NATIONAL STANDARD EXAMINATIONS OF THE COMPUTER SOCIETY OF INDIA
In early 1999 I wrote the National Standard Examinations conducted by the Computer Society of India. I took the papers on Operating System Principles, Software Engineering and RDBMS and Client-Server Computing. All the tests contained multiple choice questions. A wrong choice entailed negative marking. I was confident that I would clear all the three papers. When the results came I had passed the test on RDBMS and Client Server Computing. I was surprised to find that I had failed in the papers on Operating System Principles and Software Engineering which I had written reasonably well on the first day of the examination. The Answer sheets contained only the Roll number and page number and the answers referred to the question number and the choice of the candidate (a), (b), (c) or (d) which did not give a clue about the subject. The question papers were also collected from me separately. The wrong ones must have been attached to the answer sheets by the person collecting it because the answer sheets did not show the subject. This must have resulted in the answer sheets for Operating System Principles being sent to the examiner valuing papers of Software Engineering. The answer sheets of the latter subject must have gone to the person valuing papers of the former subject. Naturally, I could not have passed since the answer papers were interchanged. In the second day of the examination the invigilator collected my answer sheet and the question paper and immediately stapled the question paper to the answer sheets. So there was no doubt as to the subject to which the answer sheet was related. This was the first time I was writing an Examination which consisted of hundred percent multiple choice questions and I realised the importance of seeing to it that the correct question papers were attached to the answer sheets. This sort of mix up would not have happened if the answers were also written on the question paper itself as is done in many tests involving only multiple choice questions. Anyway, as far I was concerned, taking the tests was only incidental. The real purpose was to gain knowledge of the subjects in some depth since I was Involved in consulting related to information technology.
HOLIDAY TRIP TO MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE
In May 1999 my second son had arranged a holiday trip to Malaysia and Singapore. We took a flight to Singapore from where my son, his wife and two children went by train to Kuala Lumpur. My wife and I had only single entry visa to Singapore. Therefore we did not pass through immigration. From the Singapore airport we took the flight straight to Kuala Lumpur. From the airport to the city it is a long distance and we had to hire a taxi. The driver was an Indian. The hire charges were fixed from the Airport to the city. We stayed in a hotel which had already been booked by the tour operators. We had reached ahead of our son and daughter-in-law who had left Singapore by train and were expected only the next morning. That night it was a problem finding some vegetarian food. My wife refused to eat anything I got from a place where they cook both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. We therefore had only biscuits and fruits for the dinner. The three days we spent at KL we had to eat whatever vegetarian items we could get. We visited the Lake Gardens Park and the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. The temple of Murugan (Skanada, Karthikeya) at the Batu Caves had been carved out of the rocks. The Hindu cave complex is dotted with many shrines and statues chiseled out of the rocks. We went on a sight-seeing tour of the city. The Petronas twin towers were one of the highest twin buildings in the world. Brilliantly lit during the night, they were a rare sight to see in their dazzling brilliance. We also visited the Theme park at Genting Heights. My son and I took some of the rides, both land-based and water-based, along with the children who enjoyed these rides. On the third day we left for Singapore by the night train. The train journey was very comfortable. Reaching Singapore early morning next day we had to pass through immigration. We then checked into the Golden Landmark Hotel at Victoria Street, Singapore.
Breakfast was included in the hotel charges. My grandson got himself a cup of noodles or fried rice thinking it must be a vegetable item. Then he found several tiny fish in the rice. When he asked about it, the girl in charge said casually that he could remove the fish and eat it. He would not eat something in which fish had been put even after removing the fish. He got himself something else to eat.
In Singapore, while visiting the zoo, my son had been videoing the animals with his handicam. He left the handicam on a bench on which we were sitting for a while. He realised this only after we had walked about a kilometre from there. We rushed back to the place where we had rested and were pleasantly surprised to find the handicam at the very place where my son had left it. This was an experience totally different from what would have happened in India.
Singapore had strict laws against spitting or littering in public places. Consequently public places like parks, beaches and roads were free of litter and clean. We did not have any problem for vegetarian food in Singapore. There were many hotels in the area serving South Indian vegetarian delicacies. The place was known as Little India. We took a tour of the city, visited the port, spent a day at Sentosa Island. The Underwater World is something one should not miss when one visits Singapore. One feels that one is really under the sea( without being submerged in the water) looking at a variety of colourful and picturesque marine life forms. Finally it was time to take the flight to Bangalore. Unlike airports in India Singapore airport is far from being noisy. It is an experience which is pleasantly different from the noisy airports in India.
