Archive for the ‘social’ Category

The limitations of hive idea generation

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

We all know how disruptive ideas can change our lives significantly. I am writing on one. The very imagination required to think that we human beings will require an auxiliary device to write on is not more than 50 years old.  The power of ideas is all around us. We have become a hive mind. All of us feeding off each other’s ideas and building new and engaging things. This is all great news.

However, there are a few limitations.

  1. The hive think : As more and more people enter this hive, structures of thinking and innovation materialize so that all can stay organized. The “minds” have to think within this box if their ideas are to be husbanded. Think Microsoft products. Great in themselves but very much part of a structural system so it takes a while for any truly original thought to arise. The kaizen thinking approach has this huge problem of not being able to absorb really different ideas coming from without. The good people at Apple are in this position right now where their best selling product is the Airpod and there seems to be no other disruptive product left in the bag.
  2. The competition for a better kerosene : While the oil makers a century ago were perfecting the kind of kerosene that will burn with the least amount of smoke, other more adventurous people came up with the car and upended the entire oil producing industry. The quest of a product that is slightly better than other products of the same ilk is quite natural but adds to the paucity of good ideas because the minds are employed in an ever shrinking tunnel vision. We had Web 2.0 a decade ago, where is web 3.0? We have had no Google or Facebook come up recently because the people who would produce these great ideas are not focused on creating disruption anymore. Also these giants are gobbling up any competition or new product idea that they see.
  3. Too much of a good thing : The hive is built around ideas that were generated and nurtured in a small part of the world: mostly silicon valley. They cannot be really transferred across the various different cultures now accessing and playing a part in the hive mind. The problems of war-torn sub-saharan Africa do not find any cognizance, forget the desire to solve them. The great firewall of China has no desire to let people of the middle kingdom be part of this hive. South Asia has a huge consumer base ready to consume products not built for them. The lack of participation by a large group of humanity means that there is very little new thought that percolates in this hive. There is a lot more homogeneity than is desirable.

Well, so what do we do about it? As people who make or design products and services, we need to ground ourselves in the problems that we are trying to solve. Instead of sitting in sunny california(this is not a fair dig, I know) dreaming for the world, product creators need to differentiate between different cultures, their norms of work and life and try to fit in there rather than vice versa. Facebook, Google and Microsoft in a very well-meaning way have tried to create teams based on regions but have not been successful because they are always looking for talent that is a “good fit” for the original organization.

There is a lot of thought that goes into building new products but they are almost always for the haves, never for the havenots. It will be a warm and sunny day if we can think up services like airtime as money transfer, solar batteries, cheap smartphones for South Asia, etc. Let’s hope and work towards that time otherwise the next disruption will probably dismantle this hive that we have carefully built.

Notes from a trip to Shaker Heritage Craft Fair

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Local crafts people are your best bet there is when thinking of gifts for your loved ones. We tootled down to the craft’s fair looking for this reason and also just to have fun with the kids on a warm and sunny Albany Sunday. Needless to stay it was a very good time had by all and the children enjoyed themselves immensely, looking at the turkeys and drinking delicious lemonade.

It was also amazing to see that all the small crafts people have easily integrated technology into their way of life. I remember a time not so long ago when one had to go to these kinds of places with cash in hand because no one had credit card machines. In this fair, I saw everyone was armed with Square . We were able to pay with our credit card easily and seamlessly. I wonder what the shaker community would say to it if all of them had come alive today!

There were a lot of people who were selling clothes, baskets as well as foods and spices. Let me show you some pictures and some websites. You can go to check out the products that we saw. Yes, everyone had a web presence and I was tickled pink by that!

Pure Pottery: This father and daughter duo had wonderful pottery pieces for decoration as well as home utility. To see more of their work please go to this site.
Pure Pottery

Mr. Jackson of Kirby Mountain Wood had some stunning wooden pieces of art. This is the first time I have seen actual wood used in a lampshade.

Ms. Sandy Salada had some wonderful woven baskets with beautiful and intricate designs too.

There were also a few artists who were willing to teach their craft. Check out Patty Keelen of “As The Wheel Turns” and Nina Zanetti with her Mountain Dulcimer. I was rather intrigued by the equipment. It looks so lovely and so much like a Sitar, almost.

