Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Better Civic Infrastructure

As the monsoon season is underway, and there are several places inundated with potholes; various streets in the capital Kathmandu and the nearby municipalities are seen with waterlogged areas.
The garbage collected in manholes and the potholes become dangerous especially during evenings when there are no street lamps across the city.
The city’s garbage creates common problems for city dwellers who commute daily in their bicycle, motorcycle, car, taxi, and in other public transportation. The trash and potholes not only create havoc for the local people who commute but also give a somewhat pessimistic impression to tourists and foreigners who come to visit Nepal for the first time.
Passing through garbage collection places can also cause skin damage, malaria, dengue, and other forms of bodily diseases as murky water provides breeding grounds for insects, pests, and mosquitoes. Valley residents are worried about the growing number of gutters, drains, and potholes resulting from our unfavorable road conditions.
I have not seen anyone in the Kathmandu city who does not complain about the bumpy ride they get while traveling in their private vehicles to work or home.
Since the recent great earthquakes that took thousands of innocent lives and destroyed our homes, what have we done for the people who have suffered the most? Just false promises.
When other developing countries are already adopting a new method of expansion in improving their country’s economy, architecture and infrastructure in general to “smart cities” and “digital homes.”
I feel ashamed of seeing how the ordinary people of Nepal can be so naive and devoted to their political gatherings and parties. It is time to take charge and demand better civic infrastructure from all the concerned authorities.
In twenty-five years from now, given the same political set-up, I feel more pessimistic about my homeland because we cannot just pretend that our beloved cities resemble some exotic cities in Europe or Switzerland without working hard towards improving them.
In a nutshell, gone are those days when we contemplated our politicians would do greater good for our streets and cities.
A new country’s awareness campaign would be to create digital tools; e.g., apps, digital, and community-driven tools to highlight the gross oversight of the public officials, especially the government subcontractors and local municipalities.

A version of this article appears in print on August 09, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

YOGA — A Software Development Process Based On Ancient Principles

I found it very interesting to listen to Seth Winis (who is software development guru). He presented a very eloquent set of principles. David Weiss, long time researcher in software engineering and IEEE Fellow, encouraged Seth to publish his ideas on YOGA. David has worked in industry, such as Bell Labs, Avaya Labs, the Software Productivity Consortium, Computer Sciences Corp., in government, such as the Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Technology Assessment, and in academia, where he was professor of software engineering at Iowa State University. He is now retired, with time to step back and inject some humor into his history in software engineering.

YOGA* is a software development process based on ancient principles and derived from many years of experience with software production and introspective research into and measurement of software production.

YOGA stands for You Only Go Ahead and its theme is to be forward looking. It consists of 10 basic commandments such as:
  • Ignore the past and only look ahead. Don't worry about repeating past mistakes.
  • Don't try to be rational. There is substantial evidence that there’s no such thing as a rational software production process. Think of yourselves as artists, free to create.
  • Each team member should meditate on his/her code for an hour every day. The purpose of the meditation is to become more enlightened about the code and coding. The goal should be to find a place in the code that the team member can modify today.
  • Strengthen your core. Your core developers are the ones who make 80% of the changes. Give them coding exercises to do and hold an occasional refactoring contest to see who can refactor fastest

Here are some Q/A ( (Taken from: http://learning.acm.org/webinar/yoga_qa.cfm).

Q: Can you talk about Slide 17 more? What is NCSL? Was that a typo about off-shoring to project inexperienced group?
A: NCSL is non-commentary source lines of code, i.e., lines of executable code. Not a typo - it happened.

Q: So the idea behind not being rational is to not plan or plan as little as possible?
A: Plan for the unexpected.
Q: How do you promote innovation in a team capacity, rather focus on individualism - using Yoga?
A: Create a team where members respect each otber and encourage new ideas.

Q: What's the main purpose of a stand-up meeting every morning?
A: Team building, Change Selection, Status. It also encourages thought about what to do next and how to present it to others.

Q: How do you control the voting on changes, in order to avoid endless discussions about what is right or wrong to be done? Thanks!
A: In case of controversy or indecision, the senior, most respected team member has final say. Often the chief architect.

Q: Is there a "Witness Protection Program" for Software Gurus? :-)
A: Some create alter egos. Some create gangs of followers who drown out other opinions.
Q: How do you predict changes in software?
A: You can't predict every change, but can predict classes of changes, encode them as variabilities as in the FWS example. To help with prediction, review past changes, think about new technology, and changes in technology. For example, 10 years ago you could have predicted that disk drives would get bigger and faster and might have new protocols for access.

Q: The speaker reminds me of a Guru DMW :-)
A: I have great respect for DMW and often echo his opinions. We have much in common.

