Cultural Differences – how much of a say should the state have

The recent news of the Norwegian authorities deciding to remove 2 children (the older about 3 years old and the other barely an year old) of Indian origin from their parents is pretty interesting – and I’m sure very agonizing for the parents and the relatives. The following have been sited as the grounds for the Norwegian authorities’ decision.

One, they felt that the children were overfed. They concluded that when a child was hand-fed, it was tantamount to force-feeding.

Two, they noted that the children displayed an emotional disconnect with their parents.

Three, the son Abhigyan apparently displayed erratic behavior at school.

Four, officials who came to investigate objected to Abhigyan and Aishwarya sleeping in the parental bed.

Five, the mother apparently slapped the son at one point – but she did not repeat that once she knew Norwegian law made violence against children illegal.

While points 2 and 3 are really hard to comment on (depends on what you call “erratic behavior” and how you describe “emotional disconnect”), points 1 and 4 are pretty much the norm in Indian families – with 5 being quite prevalent, though on the decline. Finger feeding and children sleeping in the parental bedroom and quite common and in fact not doing these is typically frowned upon in India. An rare slap to a child is actually viewed as a “release” by even the most forward thinking parent in India.

Enough has been said in the media about the cultural difference and I do not want to dwell on that – yes, Indians and Norwegians have different perceptions of what constitutes good child raising. Period!!!

Now, the interesting question to me is, to what extent can the state go to impose their view – on their own citizens and then on citizens of other countries. From what I read, the Norwegian authorities have held the children under their care for more than 8 months or so (long after the parents have offered to leave the country if the children were re-united) to the extent that the helpless parents have now turned to the highest Indian authority – The President, to impress upon her Norwegian counterpart. Surely, the Norwegian authorities should see reason when India’s highest citizen throws her weight behind the parents and presses for the children to be re-united with the parents.

I also wonder what the tone of the Indian President’s communique to her Norwegian counterpart was – was it on the lines of “You can separate all the Norwegian families that you want as per your views, but would request you to refrain from imposing your views of child raising on Indian parents” or was it on the lines of, “Many of the charges against the parents are pretty common in India – and we in fact believe that some of these, finger feeding and kids sleeping with parents in particular, are actually beneficial and promote better family bonding”

To me this seems a clear case of the state taking upon itself authority far beyond their calling. To what extent can a state go to penalize people who do not subscribe to the its views. Can a state that believes in vegetarianism separate kids when parents feed them chicken soup (or conversely penalize parents of vegetarian kids for denying the children well rounded nourishment) or can a state that believes in non-violence separate kids when parents allow them to watch Tom and Jerry.

A one-size-fits-all “best practices” for child raising just do not exist and a lot of what is good and what is not is largely determined by parental choice, cultural factors and other local customs. In these circumstances, for a state to remove infants from their parents and place them under separate foster homes seems pretty draconian.

Im not suggesting that the state turn a blind eye to Child Right issues, but how much supervision should the state provide and to what extent should the state be involved in ensuring responsible parenting?


PS: A good read at – the comments are actually more interesting, as usual is interesting too.

Hitting out at competition in public – Watch out for the back lash

Traditional wisdom has usually been in favor or focusing on YOUR product / company strengths in promotional campaigns. In fact, may marketing methods deliberately advice against mentioning competition in your campaigns since it “unnecessarily” provides your competition visibility at your expense. However, in many cases (especially when you are trying to grab market share from that competitor), a feature comparison is pretty common – car companies routinely push out feature to feature comparison with competition. It is usually characterized by a bunch of ticks against your product and a lot of crosses against your competition.

The latest brand war between the Times of India and The Hindu is pretty interesting in many respects. Both these are age old news papers and have a huge circulation. While The Hindu is strong in the South (many Chennaites cannot think of a morning without The Hindu), the TOI has a much higher circulation across India, even though there don’t have a significant presence in South India. In terms of the content, they are as different as chalk and cheese. While TOI (in my opinion) focuses almost entirely on showbiz, celebrity, skin show and a little bit of news, The Hindu (again in my opinion) largely dishes out pretty “boring” but reliable news  – words like “unbiased journalism” and “ethics” are more associated with The Hindu.

See how the story unfolded here –

and a very good analysis of this at

I think there is a lot of truth in both the campaigns, The Hindu doesn’t really “wake you up” and the TOI doesn’t really give you news.

Now coming to TOI’s strategy of initiating this war, I think it was a good move, irrespective of who has the last laugh in this war. I say this in spite of The Hindu hitting back in style (of course, you can expect TOI to hit back again in more style, but we’ll wait and watch). TOI had almost no presence in Chennai and any advantage in terms of the attention (and circulation) that they can get there will be a bonus. Everyone knows that The Hindu lacks spice and by clearly calling that out, TOI has offered itself as an alternative to the spice-hungry among the Chennites. There are people in Chennai who still don’t know that the actress associated with “size zero” is Kareena Kapoor, and I do believe overall, TOI is going to see a push in their circulation in Chennai – even with people who acknowledge that The Hindu’s response was clever. With close to zero cost of the newspapers expect many Chennai homes to even get both The Hindu AND TOI.

Now, coming to why I feel TOI should watch out for the back lash. Even after The Hindu’s clever response, their job is only half done. Now what they need to do is to promote this message in areas where TOI is traditionally strong, and educate TOI’s readers that “All Bollywood and no news makes Jack a dull boy” and tell them that they have been missing out on “news” at the expense of Bollywood and celebrity stuff. How well The Hindu can promote their response across the country (and in this internet age, its comparative easier) will determine how this war pans out. They already have a presence, a rather weak one, in Mumbai and a this could be a great chance to grab some market share in Mumbai

The Hindu clearly has the opportunity now to turn the hunter into the hunted.


