Tuesday, March 31, 2015

From a Consultant's Notepad: e-MPowering India..

"Do we see an encouraging picture out here? Has there been a substantial increase in transaction level over the last 2-3 months? Any typical connectivity issues as of now?"- The SeMT (State e-Governance Mission Mode Team) head asked categorically. He seemed to be very concerned about the progress and prevalence of the recently rolled-out e-District services in Jalpaiguri and Bankura, West Bengal as a part of the pilot run. Before I proceed further, I do understand that most of you might wondering what “e-District” actually means, let me try and help you out. In short, e-District is one of the 27 MMPs (Mission Mode Projects) under the NeGP (National e-Governance Plan), with DeitY (Department of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India) as the nodal department that aims at electronic delivery of identified high volume citizen centric services, at district and sub-district level that are not part of any other MMP. It proposes to adopt an integrated approach for delivery of citizen services by District Administration through automation of backend, workflow based on process redesign and data digitization across the participating departments. The very first step to e-MPowerment, I reckon.


Duh, sounds like an unfathomable code-language isn’t it. Well relax, even I, for once would like to concur…this was exactly my reaction when I entered into the domain called “e-Governance” in one of the most reputed consulting firms of the country; as a fresh graduate from college I definitely had the replenishing thirst to “explore” new avenues but then the idea of an envisaged digital India was not even remotely close to my “dreams”. Drawing a perfect synergy with my initial thought-process, do try and imagine the ‘plight’ of the Government officials who are nearing their age of retirement or the citizens who are rather ‘accustomed’ to standing in a queue for hours and making multiple visits to the same department in order of avail the services…it is almost as imperative as the agony, the anguish associated with the idea of “change”; the superfluous ordeal that is. Oh hello! Do I send across the vibe of being rather a ‘tolerant prophet’? Wait for it, you haven’t even read the “abstract” yet; this is not a story though…it’s nothing but the hard-core reality of conceptualizing and implementing e-Governance in the field, the so-called “grass-root” level.. It’s a fascinating account. Sit back, relax and enjoy as I take you through the ‘e-enlightened journey’, ummm, let's explore then..!!!


“What does e-Governance imply? Are we changing the way our Government operates? How successful would it be considering the deplorable state of computer literacy in the country and of course the State? What would be your role as a Consultant?” – Dad had bombarded me with all possible questions on the very first day of my job and naturally I didn’t have answers. But the questions kept on lingering in mind because as a Consultant, your role is to find solutions to an impending issue, not to bypass them. In my quest to find out those answers, I had to go back to the age old guidelines issued by the Central Government in line with implementing e-services from across the country and drawing salient points out of my sustained interaction with the designated personnel from the Department of Information Technology, Government of West Bengal, the various Government stakeholders in charge with the line departments, the software implementing agency as well as the citizens (the outcome of this project is essentially citizen-centric), I knew that something pretty interesting & “new flanged” was definitely on the cards. Talking of my first real on-field experience when it came to ‘familiarization with the essence of e-Governance’, well it’s nothing but an oracle, as they say. It’s astonishing when I say that my first assignment as a Consultant was to train the Government employees at Bankura, West Bengal with the newly launched e-District services…do note the term “train” because this task was assigned to me even before I had my formal induction into the scheme of things. It was a challenge...the challenge that broke my 'inertia of rest".

But then, my boss’ imposing statement still lingers in my ears- “You have great potential in the capacity building sector. You don’t need formal training to get on with it…spend time with the people at the grass-root level, try and understand their pain points, make an attempt to think about possible mitigation plans and what you arrive at is e-Governance”. Boy! So many big words…capacity building, change management…and that followed by those majestic terminologies GIGO (GIGO means Garbage In, Garbage Out. In computer terminology it means if you feed in garbage value in your input, you will get garbage value as output. In principle, it means that you should have correct inputs and clean processes to get the desired output), BPR (BPR is major redesign of business processes to achieve improvements in various measures such as cost, performance, quality, service and speed), GPR (GPR is major redesign of government processes to achieve improvements in various measures such as cost, performance, quality, service and speed. It has evolved from applying Business Process Re-engineering concept to Government services. It enhances operational efficiency in administration and service delivery. The knowledge of GPR enables government personnel to improve government functioning.). In this context, let's look at the broad Mission (and vision) of e-District.!


Phew! Seemed like an uphill task this…but then the objective was rather simple, to facilitate citizen-engagement or rather the beneficiaries by leveraging the bridge called “technology”. Boss was absolutely correct when he said that a direct interaction with the key beneficiaries would be the perfect foil of developing an e-Governance centric persona; we might talk about sophistication..but then our target audience comprises of people who have never had the privilege of ‘touching a computer’.


Well, if we look back and focus on the prime goals of e-Governance, I must mention that to achieve the broader objectives, service levels and outcomes for each of the services selected under the purview of e-Governance will be clearly laid down by the concerned State, with a view to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service delivery. The MMP envisages leveraging and utilizing the four pillars of e-infrastructure namely, SDC (State Date Centre) s, SWAN State Wide Area Network)s, SSDG (State Service Delivery Gateway)s and CSC (Common Service Center) s, optimally to deliver public services electronically to citizens at their door steps. Initially only those high volume citizen-centric services will be taken up for implementation which have high priority for the State, to check the flow as well as to gauge the endurance of the existing solution. The efficient delivery of important services would also lead to developing trust and assurance from the point of view of the citizens who have been rather “seasoned” with the manual process of delayed service delivery. In this context, any new identified service, will be added to the portfolio subsequently, once the demand for the initial set of e-enabled services increases and will be rolled out subsequently.....!!!


