This is the personal blog of Ritwik Agrawal. I was a student of mathematics at Hindu College (University of Delhi), an activist with the United Students group and a co-founder of the popular cricket games site PlanetCricket.net - the largest site of its kind in the world. I now blog at http://www.ritwikagrawal.com


Thursday, July 02, 2009

My new home on the web.

I have a new home on the web:

All new posts will go there.

You can add the RSS feed to your favourite feed reader by copying the following link:



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Monday, July 09, 2007

New United Students website launched

Its quite late in the day to announce it here, but we launched a new website for United Students in the month of May: www.unitedstudents.in

Its been designed by, um, me.

Please direct all bouquets and brickbats at my spanking new [and hitherto anonymous] email address: admin@unitedstudents.in


Thai Message

"Thailand is famous for *ALL* types of activties"

"Yeah, especially the beaches"

"I mean, you can see people doing it right on roads, in front of everybody!"

"Hmm, so what's your problem with it?"

"Not me, but we had some seven, eight year old kids with us!"

"So, what is the problem if those seven or eight year old kids see two people doing it?"

"You do it, I don't have any problem but not on the roads. Rooms were invented for a purpose"

"Yeah the purpose being to protect one from the rain and the wind and the sun. Really, why is everybody so scared of the damned thing? The way I see it, its a most natural activity."

"A natural activity best done out of sight"

"But why? Thats the whole deal. Why do we rush to censor anything sexually *explicit* but are not quite so proactive about violence. It is put beautifully on the cover of Lolita."


"It says: there is something seriously wrong with a moral code where depiction of sex is evil and depiction of murder is par for the course"


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dear google.com

While reading through Google's excellent online manual on search engine optimizations/optimizers [SEO's - basically about getting your sites placed higher on search engine results] I came across this wonderful excerpt:

Be wary of SEO firms that send you email out of the blue. Amazingly, we get
these spam emails too:

"Dear google.com,I visited your website and noticed that
you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories..."

Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do
for "burn fat at night" diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from
deposed dictators.
Here it is in original: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35291&topic=8524


Thursday, May 24, 2007

A telephonic encounter with an Old Springdalian

"So, what is it like studying math at Delhi University?". This was the question, in essence, except that this wasn't the question at all. Except that there was no question. There was only wonderment. The Old Springdalian put it as such - "Hey. I am interning at HT. Was wondering whether you can tell me something about the math course?" Turns out that they are doing a regular feature on DU colleges and courses in that otherwise admirable paper. "Turns out" is consistent with the way the information was conveyed to me by the Old Springdalian, except that I already knew this, myself being a diligent reader of the said newspaper.

As is usual with me, the conversation began disastrously. The Old Springdalian introduced herself [by name, how else?], and embarassingly, I asked her exactly who she was, because I know more than one person who bears the name in question. Shockingly enough, my question was also not a genuine query, since I'd guessed almost instantenously [by the voice, how else?] exactly who it was on the line. This realization, which made itself apparent very quickly to my brain, was however not transmitted to my vocal chords in time, with the aforementioned embarassing results. I failed to mention above that the whole episode was scarcely embarassing to me, but more so to the Old Springdalian.

I'll take up the dreaded 'i' word in another post. Here I will discuss a bit more about our conversation. The Old Springdalian is one of the most articulate people I know, who hardly ever gets ruffled or lets situations get the better of her. Mysteriously, today the usual assurance seemed to be in short supply. Although it was her brief to interrogate me about my course, she seemed to be waiting for me to start talking nineteen to a dozen about the pros and cons of working to attain a degree in mathematics. I expect people feel giddy with excitement at the thought of talking to a journalist.

Yes, it just dawned upon me that the Old Springdalian is now officially a member of the Press, which makes her reticence with questions all the more baffling. When she explained the purpose of her call to me, I felt a momentary stab of an ill-defined panic that she will soon start grilling me in excruciating detail about maths honours, as a journalist must do, even if they are just a trainee [oh sorry, an INTERN] and handling something as inconsequential as college admissions. Until I established otherwise rather late in the call, I thought that the Old Springdalian had not quite prepared for this particular interview, which seemed to suggest that she is not taking her job seriously. But, lo and behold, she had a particular format to work with. She had to ring up and quiz unsuspecting friends and acquaintances about:
1. course contents
2. career options
3. get a quote from a teacher
4. get a quote from a student
5. misconceptions that people might have about this course

She tried to get me to talk about each of the above points, and its really none of her fault that I wasn't upto scratch. Don't get me wrong, I CAN talk about my course, but I prefer such discussion to be in the form of answers to direct questions. You see, while I can talk about maths, I don't particularly savour the experience. She asked me whether she should talk to someone else pursuing mathematics, and promised to ring again tommorow for a quote. Well, I wait not for a call that will definitely not come. Thank god!