So that was an interesting trip to a crafts fair. The experience was made richer by the welcoming attitude of these craftspeople and their willingness to engage with the visitors. This summer, I am going to try and make all such events as I am told that “Winter is coming!”


The Haj Subsidy: Another side to this tale

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

A history of the subsidy

The Haj subsidy is the amount of money subsidized by the Government of India to every pilgrim for covering the expenses of air travel from the port of embarkation in India to Jeddah or Medina in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrim is supposed to pay for the other costs incurred by the Haj committee which are substantial in themselves. However, this subsidy has become a bone of contention in recent times.

The practice of subsidizing Hajis or any kind of pilgrim is very old in India and every kingdom large or small since antiquity has done it. In modern times, the British Empire, stepping into the shoes of the Moghul Empire found that the state and local worthies were supposed to provide sustenance and transport to Hajis travelling to Mecca. They did this by contracting dhows and ships from local harbors and charging Hajis for tickets. Very soon, they discovered, much to their chagrin, that many Hajis, not having the means to by a two-way ticket, would settle down in the Hejaz (the area where Haj is performed) and become indigents on the local Ottoman officials. This marked a significant loss of prestige with the other imperial powers too so it had to be addressed.

This prompted the charging of two-way tickets right from Bombay or Karachi. However, to the relief of the Muflis (indigent) many Muslim worthies stepped in, and under the aegis of Europeans, provided some relief to the pilgrims, in effect subsidizing the trip. In 1932, under pressure from the nationalist movement, the British created the Port Haj Committees Act, to help pilgrims make the trip to Hejaz. This subsidy was maintained by various Haj committees operating out of Bombay and Calcutta.

Upon the departure of the British and the dismemberment of the country, the Haj committees were left bereft, without funds or organization. Here is where the government of India stepped in and out of the generosity that was quite typical of Jawaharlal and his ilk, it was decided to formally provide a subsidy for Hajis so that they could proceed for pilgrimage with more ease and less strain on their purse.

Thus was born the Haj Committee Act of 1959. The express purpose of which was to help the pilgrims with more logistic and material assistance. I cannot help but be amused by the fact that the act does not provide specifics of any material help. Article 9.1(c) of the act insouciantly states that the committee shall “provide relief to indigent pilgrims”. Article 9.1(h) is even more vague: “the committee shall look after the general welfare of the pilgrims”. How much and who shall provide the monies?

Why the government of India, of course (specifically stated in Article 9.2)! No ambiguities there! No doubt there were much fewer Hajis then and the expense was not considerable but still, the generosity of thought still leaves one feeling warm and gooey inside.

Among many Muslims, it is recognized, with sincere affection for their country, that the Haj is organized very well in comparison to anything else that the “sarkar” does. The astonishing efficiency of documentation; the deeply attentive bespectacled “babus”; the medical care at various places in the Haramain(sanctuaries); even the provision of Aab-e-ZamZam at the 19 ports of disembarkation is amazing to be seen. Go once if you can, and see for yourself the amazing scenes at the “Haj terminals” (Cargo Terminals that are transformed during Haj) when Hajis are going or returning from the pilgrimage. They literally turn into fairgrounds with everyone hugging each other; the air perfumed with the scent of garlands; and whiffs of Biryani and other delicacies thrown in the mix.


The cost of it all

The problems started to surface when air travel became the norm and, vague as the terms of subsidy were, they were also covered by the tax payer of India. As an example, the airfare has ballooned in recent years, going from ₹17,000 in 1994 to ₹54,800 in 2011. In that year, every pilgrim was still being charged ₹17,000 for airfare. The total price of Haj that year was ₹1,25,000 per pilgrim. When questioned later, the counsel for the government even expressed embarrassment at asking the Hajis to pony up the extra money, Bless him!

There are other costs that the state incurs during Haj. The Haj Committee oversees preparation of documents and visas for Haj and provides medical and logistics care during the pilgrimage. It is estimated that the government spends ₹73,000 per pilgrim (this includes the previously stated transportation cost)! That is quite significant and shows a concern for Muslims that is very touching and kind.

However, it does present a significant strain on the exchequer. In the year 1994, the number of pilgrims going for Hajj from India was as low as 21,035; in 2011, the number of pilgrims increased to 125,000. As a result, the total Hajj subsidy that was Rs.10.51 crores in the year 1994 swelled up to Rs.685 crores in the year 2011.