With the key e-infrastructure components like CSCs, SDC, and SWAN under NeGP in advanced stages of implementation, the focus would be on services that can be delivered across the counter so citizens do not have to visit a Common Service Centre or a Government Office multiple times. The e-District MMP project is the means through which this focus can be achieved and ultimately meeting the NeGP vision, i.e., " Make all Government Services accessible to the common man in his locality, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs to realize the basic needs of the common man". The harder part is just about to follow…the only reassuring factor that works well for both the Government as well as the beneficiaries is that currently both the manual as well as the online systems have been kept in place, with that the former process would be done away with in the near future. The best part about this application is that citizen would now get to avail a wide-range of services pertaining to different set of Departments  in a single platform; a single application gateway as we call it. The fact that it reduces human touch points and cuts on multiple interaction with the various departments, is nothing less than benediction. The back-end computerization (end-to-end-automation) that reduces time-lag in physical file movement, definitely hits the nail....addresses most impending issue that citizens face while interacting with Government Departments.  Also, to ensure transparency....you can track your application status by logging into the e-District portal & figure out at which particular level your application is "stuck". It is almost imperative that this, in effect, addresses to the perennial debacle called "speed money" associated with processing Government applications. But then to implement this, substantial handholding support, motivation & skill-up-gradation would be required."Who would step forward?"

That is exactly where I kick-started my ‘campaign’…my ride into e-Governance wasn’t a particularly velvety one since the mere idea of eliminating paper-work seemed to be a far-fetched idea especially in rural Bengal. Just to bring in a small reference, “Change”, as they say…can never be forced upon either on an individual or a group of individuals driving the community goal; even after almost a decade of conceptualization of this idea of e-delivery of services, only a handful of the states have managed to “Go-Live” with a handful of services. Thankfully, I have been an integral part of the e-District services launch in two states of India viz. West Bengal and Jharkhand. If you ask me to draw a comparative analysis between the two, well nothing to choose really…the common aspect is definitely the “connectivity” issue in the remotest parts of the State; the System Integrators (SI) in association with the State IT Departments have done a tremendous job in “spreading” the wings, read SWAN PoP’s (State Wide Area Network) across all the line offices and Common Service Centers (CSC’s) of the State but then the geographic barbarousness have posed perennial challenges. The major concern was whether the CSC’s would be able to handle the excessive load of transactions with a couple of operators when all the services “Go Live”, also if the network connectivity is relatively unstable there might be substantial hindrance in delivering the services on time. I have also represented Tripura as the SPMU representative during the prestigious Video Conference organized by DeitY, Government of India with all the North-Eastern States of the country; it was mandated that each of the N-E States have to launch their first phase of services by March 2015. Doesn’t seem to be a tough target with all the sophisticated hardware – Desktops, laptops, printers, scanners, data-cards as well as the hardware at SDC, servers/networking components being commissioned on time. This is in line with NaMo's vision of creating a "Digital India", the venerated intention.

Source
One of key aspect of consideration here is definitely the configuration of hardware to be used, especially the computers with powerful processors to handle the exponentially growing load on the servers in due course of time. Glad that the “gifted” Intel-powered processors have cater to all the requirements perfectly. This is one common attribute that we have decided to corroborate before releasing procurement order to the System Integrators and in turn, the OEM’s…in-fact, the Government has made perfect guidelines such that only the best available hardware, especially the computers (desktops and laptops), is procured for all the possible e-Governance projects. LINUX has been chosen as the Operating system because of its ‘ingrained immunity’. Extensive promotional activities and training programmes have been planned by the Government to spread the word right up to the grass-root level but then, one needs to understand that re-forming Government processes and streamlining has been quite a mammoth task. Well, I’m of course, proud of the fact that I have to a large extent contributed to re-structuring some cumbersome statutory processes through the good-old-As-Is-To-Be-Gap-Analysis-BPR-Change Management-FRS (Functional Requirement Specification)-SRS (Software Requirement Specification)-Design-Testing-Implementation of his esteemed vision of the Government that unfurled newer avenues for sure. Needless to say that I am extreme proud to be associated with this drive..!


Yes, I have worked with various State Governments with respect to roll-out of core e-Governance projects viz. Government of West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Pondicherry …I have been involved with multiple e-Governance projects including SP&SSDG (State Portal & State Service Delivery Gateway), Consultancy services for Roll-Out of UID, CCTNS (Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems), e-Health, computerization of the Education Department, Computerization Of Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies…and the learning has been immense. We have faced tremendous resistance from all levels of implementation but we have persisted in our efforts to ‘enlighten’ India..!

Let us consider the statement and analyze the hidden connotations- "Freedom from Location" can really empower the citizens, e.g. allowing picking ration from any ration shop, or property registration from any Registrar office. I can immediately think of 5 major pointers that does emphasize the need of e-Governance. Feel free to add yours:-
  • Transparency and Reduction in bribery due to decreased human touch points
  • Freedom of convenience to the citizen
  • Freedom of choice to choose cheaper, faster and better serving offices
  • Healthy competition among peer offices. Effective Monitoring and Evaluation of sick units in Government offices
  • Reduction in time and cost spent on by citizen on travel and follow – up of a service; the most critical aspect.!


The Government of India has incorporated a number of “relaxations” that help the States (who are lagging behind in implementation) to cope up with the advanced counterparts like Maharashtra. “Do not re-invent the wheel" – is what they recommend…it, in effect, refers to the avoidance of duplication. For example, if a software is developed and has been successfully been implemented in one State, another State can make use of it with or without the inclusion of few customizations that may be required for the state depending on the specific requirements. Saves cost, effort and time.

