Are we a nation of petty people?

ISRO, Large computer literate population, Recent jump to power surplus nation though distribution is an issue. India as a nation surprises people with extremes; we have extremes in the number of major languages written and spoken, extremes in rainfall variations, extremes in average temperatures. India and the Indians are an enigma. People world over find it tough to understand India and Indians.

Even I find it challenging to understand our own people. From the early 90s of the last century, economic changes started happening in India, leading to the creation of wealth. The changes led to the creation of a massive group of middle-class people. The story continues; inflations, deflations are always there, but the large number middle class has become a fact of life.  This group of people has started travelling on holidays in India as well as in foreign countries. The subject of the title is how Indians are getting infamous on the travel circuit. I had written an article on a similar subject a few months back.

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/how-well-do-we-travel/

There are many examples of petty-minded behaviour of Indians on the tours. How does this happen? Why does this happen? Have we not overcome the shortage era of the 60s and 70s of the last century? Indians sometimes travel in large groups. Ages back, we were taking a flight back from New York to Mumbai. There was a group of fifty people on the plane. It was a direct flight. The noise and chaos they created on the flight were to be seen and heard to be believed. Finally, when we landed in Mumbai, they clapped and danced for five minutes, as if they were on a charter flight. They did not follow the instructions of the crew, not to stand up while the plane was taxiing. The pilot finally announced that he would stop the aircraft unless people sat down. Okay, you are in a group having fun, but what about others?  What about basic decency?

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Recently, I have read two new items about people stealing items from the resorts and pinching apples, cakes, and scones from the breakfast spread; this was done to save money on lunch later during the day! A hotel in Switzerland had put a notice specifically for Indian guests. It is humiliating, and industrialist Harsh Goenka formally protested against it. After many more protests, they removed the notice. But why did they put it up? They must have seen our brethren taking away food items for later consumption.

A group of 1300 hundred Indians, dealers of an organisation, were taken for Sydney harbour cruise. The total number of passengers on the cruise was around 2500. The group created so much ruckus during the cruise that others were fed up. They troubled the staff too, but staff had to continue with a smiling face. The chaos was in the food area, the bars, and the play area. Where ever they went situation went out of control. The issue was reported to the management of the cruise company. At the end, when the cruise ship came back to the harbour, all the passengers other than the group were given an apology letter. They were offered a full refund or a coupon which could be used in one year’s times, for the same cruise. Can such acts of rough and rowdy public behaviour be justified, ever? Why did this group behave this way? I have no answers.

A recent viral video that showed Indian guests getting caught stealing hotel items in a Bali resort, triggered controversy in India and abroad. While many Indians acknowledged that Indian tourists had received a bad rap in the West for misbehaviour, many others argued that the family caught stealing in no way represented Indians in general. The resort was a high-end resort, so the people who stayed there had loads of money. That does not mean they behaved better; it is simply in their DNA.

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In the video circulating on the net, members of the Indian family are seen arguing with the hotel staff. But that didn’t stop the security man from opening every suitcase and taking out things that were stolen from their room – such as towels, electronics, decorative pieces, and other stuff. “We are really very sorry. It is a family tour. We will “pay you.” (bribe?) Please let us go because we have to catch our flight,” one of the women is seen telling the man.  Other security officials are also seen frisking their baggage in the video. “I will pay,” one of the family members exclaimed,  but the man from the hotel refused to “take” money (offered as a bribe) “I know you have a lot of money, but this is no respect.”

There are a couple of other methods people follow to save on the expense. When we go to some museums or monuments, there are guides on hire.  These people follow a group who have hired a guide. They stay a couple of meters behind and can hear everything!

One more method used by these people is when they want to use the loo! Many washroom areas have the main door which can be opened on paying the money. When the door opens, as many people from the group as possible will barge in at the cost of a single payment. Poor show?

Is this a modern trend? Is it a new style? In olden days only rich people would fly internationally. I knew someone who used to mint money. He used to travel to Europe 3 to 4 times a year for work. Once he invited us home for a cup of coffee. I had never flown in those days. I saw many small pillows of different types and shapes. I asked him where did he get such lovely pillows? He said, “When I fly to Europe, every time I bring a couple of them from the plane!” Wow, he used to steal them but was he proud?

I am aware that shop-lifting is a sickness. This sickness is called Kleptomania. But from the examples discussed above, none of the people seems to be a Kleptomaniac. Is this behaviour justified when a person is short of funds? The thoughts that come to mind are about why do people try and do something which is not correct!

Let me end this with a sad story. An IT engineer stayed at a five-star hotel in Hyderbad for one month, about 15 years back. In those days large, flat TV’s had just started coming to the market. He was a very talkative person and had shared the details like his flight number, back to Pune. He checked out. After he went away, to the horror of the staff, the TV from his room was missing. They managed to reach the airport as he was at the check-in counter. He had hidden the TV in one of his bags! Well, I cannot even think of explaining such behaviour. He had a high salary and could have easily afforded the TV, still why he did it? Kleptomania?

