Archive for category India

What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare.

So does it really matter that the names of large number of cities and states of India got changed?  This is a topic that I have felt strongly about ever since I was a kid.   And recently my long dormant feelings were reactivated while watching, of all things, CSPAN, where I heard Justice Antonin Scalia (of the US Supreme Court) flatly refusing to refer to Bombay as Mumbai (see video):

When I was growing up in what was then internationally known as “Bombay”, it already had different names in various regional languages of India.  It was called “Mumbai” by the Marati speaking (local) people, “Bumbuy” by Hindi speakers and “Bumbaai” by those speaking Tamil.

Since my parents had migrated from what was then “Madras” (now “Chennai”), technically, people of my ilk (Tamilians) were referred to as “outsiders” and not “sons of the soil” like the native Marati speakers called themselves.

The push to change the name formally from Bombay to Mumbai was also to signal to the “outsiders” that the city belonged to the “sons of the soil” and not to the “outsiders” – so the impetus for the name change was NOT to break-off from the British legacy (as sometimes wrongly portrayed by some).

Eventually, the “sons of the soil” prevailed in 1995 and the name of the city was formally changed to “Mumbai”.

And soon, like dominoes, “sons of the soil” in other cities swung into action – my parent’s city of origin changed from “Madras” to “Chennai”, my place of birth changed from “Calcutta” to “Kolkatta”, the city where I did my graduate education changed from “Bangalore” to “Bengaluru” and so on.  And numerous other cities and states changed names creating a geographical nightmare.

And the laughable part of all this was that aside from losing names that were known internationally for centuries, the new names could be exactly pronounced only by people familiar with the local language and their respective scripts (example Marati, Tamil and Bengali, in case of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkatta respectively).

So coming back to William Shakespeare and paraphrasing, “A rose by any other name might become unpronounceable!

And in my opinion, Justice Scalia is justified in his insistence on using the original name for Bombay.  And I believe it comes from his conservative perspective (that I share), which is, why change something without any valid rationale to do so?

And why should this topic of  name changes in India be of any interest to my American readers?  Here’s why:

My current home state of Texas was once part of Mexico.  It is projected by the year 2030, Hispanics will become the majority in Texas.  And they might demand one day that names of cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, etc revert back to the “original” Spanish names.  And the name of the great state of Texas be changed back to Tejas!

And if these demands are acceded to, one fine day, international tourists when making travel plans, will be left scratching their heads as to what in the world happened to Dallas, Texas!  And that would be a real pity!!








Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Second time on political talk show radio …

After receiving generally positive feedback from my first foray into the political talk show world (about which I blogged earlier), I was invited today to participate in a discussion about the second debate that took place between President Obama and Mitt Romney earlier this week. 

In addition, this time I had the opportunity to express my views about the political involvement of Indians inAmerica as well.

As before, if you have the time and the inclination, you could listen (link below) and share your comments (NOTE: My participation begins around the 75th minute – so once the audio starts playing, you can click on the bar at around the half way point and move it forward till it displays 75 to skip the first 75 minutes):

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s in a name?

 Dale Carnegie

When I a young kid in India listening to the cricket commentary on radio, we had some commentators who would totally butcher some English names. For example, a famous cricketer from England was referred to by some commentators as “Iron Bottom” (instead of Ian Botham!). I used to consider these commentators plain lazy for not making the minimum effort to learn to pronounce the names of all the cricketers correctly.

Fast forward to several decades later and I am sitting in an audience where my daughter Sakshi (along with a bunch of kids of Indian origin) was receiving an award for being on the Junior Honor Roll and the kid making the announcement managed to mangle almost every single non-English sounding name.

It took some amount of persuasion on my part before the Principal of CMSE, Laura Springer, would take this issue of mispronunciation of names, seriously enough to agree to try and educate the children as to the importance, especially in today’s globalized work place, of taking the trouble to learn the correct pronunciation of “foreign” names.

