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Problem solving in India. The complexities.

Date: December 16, 2012

Place: New Delhi

The brutal gang rape of Nirbhaya shook India and this tragic incident sparked off several debates on how to make India safer for women.

I monitored the debates on several channels. The participants were all intellectuals and professionals from different walks of life. The outcome was very revealing and reinforces the fact that problem solving in India is a real challenge and why nothing ever gets done.

Let us look at the way the debate went and the different reasons and solutions offered by the participants and this will give an idea of how we have neglected our problems for far too long. Instead of nipping any problem in the bud, we let it grow and it grew out of control.

Some of the suggestions to solve 1 social problem were

  1. Delhi is a union territory. Who governs what? Who is responsible? -> Statehood for Delhi. Legislation and other problems
  2. Ban tints on vehicle windows -> Allows others to see inside and prevent crimes
  3. Don’t ban tints -> Women drivers feel it offers them safety and privacy
  4. Police are inactive and insensitive –> Re-train police
  5. Police not equipped to handle and respond on time –> Buy more vehicles, night patrolling, more walkie talkies
  6. Arm the police with guns
  7. Don’t arm the cops as they are not responsible enough.
  8. Police are not gender sensitive –> Social problem which stems from a patriarchal society as most policemen are from rural areas. Improve education
  9. Need more women police –> New laws needed to increase quota of women.
  10. All-women police stations to handle womens issues -> No funds
  11. Police don’t register FIR’s -> Utilize technology like FIR kiosks, mobile apps etc
  12. Police force is under staffed -> No budget to increase manpower
  13. Hang the rapists as a deterrent –> Need new laws
  14. Don’t hang the rapists –> Human rights
  15. If the rapist is a minor should the law be the same?
  16. What makes a rapist? -> TV programs and movies which depict women as objects – Ban such movies -> Don’t ban them
  17. Schools need to provide proper education on sex –> Revamp education system
  18. Schools need to stop segregating boys and girls as this leads to unhealthy (sexual) thoughts at a young age
  19. Parents should not treat sons as superior to daughters -> Create awareness
  20. Public transport is inadequate –> More buses, budgets, congestion, pollution etc
  21. Privatize public transport
  22. Install CCTV recorders in buses –> who bears the cost, who monitors them, who maintains them, invasion of privacy
  23. Call centers should provide transport for women working late night shifts –> Can you trust the driver – police verification – can you trust police?
  24. Media sensationalizes the issue –> Muzzle the media, freedom of speech
  25. Low conviction -> Why cases fail in courts – Forensics can’t provide evidence – modernize forensic labs, import better technology – retrain
  26. Police don’t gather proper evidence –> retrain them – form CSI wing
  27. Corrupt police shield rapists –> new laws to prevent it
  28. Courts take a long time in deciding cases –> back log of cases – more courts – more judges – implement fast track courts only for rape
  29. Lower court judgements can be appealed in higher courts adding to the delay –> new laws to prevent this
  30. Male judges / lawyers defame and embarass victims in court -> Sensitivize them
  31. Women dress provocatively and this leads to rape –> Ban western clothes – don’t curb the individual rights of women
  32. Ban late night movies
  33. Close bars and discotheques early -> Regressive
  34. Ban dance bars -> Loss of livlihood of thousands
  35. Street lights don’t work or don’t exist -> capital outlay, maintenance, power shortage
  36. Install CCTV to monitor all streets -> Cost, maintenance, real time monitoring. 
  37. Auto rickshaw is not a safe mode of transport as they don’t have doors –> ban the auto
  38. Auto drivers are not helpful –> sensitize them by training – minimum education

All these and many more offered by 8 people in 1 hour to address 1 problem. Imagine how many more suggestions will crop up by 1.25 billion people trying to address the millions of problems we have.

It is obvious that our laxity has compounded the problems. One solution leads to several associated problems.

By contrast,  the way Ireland, a predominantly catholic country, handled the Savitha Halappanavar abortion case, a socio-legal issue, is an eye opener.

Blood money – the real cost of technology.

What determines the cost of a product?

A scrap dealer knows it the best. Surprised at how a person who breaks down things can be right about making things?

If you scrap a car, it is broken into its basic components and segregated. Metal comprising of sheet metal and solid steel according to their physical and chemical attributes; plastic according to their color and grade; wires for their copper sans the sheath; rubber from the tires etc.

All these are valued using the basic unit of measure – weight. A price assigned to the weight yields the total value.

There is no ‘value addition’ .

So the price of a crank shaft is its weight multiplied by the price of steel and not burdened by its machining costs or the labor or overheads or profit or the cost of technology involved in making it or the cost of the R&D involved in developing it.