Self-help books.
Self-help books.

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Man and the Machine!

I read about a flight that was required to land in the Hudson River in New York. US Airways Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320-214 which, in the climb out after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, struck a flock of Canadian geese, just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and consequently, lost all engine power. Unable to reach an airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued by nearby boats and there were few serious injuries.

This is the animation video of the incident. While reading about the incident and after watching the video and the video clip from the movie Sully (2016), questions came to my mind how far can a machine (based on AI- Artificial Intelligence-) take over human jobs and are they good enough to interpret the tricky situations. In this case, the incident occurred at the height of 2800 feet which is considered very low to handle such incidents. The pilots showed fantastic skills and managed to land in the Hudson River in very chilly conditions.

When various parameters were analyzed by different agencies, they used data from the black box and created simulations based on the data retrieved. Initially, they concluded that there may have been a pilot error because the auto simulations proved that the pilots should have acted differently and could have landed on either of the two airports which were in the vicinity. Both these airports had cleared the flight for emergency landing. But the pilot declared that he could not make it to the airports. Then data was loaded on simulators and two pilots “flew” the aeroplane, based on data captured. About 13 such pairs “flew” the plane on the simulator. Seven pairs could not reach the airport.

But when the pilot Sully was being interviewed, he said that he did not agree with the findings because the findings were applied to the situation, immediately instructed the pilot to turn towards the airport. But when the actual bird hits happened, the pilots were stunned and by rough estimate did not react for 35 seconds. The plane ultimately landed in the river 218 seconds after the bird hit. Out of this, 218 seconds 35 seconds were lost in the pilots recovering from the shock. Another important aspect was that the procedure stipulated by the plane manufacturer Airbus had written it with the assumption that the flying height would be 33000 feet at such times. At this height, humans have enough time to react. But at 2800 feet height, time left to react was less than four minutes before either landing or crashing. When 35 seconds of “no action”  time were considered in the simulation tests, the results matched with the pilots’ actions in deciding that not enough time was left for them to go back to any of the airports. Both pilots were honoured by many authorities for their heroic efforts which saved all 155 lives. See this interesting clip below, from the Movie “Sully” based on the incident with Tom Hank in the lead road.

Now the question comes to mind who is better Man or Machine? Would machine have required 35 seconds of reaction time? Maybe no. But unless this real-life situation was available in the database for the AI system, how would a machine have reacted? The pilot could see that there was the river Hudson around, which he thought would have become a spot for “soft landing”. At any other place in New York or New Jersey, the aeroplane would have simply crashed into buildings and maybe exploded. Would an AI system have known at the time of the incident, the option for a soft landing? Another question that comes to mind is how many combinations would be required to be present in AI database, for the system to understand that combination of 2800 feet height, time remaining of (218-35=) 183 seconds, wide enough river Hudson being around and there were no taller buildings in the path etc, etc. By analyzing hundreds of such options, the AI system would have arrived at a conclusion, what would be the “safest” option to save lives and the aircraft. At least in this case, with the current level of technology, the human decision was a superior decision.

The way humans react, their mind thinks out of the box! AI system decides only based on what data is available with it. The human mind applies its thoughts and extrapolates to arrive at the correct conclusion. It automatically does the risk analysis and tries to take the best possible decision under the circumstances. How far AI systems will be able to extrapolate, it is difficult for us to judge. 50 years hence, who knows?

I will share another example from the Aviation field. The incident is known as “Gimli Glider”, this happened in 1983 and the plane was Boeing 767 used by Air Canada. There were series of errors in the measurement of fuel, manual, gauges, dip stick, at every stage. There was a transition going on from the FPS system to MKS system in Canada at that time. One thing led to another ending in the incident. See the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

Incident is too technical to be explained here. But the end result was all the fuel tanks were suddenly empty, half way to the destination. We can say that all these errors and complications probably could have been avoided by AI. Yes and no both because AI stuff takes time to “learn everything”! After many such incidents, AI would become “an expert” in this area. But what happened later is where human intervention will show us the limitations of AI over human intelligence. When the pilots felt some issue, they decided to do an emergency landing at Winnipeg. But when they realized that there was zero fuel, the copilot and the pilot started thinking fast. The pilot was a gliding expert and he calculated that the plane could glide 16 times the height at which the plane was flying. The copilot was from that area, and he had worked on a Royal Canadian Air Force Station in the area. He judged the parameters and decided to land at that Ex-air force station at Gimli. Only problem was that both the pilots and air traffic controllers were not aware that the station had become a racing track. But it was only because of the knowledge of the pilots and the way they applied it sensibly, the plane ultimately landed safely with no major injuries to anyone on the flight as well as on ground.