The rise of the cynics

It is sad that in this day and age, the multi-religious construct of India is under severe attack from various right-wing elements, both from within Muslims and from among the Saffron brigades.

The former completely rejects the notion that the subsidy is in anyway an act of generosity. They point out that the government is really subsidizing the national carrier (Air India) in the guise of doing Muslims a service. They also contend that they don’t need the subsidy and the private agents will do a cheaper, better job anyway. Besides, the state does provide subsidies for Hindu pilgrims in various areas so the Haj subsidy is being unfairly picked on too.

The latter, no doubt stung by the fact that the government does not spend anywhere near this kind of money for any individual Hindu pilgrimage points to this as Muslim appeasement in a Hindu land. They are correct to point out the costs but suffer from serious inferiority complexes about their own legitimacy in a multi-religious land and cannot abide by anyone getting any perceived preference over our Hindu brethren. They quite forget that empires and kings of all stripes over several millennia have provided for pilgrims (religion no bar) out of their own and public exchequer. It is considered an act of great piety among us, especially Hindus.

So, this vicious fight continues with no mercy or genuine affection shown from any side of the argument. Some contend that as a secular country, India is not supposed to provide any religious subsidy. However, that is not correct. We are not a secular state in the Western sense (opposed to religion or religious expression in the public space) but a multi-religious state. We bow before all deities, and so it is not out of character if the state behaves in the same way.  If anything, subsidies for religious pilgrims and accommodation for them should be increased. It will go some way in promoting religious comity and make us appreciate our millennia old culture even more. But who will listen in this age of cynicism and lack of trust to this line of argument.

Begone thou beggar full of faith!

Even the Supreme Court did not. The Hon. Justices of the court ruled in 2012 that the government shall cease to provide this subsidy within ten years, or by 2022. The court used the Holy Quran in its ruling pointing out that it is the duty of every Muslim to provide for the Haj himself/herself. They cited a commentary of the Surah Al-e-Imraan, verse 97. While the verse is quite open, the commentary that the Hon. Court cites is quite unequivocal. This clearly is at the behest of some Muslims to whom it is anathema to owe their Hindu brethren anything, much less such a central tenet of their faith as the Haj.

Where does this leave the common Indian Muslim, one who makes enough to save for a one-way trip to Haj? What of his longing to visit Madinat-un-Nabi (City of the Prophet), whether it is “farz” (obligatory) or not? You see, any pilgrimage is not only about rituals and the mindless following of them. Anyone who has stood at the plains of Arafat knows that it is not the obligation that makes him full of faith, it is a deep-seated conviction; a perception that the Divine is closer. I guess now, with the pride of Muslims and Hindus assuaged, the Muflis(indigent) Haji is left out and will think….


Muhabbat karne waale kam na honge,

Teri mehfil main lekin hum na honge

There will be many lovers at thy door beloved,

Alas! I shall not be of those fortunate ones




Three Twitter learning points.

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

Three quick learning points from Twitter over the last month

  • Always follow back people who follow you.
    • if someone follows you, it is only decent to check out their twitter feed and follow them back if your interests match.
    • Re-tweet their pinned tweet or another prominent tweet that you read and liked. Yes, you need to make that effort. It will enrich your feed too.
    • Check out their followers and follow them too. This is not a contest on who has more followers but more an opportunity for you touch base with thought leaders in your domain.
  • Make sure you put an effort towards providing good content to your followers.
    • Everyday, I am devoting time to my mailing lists and emails to make sure that I can recommend some good reads to my followers.
    • Post images and constantly change the content of your pinned tweet. It garners more attention in Twitter world.
    • Without realizing it, you are running a daily newspaper. You don’t need to get frazzled but 4 to 5 good posts a day will keep your followers engaged.
    • This will show in re-tweets and replies and likes. I get on average 1, 1 and 3 respectively.
  • This is a great channel to build relationships.
    • You will be surprised how many people will write you directly and offer to help. Take them up on the offer and offer your own help. Do not talk money. We all know the difference between favors and paid work.
    • When re-tweeting, please try to mention your own take on the thread or link. It will help other in your list make sense of what is being talked about.

