsha.


Also, why do we Indians have this penchant to justify every act of ours as having a higher ethical, social or moral cause? Why cant this be appreciated as just art and not seen as a solution to a social problem?

I really hope the IRC takes serious cognizance of this and issues a stern warning to all those involved.


More images here at

Edit: The central minister Mr. Nitin Gadkari feels this is a good idea and is mulling on trying it on the highways. I really hope he realises his folly before more lives are lost. 

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