However, there are a number of departments which can be brought under the purview of e-Governance to aid the citizens. As per my knowledge, the indicative list of departments are:
  • Municipal Corporation – Citizen Service’s centers can provide popular services like Birth and Death Certificates, Age and Income certificates, property cards etc.
  • Motor Vehicle Department – Citizen Service desk at RTO can help citizens to pay vehicle road tax, renewal of driving license, get new/renew vehicle number, vehicle registration. This centers should be technologically upgrade to provide faster, transparent and efficient delivery of their services.
  • External Affairs department – Passport Seva Kendra is a citizen service center which act as a one stop shop for citizen to facilitate passport related services.
  • Department of Education - Disbursement of scholarships, Declaration of exam results, Vocational training and coaching
  • Courts and Police department - Payment of fines and penalties such as traffic signal violation etc.
  • Labour Department - Shops and Establishment, Digitization, Construction and transport workers welfare schemes, eGovernance in Factories and Boiler Directorate.
  • Fire and Emergency Services- Application and Renewal of Fire Licenses can be made e-Ready.
Furthermore, with the advent of eGov 2.0 that leverages social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter to effectively communicate to the citizens, is also a refreshing addition, a boon to say the least, especially with the growing popularity of all the above mentioned media. The Four stages that can be identified with eGov2.0 are:
  • Web Presence (basic website)
  • Interactive website (email, feedback, and downloadable forms)
  • Transaction based (complete and secure transactions)
  • Transformation: Use of Social Media (Facebook, blogs etc.) to get citizens feedback, on issue like traffic violations, potholes etc.
eGov 2.0, backed up with the bliss of technology, can lead to encouraging development when it comes to the citizen-centric utilities of implementing electronic mode of service delivery. These could be a few examples of the application:-
  • Broadcast News – Each department can have their own handles in different social media sites to updates any important national news & events on their website
  • Grievance Redressal – Government can use social media for Grievance Redressal. The citizen can also post picture & videos to provide evidence in support of the complaint. Government can provides immediate solution to the complaint resulting in higher rate of satisfaction and transparency.
  • Alerts – Government can broadcast disaster warnings using social media. It helps them to communicate to citizens very quickly in case of emergency.
  • Policy Making – Government can also use social media website to gather opinions / feedbacks from the citizen on policies. This will strengthen the democratic process of policy making and ensure that the policies made have wider acceptability.
Let me also take this opportunity to introduce the concept of m-Governance (mobile Governance) that works in close association with e-Governance. M-Governance is nothing but an extension of the idea of “Electronic delivery” that is strategically extended to the mobile platform since every citizen in the 21st century has a mobile phone by default. The collaboration, in effect aids in effectively use of government services and applications which are only possible using cellular/mobile, telephone , laptop, computers, PDAs and wireless internet infrastructure. Let us then look at 5 indicative areas where m-Governance can be useful to the citizens:-
  • Agricultural MarketingFarmer can get information of selling price of agriculture product in the markets nearby, this will help them to get the best price for their product.
  • Railway Ticket Status Using the PNR number, citizens can get information of their railway ticket reservation status from their mobile. Citizens can also book tickets (m-Ticketing) using mobile applications or directly from the Railways site.
  • Disaster Management Use of mobile technology to send mass alert to registered citizen’s vis-à-vis. short message service or SMS, in the event of a disaster or emergency.
  • Tax Information Citizens can get their tax information through SMS pull services.
  • Food & Civil Supplies Tracking the movement of the Lorries carrying food and availability of information of ration at Ration shops can help reduce leakage at various level of distribution. Well, having said so, e-Governance might present a staggered progress because of the following possible reasons. I call it "Delayed success" though.  It's just a matter of time before this esteemed initiative by Government of India expresses itself in full bloom. I bet..!


And taking of taking it to the “next level”, the idea of e-Governance has gone through glorious transformations over the past few decades and one of the key high-points have been the inclusion of satellite-imagery and tracking maps to aid the execution of services. The use of technology has been remarkable in this case, and is being developed with every passing day. Let’s look at a few examples.
  • National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP) Mizoram This program is aim to modernize the management of land records, reduce the number of land disputes, proper and transparent land record maintenance system.
  • Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) – With a goal to provide villages, tribal and hill state with road connectivity, an online management and monitoring system was developed to identify the target areas and monitor them.
  • Karnataka Watershed Development Project – Sujala is Karnataka Watershed Development Project which uses satellite communication and GIS system for extracting information for watershed planning, implementation and monitoring
  • Bihar Infrastructure Mapping Geometrics Oriented Application Model (I-BHUGOAL) – GIS based mapping of forest, election booths, water resources and transmission lines for integrating Geo-spatial data and MIS data of different departments for faster decision making.

And Boy! The world is high on Cloud Computing right now and guess what, we have seen it’s manifestation in the domain of e-Governance as well. The MahaGov Cloud is a private cloud setup by DIT, Government of Maharashtra, the initiative seeks to provide IaaS, PaaS and SaaS cloud services to various departments in Government of Maharashtra. The list of departments which use the cloud include departments like Public Health Dept, Mhada, DIT, Charity Commissioner, Textile, Law and Judiciary, Water Supply and Sanitation, IGRO, Food and Drugs, School Education, Social Justice, Relief & Rehabilitation, Forest Department, Rojgarvahini, Tribal, Bombay High court, UID, Solapur University, Sales Tax department and CIDCO. Maharashtra State Data Centers runs 330 virtual servers belonging to various department and are running their critical applications and databases on VMware solutions Besides providing IaaS, PaaS and SaaS on a monthly basis, the department is offering Business Intelligence tools as a Service (BIaaS), GIS thematic map as a Service (GISaaS), API as a service and Survey as a Service and Authentication as a service. It goes without saying that the inclusion of sophisticated technology has certainly made a huge impact in e-Governance and going forward, we look to forward to making use of Cloud Computing on a much larger scale and extend the benefits to all the States of the country. And of course, the essence of "Digital India" as envisaged by Intel, aims at developing four key sectors. It's so comforting to connect to like-minded people-the essence of fraternization!


