Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Merchant Navy tete-a-tete Software/IT

Merchant Navy tete-a-tete Software/IT

Arguments broke out between my pal from IT sector and myself about the significance of our profession. Of course a very peevish thing to fight about, but that’s how human mind continues its growing-up. Even with all its meaningless gossips, such talks often contribute a lot in shaping our decisions of life.
To me it was also about evaluating a decision in retrospect, which I had made long ago, when I would aspire to a be computer professional , but some how accidentally arrived into Merchant Navy.
Software is a risen industry, with lots of consumption of human work force, elite, hi educated and hi-tech educated, gender mix, decent paying, white-collared and more respected.
Merchant Navy, on the other hand, was an old time profession, (arguably one of the oldest method of trade in human history), has been so written about in history that it is rather a cliché now; provides handsome money packets, risk-involving, unpopular to the extent seen as sleazy work class, mix between blue-collar and white-collar, not so conducive for a family-life, and gone rather unpopular with the masses at large.
My friend argued about how the IT was sooner to take over as the most important profession around. He counted up all the contributions that the software industry was doing to our current civilization. From banking, to communications, to education, it was IT all the way.
Something made me express my serious concerns over this huge exodus of Indian masses towards a sector which any remained ‘subservient’ to the other basic industries, by which I meant Industries where goods or human sweat are actually traded. The banking did exist even without the IT, although, I agree, not so smartly as it today. Communications, I would hold is one place where everything, every new development, is hinged on the IT. Indeed the communication sector is the heart of IT Industry, whereby they both serve each other by every new invention in any of these.
Merchant Navy, at one corner, had reduced to only a carrier, albeit, of the most strategic commodity on the planet in current civilization-- the crude oil. It transport the Energy from one place to another, while the IT was working on to actually cut down need for movement of the livings and non-livings. IT , to my thinking, is a more recent new-born setup before the magnanimous treatise of the MN, thus lesser time-tested, more hyped. Another revolutinising invention could wrap it back into the oblivion as quickly as it had appeared on.
He then expressed his premonitions about the advent of the Teleportation technology which would give ‘energy doors’, completely demolishing need of Merchant navy for moving goods by sea.
I immediately sttruck back with- the arrival of the Artificial Intelligence, which would produce software by itself, to run the systems and industries.
We then thought may be we had gone a little too far in hold up our own against each other. AI and Teleportation were still too far away into the future. Conversation recoiled back to the current times and current scenario.
He expressed probablities of aviation taking over the goods transportation, much the same way it took over the passenger movement. I attempted to scale it down by informing that enormous carriage volume and strenght with respect to cost was quite a distant dream too.
Indians are holding firm grip on the job scenario in both-- IT and Merchant Navy. Our impending linguistic rivals were the same - the Chinese.
MN doesn’t attract so much man power from developed nations. Over there, it is often perceived as a poor man’s profession. A near fisherman’s job- who are ready to take huge risk to make their living. It is categorized along side mining, diving and other hi-risk jobs. The Japanese, the Greeks, the Americans, the Italians, the British, the Dutch, the Germans, -- only like to own ships for business and profit-making; Indians, Philippines, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis,- work on them; they are the operators of vessel, acting at the instructions of the white ship owners.
On the credit side, this showed a scope of Indians surving in the MN job scene so long as they were willing to take the risk of sailing on rough seas. The rewards were 'too high' for the current economic conditions of our country, when dollar is gaining/strong against the rupee.
The IT, to me didn’t produce much good picture either. Most of the IT ‘software engineers’ I met around were near data-feeder while the core designing of the whole Internet, the Computer Systems worked somewhere in the white world again. Accounts from ‘The world is flat’ presented some other picture to me, making me question who the whole real makers, architects and designers, of the softwares and the internet were. Not Indians by any chance, however hard we may chant our achievements in the field.
On a second comparisons, the success of the IT was almost same as that in MN; -- the British, the French , the Spanish, the Dutch( the Netherlands) once held grip over the MN when the MN was the peak job. They ruled the planet and in fact, our country too ,(through the infamous East India Company) and later in time passed on the seamanship skills to us, while they moved to computers and other new technologies. Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco-de-Gama were the heroes of this profession in those times giving testimony to us, Indians, as to where were we.
The IT of today, however, does give some respect to Indians to feel. The Infosys, the Wipro, the Satyam, the TCS, the HCL- are giving us some of our proud moments. But this was as too subsequent in the field as the grip of Indian mariners in the seafaring world. What our IT professionals built-up over there was not much different from what we sea-farers conquered way into the high seas-- what did India gain from it??
Our overall significance as a professional was probably to be better measured by how much country developed from it. The MN despite being the biggest consumers for the steel products, and India being one of the largest exporters of bauxite ore, has not done any good to either the steel industry or ship building. The IT, at it own debit side, has done nothing but produce surplus low-quality ‘software engineers’, because of hyped public reputation of IT industry, taking away some probably good mechanics and engineers who could have helped in our nation’s actual lacking fields.
Neither brought any benefit to the Agriculture sector, which perhaps could have been India biggest asset considering our enormous land territory. Instead we have got more focused on exporting labour-- out at sea, and away to on-site assignments.
Individual industries’ contribution to national economy were recited, but sooner realized that it was all at the cost of losing at many other fronts, from R&D , agriculture, to small-time merchants. We produced largest amount of milk at the cost of poor health of our cattle!
The talks were abandoned unconcluded.

PS(dated 04 March 2009): Shipping is presently one of the most essential part of global logistics. And logistics is the backbone of world trade. So long as there is economics activity happening in the world, there is likely to be seafaring around. However, the seafarers can still suffer jolts in their job market, say in the events like some replacement of hydrocarbon fuel is found. Oil Tankers market will suffer and thereby, the sea-farer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cultural moorings

Cultural moorings
Here is the scans of something interesting i came across, which tells about some cultural limitations of us , Indians, as a whole (and not just the IAS's).
(source: IGNOU course ware for Indian Administration, BPAE-102)
Page 1

page 2

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Peregrination to China

Peregrination to China

My earlier recollections about China are that of nation of communist which is so deeply bogged into poverty,and thus Communism, that Mithun-movies still make a blockbusters over there. (aila, even Mithun has come out of his ‘gareeb chotta laug’ image to work in Guru and other neo-classics.) My experience particularly rest on one incident I had suffered at the tanker terminal in the port of Quindao where a local ‘mafia’(as Chinese goons fondly/lingo-challenged call themselves to foreigners) who put his knife on me and somehow managed to direct me that I should not do any shopping in his area lest he hit me! And then he even ensured that wherever I went the shop-keepers refused me whatever I wanted- an international phone call, an IP-card, etc.
This was in year 2003.
But the last four months in Xin Ya shipyard (in Zhou Shan)- anchorage and berth- formed the new picture in my mind which is what I think the world ‘fears’ about the growing economic-force of China.
I flew to the Sino-land on 09the Aug, actually the night of the opening of the great China-hosted world mega-festival-- the Olympics, in Beijing. By good fortune, my flight was too late in the night to allow me see the opening ceremony at-least on television if not in person. What impressed me more at the very first sight was that there was no sign of the famously-formidable Dragon anywhere in the entire ceremony. The Chinese focused more on their historical contributions to the world than ‘scaring’ the world and it’s incumbent economic powers with the dragon. The navigational map, (an area of my professional interest), the printing technology, the modern accomplishments depicted by space travel by an Astronaut, and the motto ‘One world one dream’ depicted by troop dance of small children were breathtakingly beautiful.
My ship was owned by a Taiwanese company, the TMT, which, as I heard, have a penchant for buying old ships-- getting them repaired in the shipyards of China at ‘affordable‘(read inexpensive, if not cheap)-- and then either operating or selling away making huge profits. The TMT seemed to some kind of super-rich in the business because they were affording to keep their ‘n’ number of ships laid-up, doing no business, and maintaining full compliment of officers and crew; the latter, who are giving services at the inflated price-tag, and virtually having no work to perform.
China and Taiwan, I am told are long time enemies. But what I found surprising is that their rivalry is not a dime bad as what our Indo-Pak rivalry is. Their’s is only a diplomatic case, to be fought only by the diplomats of their country, not a person-to-person, religion-to-religion, fight, unlike ours. There is no terrorism, no restriction on movement of people from either country, and the business, in my own seeing the conversion and repairs projects of TMT, happening in the Chinese Shipyards.
Chinese education system has started out with a good sketch out in my mind. I came to know that the Chinese are considered good at analytical reasoning whereas the Indians are suppose to be good at number-crunching. On my way when bon hommie (sometimes we say it to mean ‘Happy- being at home’) ,I got to pass by few of the colleges and the universities. The driver, who was playing my tour guide, told us that cost of living and doing studies in that area was about 8000 euros per annum, while the starting salary after the education was 400dollars a month. He perhaps intended to say that it was bad. However I never felt like it. The schools reminded me of one of our rare trips to cinema halls during when I was school going, a 12-year old. We were then taken to see this English dubbed Chinese movie, ‘My new teacher’ a delightful movie. The name of the protagonist teacher, a 20-something Chinese girl, was Miss Henn Miao Miao, I remembered.
The roads, the bridges, the houses, the flyovers, the buildings, -- everything I saw on my way talked about the excessive ‘development’ (the proverbial cement-development) happening over there. The guide-driver told me that people were still not happy, and perhaps they would want to return back to their villages and village life. (I think it’s that same story about this development thing happening through the ‘rapacious’ economics in all parts of the world.)
Except for the Indian sub-continent, I think the population of women is more than men in all parts of the world. In China, there is a huge toll of entertainment girls in all the ports. The one that I passed time with, told me about her rural natives. A family daughter which she still remained, she sends some 2000yuan to her aged, senility-marred parents every month. Chinese have great liking for us Indian men, unlike the Caucasian European whites. They like to see our body hair, our eyes in particular because they have the ‘slit-y’ eyes, and our black or a brown skin. The European females shrink their nose upon our sight-- I don’t know for what political, social or biological-aesthetical reason. It’s very heartfelt thought to learn how our social paradigm has changed and become ‘un-natural’ due to reversal of sex-ratio in our native land. I firmly believe that this factor is Islam-driven if not Islam-dictated.
Some History-arguments suggest that women began to be treated as liability by Indian masses when large attacks by Muslim rulers happened on their families only to take away the women folk. Slowly our society ‘evolved’ or distorted away to start dowry-system, child marriage, sati, jauhar, --and other Fire, Water -Deepa Mehta movie themes.


The Sino-India Relationship
When working on Salaria PVC in 2003, I would think re-gathering facts about the 1961 war. Major Dhan Singh Thapa PVC was our other sister vessel plying between China and Singapore. I would think to myself whether the Chinese Port people knew Major Thapa was the person who was given our highest gallantry award - the PVC, for killling 40 of ‘enemy’ soldiers in none other than the 1961 war! It would give me fun to tell the Chinese cargo-surveyors who Major Thapa was, and that if they didn’t work our cargo well, I would add one more to Thapa’s tally of 40. ;-). English-challenged Chinese would just smile away joke, even more when they thought it was some friend saying something incomprehensible to them and laughing to himself!.
I think that Indo-China relations today are more a media’s handiwork than citizens’ or statesmen. I can see all our Shipping Corporation’s vessel going to China for dry-docking; we Indians being warmly accepted by Chinese people otherwise, and even being looked up at.
Indeed it is the bad media which is still playing the old tunes of that lone war with China, and that ill-famous Bengali Communist relationship of “Communist carrying umbrella in Kolkata when it rained in Beijing.”, that most new-generation , younger Indians have also picked up a wont to see Chinese also with the same skeptical eyes that by which most foreigner from the developed nations are seen. The xenophobic projection of foreigners in most of our Hindi movies is that of someone worth being defeated. News media also garnishes on the same rhetoric.
The diplomatic stand of China during the Indo-US Nuke Deal and during the 26th Nov-Mumbai Carnage when India sought the UNSC ban on Pakistan’s JuD are perhaps China’s reciprocating act on India’s stand on the Tibetan affair and the border disputes at the J&K front.
The people in China appeared to be oblivious of most of the troubles between the two neighbours. Their business sense is larger than ours. In us, personal relations are almost always able to supersede the business relations between people. A fine balance of personal touch through hospitality in business impressed me lot in the Chinese. The market is China is far deep open to bargaining. The business-minded people there are more tolerant, patient, polite and tranquil.
Wikipedia search on China tells me about the ancient Chinese philosophies , like the Legalism( the principles of Fa, Shu, Shi) which have perhaps yielded the proverbial more law-abiding, compliant, “disciplined“ ,“non-talking and hard working” , peaceful citizen’s of China.

The Chinese Magnate
Before this trip, I visited China on two bulk-carriers- Pataliputra and Murshidabad- as well. There I carried some 45,000 tonnes of Iron ore on each of my China visits. In all, I must have made some 5 visits. Iron ore is/was the most regular cargo from India to China.. And in return sometime we bring back some low grade coal. The excessive bauxite export made me sit-up and think of that old lore of India being a ‘bird of gold’(aka Golden peacock). The ‘gold’ being stolen away by the British; -then the bird became that of steel; -and then the Indians’ themselves exported away all the steel to China; -that’s how today’s history will be remembered many years hence.
Thus I continued my thought chain.
In the end, a lots of toy-shopping for my 8-yr-old nephew, and tasty Tsingtao beer and wine, cool pleasant climate, and trip to the fabulous Hong Kong airport summarized my memorable tour of duty.
The Great Wall remains to be physically seen! I hope I do it next time.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hypocrisy in us

“I ain't Lord Ram, you see...”!!
----this often came as a guise for own perjury from him.
I think we need to deeply understand the concept of upholding the Rama, first. I will word it like---
1)there was one and only one Ram,
2) perhaps none of us can rise high to become another Ram.
3) even as Ram remains unsurpassable, we all still admire Ram. We still strive to emulate him.
4) We despise Ravan.
In principle, this debate again turns into a fight between Idealist and the Realist. Ram is the Ideal, while Ravan is the Real.
It is sorely needed to be appreciated that it is our attempt to emulate Ram that we all are expected to follow by norms of our society. Our struggle to emulate - the Hypocrisy in another sense - is a human need.
The corollary to this would be that Hypocrisy and ‘Struggle to emulate’ are inter-twined concepts. Very easy to be confused.


HYPOCRITICAL JUSTICE
There happened this case on my ship when a bosun, a pump-man and a trainee OS were sent off from ship after they were found to be involved in tussle in a ‘state of drunkenness'.
What was unacceptable to me in this case was that the company landed all three of them under enforcement of its HR policy on Drug and Alcohol; and not in full confirmation of the advise of Master of the vessel ( who had reported this incident to them). The company proclaims its ships to be ‘White Ship’-- ships where no alcohol is consumed (!!).
The important fact file, exposing the hypocrisy of our systems in regard to this case is that, on board we all were a regular consumers of beer, including myself(chief mate), the chief engineer , 2nd engineer and everyone else.
The sexagenarian chief engineer also argued that this ruthless enforcement of the D&A policy was excessively biased, making big holes for much more injustice to happen someday. He argued that such cruel rules would aid any troublemaker by incurring only one tight slap to his chief engineer when the latter is under influence, to have the chief engineer removed from the ship! And this because the policy does not provide for master’s report to be taken into account.
Drinking beer and any socially consumed forms of liquor is a routine procedures in human society. The excessive abuse of alcohol led to the severe controlling particularly in the aftermath of Exxon Waldez episode(year 1989), the most expensive environmental disaster whic happens to belong to the shipping industry. But what remains noteworthy is that despite suffering the damages to the tune of 400billion USD, the company, Exxon, did not make her ships the so- called ‘White Ships’ , but had to suffice by putting stricter control on alcohol consumption with respect to duty hours and emergency preparedness.
The bigger issue that I clicked in my mind was about the hypocrisy which we so thumping uphold in our justice system as well. This is another way by which we are crying out actions and speech need not be the same. 'Only the one who is caught is the thief , otherwise the thefts are undecipherable. '-- that's what we mean.
Essentially the ‘White Ships’ issue is a far-fetched conclusion of idealism extremely distant from the practical aspects and diversity of mankind. The need is to 'adjust'(/amend) regulations to bring the right culture among the people, not to scare them of with the law.


After-thought (dated 05 Mar 2009): Unreasonable, far-fetched laws do nothing but bring about even greater un-justice, and thereby, dis-satisfaction among people.