NetNeutrality: The Wrong Perspective

As consumers, we Indians are fickle and puerile latching on to shiny new objects without thinking twice. I choose to believe that NetNeutrality is the latest such fad. While this might be a serious concern in the developed world, I don’t think that it is such a bad thing for India and other unconnected nations.

For every one of the 600,000 emails that went out to TRAI in favor of NetNeutrality, there are probably ten farmers and rural handymen silently saying “Dude, I’ll take what I get. Let me have it.” Unfortunately this “cause” has been led by people who already have the privilege of internet access and who are capable of sending emails to TRAI voicing their opinions. These are people thinking about creating a level playing field for big and small internet companies. But how does a farmer tell TRAI that he’d rather have the internet for free, albeit a small part of it?

Internet.org went overnight from being a noble cause to a sick corporate manoeuvre. I loved the idea. I like the idea of Airtel Zero too. Imagine being able to provide free weather reports to farmers and fishermen every day. Imagine being able to bank the unbanked through digital means. This is possible through platforms like Internet.org and Airtel Zero. So instead of having paranoid visions of censorship and data access control, let’s take these platforms for what they are – an opportunity to provide internet access to millions of people that need social upliftment.

Do big companies have an unfair advantage? Yes they do. Are startups going to get screwed over? Probably. But given where we are in the social development cycle, the government should care more about providing an opportunity for hundreds of millions of citizens than about equal opportunity to small companies. If Airtel is wise, it will probably give a heavily discounted rate to small internet companies.

You can choose to look at this as a blasphemous violation of the urban internet entitlement, or as an opportunity for the rural internet hungry – I choose the latter. You can choose to look at this as opening the floodgates for censorship, or opening the door for an informed population – I choose the latter.

I hope the government voids the 600,000 emails to TRAI and serves those who have never sent one, while exercising caution to make sure that this doesn’t become a precedent for censorship. Let us make this about NetAccess, not about NetNeutrality.

Hire people who will quit. It is okay.

In April 2012, I was drafted to head the incubation center at IIIT Hyderabad. One of the first things I had to do was to recruit a team. This was a bit of a challenge because I had no network in India, no plug into the ecosystem and no big brand to attract employees. Nevertheless I set out to build a team with just one rule – to hire people who will quit.

This flew in the face of many an opinion that employees should be recruited for the long haul. Despite all the raised eyebrows, I think I got it right.

Our team was tasked with inspiring thousands of young minds to give up modern day blue collar work (IT offshoring) and to believe in themselves enough to build their own companies. I believed (and continue to do so) that such dramatic inspiration cannot be delivered by a team that had decided to “settle down with a job”. We needed to be a team full of ambition ourselves, and hope that some of our enthusiasm would spill over onto the impressionable young minds that couldn’t think beyond a job at Facebook (or worse, Infosys).

Two years hence I was running my own tech company and I was advised to follow the (absolutely disgusting) best practice in corporate India to “sign a 1-year bond”. This evil bond allows a company to demand a fee if a recruit quits before one year. Now, I admit that a lot of effort goes into training employees and it is a financial and logistical tragedy if they quit prematurely, but I also believe that this is the cost of doing business – the onus is on the company to retain the employee (and bonded labor is not a legitimate retention policy). Needless to say, our company doesn’t have that policy.

So quit if you must, we’ll be okay.

Lest I oversimplify, there are some caveats.
1. The entering team member should be “able and willing” – able to fulfil the job and willing to go the extra mile. If the recruits do a great job while employed, there will be no ill-feelings when they quit.
2. This logic might be more applicable to high-pressure jobs (such as product development or growth marketing) than to sustenance jobs (such as an accountant or a receptionist).

While I might have been skeptical of my own beliefs a few years ago, I have now completely bought into them. I don’t talk about a leaving employee in hush-hush tones. Instead I bring it up unabashedly while the entire team is out for tea and have everyone joke about it and wish them well. I can sense the relief in the team when they see that quitting is not a bad thing. And inspires them to stay on!

When the door is open, nobody leaves (my dog is an exception).

Renting and Riding a Motorbike in Bali

Bali, like most other south-east Asian beach destinations, is best seen by bike. The cool breeze and the green surroundings make me pick a motorbike over a car any day. So if you choose to rent a bike, here’s the lowdown, as on May 2014. There are other articles/forums out there with information, but I found the information either out of date or too distributed.