Reading in mother tongue

After getting into Engineering English language took the center stage as the medium of instruction. Except for oral communication with friends and family, the opportunity to use mother tongue (Tamil in my case) had come to a logical end. The professional life thought me the importance of English all the more as it was the only common language used to communicate with folks around the globe. However internally I was missing something, which probably I can’t explain in words. After eating, breathing and learning in my mother tongue for initial 17 years of my life, it was not easy.

For the past 4 years, things started changing thanks some great happenings in Tamil digital and print media. I started reading few interesting Tamil blogs referred by some like minded people. Contrary to the popular belief, non-English contents (especially Tamil) is growing at an alarming phase in the Internet (put stats).  It is a great pleasure to re-connect with Tamil content after a decade. Thanks to innovations happening in Tamil publishing industry, I am now reading translated version of bestsellers in English. Both content and language is of my choice, which has taken my reading habit into a new dimension.

After developing serious reading habit for the past 8 years, I have come to an opinion that nothing can substitute the pleasure of thinking, reading & understanding things in your own mother tongue. While English has definitely taken center stage for making a career, learning in mother tongue is amazing. This probably also explains why many of the Asian countries (especially Japan) is so successful by giving preference to Japanese language.

Making Virtualization work

The post about shortcomings of Linux touched upon some of the key aspects, which needs to be fixed in order to make Linux as successful consumer desktop operating system. However I badly wanted to get Linux up and running in my Windows desktop (without harming existing Windows 7 installation) for some key learning activities. One of my senior colleagues suggested me to take the Virtualization option (using Oracle’s Virtual box), where I can have Linux as the guest OS inside the Win 7 machine itself. After some initial glitches (details below), I got what I wanted – A safe Linux installation with wireless internet.

Installation of Open Suse 12.1 as a guest OS using Virtual Box was very smooth. All I need to do was to create a new virtual machine instance by inserting the live CD. That’s it! I was able to see Open Suse 12.1 working along with all related applications. However I was still not able to browse the Internet as the wireless device was not getting detected. The “lspci” command (which lists PCI devices available in the host) didn’t list the wireless 802.11 interface. Ouch! For a second I thought of being at ‘square-one’ with wireless driver problem, which I encountered during Ubuntu 10.03 installation. But this time around I thought of getting the Internet connectivity using the wired (802.3 Ethernet) interface before experimenting with wireless.

When I executed “ifconfig” command as a super user, eth0 interface displayed IP address from a different subnet (10.x.x.x, ref image1), whereas the Windows installation had 192.168.1.x subnet (ref image2).


Image1 - Guest OS Linux Network interface



Image2 – Native Windows Network interface

Assuming it was an issue, I immediately changed the eth0 IP into 192.168.1.x network. After this change, I was not even able to ping into the wireless DSL gateway (with IP of, let alone get the Internet connection working. I figured it out something basically wrong happening! After discussing with another colleague I understood few important (rather basic) things about Virtualization:


  • Virtual Box creates a virtual network driver (ref image3) in the Windows, which acts as a DHCP server for the guest OS installed. This applies both for wired and wireless connections.
Image3 - Virtual network interface


  • The guest OS virtual interface uses NAT (Network Address Translation) mechanism for transmitting and receiving packets using the native Windows operating system. This explained me how the Linux installation had 10.x.x.x address assigned for the wired interface by default.
  • Even though the “ifconfig” is listing only one wired interface (with NAT address) it will automatically take care of routing packets using both wired and wireless interfaces. All it required to do was only one thing — do nothing!

Finally I am able to get the safe Linux installation working with wireless Internet with ZERO configuration change. I have learnt quite a lot by running small experiments; rather that is the only way you learn about Linux.

A new year resolution – Talk Straight

I recently read a brilliant (and hugely popular) article on the HBR Blogs.  Readers of Dilbert too would recognize how this buzzworks are getting irritatingly more prevalent. Few people would disagree with what the author says, but continue to use most of these phrases in our work – in both internal communication and in external communication with customers and partners. There is a general perception of “smartness” when a person uses many of the terms mentioned there.

Referring to people as “resources”, time as “bandwidth” are other examples of the same – “We are constrained on the bandwidth front” makes you sound smarter than “We don’t have the time”. “I’m in the process of socializing this initiative among the various stakeholders” makes you sound smarter than, “I’m talking to the people about this to get support”. “Leverage”, “(Doesn’t) get the big picture”, “Evangelize” and “cross-functional” are among the other buzzwords thrown around. Deep down I don’t think anyone enjoys talking or writing like this, but this seems to be endemic and people continue doing this because everyone else does it.

Narayana Murthy was bang on when he said in one of the interviews, “In India, articulation is mistaken for accomplishment” – and using these phrases is associated with better articulation…. and since usage of these phrases is a global phenomenon, looks like Narayana Murthy’s observation seems pertinent to not just India.

So, here is my New Year resolution. “Cut out the buzzwords and keep it straight”. “In the process of” can be dropped from most sentences that you write and so can “productivity enhancement” and “organizational synergy”. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep a check list of these buzzwords handy so that you can “check” every mail to cleanse them of these before hitting the Send button.

Keep it simple! — NWritings