- Smart Government: Smart Government is based on some key drivers like ICT & e-governance, Transparency & open data, and enabling supply and demand policy. Smart government system is required in this cities to save time and money spent by people in accessing this services and at the same time ensuring transparency.

- Smart Environment: Smart Environment is driven by developing green building, green energy, and green urban planning. Because of increase in the number of private vehicles, expansion of industries and residential complex in both the cities, the impact on the environment is huge. This calls for environmentally friendly ways of fulfilling the needs of this demanding cities.

- Smart Mobility: Smart mobility is driven by mixed modal access, prioritized & non-motorized options, and integrated ICT. In the both the cities, use of the mobile devices have increased tremendously over the years. With the wide usage of next generation mobile technology, there is a huge desire to fill the vacuum of integrated mobile technology in the city services space.

- Smart People: Smart people is driven by use of 21st century education, inclusive society and embracing creativity. Both the cities are ridden with poor education, health, and sanitation problems. In order to become the global city of the next century, it requires to make a paradigm shift in its current functioning and adopt best practices from other global cities and bring in creativity to resolves its issues. Needless to say that my dream is to see a "Paperless" India in the near future. And there's more to it..perhaps in the near future we can dream of online approvals happening through e-Governance Apps built for all platforms Windows, Android or iOS; the citizens can check the status of their application by logging into the App itself. Intel Powered Tablets and smart-phones equipped with super-fast data connection would certainly be the game changer. Amen....!!!

The Certificate of Merit Awarded to me by Government of Maharashtra
for Excellence in e-Governance. Link

I have been recently awarded with a distinction degree in the Level 2 of this test...
Just wanted to share with you people. Check here. Cheers>
*This post has been written as a part of the #DigitalIndia campaign brought to you by Intel India. Intel is committed towards our government's vision of a Digital India. Through its ‘Digital Skills for India’ and ‘Innovate for India’ initiatives, Intel has been fostering technology as the enabler for creating a digitized India. Much appreciated.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lost and Almost Found....

Looks like the great mystery might just be about to resolve. As you might know, it has been a highly tumultuous time for the beautiful Bollywood queen Katrina Kaif’s fans, since she was recently reported missing by several people. The news took the social media by a storm and gave rise to many speculations regarding her whereabouts. She was believed to be attending red carpet events in London and Paris, holidaying in Kashmir, even cruising down the Mediterranean – all simultaneously! Mysterious it is....!!!

Source
But the grapevine reports point towards an entirely unsuspected location. According to our sources Katrina has been spotted in Ratnagiri! A group of fishermen returning from their day’s work at sea happened to walk past an orchard and saw a woman walking among the trees. One of them recognised her to be Katrina and reported the news.
This comes as a great surprise to even those who are closest to her, as there was no indication of her shooting for any film in the Konkan region. Ratnagiri is located along the coast in Maharashtra, and is well known for its delectable Alphonso mangoes. Ahan.
Her unexpected presence in Ratnagiri has sparked more speculations where every fan and self-proclaimed friend has his/her own theory to offer. Her fans feel she might be there to get away from the media for a clandestine film shoot, while her contemporaries suspect she is out on an ad shoot. Maybe it isn't about work at all; it could be that she is simply off on a road trip down the West Coast, driving from Mumbai to Kerala the old school way. And the speculations are brewing with every passing day; intriguing..!

Source
It still doesn't add up though. The last film shoot she was expected to be doing was in the opposite end of the country – in Kashmir for her upcoming film Fitoor. But suppose the fisherman is telling the truth, the mystery here is, what is Katrina doing in Ratnagiri?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Kelloggs Kaleidoscope...

Boy! You know what...the mere prospect of stopping over at a connoisseur's abode is nothing but beguiling. It's almost correspondent to the essence of eternal truth, the Bongs do not need a reason to pounce on-to the tiniest crumb, their sense of 'smell' is almost comparable to that of an ant & their ability to gobble touches the highest peak of the Everest without much of an effort. And why not? It has been historically proven that Bongs contribute to perhaps the most cooks from across the world; they have magic in their fingers. 
And the diversity reflects from their characteristic food-habits about breakfast, It's almost like a myth that every bong family in Calcutta would ideally resort to "Luchi and Alu-r Dam", ably supported by those delectable hot Jalebi's from the neighbourhood sweet meat shop..oh yes, there's a lot of poetry in each bite. But then, you know, the Bongs are rather tolerant when it comes to experimenting with food...they might have their own preferences, but given a choice, they don't mind digging into an 'alien platter', especially when it promises to be a healthy one with a refreshing twist. Ah, you got that right fellas...when I came across the latest Kelloggs TVC , let me confess...I was simply blown away by the charm of acquaintanceship ingrained in it. It was almost like an instant connection that this TVC had managed to stitch through it's nimble representation...Guptaji and his lively family seemed to be pretty much part of the "like-minded-category".