Note: Exchange rate of $1 = 11,500 Rupaiah

1. Price: The base price you could get for a motorbike is about 40,000 rupiah. You can expect them to start haggling from 70,000 rupiah, but eventually come down to about 50,000. I have read online that you could rent geared bikes for cheaper, but all bikes in Kuta are automatic now, so it is almost impossible to get a geared motorbike. If you rent it for more days (say a week or more), then you could get a reduced rate of 40,000 rupiah. Compare this with the price of a car, 150,000 rupiah and the car won’t really seem very expensive. It is more a matter of riding style than of price.

2. Insurance: Different vendors have different “insurance policies”. Insurance, be forewarned, is as informal as it gets on this island. Let alone a document, there is barely a verbal description of the insurance. Some vendors mean excess (you pay $250 if the bike is stolen or broken into pieces), while some only cover theft. Either way, you need to pay up if there are any dents or scratches. So take pictures of the bike before you get a handover so that you are both agreed on the pre-existing condition of the bike. Also, I have heard that some vendors try and rip you off by charging a bomb for minor scratches, so be firm and bargain if you do put some scratches on it.

3. Route: Do you have a pre-planned route, or are you going to wing it the entire trip? Either way, if you plan to cross any hills then make sure you have a good bike. I rented a 100cc and, in hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. The bike really struggled climbing some hills and the front brake gave way on the way down. Also, it was difficult to accelerate although a good top speed (60kmph) could be maintained once it was achieved. So if you want to cross the hill regions towards the east or the north, I would suggest you get a better bike. It also depends on the weight it needs to carry. With about 15kgs of luggage and my wife riding pillion, my bike really struggled at times, and she had to get off and walk about a kilometre in different stretches. Yet, 95% of the time it served me well. Always remember to finalize the bike before negotiating a price. Because if you negotiate before finalizing the model, then your vendor is going to give you an older/screwed up bike.

4. Check everything: Make sure the lock is working fine. Even if you have a verbal agreement on theft insurance, better be safe than sorry. Check that the helmets aren’t rusty and are easy to click. This could be painful in places like Legian and Ubud where you hop from one place to another just a few metres away. As you can probably tell, this was the case with me. Most importantly, the ignition should be working fine. Agree upon the amount of petrol that he is giving you, so you can return the same amount back to him.

5. Petrol: Petrol is really cheap on the island (6,500 rupiah/litre), but the problem is its availability. Gas stations are few and far between, and if you are driving around the island, then you would definitely have a few situations where you think you are going to run out of petrol. Random people sell petrol on the streets, in bottles of Absolut Vodka. I am not sure how reliable this petrol is (could be mixed with kerosene which is cheaper), but it seemed like the thing to do. You can buy Absolut Petrol for about 8,000 rupiah although they might ask 10,000 rupiah for it (depends on how deep you are). But I tried as much as possible to fill up at gas stations to avoid a smoky carburettor in this green island.

6. License: You are required to have an international license to drive in Bali. You could either bring it from your home country, or get it here (Sanghyang St) for about 350,000 rupaiah (including bribe amount). Or you could choose to ignore it and drive around and pay up when you are caught. I landed in Bali on a Friday and the police station was closed on Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t wait until Monday morning, so I started driving without a license. Now I am on the last leg of my trip, having already driven around 400km with 100km more to go, and I haven’t been pulled over a single time. To be precise, I was pulled over to pay tolls, but never got asked my license and registration (which my vendor did not give me anyway).

7. Planning your time: On a typical rented bike you can maintain an average speed of 40kmph. In Indonesia, like in most other Asian countries, the motorbikes tend to squeeze through the holes while the cars are waiting in traffic. In places like Legian and Ubud this cuts down travel time by almost 90% (another reason why I got a bike instead of a car). But traffic or no traffic, when you are doing trips between cities, plan with 40kmph while you are traveling. If you are hitting mountains (like the route between Ubud and Singaraja or the route between Kintamani and Amed) then that stretch could drop to 20-30kmph. Don’t let Google Maps or anyone else tell you otherwise.

8. Finding your way: Road signs are good but not everywhere. So you need to rely on other means to find your way. You could get a map from the first hotel you stay at and use that to guide you (even petrol stations are marked in the map). Or you could drive around and ask fellow bikers without stopping. Or you could get a data sim card (about 120,000 rupiah) which gives you 3.5GB of data (EDGE speed) and use that to navigate. We did a mix of all three depending on the context. So we would use the physical map for broad directions, turn on Google Maps at intersections (which are very few in number), and ask along the way to reconfirm. The good news is that most of the cities/towns/villages in Bali are built along a single street. So all you need to do is to figure out how to get from Town A to Town B. Once you get to Town B, you can drive along the street and look for a sign for your hotel/restaurant/dive center or ask someone. Everyone knows every single establishment in his/her town. 9. When to head out: I have driven early morning (7am-11am), afternoon (1pm-3pm), evening (330-430pm) and mid-morning (930am-130pm). I found early mornings the most enjoyable rides. If you plan to stop at some spots along the way (eg. Tanah Lot or Pura Besakih) then make sure you check their opening timings if you plan to leave early.