I am wrestling with my conscience over one minor matter - should I SMS her the number of one of my eccentric friends [well, somehow all my friends are eccentric] who can talk in greater detail about maths honours, or should I just leave her to her devices and and let her find someone not in the least connected to me and my friends? I think the latter, no point in rubbing in your own stupidity.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gmail Paper

So what is Google cooking these days, specifically with regard to their pioneering email service ?

While signing into Gmail this morning, I was greeted by an announcement for "Gmail Paper". According to the blurb, "you can request a physical copy of any message with the click of a button, and we'll send it to you in the mail", for FREE, since like all other google services, this will be ad-supported. Aaah, don't we all pine for a return to the days of the paper office? Further, you don't need to be worried about environmental degradation, since Gmail Paper will utilize "96% post-consumer organic soybean sputum, and thus, actually helps the environment." (!)

Now, for some weird reason I was quite intrigued by this announcement, as if there were a real market demand for something so absurd, until it suddenly dawned upon me that today is April 1 - Fools Day, so end of joke.

Or is it? Avid netizens will remember that Google launched Gmail on April 1, 2004. At that time most people thought that the promised 1 GB of storage was a Fools Day joke, but that was not the case. Further, Google announced on April 1, 2005 that henceforth Gmail storage will constantly increase [it now stands at 2.8GB, and counting]. It is clear that Google has something for the first of April. But this time, it is safe to say that Gmail Paper is an old-fashioned April Fools joke which will not turn out to be true.

Google has gone to some length to "promote" Gmail Paper - check out the promotion page here: http://mail.google.com/mail/help/paper/more.html

The mild satire running through the above page is further proof, that this is indeed a joke.

The safest thing with Fools Day is that if somehow Gmail Paper turns out to be for real [you can NEVER tell with Google], I can claim that I was playing a fools day joke on my unsuspecting readership, by defaming a perfectly valid service as a joke :)


Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Letter

The following is an electronic copy of a partially charred letter I found very recently. it has been written by the President of the Waxworkers Union of India, whose name I omit owing to privacy concerns. Sadly it was impossible to identify the addressee due to the poor state the letter was in.

'....And you know the emotional attachment I, and everybody else associated with the candle trade in this country, feel vis a vis Rang De Basanti. It is undoubtedly a white man's conspiracy to not nominate it for the academy award for the best foreign language film; an instance of racism worse than even what dear Shilpa has had to face in england. But what can you do to people living on foreign shores, when even compatriots let you down? All those critics who dare to point out that 'basically any merit that RDB had was limited to the first half, and that it went off the boil very badly in the last hour or so'. They say it became slow, it lost direction after the intermission. Eh how my blood boils thinking about them and about their fancy talk, nonsense such as "giving negative direction to the youth", or "encouraging fatalism".

Is it not true that it has captured the hearts and minds of middle class youth like nothing else in the past decade? is it not true that if you sign onto social networking sites, you'd see RDB listed as one of the favourite movies of all those who aspire to the title of "intellectual"? Was it not the film that brought out the middle class from their cosy homes and gave a meaning and direction to their lives? We WON justice for Mattoo, for Jessica, and also myraid other forms of justice. We went so far as lighting candles at Jantar Mantar to protest the Nithari Carnage [you ask what were we protesting against ? well, uh oh ummmm....].

How often do you see movies that benefit everybody at once - increase news channel TRPs, give the middle classes a much needed intellectual workout, pander to nationalist and patriotic interests, lambast lousy politicians, and most importantly benefit a sector as neglected as the Candle Industry? Such social senstivity! Who cares for the Candle Industry anymore? A great national treasure, and one of the candlebearers of our cottage industries is being allowed to die, in face of stiff opposition from such decadent inventions as electricty, and the perceptible decline in the popularity of candle-light dinners.

Lets protest against this gross injustice committed by the oscar jury - send the SMSs, write blog entries, flood websites with spam, rouse the media-coordinators, assemble at Jantar Mantar or India Gate, CALL THE MEDIA And LIGHT THE CANDLES! Long live the Candle Light Movement! mom* Salaam!'

The remainder of the letter had gone up in flames.
*I don't think the writer is referring to anybody's mother.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Caesar of United Students

As many of you might be aware, I am part of an organization called United Students [US] which contested the Presidential post of the Delhi University Students Union this year. Our presidential candidate was a a guy named Aaditya Dar [his blog], a final year student of economics at Kirori Mal College.