Given that it was an American, Dale Carnegie, who wrote in his book “How to win friends and influence people” that among the “Six ways to make people like you” one was to “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”, it is indeed surprising as to why 76 years later American kids would not make the minimum effort to at least get the names of their classmates right.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

An Indian perspective after watching “Waiting for Superman”

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

What led me to see this movie was the catchy title – Superman comics were highly popular in India when I was growing up and my brothers and I used to have endless debates as to who was stronger, Superman, the Phantom or Tarzan and which one we needed on our side to win any battle!  So I could definitely relate to an African-American school administrator who grew up in the projects talking about, as a child, “Waiting for Superman” to come and save the broken school system in his neighborhood and then being heart broken when he was told by his mother that Superman was not real!  The gist of the movie is that it is you and I who need to do our bit to fix the US school system – Superman is not going to show up to do this job!!

The sentence that resonates for me is a statement made in the movie that “till the 70s, the USA had the best public school system in the world” and on the screen flashed pictures of all the luminaries in all walks of life that had graduated from the public school system and all the great strides made in the US in the fields of science, math and engineering during that period.

The next thing that struck me, which is something that I mentioned in my review of “2 million minutes” (scenes from which were used in this movie), is the fact that in those days, only around the top 20% of the students graduating from High School went on to college (to become CEOs, doctors, engineers, etc), the next 40% went on to vocational schools (to get jobs as computer operators, etc) and the bottom 40% just went to good jobs in manufacturing, services, etc.  (This is exactly what we in India thought was a great thing – that kids who had no interest in higher learning were not being forced to go to college just to collect a piece of paper to improve their job prospects).

The problem is that the US economy (which is now tied way more tightly into the global economy) is no longer the same.  High unemployment on the one hand exists side by side with lack of qualified employees to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs available in areas like high tech (a point made in this movie).

The film also makes the point that when Nixon opened the door to China in the 70s, American businesses were salivating over the prospect of being able to sell every Chinese a toothbrush (for example), which meant American businesses could sell a billion additional toothbrushes, not realizing that, in due course, it would be the Chinese who would be selling toothbrushes to the US putting US manufacturers out of business!

The film focuses on the worst performing public schools in the US and the (lack of) prospects for children graduating (or dropping) out of such schools.  Also, the whole idea of the lottery system to assign children to better schools (with the children, sitting at the lottery drawing, watching with devastated faces as if their world had come to an end at such an early age, when they did not get picked) seemed like a travesty to me.  Why not just have some kind of entrance test where the children at least get a sense (which might influence their entire outlook on life) that they can get somewhere due to their own efforts and abilities rather than pure luck?

Looking at this topic from the perspective of someone who grew up in India, when I look at these (so-called) worst schools, almost every one of them looks better than some of the (what we considered) “better” schools in India.  For example, the school I went to from KG to 6th grade was located on top of a busy railway station with heavy and noisy traffic just outside of the school gates.  And yet, this was a “better” school for which my father stood in line overnight to get me admission there because it was run by Christian missionaries who had a reputation for imparting a solid education (meaning it had great teachers) and strict discipline (including corporal punishment, administered even by the Principal or the Head Master, in special circumstances!).

And there were schools on top of movie theaters, schools with broken windows and hardly any facilities for learning, etc and yet students from these schools have made it big both in India and, in fact, many have come to the US and done well here as well.

So how come US students (with access to comparably much better facilities even in their “worst” schools compared to their Indian counterparts) not fare better than Indian students coming from schools with practically no facilities?

In my opinion, the answer is just two factors – “Great Teachers” and “Strong Families”. 

Motivated students (with parents) who believed that only education could pull them out from their poor and lower middle class life style (example: I grew up in an apartment with just one single room and a kitchen with parents and 4 siblings sharing this space resulting in all the kids having a burning desire to learn, succeed and reach a better standard of living, which we all accomplished).  So when I see the so-called “poor” people in the US (depicted in this movie), probably living on Government dole, having relatively nice apartments, driving decent cars and with no shortage of basics like food, it makes me wonder what would motivate kids from such families to stay in school and get a decent education, especially if the family is broken, with no tradition of higher learning.

