The God Who Loved Motorbikes (2019)

Cover of The God Who Loved Motorbikes

I picked up the book written by Murali K Menon after seeing that the book was launched by John Abraham on September 25. The book is a Juggernaut publication and I saw that the book was available at a low cost on the day of the launch. Hence, I picked it up without giving a second thought.

The book takes on a usual motorcycle enthusiast story and stretches it into the realm beyond time and space. The enthusiast in this case is one of the small shrine gods that dot the landscape of Kollengode in Kerala. The story revolves around how the god, KK Swamy, follows his dreams of riding several motorcycles. The premise makes sense at some level. However, things get a little hazy here while considering the plot.

The story then hops several steps and we enter another story. The storyline begins quite naturally but then gets stranger and weirder as time passes. Then, things get so weird that I paused reading to think that the story has gone from a motorcycle story to a sci-fi genre. There are a few plot twists but none that surprise you too much. There is a lot going on, action wise but they are mostly just moving things forward.

When the story ends, there are many things left hanging. The plot fails to tie things up at the end. There are many loose ends. The story takes off in so many directions that I wonder what the author was thinking about while developing the plot of the story.

You could consider picking up the book to give it a read if you love this genre of motorcycle storytelling and sci-fi. It was a good way to while away time but at the end you are left asking if reading through it was a worthy investment of your time or not.

Bank Merger

The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman has announced the merger of public sector undertaking (PSU) banks. This move will bring down the number of public sector banks from 27 in 2017 to 12 after merger.

Six Mega PSU banks created as a result of the merger announced on August 31. Image: Bloomberg Quint

As a former banker, I support this move. Existence of multiple public sector banks has been an enigma for me. These banks existed once as private sector banks. They competed then and played a role in the Indian economy. Their nationalisation in 1979 made them all public sector undertakings. Having banks in every nook and corner of the country was one of the reasons cited behind bank nationalisation. The idea was to make banking accessible to the poor and financial inclusion. As it was said then, to change from class banking to mass banking.

However, this still does not seem to have been achieved. Payments bank have been started up to achieve the same goals. However, these end up serving the same urban populace as private banks in India where the money is. All this achieved was make competition in urban areas, where the money is, more stiff.

Private banks and payment banks are able to provide better service and better loan recovery because of the targeted nature of their banking. They work in areas where they have competence and knowledge.

Success in universal banking cannot be measured with the yardsticks used for class banking of the private banks. Universal banking is by its nature very intensive, involves high wastage and is highly inefficient.

The merger of these public sector banks makes more staff available to them. These can be deployed in rural centres to meet the shortfall of staff branches face whilst in urban centres to meet the shortfall of loan processing and servicing staff.

It would take at least a generation before enough private banks spring up to target various parts of universal banking. Some will still not be viable. As various government policies push towards formalising the economy, many of these private banks will merge to form larger banks.

As for public sector banks, ultimately, I hope that there is only one public sector bank. Perhaps, two. State Bank of India will definitely be one of them. Union Bank has a nice ring to the name if there needs to be another bank which is a union of all other banks other than State Bank. Eventually, I hope everything is merged into the State Bank. In the meanwhile, processes need to be streamlined, documentation needs to be standardised and loans need to be recovered.

Will there ever be a time when India will not have a need to have any public sector bank?

Chandrayaan 2 in lunar orbit

The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft entered into an orbit around the Moon on August 20, 2019 at 09:02 AM (IST).

This was a result of a lunar orbit insertion (LOI) manoeuvre the spacecraft performed that lasted about 1738 seconds. The spacecraft was in Earth orbit and used it’s gravity to be propelled towards the Moon. As the spacecraft reached close to the Moon it used its on-board motor to perform a breaking to decrease its speed (this was demonstrated in Mission Mangal) and allowed itself to be captured by the Moon’s gravitational force.

The spacecraft entered into a 114 km x 18,072 km orbit around the Moon. This means that the spacecraft’s closest distance from the Moon (caller perilune) is 114 km and it’s farthest distance (called the apolune) is 18,072 km. The next day it performed another similar manoeuvre to reduce its speed and moved into an 118 km x 4,412 km orbit. This is the opposite of what it did in Earth orbit and will continue till it achieves a circular orbit of 100 km.