Simple arithmetic.

Hence a used soda can is more valuable than a computer because when a computer is broken down all you get is some plastic and very little metal.

So the less a scrap dealer offers, the more the technology cost. ( For the sake of this example let us club all the additional costs except the cost of raw material and call them technology cost). But even at this stage we have not totally done away with technology cost. For example the steel has used technology to become steel from iron ore and the iron ore itself used technology to be mined. But for this example we can start at the level of the scrap dealer and divide the basic components of a car into metal, plastic, copper aka ‘raw material’ and a technology cost to make these components into a car. And we will be calculating the cost of raw material only by weight. It is now safe to assume that where ever man intervenes there is value addition and hence a cost involved.

So what is the cost of technology? If the cost of the raw material is 25% of the cost of a car or 5% of the cost of a computer, then it is safe to assume that the balance 75% and 95% respectively are the cost of technology. He who makes the technology, controls the price and reaps the maximum benefit.

Is this fair? Should the reverse be true? That is, can we use this methodology in reverse to make and price a car? In reality we can.

The more we indigenously develop things, at all levels of development, the lesser the technology costs and hence the lesser the final cost of any product

Planning in India? What a farce.

I had posted this in on 4th November 2008. I am reproducing the same here.

I always wonder why we face so many problems. No sooner is a problem solved, than the solution poses a new problem. Why don’t we have long term solutions?

A recent example is the Mysore road – Sirsi Circle flyover. A much needed, much awaited solution to a long term problem. But it is now swamped with maintenance problems. The expansion joints are exposed and the solution is in importing the required materials, which is a problem in the long run.

A road is widened and ….. problems.
An OFC cable is laid and …. problems.
LPG is introduced for autos and ….. problems.
An airport is built and ….. problems.

One common attribute to all these problems is ‘lack of planning’. Are we bad at planning or don’t our plans work?

In very simple terms, planning is looking at and forecasting the future and making provisions for change.

The future could be immediate, slightly ahead or far ahead and planning could be for individuals, corporates or government.

Now look at the irony of it all. WE (Indians) are expected to plan for the future, a future on which we have absolutely no control whatsoever.

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Shashi Tharoor is wrong. Indians cannot innovate.

This post was long pending and lazily taking form. But a particular incident accelerated its publication – a few tweets exchanged between me and Dr.Shashi Tharoor MP, Diplomat etc.

sashitharoor_1st tweet



[I have been trying to hear his speech but have been unable to do so due to a tech glitch. Not sure if it is at my end (I stay in India) or the host site. Will keep trying. In the meantime I checked for the speech. But they haven’t put it up yet.]

Now the meat of this post. At the outset I cannot accept a superficial opinion of how well India is innovating based on an armchair expert’s understanding of what innovation is. Such well meaning people have unwittingly caused more harm than good. We have been subjected to this lie for centuries. A look at our history (err-mythology?) and our text books which perpetuate this lie are proof. This lie which has been bandied about recklessly for centuries has made us complacent. What we need instead is a jolt of reality, a shocker to wake us from this reverie.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor is basically a well read, well educated, widely traveled diplomat, author and nouveau politician of certain repute. The fact that his only claim to the Indian tag is ancestry and matrimony may be the only dampener. That not withstanding, he should, like many other celebs and politicians, realize that they are basically ‘media magnets’ at such events (Launch of the India Innovation Institute – University of Toronto) . Not experts on each and every institute and organization they inaugurate. What if Mallika Sherawat assumes she is an expert on cancer just because she once inaugurated a cancer hospital.

Why did Shashi Tharoor make this statement? What makes him and his ilk experts on innovation? Why do they mask our lack of innovative spirit as globalization? Is innovation so simple and pedestrian to define and judge? Has such careless talk of big, earth shattering innovations scared and prevented the Indian tinkerer from experimenting? Have such references set the bar too high? What is innovation?

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The Killer buses of India – MADE IN INDIA



  • On 24th Sept 2011,  the headlines screamed of Gourav Surekha and Ashwin Raghuram, 2 young commerce students, losing their lives to a BMTC bus.
  • On 1 Oct 2011,  Pooja Salgaonkar, a 24 year student from MCC was run over by a lorry.
  • On 2 Oct a young boy was run over by a private bus in Bangalore.

4 more victims added to a loooong list, a never ending list that we care about no more.

Going by reports, it may be  safe to assume that the youngsters were negligent. But negligence need not necessarily mean a death penalty. A mature and responsible society analyses the cause and plugs the holes. Something we Indians never do. A. Because we can’t understand the problem, B. We have no solutions.

