Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Study of Eight Cities

A Times of India-IMRB survey on the Quality of Life in eight major cities in India has been published today (ToI, 11 Dec, pp. 16-17) . The cities are Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata.  Here is the link:

ToI - IMRB Survey on Quality of Life in 8 Indian Cities, 2011

There are some aspects of this survey that I found problematic. I'm not talking at this stage about the findings, because those are entirely dependent on the aspect of the survey with which I did have a problem, which is the methodology.

1. Sampling:

a. Layman sample: IMRB polled "roughly 150 respondents" from socio-economic categories A and B, in a 65:35 ratio in each of the eight cities. The respondents were "from age 18 onwards", and "the two genders were roughly equally represented".

b. Expert sample: ToI asked the same questions that had been asked to the layman sample, to 30 people in each of these cities "who track living conditions in them".

1a. About the layman sample: According to the Census of India, any town with a population of above a lakh of people (>1,00,000) is called a city. As per the provisional totals of the Census on India 2011, here are the populations of the municipal corporations of the cities covered by the ToI-IMRB survey:

  • Ahmedabad: (approx) 55 lakhs
  • Pune: (") 31 lakhs
  • Delhi: (") 1.1 crore
  • Mumbai: (") 1.25 crore
  • Bangalore: (") 84 lakhs
  • Hyderabad: ('') 68 lakhs
  • Chennai: (") 46 lakhs
  • Kolkata: (") 44 lakhs
It is to be noted that these are the provisionals of only that population covered by the city municipal corporations. At least two cities in the list above are in fact much larger than the area covered by the municipality. 

The point of sampling is representation, and in the case of our quite heterogeneous cities, a fairly complex challenge. Divisions have to be marked, parameters of representativeness drawn up. This requires knowledge of, and some access to diverse quarters of the city, and is certainly not accomplished by administering a questionnaire to 150 people, of any description. A net total of 150 people in an Indian city does not possibly represent even the number of people taking a bus from a single city bus-stop during morning rush hour during a single day. 

Now, the kind of people. SEC A and B, in a proportion of 65:35. This means the questionnaire was administered to about 97 individuals who were SEC A men or women, and 38 individuals who were SEC B men or women, in each city. SEC categories for demographic stratification are widely used in commercial research, including that for retail and media. Here's what they mean:

Since IMRB focuses on commercial sector research, it may be safe to assume that this is the manner in which SEC has been used, in the ToI-IMRB survey. This means that the data on which the survey is based has been collected from a very small number of the most elite people in eight quite heterogenous, more-than-quite-large, Indian cities. Only in the most imaginative sense can this exercise be called sampling.

1b. Expert Sample: This component, carried out by ToI, asked 30 people who track living conditions in a city to fill the same questionnaire.

But who are these people? What makes them experts? Why should I, as the reader of a survey, be asked to accept that these are credible experts in the sub-areas of urban development and governance, in whatever fashion? Are they, for example, associated with real estate or computers? the law? politics? are they senior, or junior bureaucrats? traders? social work? Different people watch the changing city in different ways, and it is the responsibility of the methodology of a survey to take into account these differences.

Sampling strategies will hugely influence what you find from research, and this effect is stronger with an expert sample, because of the significant role of expert opinion. Anyhow, not to even display a list of criteria for the expert sample, which is quite large relative to the layman sample (1:5), is just shoddy research.

2. Data Analysis

The data gathered from the sample discussed above was then subjected to some analysis. The methodology mentions factor analysis, regression analysis and average scores.

2.1 Regression analysis: Regression analysis demands, at the very least, a dependent variable and an independent variable. It is intended to point out a definite direction in causality: hypothetically, if a variable (say, social infrastructure) is low, then another, connected to it (say, environment) must also be affected in a certain way. It is to know such interconnections between variables that regression or correlation analysis is performed.
An understanding of the manner in which, say, 'peace of mind' is linked to 'leisure facilities', or 'social infrastructure' would be a very interesting result of this survey. But since this information is not available, I am not sure what this putative regression analysis was intended to perform.

2.2 Factor analysis: I would have really liked more detail on the factor analysis. I would, for example, have liked to know how important the perceived quality of schooling, or college, is to the rank achieved by a city. They do present some information that shows the relative importance of their seven major parameters to overall ranking. But this is a problematic procedure and these scores can hardly be added up to score overall rankings across cities.

2.3. Average Scores: This, I think, is the one procedure that has been accurately followed in the survey. The averages may be for 150+30=180, very elite people per city, but they are correct, in that.