"A healthy family, is a happy family"- The good old saying makes perfect sense when I analyze the possible schema of staying healthy. And when I use the term "healthy" I do refer to the physical as well as mental health...eating the right kind of food and harvesting inner peace. Voila!! Guptaji and his happy family has managed to tick both the boxes with absolute fidelity. A quick glance into their kitchen...dear oh dear, they have almost 'authored' a culinary encyclopedia that spells diversity on one end and restores piquancy without compromising with the nutrition quotient. A sneak peak into their menu and I was completely taken aback by the free-flowing "artistry" in there..it's amazing how have they have indulged into so much of experimentation with the very common, readily available ingredients and created some mind-blowing dishes of their own. If I had to pick one out these incredible recipes, I'll definitely choose the Chapatti Cornflakes Chivda that is in effect a generous mix of green chillies, curry leaves, asafetida, peanuts, daria dal, roasted chapatti, and roasted Kelloggs corn-flakes that simply tantalizes the otherwise perched taste buds that strive for 'comestible solace'. 


And the best part is, the entire family is pretty much open about their "trade secrets"..they could easily open up an in-house cooking-school with the level of expertise they possess, but they prefer in sharing happiness with the rest of the world through "public" Facebook posts. It is also to be noted that they are hard-core professionals when it comes to treating their guests; the net preparation time for this savory "Nashta" is as miserly as 10 minutes, it effectively implies that the guest is never left unattended at any point in time.
By the way, I have also been impressed with the concept behind Cornflake Popcorn Clusters because that, in effect, symbolises the inner bond between all the family members...the 'sorcery' of watching a movie with the family is just priceless and when you have a bowl-full-of-awesomeness right in front, you might just continue with the second movie at a stretch. And again, it takes around 10 mins to complete the entire exercise and refill the popcorn tub. And then, you have the likes of the classy Cabbage Corn Salad in Basil Curd Dressing or the retro Strawberry and Banana Cornflakes to soothe your replenishing hunger-quotient. Boy, sounds like a plan this. Can't wait for Guptaji's invitation to arrive.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Happiness of Clicking...

Oh well, I was having a heated up discussion with my colleague last Friday in judging the relative precedence of a promotion over good rating when the perspective called "Happiness" or "Euphoria" intruded into the frame. Such impingements are very common during the appraisal time when employees get to retrospect and resolve accordingly.
"I guess I should get promoted to a Senior Consultant this year...I have stretched myself quite a bit this year"-  My colleague asserted, he seemed to be very confident about the outcome of an extended call with the Partner.
"Hmm. But will that really make you happy? Think about it." - My instantaneous razor-sharp inquiry came in as a shocker. Well, really? For a person who aspires to be an entrepreneur five years down the line, the prospect of a consolation promotion shouldn't have been significant enough..perhaps at the end of the day, a short-term binge of happiness surfaces. I refuse to concur though...my definition of happiness is slightly distinctive. Happiness, to me is nothing but an uncurbed license of free-spirited expression. On these lines, let's look at Coca-Cola's revolutionary advertisement, the perennial advocate of unscripted happiness.


As a little kid, colourful frames have always appealed to me...those shades have literally plunged into my senses and revitalized them. Mom says that even as a toddler, all it needed was a generous dose of colourful pictures to pacify me...she has even preserved those colorful albums & magic painting books as memoirs of those kaleidoscopic salad days. Voila! Talking of inclination, nothing has changed over the last 26 years...in-fact the intensity has increased manifold. Now that I have a fantastic camera at my disposal to "frame those colors"...my word, it's an ecstatic feeling. I would rather say that the camera is quite a conjurer, it can extract worthy perspectives out of the most mundane frames and add life to it. I have been recently doing a lot of photo-walks in and around Calcutta under the supervision of "Calcutta Walks" and the level of knowledge I'm gaining in the process is insurmountable.  Knowledge as a pathway to enlightenment is always gratifying, especially the prospect of excavating so many uncovered secrets of your own city, is a fascinating prospect....and to add to that learning, you get a chance to quench your replenishing thirst of clicking graceful ingrained shades of the city. I've been a potential late-riser over the years but astonishingly on the "Photowalk" days, I tend to wake up before the alarm clock breaks it's inertia of rest and manages to respond. Addictive..!!

The Happiness Central: Colourful Snippets from one of my recent photo-walks in North Calcutta
"How do you manage to strike a balance between such a grilling work-life and your mad photography-assignments?"  - Someone had asked me on Facebook.
"Because I'm happy"- My response was rather instinctive but I'm absolutely in sync with the mood reflected in Pharrell Williams' legendary number. You should always take out inspiration from the daily chores and I'm on my way of doing exactly that. Somewhere down the line, I plan to take up photography as a full-time profession because consulting, after a while, brings in the feeling of stagnation while the hunt for frames unveils newer avenues , unfurls newer angles with every passing day. The feeling of contentment in a perfectly timed shot is unrivaled. Yes, technically speaking a perfect low-light shot with decent composition charges me up...but then photography, in itself is salvation as far as I'm concerned. I won't cite multiple facets because I sincerely don't want to dilute the gravity of my "Top-most Happiness Driving Factor"...the mere prospect of an upcoming weekend turns me; that's when I get to spend time out in the streets of Calcutta and peep into the world through my lens. Click!

The Happiness Central: There's a lot of effervescent happiness in digging life out of mundane frames...
*Want to find out more about the Coca Cola International Day Of Happiness? Please visit the following link. All the pictures used in this blog-post are self-clicked and shouldn't be copied or represented in any form without my permission..!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The Epiphany....

"The delivery that could bring about a priceless wicket, 
The delivery that could portray brilliance in the field,
The delivery that could result in a glorious big hit,
The delivery that could bring about a wrong umpiring decision,
The delivery that could result in a shabby run-out,
The delivery that could unfurl a game-changing catch drop,
The delivery that could result in over-throws...
The delivery that could alter the complexion of the game...
The delivery that could result in a dramatic free-hit...
The delivery that ensures that we're always hooked onto the seat....."

