Atanu Dey On India's Development

Journey to Kanpur — Part 1

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain. . .

IIT Kanpur

In case you have been wondering about the break in blogging, wonder no more. I have been on the road. Last week, I was first in Mumbai and then I was in IIT Kanpur.

Visiting IIT Kanpur was a bittersweet experience. The place was at once both familiar and totally unfamiliar. The place had not changed all that much since I was a computer science student there a lifetime ago, but I had changed. What had changed was not in front of my eyes, but rather behind my eyes.

There were ghosts there as I wandered Hall V, where I lived. “Misty watercolor memories, for the way we were …”

To Kanpur

Always afraid of unpredictable traffic, I invariably end up too early for my flights. So it was that I was at the Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai two hours before my flight to Lucknow.

Everything in Mumbai will eventually be named “Chattrapati Shivaji” this that or the other. Makes me wonder about the paucity of either heroes or imagination, not just in Maharashtra but also in India at large. I have noticed that a large and significant number of institutions and programs around the country are named after Nehru or his progeny. Indira Gandhi this, Rajiv Gandhi that, Sanjay Gandhi the other, … the list is endless and enraging. At the meeting I attended the next day in IIT Kanpur, one participant must have mentioned the “Rajiv Gandhi Gram Vikas Yojana” at least a hundred times.

Makes one wonder.

Anyway, I sat around in the airport terminal. I noticed a huge big sign which read “ISO 9000:2000”. Don’t know what it means but they must consider it a big deal. I am guessing it is some sort of certification which says that the airport meets some standards. Must be pretty low standards, whatever it may be. I have been to around 30 international airports and none of them had that sign and they were all much better than the Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport.

The noise standards must be pretty low because the noise levels were pretty high. First, there was the nearly continuous high decibel announcements telling passengers to proceed to “sec-your-itty” checks. These were interrupted by airlines announcing the “last and final boarding calls” even though they make at least half a dozen of them for the same flight.

As if that irritation was not enough, they have TVs scattered around that are set at volumes that can only be suitable for the severely hearing impaired. Or it can make you severely hearing impaired if you are not.

Security Checks

I trudge through the security check. Walking through the metal detector, I stand while the cop runs a beeping handheld scanner over me. A couple of stamps on my boarding card and I am done. I pick up my laptop bag after its journey through the x-ray machine. The cabin baggage tag on my laptop bag is also stamped.

I walk about ten feet and a police lady takes a look at my boarding pass to check if it has been stamped. Then she reaches for my laptop bag to check if the baggage tag on it has been stamped. I go through and end up in the passenger holding area. The “Last and Final Calls” for my flight begin. I wait till nearly all passengers have gone through the boarding gate and walk to the gate. A police lady checks for the stamps on my boarding pass, and then checks the baggage tag on my carry on for a stamp. Yes, the stamps are still there. I step through the sliding glass doors and wait to board the bus to take me to the plane. The bus arrives. Before I board the bus, an airline person with a walkie-talkie checks my boarding pass for the stamps and then checks the baggage tag on my laptop to see that it is stamped.

It is a short ride to the parked aircraft. I get off the bus and the nice airline person at the bottom of the stepladder takes my boarding card, retains half of it, and then – you guessed it – checks my laptop bag tag to see if it has been stamped.

I feel very “sec-your.” After all, didn’t they check that flimsy paper tag on my bag half a dozen times between my passing through the security scan and my actual entry into the plane? All sorts of nefarious things could have happened but were prevented by frequent checking of a stamp.

Like the cargo cult version of democracy we practice in India, we also do what I consider the cargo cult version of security. The thinking must be that if you behave as if you are ensuring security, magically security will happen somehow. It is the sort of thing that makes people pray: wish for a thing fervently enough and it may be granted to you magically.

[To be continued]

  • harsha

    I still remember how rumors played tantamount that a tiger was spotted near hall 4, letting people fear to wander in nights!

  • http://cityblogger.com Prakash Advani

    And they still oppose privatising of the Airports threating they would not work! as though they work otherwise :)

  • Vikram Asrani

    The ISO 9000:2000 aroused my curiousity and I actually took a look at what it means. Very briefly, ISO 9000 is a quality managment standard. 2000 represents the year in which the standard was published. For reference, this was what I looked at
    http://praxiom.com/iso-intro.htm

  • http://www.suhitanantula.com Suhit Anantula

    The ISO standards are an interesting lot. The ISO standards are present for everything…from designing a nut to making sure the CD Player you are manufacturing is compatible with CDs around the world.

    Standards are useful in that sense. These particular set of ISO 9000 standards and mostly guidelines. It is good to follow.

    In the case of the CD Players, we would follow it because we want people to buy them. But in the case of ISO:9000 quality standards it is different.

    First, the ISO does not have a auditing or authorizing mechanism. It provides guidelinies, organizations use them and if needed they can go to a auditor who will approve it.

    Second, due to the software companies this standard started to represent some kind of a good certification like the ISI mark on products in India. It does stand for something, but does not mean much in terms of quality.

    Indian software companies in the 1990s decided that in order to differentiate themselves from the other companies in the world and also against the shoddy quality perception of Indian products, they should adopt the ISO standard. Thus, it became popular in India.

    Interestingly, Microsoft or SAP does not follow those standards nor does a lot of the International Airports like Atanu mentioned.

    The problem in India as Atanu rightly showed with the example of the security check is that we do some of the things for just doing it not with any great understanding.

    This standard is like that. It looks good to have it in big letters. The spirit and principles behind the name does not matter in India.

    However, if you have some standards of your own which are high you can create better results than these standards.

    Suhit

  • http://dharakhoh.blogspot.com nomad

    I know a friend whose company has done ISO audits for various Railways and Airline installations. The bugger goes on a 4 day audit, spends 3 days ‘inspecting’ nearby tourist locations on sarkari expense. 4th day he has a cuppa chai, signs a few papers and voila, the center is now ISO 9000:2001 certified !!

  • http://www.onemoreidea.org Brij

    I am sure trip to IIT Campus must have been mixed for you. As somebody who was born and grewup in the campus I have witnessed many changes in the campus. Ghost of time wrapped up in forgotten memories come back in different settings. It’s strange and assuring at the same time.

    In my recent trip I was wondering where is the hockey stadium where Coach Ghosh used to make everybody run at 6 in the morning!

    I wish IIT had more for the dismal campus surroundings than just the prototype WiFi projects here and there.

    Terrorism threat and petty theft combined to create environment which led administration to block all access to nearby villages.

    Talk about the social divide! Best of India and worst of India separated by the pretentious walls of security.

  • http://rvadive.blogspot.com Ram

    I had the exact same thoughts about the airports. A fellow traveller was commenting that such periodic checks of tags every two feet was probably the worst example of lost human productivity ever.

    Will privatization help?

  • Mainak

    Just wanted to point out that hardly anything in India that I am aware of is named after Sanjay Gandhi… he seems to have fallen out of favor a long while back (since the forced sterilization campaign??)

    I also wanted to agree with you regarding the completely meaningless announcements and the electronic signboard which more often than not give the wrong information if any at all….. at least in Delhi

  • M S

    Good article.

    The real-fun is in Bangalore Airport.
    You have carpenters cutting the woodens-sheets, almost blocking the Corridor. You realy feel for the “aap ki yaatra sukhat rahe” being screamed.

    Typical Sarkaari Slang.

    One more aspect:
    We’ve kept the Airports only for people who know English & Hindi.
    There are people who would not know English/Hindi (Smelling southie….., Am I)

    I wonder, if some thing can be thought on that lines..