Q: How productive were you in rotations? Software is a thinking activity. What was the rate of change for peak performance?
A: Having backups for each team member is a continuing process. When a person becomes expert or senior in one area, rotate her to another area as part of the learning process.

Q: When an issue in a role appears, does everybody assist the actual person in the role?
A: Depends on circumstances, but generally, the backup for the person and perhaps a senior team member.

Q: What about the YAGNI principle in agile software methods in relation to Variability?
A: Start with the minimal useful subset, i.e., variabilities that have most initial value. Then implement next most useful variabilities. Etc. YAGNI is an oversimplified view of this.

Q: I understand how a business environment could change a person's focuses, but what situation would cause an outright descent in productivity? Couldn't you steer that with pay increases or job rotation? I have to ask more questions about slide 17.
A: Decay in morale can be caused by any of a number of reasons (company doing badly, best people leaving, etc.). Anecdote: I know a company where senior developers were told to train new, inexperienced, offshore developers and were told that they would be laid off after they completed the training. Not good for morale or productivity.

Q: How would you sustain tacit system "essential knowledge" with yoga through business decisions that "optimize" organizations through workforce reductions/retirements etc.?
A: The only real response is to maintain good documentation, particularly documentation that records essential decisions and knowledge. See "A Rational Design Process, How and Why To Fake It."

Q: YOGA has a resemblance of Agile methodologies. What are the key differences, for folks want to move from Agile?
A: YOGA encourages more forethought about architecture and potential changes, and encourages more team building; records key decisions and why they were made; tries to put people in a relaxed frame of mind where they can concentrate better.

Q: What do you do when two members of the team have high complaints for each other?
A: Separate them by giving them two distinct and different tasks to do. If one or both continue to ignore team goals in pursuit of local arguments or self-aggrandizement, fire him/her (or them).

Q: What is the exact link between "Salute the Sun" and software engineering?
A: Each requires careful and precise mind and body extension and the ability to look ahead and up.

Q: How well does the YOGA process work with multi-site projects?
A: Excellently. That is, in fact, the subject of a whole other lecture.

Q: What if the project has gaps of coding, design, and testing...then how does the principle of thinking about coding one hour each day hold? Also, rotating roles may mean waste of time.
A: Not sure what the gaps are - do you mean there may be intervals of inactivity between each? Thinking about coding (or testing or design for that matter) helps one to look ahead.

Q: How can one know what the future will require from a piece of software? The Standish Reports revealed that 60% of realized functionality wasn't even used.
A: You need to estimate the value of each variability and apply option theory (see above).

Q: When a new member joins the team, how do you sell them on the benefits of a "strum" meeting? Among other things, the guitar in the background for example.
A: Have other team members be welcoming. Have him/her play the guitar initially.

Q: I see YOGA as complementary to SCRUM/Agile. Where SCRUM/Agile focuses on the process and its artifacts, YOGA is more about the practices. Do you agree?
A: No. They are very different. See answer to number 14 (above).

Q: Any YOGA techniques to get over programmer's block (writer's block)?
A: Deep relaxation to clear and focus the mind. Sun salutations to focus the mind and keep active.

Q: [Do you have an] example of an artifact that is not normally used outside "YOGA in Software," for example in Risk?
A: Risk factor.

Q: What can a project manager take away from saluting the sun?
A: Who is flexible and who is not. Who has endurance and who has not. Who needs coaching and who does not. Is the PM up to standards on these aspects as well?

Q: Workforce reductions usually result in abandonment of the software system. Domain Analysis...commonality/variability analysis is useful...but doesn't necessarily prevent or slow the extinction process.
A: It does if the C/V analysis identifies most valuable features.

Q: How would you adapt these YOGA principles to distributed development teams?
A: That's another hour-long lecture. Architecture plays a key role.

Q: What are the success stories of using the YOGA approach?
A: Most companies are unwilling to disclose information about their software development processes, so I can't give specific examples.

Q: Have you been training/exercising this YOGA principle with all your development teams? And what about developer-"divas" who definitely feel too good for this training?
A: Yes, but it is a continuing work in progress. I have little patience for divas. If they want to, they can go work on their own. Of course, there have been some remarkable successes this way, but almost always the results are inherited by a larger team.

Q: Could you talk more about anticipating the future? This was the part of your talk with which I connected most, since I tend to define good software engineering and programming as being deeply connected to good prognostication of future changes.

A: Your connection is correct. See answers 7 and 14 above. There's another hour-long lecture on this topic. See also "The Modular Design of Complex Systems."

Q: Do you want everyone to have an implant?
A: Absolutely. Then I can control the whole human race! We can get around the limitations of our DNA.

Q: Is the YOGA Master included in the role switching?
A: Certainly.

Q: Is this applicable to a beginner software developer?
A: Yes. In fact, best to teach them YOGA in their first projects.