To begin understanding the problem, lets start with a key indicator in all such reports.

“Crushed”, “Run over”,” Mowed down” –  three words essentially used when it is any accident involving a bus or lorry.

This is the problem and therein lies the solution.

When you read these three words, the questions that should be asked are:

  • “Why only a bus/lorry?”.
  • “Is it that a car is not heavy enough to crush a person?”.
  •  “Are all buses killers?”

Now delve a little more on the words “run over” & “crushed” and the answer is obvious.

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What killed Azhar’s son Ayaz?


My heartfelt condolences to their family notwithstanding, the above statement is true. I really hope this post will save many more wannabe street racers.

Ayazuddin was riding a 1000 cc Suzuki. Even though I have not been able to get the exact model of the bike, the following holds true to all bikes.

There have been some halfhearted attempts to explain the cause of the accident and most of them are non-technical. The usual theory is that high speed, in excess of 200 kmph, is what killed them. True. But these bikes are built for such speeds.  What really killed them is the bike’s STEERING GEOMETRY and a lack of understanding of this very important feature.

There are two important factors called Rake angle and Trail. The figure below illustrates what these are.


The basic understanding is that a longer trial offers more stability (lesser steering control) and a shorter trail offers more steering control (lesser stability). Any bike, built for a certain specific purpose, has a rake angle / trial to suit just this purpose.

A bike built for cruising long straight highways have greater rake angle, longer trail (like a chopper). This offers more straight line stability and reduces hand fatigue.

A racing bike needs more steering control as against a street legal bike and hence have lower rake angle and lesser trail. These bikes are very unstable at low speeds and need space and experience to make turns.

A racing bike like the one Ayaz was riding is essentially steered by leaning into the turn. It is important to understand that these bikes are raced on tracks specifically built to accommodate this factor. That is why race tracks have wide, long, winding turns unlike streets which have sharp turns.

Ever noticed how a race driver moves to the very extreme opposite edge of the track, leans into a curve and makes a long turn. This manoeuvre offers the extended radius essential to turn these bikes at high speeds.


race bike turning

Regular bikes are capable of much sharper turns owing to their steering geometry and lower speeds.

Ayaz was doing just the reverse. Riding the wrong bike on the wrong road.

Easy as it seems to a casual spectator, race drivers put in years of practice. They are also masters of the tech specs of the bikes they ride.

Ayazuddin paid with his life for not knowing this important fact.


You can find more technical info at














The lack of perfection in anything we do is the reason for the chaos all around us. Nothing fits anything, nothing lasts. Total anarchy.

The Indian concept of a good design is very superficial. We care more about the paint than the foundation.

This sweeping statement is bound the raise the hackles of our ‘designers’. But let me explain.

We design on computers. Even the most inexpensive CAD program is capable of a high degree of precision. The question I am oft asked – Where then is the lack of perfection in our designs?

Aha. Gotcha.


During one of my lectures, I had asked the audience of “interior designers” several basic questions on the methods of carpentry. The answers were, to say the least, totally inadequate. They were of the opinion that their responsibility ended with the paper they handed over to the carpenter.

I then presented them with a very simple drawing, simple on a computer, that is. Their challenge was to get their carpenters to fabricate it.

carp challenge

It is a very simple six sided flower pot. For this exercise we discarded the bottom. I also saved them the embarrassment of assembling the six pieces. All they had to do was produce the individual pieces.

The results were 100% FAIL.

I then asked our future interior designers to explain the IDEAL process on paper.

The results were 100% FAIL.

The problem? “Elementary, my dear Watson Indian”

We don’t have a tool to measure 120 degrees. This is the shameful fact. As I have mentioned in my earlier posts, we are a skill based society. We don’t believe in carrying a large tool kit. It insults our ability. He who walks in unencumbered by tools is a true skilled worker.

I will again excuse the worker, for he is illiterate and knows no better. But what about our “Designers”? What does such ignorance, about their own profession say of their abilities. A serious flip side to this ignorance is that our designers are street smart and in perfect sync with their work force. They take great pains to ensure that they never design anything their worker cannot produce.

In the end it is the consumer who suffers.





Cop stupid, Criminal stupider?

Its been a week since the blasts in the Delhi high court and, Yipee, and we have something to debate about other than corruption.  The hot topic now is why and how the Indian cops / security / intelligence (oxymoron) agencies, in spite of their awe inspiring acronyms have not been able to prevent or solve even a single terrorist attack for 10 years. The reference to the US and its post 9/11 success with curbing terrorism was expected. But what was unexpected was the Indian government seeking their help – yet again.