ABOUT MY BROTHER AT KADAPA (ANDHRA PRADESH)
In July 1999 my wife and I visited Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh where my younger brother had been managing a hotel from 1953. So long as the hotel was running my brother had no problem though he had led a hand- to-mouth existence only. He had been given a house by the hotel management so that he didn’t have to pay any rent for the accommodation. Food was available from the hotel. His son had studied up to B.Com but, unfortunately, he could not stick to a job. He joined as an articled clerk under a chartered accountant but after clearing a few papers he was stuck. In desperation he was working for Tirupur Lodge at Palani on a meagre salary. He had an elder sister whose brain did not grow after her 10th year. Under such circumstances the owner wound up operations at Cuddapah but he allowed the employees to run the hotel. My brother took charge and was running it for some time. In the mean time the lease period for the building in the which the hotel was running had ended and the building had to be handed over to the owner. In the new premises the business not only didn’t pick up but actually declined. My brother incurred heavy losses and he had to sell the house to pay his creditors. For some time he was working as the manager of a marriage hall. At that time some one suggested that he run a mess for the students in the nearby college. When we visited he was running the mess and he needed money to improve the business. I paid him Rs. 50000 but at the end of one year he had nothing left. He wanted some money to continue the business. I wrote to him saying that it was useless to put more money into the business as it was not giving any profit. They had been eating out of the capital invested. He then joined a furniture shop which paid him Rs. 2300 a month. His son used to send him Rs. 1000 or so. I regularly sent him Rs. 1000 every month. Though this was only some little help I could not send him more at that time.
My son-in-law (husband of my second daughter ) had taken a vow to visit the twelve jyotirlangams. In September 1999 my second daughter, her two daughters, my son-in-law and I set out on a pilgrimage as in the previous year. This time my son-in-law’s mother and his aunt did not join us. They had enough of going on a pilgrimage with my son-in-law who would not allow them any respite on the journey. In fact my daughter had difficulty catching up with him. He would walk briskly without looking back while my daughter would be carrying her four-year-old girl and struggling to catch up with him. We were travelling by Madras-Howrah Mail and broke journey at Bhubaneshwar. We checked into a hotel and after bathing visited the temples in Bhubaneshwar. The day being a Monday, it was special for Siva and a large number of women had come to worship and pray for the long life of their husbands. The Lingaraj Temple was the largest of the temples in Bhubaneshwar. After breakfast we hired a car and visited Jagannathpuri where Lord Jagannath ( Krishna) presides with his brother Balaram and sister Subhadra. The Rath Yatra of Jagannathji is famous and attracts huge crowds. The English word Juggernaut meaning a relentless force originates from this Rath Yatra. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu the Vasihanvite saint from Nabadwip of Bengal had stayed here for some time and worshipped Lord Jagannath.
Next day we boarded the train for Howrah from where we went to my first daughter-in-law’s place. My son-in-law fell sick and had to take rest for a couple of days and take medicines. We were contemplating abandoning the pilgrimage and returning to Trichur, my son-in-law’s place. Luckily he got better and we proceeded to Banaras. There we hired a boat and went around the different ghats, did tarpan for the departed souls in our family and offered prayers at the famous Kasi Viswanath temple. We then came to Indore and stayed with a cousin of my son-in-law. From there we visited the Mahakal temple at Ujjain and Omkareshwar temple, both among the twelve jyotirlingas. After offering our prayers at both the shrines we returned to Indore. Our planned pilgrimage having been completed, we returned to Trichur by train.
STINT AT KURLON
By this time I had been consultant to Kurlon Limited for about 3 years. This was the period when the Accounting software package was being customised and implemented in the Head Office and the branches. I had to work for more than the contracted three days a week. I had become fully involved in the customisation and implementation of the software package. Deadlines for the completion of activities had to be met. User support had to be provided on a continuous basis during implementation and thereafter. Turnover of personnel in the EDP led to my involvement at the operational level also. When I computed the figures I found that I had worked an average of 18 days a month up to October 1999 as against the contracted 13 days a month. The extra remuneration computed at Rs. 577 a day (7500/13 =577) worked out to 1.25 lacs. In December 1999 I wrote to the Chairman of the Company detailing the above points and the computations by which the amount was arrived at. The Chairman passed it on to the Director of Finance who, instead of sanctioning the payment of the amount, increased my monthly fee from Rs. 7500.00 to Rs. 10000. This meant that I would get an extra amount of Rs. 2500 every month and with the above amount the sum of 1.25 lacs would be recouped over a period of 50 months (125000/2500). Any financial gain for me by the increase in the fees would accrue only after four years. Mr. Rao had wanted my services for 6 months but I worked for Kurlon as a consultant up to the end of 2006 i.e. more than 10 years.