"And he has picked the gap perfectly...almost bisected it and the ball wins the race"- Dad broadcast-ed. His voice almost echoed through the desolate corridor; yes he had just about started rehearsing before the big match.
"Calm down, we have everything under control Dad"- I tried to 'console' him..but in vain. He had already created a scene out there. "Goodness gracious me. What is he up to? I know that the bats these days are too good..the 'willow power' that they manage to generate is just incredible but doing it consistently? That is just unimaginable"- Dad reflected. He has always been a great advocate of  the game, his passion for the game is almost unparalleled. I distinctly remember the gloomy expression on his face when he returned 'empty handed' on the 'cursed' semi-final day of the 1996 Wills World Cup held at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. That was indeed an eye-opener for me because prior to that, cricket was nothing but a mere diversion...it was nothing less than 'obsession' when it came to epitomizing dad's attachment towards the sport. I distinctly remember the 'synopsis' if you call it so, the entire cricket-maniac denizens of Calcutta were rooting for Team India to make a clinical impact and perhaps win their second World Cup, they hoped, they aspired, adjured, they prayed for their Nation....there prayers went un-noticed. The discontented crowd at the Eden Gardens who did sketch an ugly picture on that cursed day, had no other option really...it's heart-breaking to see their favorite side collapse from a position of strength to a tame defeat, nobody other than the 'Master' managed to show resilience. Needless to say that the Lankans had the momentum behind them post a resilient show with the bat, but nobody expected the Indians to collapse like a pack of cards after Sachin gave them a rollicking start. Yes, you need to break those flood-gates alright and the resurgent Lankans led by the very adventurous Arjuna Ranatunga did just enough to ensure that the Indians were pushed right on to the back-foot after Sachin's dismissal. Even the Indians played to their hands; a tame submission.

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: That's how the Nation has responded to the cricketing call...
What followed soon after was nothing but a cataclysmal carnage...it shook the Nation of millions who were rooting for the men in (light) Blue. Dad was one of them; as a vibrant Engineering student and the University cricket captain..the game has been more of an exaltation, he has been a great patron of the sport that is aptly termed as the "Game of Glorious Uncertainties". I could hear his abhorred grunts when Team India under-performed but then he respected the worthy opponents...the true sportsman-spirit. I have seen him replicating Dada's historic 'jersey-swiveling-feat' during the Nat-west Trophy Finale...but then he had admitted that it was quite an impulsive act either way. Having said that, the impact of the 1996 World Cup has been quite acroamatic because of the simple fact that India had shown a lot of promise post their monumental victory over the arch-rivals Pakistan in the Quarter Finals....we all remember the Aamir Sohail and Venkatesh Prasad's nerve-wrecking duel back then. Yes, we witnessed a dream crashing on that particular day...it was an unified setback, the fiasco that is going to haunt each and every cricket lover for sure, that very sight of Vinod Kambli walking off the field with moist eyes was heart-breaking indeed. "I still don't believe in the allegations that Vinod had put forward, I believe that passion surfaces big time while representing your own country...but the scar would remain. The security guards at the stadium were ruthless on that particular night"- Dad had elucidated..yes, the soaring controversy post Vinod Kambli's hysterical divulgence that had tormented the entire nation didn't seem to affect him too much. He has always been a rational follower of the game and analyzes every aspect of the sport with sanity and coherence. Amen..!

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: Scenes from the WC 1996 semi-final match at Kolkata...
"Going by Kambli's logic and apparently those unpalatable 'facts' that he stated, I might end up questioning Saurav's decision to bowl first on that belter of a track at Johannesburg in the 2003 World Cup Finale. I believe in performance and definitely not in LUCK because the Cricketing God favors the brave. India's World Cup winning performance against the mighty Windies back in 1983 re-emphasizes the same"- He catechized. Oh yes! Right on the money he is...as always. The person who has followed cricket ardently, right from 'his inception' does say most things right...ah, I don't want to sound too biased on this one. He also has a firm opinion against ICC's decision of not including the minnows in the World Cup 2019 because they have often been the 'source of fresh air' as far as the game is concerned...but then one has to abide by the palpable truth; yes their performance, on an average, has been up to the mark. Yes, there might have been a couple of sparks in terms of individual performances (that have at times led to a major upset) but overall...they haven't managed to match up to the very high standards set by the regular test playing nations. Even then, he rates Kapil Dev's iconic knock of 175 against the rather in-experienced Zimbabwean attack because "he played proper cricketing strokes back then and the way Kirmani supported him was indeed a lesson, the modern day tailenders should learn from him big time" - as dad explained. Years have passed but the intensity has never dropped...newer entrants into the game have made their presence felt..Kevin O' Brein's (Ireland) swashbuckling knock that literally decimated the English bowling at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in the World Cup 2011, might have been the benchmark performance for the associate nations...but sadly the graph hasn't taken an exponential leap from then on. We have had nations like Bermuda producing some spirited performances but then, the consistency levels have been deplorable. Dad, for obvious reasons doesn't rate Zimbabwe and Bangladesh as minnows because they have been playing test cricket for a while now and have produced some promising cricketers over the years like Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Alistair Campbell, Heath Streak, Paul Strang and so on who were potentially match-winners but then incongruity has pegged them back from time and time again. Consider the gargantuan efforts by the Bangladeshi all-rounder Mahmudullah Riyad or the spirited knocks played by the talented Zimbabwean wicket-keeper batsman Brendan Taylor in this World Cup against quality sides but their single-handed efforts were not good enough to save the tide; they were knocked out of the competition before the knock-out stages. They were snuffed out by the hard-core professionals.