Now Mr. Dar or Dar-Sir as he is respectfully called by his comrades in United Students is a natural born leader with several fantastic qualities - he is sincere [and more important, looks like he is sincere], trustworthy, intelligent, articulate and patient. He has these qualities in such abundance that all US members are now wondering as to whether we will get even a single candidate of the same calibre to put up for next year's DUSU elections. Such eminent personalities as Ishita "ishiavelli" Tiwary [her blog], "megastar" Aaditya Raj Kaul [the mega blog], "depressed poet" Aldeena Raju [her you-know-what] and Kush "toilets are my domain" Verma [unfortunately he doesn't approve of blogging - unfortunate because we would've all loved to hear his 'moaning housewife' routines reverbating on the blogosphere] have confided to the author that the chances of such a cataclysmic event [of another Aaditya Dar being found] taking place are as negligible as the "doped rapper" getting a haircut.

It is clear then that Dar-Sir is someone that all future generations of United Students can look up to. In recognition of this excellence I propose that just like Roman emperors after Gaius Julious Caesar attached "Caesar" with their names, all future United Students candidates for president must also afix the title "Dar" with their names. So do not in the future be surprised to find headlines such as the following:

" United Students announces Dar Abhinav Varma as presidential candidate"
"Dar Aditya Raj Kaul addresses the media on campaign expenditure limits and electoral reforms"

In fact, instead of using the long-winded phrase "Candidate for the presidential post of the Delhi University Students Union", we can just mention that this year's "Dar" is so and so. Apart from giving due recognition to the excellence of Dar-sir, this will also be in keeping with the organization's goal to simplify matters for students [basically in the same vein as our voter-ID campaign].

I'd like to conclude with a slightly modified version of the slogan we used for Dar-Sir's election campaign:

"Har party ko kiska Dar ? Is saal ka dar, is saal ka dar"


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reservations - Exploding the Myths Part II.


In continuation with the series on Affirmative Action vis a vis Reservations, today I seek to discuss an important element of the comprehensive Affirmative Action programmes in place in several American Universities - "Outreach Pogrammes". Such programs seek to reach out to students of colleges/institutions that have historically been predominantly "black" or "colored" - which means that a large portion of their pupils belong to historically disadvantaged backgrounds.


Affirmative Action (AA) in education in the USA was first started in the Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) in the year 1968.

The academicians behind this drive understood the need to improve the skill sets and educational accomplishments of students from disadvantaged communities before they were granted admission to Harvard - to bring them on par with others at the University lest a situation arises where they (or others) question their worth or talents. For this purpose Harvard started extensive outreach programmes to traditionally black institutions - helping out with both improvement of infrastructure and facilities as well as by providing counselling services and by inputs in pedagogy & methods of teaching.

"The decision [to extend affiramtive action-Ritwik] resulted in extensive outreach to historically Black colleges; faculty members volunteered time and out-of-pocket expenses to visit schools whose students had never dreamt of applying to Harvard. "
(Leon Eisenberg, M.D.)

Mantaining Standards of Academics & Research
It is clear from the underlying philosophy of outreach programmes, that even during its infancy, Affirmative Action was implemented in the USA keeping in mind that standards of academics and research of an institution must not be allowed to fall; prospective students have to brought to the level of the institution and not the other way round - because if an educational institution started catering to [and therby ignoring] the academic or technical defeciencies of its pupils it loses the credibility to impart learning.

Over the course of the last [nearly] 40 years, outreach programmes have continued to remain and have in fact grown in importance as critical elements of the Affirmative Action policies of all leading American universities and liberal arts colleges, as well as businesses in the USA and other countries. Since AA in such countries as the US is meant to a large degree as a tool of removing inequalities and increasing diversity [and not only a means of "harvesting" votes or an instance of what is popularly known as "vote bank politics"], significant changes have been recorded in the general situation of blacks, hispanics and other minority and disadvantaged communities. A positive change of this sort has only been possible due to their focus on providing AA in conjunction with improving the standards of education and health care at the primary and secondary levels, and also by a large degree through their innovative outreach programmes.

Sources & References
1. Thirty Years of Affirmative Action at HMS: What Has it Accomplished?
Leon Eisenberg, M.D.Professor of Social Medicine EmeritusHarvard Medical School
2. The Origins of Affirmative Action by Marguirita Sykes


Sunday, November 12, 2006

in focus: Reservations - Exploding the myths Part I

In this first part of my new series, I will focus on drawing the reader's attention to the main points of distinction between Reservations [as implemented in India, on the basis of caste] and Affirmative Action.

Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action is a broader concept as compared to Reservation. In fact it can be cogently argued that reservation is just one form of providing Affirmative Action.

Marguita Sykes defines Affirmative Action as follows:
"Affirmative action, the set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “ "

The actual phrase "affirmative action" was first used in President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 which requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

A comprehensive system of Affirmative Action, such as the one that is in place in the United States, concentrates on recognizing the various levels at which a person might be discriminated against in society - such as race, national origin, gender or economic conditions and then seeks to tackle all of the varied methods of exclusion working in society:

For eg: a poor black woman is usually thought of as socially more backward than a black woman who is from a middle class background. Hence, by demands of natural justice the former should benefit to a greater degree by affirmative action programmes. Also, a poor white American is socially disadvantaged inspite of the colour of his skin, and hence will receive certain benefits under the US Affirmative Action system notwithstanding that he is white.

Significantly, the American Model is based on the premise that standards of academic achievement and administrative efficiency cannot be compromised while providing for the cause of social justice - the focus is on bringing the underpriveleged to the same level as the other sections of society. The motto of prividing AA is "all things being equal, a candidate belonging to a historically deprived community will gain preference over a candidate not belonging to such a community". In this crucial element, caste-based reservations differ greatly from Affirmative Action, particularly from systems of AA in the United States. Having said that, let us now take a look at how Affirmative Action works in India [in the form of caste-based reservations].


The most prominent part of Affirmative Action policies in India has been the policy of extending caste-based reservations in government jobs and in government run and funded (and in some states even in privately administered) institutes of higher education. This is basically a "quota" or fixed percentages system - a certain portion of positions available in every course, discipline and in various government services are reserved for people who belong to historically "oppressed communities" or to communities which are not adequately represented in higher education and in white collar, high paying and/or powerful jobs.

The biggest problem that many have with a system of Affirmative Action based solely [or even largely] on reservation is that quota-based allocation of seats reduces efficiency by sacrificing "merit" or the requisite capibilites or professional training - reservation does not talk of providing preference to a person belonging to an oppressed or backward community over a non-backward candidate only when they are equally matched in all other factors of determining fitness for employment or admission("everything else being equal"); rather it talks about consciously lowering standards to satisfy the demands of "social justice".

Points of Difference

In summary, the main points of difference between AA as practiced in the United States [and several other countries] and reservations as implemented in India are as follows:

1. A comprehensive system of AA recognizes various factors of exclusion (race, sex, national origin, economic conditions etc) and seeks to tackle all such factors which might not allow an individual to achieve their true merit.
in contrast - reservation recognizes only caste as a factor of exclusion. Other things like gender are conveniently forgotten.
2. Standards of excellence and administrative efficiency are paramount under AA - candidates from historically deprived sections are first brought to the same competitive level as others through "outreach" programmes.
in contrast - a policy of caste-based reservation consciously seeks to devalue merit for the sake of "social justice"
3. Quotas and fixed percentages are squarely rejected under AA. Fixing quotas is banned in the US and the UK.
in contrast - caste-based quotas are the norm in India.
4. Each institute and organization is free to develop its own systems of AA. There is no central directive from the government, and thus no "one size fits all" approach to this critical issue. [For eg: Why should AA work identically in Delhi University having 150,000+ students and JNU with 5000 students ?]
in contrast - The central and state governments decide upon the extent and style of reservation for all institutes of higher learning under their control.

Selected Sources and References:
1. Harvard Medical School Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs
4. The Origins of Affirmative Action by Marguita Sykes
5. Department of Global Workforce and Diversity, International Business Machines [ibm]

TOMORROW: A look at how outreach programmes work in US universities, with the particular example of Harvard University.


Sorry and some more stuff ...

Dear reader (umm I hope that pisses you off, if it doesn't then shame on you!) I know that I promised that I will be starting the new affirmative action vis a vis reservation series from friday, but that has unfortunately not been possible due to 1.) overwhelming pressure from various sides and the imminent approach of several deadlines and 2.) the piece is taking longer than I anticipated in terms of research (in fact I've been intermittently doing research on this for the last two years). But I will try really hard to get it done tommorow (monday).

Ishita on
http://ishtiwary.spaces.live.com (her blog; knowledge of sms-speak is essential to decipher the initial postings) has said that she is looking forward to some debates over the blogosphere with me.
my response: ha ha ha :)


Friday, November 10, 2006

in focus: affirmative action vis a vis reservations

Starting later today, I will be focusing on drawing distinctions between 'reservation' (on whatever criteria) and the significantly broader concept of Affirmative Action.

This has been an issue close to my heart for at least the last couple of years, and particularly since the Union Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Arjun Singh announced that central government funded institutes of higher education all across India will extend the benefit of 27% percent reservations to the so-called "other backward classes".

Over the course of the largerly acriminous debate that followed this announcement, I have noted several instances where facts are being misrepresented or altogether obfuscated, in order to confuse people so that they think of Affirmative Action (AA) and Reservation to be one and the same. Later today (that is, Friday the 10th of November) I will post the first part in this series which will focus on the primary distinctions between these two concepts.

I will also be briefly examining how affirmative action is applied in the United States, and how a prominent Dalit leader has been consistently obfuscating facts regarding the implementation of AA in the USA.