 When it comes to the topic of having great teachers, what strikes me in this movie is the implication (which could be an overgeneralization) that in the US, Teacher’s Unions have such a stranglehold over the system that even an innovative administrator like Michelle Rhee (trying to reform the DC school system) is not able to push through a reasonable scheme that will reward better performing teachers (while not even threatening the jobs of poor performing teachers).

 In India, teachers (whatever they are teaching) are supposed to be treated with utmost reverence (because of the Indian tradition which teaches, in the order of respect, it is “Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam” – meaning “Mother, Father, Teacher, God”), that is, teachers are supposed to be respected more than even God!  And correspondingly, it is expected that for teachers (for whom earning money should be their lowest priority), nothing should be more important than sending out learned kids into the world.

 From what I saw in this movie, the implication that many (but this again could be an overgeneralization) teachers in the US are just like any other vested interest protecting their rights and jobs with scant regard for the quality of education they are providing to their students and having least interest in the future prospects of their students.

Themovie’s main thrust appears to be that till the matter of eliminating poor teachers and rewarding the good ones is addressed, however much money is poured into school education by the US Government (where a lot more money is available to expend compared to relatively impoverished places like India), nothing substantial is going to change. 

However, to conclude on an optimistic note, the movie depicts several people who are cognizant of the problems facing the school system in the US and who are coming up with innovative solutions (like the Kipp schools) and, in my opinion, in due course, sufficient course corrections will take place making most US schools once more the citadels of learning (accessible to children, from all strata of society, who are motivated to learn) that would again become be the envy of the world.


Tags: , , , ,

“2 Million Minutes” – Movie Review

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

After watching all 3 videos – the first being the final movie – the other two, detailed versions of the scene in India and China which serve as input to the final movie, a couple of things came to mind right away. 

First of all, growing up in India and going to school there (where everyone was expected to go to college, whether one had any interest in higher education or not, making most colleges just degree mills), my impression of US schools were that they provided enough vocational oriented education that only the cream of the crop actually needed to go to college – all others would get reasonably high paying jobs with just a high school education. 

Fast forward to 1984 when I first set foot on US soil and visited relatives in Akron, Ohio (long time settled in the US at that time) during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Over the weekend, the lady of the house told me that “Indians were way smarter than Americans”.  My immediate response was “Aren’t you now an American?”  The problem I saw with her reasoning was that she was comparing Indians in America (who were mostly those who had come here to pursue higher education and were essentially the cream of the crop) with the local gas station attendant types (who had only graduated high school) – obviously not an apples to apples comparison! 

Between 1984 and now, to my knowledge, I do not believe American schools have deteriorated that rapidly but they may have stayed pretty much unchanged, that is, providing students an “all round education” (as the American kids in this movie say) which meant that academics were only one of the many things in which the students were expected to expend their time during their tenure in school. 

The difference now is that times have changed.  Manufacturing jobs of the past, for which a high school education would suffice to make a good living, are fast disappearing in the US.  Service jobs that have replaced them do not result in equivalent compensation and these too get outsourced every day.  And someone with just a high school education might end up with little prospects. 

But despite all this, the average American High School is definitely vastly superior to an Indian (and possibly Chinese) school in terms of facilities, funding, etc.  What the movie has done is to compare a public school in Indiana (and schools of that standard would be available to most US residents, except those living in impoverished areas like inner-cities) with an elite school in India (and possibly China), the type of school which is available to a very small sliver of the Indian (and possibly Chinese) population.

 If you look at it in terms of numbers, in my estimation, less than 10% of the population of India (which would be around 110 million people) would have an opportunity to go to schools of the caliber represented in the movie while the remaining 1.1 billion people only have mediocre to substandard schooling available to them.  But then there are plenty of manufacturing and menial type jobs now available in India and China (which do not require higher education) to cater to this segment of the population .

In contrast, I would say that 90% of the US population (which would be around 270 million) would have the opportunity to schools which are not too different from the Indiana school depicted in this movie. These students would always have an opportunity to go on to a reasonable college education (since these school have all the facilities like excellent libraries, labs, etc), if academics were sufficiently emphasized during their school years.