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: That's how the maestro Kapil Dev rescued his team from distress...
Well, as I'm about to enter into the business end of this post, as if in sync with that of the World Cup, let me take this opportunity to relive those cricketing glories that have etched deep into the cricketing soul. If the 1983 World Cup triumph was an epiphany, the lamentable loss in the 2003 World Cup final was a reality check....and as he says "The World Cup victory in 2011 was just an optimum dose of the above mentioned learnings". Yes, starting from 1975, this tournament has been the platform that has staged dramatic ups and downs but the baseline is still the same...there is literally no scope of 'unforced errors' in this format of the game. Almost as coincident with Shane Watson's 'catch drop' today, the catch that could have added spring in Wahab Riaz's stride...he was nothing short of being "called" hostile today. In-fact, the umpiring errors (Ref: The controversial no-ball call that saved Rohit Sharma when he was on 90 and he went on to make 137 against Bangladesh in the quarter final match) have also added a new dimension to the game that has evolved quite a bit since it's inception; the intervention of technology can never be termed as a substitute to human arbitration...it has always been a gentleman's game and will continue to be so. However, since he have almost reached the climax of the 11th edition of this esteemed competition with the gallant Team India led by Captain Cool MS Dhoni facing the mighty Aussies in the semi's led by the experienced Michael Clarke...I guess we could, for a while, switch to the reflection mode and look at the broad factors that might have changed over the years of World Cup Cricket. This of course, goes in with the consideration that the big stage always brings the best out of every team...we have seen this from time and time again, understandably so...it's the hunt for the "World Champions" after all. Alright then, let's look at those key areas of the game that has perhaps evolved over the years and expressed themselves on the biggest stage of competitive excellence...the World Cup.

Composure: Well, the term composure is a very tricky one when it comes to World Cup cricket because over the years we have seen cricketers being bogged down under the weight of boiling expectation as well as the gravity of the occasion. As far as responding to biggest 'test of application' is concerned, the cricketers have resorted to their unique ways of displaying sobriety. Yes, the 'pace' of the game has certainly picked up in the last decade or so; judging by the mindset of batsmen these days, even a score of 500 might be achievable in the future editions of World Cup cricket. If we go back in time and analyse Sunil Gavaskar's sluggish knock of 36, batting through the entire quota of 60 overs while chasing a mammoth 335, we won't certainly find a parity with today's approach that primarily counts on willow-power. If 'esthetic cricket' endorses 'touch', the present relies on 'impact'.

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The Little Master Sunny during the opening game of WC 1975...
Cricketers like AB De Villiers, Virender Sehwag, David Warner, Brendon McCullum, Glenn Maxwell, Lance Klusener and even Shahid Afridi have simply smashed the "upper limit of all possible score-lines"...they don't mind going over the top with 4-5 fielders on the rope, they don't mind attempting six consecutive sixes even with a huge total on the board, they don't mind hitting the first ball of the match into the covers or playing those sneaky upper-cuts and switch hits. That is again, s different definition of the attribute called composure that was perhaps manifested in a more conservative demeanor by the like of Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Salim Malik, Rameez Raza, Rahul Dravid or Carl Hooper. Of course, with the affirmative perspective legends like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Glenn Turner, Zaheer Abbas, Dennis Amiss could step up the gas when needed but there was a sense of calmness about their approach, it was more of an orthodox style of play. Viv, in particular, was a glorious exception with those clinical fast paced knocks...but having said that, players of this decade have absolutely no respect for the bowlers. I saw Maxwell's reverse pull (or whatever you call it) today and honestly speaking, the likes of Shastri or Gavaskar wouldn't have even dreamt of attempting such a percentage shot. "They look cheeky when they come off, else they look super ugly"- Anonymous. Well, batsman with the power of impeccable hand-eye-coordination aided by the fantastic quality of willow, have transformed into gladiators to be honest. We have also had the first ever double century in the history of World Cup cricket, with Chris Gayle smashing the Zimbabwean bowlers all over the park, such is the level of arrogance. The fallout of T20 cricket has been monumental as well...chasing down almost 100 runs in the final 10 overs looks like a target-under-control, such has been the transformation..!!

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: Cricketing sensation AB De Villiers creaming the WI bowlers...
Percentage shots: Give it to the modern day batsmen for 'inventing & applying those percentage shots' that are regarded as the X-Factor in today's cricket. If Maxwell's reverse pull was as awkward as ever, the Dilscoop didn't even feature in the wildest of dreams while playing the 1975 World Cup. While, the credit (or discredit) for inventing the "mother of all unorthodox strokes"- the paddle scoop is largely attributed to the Zimbabwean lower order batsman Douglas Marillier, we could perhaps press the rewind button and track down one of the greatest blemishes in World Cup cricket history inflicted by the mindless choice of an acclaimed percentage shot. No points for guessing, I'm talking about Mike Gatting's infamous attempted reverse sweep that screwed up England's chances of winning the World Cup in 1987. He wasn't known for inventive stroke-play but certainly got carried away.