This brings out the same question, AI or Humans who are better? This discussion is going to go on forever but AI systems will become better and better but nobody really knows what is stored in the Human brain and what the humans will retrieve from their brain, is going to be really difficult to judge. But we should not forget one thing, humans are the ones who are creating an AI system!

I read somewhere about the movie Sully! The copilot  Skiles is asked in the end what you would have done differently if the same incident were to occur! He smiles and says, “I would make sure that we landed in Hudson River in July and not as we did in January!”

Is this Popcorn or Caviar!

I went to the airport the other day to pick up my delayed bags. While coming back from airport, I again used Ola cab. There was a difference of Rs.35/ on the same trip, the return trip cost more. I checked the invoice and found that they had charged, airport pick-up charge. Ola and Uber both now have stands at the Pune airport. For this facility they pay yearly fees to the authorities. They are passing it on to the customers. At a time 8 to 10 cabs are always waiting at the airport!

The other day, we went to a multiplex to watch a movie! I did my booking on the website. Besides buying high priced tickets, I was charged convenience fees above the price of the tickets. I asked my young friends, who are savvy in such things! A friend suggested that we should use the website to check the tickets availability; if plenty of tickets are available, simply go the multiplex and buy the tickets. No convenience charges are applied.

So far so good. While watching the movie, we thought that we must follow the tradition and decided to eat popcorn, sandwiches and coke (diet of course!)  Popcorn was freshly made, sandwiches were ready to eat; probably made in the kitchen near the back office. Coke was from the fountain. None of the product sold were legally “packaged” food. “Packaged”  stuff under the law of MRP!  Non packaged products do not have MRP and there is no need to “declare” it price!

(MRP) Maximum Retail Price is a maximum price which can be charged to the consumers in India, as specified by the authority. Under the Consumer Goods (mandatory printing of date of Production and Maximum Retail Price) Act, 2006, consumers cannot be charged more than the MRP mentioned on the packing of the products.

When my card was charged I realized that there was not a single packaged item. Hence there was no MRP for whatever I bought. I realized that the multiplex owners must have had robbers as their ancestors! They simply robbed me on food prices, and there was nothing I could do about it. The total cost of food was much higher than the price of movie tickets. Since the items did not come under MRP laws, they could charge me whatever they wanted! Mind you there was a big queue to buy stuff and apparently people have money and do not mind spending money on entertainment. I asked my young friend later, the trick to overcome this issue. I asked her, if we could take stuff from home to eat. She said that we are not allowed to take outside food in the multiplexes due to security reasons; and that is the law! My theory about ancestry was proven!

So far so good, the movie was nice so we did have a good time in spite of meeting the  robbers! Now what is the law on this? Somebody has recently taken these multiplex guys to court. Arguments are going on in the court. The court has made an observation that when we go to five-star hotels, we pay whatever they ask for the food! We never expect the prices to be similar to other smaller restaurants. Similarly, I know that the prices of movie tickets in single screen theaters are much lower than what multiplexes charge. I am sure pop-corn, sandwiches also cost much less in single screen theaters. The court will check only the legality of billing done for food, if needed. Compliance of taxation will be checked by tax department! But nobody can tell them at what price they should sell the food!

The stories apart, is the high price for food charged by multiplexes justified? I am not sure but the multiplexes are projects by themselves and there is a lot of investment made in each such project. The movie business is unpredictable in general, so sell of tickets will depend on how popular the movie becomes! Their earning from movies is also unpredictable. The movie tickets are priced from Rs.80/ to Rs.400/ plus, for morning shows to most popular movies later in the day. I am not aware of their earning per ticket. So, what they are charging us for food is as per their business model. We are going to five-star movie theaters where we have fancy theaters, escalators and all the modern things. Prices will be high and we will have to accept them.

In India, when we travel by railways, we don’t pay extra luggage charges. But when we fly we are required to pay additional fees to the airlines as per rules. On some airlines they provide food free because the price of tickets is inclusive of the food. But on some low-cost airlines, we are required to pay for the food. Recently on our first leg back to India, on Seattle to Toronto flight, Air Canada was charging for food but they were serving coffees and cokes free, though it was an international flight! They probably decide based on the duration of the flight. On New York- San Francisco flight we were served food, since duration was 6 ½ hrs. So, each of the businesses have their own business model! We shouldn’t crib about it. We choose whatever is suitable to us, itinerary wise and price wise. So, we have options to see a movie in a multiplex! We have choices! Single screen theaters, YouTube, Netflix. We have to decide ourselves, nobody is forcing us.