In 2000 there was an advertisement in the newspapers inviting applications for working as franchisees of Skumars.com who were setting up an exclusive network using Vsats (Very small aperture terminals) for connectivity. This net work was to be used for Communications services such as e-mail, voicemail, video mail etc. E-commerce such as e-gifting, and online ordering of white goods, information services like classifieds and astrology, e-education and e-governance. I had applied and was selected. I paid Rs. 100000 as the first instalment. The second instalment of 1,00,000 was to be paid when the net work was to be set up. I rented a garage about 1200 sq. ft to set up the equipment like computers and associated equipment like scanners, printers, UPS etc. I had also enough shelf space to open a library with my collections of about 400 books and hundreds of back issues of Reader’s Digest. The books were in all languages like English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit and mostly non-fiction dealing with Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology, self-improvement, language and literature, dictionaries and thesaurus, mythology, life sciences, astronomy and cosmology, ecology and environment, mathematics, physics and information technology. I had also kept stationery items for sale as there was enough shelf pace. About this time my son brought his old computer ( without the monitor) on his visit to India in June 2000. I bought a new monitor and also got a dial-up connection to the internet from VSNL. Broad band connections were not available those days from BSNL. Soon afterwards I got an IBM computer with associated equipment against the payment of Rs. 100000 mentioned above. Both the computers were installed in the place rented for the franchise from Skumars.com. Customers were allowed to browse or send e-mails at Rs. 30 per hour of usage subject to a minimum Rs. 15.00. Children were charged for playing games at Rs. 10 an hour and at Rs. 5.00 for half an hour. Only a couple of people came for browsing or for sending e-mail. There was hardly any one borrowing books or buying stationery. The reason was that the shop was in a residential locality, not a commercial one. I used to spend time reading the books in the library. The endless wait for customers was a frustrating experience.
By April 2001 SKumars.com had arranged training for all the franchisees selected. The training covered the basics of computers, knowledge of Word processing and spreadsheet applications, use of scanners and webcams, business model of Skumar’s etc. I attended the training though I was not keen on paying the second instalment. During this period Reliance had been connecting up all the cities in India by fibre optic cables which could provide cheaper connectivity than Vsats. Even after Skumars.com net work was completed there did not appear to be any bright prospect of running a profitable business as a franchisee. The income may not cover even the rent paid for the shop. I therefore withheld my second instalment of Rs. 100000 and wrote to S Kumars asking them to refund the balance amount after deducting the cost of the computer system from the one lakh rupees already paid. I got about Rs.20000 after adjusting the cost of equipment already supplied. I had paid Rs. 15000 as rent which I wrote off as loss because the company would not reimburse it. I vacated the garage which I had rented and forgot all about the Skumar’s network.
I had been interested in devotional literature in Sanskrit from my school days. By 2000 AD my wife’s cousin’s husband who was with the ECRI, Karaikudi had come and settled in Bangalore. He had similar interest in Sanskrit. Both of us discussed about collecting these stotras (hymns) from different sources and entering their text in Devanagari as well as in Kannada scripts into a computer. The idea was to put these hymns on a website on the internet so that people interested could access them. For this purpose we located a software Baraha which could generate Devanagari and Kannada scripts from Roman characters which would phonetically represent the sounds in Devanagari and Kannada languages. Together we entered into the system the texts of more than 200 hymns in Sanskrit on the different aspects of the Divine as Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Dharmasasta et al. We collected books in Devanagari, Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada scripts all containing stotras (hymns) composed in Sanskrit. The majority of these stotras were composed by Adi Sankara who, in spite of being an Advaitin, had composed stotras on all the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. He firmly believed that the multiplicity of forms is only a manifestation of the One Without a Second (ekameva adviteeyam brahma). Also Krishna says in the Gita that ‘ In whatsoever form people approach me so do I manifest to them ‘ (ye yathaa maam prapadyante thaamstathiva bhajamyaham’. The formless Almighty could certainly take the form in which his devotee likes to see him, not perhaps with his five senses, but in his heart of hearts
While entering the text of the stotras we tried to figure out the meaning of each stanza and, in many cases, we found meanings which could not be found from a superficial reading of the text. In a few cases we corrected the errors in the text from which we were entering. It was a laborious job. We had to check every time whether the Roman characters we entered generated the correct characters in Devanagari or Kannada as the case may be. If the resultant character was not what was intended we probably had made a mistake in the Roman characters we had input into the system. We had to correct this and see whether the output was coming correctly. We continued to enter the hymns for two to three hours daily for about 6 months. We had by now entered more than 200 hymns into the computer. Once we entered the text in Roman script there was option to generate the script in Devanagari or Kannada. (Baraha software had only these two options at the time). The current version (2010) has options to convert from Roman script into the scripts of all major regional languages in India.)