Hope you find this information useful. Bali is thoroughly enjoyable for divers, snorkelers, party people as well as chillers-out. I hope you have a great time there!

If you notice any updates on the prices/road conditions/anything else, do let me know so I can update the post. Cheers and happy travels!

R.I.P. Grandpa

For a man who never traveled beyond his province, my grandfather knew an awful lot of stuff. He recited tales of Don Quixote and Sindbad like he was a witness to the mad adventure that their lives held. My impressionable young mind lost no time in deciding that travel was the only way of life. My grandfather is the single most influential person in my life, without ever intending to be. I lived the life that he painted for me, without ever realizing it.

I can’t decide what I miss more about him. Is it the small things, like carrying me on his shoulders and teaching me to swim in the Godavari currents? Or the big things, like what should matter in life? I guess they all make me equally sad. As does the fact that I wasn’t there for him in his final moments. Today is a day I am going to remember, for today is when he goes from life to legacy. And that is something I shall strive to fulfill.

R.I.P. Grandpa. I hope you are now in a world that matches your imagination.

Female Grammar

Women just don’t understand grammar. I don’t care if she won a Booker Prize – if she’s got female parts, then she won’t get grammar. And I can prove it!

Conjunctions:
Correct Usage – I am concerned because something is wrong
Wrong Usage – I am concerned so something is wrong

Tenses:
Correct Usage – I did that a year ago
Wrong Usage – I am doing that a year ago

Adjectives:
Correct Usage – I work hard to make money
Wrong Usage – I work harder to spend money

Adverbs:
Correct Usage – I often shower twice a day
Wrong Usage – I always shower twice a day

Pronouns:
Correct Usage – I want to buy groceries once a week
Wrong Usage – We want to buy groceries once a week

Prepositions:
Correct Usage – It takes me about 30 minutes to get dressed
Wrong Usage – It takes me 5 minutes to get dressed

Nouns:
Correct Usage – I want a dog
Wrong Usage – I want a cat

Interjections:
Correct Usage – Wow! You drive so well!
Wrong Usage – Err.. what’s the hurry??

World’s Best Restaurant

If I had a restaurant, this is what the menu would have:

Appetizers
1. Patatas Bravas and Calamari, Barca
2. Yuca fries & Peruvian corn, NY
3. Asparagus Soup from Intercontinental Semiramis, Cairo
4. Tom Yum Soup from Thai Express, SGP
5. Crispy Chilli Baby Corn from Fifth Season, SGP

Entrees
1. Lamb and Rice from Platters, NY
2. Shawarma from Mamouns, NY
3. Chicken 65 from Paradise, HYD
4. Biryani from Bawarchi, HYD
5. Chicken Pita from Nandos, JHB
6. Sushi from L’Asiatique, Le Pacha 1901, Cairo
7. Steak and Bibimbap from Mannaland, DXB
8. Chicken Burger from Burger Fuel, DXB
9. Haleem from Tolichowki, HYD

Desserts
1. Tiramisu from Zibetto, NY
2. Churros, BR
3. Kubani ka Meetha, HYD
4. Crepes from MacDougal, NY
5. Basundi from Shanbagh, HYD

The Local Bar Manifesto

Remember the time you walked in for the very first time and were greeted with cheery cackles and loud music? The mirth rose above the lights and engulfed your entourage in an addictive cloud of belonging.

We were defined not by a dress code or a privileged access, but by an embracement that superceded petty partisanship. And yet we wholesomely came together – with pretty faces, friendly folks and an infectious ambience that made us your second home.

Here is where your favorite people become your favorite people
Here is where virtuosity is sidelined for a momentary lapse of reason
Here is where the roving eye is fruitful, and yet respectfully so
Here is where you are yourself, for we know you are who you are

Your every milestone is celebrated here, for we share your joy
Your every sorrow is washed away here, for we do not judge
Your every first date is within our confines, for we treat you right
Your every brawl is far far away, for here we only have friends

When you are dazed and confused
When you need shelter from the storm
When you need to dream on
When you need lucky lips
Don’t sweat, come as you are

We brew an empathetic knowledge of your poison
We share in your conversations, unafraid of irreverence nor advice
We celebrate with you, the coming of age a worthy starting point
We painstakingly construct a soundtrack that shall dictate your life

This is your second home. And there is no place like it.