What is the solution to this issue? For me there is no solution! But yesterday a party known for its rough politics, man handled a restaurant manager in a multiplex, for selling popcorn at  “high” price. Is it the right way to handle things? What can the manager do about it? The prices are decided by the management! Taking law into your hands is never justified whatever the reason!

There was one new Ranbir Kapoor movie being released! In the second week when the ticket prices are down, we can go for the movie. Tickets are on me, food is on you! Offer open only for multiplexes!  Are you game?

Father Time

This is the description of father time on Wikipedia page: Father Time is usually depicted as an elderly bearded man with wings, dressed in a robe and carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping device (which represents time’s constant one-way movement, and more generally and abstractly, entropy). This image derives from several sources, including the Grim Reaper and the misattribution of Cronus (not Chronos) as the Greek Titan of human time, reaping and calendars, or the Lord of Time.

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Typical statement that we make casually about Time is “for next xx hours/days I am just going to laze around and do nothing”. This of course is essential to recharge our batteries or sometimes plain necessity if we are tired. But I feel that in this beautiful world Time is the only finite thing that we own and it is depleting every second. The beauty is that we do not know how much time we have and so we do not have time to waste! In this scenario I feel that we should handle time more carefully.

We treat time very casually and most of the time we feel that Time can be bartered with money. If you are a doctor or an engineer or a scientist, you should be spending more time doing things in which you have the expertise and interest. We do not learn to delegate things and waste our time in doing mundane things. I will give some examples under Indian scenario. I know of people who go and buy their milk every day, though at a very nominal fee milkman delivers milk at home. Laundry man comes home to take clothes for ironing but our friends will go to his shop for the same. What is the value addition?  When things can be bought online we go to shops and purchase items there. If we are buying branded stuff it is easier and faster to do it online. It is ok to go to malls/shops if you want to have fun time and eat out. When cars are to be given for servicing, dealers provide facility for pick up and dropping the car back, at a nominal fee.  Most don’t do it and waste their time as dealerships are far. We had a friend in Canada a real expert in engineering field; once we went to his house and he was irritated that he could not do his research as he was forced to perform mundane things at home, which were very expensive to outsource. What I have said is about better time management but there are more important things than that.

We all have our dreams. But in drudgery of day of day things, we put our dreams on back burner. Dreams may be small, they may be big but dreams are dreams! This is where the finite Time comes into picture. We forget this finite element of the Time and always think that we will follow our dreams later. Does that later ever come? We need to learn to find golden mean within the parameters of work, making money, life’s other responsibilities.

Dreams can be from eating a meal at a fancy restaurant in New York, to laze on beaches in Australia. It could be visiting Taj Mahal or going to the Moon. But dream practically. Your dream may be to climb Mount Everest! Age and physical fitness come into picture. Again never follow the dictum, “My friend is doing so let me try”! Never do that because circumstances are different. One important aspect is that we should think about your spouse’s dreams too! You may be able to withstand a drive through Saharan desert in summer but your spouse may not be fit enough!

All said and done, don’t postpone your dream to tomorrow. Because tomorrow may be too late. I am not saying that you will not be around tomorrow but circumstances can be different tomorrow. Some are lucky to have ideal situations almost till their finite Time is over but many are not that lucky. There can be variety of reasons that will not let you follow your dreams.

Here is a story which I read on the net.

 A lady who was a painter at heart was travelling with her boy-friend. They met a man whose vehicle had broken down. When they were helping the man, the co-traveler told them his story. Traveler had a lifelong dream to make an overland trip across and around the whole of the Australian outback.  Husband & wife both worked jobs they didn’t like, saving all the money that they could and foregoing holidays each year, all the while planning their perfect journey. ‘The holiday of a lifetime’ he called it.

Finally the day arrived.  They had the best equipment money could buy and a pair of first class tickets. On the flight, they had sipped champagne, as giddy as children.

The problems had started the very first night.  They had driven out and pitched their ‘top of the line’ tent.  But his wife’s arthritis had instantly flared up, and the humidity didn’t agree with his lungs, so sleep would not come.  From there on things had only gotten worse.  So much worse that by the end of the first month his wife had given up on their dream, changed her ticket and flew back home without him.  He had stubbornly vowed to complete the trip but admitted to himself that he was having second thoughts about it. 

It had come on fast, like a rush of cold water on the lady, as they were driving away and watching the traveler recede downcast, in their rear view mirror; her heart had broken a little and, in that exact moment, she’d decided to give painter within her (the thing that she had always secretly wanted to do but had always put off until ‘later’) a real shot. After the lady reached her destination, she chucked everything and just decided to become a full time painter!

Every decision is a trade-off.  What you choose to focus on will determine the very shape your life and your character; for good or for ill.

Everything, everything comes down to time.

So come now, do not delay!

It is much later than you think.