Q: Are Version Control Systems too tied to history to be used with the YOGA program?
A: No. You need them. How else to control changes?

Q: How can YOGA practices be integrated in the software development cycle?
A: Implement the practices described in my talk.

Q: I am a system administrator. I like networking and systems. Please give me advice from your experience to improve my skills and thinking capability so that I can grasp the concept effectively and fast
A: Read papers by David Parnas on requirements, architecture and design. Read about the GQM method for software measurement. Read Software Product Line Engineering by Weiss and Lai. Find a good mentor.

Q: How effective did you find rotation, and how often should it happen?
A: Very effective. I have seen it save projects, both in time and quality considerations.

Q: We actually had standup meetings where we required the project manager to stand on one leg, because they would otherwise become too long. No kidding.
A: Excellent and very consistent with YOGA. You are forward thinkers.

Q: How effective did you find rotation, and how often should it happen?
A: Very effective. I have seen it save projects, both in time and quality considerations.

Q: I arrived late, but I heard you talking about an interesting paper. Can you please state the title of the paper? Thanks.
A: There were several interesting papers and books that I mentioned. See the source references on the slides.

Q: One of the things that happened to me at yoga class was at relaxing time [when] I fell asleep. That too helped me refresh... Would you recommend cat naps at some point of the day (not necessarily at the meeting which happens...)?
A: Falling asleep during deep relaxation sometimes happens to those new to yoga, sometimes because the yoga session is too physically intense and tiring, sometimes because the yoga teacher does not properly emphasize what the student should be trying to do during relaxation. Cat naps [are ok] only if the person is not getting enough sleep at night, which may be an indication of other troubles.

Q: When rotating roles, how much impact does it have on schedule initially?
A: If no one has ever taken a different role before, and it is a new project, and the developers are inexperienced, it can have some schedule impact, I think. In such a situation there will be schedule impact anyway from these factors.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New year’s wishes

I do not know what are you ruminating on for the new year. Despite, I would like to tell you what are my wishes for the upcoming new year 2016. Nearly everybody would like to see an end of an ongoing Madhes crisis, and people to live a healthy life. I wish everyone will look beyond the boundaries of caste and ethnicity and live above nationalism. For those who do not know about nationalism - it is a doctrine that emanated as a reaction to anarchist ideologies during nineteenth-century that has core roots of authoritarian politics. 

Nationalism has led to largest known catastrophes in human history.  I wish our incompetent government will start to distribute and accord more to those who were severely affected by the great earthquake. Einstein was right when he said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” The nationalism that is merely bounded with provincial mentality impedes the significant concerns facing humanity. 

I  hope that people will fight for their freedom with the ruling parties of this country, and the Government will address the demands of an agitating parties and hopefully, amend the constitution and make it flexible enough for agitating parties. In doing so, those who are marginalized Dalits, Janjatis, Tharus, and Madhesis especially will feel equal citizens of the country, and can partake in new constitution 2072. 

Whoever is responsible for closing schools and colleges in our country should think twice before shutting down the schools in the new year. I wish schoolgoers would be allowed to get a good education without the hindrance of any political parties. I also wish that our industries will frequently run in any parts of the country without any bandh or political blockade. 

My sources inform me how dire and miserable our life has become (lack of cooking gas, no gasoline for travel, lack of electricity crisis, and the rise of the black market economy). We have no energy and synergy to dethrone those political pundits in power. I hope to see these politicians look beyond their personal self-interest and work towards fulfilling goals and aims of ordinary people.  However, if wishes were horses; beggars would ride long. 

In summing-up, I know it is not easy to achieve our goals simply by wishing for them. Most of my fellow countrymen would agree with me that they would like to see a substantial decrease in the black market economy, and a dramatic increase in investment, reduction in road accidents, and a dramatic improvement in education standards. As the year will end and the new year brings fresh hope and aspirations, I wish there will be a less political game, and contemplation around, and more development, and concrete actions plans, and implementations. A little dusting of understanding for the New Year will do more good than harm. Wishing you a prosperous and Happy New Year 2016. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My time with Kale

Oct 18, 2015- The mayor of Ratnanagar Municipality was riding down the street in his black sports utility vehicle. He ran over my dog, Kale. 

After the ceremony, I walked back to the city. Of course, I was depressed. I started to think about how I had first met Kale. It was seven years ago, when he was a puppy. He was like a baby. He never complained. My father had a fondness for Kale, too. He was such a captivating dog—my new dog, a fine great one with a black tail, delicate ears, a rich texture, charming eyes and a wilderness of patchy colours that lit up in his body like sunshine. 

He was like a member of the family; we loved him and petted him. No one tried to give him a new name like ‘Tiger’ or ‘Rocky’ or ‘Hunter’. Friends and relatives even started to call me ‘Kale ko ba’ (‘Kale’). I suspect that they were just trying to rile me up and show some type of dominance. I didn’t care so much. My name was not Kale, after all. 