With financial assistance from a start-up company, we uploaded the stotras on to a website which we christened divyastotras.com. The stotras were loaded in picture format (known as .gif format) to avoid the user having to download different font files for reading the text. The website had an aesthetically designed home page with images of the different deities. If one clicked on an image he would be led to the web page where one would find a list of stotras on that deity. When one clicked on a stotra, the web page on which the text of the stotra appeared would be displayed. We had brought out a book in Kannada script containing 54 stotras on Lord Siva and put them up for sale at a nominal price during the Sivaratri celebrations. The response was, however, poor. More people wanted the stotras in Tamil script as more of the participants in the celebrations had Tamil as their mother tongue. But writing Sanskrit in Tamil script was difficult since Tamil alphabet could not phonetically represent all the sounds in the Sanskrit language. Unfortunately the company which was hosting our web site had financial problems and the Website had to be closed. However, we did not want our efforts to go waste. We wanted to share the hymns with others who were interested. My friend wrote to Ramkrishna Mutt, Nagpur who had published a collection of stotras titled ‘Stavananjali’ . They agreed to include some of the hymns in our collection in their next edition of Stavananjali. We sent them soft copies of the stotras on a floppy disk but they could not make use of it. Then we sent them a computer-printed and bound copy of the stotras so that they might select the required ones for inclusion in their next edition of Stavananjali
MY SECOND SON BUILDS A HOUSE IN BANGALORE
About this time my second son wanted to buy a newly built house which was up for sale at Rajarajeswari Nagar in Bangalore for about 10 to 12 lakh rupees. Since he was in Muscat he wanted us to go and see the house and negotiate the price. We saw the house but could not agree on the price. In the meantime we came to know that a gentleman who was our neighbour at Sanjaynagar in Bangalore had formed a layout titled ‘Golden Retreat’ containing about 30 sites each measuring 60 x40 feet. I contacted the gentleman who offered to sell site No. 10 at Rs. 165 per square foot including registration charges. My son bought the site for Rs. 396000. It was two kilometres from the Nagavara Signal on the outer ring road. There were only a couple of shops in this stretch of two kilometres mud road. However, there was a proposal to widen this road up to the New airport in Bangalore so as to connect the airport to the ring road.
Towards the end of 2000, prelude to the building of a house, we did Bhoomi Pooja at the site which my son had bought. We had invited our close friends and relatives and arranged transport to the site. A priest did the puja to propitiate Mother Earth, the presiding deities of the eight directions, Mahavishnu and his consort Lakshmi. The naivedyam offered to the deities was distributed to all the invitees. While we were doing bhoomi puja it started raining and we took shelter under the roof of a building opposite to our site, the first one to come up in the layout. My son was not able to come to India for this function. A tentative plan was sent by him on the basis of which we had to find a good building contractor and negotiate the rates. We got estimates from two contractors. One of them had built a house near Sena Vihar where we were staying. He was a qualified civil engineer and the quality of his work appeared to be good. His item-wise quotes were compared with the quotes of the other contractor and in some items we got the former’s rates reduced. An agreement was signed with the contractor setting out the item-wise quantity details of the work, rates per unit of measurement and the type and quality of material to be used. There was an initial payment to be made, followed by stage-wise payments for completion of foundation, brickwork up to lintel, ground floor RCC slab, fixing of door and window frames, internal plastering and electrical and plumbing layout, external plastering, floor tiles and bathroom glazed tiles, doors and windows shutters, sanitary and water fixtures and first coat painting and final completion. The whole work was to be completed in 6 months. The total cost for the above work was agreed at 8.60 lakhs (including electrical, sanitary and water supply works).
Before starting the building work we had to make arrangements for the supply of water. Since there was no piped water supply in the area we had to drill a bore well. Two opinions were sought. One gave a doubtful verdict. Another one was more optimistic. Two other attempts in the layout had failed. I was in a dilemma which one of the two to be taken up. I decided on the optimistic estimate. Until we struck water at a depth of 236 feet I had to keep my fingers crossed. Up to 130 ft casing pipe had to be used after which there was rock and no casing pipe was required. The total cost came to around Rs. 40000.
