Yearly Archives: 2011

After watching a news report on the appalling number of schools in India without even a building to house it in, I saw an advertisement mentioning “My classroom has no walls, I have no ceiling”.  I would have thought that it were a fundraising advertisement to build schools, but for the white smiling face in the ad.  It turns out in this strange world that classrooms without walls can also be sold as an opportunity.

Classrooms without walls

The woman sitting next to me was travelling on air for the first time. She grew up in a small town and there was not much discussion about air travel among her friends. I did my share to make her feel comfortable. We did a round on how to buckle the seat belt, how to turn on the light, how to turn off the air vents and whether she should hold her three month old tight through the flight. After we reached the altitude she asked, “Chal rahi hai kya” (is it going?). I heard it as “Jal rahi hai […]

Hawa mein bath: Stories from the Indian airspace

I wrote these pieces in a course on ‘creative non-fiction’ and included them in the dissertation to provide my readers a break from the formal monotony.  Sadly, most people remember sections of this from the dissertation, and little else.  Such is the life of a doctoral student. 15 Jan 2006 I should not have trusted my ethnography professor.  She convinced me today that good academic writing should make the researcher visible.  By subscribing to this, I have created an existential crisis for myself: Who am I? I would like to write about my fondness for butter scotch ice cream and […]

Making subjectivity visible: Sections from my dissertation

I cannot forget the parting advice of a professor who just departed. It was a ritual that he followed batch after batch, and as far as I remember it was the only time in the class that he ever strayed out of the course topics; he was a kind of a serious man. As you go out of the school and start your lives, typically you will have two major options. You could choose a career and accept a lifestyle that comes with it, or choose a lifestyle and accept the careers that come with it. Very rarely is one fortunate […]

Remembering Suresh Tendulkar

Will it be a church wedding, Hindu wedding or both, asked a friend. Neither. Oh?!…Will you tie a Thali? No. Will you exchange rings? No. Oh!? …Will there be ceremonial music at least? No. Then what do you mean by getting married? That was my friend’s reaction when I told him that I will get married in Madras in July. He got me thinking about the meaning of ‘getting married’, to be distinguished from less interesting topic – the meaning of marriage. I guess all of us will agree that ‘getting married’ deals with a transformation in the state of […]

The meaning of ‘getting married’

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . In evaluating alternatives including cash transfers, it is first important to identify both contributions and failures of the system.  Proponents of reforms today have focused exclusively on the problems, without dwelling on the things that it has done.  There is a reason why the PDS is so popular in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra and increasingly in other states including Chhattisgarh.  In all these cases the PDS has worked and means a lot to the […]

The PDS does not work, let’s shift to coupons or ...

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Many have argued that half the PDS entitlements reach the “non poor”.  I believe that resources are scarce, and the government should spend the money on people who need it most.  We should thus be concerned if resources are being spent on those who do not need it.  In considering whether resources reach the right people, we should remember that we have a rather poor system of identifying the poor.  The poverty-line based on […]

PDS does not reach the right people, let’s shift to ...

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Please read other articles in this topic before getting here… The cost of administering the PDS is high Some economists have pointed out that the cost of administering the PDS is very high, and it is now possible to transfer cash to people at a cheaper rate.  This is one of the strongest arguments for a shift from PDS to cash transfers, in my opinion.  The amount of money that could be transferred just […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: Assorted arguments

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . The level of corruption in the public distribution system has been one of the rallying points in the cry for change.  The following are some of the corruption related arguments for change: There is large scale corruption in the system It is undeniable that there is a lot of corruption in the PDS, and something needs to be done about it.  In arguing that we should shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers, […]

Corruption in the PDS & will coupons or cash transfer ...

The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India has come under a vigorous attack in the recent months.  There have been calls to dismantle the system and to replace with alternatives such as providing coupons or cash transfers.  Without any doubt the PDS has serious problems, and performs abysmally in some parts of India.  Unfortunately, these are also among the poorest regions where the need for protection from hunger is the greatest.   Considering that the PDS is supposed to contribute to something as fundamental as food security, such poor functioning must be addressed. In the recent past there have been discussions […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: FAQs

Pandit Ji’s tea stall was the first to open in Delhi University and he was greeted by six of us waiting for him impatiently. I think that my five canine companions were brothers and sisters; I do not know their ancestry, but I get a clear idea from the choice of expletives that were used when they had sex in front of his shop. But for such brief encounters, there was a symbiotic relationship between them and the shop. The university with its adjoining forest cover invited joggers, walkers, laughers and feeders every morning. A brisk middle-aged man stopped by […]

Dogs of Delhi University

I returned home with my body pulling me in two directions. It felt like there was a layer of glue in my throat pulling the layers of my throat together; I had never felt that parched. My bladder on the other hand felt like the Mettur dam after a heavy monsoon shower: ready to burst any minute unless the floodgates are opened. Do I go left to the kitchen to quench my thirst, or do I first go right to the restroom? I paused for a moment to consider the dilemma and decided to check my e-mail instead. Checking e-mail […]

Needs, priorities, habits

“Do you want to wear an anklet or do you want to go to prison?” said a US consular officer in Hyderabad about the tagging of some Indian students in the United States to monitor their movements. These anklets contain a GPS device that closely monitors the movements of the students, and will alert officials in case they move beyond areas that they have been authorised to. The anklets provide a useful analogy to the Unique ID (UID) project by the government of India. Let me explain. In an article entitled Prison without walls, Graeme Wood argues that such radio […]

Understanding UID through “radio tags”

There is never a moment of dullness when the opposites meet “I hid the camera, is there anything else that I should hide?” The preparation for Vipul’s visit started with this. Vipul and Dr. K and polar opposites in two ways. Vipul’s cardinal philosophy is: if I see a button, I press it. Inevitably, he has a history of ipods, laptops and other devices crashing with his interventions. The highlight of this trip being the crash of the ticketing machine at the railway station; he could simply not resist playing with while he waited to be picked up. Dr. K […]

The twain shall meet