The servants in our house were all kind to me and were fond of Kale. So, as you can see, mine was an easy life with Kale around. My sweet little Kale, my “very dearest puppy”, as some people would call him, made my happiness perfect. 

My time with Kale began on a hot Sunday in summer. I was at a Chitwan cricket ground—perhaps playing in a district-level tournament between Ratnanagar and Narayanghat. 

Father had gone to Kathmandu to see some of his old friends, and when he returned in the evening, he bought a surprise gift for my little brother, Dhorji. We children had never contemplated getting a pet, and our mother had never liked the idea. So when I went home in the evening after winning the game against Narayanghat and celebrating a bit with friends, I saw everyone in the family talking to a Kale. They were uttering words like, ‘Kale aija. Chu chu, Kale’. I asked Dad why he had brought home such a small dog and whom it was meant for. Dad didn’t respond. I had been late in arriving for the doggy party that evening.

The next morning, I saw Dhorji playing with Kale. The previously unknown dog had already been given a name by Dhorji and Father. So I was left with no choice but to call him Kale. I don’t know why Dhorji, who is just five years old, so enjoyed gathering his phucchhe friends and giving Kale stuff to eat and play with. He and his friends even smiled and touched Kale’s body without hesitation. I don’t know why phucchhes are never afraid of anything, but even when they got a bit closer to Kale they would shout aloud, which must have terrified Kale.

Dhorji was allowed to keep Kale in his room most of the time. I wasn’t even allowed to touch Kale—Father always reminded me whom the dog had been bought for. ‘He’s not your toy,’ he said angrily. So it was not my toy, but somehow I felt deep affection for Kale, and he felt the same for me. I still remember when my grandfather died. Kale was around then, and people could not believe that he had stayed in Aryaghat and never, it seemed, intended to leave. It was the talk of the town, and people gossiped about Kale (‘Kukur’), saying that he was very loyal to our family. There were hundreds of mourners at my grandfather’s funeral service, and Kale ambled up to near the funeral pyre and lay down next to it for seven days.

Kale knew that I had affection for him when I freed him from Dhorji’s captivity to meet the love of his life. When he saw Kali during Kukur Tihar, he studied my eyes and, with his tongue hanging out, immediately rushed to her. 

Kali was just like Kale, but a bit shorter, and with less hair on her body than him. She had very nice ears and longish legs, though.  

“Where are you, Kali?” shouted Ms Sabina Dhakal, Kali’s owner. When she saw my Kale panting and making love to Kali, Ms Sabina started shouting at me.  

‘Grow up!’ I said. ‘They have needs, like us! Let my Kale enjoy his freedom and fulfil his doggy needs, with careful attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort. Let him be able to truly care about his own life, making love in myriad, pretty little sexy ways, every day, to your Kali’. 

“That’s Kale getting married in Kartik, and that too to Kali…” laughed a neighbour, seeing Kale and Kali.  

“That dog is shameless. Ram… Ram… Ram. Hare Krishna,” said a passing Hindu priest.  

“Untangle them,” said a young man, pelting my Kale with a stone.  

“You did this purposefully, didn’t you?” said Sabina, staring at me angrily. “I’ll show you and your Kale someday,” she continued.

She was really pissed off by the sight of my Kale mating with her Kali; however, my Kale was not in any mood whatsoever to stop making love to Kali. Sabina vanished from my sight in a flash, murmuring some bizarre words that hardly made any sense then.

It’s astounding how the festival season passes so quickly. Some neighbours were really aggravated that we had Kale in our house. They were a bit afraid, but this was understandable as Kale was very hyperactive and often became ebullient. Once a neighbour’s uncle shouted at Father, saying that Kale might be dangerous to his newborn son.

“Give your dog a preventive injection. He might be of danger to my new-born son; otherwise I’ll kill your Kale dog,” he said.   

It was really unfortunate that this neighbour’s uncle and his baby son had been killed in an airplane crash, but that was not our Kale’s fault. 

After Kale’s death, I saw Dhorji’s friends talking about their memories of Kale:  

“It was only few months ago when Kale was with us, and now he is gone,” said Dhorji.  

“Kale had the biggest personality ever,” said Dhorji’s friend. “I really miss him,” said Dhorji’s best friend.  “Until the very end, we were together,” said Dhorji.

On that fateful day, I put on my coat and hat and started off to the market. I knew that the back door was open, and I could get outdoors without being seen. I got my Kale ready, because I was going to take him too. I checked for my wallet and found that it wasn’t in the back pocket of my denim jeans, so I went upstairs to fetch it from my room. When I got back, I saw Kale lying on the street with blood all over. Father had gone to file a police report about Kale’s death. I saw him near the city’s central police station riding on his Hero Honda bike. He saw me too, but he looked elsewhere. I knew why he was frustrated. Maybe it was I who should be blamed for Kale’s accident. What if I had simply gone to the market without my wallet? Why did I have to go to the market at that time? “I am the one responsible for Kale’s death,” I thought.

He was a good dog. I learned a lot from him, especially through his loyalty and kindness to our family. His friendship was truer than today’s so-called ‘Facebook friends,’ where you collect thousands of them while communicating with only a few. At least my Kale was with me in real settings, in my house, together with me always. I could share my jokes, sorrow, sadness, happiness, and stories with him when there was nobody around to turn to. Now that he was gone, I didn’t know whether my life would be the same.

After hitting Kale, the mayor got out of his car and looked at the scene that he had created with his brand-new SUV. His black boots were shining in the hot summer day, where my poor Kale lay bloody, legs broken, dead.  

“Is he still alive?”

I remained silent. I didn’t know how to respond to such a bizarre question.  

“It was a stupid dog, so it died stupidly, like a dog,” said an inspector who was the mayor’s bodyguard. 

“Darling, isn’t this the one?” he said to someone inside the SUV. 

I saw a girl wearing a pink frock getting out of the vehicle. My eyes looked up from Kale and remained wide open for a while.

Published: The Kathmandu Post
fiction park
Posted on: 18-10-2015 09:10 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The darkest of aftermaths

JUL 05 - Dear Dr Ghorle,
Anxiety is all around us. I am gradually realising that I cannot blindly trust the security, the integrity, and the confidentiality of our communications. I am sorry for being so ignorant and not responding to your encoded messages promptly. Because of war, and self-doubt, it was difficult for me to decode your brain-computer encoded messages. I am proud that you are writing a piece on Nepal’s Third Great Earthquake in one of the top magazines in Nepal to inform the readers about its consequences and what can be done to overcome the effects of the disaster. I must say, it is an interesting read. I was very young when I first visited Nepal with my father and my memory of the place is a blur. So I might not be of help in improving your piece. Perhaps you could ask my grandmother, who still lives in Chitwan. My grandmother resides in Ratnanager, 2nd Street, Chitwan. That is my home address, too. She will be glad to offer you 
her help. She also remembers the First Great Earthquake of 1934 and the Second Great Quake of 2015. I would have joined you, but I am deprived of the luxury of air travel, after the war.
Regarding  my sister Maya, unfortunately, I am unaware of her whereabouts. She has been out of contact ever since she disappeared right after our father’s death anniversary a year ago; nobody has heard from her since. The worst I fear is that she may be dead by now. Some of her friends reported that they were planning to go on a picnic to Pokhara.
Father, as you have ascertained, spent most of his life working on the antinuclear programmes for some secret research company that we were unaware of. When home, he would spend his time reading piles and piles of research journals, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember what they were about. When the Third World War started, he was busy working for this private contractor, and he always used to say that his invention would change the course of the entire world. He later built a small laboratory next to our barn. Ms Molly, the only love of my life, used to live there then—I love her so much. Most of the time, Father would lock himself up in his lab, doing his experiments and what not. Smoke fumes would rise from the vent. Sometimes strange sounds—like a sonic boom—would shake our house and the neighbouring buildings. I do not intend to be insensitive, but I have some idea of how it feels to be inside a shaking building. 
Out of my father’s thousands of great experiments, one small one was on how to stop earthquakes from occurring. He never published his findings in any reputed scientific journals of his time, perhaps because he knew that companies or secret government organisations would patent his inventions, and they would make a business out them. I have some of his manuscripts—the ones that I was able to save—that I want to send to you. But before that, I would like to give you an account of what has happened in our lives since.
The day before he died, Father seemed very happy. He said that his research team had been successful in developing antinuclear machinery that could block nuclear missiles, irrespective of where they had been launched from. I remember him telling me that he was very proud, and that he had become ‘life’, a saviour of the world. He left for work early the next day, but he didn’t come back. That was on the eve of Dashain.
From what Maya told me later, I learned that I was playing with Ms Molly that day; the TV was on. Masha and the Baby Bear was interrupted to telecast an emergency news report. Soon, bomb explosions consumed the TV screen and within minutes the power was cut. The phone rang. Mum, a few minutes into the phone conversation, collapsed on the carpet. Then, we didn’t know what had happened, but later we were told that father and his entire team were murdered. 
Maya later explained to me that his team had been asked to join a meeting with the top delegates of all nations. These people, who were admired and respected throughout the world, saw Father’s invention as a threat to their political agendas. They gassed him in his own 
Back to the manuscripts: they were always lying around in Father’s laboratory. Some of his greatest secrets were just there, lying untouched. Later, Maya turned it into her personal property. She never gave it to me or to Mum. She said that his works were nothing but bits and pieces of rotten and boring prose, scrapped drawings, and mathematical jargons. According to her, there was nothing in the papers for us to gain and learn from. I remember, once, she tried to burn them up. But somehow, she has managed to keep them a secret from everybody. Even the people from the National Security agencies could not find the papers.
Some years later, it was in the news that a blue-turban-wearing young man had started some anti-nuclear-missile experiment and that it had saved our part of the planet from the political elites. I think I don’t have to tell you all this as it was reported in both parts of the planet by the leading news media houses. You must have heard that in my part of the world, the citizens had stoned these political elites to death for starting the war. The war led to the plummeting of the population from billions to a few millions. We were lucky to have survived this great catastrophe in our region.
I do understand how you feel right now; in the aftermath of the quake, you want to motivate and inspire some of your people to return home. But that’s not easy to do when the world is so divided. We are so divided that I don’t even know what your part of the earth is called now. 
The place you live, do you still call 
it Nepal as it was called before 
the war?

I want to inform you that I feel a bit hesitant to respond to your proposal to come back to Nepal and start a new life there. I would have tried to find my way to you if it were not for Ms Molly. I love you, but you know how I love her more. I don’t know whether this comes as a surprise to you or not, but I am already married to Ms Molly now. We have been together for the last 27 years.
I still remember the day when Father brought Ms Molly home. I was one. She didn’t have a lot to say as she used combinations of the utterance ‘Meow’; but that was more than enough for us to communicate. You may wonder if she is able to fulfill my desires, but I want to tell you that she has grown big. She is five-feet-six-inches-tall now. She is less a cat and more a human now. She protects me. She is there when I need her the most.
You also write that you want to raise a family with me. It would be one of the nicest things to give birth to your babies. But yesterday, I stayed up all night and thought about it. What is their use? What use are they when people in power will continually start a new world war every few year or so? What use are they when every day a new calamity strikes the earth, killing millions? What have we done to this world?
Enclosed with this letter are 450 manuscript pages written by my father. It is a walkthrough on the process of subduing the effects of an earthquake when it strikes. In our part of the earth, we have implemented this scientific process, and I hope you can use these pages to stop earthquakes from happening in your part of the earth too. 
I cannot wait to read your reply.
PS: Please do send me your brain-computer transmission of words more securely.
Sent from: sessiK dna sguH
Posted on: 2015-07-05 08:42
Published: The Kathmandu Post (under different name in print)

To Err is Human?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Road to Nowhere by Kamal P Malla

Selected quotations from Kamal P Malla’s collection of essays, The Road to Nowhere:

Three Years of the Rising Nepal
The editorial staff [of The Rising Nepal] are overworked; they naturally do not have time to read through them, edit them, or assess their comparative values. The life of a professional journalist is hectic, indeed; the machines must be fed in time; ‘the formidable deadline’ should not be crossed; so few hands, so much to do. We the consumers have, therefore, to be satisfied if for days there is nothing readable except the weather of the day we had lived through and console ourselves with an incomparable tailpiece or two.
Education: The Road to Nowhere
At least, in seminars on the examination system in committees on higher education, or in sore little opinionate essaysin our periodicals, we are ineffectually brandishing our mediocre ideas pleading for ‘change’ in the present educational system in Nepal…At times of reformistic euphoria we even decide for ‘the change.’ Yet when we come to implement our decisions for the change, we drift exactly to the opposite, by succumbing to a failure of nerves.
…education in Nepal has become something like Frankenstein’s mechanical monster. The master has lost control over the machine. The master, therefore, is no longer able to tell what the monster is going to do next. It is now the toy that plays with the master or masters.
The rich confusion and profusion of authority or educational matters, this intersection of the academic, the administrative and the political interests is an incomprehensible make-believe in Nepal.
Our graduates’ problem, however, is not that they are unemployed but that they are not employable. Their education is pathetically out of tune with the society in which they have to survive. Their education is totally divorced from the agonies of a society in transition where the pressing needs are not just of MAs in English or MScs in Physics, not just of the white collared workers, but also of the drainage experts, the plumbers, the masons, the pipe-layers, the skilled electricians, the mechanics and so on.
…the simple naked truth about our situation: we are confused about our educational aims. What do we aim at in education, and through education, in the rest of our society? Particularly through the liberal education on a mass, debased and commercialised scale?
If cancer is just a name for the wrongly multiplying cells, I imagine, it is no morbid psychology to describe our educational establishment as a malicious form of cancer with which our body-polity is increasingly threatened.
…I have a creepy feeling that education in Nepal is a lost cause: education is no longer education; it is either a political game between the authorities and the students or a commercial enterprise conspired by the academics and the degree-hunters.
The teaching profession as such is ‘permeated with upper-caste traditions’. The authors observe that especially strong is ‘the attitude towards manual effort, physical exertion—these are for the lower castes and it is self-denigrating to lift, carry, or otherwise work with the physical world’. This upper class prejudice is reflected in the curriculum of Nepal’s schools as well as in teaching methods. It is not for nothing that the courses taught in Nepal are highly abstract, with very little consideration of possible applications of the material learnt.
In a social structure like ours where education is accessible mainly to the upper-class child, where caste distinctions and tribal affiliation are still effective, where under the yoke of a strong joint-family system the women have less opportunities than men, the achievement of modern educational goals are fraught with powerful and crippling constraints.
The Importance of Being Critical
In Nepal the educational authorities have always believed in the sheer excellence of the old and the ossified. Here promotions are guaranteed and automatic. Naturally men grow old and prosper involuntarily. A youthful effort is neither a qualification nor an obligation. The only thing one should expect, if expect one must, from the Establishment is a grudging condescension which is already a great favour.
Mr Verma seems to think that literary criticism is an esoteric activity and that the literary critic is an equally scheduled class. The truth, however, is that every reader is a critic and every ‘conclusion drawn from study’ is literary criticism. If the ideal critic, as Dr F P Leavis put it, is an ideal reader, every discriminating student of literature is a critic who has a rightful place in the chain of critical being.
A critical essay is not a loose sally of the mind. Moreover, the literary critic differs from, say, the music critic or the art critic in that the literary critic has to use the medium of words, which is also the medium of the art he is responding to. So his claim to the title is closely related to the nature of the language he himself uses. The validity of a literary critic’s judgement always stands exposed by his own use of the medium.
Mr Verma’s exemplary case shows us that it is not enough to write or publish a book. The importance is not just in writing or publishing a book; the importance is, however, in doing it critically, consistently and thoroughly. The importance is in doing at least as well as one could do it.
YG Krishnamurti or MBB Shah?
At the end of the book I was left precisely where I was before I began the book. It did not make me any better reader of Shree Shah’s poems than I was before.
He steams the windowpanes and asks us to look at the world outside only to conclude on his own that the world is steamy.
Language in Nepal
During the last fifty years Nepali has taken great strides to raise itself to the status of a national language. Although nobody has ever made any objective field tests regarding the comprehension of Nepali by non-Nepali speakers, or on its use as a second language, necessity—sheer expediency—seems to have driven more and more non Nepali speakers to understand and use it in their day-to-day transactions, their inter-tribal communication and the communication with the channels of local and national administration.
The rise of Nepali, first as a lingua franca in the wake of the Gorkha military campaigns, then its continuous use as the language of authority and administration—the total ousting of all other languages from the courts and the final triumph of instituting Nepali as the national language of Nepal—completed a long and historical process that has been going on as a centripetal tendency consequent upon the political unification of Nepal.
Nepali, as an indigenous language, has no resources other than Sanskritised forms for handling an intellectual, abstract or technical discourse of any kind. More than 85 per cent of its vocabulary is similar to Hindi from which it has borrowed more words in the last 20 years than from all the rest of Nepalese languages put together in the whole history of modern Nepal. S the paradox of Nepali linguistic nationalism is that the broader the scope of Nepali, the less it sounds like a language of Nepal. Nationalism, in Nepal, in so far as it is manifestly anti-Indian in orientation, is a self-defeating aspiration, particularly when one of its major foundations is Nepali, which is bound to be increasingly Sanskritised.
Language is so much a part of one’s way of life, a code through which a people’s culture is transmitted from one generation to another. The first language policy equates nationalism with uniformity, the second language policy equates it with tolerance (positively) or indifference (negatively) while the last alternative equates nationalism with the unity based on cultural pluralism and diversity…what Nepal does with her minorities and their languages will the best test of the maturity of her democracy. To ignore them is convenient, but not necessarily the most effective way to national integration.
The Precis of Right Philosophy: A critique
A didactic and derivative frame of mind is what we have inherited from our past and it is still entrenched in our habits of thinking and feeling. This is the legacy of our abdication of the intellect to priesthood.
Words have deep roots, and precision of phrasing is possible only where there is precision in thinking.
The Intellectual in Nepalese Society
This is an essay in enquiry into the poverty of intellect in Nepal.
The tradition here is the tradition of transmission of the sacred text, the tradition of conservation or ritualistic continuity rather that of creativity, nonconformism, questioning and criticism. The preponderance of the textual over the critical, of the spiritual over the material, of the abstract over the concrete, of the magical over the empirical, of the didactic over the creative—more than anything else, characterises the tradition of Nepalese scholarship.
They [the Nepalese intelligentsia] are also a displaced stratum of society, because by their training and education (as against their upbringing and origins) they have suddenly been compelled to live in the latter half of the twentieth century without due ceremony. They woke up one fine morning from the sleep of the Middle Ages and found themselves exposed to the neon lights of an electronic age.
One plain, but primary, reason for the poverty of intellect in Nepal is the poverty of the intellectual.
The role of the intellectuals is primarily to evaluate the realities of their society. In Nepal, this is where, because of the economic poverty and bondage of the intellectual, they seem to have failed society and betrayed their ‘class obligations’—if they feel they have any. An intellectual is not just a latter-day variation on the ancient Brahmin priest: his function in society is not ritualistic…What we have in Nepal, however, is not an articulate class of intellectuals who are willing to fill in the critical-evaluative role; what we have is only a class of white-collared proletariat who work, not for wages, but for salaries of different scales.
In Nepal, however, the literate section of the population shows, not only a great dearth of idealism, or a universal paucity of effort, application and dedication, but also an endemic infection with the virus of plain materialistic success. Success—measurable material success by hook or by crook—this is the law, and for the poverty-stricken Nepalese ‘making money’ is the only visible end for which life seems to be worth living. To him the eternal choice is between ‘making oneself’ and ‘remaking society’ and making oneself is invariably synonymous in Nepal with making money.
Kathmandu Your Kathmandu
The Ranas imported everything except probably boiled rice. Of all things, they imported Western architecture and built brick and mortar labyrinths to house their harems and prodigious households. With a redeeming touch of taste, generosity and sensibility each othese Rana mansions would have been founded in an entirely different tradition. For instance, in England, ‘the great houses’ that punctuate the English landscape were built by the nobility and the gentry who were in organic touch with the rest of English society. In Kathmandu the Ranas, on the contrary, refuse even to communicate with the rest of society except for money and cheap labour. They turned their backs upon the traditional Nepalese arts, crafts and architecture. There is not a single building which shows the regime’s patronage of the homespun style.
A Rana palace is not only a depressive monument to the Western mimicry: it is also convincing evidence of a collective schizophrenia. After all, the Ranas were the rulers; they ought to feel different from the ruled; they must live differently in dream-castles inaccessible to the vulgar herd. But is not all mimicry vulgar, particularly the mimicry of a culture only imperfectly understood?
Kathmandu is not the whole Nepal. Its metaphysical absurdity lies precisely in its pretensions that it is.
In Kathmandu, Hinduism has survived, not as a creative force, but as a fabric of fossilised rites and rituals, feasts and festivals to which both the believers and the non-believers subscribe, not as an act of conscious faith, but as a matter of inherited habits.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The great quake

APR 29 - On Saturday, following a massive earthquake, Kathmandu’s landmark, the Dharahara, collapsed.  Until now, about 5,000 people have been killed, many more have been injured, and a lot of historic temples and old buildings have collapsed. Entire families consisting of parents, children and other relatives have been buried under rubble. People living in the affected districts are all in a state of panic. 
In fact, I have no words to explain the horrors of the earthquake. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to all my friends, families, and neighbours who died in the catastrophe--a 7.9 Richter scale earthquake that shook most parts of the country.  According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake’s epicenter was somewhere 50 miles from the Valley. And any earthquake that is between 7-8 Richter scale is categorised as ‘major’ by scientific experts.    

Video clips of people in the Kathmandu Valley look very chaotic. I talked to my mom who lives in Chitwan, and she told me that she had never experienced such ‘vibration’ and ‘shaking’ of buildings in her entire life. Many individuals came out onto into the streets. Those living in Hetauda and Birgunj also recounted similar tales. A friend reported that he ran for his life with a dozen of other people from his private apartment. Given the state of affairs, it is difficult for people not to feel terrified. Massive damage has caused fear and panic throughout Nepal. The country needs help. It needed prayers.
Electricity supply has not been stable and neither have phone connections been established properly. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the network was congested as the everyone began calling their family members in panic. The Nepali diaspora, who heard the news in different parts of the world, also got scared to death, and started calling their family back in Nepal. Albeit, it is not the earthquake that causes the trouble, but the archetypes, landmarks, and buildings that inhabitants have built.    
Even so, it is good to see people using social media sites and seeking to help people most-affected by the calamity by bringing people together. Nepalis people Facebook instantly shared the news of the disaster on Facebook, and many others started tweeting actively to inform other people. Google launched ‘earthquake finder’ app, and Facebook has started asking users to ‘mark safe’ after the quake.
The only silver lining of this tragic even is perhaps that from this earthquake is that it has bought communities together. In these trouble times, politics should take a backseat and everyone should rise up to the occasion. Everybody has come together and joined hand-in-hand to support and help victims of this earthquake. 
Posted on: 2015-04-30 09:39
Published: The Kathmandu Post