This survey is conducted by the Times of India and the Indian Market Research Bureau, both vast organizations with proportionate resources. We have, in this country dense, diverse, vibrant cities.

Is this the best that can be done by way of mapping them?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Communicating Slutwalk

The scheduled slutwalk at Bangalore was cancelled earlier this week. Since slutwalk seeks to promote the safety of women on the streets, it is a matter of concern that this would be cancelled in an Indian city, especially for the reasons provided by the Bangalore police. Police spokespeople said that they would be unable to guarantee the safety of the marchers, and so were not in a position to allow the march to proceed as planned.

Now Bangalore has unfortunately become the stomping grounds of ultra-conservative right-wing factions like the Sri Ram Sene, and the police have cause to be nervous about possible acts of violence. But looking over the press reports of the slutwalk held in Delhi earlier this year, I can't help thinking that this particular cancellation has more to do with language, context and appropriateness, than with the walk itself.

Held in July, Delhi's slutwalk was largely an offenceless affair, from the moral conservative point of view. It consisted of women dressed in ordinary clothing, expressing concern about the capital's streets, carrying banners, posters and other signs making the points that they "love consent", that their "short skirt has nothing to do with you", and that "the way a woman dresses is not an invitation to sexual assault."

It was, however, called a 'slutwalk'. Slut, as popularly understood in India, means sexworker. So 'slutwalk' literally means the march of the sexworkers. Contextualized in a culture in which boys and girls still find it difficult to meet and engage in regular conversation without being harassed by policemen and other enforcers of the great moral brigade, this term takes on a different meaning than it did in Toronto, where the slutwalk was instituted. In this country, a putative march of the sexworkers is constructed in the male public imagination as an occasion for voyeurism and worse, which was why so many men turned out to watch the walk. Most went away when faced with the regular women (and men) who showed up, in lieu of the promised spectacle. 

A name can be a promise. You hear 'National Gallery of Modern Art', and an image floats in front of your eyes. It may not be the NGMA building as it stands at India Gate, but you put together several contiguous concepts, and get a large building, possibly important looking, containing abstract and figurative art. Say 'chopsticks', or 'the black hole of Calcutta', or 'estuary', and images will float up at you, images that you more or less expect to be related to actuality when you behold the real thing. 

Going by this logic, when you say 'slutwalk', you provide for a certain kind of expectation, with a measure of titillation, and possible gratification thrown in. This effect would be intensified by the manner in which 'slutwalk' was translated in Hindi: 'besharmi morcha' (march of the shameless). 

Now, if you wanted regular women with regular lives to be safe on the streets, why would you call an event marking this entirely reasonable demand a march of the shameless? Why would you do this particularly in Delhi, which has the highest reported sexual crime in the country? When this fact is pointed out to Delhi politicians and bureaucrats, they retort that women just need to take better care of themselves and not venture out at night. Why, if you are demanding women's human rights and safely, would you designate them sluts on a besharmi morcha? In patriarchal India, in ultra-patriarchal Delhi. It just makes no communicative sense to me at all.

At least it didn't, until I figured out that this phenomenon may be a combination of two factors that seem to have become endemic in India's big cities: 
First, that the elite of these spaces imagine that they do not live in India at all, but in some unnamed location that seems to me to be an amalgamation of several western soaps, with 'Friends' topping the list. In the world of 'Seinfeld', or the 'OC', or 'Desperate Housewives', a slutwalk would be a fun thing, with few socio-cultural consequences. It would be wonderful if that were true here, but it is clearly not.
Second, that many of the people organizing the slutwalk probably do not use public transport for a lack of options. In other words, these people do not stand at bus-stops late at night on a regular basis, waiting for a transport home from the late shift. Naturally, then, such experience is not a factor taken into account when they propose to call a demand for women's safety a 'slutwalk'.

The point I am trying to make is that a call for the safely of women should be just that, and should also ideally try to be as inclusive as possible. A name is more than a name, and when a name actively seeks to position an event in a particular manner, this says something about the choice, and the choosing of that name.

About Bangalore. Even with the Sri Ram Sene and their ilk, would the police have refused protection to a march for women's safety that was called 'a march for women's safety'? Perhaps even something a little more scintillating would have passed muster. But march of the sexworkers? 

Please, if the safety of women is indeed the concern, let us re-evaluate strategy in the light of communicative appropriateness. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Bless NPR

"The Jazz 100 is a crowdsourced list of the most quintessential jazz of all time, determined by the listeners of and NPR Music." Thanks, Urmi.