The building work went on as per schedule. I had to go with the contractor for the selection and purchase of tiles for the flooring and bathroom. I had already sent catalogues to my son for selecting the colours. I had suggested two or three alternatives out of which he chose the colour he liked best. To keep the costs within budgeted limits we didn’t go in for vitrified tiles, marble or granite. We used ceramic tiles of good quality. Electrical and sanitary and water supply works were provided at 12% of the total of the basic costs mentioned above. No detailed estimates were prepared for this item. The best parts would have cost 18% to 20% of the basic cost. Since the contractor exercised supervision on the quality of work being done by his men I did not have to do much running around. The contractor was doing the job on turn-key basis and I had nothing to complain. I considered myself lucky in this respect since I had heard stories of contractors vanishing after taking an advance and leaving the work half-done.
When the ground floor was completed my second son and his family had come from Muscat on vacation. My wife and I were in the Sena Vihar flat which belonged to my first son. My wife was not willing to move to the new place but I insisted that we shift to the new premises. My son had an after-thought. He wanted my first daughter’s family to occupy the ground floor. My wife and I should move to the first floor where he would get a hall, a bedroom with attached bath, a kitchen and a Puja room built on an area of 650 square feet. The rest of the area would be open space surrounded by parapets. He wanted our daughter to be with us in the same building since we were in the evening of our life. The estimate for the first floor was kept within one lakh rupees. It would have been less had we included the first floor in the original estimate. The wood work relating to cupboards and cabinets which cost an additional one lakh of rupees was also done by the same contractor.
The grihapravesam (house-warming ceremony) of the new house was celebrated in July 2001. My second son and his family had come for the celebrations. We had invited all our near relatives and friends. The religious part of the ceremony was given on turnkey basis to our family priest who was to bring all the material required for the Puja and also the required number of pundits to chant the Vedic Mantras and do the homa. This part of the ceremony cost about Rs. 8000.00 Lunch was prepared for the guests in the garage by the caterers. A tent had been put up in the adjacent vacant site and we had hired tables and chairs for serving the lunch there. Since a road map had been given in the invitation many found the place without difficulty. But a few people phoned in to find the exact location after reaching a nearby point. Someone had to receive and answer such calls. There were gifts from the invitees which could be useful in a newly built house. Some gave cash in envelopes with best wishes written on it. This was the custom and we had to go along with it though some invitations did have the words ‘No presents please’ printed on them.
After the hous the son was studying in the 6th class. Soon after we moved into the new house he resigned his job with TISCO and came to Bangalore to see us before he joined Mittal Steel International as Marketing Manager in the steel plant they had taken over from the Government of Algeria. For the time being he was leaving his wife and son in Calcutta.
THIRUKKADAIYUR AND 60TH DAY CELEBRATIONS
In June 2001 my brother-in-law came down to India from Dubai. His 60th birthday celebrations (Shashtiabdapoorti) were arranged at Thirukkadaiyur, a renowned temple town in the Nagapattinam district on the east coast of Tamil Nadu. The prime deity worshipped in this holy place was Lord Shiva. The temples of Amritaghateswarar and His consort Abhirami in Thirukkadaiyur are associated with the stories of Markandeya and Abhirami Bhattar. The latter was a great devotee of Goddess Abhirami and his composition Abhirami Anthadi praising the Goddess is widely read and chanted for its beneficial effects and for warding off evil. This is believed to be the place where Lord Shiva in his aspect as Kalasamharamoorti rescued and saved Markendeya, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, from Yama the God of death. It is because of this association that Thirukkadaiyur is preferred for celebrating the Shashtiabdapoorti (60th birthdday), Bhimaratha Shanti (70th birthday) and satabhishekam (80th birthday) in the belief that Lord Shiva will bestow long life on those who do so. One of our relatives who had influence in those parts made all the arrangements including accommodation for the invitees, catering, Pundits for chanting Srirudram 121 times and Homa and other rituals of a religious character. My wife and I attended the function and we stayed on at Mayiladuturai near Thirukkadaiyur. My youngest brother-in-law (who was the husband of my wife’s youngest sister) was also performing his shashtiabdapoorti at Thirukkadaiyur in another 4 or 5 days. My wife and I utilised this interval to visit the temples at Tirumananjeri, Kathiramangalam, Kanjanur, Tirumangalakudi, Tiruvidaimarudur, Tiruppugalur, Tirunoichur, Sirupuliyur, Mayiladuturai, Anandamangalam, Tillayadi and Eravancheri. The presiding deities in all these places had distinct names and the deities were almost always in their male as well as female aspects, the female being the consort of the male. There were sthala puranas (local legends) associated with these deities.