Image from the ISRO Launch Kit for Chandrayaan 2 which shows the mission sequence.
The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft is now in its Lunar Bound Phase. Image: ISRO Launch Kit
Moon as viewed by Chandrayaan-2 LI4 Camera on 21 August 2019 19:03 UT
Moon as viewed by Chandrayaan-2 LI4 Camera on 21 August 2019 19:03 UT

Today, ISRO released pictures taken by the LI4 camera on board the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft. LI4 probably stands for Landing Imager 4. It should be one of the cameras on the lander that would be used to guide the lander to the surface of the Moon.

The next manoeuvre is slated for August 28, early in the morning. You can follow the updates of Chandrayaan 2 directly from the ISRO website page.

Political Ideology in India

I have been listening to IVM Podcast’s The Seen and the Unseen podcast hosted by Amit Varma since about the last year or so. The important I learnt in lesson in this episode that the usual tags of left and right politics do not apply to Indian politics. Indian politics can be better understood based on the ideologies of identity and statism.

The cover art of the Episode 131 of the Seen and the Unseen
The cover art of the Episode 131 of The Seen and The Unseen

Amit’s earlies episodes espouses the classical liberal ideologies and are based on the idea of individual freedom. While the explanation made theoretical sense, it didn’t quite apply when I analysed many macroeconomic issues to try and understand why the government acted in the way it did. Hence, Amit’s episodes were critical of any government that was at the Center.

This particular episode presented a better political lens to understand the Indian political landscape. The episode is based on the book Ideology and Identity by Pradeep K Chhibber and Rahul Verma. Rahul Verma explains the terms ideology, identity and statism. He then takes us through Indian history post-independence as seen through the lens of identity and statism and explains how this bifurcation of Indian history makes more sense than the western right-wing and left-wing narrative.

The episode held several insights for me. That India had a rich “conservative” tradition but this was hidden from English readers like me. These traditions existed in the vernacular press in Hindi, Marathi etc. An earlier episode began digging at some of the features of the conservative tradition in India which seems to have been so different from the conservative traditions in other countries. It has been a fascinating listen for me.

I haven’t read the book but would definitely suggest listening to this episode if you want to decide either way about getting their book.

Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

I went to PVR Cinemas at Pune’s Phoenix Marketcity Mall to watch Mission Mangal on Friday, August 15, 2019. Being a self-professed space geek, I expected the movie to be a cringe-show. It was.

Poster of Mission Mangal
Poster of Mission Mangal

Mission Mangal (2019) is a Bollywood movie inspired by the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The mission involved the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) flying a mission to Mars. The mission, a technology demonstrator, succeeded on it’s first attempt. The movie carries a disclaimer at the start of the movie which says that it is a fictionalised account.

The on-film depiction of ISRO is no where near it’s original. I don’t think a scientist in ISRO are insecure in their knowledge that they would feel threatened by a person who got his experience working in NASA and who returns to serve his country. This is the description of the villain of the movie. I think MOM borrowed and learnt a lot from NASA for the actual mission. MOM’s first signal acquisition was in fact from NASA’s Deep Space Network in Australia. I don’t think the movie really needed a villain.

The other issue that bothered me a lot is the need for a hero. Akshay Kumar is no where near the scientist that ISRO has. His imitation of talking to former President Abdul Kalam in Tamil was the lowest point of the film, in my opinion.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was made much more muscular and eye-candy than it actually is. There were a lot of holds on that American launch pad. Bollywood also made it into a two stage launch vehicle rather than the four stage rocket it is. I loved the sound and capture of the lift-off which reminded me so much of the Shuttle launches. India countsdown in minutes and seconds and not from 100 seconds.

There are struggles of the women scientist in ISRO. Tackling pressure at home, managing family, managing expectations of mother-in-laws, difficulty in getting a flat because of belonging to a certain religion and live-in-relationships. I would have been happier if these stereotypes would not all be pushed throughout the film. Also, I didn’t miss the stereotype of a woman who could not drive on road handling navigation for an interplanetary mission.

So, with all those things that I didn’t like in the movie, it still pulled through because it manages something that I think ISRO fails at communicating. How difficult it is to get funding for a mission. What parameters are considered and how difficult it is to plan a mission. It also attempted to explain orbital mechanics. The movie takes a dig at superstitious practices that ISRO itself follows. Akshay Kumar’s only positive show in the movie seems to be standing up as a rational person to some superstitious practices in the Mission Control Room.