To conclude, I would state that the average American student still has way better schooling facilities and opportunities to get a quality education compared to Indian or Chinese students – it is just that the curriculum has to be retooled to adapt to changing times (which I believe is already taking place).  In due course, America with its dynamic and diverse population will eventually out-compete both China and India. 

So, in my opinion, the dire predictions of this movie regarding the competitiveness of American students compared to their Indian and Chinese counterparts are way off the mark.

Tags: , , , , ,

What I learnt from coaching a Destination Imagination team ….


Mockingbird Elementary takes third place in Regional Destination ImagiNation® Tournament

Mockingbird Elementary takes third place in Regional Destination

Bottom row, l-r, Shreya Vurimi, Ellie Manning Middle row, l-r, Meara Isenberg, Rhianna McFarlen, Sakshi Venkatraman Back row, l-r, Principal, Pam Mitchell, Mrudul Tummala, Coach, Venky Venkatraman

Earlier this year, I coached my 5th grade daughter’s school’s Destination ImagiNation team.

In a nutshell, Destination ImagiNation ( is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for students to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving and then compete against one another.

There were 6 kids in my team, 3 or Indian origin (including my daughter) and 3 whites.  Of these 5 were girls and one was a boy.

All the kids were from the Gifted program – so all of them were pretty bright.

Right from the outset, I saw some interesting dynamics in the team that I could easily correlate to the adult world.  Following are my observations:

  1. It is always to tough to get a group of bright individuals (all of whom think they have the “right” answer to work together)
  2. Indians born in India (and especially if South Indian) are quite submissive and will not speak up easily even when they know the subject
  3. Indians born in the US (like my daughter) have no problem being assertive!
  4. Whites are typically more assertive, even when they are unprepared and do not know the subject
  5. Indians tend to work well together but will not produce any original ideas
  6. Whites come up with real imaginative ideas but many times will not follow through
  7. All of them are equally likely to go to management and try to get their colleagues fired!

I could probably add a whole bunch of other such observations to this list but then I am might end up wandering further and further into politically incorrect areas!

However, my point is that to effectively manage a group of individuals, “profiling” each individual according to their ethnic and national background might be unavoidable.  (Growing up in Bombay, India, I know that Punjabis have different charteristics from Tamils, Bengalis from Telugus, Marwaris from Biharis, etc – so I can make this assetion from personal experience).

And, in this case, I can make this claim with some confidence because my team which was formed pretty late, just practicing for a couple of hours every week, one day a week, for 8 weeks, was able to finish 3rd in the Regional Competition, competing against veteran teams who had practiced for months and competed for years.  And I have to give myself some credit for getting this team from forming, storming and norming to performing!

In conclusion, I can say with some conviction that the more perceptive a “profiler” you are, the better manager you likely to be!

Agree or vehemently disagree, I would like to know!!

Tags: , ,

Guest Blogger on India’s New Visa Requirements

Rupa Bose is a fellow alumnus from the Indian Institute of Management.  She maintains a very informative blog ( which is mostly business related with a primary focus on India, Asia, economy, products and companies.  Rupa has also authored a fact filled book about doing business in India titled “India Business Checklists”.

We have decided to occasionally guest-blog, that is, my posts will show up on her blog as well, and vice-versa.

I found that her posting on India’s New Visa Requirements complemented my blog entry comparing and contrasting 9/11 and 26/11.

Following is her article from Jan 14, 2010:

Terrorists and India’s New Visa Requirements

If you have an American visa passport (or a European one), you can visit most countries free of visa requirements.

India’s not one of them. Almost all foreigners need visas for India. (Citizens of five countries qualify for 30-day visas-on-arrival.) In fact, India has a whole bunch of visa categories: Tourist,  Business, Journalist, Conference,  Transit visa, Entry Visa,  Employment, Student, Missionary, Research, Sports.  Recently, thanks largely to a single terrorist, the rules were tightened further.

India had always given long-term multiple entry tourist visas to foreigners who wished to visit the country regularly. Thousands of visitors took advantage of it, including people who used it essentially as a business visit visa.