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: Mike Gatting's suicidal reverse sweep in the 1987 World Cup...
That one moment of madness proved to be decisive enough...oh wait! Do these modern day batsmen care about the outcomes if at all? With Mahendra Singh Dhoni inventing the ruthless Helicopter Blow and KP with his strong and wristy switch hits, we are wading through the generation of out-of-the-book-adventurous-form-of-cricketing-strokes that are very effective at times. A perfectly timed straight drive, after Tendulkar's retirement, is perhaps making it's way into the cricketing museum. "Artistic cricket" is making way for "Smart cricket" even in the scenario of World Cup cricket. These 'unnecessarily risky shots' as coronated by the cricketing experts, might end up destroying the classical essence of cricket..but, in effect, it's nothing but the exuberance of youth who are the drivers of this game. After-all, exposing the stumps and paddling the fastest bowlers of the planet for a six over the keepers' head isn't a 'piece of cake' for sure. Let's respect the growing skill level of these young innovative cricketers. They're special.

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The Hitman Glenn Maxwell's legendary shot against Pakistan...
Fielding Standards: Fielding has been one of the key aspects that has taken a leap in this format of the game, the level of athleticism on the field has been remarkable in this World Cup for sure. It goes without saying that the Aussies and the Proteas have shown the way for the rest of the Nations, who have responded pretty well. Not only in terms of converting half chances into match changing ones, but also in terms of saving vitally important runs for the team that could yield rich dividends in the long run. If we look back and analyze the most decisive moments in World Cup cricket that have been accounted by some sheer brilliance in the field, my word, Jonty Rhodes' 'Superman' effort to dismiss a rather sloppy Inzamam Ul Haq would certainly feature as one those incredible moment in the golden archives. The entire cricketing world was taken aback by his "energy".

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The Superman Jonty Rhodes' remarkable run out- Inzy short.
A few years later, India's very own Mohammad Kaif displayed remarkable agility on the field to dismiss the man-in-form from England, the classy Nick Knight to kick-start India's dream run in the 2003 World Cup. It has often been said that a difference in conceding 10-15 runs in the field and saving them, might turn out to be the decider. No doubt in that, the fielders have an equally important task at hand. Fortunately, the standards have been exceptional in the last few years..specially in terms of taking cliffhangers at the boundary ropes. The level of commitment on the field, coupled with the additional layer of alertness & dexterity that has shaped up in form of brilliant fielding-partnerships have certainly raised the bar. Remarkable improvement has been observed in terms of the Indian fielding that has touched the highest level of excellence at this point of time. It was Robin Singh who set the trend by setting up high standards in the circle, and then came the likes of Yuvi, Kaif, Raina, Kohli, Rahane who have created almost an impenetrable ring during the mandatory power-play overs. Talking of the current World Cup and it's proceedings, I guess Dale Steyn's phenomenal catch running backwards, to dismiss Ahmed Shehzad was perhaps a prime example of "commitment in the field"; also the fact to be noted is that he had bowled an over just prior to that...there was no slackness in his feet movement. By the way, I have already cited Dwayne Leverock's heroics in my earlier paragraph..that was quite a stunner!

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The flying Dwayne Leverock latches onto Uthappa's edge...
And the Legendary Duel continues: Goodness gracious me, the records are tumbling each and everyday..yes, the format of the game might be slightly harsh towards the bowlers, but they have not disappointed us either. We have seen mythical performances with the cherry right from the inception of this greatest event in the epigraph of World Cricket with Gary Gilmor kick-starting the campaign with historic figures of 12-6-14-6 against England, the numbers that could make any bowler proud. 

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: Gary Gilmor started it all with his EPIC Six wicket haul #WC1975
The intensity and aggression has trebled up in loops since the rules of the game have made it more and more tough for the bowlers; the field-restrictions, the power-plays, the free-hits, the wides-and-no-balls, the reviews...that have actually left no margin for error. And interestingly inspite of all the atrocities, they have coped up pretty well. With the likes of Malinga and Shaun Tait mastering the art of bowling yorkers at the death, the recent trend of bowling slower deliveries and slower bouncers have worked well for the pacers. The spinners, on the contrary, have resorted to a much flatter trajectory to keep the scoring rate down in the slog overs...we have seen the likes of Harbhajan and Ashwin trying such tactics and earning quite a fair bit of rewards in the process. Furthermore, we have often seen bowling sides opening with a spin-and-pace combination as a surprise factor...this is indeed a surprise call because the newer ball doesn't spin as much as the older one, it certainly bouncer much more in effect. While the legends like Glenn McGrath and Chaminda Vaas have resorted to a rather conservative line and length, with decent pace to stifle the batsmen in crunch games...the modern day speed-stars like Malinga and Starc have taken the attacking-line-and-length route, they are more in favor of enticing the batsman to make a mistake rather than choking the runs- a very audacious approach indeed. Yes, it goes without saying that the gravity of World Cup cricket has managed to unveil untimely heroes who have ripped through the opponents' batting line-up before we could even realize it. That is indeed the beauty of this game my friend...!

The World Cup Cricketing Evolution: The surprise package of World Cup History..Ashish Nehra.!
Ashish Nehra's breath-taking bowling performance against the English line-up in the 2003 World Cup followed by Tim Southee's seven-for against England in the current edition proves that "The Game of Glorious Uncertainties" can never cease to astonish it's followers. To the ones who have witnessed Wahab Riaz's terrific hostile bowling spell against the mighty Aussies, would re-emphasize on the same fact. The legendary duel between bat and ball would continue to mesmerize us. That is what I mean by the phrase "LEVEL UP" in terms of cricketing excellence on the biggest stage of World Cricket. Gets better with every passing year.

Time to gauge my performance (ahem): My association with cricket..
Featured in the Telegraph, Calcutta during the IPL.


*This post is a part of Blogger Dream Team by Blogmint. The pictures used in this blog-post, especially those of the cricketers and cricketing moments have downloaded from the internet. You can also read my other posts related to cricket here. 

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