I still think that the movie is a good starting point for a movie based on a scientific mission. For that, it is worth seeing. As I said at the beginning, I cringed a lot while watching the movie.

It took me a long time to write this review. Two other reviews are worth your time – Vasudevan Mukunth’s and Raja Sen for the Hindustan Times.

The movie ends crediting ISRO on it’s 50th anniversary and the women on whom the film is loosely based.

Chandrayaan 2 on the way to the Moon

Chandrayaan 2, India’s second mission to the Moon lifted off from Sriharikota on July 22, 2019. The spacecraft was launched on board India’s GSLV Mk-3 rocket on it’s maiden non-development flight.

Photograph of the launch of the GSLV Mk-3 with the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft by ISRO.
GSLV Mk 3 lifts-off with Chandrayaan 2. Image Courtesy: ISRO

It came after a launch scrub surrounding which there was lack of information and a lot of speculation. I watched the launch with my grandmother in Mumbai.

Since the launch, the spacecraft which currently has an orbiter and lander attached to each other performed 5 orbit raising manoeuvres on the way to the Moon.

India adopted this gradual orbit raising manoeuvre in order to balance the limitation of the spacecraft and the launch vehicle. A lower mass of the spacecraft would enable the launch vehicle to place the spacecraft into lunar orbiter but it would then not be able to carry any meaningful payload. The launch vehicle had only enough power to place Chandrayaan 2 in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Image of the Earth taken by LI4 camera on board the lander on Chandrayaan 2.
Image of Earth taken by the LI 4 camera on board Chandrayaan 2. Image Courtesy: ISRO

After the 5th orbit raising manoeuvre, the spacecraft will push off towards the Moon called Trans Lunar Insertion on August 14. Afterwards, the spacecraft will perform one more burn called the Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 20 that will let the spacecraft be captured by Moon’s gravity.

The Shooting Star – Shivya Nath

I have been following the works of travel blogger Shivya Nath since I found India Untravelled on Google. I wanted to go to Spiti and was looking for places to stay there and this was one experience that I wanted to have. She used to run the site that discovered these homestays before she sold that company to become a digital nomad. Not going to Spiti remains one unchecked item in my bucket list.

I picked up her book hoping to regain my bearings and rediscover my love for travel once again. I was going through a particularly difficult phase at work and hence, even reading the book got postponed for a really long time. I bought the book on September 18, 2018. I made slow progress but it’s finally done.

My travels have mostly been with family. I have travelled solo very few times.

Shivya talks about two journeys in the book. One, were her journeys solo to different parts of the country and across the globe. Another, is the parallel personal journey of overcoming restrictions of society and the ones that she herself placed and overcoming these to become a digital nomad and a travel blogger that she is today.

Her journeys across the world are well covered on her eponymous blog, The Shooting Star. But, I’d recommend the book more for reading about her parallel personal journey. For anyone who travels, one knows that this is a given as we travel more and more. But, it is still wonderful to uncover. Resistance from parents, hesitation before taking the entrepreneurial jump, worries about safety while travelling solo, meeting strange people in strange lands, discovering the things that matter to us the most and perhaps most importantly chasing the dreams and turning them into reality. It is this part of the book that I really enjoyed.

Chapter 1 Tritiya

Ayn was sitting at the console today. She got a notification for a Longreads story on the beginning of the Quantum Computing on the Moon. She opened the notification to read the story.

Quantum Computing came to the Moon with the Indian company, Pradnya Labs. Pradnya Labs was founded by Pradeep in 2020 after he quit his banking career. He started it for teaching Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to his peers. He found that more money was to be made by teaching others than the application of these skills in an industry that youngsters were getting into than someone who lacked experience in the field.

Pradeep turned out to be a much better teacher than an employee or a worker in India’s software industry. Pradnya Labs then expanded into digital literacy drives for the elderly. This Pradnya Labs saw as Corporate Social Responsibility as the company grew big in Southern India and went public in 2024. However, students who left Pradeep came back to join him in India as teachers. Along with them came two important people – Shruti and Sriram.