Public Radio rocks.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Very Enlightening Article on the New India: Suhel Seth and the Art of the 'Effortless' Climb

This is a piece in Caravan magazine, by Mihir Sharma, on Suhel Seth.

I'm linking it here because it is very telling about the New Shining world we are all supposed to inhabit, and about the people who make that world. Incidentally, I think Sharma's got it right, not just about Seth, but about the milieu he inhabits, that breeds him, and others like him.

In that sense, SS has to be read as a protagonist in a novel of bildungsroman, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster as 'a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character'.

 Wikipedia says:

"A Bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune (...). In a bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society -- the protagonist's mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after achieving maturity" (emphasis my own)

Well, hahahahahaha.
And when you've read Sharma's take on Suhel Seth, you'll know why i'm laughing. Have fun:

The Age of Seth, by Mihir Sharma

Yes, really, why this Kolaveri Di?

What are the basic parameters by which artistic merit is to be evaluated in a song?

The standard parameters would be musical and lyrical quality. Within musical quality, it is possible (although not always profitable) to separately evaluate melody and percussive elements.

Then there is the song itself considered as a whole, combining the separate elements. This is equal to, but usually much greater than the mere sum of the elements. Consider this song from Door Gagan ki Chhaon Me (1964)

'Aa Chal ke Tujhe', Kishore Kumar

In terms of both melody and lyrical structure, this song is commonly regarded as a 'classic', having withstood the greatest test of all, which is the test of time. More interesting for our purposes, the song is, on both parameters, quite integrated with the notions it describes: a dream of a better world, rendered against a reality that falls decidedly short. So the lyrics are straightforward, clear and emotive, the melody line that accompanies it is simply that -- a melody line that offsets significant ideas of the world which are expressed, in a specific manner, within the lyrics.

The reason I am doing this impromptu (and shorthand) analysis is that I am currently somewhat bemused by the reaction to a contemporary song called 'Kolaveri Di', by an audience that cut its musical ears on songs such as the 1964 classic you just heard. I do understand the rebellion of youth, the need to move on, and updated modes of expression, but it is somewhat alarming when these otherwise reasonable impulses seem also concomitant with a depressing lack of ability to distinguish between good, bad and indifferent music.

About 'Kolaveri Di'. These are the lyrics:

"yo boys i am singing song
soup song
flop song
why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di
why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di
rhythm correct
why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di
maintain please
why this kolaveri..di

distance la moon-u moon-u 
moon-u  color-u  white-u
white background night-u nigth-u
night-u color-u black-u

why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di
why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di

white skin-u girl-u girl-u
girl-u heart-u black-u
eyes-u eyes-u meet-u meet-u
my future dark

why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di
why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di

maama notes eduthuko
apdiye kaila snacks eduthuko
pa pa paan pa pa paan pa pa paa pa pa paan
sariya vaasi
super maama ready
ready 1 2 3 4

whaa wat a change over maama"

Lyrics, then, are clearly not the most meaningful element of this song.

If the lyrics are this asinine, one thinks, then the musical scores must be marvellous, rendered by a truly unusual, rich, complex voice. Sometimes voices and musical scores are so breathtaking that it is possible to miss some obvious embarrassments in the lyrical sphere. An example of this is songs from the 'Buena Vista Social Club', based in Cuba. In these songs, the beauty of the language of the lyrics, combined with truly attractive melody and percussion lines, hide the cliched banality of the meanings of the lyrics. Let me demonstrate:

Buena Vista Social Club [live], Chan-chan

Look up the lyrics for this song. They are not particularly profound, or even interesting. But the music is wonderful, and the singer has a range that belies his eighty-odd years. Now, here is 'Kolaveri D'

Kolaveri Di

That's just monotonous: really pointless lyrics, whiny tonality, perhaps mildly attractive at best. Why then, the hype? Well, Dhanush is married to 'Rajini Sir's' daughter Aishwarya, and that's always a draw in icon-addled India. That's also a very solid reason for the media machine to do the equivalent of word-of-mouth. After all, we all know that Rajinikant cannot -- and should not -- be crossed.

Jokes aside, there's plenty of reasons that a media system that thrives on stardom has an investment in creating and retaining stars. And even more reasons why Rajinikant should be kept happy :)

What I am suggesting is that the popularity of this song has little to do with the qualities of the song itself, and more to do with externals, principal among which are (a) the star-connection of the protagonists (Dhanush and Aishwarya), and (b) qualities endemic to the technology of the disseminating medium itself.