I hear a lot of conversation about monetizing social media channels and earning millions of dollars a month. Well, of course no one minds earning that kind of money. However, like everything else, this is an activity that requires a lot of effort. Take an hour or two a day to do this well.

My amazing experience with Twitter traffic started on Jan 20st, 2017 when my following suddenly rose  from 550 to 650 within a day. I was delighted but puzzled. I still am. My handle @ateeqhmad has been around for 7 years with barely anyone listening and then suddenly this jump.

twitter followers




It didn’t stop there either. By Feb 1st, 2017 , my followers were up beyond the 1,000 mark and are still slowly climbing everyday.  I had some great interactions with people; absorbed a lot of good ideas and learnt that this is a wonderful tool to interact with others.

There are several good Social Media tools out there. Use them if you have $20 a month to spare. However, I would advise against too much automation. It takes away from the spontaneity of life.

Most importantly, have fun!

The trouble with Muslims working in the West.

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

All along I knew there was something wrong about all of us who work in the West. Today, I was enlightened by a wonderful gentleman who works in Riyadh. While waiting for our respective Paan, I said, “Sir, I do admire the fact that you can come to Aligarh so often because you work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. He replied, ” Yes indeed! Plus, the biggest benefits are that we work in Halal jobs. All you westerners work in Haram environments”.

Now I was a bit thrown. I didn’t expect this particular brand of crap. You know, we Muslims come up with all sorts of interesting stuff… but this was new to me.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind that my Paan friend considered my labors in the USA Haram. Not in the least. He is perfectly entitled to his ignorance and bigotry. Only, I hadn’t head this one before so I went looking.

Truly, Google par sab milta hai( you get everything on Google). I think I found what he was alluding to. Like everything else, it has to do with wine, women and ..well, not song, but interest and usury are bad enough man!

By now, either you are bored ut of your mind and are still willing to hear me out, or you are genuinely interested. Either way, this is where it gets juicy. Trust me!

Wine and other Tasteless Spirits

In the West, liquor and other spirits are the norm and the work place atmosphere is such that a believing brother cannot get by without imbibing a few completely Haram sips here and there. One has one’s children to think about and one’s job prospects get dimmer the lesser you drink with the boys and girls(God Forbid, of course). No data to prove this but it seems very obvious, doesn’t it?

Interest and Usury issues

We know that in the middle-east all Muslim countries do not give or take interest. They are completely cut off from the banking systems of the world. In fact, they all practice Islamic banking where taking and giving Ribaa(interest) and Usury(sood) is not practiced. This is known, of course. No proof needed really.

We also know that the West is steeped in interest and usury. Their problems become ours because our wives and sisters( not ourselves, mind you) start desiring these western houses and all the accoutrements thereof. Now, how is a brother in a halal job going to pay for a posh mercedes? He will have to take a loan from these evil western banks( it is known that all Muslim banks are ipso facto not evil, sort of like Google). So living in such a society destroys one’s faith in God. One particular scholar on a forum noted that one should not work in these societies and live on government assistance. Very wise, indeed!

Women at Work( Oh Lord!)

You see, this whole business of women working in the same office as men is terribly controversial and a bit too suspiciously interesting to all brand of Fatwa-wallahs.

First of all, we ALL know that the first chance women get, they will flirt!( No data is necessary to back this up of course. We brothers know this! We have to fend them off after all, in droves, mind you.) Western women apparently flirt all the time. It is quite a wonder that any work gets done at all!

Secondly, there will be skimpy-clothing-to-work days, pretty much all the year round. Skimpy, here signifies anything not in the traditional KSA Abayah. Is there any research to back this up? Of course not! God knows this already and hence the whole ritual mummification of women thing…You could argue that men should be able to observe a bit more decency and ogle less but this is a weak argument. We all KNOW that the clothes will get skimpier if we do not ogle. We Muslim men are doing a public service here and no one gives us any credit for it. Such is the world!

Thirdly and finally, there will of course be touches, very accidental mind you, but such touching sets everyone’s beard aflame. One cannot be sure whether it is excitement or censure, but we get very touchy about this business. Forum upon Forum, blog upon blog, are enveloped in the Halal and Haram of touching. Everyone knows that a pure Muslim Brother will be lured into touching by a woman. All that happens after that is not in the purview of discussion as it is purely said woman’s fault. Besides, this is a decent blog so I am not going beyond this.