Shruti worked with Microsoft in the US and was working with its Quantum Computing division. Sriram came from Tesla and came from its famous Batteries Division. In a famous meeting held in a tea shop in Palakkad, they encouraged Pradeep to foray into Quantum Computing. First, they held classes for Quantum Computing core processes.

Pradeep learnt that Quantum Computers would not sit in people’s hands like ordinary computers. These would be installed in the cloud and would communicate with people’s devices through broadband. From the profits that Pradnya Labs made up to 2025 and raising money from family and friends, Pradnya Labs founded it Quantum Computing Division with Shruti heading the same.

In 2026, Pradnya Labs produced the first quantum computer, called Adi. Pradeep thought that putting these quantum computers in the sothern pole of Lunar craters would provide them with natural cooling. The Aitkens basin was identified. He spoke with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman, Pavan. Pavan was not sure if Pradeep had a working idea and hence called his colleague at the Indian Institute for Information Technology (IIIT) Hyderabad, Mukunth for setting up a demonstration. Adi was setup with the quantum computer built at IIIT and was test run. Adi outperformed the IIIT-Q by 15 seconds.

Pavan asked Pradeep how they hoped to communicate with the Moon? Pradeep said a relay satellite would be placed near the Moon and would re-send the signal to Earth. Although, Pavan was not fully convinced, he agreed to place one Adi on the Moon’s Aitkens basin.

Meanwhile, Sriram was working away in a nearby lab in Hyderabad to build Tesla style battery packs within which the quantum computer could be carried to the Lunar South pole. He added a communications module. The body of the Adi-packs were tested in ISRO labs in Bengaluru. After they came through successfully, the first Adi-packs were launched to the Aitkens crater in 2025.

Through 2026, ISRO, IIIT and Pradnya Labs tested the relay system and found that the speed that Adi got was lost in communication with Earth. Dwitiya was launched in December 2026. Developed in the Pradnya Q Labs in Coimbatore, Dwitiya was faster than IIIT-Q by 83 seconds. ISRO launched a Dwitiya pack to the Aitkens basin in 2027. Happy with the results, Pradnya Labs got orders for Dwitiyas themselves as well as for time for use on the Lunar Dwitiyas.

Meanwhile Sriram got in touch with his former boss at Tesla and through him got Pradeep to talk to Elon Musk. Pradeep asked Musk for a redesign of their Starlink satellites to provide a way to receive data from the Moon and relay it to Earth. Working through 2027 and 2028, the Starlink 2.5 satellites were launched by SpaceX in 2029. These provided improved speed, better data crunching and faster applications. With the advent of this, many of the other service providers in India started gaining an equal footing.

Pradnya Labs’ profits soared. In 2030, Isha Ambani of Jio approached Pradeep with a new idea. She wanted Jio to build satellites that would relay the information from the lunar Dwitiyas back to Earth. Pradeep shared that they were working on Tritiya. One Tritiya would launch next year. But, one demonstration at the Pradnya Labs Quantum Computer simulator meant she paid for the construction of three more Tritiyas exclusively for use of Jio. In addition, she also paid Exseed Space for the construction of 25 Jiosats that would relay the information for users in the Indian subcontinent.

A total of five Tritiyas were launched to lunar surface at the Aitkens basin. Two were used for scientific data crunching for science institutions in India. Three were used by Jio. They said the three lunar data centers took care of half their data center needs on Earth.

It was one of the Tritiya that had predicted that an asteroid was to hit Earth in 2040. Ayn was one of the few human beings that left on the spacecraft one year before impact was predicted. Today was the day when the asteroid would hit Earth.

James Clear: Akrasia

From James Clear’s blog:

Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control. Akrasia is what prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.

An important thing to look out for is:

Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.

This is one thing that I’m trying to fix:

This is one reason why the ability to delay gratification is such a great predictor of success in life. Understanding how to resist the pull of instant gratification—at least occasionally, if not consistently—can help you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

NISAR will look at the Antarctic

Alexandra Witze writes for Nature about a decision relating to NASA and ISRO joint mission called NASA ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) decision to point at the Antarctic rather than the Arctic.

The decision is based on the fact that the Europe’s Sentinel satellite is covering the Arctic region. Also, SAR satellites are built such that they point either to the North or the South pole. Hence a call was taken on which Pole the NISAR would be facing.