This is perhaps one of the first examples of a combination of  the classic eastern tradition of  rumour, and a sophisticated understanding of the putting out, and retrieval of information on the internet.

Search heuristics, engines, and niche marketing using social networks are clearly the things of the future. I think that the strange popularity of 'Kolaveri Di' gives us a picture of that media future.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Born in Naihati, undivided Bengal, in 1915. Full name Chittaprosad Bhattacharya. 

Ideologically, it seems that the man had two basic preoccupations -- first, the fight against colonialism

And second, an angry understanding of the feudalism and class structure that were a part of India herself. 

Chittaprosad dropped the 'Bhattacharya' early on, preferring to go by only his first name.

He joined the Communist Party of India soon after college. 

In 1943, at the age of twenty-eight, he travelled through Midnapur during the Bengal Famine. Some of his prolific recording of the famine was published in The People's War, the CPI's weekly newspaper.


He was clearly horrified by what he saw, and, also clearly, he strove for realism

This man's name was Kshetramohan Naik, and he lived in Midnapore. 

We know this because Chittaprosad was not content to simply draw the horror. He reported on individuals --people, their families and homes, and what the Famine had done to them.
So many of his drawings from this period have the names of the subject written just beside the illustration. 

Somehow knowing the name of a person changes it all. You have to wonder how many of the many individuals and families he drew survived the famine. Not many, probably.

Our British overlords reacted with predictability. They burnt every copy of his artwork they could find. This was lots of copies of  the weekly, and all but one copy of his collected visual ethnography of the famine, Hungry Bengal. 

And then there are his political illustrations

That's pretty clear, then.

Swinging the arc between deep empathy and acid humor in expression, there is however very little ambiguity about where his sympathy lies

He used the traditional pen-and-ink, but also linocut, woodcut, charcoal and watercolours. 
Using lino or wood to make blocks from which to print means carving out all the detail of the picture in the mirror image and in the negative

A friend who studied art tells me cutting is an unforgiving sort of activity. You make one mistake, you start all over again. These were Chittaprosad's preferred media of expression.

He has some wonderful children's art, and he started an illustrated Ramayana, which was never finished. Some of those prints are quite incredible. He also has some really neat frogs, at least one of which dances with an umbrella under the Bengal rain.

Chittaprosad died 1978 in Kolkata, the capital of by then divided Bengal.

Centre to spend Rs, 30,000 crore on linking villages with broadband

This story appeared on the last page (p. 20) of  today's  The Hindu.

It says that Sam Pitroda (Advisor to the PM on Infrastructure, Innovation and Information) announced that that the centre would spend the named quite large sum on providing more than 2.5 lakh villages with broadband connectivity. 'We need 30,000 to 40,000 more kms of optical fibre,' said Pitroda, and about '25,000 to 30,000 crore for all this'. They are working on reducing the cost of the project, he says.

Interesting to me are the following features implicit in the story:

1. Have these 2.5 lakh villages wanted broadband connectivity? If asked, would they possibly want other things, such as better irrigation, more health facilities, and primary or secondary schools that work?

2. 'The connectivity', apparently, 'would not only improve the delivery of government schemes, but would also empower rural people'. I'm wondering about these government schemes on the internet that our educated villagers would widely access and read. I'm also wondering if all of these 2.5 lakh villages have the means to actually deliver these schemes to the people

3. Who is manufacturing the optical fibre? What is their history in the industry? I'm not asking the next few questions, but you know what they are :)

4. Apparently our villagers will have to pay 'Rs. 1.20 a minute to the US, Rs 1.20 mobile and Rs 7.20 on landline to the UK, and Rs 1.20 to China'. Wow. Our villages are clearly better networked internationally than anyone thought.

This, to me is the familiar story of development planning in India. In 1978, a man called Mahbub-ul-Haq, founder of the UN Human Development Reports, wrote a book called The Poverty Curtain. In it, he commented on the gaps between intention and fact in development policy making:

'Development planners are quite fond of making a distinction between planning and implementation. When hard pressed, they generally argue that while development planning is their responsibility, its implementation is the responsibility of the entire political and economic system. This is no more than a convenient alibi.'

To the decades-old problems with development planning, we, in this era, add the profit motives implicit (or explicit) in being involved in the exploding scene of new India telecom. What we get, inexplicably, is the picture of a rural India with a burning need to be in touch with the US, the UK and China -- on broadband.

Figure it out.