There are many theories being bandied about on TV talk shows on why our cops fail. And it is all the usual tripe. So I won’t waste your time repeating it. But what is heartening is the consistency our cops show. They are just as bad and inefficient in solving almost any other case too. A look at their success rate will prove this point.

But there is one major reason why they can take credit for solving or preventing some cases at least.

This is because our criminals are stupider than our cops. This should come as no surprise as, apart from them being on opposites of a very fuzzy line, there are a lot of similarities in their logic, complacency, thought process, lack of initiative, under exposure to modernity and progress in their respective fields etc. This list will be incomplete if I don’t mention they are both Indian.

I have so much to say that I am worried this post will get out of hand, so I will lay the ground by initially writing about the stupidity of our criminals and security guards. I will follow up later with many others.

In the dock this time are the private security guards, their agencies, their employers and the criminals. The traits they collectively exhibit are no different from the real cops, NSA, NIA, CBI etc etc.

PSG’s, a minority about 10 years ago are prolific today. Apart from the non-critical areas of their employment, mostly like gate keepers, they have migrated to a more critical area of service. Those of guarding our banks and the money vans utilized for ATM refills or inter branch money transfers. Needless to say the agencies are contracted by the banks which makes them eligible to be mentioned here for condoning stupidity. I will absolve the actual guards as they are generally poor, rural, illiterate people.

Aping the mindset of the real police, instead of any real training or equipment, they too rely on jazzy uniforms (cross belts, berets, epaulettes et al), pot bellies, facial hair, ex-military tag etc in a poor bid to portray efficiency. Unfortunately, it seems to work too. Else any criminal worth his pound of chakki would have taken advantage of this charade.

The grist of this post is another prop utilized by these security guards – the gun they mandatorily carry. It is impressive enough to deter any criminal. Indian criminal that is. But why am I being so harsh?

If you know anything at all about guns, and I really mean anything, you will agree with me, close your bank account and bury all your money in your backyard.

There are essentially two categories of guns based on their ammunition. One uses a bullet (L) and the other uses a cartridge (R).


The Bullet firing rifle is exclusively used by the police etc (non-civilian) and the cartridge firing gun is used by the security guards. Since it is near impossible for a civilian to obtain a bullet firing rifle license in India, they are forced to use the latter.

But the interesting fact is that these guns are useless, yes, utterly and completely useless in the hands of the security guards for the purpose it is intended. This is because of a major lacunae, unknown to most Indians.

Let us begin by understanding the projectiles. The bullet fires a single, solid projectile. The cartridge fires several shots (or pellets) which are very similar to ball bearings  (Hence the name Shotgun).


A shotgun is predominantly used for hunting small game like birds or rabbits. That is the reason a civilian is able to obtain a license for such guns. Let us imagine we are trying to bring down a bird, either flying solo or in a flock. Given the small size of the target and the fact that it is moving, it is impossible to take perfect aim and hit it with a single bullet. You are bound to miss, scare the prey and go hungry unless you are a marksman. The cartridge, firing not one, but several bullets offers a better chance. One of them is bound to hit the target. Add to this the fact that these pellets diverge after exiting from the barrel as in the picture below.


That is, they spread out increasing the chances of at least one pellet hitting the target. So, the farther they travel, the more they disperse. This pattern image shows how wide and randomly they disperse at a distance of 30 yards (approx 100 feet).

This is perfect for hunting. But what about our use?

A security guard has to use it on a human. The problem is not that the velocity of a cartridge pellet cannot kill or injure a human. It is where and how it will be used.

Imagine a bank robbery or a money van heist in India. During the robbery or once the deed over, the criminal is bound to be surrounded by a crowd of innocent bank employees or civilians

How can the security guard fire a shotgun expecting to hit only the criminal and not the innocent bystanders? It is impossible. Have you ever seen the cops teargas an individual in a crowd?

The big question now is:

Does the guard know this fact about his gun? If yes, then the public are safe, even though the gun becomes a mere prop and the day our stupid criminals realize this fact, they will have a free run of our money.

But what if even one guard does not know this fact? If in a real situation, he does fire into a crowd, what are the consequences? Who is to blame? The government for their antiquated license laws? The Police and the rest of us for not putting an end to this widespread threat? The illiterate guard? Or the gullible Indian?

Gun licenses are issued by the cops. Aren’t they supposed to be experts on fire arms? Don’t they know how a shotgun works? The very reason a civilian can apply and obtain a license is because these are not to be used for anything other than hunting. The application also requires you to state intent of use. Any other type of fire arm is classified as capable of being used on humans and hence the irresponsible Indian is ineligible to own one. If so, why are they allowing PSG’s to carry them, with the intent to use, in public areas?

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.


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