David Coleman Headley allegedly used it for a more nefarious purpose – to research potential targets in Mumbai ahead of the horrendous terror attacks on the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, and a major train station among others.

The Indian government will now prohibit a visitor – even one with a multi-year, multiple re-entry visa – from returning in under two months. Exceptions may be permitted with an advance itinerary – if for instance your travels take you into other countries and back through India for two or more short stays.  However, if the total period exceeds 90 days (or 180 days, depending on the visa), then the two month gap becomes a requirement.

The government is also becoming stricter about the de facto use of tourist visas for other purposes – like business.

People with Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status do not need to get Indian visas, no matter what nationality they have.


We’ll all get used the the new visa rules eventually. But meanwhile, the first, very public, evidence of the visa inconvenience showed up in the Indian press.

Several guests who’d planned to speak at an important Literary Festival in Jaipur didn’t get there for visa reasons. The Indian Express reported the following:

  • Eminent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates – the gentleman who shot into the headlines after being arrested on his own front porch by mistake – didn’t get a visa in time. The rules had been tightened after his application went in, and the consulate went by the new rules. Apparently they wanted a copy of his birth certificate and his college diploma…
  • Andrew Lycett, from the UK, had visited in November, and had a tourist visa valid for six months. But since he needed to re-enter within 60 days, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the right type of emergency…
  • Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad tried to get a visa from London, though she is from New York. The passport was sent to New York for verification, and hadn’t returned by the time the festival started.

(Of course, Delhi is in the grip of fog season, which adds its own complications to travel. Today’s news is that visibility is down to 100 meters, and over 100 flights are affected. Not to mention the trains.)


If terrorists measure their success in terms of inconvenience caused to the public at large, this is another point for them. Along with shoe-removal when visiting the US and several other countries, no liquids permitted on board, a wide range of items prohibited in carry-on luggage, finger-printing at Immigration in some countries, and coming soon to an airport near you, full-body scanners.

Then again, I suppose all these measures are generating jobs and economic activity…


India Aims for Center Court

An article with the above mentioned title was published in the Wall Street Journal of September 11, 2009 (

In my opinion, one dopey, uninformed statement in the very first paragraph ruined the credibility of what was otherwise an interesting article.  What do you think?

Below is the comment I posted on this article:

Although Yuki Bhambri ended up losing in the quarter finals of the rain marred US Open Juniors, the statement in this article that “Yuki Bhambri hails from India, a country whose professional tennis history is only slightly richer than America’s record in cricket.” is ridiculous!


In 1960, Ramanathan Krishnan reached the semi-finals of the men’s singles competition at Wimbledon where he lost to Neale Fraser. He reached the Wimbledon semi-finals again the next year, losing to Rod Laver.  Both Fraser and Laver were the eventual champions.  Also, Krishnan was a key member of the Indian team which reached the final of the Davis Cup in 1966.


India reached the Davis Cup finals again in 1974 and 1987.


in 1973 Vijay Amritraj (quoted in this article) reached the quarter-final stage at two Grand Slam events. At Wimbledon he lost 7–5 in the fifth set to the eventual champion Jan Kodeš and later that summer at the US Open, lost to Ken Rosewall after having beaten Rod Laver two rounds earlier.  Amritraj repeated his feat at Forest Hills in 1974 when he went out in the last eight again to Rosewall after beating Björn Borg in the second round.  In 1981 Amritraj again reached the quarterfinals, going out in five sets to Jimmy Connors.  He had victories against most of the top players of his day, including John McEnroe at his peak in 1984.


Finally, Ramesh Krishnan reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon once (1986) and the US Open twice (1981 and 1987).


All of the above information could be obtained in a few minutes by doing a simple Google search.


Obviously, if American cricket over the years was any way comparable to Indian tennis, then America would be in the league of Test and One Day International playing nations, at least on par with Bangladesh!


Overall this article is accurate but it has been marred by just one sloppy statement in the beginning which takes away from the credibility of the writers.  Hopefully they will do their homework more thoroughly next time before putting pen to paper.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,