So, in conclusion, this chance comment by a very wise fellow Paan eater has indeed induced me to desist from working in the West. Henceforth, until the West shows some initiative and improves itself, I shall work in India.

Got jobs anyone?

india is complicated….

Friday, June 17th, 2011

It has been two weeks since I migrated back to India. They have been very interesting and quite eye-opening is some cases.

1. The first thing you notice is how much cleaner the big cities have become. New Delhi air is nowhere as noxious as it was a few years ago. CNG operated buses, taxis and autos have had a huge influence there.

2. Everything is quite expensive. You can’t really live a middling, middle-class existence in $1k. People are making and spending a lot of money. There is every kind of booze available too.


3. Medical care is available for a price. At Artemis hospital in Gurgaon, I saw a lot of foreigners; middle-easterners as well as Europeans.

4. You also have lots of family and so that makes the transition to the heat and more heat a lot more bearable.

5. Internet connections are also available at very high speeds. Quite higher than what I had anticipated. However, you need a backup for every connection. Preferably a backup of a backup as well.

More, anon…

Corruption in cricket

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

yaar….i have seen it all…these guys have all sold out. By the way, what makes you think the Aussies and the English are not in this also. Cronje was killed because of this.

the above is a statement that is all too common nowadays. Have we had too much cricket? Is there a conspiracy against Pakistan by the CIA? You will hear more of this stuff too, I am afraid.

However, the simple fact is that the News of the World , a rag famous for catching out celebrities in uncomfortable positions has got a video with Pakistani players accepting cash for spot fixing .  So far, it seems like the ICC is going about it slowly as Scotland Yard is also involved. There seems to be no conspiracy to me.

This is particularly damning because Mr. Asif has been suspended before for doing illegal drugs. Now that Yasir Hameed has come out with more of an expose with the same paper( are these guys really looking to commit career suicide? ), the only conspiracy seems to be in the Pakistani team as to who is the dumbest of them all.

I would not be surprised if some sort of harmless spots get fixed routinely. After all, rumor has it that in IPL, the amount of illegal gambling in Mumbai and Delhi easily tops 200 million dollars.

Some articles from renowned commentators on the issue are below:

No Balls by Tariq Ali

Save the game or lose it by Ian Chappell

Impossible to clean cricket completely – Hayden

The Burqa in Europe, Nien! NON! NO!… and other voices!

Saturday, July 17th, 2010


In defense of the burqa ban

This week, French lawmakers are expected to vote on a proposed law that would criminalize the burqa, bringing to a head more than a year of heated debate over the conservative Islamic veil in contemporary France. Although the full head and body covering is worn by fewer than 2,000 of the country’s 3.5 million Muslims, the movement to ban it has touched off a volatile discussion about issues of immigration, integration and the rights of women. Nonetheless, a recent poll showed that eight in 10 people in France support slapping a ban on the veil. [MORE]

Veiled Threats?

Let’s start with an assumption that is widely shared: that all human beings are equal bearers of human dignity.  It is widely agreed that government must treat that dignity with equal respect.   But what is it to treat people with equal respect in areas touching on religious belief and observance? [MORE]

Criminalising women behind the veil

So the French lower house has voted to ban the burka or niqab in a public place. It was by a massive majority: 355 to 1. The Greens and some of the Socialists abstained. There are still hurdles to be crossed, but France is heading to a moment when a woman wearing a full-face veil in public could be stopped by a police patrol and fined 150 euros (£125). If the police gather evidence that a woman is being forced to dress in a niqab, then the man faces a very heavy fine.[MORE]

Widespread Support for Banning Full Islamic Veil in Western Europe:Most Americans Disapprove

This is the result of a recent study by Pew Research Center (July 8,2010). It highlight a stark contrast in attitudes about the issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Does this come as a surprise? Not really. Western European democracies merely tout their secular values but repeatedly fail to put them into practice. The ban on the veil is not the sole contentious issue that continues to alienate the Muslim population residing in Europe. It is thus no small surprise that most of the controversial issues between the West and the Muslim world stem from Europe.[MORE]

French attempts to outlaw the burqa strike a blow for the rights of women.

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers “only” the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a “ban.” To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.[MORE]

Some Books to consider related to this issue:
The Veil And The Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation Of Women’s Rights In Islam

Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective