Oui Pondicherry!!

Well, firstly a note for the category name. Why “History/Geography”? I believe one is incomplete without the other. If you are trying to understand one, you would have to draw the lines from other.

I spent my weekend before last on unfamiliar territory with a lot of new/curious sights. Some beliefs were reinforced and many myths broken. Due to a fortunate circumstance granting us 3 days of official leave (On-duty leaves) in Chennai, that too starting on a Monday, a larger trip was always on cards. After a brief discussion we decided to explore Pondicherry on the weekend previous to our sojourn in Chennai.

We had heard exotic things about Pondicherry, and i couldn’t test if all were true in my short stay. However, i saw some exciting/fresh architecture in the place and also a unique place called Auroville. Its a huge Ashram of sorts, established by some followers of Sri Aurobindo in 1960s and now houses a couple of thousand people from many countries. The place claimed to be a laboratory working towards finding spirituality and working on human problems. I don’t know how much success they get with spirituality, but the place sure looked anything but ordinary. According to them, in 60s the place was an eroding plateau , but right now it was quite a jungle out there.

Besides Auroville, we roamed around in Pondicherry’s bazaar, which was huge and tried french-italian food. Surely, the people in West can do with a healthy dose of salt-pepper in their cuisine. I know what to pack up when i go there. For a drinker of alcohol (unlike me :-P) the place is a heaven; with duty-free liquor flowing, every night can be a party. You can see people lying on the streets which makes me wonder if its such a good thing.

Another place that really struck me was the Beach road. It was like Mumbai’s Marine Drive at a smaller scale and much better maintained. All the major administrative offices as well as the more posh hotels in the city were located here. The view of the “Bay of Bengal” was breathtaking and the crowd was quite diverse; ranging from the ubiquitous Gori-Chamdi waale, to almost every region of India i could think of at the time.

Whats special about Pondi? Well, History students would no doubt know that by the 16th century, Western Colonial powers were eying a piece of India. The main powers in the contest were Portuguese, British, French, Dutch and Denmark. Later on, English swiped almost the whole of India except a few conclaves/ports of other powers left in the country. The Union Territory of Pondicherry (which represents the French possessions in India till 1960s) consists of four small unconnected districts: Pondicherry, Karaikal, and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal and Mahé on the Arabian Sea. Puducherry and Karaikal are by far the larger ones, and are both enclaves of Tamil Nadu. Yanam and Mahé are enclaves of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively.

Initially, the French like Portugese weren’t doing so bad in India. Their maximum extent of influence as shown by this Map, was quite substantial. But due to some strategic mistakes by its Generals, as well as other geo-political reasons like Napoleonic wars and its aftermath reduced the French to just the five places shown in the map. Not that I sympathize with them. The French rule in India would have been as catastrophic or traumatic to India as the British rule has been. After all it was a White Man’s burden to cleanse the other cultures (even cultures more advanced than their own) and subjugate them by all means necessary. Nationality didn’t actually matter in the end!!

After independence the port of Chandernagar was promptly ceded to the Govt of West Bengal in 1950. The removal of French influence in the other territories was going to be more long-drawn and dramatic. The most dramatic of all was a coup in Yanam. Causes for Liberaton of Indian colonies in India were wide-ranging and many; the most obvious of them being the wave of Nationalism sweeping the country at the time.

I am glad UT of Pondicherry is part of India now. Still the case of Yanam makes you wonder, if people in some of these conclaves were really happy with Foreign rule. Even now, sometimes you can hear people saying “Yaar, isse to Angrezon ka zamana acchaa tha..” in an off-hand manner. Do they really think British rule was good for us? What do they know about the British rule? Such people would do well to read “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India” by Dadabhai Naoroji. British rule did so much harm to India, that till now we are under mental chains of their slavery. These chains have only recently started to shake & break. But I do hope, people will realize the truth in time, because there’s a certain resurgence in the Imperialist rhetoric in the West. And they get stronger by such loosely worded statements from the Indian “intelligentsia” (if you could actually call it intelligent, that is).

Street Hawk

Jab main chhota bacchha tha” – I used to watch a series on the good old DD named “Street Hawk”. I dunno if I can credit the series for my interest in Bikes (more interest than 4+ wheelers that is); but it sure fired up my imagination. I didn’t understand any of what was being said (the spoken English component in my language was non-existent, and i hadn’t watched many Eng serials/movies to catch up on the really irritating American way of twisting common English words). However, the pyrotechnics happening on the screen were good enough to keep me glued. I used to get the general idea of whats going on in the story of the episode (just about the same way, i understood almost all of the 4 Telugu movies bombarded at me in an APSRTC bus trip). And the bike was awesome; quick how many bikes you know of that can go upto 300 mph??? (mini-me:- what the heck’s 300 mph? Must be real fast, look at the lights shining on his helmet as he whizzed past). And thats not all. Geee!!! look the bike’s got a Machine Gun, and can fly/jump too!!! I must have one of those!!:-)

Why the trip down memory lane? Well one of my friends recently asked me if i had the Street Hawk Theme. He wanted to put it in his mobile as ring tone. That startled me, and churned out a lot of memory pages. I told him that I don’t, but i am gonna find out. Well, some great guy has done all the hard work. He claims to have spent 4 and 1/2 years researching the show and came up with this. I can’t thank him enough. The site has everything from sounds of the show (like the theme), clips from episodes, wallpapers, vintage games, and even a torrent of all the 13 episodes ever created (amounting to 8 GB). This is a massive resource for any fan of the show.

What i liked the most about the show (besides an excellent bike, action scenes, gripping stories) was, the same as what has fans hooked in multitude of characters (to name a few Batman, Spiderman, Superman, The Shadow etc. and on the home front, Shaktimaan, Parmanu et al.). The suspense of Double Identity. Oh the drama of it, and then the most exciting part would be, when someone is close to knowing the truth and the Hero would manage to save his skin just in the nick of time. Sometimes i wonder, what is it about double identity that fascinates us? I think, we like to imagine us similar to those superheroes. For Superheroes, they are quite powerful in their real selves. But they lead quite normal lives in their other LIFE. We like to believe, that we lead quite normal lives on the outside, but inside we have hidden depths, secrets, powers. This is how we relate to the superheroes. We feel that any of us normal beings can do extra-ordinary things. It is this message of Hope that fascinates us in these stories.

Is it so difficult to find that self-belief without any external Aid?

Tejas – Radiance


My second post is going to be markedly different from the first one. And i can’t help it! This is going to be the pattern guys, just bear with me.

As it so happens, i was reading an article in India Today last week, about the 126 multi-role fighters IAF plans to buy. After much speculation, leg-pulling, hi-level arm-twisting (especially by the US), and after delaying it for almost 2 years since i remember the idea being first floated publicly; IAF finally released RFPs (Request for Proposals) to 6 companies. They are:-

  1. Rafale from Dassault of the FRANCE
  2. Typhoon from Eurofighter of the EUROPEAN CONSORTIUM
  3. Mig-35 from United Aircraft Corpration of the RUSSIA
  4. F-16 from Lockheed Martin of the USA
  5. F/A-18 from Boeing of the USA
  6. Gripen of SAAB of the SWEDEN

Now, one of the interesting facts that many people know, and is quite worrying, is that this purchase (which is anyways going to take 7-8 years to complete) is quite crucial for the IAF. As the aging MIGs keep dropping from the sky (interestingly known as Attrition Rate, where unlike in IT, the plane has no choice but to retire after CRASHING), IAF is now woefully short in terms of numbers. IAF is sanctioned to hold 39.5 squadrons. If the IAF retires all but 100 of MIGs in the next 8 years, IAF would be left with just 26 squadrons, which is just about the size of our neighbour across the borders, the PAF. The order for 126 fighter jets is supposed to be a stop-gap measure to hold a superiority in numbers over PAF.

Now, how did this come to be? Well, the answer lies in a project named Light Combat Aircraft, rechristened Tejas. This project, which started in 1983, was supposed to give IAF an aircraft to replace its aging workhorse MIG-21. But in the year 2007, the IAF is still waiting for full-fledged production to start. Is the project a Failure??

This sparked my interest in the LCA project, and wikipedia has this to say about it. I was at first “Awed and Shocked” to know that such an undertaking was initiated and worked upon in my country. To think that the kind of technologies that are needed to be developed in order to create a 4th generation fighter jet is possible; that too without any previous experience of creating a successful fighter jet, is undoubtedly an audacious thought. A few critical technologies that needed to be developed were:-

  1. Aircraft design :- HAL had a tryst with designing aircrafts in the 1950s mainly a Jet Trainer HT-2, and the multi-role fighter which flew for the first time in 1961, HF-24 Marut. But Marut was not very succesful; not because of its design but because of lack of a capable engine. With LCA, HAL and DRDO wanted to fulfill all of IAF’s requirements of a supersonic interceptor, which was light, cheap and small. I must admit, that despite delays etc ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency, the nodal agency responsible for the development of LCA) has been bang on target on this one. According to their website, “LCA is the smallest light weight multirole combat aircraft in the world“. The LCA is constructed of aluminium-lithium alloys, carbon-fibre composites (CFC), and titanium-alloy steels. The Tejas employs CFC materials for up to 45% of its airframe by weight, including in the fuselage (doors and skins), wings (skin, spars and ribs), elevons, tailfin, rudder, airbrakes and landing gear doors. Composites are used to make an aircraft both lighter and stronger at the same time compared to an all-metal design, and the LCA’s percentage employment of CFCs is one of the highest among contemporary aircraft of its class. Apart from making the plane much lighter, there are also fewer joints or rivets, which increases the aircraft’s reliability and lowers its susceptibility to structural fatigue cracks. As for the cost, each unit is estimated to cost about 100-110 crore Rupees (approx 21-22 million $). Compare that to Gripen from Sweden at Rs. 150 crores and Rafale` from France at about Rs. 270 crores. At the top of the line F-22 Raptor costs Rs. 480 crores. Don’t think i am comparing LCA with much advanced aircraft because many analysts have said that LCA is comparable to Gripen or Rafale`.

  2. Engine for the LCA :- A jet engine is never an easy technology to implement from scratch. And ADA along with Gas Turbine Research Establishment were trying to do just that. Although it had been decided that LCA would initially be powered by General Electric F404-GE-F2J3 afterburning turbofan engine, a parallel program to build “Kaveri” engine was launched. The program which suffered major reversals during the post-sanction era after India’s Nuclear tests became doubly important because the GE engines weren’t forthcoming, delivery was suspended indefinitely. Everyone wondered if LCA would go the way of the Marut, this time on the design board itself? However, the sanctions were lifted by the US in Sep 2001 and in February 2002, the U.S. government agreed to supply an additional 40 F2J3 engines to permit flight testing of several previously engineless LCA prototypes to begin. Again in 2003, contract was awarded to GE, to procure the uprated F404-GE-IN20 engine for the eight pre-production LSP aircraft and two naval prototypes. Kaveri engine failed high altitude tests in mid-2004, which led the Indian Government to order 40 more F404-GE-IN20 engines for the first batch of LCA. In the meantime, the ADA awarded a contract to the French aircraft engine company SNECMA for technical assistance in working out the Kaveri’s problems in Feb 2006. The DRDO currently hopes to have the Kaveri engine ready for use on the Tejas by 2009-10.

  3. Radar for tracking targets and potential threats :- This has been the other major technology which has added to LCA woes. HAL and Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (i don’t know why its acronym is LRDE), started development of MMR (Multi-Mode Radar) in 1997. By early 2005, air-to-air look-up and look-down modes — two very basic modes — were confirmed to have been successfully tested. In May 2006 it was revealed that the performance of several modes being tested still “fell short of expectations”. Acquisition of an “off-the-shelf” foreign radar like Elta’s EL/M-2032 is an interim option being seriously considered. However, others are suggesting that the MMR programme be dropped altogether in favor of an advanced electronically scanned phased-array (AESA) radar such as the solid-state L-band Irbis (“Snow Leopard”) AESA radar which the LRDE is co-developing with Tikhomirov NIIP of Russia.

  4. Flight Control System :- One of the prime requirements from the design by IAF was it to have RSS (Relaxed Static Stability). It meant that without the onboard computers, the Jet has a tendency to go unstable, which might sound scary but is extremely useful for a Pilot in dog-fight. Of course, that meant the design was a Delta-wing design with just an upright Tail rudder. The designing of software of the onboard computer (a.k.a Fly-by-wire system) required a complex understanding of flight laws and fluid mechanics. Of course that took time, and complete testing of the software got delayed due to various reasons. The good news is that after much refinements the maiden flight of TD-1 on 1st Aug’ 2003 proved the system entirely air-worthy.

  5. The Avionics and the Ejector Seat mechanism :- Tejas has advanced avionics displayed on an indigenously build “Glass Cockpit”. For a more detailed, description go here or here. Similarly, a Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat is slated to be replaced with an indigenous ejection seat. To improve pilot safety during ejection, the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune, India created a new line-charged canopy severance system, which has been certified by Martin-Baker. This system, which is the first of its kind, can be operated from outside the aircraft, an important consideration when the pilot is trapped or unconscious.

Now, each of these technologies need state-of-the art sci/tech knowhow. Something which we Indians didn’t have prior to the start of the project. An excellent study of the LCA project and its direct and indirect effects is given here. Granted, that many of the inferences and conclusions of the study are outdated, and much water has flown under the bridge since 2001. However, I believe this painful process of learning how to create a fighter jet ourselves will pay rich dividends in the long run.

And why is that? Well, for starters we have the capability to build World-class technology and noone denies that. But why you may ask, do we need to develop the aircraft from scratch, and not through a joint development project like the Pak-China’s JF-17 project. Well, for one that project is not an equal one, China is the primary contributor and Pakistan has at times just piggy-backed the effort. Credit must still be given to Pakistan for coming up with a customized version of the aircraft for themselves named “Super 7”. If India had followed a similar strategy, we wouldn’t have allowed adequate knowhow of aeronautical engineering to develop in our country. This knowhow would most certainly trickle down to the civil aviation, and also the project has managed to establish a base for aeronautical technology dependent industries. From this platform, India has the chance to catapult itself as a powers of reckoning in the aero-space, the same way ISRO has managed to carve a niche for itself in the Space Science.

Secondly, having developed a fighter jet, now we have the confidence to negotiate equal terms in a deal like the JF-17 project. And this happened not so long ago. In 2001, Russia proposed to India, joint development of a 5th generation fighter to compete with the Joint Strike Fighter of the US. After initial apprehensive talks, India asserted that this is not an equal deal, and that Russia is in advanced stages of design. This would mean, that India’s requirements would have no room in the design, putting India at a disdvantage. However, Russia pursued with better deals (the project named PAK-FA, is in serious cash crunch), and in Jan’2007, a deal was inked for joint development of the project. Besides, India would pursue its very own 5th generation fighter tentatively named MCA (Medium Combat Aircraft) in parallel; which is an enhancement of the LCA platform, and might have Stealth characteristics, in addition to being Tailless.

As of last heard, the Limited Series Production of LCA has started, and Flight tests are underway for IAF’s Initial Operation Clearance. After the IOC, IAF will take over the first batch of LCAs (powered by the GE engines) and do some rigorous testing before granting Final Operational Clearance (FOC). After that 2 squadrons might be inducted in IAF (possibly in Tamil Nadu), and the timeline expected is around 2010. For the latest news on LCA, goto.

First Post

What can be better way to start a blog for an Indian fan, than talk about an India-Pakistan cricket match. Boy-o-boy, what a thriller. I believe, T20 was the best thing ever to have happened for Cricket.

Oops!! Did i ruffle some feathers there?? Well, puritans amongst the cricket-crazy would probably now be moaning at the heretical statement above. According to them, anything less than a 5 day slug-fest is nothing better than child’s play. But let me enumerate a few arguments in favor of my opinion:-

  • To be sure, everyone likes drama. Everyone would love to have a contest wherein, tilt of the needle keeps shifting from side-to-side until one emerges winner. But 5 days is pushing it!! Even the One-Day version is too much of a stretch for the Fast-food generation.
  • The T20 is not just about big hits and easy runs. Thats one of the most prevalent misconceptions about the game. Given a helpful track, a good bowling attack wreaks havoc with the opposition. Of all teams, Zim battered World Champs Aus, and reduced them to just 139 all out. Can ya believe it? The mighty Aussies bundled out for just 139 in less than 20 overs by Minnows Zimbabwe..
  • Finally we have a format of cricket, where a team plays and each individual’s mistakes count. A team ought to be good in all areas in order to win. You cannot get relaxed for even a minute in the game. I like to call it, the Lawn Tennis meets Cricket form of Play. Just as in Tennis you cannot relax in any game of any set of any match, unless you want to be knocked out; in the ongoing T20 World Cup you cannot afford to perform loosely for any stretch of time in any match. You might be kicked out faster than you’d know.

Okay, i liked the game. But i didn’t know how interesting it can get until I saw the Ind-Pak match yesterday. Whoever said, this is just game of Bang-Bang and no drama, would be a convert now. You had drama from the very first over, till the last ball.

The fireworks started with a stunning spell from Md Asif, an extremely talented Pak seamer, who scalped the top 4 wickets in the Indian Batting lineup in his allotted 4 overs. As if that wasn’t enough Pakistan had the deadly Umar Gul firing from the other end, and a new left arm-seamer who bowls on the wrong foot named Sohail Tanvir. It took an inspired batting display by Robin Utthappa for India to get to a respectable total of 141. Out of the Indian lot, i felt as if only Utthappa took the pains to practice for this tournament, and the new format. The second highest scorer from India was Dhoni, but he wasn’t hitting as hard as he’s renowned for. He always looked as if trying to find his bearings in this new world. Maybe new-found burden of captaincy is one reason.

But just when you thought its all over for India, and Pak would easily defeat them; a different sort of a match was in offing. The Indian bowlers manage to restrict the Pak batsmen somehow, and even got them out cheaply. Even Indian fielding looked markedly improved from their display in England. If now their fielding can be rated as 2/10, their fielding in the English outing was nothing better than -5/10. Anyhow, Misbah-ul-Haq was the lone fighter for Pakistan with a well-made 53.

After a pressure situation in the overs from about 10-18, Pakistan resulted in a needed score of 29 of the last 2 overs. As it happened, Agarkar decided to lend a helping hand to Pakistan by letting go 18 runs in the 19th over. So, the target came down to 11 off the last over, and Pakistan looked determined to get it. Pak batsmen managed to get 10 of the first 4 deliveries and tied the score. But a dot ball by Sreesanth followed by Misbah’s run out on the last ball meant that the match was tied.

But we can’t have a Tie in T20, can we:-). Next came the bowl-out phase, where just like penalty shoot-out in Hockey or Football, Bowlers are supposed to aim at empty wickets. Whichever side gets more wickets bowled best of 5, wins. Here, the Pak bowlers uncharacteristically kept missing stumps, and India won 3-0. I am still baffled by the inability of Pak bowlers to bowl straight, and who kept missing the stumps by a big margin.

All in all, a great match, and I am looking forward to more of the same in the rest of the Tournament. Long Live the Game!!!